Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Doer's $53-million farewell gift to his party

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I have a wonderful souvenir of Gary Doer's last days in office.It's a clip of him clowning before the start of an interview last week with the Free Press legislature bureau. He looks straight into the camera and stabs at it with a finger while he says:

"I want to mention all the mistakes Gerald Flood made in his column on the Disrael.. .ah, on road funding.

"Can I start?'

Then he quips, "He'll delete it" and breaks into his famous goofy but winning laugh.

Well, no, I won't delete it. I already treasure it. It prompted me to return to the issue and explain the rest of the story.

So what is it that Mr. Doer says I got wrong?

In a piece published Sept. 27 listing more than $1 billion that Mr. Doer is wasting to appease various interest groups and to influence the next election, I wrote mistakenly that he was prepared to waste $40 million to keep the Disraeli Freeway open during a $140-million rebuild so as not to inconvenience voters in northeast Winnipeg. That, by the way, is where the NDP hold four of five seats, including Concordia, soon to be vacated by Mr. Opportunity Knocks Doer. The correct number is $60 million wasted.

But his concern is not that I mistakenly lowballed the waste, it's that I implied wasting money on the bridge was at the expense of fixing potholes. That's what Mr. Doer wants to quibble about. In fact, quibbling about it constituted his final words to the legislature on Thursday, when he looked at the press gallery and said that by giving more money to the city -- $53 million over the next 10 years -- the city will be able to keep the Disraeli open and fix exactly as many potholes as it would have with existing money.

Well, OK, I guess. But the point was and is that he should not be meddling with the city's decision to close the bridge. If not for the meddling, there would be $60 million more for fixing potholes everywhere in Winnipeg as opposed to spending it to jolly voters in NDP-held ridings.

And that is what this is all about.

How so, you ask?

First go back to the 2007 NDP convention where Mr. Doer exhorted New Democrats to make sure they never lose power.

Then skip forward to 2008 when he sprang new political-party financing rules on Manitobans that favoured New Democrats. That package included a commitment to hold fixed-date elections, which Mr. Doer previously had opposed. Why did he change his mind? Because after eight years in government, he and amigo Greg Selinger had learned -- and demonstrated in the 2007 election when he called it hours after Stephen Harper gave the green light to the rights museum -- that if you know when the election is going to occur you can better prepare to win it. (Old maxim: Politics is the craft of making the inevitable look planned, and the planned look inevitable.)

But Mr. Doer is not a successful politician because he only thinks offensively; he also thinks defensively.

You can bet that his minions were ordered to keep their antennae quivering for any signal of trouble in advance of the next election fixed for Oct. 4, 2011.

Which they most surely did. When the city finally announced its plan to replace the Disraeli Freeway at a cost of $140 million and that it would require the bridge to be closed for 16 months, adding 9.5 minutes to commute times in the northeast, someone somewhere had a Eureka! moment.

"Why," they likely said. "That will mean that every voter in the northeast will be really grouchy on the next fixed-election date (pun intended)."

Perhaps it was an accident that shortly thereafter Elmwood New Democrat Jim Maloway rose up from the depths of career-long obscurity and started to make headlines beating the drums for the soon-to-be-inconvenienced voters of the northeast.

In the ensuing hubbub, Mr. Doer slowly and surgically inserted the knife into the city's common-sense approach to saving $60 million of unnecessary expense that will not produce a better bridge, just a better outcome for the NDP in 2011.

Then, with common-sense plan dead, he unveiled the resulting Frankenstein's monster last week -- or is that a three-headed Hydra? -- $53.3 million over 10 years to ensure that whichever of three bridge designs is finally built, it won't inconvenience voters in the northeast.

Now some might characterize that as using public money to buy votes, and that's true, I suppose, so far as it goes.

But that money really is something else -- it's a parting gift to the New Democratic Party. It's not buying votes (offensive) so much as it's removing a potential irritant in the buildup to the next election (defensive).

Mr. Doer's quibbles, as always, are designed to distract attention from the main chance.

As a measure of the cynical calculations that are behind all this, consider that it is Mr. Doer who will take the heat for wasting public money for partisan advantage. But not for long. He's off to Washington a week from today after a love-in at a Bomber game.

Of course, I might be wrong about this. Ask Gary.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2009 A10

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