~Hughie, Hughie and the Je-eh-ehts~
If the Tories lose the election, pundits can point to one day in the campaign as the turning point---the day of the Winnipeg Jets announcement. And they'll be right, but not for the reason you think.
No promise by any candidate stirred up as much negative emotion as P.C. Leader Hugh McFadyen's pledge to work for a return of the Winnipeg Jets.
The letters to the Winnipeg Free Press were brutal:
" Hugh McFadyen's pledge...is the political equivalent of 'jumping the shark'. The Conservative campaign deserves to be cancelled."
" I couldn't help but laugh..."
" ...back to the drawing board."
" Is Hugh McFadyen smart enough to it off? Not on your life."
" We were hoping for much better things from McFadyen..."
" ...you just lost your shot a my vote."
" ...I'm voting for Gary Doer for Manitoba, not a lost cause."
" Hugh blew it."
Ouch. That's going to leave a bruise.
With a single act, McFadyen was instantly seen as a cheap politician willing to promise anything to anybody to get elected. He gambled everything on a photo op (of his putting on a Jets jersey) and a short, sharp slogan--Bring Back the Jets.
But if he failed, it wasn't because he's a crass cynic.
It's because he couldn't communicate.
He had the right message and the wrong sell.
If the people throwing brickbats had read the news release that came with the Jets announcement, they would have a completely different image of Hugh McFadyen.
In this short, printed release there's an eloquent message, a vision for Manitoba, which would have turned derision into applause.
It's exactly what the Tories needed in the very first week of the campaign, not in the home stretch.
The NDP has flatlined.
* Their undelivered promise eight years ago to end hallway medicine--in six months--- chokes every election pledge they make.
* They've abandoned 34,000 Crocus Fund investors.
* They're depending on a scare campaign against McFadyen and attack ads against former Premier Gary Filmon to stiffen their hard-core voters.
* Their best card is a T.V. campaign of Gary Doer talking platitudes to camera.
In the Tory news release on the Jets, we see the essence of a winning campaign that offered the electorate a positive alternative, an uplifting message of a future worth voting for.
It wasn't about the Winnipeg Jets, a hockey team.
It was about dreaming of a Manitoba that could afford NHL hockey, that could strive to be strong enough to attract the entrepreneurs needed to support a team. The Jets were a symbol, not a goal.
The goal was to build a Manitoba you could be proud of and which your children would value, not run from.
When you abandon your dreams, you die. That was McFadyen's poorly articulated message.
From the news release (emphasis ours):
Winnipeg, Manitoba, May 7, 2006 - They whisper it, dream it, some are even afraid to say it out loud, but the answer is always the same. If you're serious about creating opportunities and a cool, youth-friendly capital city, Manitobans must form a partnership to take a shot at bringing back the Winnipeg Jets.
That was the hook to interest the news media. But this was the message:
From competitiveness to urban development, every link in the economic chain must be strong if we are to end our dependence on hand-outs from Ottawa and our economic free fall to last place in western Canada, he said.
Ultimately, the greatest gift we can give parents and grandparents is the gift of children and grandchildren who choose to build their futures right here at home, he said. That's what we've got our sights set on and what we fully plan to deliver.
McFadyen pointed to the 35,000 Manitobans - the majority of them young - who have left the province since Gary Doer became Premier. While he's busy pointing fingers and looking backward, we'll be running straight forward to the future.
McFadyen said it's time for Gary Doer's generation to pass the torch forward to the next generation of Manitoba leaders. We want the Winnipeg back that they got to enjoy - a winning Winnipeg full of confidence and pride. A Winnipeg that is able to leave a mark on the map, internationally.
From day one of this campaign, I've said - if we can dream it, we can do it.
Some will say this is too bold, but we must be bold if we're to keep young Manitobans here and secure our social services and our future.
The Tories know from past experience that Manitoban's have been beaten down to the point they don't believe in themselves anymore.
In 1999 the Conservatives promised to share Manitoba's wealth through a 50-50 split of the estimated billion dollars in new revenue that would come our way over the next five years. Half would go to new spending, half on tax relief. Voters rejected the offer. You can't fool us, they said. A billion dollars? No way. It's a politician's promise. Pie in the sky.
In truth, Manitoba received well more than a billion dollars in new revenue -- and the NDP spent every penny of it and more.
McFadyen was trying to rekindle a winning spirit in Manitoba by raising the Winnipeg Jets banner. But in their desparation to be seen as credible, the Tory's overthought the issue, just as they did with their crime platform, and offered too much detail---Young Turks, Winner Bonds, a Players Tax...
The details sidetracked reporters from the message of hope to a message of false hope.
(For the record, The Black Rod believes Winnipeg can't afford the Jets now, couldn't afford them in the Eighties, and will likely never afford them. Still, the Winners bonds and players tax were just intriguing enough to make us say---maybe, just maybe.)
To see the Jets announcement as a stupid promise is to miss the point.
To see it as a missed opportunity is a painful truth. We'll give the last word to McFadyen from the Jets news release (emphasis ours).
McFadyen said there has been a Jets elephant in the middle of the Manitoba living room for far too many years. We walk around it, trip over it and are even afraid to talk about it. It's time to bring the conversation fully into the open and get the entire community involved because this isn't about what we've lost, it's about everything that we hope to gain.