...and walked out with a sex change.
Welcome to A Hundred Days of Hughie.
The Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party was desperate to replace their lacklustre leader Stu Murray. After a yawnfest leadership campaign, they picked lawyer Hugh McFadyen, he of the pearly fake smile and metrosexual fashion sense.
Hugh stepped into a Legislature that had been paralyzed for weeks by a campaign of bellringing, designed to stall the passage of the budget until the NDP agreed to hold a public inquiry into the Crocus Fund scandal.
Throughout the Tory leadership campaign, there had been whispers that the NDP might call a snap election before the new leader gained any traction. The idea was preposterous.
The NDP had a majority, had been in office only 3 years, had no major issue to campaign on and could only foresee an election spent defending their decision to turn a blind eye to the shenanigans at Crocus that cost tens of thousands of voters their pension savings.
In other words, it was a bluff.
And Hugh fell for it. Hook, line and sinker.
His first decision as leader of the Conservatives was to abandon the bellringing.
He didn't want to appear obstructionist if there was an election. Which there wasn't going to be as anyone with any political sense could have told him.
The bellringing had been ongoing for weeks. It was ignored by the news media for a long time. Then commented on negatively.
But the longer it went on, the more news coverage it began to get. And the pressure on the NDP was growing to either call an inquiry or answer the pointed questions put to them in the Legislature.
The big 3 media---Winnipeg Free Press, the Winnnipeg Sun, CJOB---were all editorially on record as calling for a Crocus inquiry, so the Tories could count on them to support the pressure of the bellringing. It was a showdown, a test of who would blink first. So what did Hugh do?
He threw in the towel.
He decided to cut and run when the Tories had the initiative on an issue the public was paying attention to.
But why leave a bad decision alone when you can make it worse ?
McFadyen announced he wasn't really giving up on exposing the Crocus scandal. He had appointed a "task force" to dig into the scandal and uncover the secrets the NDP were hiding.
Good move. Instead of highlighting the NDP's cover-up of the Crocus Scandal and keeping them on the defensive, the Conservatives, under Hugh, reversed the onus. Now the P.C.'s had to come up with something or look stupid. Put up or shut up.
The NDP couldn't believe their good fortune.
The members of the Conservative Party couldn't believe the car wreck they were seeing with their own eyes.
And the Tory caucus, dumbfounded at the plan to squander the momentum they had generated during Question Period, was just getting its first taste of Hughie's management style.
Hugh still wasn't finished with putting his personal touch on the Party, though. Worse was to become even worse.
For McFadyen announced that his crack task force was going to include---ta daaaa---John Loewen.Yes, the same John Loewen who betrayed the party in 2005.
The John Loewen who gave Stu Murray one hour's notice that he was ditching the Conservatives to run as a star candidate for the federal Liberal Party. Who can forget the triumphant news conference that morning as grinning Liberal kingpin Reg Alcock announced the candidacy of grinning John Loewen under a photo of grinning Liberal leader Paul Martin? Who can forget Stu Murray's humiliation?
Loewen declared that day to the panting press that he didn't share the values of the Conservatives. His values were the values of the Liberal Party. That a political party exposed as a party of thieves who stole hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers money to give to its supporters and candidates in Quebec, then covered up the thefts in Parliament for years, had the values he held near and dear to his heart.
He had been living a lie, he said. He had been the critic for the Crocus Fund scandal in the Manitoba Legislature, but his soul belonged to the federal Liberals. He would do everything he could to keep the Conservatives from taking power, starting with defeating Stephen Fletcher in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia.
Stu Murray was crushed, and his leadership went into freefall. The NDP couldn't believe their luck.
None of this mattered to Hugh McFadyen. He honestly thinks that bringing Loewen back into the fold is a good thing because, he told the press, Loewen is bringing his files with him.
As if that means anything.
If Loewen had anything in his files worth mentioning, he already used it to hammer the NDP. If he had something and hadn't already mentioned it, he betrayed the Party.
Oh, wait, betrayal is John Loewen's stock and trade. What a catch.
Oh, and not that Loewen has recanted a word about his supporting the Liberals. (Or come up with a single new lead for the floundering task force on Crocus.)
Meanwhile the non-turncoat MLA's found that Loewen had a better line of communication to their new leader than they did. When he wasn't planting spies into their offices, he was giving them the cold shoulder.
And here's where the Hundred Days of Huey gets interesting.
Because, you see, there's a pattern developing.McFadyen announced he was building a new team to fight the next election. He encouraged challengers to go after the sitting Conservative MLA's, the very people who had shown an ability to win elections even when the Party lost. And he was bringing his own people into the Party. People like Rick Borotsik.
Borotsik is the former mayor of Brandon. He's also a Liberal.
One year ago, Borotsik was being recruited by Reg Alcock to run in the next federal election. Borotsik, who had just quit the federal Conservative Party in a huff, told the Free Press that he was retired, but if he ever did return to federal polititics it would be as a Liberal.
His contempt for the Conservatives was palpable.
"Borotsik says he can't represent a party with policies that are at odds with his own political philosophies, and one with a leader he can't support." (Free Press, July 6, 2005)
And how exactly do Hugh McFadyen's political philosophies differ from the federal party?
Did we mention a pattern?
Hugh McFadyen was the Manitoba campaign manager for Belinda Stronach when she ran for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party. And before she turned traitor and abandoned the party to prop up the Liberals in the middle of the Sponsorship Scandal.
Okay, people make mistakes. He said he was as surprised as anyone by her betrayal. And maybe he was surprised when John Loewen turned traitor. That doesn't explain his warm welcome to John Loewen, the undying Liberal, into the heart of the provincial Tory establishment that he repudiated in 2005.
Add to the mix his personal recruitment of Rick Borotsik, another proud Liberal newby and unremitting Tory opponent, and, well, there are things that deserve a new look through the fresh prism.
Like McFadyen's strange behaviour when he was "running" against Reg Alcock.
Remember that McFadyen defeated Rod Bruinooge to become the Conservative candidate in Winnipeg South. He made all the right noises about being anxious to take on the Liberal Big Daddy in Manitoba, until the day Loewen resigned his seat in the provincial Legislature to run federally.
Without so much as a by-your-leave, McFadyen quit the federal race to run for Loewen's empty seat, leaving the federal Conservatives little time to find another candidate. But when Bruinooge, who had given Alcock a hard race in the previous federal election, announced he was ready to take another run at him, did McFadyen offer his help?
Short answer: NO.
McFadyen did everything he could to sabotage Bruinooge. Hughie threw his support, and his election team, behind a weaker candidate forcing another constituency nomination which gave Alcock an even greater advantage in time and money.
Does anybody find it strange at how hard McFadyen worked to keep Reg Alcock in office? And this was all before the rumours of McFadyen's alleged willingness to run for the federal Liberals if Reg could find him a safe seat.
Once we would have punted such a rumour in the trash basket without a second thought. But given McFadyen's unblinking coziness with the federal Liberal Party, it's no longer beyond the realm of possibility. During the campaign for leader of the Manitoba party, there were insider discussions that the local P.C.s needed to win over federal Liberal voters to defeat the NDP.
But nobody imagined this meant turning the party over to the Liberals.
In classical literature there's the story of the Trojan Horse. It should be required reading for every member of the Tory party in Manitoba.
The federal Liberals can't believe their blind luck. Here in Manitoba they now have access to every Conservative Party memo and e-mail, strategy session, internal poll, party directive and all thanks to Hugh McFadyen who threw open the gates and said "C'mon down, you crazy Grits."
Steven Fletcher (Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia), who's tasting power as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health, stands to be the big loser here, becoming the laughing stock of Parliament. The man who destroyed the career of Stu Murray--- and tried to defeat Fletcher, is now feted by Hugh McFadyen as a returning hero. A hero who will use his position to further the Liberal Party cause against Fletcher and the other Conservative MP's in Manitoba.
Throw in Rick Borotsik, who's wants nothing more than the defeat of the new Conservative government. Add whatever other curves Hugh has planned to win Liberal voters and you've got a disaster in the works. Hey, Steven. Can you spell R-E-D F-L-A-G?
In January The Black Rod asked "Will Manitoba Tories make Betrayal a party virtue?" ( http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/01/will-manitoba-tories-make-betrayal.html )
We have our answer in the Hundred Days of Hughie.