Friday, August 11, 2006

Conservatives' Crown Corp Chronicles

A couple of Canadian institutions have been thrust into the spotlight these days, and since everything IS political, let's take a look at some battles that are shaping up for the coming year.

The first - and by far the more serious - involves the Canadian Wheat Board and the grumblings from producers over the Harper government's plans to end the board's monopoly on export sales of wheat and barley.

(Yes, that giant swooshing sound you hear is the sound of eyes glazing over throughout the blogsphere. Our apologies, dear reader, we will try to be brief.)

But the potential political landmines underlying this situation is what's intriguing to Addicts. Indeed, it has the potential to displace the contentious softwood lumber deal as the most boring story, like, EVER.

More than that, it has the potential to become a serious wedge issue in rural Manitoba and a big-time thorn in the backside for provincial (as well as federal) Tories. It is early days yet and is already proving troublesome for Tory MP Inky Mark and others.

Provincially, there is little to choose between the Tories and NDP when it comes to farm policy. Historically, both have thrown tractor-loads of cash at farmers in order to compensate for drought, flooding, or whatever happens to be the ailment of the day.

To be fair, the Doer government is trying to generate new rural economic development by harvesting such energy "crops" as wind and ethanol, and by investing in agri-foods and nutraceuticals. Still, Doer faces an uphill battle in yellow-dog Tory country that is rural Manitoba.

And this is where the Wheat Board deliberations are quietly gaining steam as a provincial election issue. True, it is unlikely to captivate the mainstream media and generate many - if any - page one headlines.

There's no question, however, that ground wars will be fought in key rural ridings with support for the CWB providing the NDP with a much-needed rallying cry. It will make life outside of the perimeter interesting indeed.


The second institution in play is none other than Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC). CBC's contract with the NHL is set to expire at the end of the 2007/08 season, and sources say CTV-TSN is going hard after the contract that has been CBC's cash cow for more than 50 years.

Now, we aren't even going to get into the financial implications for the CBC should they lose HNIC. Suffice to say they would rock the organization like a Scott Steven's bodycheck, as HNIC is the corp's one and only license to print money.

But financial implications aside, the CBC without HNIC is like Winnipeg without the Jets - just plain wrong.

Purists of Canadian culture who think the CBC should be hockey free - and are eagerly counting the minutes till it's all-Masterpiece-Theatre-all-the-time - are forgetting just what HNIC means to many Canadians. From the opening strains of the theme song, to Don Cherry's silly suits, the show is synonymous with growing up north of the 49th.

And this is where the game gets interesting for our hockey-mad Prime Minister. Everyone knows Harper and crew don't like the Liberal-lovin' CBC, and there's been plenty of tough talk about mandate review and the like.

Ultimately, though, overhauling the CBC is not a top Harper priority cause it's a sure-fire loser, a big, noisy, messy fight that's not worth having. Especially for a minority government. Sure, Canadians grumble about the CBC. But they also mostly like the CBC. And in many communities with limited broadcast options, they rely heavily on the CBC.

However, once negotiations with the NHL heat up and HNIC starts skating on thin ice, the federal government is going to face growing public pressure to figure out just what CBC's mandate ought to be, and how hockey fits into the corp's future. If HNIC is to go, what would the new CBC look like?

One has only to look at how Canadians mobilized by the thousands when CBC threatened to part ways with Don Cherry to see the passions that are invoked when someone tries to tinker with HNIC. Scrap it alltogether? Head's up folks, the game has only just begun.


Other things: You heard it here first. The key issue in the next provincial election, Mantario.


Aaaah. The other shoe drops in Fort Rouge. Howard is in. And, newsflash, she is NOT just running as a woman. (Who knew?)

No word yet on whether Allum is just running as a man.


And from today's Star on Ignatieff sorta apologizing for his "losing no sleep" over Lebanese dead:

"Ignatieff, a one-time journalist himself, said he has no complaint about the way his comments were reported. "One rule I understand about this is that you're fully responsible for your words. You're even responsible when they're quoted out of context, as I believe I was in this instance," he said."