Tory pledges the Jets

CHRIS KITCHING -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

With so much debate and discussion about the issue since the last election, it was only a matter of time before a Manitoba party leader or candidate uttered the "J" word during this provincial election campaign.

Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen became the first yesterday when he pledged to support efforts to "bring back the Jets," a defunct NHL team that was the centre of a grassroots movement to keep it afloat and then heartache when the franchise moved to Phoenix a decade ago.

If his party forms the government, McFadyen said it will partner with private investors and inject a limited amount of public money to return an NHL team to Winnipeg within four years, and implement potential cash-raising initiatives. He did not know how much money his government would contribute, but said the venture would rely mostly on private funds.

NDP spokesman Andrew Swan said Premier Gary Doer is already part of discussions to bring a franchise here. Swan, incumbent MLA in the Winnipeg riding of Minto, did not say if the NDP would contribute public money.

'WINNER BONDS'

McFadyen's initiatives include government-issued "winner bonds" -- which he likened to Manitoba Hydro bonds -- that people could buy to invest in the team, a "White-Out to Win" lottery, and, if necessary, a tax charged to players of the home and visiting teams.

"Some will say this is bold but we must be bold to keep Manitobans here," said McFadyen, who was joined by former Jets captain Thomas Steen and Tory candidates when he made the announcement at MTS Centre.

McFadyen's plan, part of his strategy to entice people to stay in Manitoba, depends heavily on a number of variables already identified by others who share the same goal.

Among them, an existing team must be put up for sale and relocation, and the NHL must approve the deal. Private investors would be required to pump millions of dollars into the venture, and True North Sports and Entertainment -- which owns the hockey arena -- must sign on.

An ownership group would likely need more than $150 million to buy an existing team. The NHL owns the rights to the Jets name and logos.

True North chairman and Manitoba Moose owner Mark Chipman, who has been exploring the possibility of relocating a club, said it is helpful to him to know the NDP and Tories are on side.

"We're encouraged to know that both (leaders) and both parties see it the same way," Chipman said.


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