Until Monday he was the only one we knew who could spin straw into gold.
But then along came the Manitoba NDP, and, poof, there was another contender in the room. Of course, they couldn't do it alone.
They had the full cooperation of the mainstream media which set a record of their own for being spoon-fed stories by the government.
The NDP issued three news releases Monday which became the source of stories in every newspaper, radio and television newscast.
If you simply read the headlines you would think that thanks to the NDP the province was going to see:
* 131 new nurses
* 343 new day-care spaces, and
* Canada's biggest wind farm
Not bad for a day's work.
Except when you factor in the facts, and then you see that:
* Zero new nurses have been hired
* Zero new day-care spaces have been created, and
* No new wind farm is being built
Other than that, it was good news all around.
So how did they manage to collect good press based on nothing?
* Let's start with the nurses.
November 24, 2008
OVERSEAS NURSE RECRUITMENT MISSION A SUCCESS: MINISTERS
Dozens of new nurses will begin working in rural Manitoba as early as this spring following a successful recruitment mission to the Philippines, Health Minister Theresa Oswald and Labour and Immigration Minister Nancy Allan announced today.
So who doesn't love success? The news was so good they needed two strong NDP women to announce it. But the alarm bells should have been ringing from the very start.
"The provincial recruitment team has made conditional offers of employment to 131 nurses from the Philippines."
So why are we expecting only "dozens" of new nurses?
Because none of the Filipino nurses have been hired.
They expressed an interest in getting jobs in Manitoba and Manitoba expressed an interest in hiring them.
All the rest is a carrot to dangle in front of rural hospitals where emergency wards are closed every summer.
And nobody seemed to notice that the NDP apparently concedes that only 20 or 30 percent of those who expressed interest (" dozens") will actually get jobs.
* What about the day-care spaces?
The numbers spun by two, count 'em, two strong male cabinet ministers plus grinning prop Erin Selby, were dazzling -- even though the newspapers couldn't decide what the news about day-care spaces actually was.
Was it ' how many'? Or 'where'?
"The provincial government will fund 2,350 child-care spaces this year, the first year of its five-year plan that targets funding for 6,500 spaces in Manitoba." Winnipeg Sun.
"The Manitoba government is promising to convert surplus space in 10 schools into child-care spots as early as the end of the fiscal year." Winnipeg Free Press
It appeared at first glance that the government intended to spend $1.5 million into 343 new day-care spaces over the next four months. But a second glance told you that the day-care spots depended on renovations to 10 schools across the province and the schools would set their own timetable for the renos.
The number of new spots guaranteed by the end of March 31, 2009?
What is guaranteed -- is that the government will have a devil of a time hiring staff to look after the kids in the new day-care spaces.
It turns out the NDP is poaching its own day-care employees who are being lured away to higher paying jobs as school aides and nurses.
* As for the invisible wind farm, our first question was "what's wrong with this picture?"
The photo in the Winnnipeg Free Press of two reeves, the chairman of Manitoba Hydro Bob Brennan, Premier Gary Doer and Finance Minister Greg Selinger--grinning ear-to-ear like Cheshire Cats--could become the bedrock of a Tory ad campaign in the next election.
Let's start with the news release.
"November 24, 2008 CANADA'S LARGEST WIND FARM SLATED FOR DEVELOPMENT IN SOUTHERN MANITOBA - - -
Manitoba Hydro Board Accepts RFP Proposal For 300 MW Wind Farm at St. Joseph Manitoba's green economy received a major boost today with Manitoba Hydro Board's acceptance of an RFP proposal from St. Joseph Wind Farm Inc., owned by Babcock & Brown Canada ULC, to develop a 300 megawatt wind farm, the largest in Canada, at St. Joseph near Letellier in southern Manitoba, Premier Gary Doer and Manitoba Hydro president and CEO Bob Brennan announced today."
The board of Manitoba Hydro accepted a company's wind farm proposal.
That's hardly earth-shattering news since Hydro announced EIGHT MONTHS AGO that the company made the best bid for the project.
In fact, it's no news at all since no deal has been signed.
And no deal has been signed because they haven't agreed on how much Hydro is going to pay for the power from the wind farm.
And the reason they haven't agreed on the price is because the company has to take all the risk in building 130 turbines and producing power before it gets paid anything.
And in the current world economy---NOBODY is TAKING risks and NOBODY wants to finance risks.
So Manitoba Hydro has to make the company an offer it can't refuse, by, say, ELIMINATING THE RISK with a contract so sweet they can't lose.
Oh, and after signing an agreement, and jumping through the regulatory hoops, the company can take its sweet time to build the wind farm ("The exact schedule will depend upon the availability of materials and equipment for the wind turbines and related transmission facilities.") although the government would sure like it if the power was available, say by 2011 or 2012 or around the time Manitoba Hydro has said it needs the Wuskwatim power project completed "to meet domestic needs and firm export contracts."
How is that Wuskwatim project coming along, anyway? Oh, yeah, they still have no general contractor.
Expect a glowing news release on that any day now.
Lost in the blizzard of faux news from the government was this snippet of real news.
Under the cap-and-trade emissions system Manitoba is committed to, companies producing at least 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year in 2012 will either have to reduce immediately or buy "credits."
Who's already right on the borderline?
Why, the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre with 23,600 tonnes.
Yes, it appears that three years from now, instead of spending on health care and funding more nurses, more doctors, and more medicine, the NDP will be diverting money to buying CO2 credits to meet it ideological goals.
Those news releases should be real beauts.