"Echh," replied McFadyen, "Keep it. I don't want it."
And with that, McFadyen, the hapless leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, showed he doesn't have a single political instinct anywhere in his body.
On May 31, 2011, Mark Chipman announced that NHL hockey had returned to Winnipeg. The Jets were back. The news electrified the province. It should have had Hugh McFadyen doing cartwheels at Portage and Main. He should have bought every billboard in town to carry his face smiling ear-to-ear and the message "I told you so" to every voter in the province.
Because McFadyen was the only politician who even dreamed that the return of the Jets was a possibility.
It's right there on the record. It had been the centrepoint of his 2007 provincial election campaign. And it cost him the election.
Four years ago McFadyen ran on a bold theme: if we can dream it, we can do it. And the biggest dream in Winnipeg, certainly, was to have the Jets back.
So he put on a Jets jersey and held a news conference in the Arena to reveal his platform, with the return of the Jets as the perfect example of dreaming big to take Manitoba out of the ranks of the also-rans and into the winners circle in the 21st century.
But the idea was so outlandish, that instead of inspiring the electorate, McFadyen became the object of unrestricted derision. For just a sample of how brutal the reaction was even to the idea that the Jets would return to Winnipeg, read what we wrote at the time.
Leading the attack on McFadyen was the NDP in government.
"And I'm gonna eliminate winter next year," sneered then-Premier Gary Doer, with his successor Greg Selinger at his side.
And then....it happened. The Jets were back! You can't say that too many times. And just as McFadyen had predicted, it transformed Winnipeg and Manitoba. A perfect example is this column in the Winnipeg Sun by Greg Dicrese.
"The Jets’ return, however, plunged a syringe of adrenalin into the heart of our city’s sagging psyche."
"Suddenly, it was as if our tired and jaded eyes snapped open to gaze upon the city in a new and confident light."
"That sense of being sidelined and second rate when compared to other cities with NHL teams was lifted. A feeling of pride washed over the ‘Peg as we rejoined one of our country’s most important national conversations: The Hot Stove Lounge."
"I’ve heard people say the NHL needed us. I’ve heard these rational reptiles say the city was doing fine, thank-you-very-much, without the Jets’ return to validate it."
"Yadda, yadda, yadda."
"All I know is Winnipeg looks and, more importantly, feels different this summer with the NHL back. And it’s something I didn’t feel when those professional boosters of our city cheered about Ikea coming."
Now any politician with a sliver of political instinct would know enough to grab on to the good news and run with it. McFadyen, instead, stood back and invited Mark Chipman to take the bows.
Unelected Premier Greg Selinger, meanwhile, elbowed Chipman aside at every opportunity to get his own mug into every picture. McFadyen, as he's been throughout his years as Opposition leader, was invisible.
So when we heard that the Conservatives had, ahem, "leaked" their own election platform to the news media on Monday, we couldn't wait to see it. It had to contain something even more spectacular than the return of the Jets, didn't it?
We could never have imagined in our wildest dreams what we found.
In a word: ugh.
Instead of the bold, exciting challenge of the 2007 campaign, Hugh McFadyen was offering voters the promise that Manitoba is going to have an NDP government for the next four years---whether it's the NDP under Greg Selinger or the NDP under Hugh McFadyen.
Because, yes, it turns out Hughie's big dream is to turn the P.C.Party into NDP 2.0.
He's simply adopted the entire NDP philosophy: Spend Spend Spend.
But he's replaced Tax Tax Tax with Borrow Borrow Borrow.
After years of accusing the NDP of spending like drunken sailors, the Manitoba Conservatives have pulled out the credit card, ordered a round for the house and told the bartender to keep 'em coming.
The NDP, worried about voter reaction to running deficits, claimed they would have a balanced budget in four years. Hugh McFadyen says deficits are your friend, why limit them. Why stop at 4 years when you can run a full eight years of borrowing at ever increasing interest rates? Pile up that debt now, don't wait.
The federal government has a child allowance? We'll have one too.
The home reno tax credit was a big success? We'll have one too.
The provincial sales tax raises too much revenue? We'll stop collecting it for this, that, and the other thing and make up the difference by borrowing money.
Oh, and doesn't everyone deserve a cottage at the beach? We'll extend the "$700 property tax credit to cottage owners to make cottage ownership more affordable."
In 2007 the Tory campaign was "if we can dream it, we can do it."
In 2011, it's "money's cheap; borrow your face off. Buy what you want now and stick your kids with the bill, the ungrateful little bastards. Tell 'em to shut up or you'll leave the cottage to someone else."