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Grinnin' Gary sweeping the scorecards as Spanky can't land a punch

If this was a prizefight, the crowd would be screaming at the referee to stop it.

We never thought we'd use the words 'Muhammed Ali' and 'Gary Doer' in the same sentence. But then we never thought we'd see "Hugh McFadyen" and "Manitoba Tory leader" juxtaposed either.

Since McFadyen stepped into Stuart Murray's shoes, NDP Premier Gary Doer has out-jabbed, out-danced, out-flanked, and out-smarted him at every step. The Throne Speech and the current mini-session of the Legislature has brought nothing but humiliation to the new Tory leader, who was elected because of his supposed smarts as a backroom politico.

McFadyen has become the palooka hoping to land a lucky punch, while Gary Doer gives him a lesson in ring generalship. Doer has boxed his ears, tripped him, and, spanked his heinie for good measure.

Spanky McFadyen talked a good fight, but after each day in the Legislature, his face is as red as his backside when Doer gets through with him.

It wasn't so long ago that the Tories had Doer and the NDP on the ropes.
The Conservatives and their Liberal Party allies had brought the Legislature to a standstill, stalling the budget by forcing vote after vote on procedure to get the NDP to agree to a public inquiry into the Crocus Fund debacle.

Enter Spanky McFadyen.

The NDP spread a rumour that they were prepared to call a snap election and blame the Conservatives for obstructing the Legislature. McFadyen fell for it hook, line and sinker. He scrapped Murray's Crocus strategy and threw away his best chance for winning the next election.

In its place he announced the creation of Orchard's Irregulars, a secret task force under former MLA Don Orchard, tasked to develop "leaks" from within and uncover the awful truth about Crocus. This bunch doesn't have James Bond's double-o status; they're strictly single O, as in zer-0, which describes the sum total of their efforts so far.

Where Stu Murray landed some hard blows by attacking the NDP's decision to close the maternity ward at Victoria Hospital, Spanky McFadyen has abandoned health care as a front-line issue.

He got lucky in June when Doer got cocky and claimed there were no patients in hospital hallways, a claim absolutely nobody in the province believed.

But when an 89-year-old man was forced to lie down on the floor of the hallway at Seven Oaks hospital because there were no beds for him (Winnipeg Sun, Nov. 18), McFadyen yawned.

When Harry Lehotsky died of cancer six months after writing how he couldn't get to see a doctor to diagnose the severe pain he was in, McFadyen blinked. Harry who? Health care, how yesterday.

Doer shuffled his cabinet before the current session of the Legislature, leaving the Tories punching at air since the rules prevent them from asking the current ministers about decisions made by their predecessors.

In September, Spanky made his maiden speech to the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce, which seemed appropos, given his previous declarations that he intended to distinguish himself from the NDP by his plans to make Manitoba a "have" province.

The Winnipeg Free Press summed up his speech this way:
"A Conservative government would maintain the post-secondary tuition freeze, re-instate standards testing in public schools, cut taxes and rein in spending, Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said yesterday".

The CBC had this take:
"But McFadyen added there is hope Manitoba can improve under a Conservative government, which he said will come up with long-term plans to protect water resources, address doctor shortages and reinvest in highways."

But all anybody talked about was McFadyen's dig at the Communist leanings of Howard Pawley's NDP government (1981-88). Spanky spent the next few weeks on the defensive, trying to explain what he meant.

Then Gary Doer brought down the latest throne speech promising billions in new spending, with lots of it on McFadyen's pet projects like highways. Oh, and tax cuts.

He promised to start building the Conawapa dam ($5 billion and counting). McFadyen rose to the bait.

Who would buy the power, he asked. Ontario's long-term energy strategy, released in December 2005, made no mention of getting hydroelectricity from Manitoba, he declared.
Did too, counted Doer.
Which is still one more than zero.
Then he closed the trap.

The Ontario Power Authority's 20-year-plan, released the day before, mentions Manitoba eight times.
Huh? said McFadyen.

Doer knew about the report and suckered Spanky. Again.

Did anyone notice that the NDP plan to run in the new election as conservatives? Yes, its all there in the Throne Speech. The NDP plan to contrast their seven years in office with Manitoba in 1999, highlighting their steady string of tax cuts and debt reduction. McFadyen is left gasping.

Tuesday in the Legislature, he lambasted the NDP for cutting a number of bridges from plans to rebuild the Winnipeg Floodway.
The NDP announced the cuts to try and stay on budget.
Spanky once said he wanted to rein in spending.
Now he wants to outspend the NDP.

With only three weeks in this session, probably the last before an expected spring election, you'd think the Tories would want to make a mark. Gary Doer had them wasting a day voting on a motion to hold a non-binding plebiscite into the future of the Wheat Board. The Tories voted against it, a vote which will be used as a club against them in the coming election.

Damn, fell for it again.

When Spanky McFadyen tried to attack the NDP for not caring about smoking on reserves, Premier Gary Doer thanked the member from Carman, Denis Rocan, for his foresight in bringing forward a private members bill to ban smoking in public places. McFadyen, who engineered Rocan's defeat at the nomination meeting for the next election, was left with the usual fixed grin on his face and nothing to say.

McFadyen's promises of bold plans to harness Manitoba's economy seem to have been replaced with a series of musings.

Maybe, he told the annual Tory convention, Manitoba's electoral laws should be changed to introduce proportional representation so that more Liberals were in the Legislature.

Maybe, he told the Winnipeg Sun, the private sector should finance hydro projects.

Or maybe not.

The li'l rascal. You can't hit what you can't see.

But maybe somebody should tell him that rope-a-dope means avoiding punches, until your opponent gets tired --- not taking them all on the chin, until your opponent gets tired of smacking you around.

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