Just in time for Christmas --- a new batch of snake oil arrives in town.
Unelected Premier Greg Selinger, the slimiest politician in the province, waited until the Legislature rose for the winter before leaking details of the latest, oiliest, New Stadium Deal yet.
He doesn't think anyone will find it suspicious that he kept the deal hidden until the very day he can't be questioned about it on camera.
Nope, nothing suspicious about that.
Why, only a hardened cynic would compare that tactic to David Asper's hiding the cost of the new stadium until the civic election was over and his candidate for mayor, NDP-backed Judy Wasylycia-Leis, got trounced. "Still working on it", he'd say every day that went by after the tenders were delivered.
And after The Black Rod revealed the true cost had climbed as high as $190 million--for material alone.
And after Asper's construction company said we were just trying to sabotage the project with such inflammatory numbers.
What's Selinger saying today? "Still working on it."
That's the problem with snake oil. A little bit of sugar helps the rotgut go down---once. The second time around, no amount of noseholding helps kill the stench.
And this New New Stadium Deal is even less palatable than that whipped up by chief brewer David Asper.
You'll remember that one was supposed to be a privately-built stadium, with only a little government help here and there, that would provide the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with a guaranteed stream of revenue to keep them a viable team for generations.
The deal would cost $115 million and Asper promised to cover all construction overruns before taking over as the new private owner of the football club.
It turned out every word was a lie.
Asper didn't have two nickels to rub together, so his participation consisted of a tattered IOU. The cost to build a stadium ballooned to $190 million and climbing. And Asper reneged on his promise to pick up the tab for overruns the minute there were overruns. (He came as close to owning the team as you did, only you cost the city much, much less.)
The New Snake Oil is for the province to write a blank cheque for the still-unknown cost of the stadium and for everyone to pretend they'll get most of the money back from their "partners".
Unfortunately for them, and for us, their "partners' are other money-sucking government entities that depend on the province for existence.
The only hint of private sector involvement is the millions of dollars Greg Selinger intends to pay his "partner" David Asper to go away.
Instead of the fig leaf that Asper will pay back $90 million of the cost, we have the even bigger pretense that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will pay back $70 million. You know, the team that can barely keep the lights and heat on at the existing stadium suddenly has a Gold American Express card and can't wait to pick up the tab for everyone. Nope, nothing suspicious about that, either.
Oh, wait, we forgot that Selinger says they'll have help with a $2.40 surcharge on all tickets sold. At that rate, they only need to sell 29 million tickets. In a short 100 years, they'll have paid the government every cent back.
Except for the fact that the stadium will have been rebuilt twice over by then.
That, folks, is New Democonomics. As long as you've got your hands on the taxpayers' wallets, spend, spend, spend.
What more do you expect when the business deal is being drawn up by a social worker who has never run a business in his life.
But, of course, Sam Katz will be, as the Winnipeg Free Press put it Thursday, "scrutinizing" the business plan. Whew. That's a relief. But, uh, is this the same Sam Katz who OKAYED THE PREVIOUS DEAL WITH THE PREVIOUS SNAKE OIL SALESMAN, DAVID ASPER?
You know, the deal where an untendered contractor spent six months excavating a site without knowing what we would be building, what it would cost and who would be paying for it?
Uh, yeah. Same Sam Katz.
His latest trick to protect himself from the fallout of the stadium fiasco is to publicly insist he won't agree to anything unless he's given a maximum final price. Oooooh. Tough talk.
Until you ask yourself what happens if the cost exceeds the maximum final price. Answer: nothing.
The province will just pay it. That's what a blank cheque means. So all this talk about a maximum final price is only Sam Katz's escape clause from blame.
The city, we're told will be expected to cough up $7 million for the stadium. That's on top of the $2.5 million we're kicking in for a fitness centre at the University of Manitoba that's part of the whole deal.
So Winnipeg's contribution more than quadruples without a word of debate at city hall.
We suggest a word.
That's the word Sam Katz should hear when he finally drags this dead carcass of a deal into city hall.
We just had an election where the mayor and one candidate after another wept crocodile tears about the lack of public consultation in the city and about the need for greater transparency. And how overwhelming the infrastructure deficit is.
Start by saying NO. No to any suggestion that the stadium deal has to be rushed through council. Hold public hearings. Demand a thorough accounting on the financial health of your "partners".
Katz confessed in a radio interview during the election just past that the city had done no due diligence on David Asper before committing itself to a multi-million dollar deal with him.
We're standing on the rubble of that trust agreement.
A commenter on Skyscraper.co, writing under the name Tower Crane, summed up the public's frustration Thursday night. We couldn't say it better, so we'll give him the last words:
"Why are the people of Winnipeg letting somebody get away with this?"
"How was this project allowed to start?
"The Contractor ( Dominion ) would be smart enough to know the available funds versus the design were in major conflict, why was the start of excavation allowed to happen?
"How was Dominion even awarded this work, public money should have had a tender for general contractor?
"What was the permit value based on?
"One of you forumers that were so full of themselves earlier, saying stuff like you'll see, I know from a good source, blah blah blah should put as much effort into finding out what the heck happened, how, why.
"Someone's getting away with something rotten here and no one seems to be doing anything about it."