A delegation showed up to pitch the joys of raising chickens in the city. One of them pulled a live chicken out of a bag. Security was called to get the fowl out. That's the kind of story that only comes along once in a lifetime. Of course, it was covered by every news outlet in the city.
The story left everyone laughing. Everyone who isn't Brian Pallister, the newly minted leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba.
In one minute, that chicken created more excitement than Pallister has managed in the six months since he announced his bid to be party leader.
In the week before the current session of the Manitoba Legislature got underway, Pallister had two opportunities to create some buzz. He was the guest speaker at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce breakfast, surely a friendly audience. News coverage: zero. The next day he was interviewed by Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett at the FP News Cafe. News coverage: zero.
Ask anyone about the chicken and you'll get a big grin and and an "Oh, yeah." Ask them about the recent P.C. annual general meeting presided over by Brian Pallister and you'll get a blank stare.
You could prompt them by asking about the stirring speech delivered by the new Tory leader that had the 600 delegates on their feet cheering, hooting, singing and hungry for NDP blood.
You would be lying. There was no such speech. The Conservatives are not cheering their new leader. They're scratching their heads and wondering how they got stuck with another loser.
Way back in April, Pallister announced formally he was running to be leader of the P.C. Party in Manitoba. The declaration was a dud because nobody else wanted the job. Pallister then had 100 days to say and do anything he wanted to raise his profile and pump some life into the moribund Conservatives. He did--nothing.
He was acclaimed leader in July. With the press crowding around him to record every word he had to say on the day he officially became leader of the Opposition---he told them to come back the next day. Few bothered. And those that did left wondering why, because he had next to nothing to say then either.
The city hall chicken got more and better press than Pallister did during the byelection. With a month to show people what a new Conservative Party would look like, Pallister left the presentation of new ideas to other candidates, who jumped at the opportunity.
Darrell Ackman, under attack for even being allowed to run for office while facing charges, did more to educate the ignorant about human rights under Canada's constitution than the entire board of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has ever done, starting with the right to be presumed innocent under the law.
None of the hypocrites from the Manitoba human rights establishment stepped forward to defend Ackman's human rights, by the way.
Even Green Party candidate Donnie Benham bettered Pallister with his pet issue---the culture of entitlement that sees politicians quit soon after winning their seats, forcing expensive byelections. Politicians like former P.C. leader Hugh McFadyen who ran an election in 2010 asking the residents of Fort Whyte to give him their trust as their representative in the Legislature. He tossed that trust in the dumpster on his way out of town to a job in Calgary, sticking taxpayers with a $600,000 bill for this byelection.
The press never got around to asking McFadyen's successor, Brian Pallister, about this breach of trust. But it's an issue that deserved a much greater airing that it got from the MSM, who, you guessed it, treated it as a joke because it came from a fringe candidate.
(The solution to quitters, by the way, is surprisingly easy. If the winning candidate quits before his term is up, the second-place finisher automatically becomes the MLA. No byelection necessary. That should make quitters think twice before leaving.)
Pallister babbled something to the tiny News Cafe audience about his plans to live his policies when the Legislature got back in session. Or something like that. By that time, after close to an hour of aimless chatter, we weren't paying much attention, just like most Manitobans.
The few nuggets of information he did drop:
* he's counting on 57 rebuilt constituency associations to bring out the vote in the next election,
* he's reading a book by Barack Obama's campaign manager for tips on getting elected, and
* the Tories have raised more money than ever.
Whoopdedoo. They'll need it, because right now they can't buy public attention. Pallister hasn't raised a ripple in the Legislature despite all his big talk.
Another billion dollar deficit on the horizon? Five years of supervisors' notes in the Phoenix Sinclair case missing and presumed destroyed secretly under the NDP's watch? Eh, who would expect the Opposition to ask questions about that stuff? Certainly not the party leader.
But, the Conservatives are flush with cash. And that means they can afford their only hope to win an election---The Black Rod Bolt (as we've named it). It was exactly one year ago when we revealed its existence.
Our offer is not a joke, not a prank and not a tease of any sort. It is the result of careful analysis of the political situation in the province of Manitoba, particulary following the election of 2011 which ended in the rout of the Progressive Conservative Party.
In a nutshell, there is no viable opposition to the NDP government in Manitoba, now or on the horizon. This has become a one-party state much as Alberta under the Conservatives. There's even a name for it---Kabuki Democracy. The system keeps the trappings of democracy but elections become a form of stylized drama with each party playing a defined role and the winner never in doubt.
The possibility of 40 years of NDP rule is not out of the question. Already the last time the Conservatives were in power was almost 13 years ago. That will be 16 years by the time the next election is called--- which the Tories have no hope of winning.
The Conservatives have only been going backwards since their loss in 1999 and show no sign they can reverse that trend. Almost a year of Pallister and their forward momentum is zero.
Our plan takes nerve. It's a gamble but, as they say, no guts, no glory. And it's the only glimmer of originality you will read, see or hear in Manitoba.
Every other single pundit in the province spouts the same tired formula---have a convention, elect a charismatic leader (they can't suggest who), present some exciting new ideas (they can't suggest what) and try again. If you like losing, that's a recipe for success.
Why not just put the idea out there? Why charge?
The Manitoba Conservatives spent $2 million on their 2011 campaign and achieved nothing. That's not chicken feed. The "professional" consultants and pollsters walked away with their pockets bulging with money without producing a single new seat. We are also professionals. We don't work for free. If winning an election has a value, then pay gladly the people with a winning idea.
The timing for The Black Rod Bolt has never been better. Events have moved in our favour faster than we ever expected a year ago. The conditions are perfect. Carpe diem, anyone?
Or are you too chicken?