When the news came down in May that the NHL had finally come back to Winnipeg, the man with the biggest smile at the podium was NDP Premier Greg Selinger.
He had that same grin Friday when the Winnipeg Jets revealed they and their charitable foundation will support Selinger's plan for a mentorship program for at-risk high school students if the NDP is re-elected Oct. 4.
"You don't have to read the newspaper to know that this community has got some real challenges," True North Sports and Entertainment's Mark Chipman said. "To the extent that we can be a part and a small way of solving them, we feel we have responsibility to do that."
The program is called After School Matters and it was first announced by the NDP a week ago as part of its re-election platform on public safety. It's based on a Chicago program that will give job training and mentorship opportunities to high school students during school hours. It will bring business, community organizations and professionals together to teach kids in areas such as sports, science, technology, performing arts and communications.
Chipman said the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation, which replaces the Manitoba Moose Yearling Foundation, will be the first sponsor of the program.
"We were very pleased to work with Greg and his government when we built this facility and through our process in bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg," he said. "We are equally excited to carry that partnership forward on initiatives that are really the byproduct of our previous work together."
Selinger said the NHL team's participation in After School Matters means more kids can be involved, which in turn will help more kids graduate high school.
"The After School Matters program will be that bridge to the future," Selinger said. "We'll start it out in the inner city and then we'll expand it around the province with other corporate sponsors. But Having the Winnipeg Jets being the first corporate sponsor, I think, takes it to a very high level in the beginning.
"Everything we do is all about ensuring that families and children have the best opportunities to thrive in this province."
The Liberals immediately blasted Selinger and the NDP for making a government announcement within 90 days of an election, a move the Grits say contravenes the Election Finances Act.
"It was presented this morning as if it was a government commitment," Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said. "That is the problem. If it was presented just as a campaign promise then that's another thing. But it was presented as a government commitment and that's a mistake. And the NDP should apologize."
The Liberals filed a complaint with Elections Manitoba on the matter Friday.
The Elections Finances Act says no government department or Crown agency can publish or advertise any information about its programs or activities in the last 90 days before the Oct. 4 election day.
Manitoba's Elections Commissioner Bill Bowles was unavailable to comment.
Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said he didn't have any problem with the Selinger-Chipman announcement.
"I think that anything that can be done to do a better job with at-risk youth in the inner city is needed," he said. "When you look at the level of violent crime in our city today and the challenges after 12 years of NDP government, we would welcome any steps to address those issues.
"We don't have any intention of filing a complaint," McFadyen said.
Selinger said the announcement of the new program had nothing to with his fortunes for re-election.
"We're very pleased that the Jets are back in Winnipeg," he said. "We're very pleased that they're expanding the foundation, and that gives us a platform upon which we can do more things for families and children and that is what this is all about."
Chipman said After School Matters fits into what the Manitoba Moose started in 1996 with its Manitoba Moose Yearling Foundation. It raised about $2.5 million to disburse to children's charities including Special Olympics and Child Find Manitoba.
He said the Jets' role in the program coincides more with the start of the school year and the start of the Jets' season than it does the provincial election campaign.
"This isn't something that was just dreamt up last week," he said. "This is the culmination of many, many conversations over many months. It just fits with what we've been trying to do quietly and we think we can do on greater scale going forward."
"I've never really immersed myself in politics," he added. "I've had the benefit of working with some very competent people and some great leaders, including Premier Selinger, and if this is being interpreted in any other way than that, that's I guess for people to choose."
-- with files from Larry Kusch