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The Asper Stadium deal: a race to see who is the bigger fool

How apropos. The cobbled-together deal to finance a new stadium for Winnipeg was announced in the newspapers on April Fool's Day.

It's certainly made fools of everybody connected to the devil's bargain, but no one more so than newly elected Mayor Sam Katz.

They had barely swept up all the confetti from the victory celebration when Katz broke his only promise to the electorate.

Throughout the whole election campaign, Katz and his challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis were peppered with questions about the (even then) shaky stadium deal.

JustJudy (as she wanted to be called) was the more honest of the two.

She would, she told a CTV mayoral candidates forum, give David Asper a blank cheque to finish his stadium with the initial design. Spend whatever it takes, she told the public.

Katz chose to play coy, responding to all stadium questions with a packaged answer. The deal was for a $115 million stadium, he said smugly, and any change in plan would mean the deal had to come back to city council.

Taxpayers took that to mean that if the price of a new stadium exceeded the agreed-upon $115 million, then the deal was off. City council would then be tasked with coming up with a new idea for replacing the old stadium.

But it turns out Katz was only foolin'. Within a week and a half after winning the election he was up to his old tricks and neck deep in backroom dealing to rescue the stadium at the University of Manitoba.

^ Poof ^. His promise to return the deal to city council was broken in a second.

David Asper had managed to keep the true cost of his planned stadium secret until the election was over. Eventually, though, came the day of reckoning.

On Wednesday Nov. 3 he dropped his bombshell in a meeting with "stakeholders". Costs were way, way, way over what had been agreed to. And his "partners" (i.e. the province and the city) would have to dig deep, deep, deep into taxpayers' pockets to pay the difference.

The very next day, the secret was out in public. CBC reported that a "source close to the deal" said that the cost of the proposed stadium had ballooned to $160 million.

And the reaction of the politicians? Transparency be damned!

"Get over it," sneered Katz at everyone who had predicted just this scenario.

He and unelected Premier Greg Selinger then raced into the shadows faster than a Kennedy at a whorehouse to cobble together still another backroom deal which will be delivered as a fait accompli to city hall for its usual rubber stamp.

Only this time it must be different.

This is a new council filled with four new faces and an equal number of incumbents bruised by reelection battles over their public's anger at the weak, slanted or non-existent public consultations over major issues in their wards.

This council must tell Sam Katz "NO."

NO to backroom deals.
NO to his broken promise to bring the stadium deal back to council.

NO to any continued involvement by David Asper.

NO to spending money when you don't know what the project costs, what it will look like, or who's paying for it.

This city council must insist that the question of a new stadium for the city start over again at square one.

The template for the new council can be the excellent 8 Questions on the stadium asked in print by Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

All options are open again. Remember, the very first idea was to rebuild the stadium in stages at its current Polo Park site. It was scrapped because the federal government wouldn't contribute money to sports facilities. But if the province is footing the entire bill through whatever ruse Selinger is using today, then this option becomes more viable than ever.

But, but, but....they've already dug a hole at the University of Manitoba.

Fill it it and send the bill to Creswin and David Asper.

We relied on Creswin's cost estimates. If they were so out of whack why should taxpayers get stuck? What is this---the Museum for Human Rights?

In fact, that would be the least of David Asper's concerns. We're picking up on comments left on message boards that suggest there needs to be a criminal investigation of the whole deal.

The initial pricetag for a new stadium to be built by Asper's company Creswin was $115 million. Asper was to pick up any cost overruns, at least that's what Sam Katz told the public, even after the day in August when Asper reneged on that promise as reported by Tom Brodbeck in the Winnipeg Sun. (Somebody's gotta pay, Winnipeg Sun, Aug. 30, 2010).
Dogged by questions about runaway construction costs, Creswin lied. (Emphases ours)

"For 10 days now, we have been fighting untrue, inflammatory numbers on stadium costs that are clearly being floated to media outlets in order to make mischief on the project. This conduct and inability to keep confidences while we work through the complex tendering process is both highly unprofessional and disturbing," wrote Creswin President Dan Edwards in an email to the Free Press. (Muddy pit becoming money pit, Gary Lawless, Winnipeg Free Press, Oct. 20, 2010).

Precisely 10 days earlier, guess who reported guess what?

Saturday, October 09, 2010
The tenders are in. Is the bill for new stadium $190 million?

As we see today, the numbers may have been "inflammatory" but they certainly weren't "untrue."

So, Creswin, which gets paid for the construction thanks to an untendered contract, lied to the public about the cost of the stadium before the deal was approved.

And lied after the deal was approved.

And kept the true numbers hidden until after the election, in the hope that the NDP candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis might win.

And saw a contract for pilings signed the day before the latest cost number was revealed, keeping the construction money flowing in.

And now hopes that Greg Selinger will bail the company (read David Asper) out of the jam. Or at least write a great big severance cheque. (Keep $13 million in mind.)

And Selinger is out to do just that.

He told CJOB morning radio host Hal Anderson:

"When the final decisions are made, everything will come out in public. The people will know the whole story."
Isn't that comforting? After Selinger and Katz make their backroom deal, they will inform the public.

But, then, Selinger has an ulterior motive. Don't forget he's already signed up David Asper as an NDP asset in the coming provincial election.
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2010/04/david-asper-hitches-blue-bombers-to-ndp.html
Sunday, April 04, 2010
David Asper hitches the Blue Bombers to the NDP bandwagon
With a barrage of insults aimed at the leader of the Manitoba P. C. Party, millionaire moocher David Asper has politicized the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team.
Asper was spitting mad at Opposition leader Hugh McFadyen on CJOB last Thursday for expressing doubt that Asper could repay the $90 million that the NDP is lending him to build a new stadium and become the team's owner.

The day after the April Fool's announcement, Asper publicly threw his support behind the NDP against Hugh McFadyen. That's why Selinger will work to keep Asper's stadium dream alive, whatever the cost to the public.

And that, in turn, is why he's known as the dirtiest politician in Manitoba.

Sam Katz, meanwhile, can only lay claim to being an April Fool.
But the bigger fools will be city councillors who let him get away with it.

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