Stop the presses. Entrepreneur David Asper has parlayed a $1,000 investment into a $90-million loan.

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This article was published 7/4/2010 (4461 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

Stop the presses. Entrepreneur David Asper has parlayed a $1,000 investment into a $90-million loan.

This was the scenario painted by Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen in a raucous session of question period this week in the Manitoba legislature. McFadyen raised the spectre of quid pro quo to raise concerns over a decision by Premier Greg Selinger to loan $90 million for the construction of a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Tories were quiet, even cautious in the wake of last week's announcement that the province was investing in Asper's stadium proposal. And for good reason. Public funding for sports facilities is a volatile political issue and it's almost impossible to come down on the right side of this debate. Someone's always going to be upset.

But this week, it was guns blazing. McFadyen alleged in the legislature that the motivating force behind the deal was the fact Asper contributed $1,000 to Selinger's leadership campaign. McFadyen said Selinger was "repaying somebody who made a major contribution to his campaign."

Not to get too hung up on semantics, but "major" could be a bit of a stretch. McFadyen is well aware that many people who would never hold a membership in a political party nonetheless make political donations.

It's not unprecedented for large companies, law firms, ad agencies and private citizens with deep pockets to contribute to more than one party when leadership and election campaigns come around. In politics, like roulette, it's sometimes good to cover off more than one spot on the board. But there is rarely a direct payback.

The Tories unleashed their attack Tuesday with great aplomb. Tory spin doctors contacted legislative correspondents to tell them they had a bombshell to drop on the NDP government. And then they proceeded to lay an egg.

There are times when opposition politicians raise a fuss because they really believe the government is doing something wrong. And then there are times when you just get the sense that they are just trying to make hay and don't really believe what they are saying. In this instance, it's hard to believe McFadyen believes what he is saying.

Political donations are a fact of political life. Does McFadyen really believe Asper's donation was part of a cynical bid to get control of the provincial treasury? Not likely. McFadyen knows why people like Asper make political donations, in large part because Asper, who has none of his father's Liberal leanings, has given more money to the Tories. Considerably more.

McFadyen and his people would have known that before launching their attack on Selinger. Why they insisted on following through with their line of questioning is a bit of a mystery.

McFadyen continued to strain credulity after question period when he said that regardless of Asper's donations to the Tories, he "has never made a deal with Mr. Asper or anybody else of the kind that was made last week here in Manitoba."

Yep. You have to be premier to make a deal like that and so far, McFadyen hasn't suffered that onerous burden.

It is also hard to believe that McFadyen opposes some public financing of a new football stadium. He has spent a lifetime in and around politics in this province and understands the economics of large amenities like football stadiums and hockey arenas.

Asper's stadium proposal is complex, and it's easy to lose sight of what is going on. The province has lent money to build a stadium that Asper will not own, only manage. It will remain a public asset. The loan is secured by millions of dollars in property taxes that will be generated by the redevelopment of the Polo Park land on which the current stadium sits.

It's not a perfect deal. But it's not scandalous. And there is evidence to suggest McFadyen knows this.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.