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Elaborate, Mr. McFadyen

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We had a rather dispiriting scrum with Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen Friday afternoon. I fear it’s the first of many where the guy — who is known to be a policy wonk — does nothing but duck real policy debates.

After McFadyen announced his home reno tax credit, CTV’s Jeff Keele asked whether the province ought to take an annual dividend from Manitoba Hydro, just as B.C. and Quebec do with their power companies.

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The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce touted the idea earlier in the day, and it’s an oldie that’s never had much traction in Manitoba.

McFadyen replied that a Hydro dividend is not part of his party’s economic plan, which was released Wednesday.

Keele pressed further. Why isn’t it a good idea?

I wanted to hear this answer, too, thinking McFadyen might say something such as: Taking a dividend puts pressure on rates. If Hydro has to give the province a little sugar every year, homeowners will eventually feel it on their monthly Hydro bills.

Instead, McFadyen demurred, saying again the notion is not part of the party’s plan.

Moving right along, I asked about another chamber idea — kill the payroll tax and bring Manitoba’s income tax brackets in line with Saskatchewan’s.

McFadyen again said the party has already released its economic plan.

Okay, then.

How about Sunday shopping

Again, McFadyen harkened back to the economic plan, saying he thought it was solid and achievable.

OK, but you must have a position on Sunday shopping hours. It’s not as if it’s a new issue.

"We’ve always said we would look at it," replied McFadyen. But it’s free for the government. Why won’t you take a position on it?

Not in our plan.

How about the NDP promise to cap class sizes? "Mr. Selinger promised to end hallway medicine and didn’t, so he can’t be believed on class sizes either," replied McFadyen.

Oops, gotta go! Scrum over.

It was all pretty unsatisfying. If the cameras were off and the notebooks put away, McFadyen would certainly have a reasonable answer for all those questions, instead of taking lazy refuge in talking points and slogans.

I know an election is a terrible time to talk about real issues but it’s also not the time to duck them all.

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About Mary Agnes Welch

Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first as a general assignment reporter and then covering city hall and the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter.

Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.

Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school, has won several Western Ontario Newspaper Awards and has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.

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