Fates conspire against Asper

Everything that could have gone wrong, did


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The other day I had phoned to ask David Asper about the unravelling state of his football stadium, but he started off talking about the unravelling state of his football team instead.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/11/2010 (4404 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The other day I had phoned to ask David Asper about the unravelling state of his football stadium, but he started off talking about the unravelling state of his football team instead.

“You know,” he said, “everything that could have gone wrong for them (the Bombers) this year did go wrong.”

Asper would have been referring to the unfortunate loss of No. 1 quarterback Buck Pierce to a freak elbow injury. Or maybe the biweekly apologies issued by the CFL head office for another blown call that cost the local 12. Or perhaps it was the whole beer snake thing.

Whatever. It was a lousy year.

It got me to thinking about Asper’s stubborn dream to build the Bombers a new stadium and take control of the franchise and all the cajoling and negotiating and open house warmings Asper has conducted the last 10 years or so. What has it gotten him?

Well, other than a big hole in the ground, pretty much squat — unless you count the pockets of vicious wrath and/or distrust from a vocal portion of the general populous.

Or the stakeholders — the city, the province, the feds and the football team — who seem to be falling over themselves to push Asper out of what has devolved into a dead stadium proposal walking.

How did we get here? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that Asper was viewed by a lot of folks as the Bombers white knight.

Sure, the guy was viewed as a loose cannon — Richie Rich born with a silver football tee in his mouth — but the son of a Canadian business titan who had amassed an international media empire. The family’s wealth was calculated in the billions. They were Canadian royalty.

What’s happened since has been like reading a Horatio Alger novel backwards.

Think about it: In 2003, Izzy Asper died. Canwest is in ruins, bankrupt. The North American economy suffered it’s biggest free fall since the Great Depression.

The media industry, the backbone of the Asper financial machine, was under economic siege. The automobile industry, which traditionally serves as the economic lubricant for national media, stopped advertising, costing conglomerates such as Canwest hundreds of millions in lost revenue.

It was the most devastating convergence of financial blows at the worst possible time.

All the while, as the economy and Canwest crumbled, David Asper refused to abandon his grandiose stadium vision, even though the entire project was predicated on establishing a retail foundation at the Polo Park site that was supposed to generate the funds to cover Asper’s stadium costs. Only one problem: No national retail chains are interested in building at the depths of a recession, much less as part of a project riddled with uncertainty.

At the exact same time Asper was promoting his stadium, his own sister, Gail, was at the helm of the Canadian Human Rights Museum project, which to date has received tens of millions in public financing from the federal, provincial and city coffers.

Two entirely different projects in a relatively small, vote-poor prairie city, both requiring massive tax dollars, spearheaded by a brother and sister at the exact same time. Maybe only one baby could live, but the optics in terms of trying to enlist public support in a failing economy couldn’t have helped.

Asper’s best political ally, former Premier Gary Doer, retired. The Bombers went to the 2007 Grey Cup, and lost. Again. And you think the Bombers had some calls go against them?

This isn’t about feeling sorry for Asper, or whether or not his ever-changing stadium deal was wishful thinking in the first place. And in high finance, fortunes come and go. It’s just that, when you step back and analyze the sea change in the last decade, it makes the events of the Bombers 2010 season seem so trivial by comparison.

After all, the Bombers only lost football games. They didn’t lose their patriarch. They didn’t lose the family fortune.

Question: If Izzy Asper were still alive, if Canwest was still a multi-billion dollar media empire, if the global economy hadn’t collapsed, do you really believe the Bombers stadium today would consist of a giant hole in the ground at the University of Manitoba?

There’s still plenty of time to throw around blame for the stadium mess, although Asper will take the brunt of the criticism. Because he’s disposable now, right? Just another millionaire on hard times.

Asper insists the stadium will still get built, regardless. And the Aspers will live quite well, thank-you.

All I know is it felt like only yesterday that Asper’s power was palpable, that his family’s brand name was impeachable, and that any vision held by Izzy’s offspring sounded doable, because Midas had nothing on the Asper’s business touch.

What happened?

Everything that could have gone wrong…

It did.


Randy Turner

Randy Turner

Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.

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