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NDP mega-projects handicap private builders

Winnipeg Free Press reporter Martin Cash tripped across a good story last Friday, even if he didn't recognize it.

It seems that the Manitoba government has ordered twice as many concrete girders as they need for the Winnipeg Floodway expansion project. The girders were going to be used to build six highway bridges. But the government scrapped four of the bridges to try and keep the expansion costs within budget.

More than half the ordered girders aren't needed anymore. Luckily they haven't been built yet, but Lafarge Canada, which had the contract, was counting on the order to guarantee more than 20 jobs and create another 30 at their plant. They may be looking at some compensation.

But this is not the first boondoggle involving the bridges under the NDP's watch.

Manitoba's engineers and architects have been grumbling for some time how the bridge building projects have driven up construction costs in the province. One of Winnipeg's busiest architects, involved in several recent high-profile projects, vented on the Internet recently at how there were no precast concrete piles left in the city a few months ago because they were all being used on the floodway bridges.

" ... private industry had to incur higher construction costs because of this and in many cases had to re-design their foundation systems because of it ... it has taken away skilled labour from private projects that will grow the economy ... some projects have been downsized or delayed because of this shortage and the increased cost of construction....." he said.

He wasn't protesting the projects, just the timing. A mega-project like the floodway expansion should have been undertaken when the economy was weak, he said, not when construction was at unprecedented levels.

The floodway bridges were adopted by Manitoba Tory leader Hugh "Spanky" McFadyen as his pet topic in the Legislature last week. Only he chastized the NDP for cancelling the four bridges. Trying to outspend the NDP is certainly one way of attracting attention.

The first week of the current session of the Legislature was not a happy one for Spanky McFadyen who faced a daily o-t-k lesson from Premier Gary Doer.

McFadyen watched as Doer hijacked day one by forcing a debate and vote on a non-binding plebiscite to support the Canadian Wheat Board.

Then he found himself chasing Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux who made the papers by attacking the opposition's oversight committee, the public accounts committee of the Legislature, as "useless." When you find yourself following the No. 2 man in the No. 3 Party, you've got a problem.

When McFadyen tried to make hay over the public accounts committee the next day, Premier Doer announced his government was bringing in new legislation to set pre-determined dates for the committee to meet. Doer got the headlines.

On Friday, McFadyen was back haranging the government about the floodway bridges. Question Period was almost over, the Liberals had asked their question of the day, NDP members were finished asking their softball questions, when P.C. MLA Leanne Rowat (Minnedosa) rose to her feet.

Her question, the last of the day, was to Competitiveness Minister Scott Smith. And it scored the only body blow to the NDP the Tories were to land all week.

Smith revealed that less than half the "private sector" donations to the Spirited Energy branding campaign actually came from businesses not connected to government. And they were all in donated ad space or "volunteer" time.

The Winnipeg Free Press, which has reaped a bonanza in Spirited Energy advertising dollars, chose not to print a word of Smith's revelations. The Winnipeg Sun had a big story and a photo---of Hugh McFadyen with a Spirited Energy banner over his shoulder. Yes, he somehow managed to elbow Leanne Rowat out of the picture so he could take the credit.

At least we now know there's someone Spanky McFadyen can push around, even if it is a woman.

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