The hullabaloo the opposition Tories have been trying to stir up over advertising for casinos seems incredibly strange to me.
What, are the casinos supposed to be a secret or something? I just couldn't figure it out.
Looking for answers, I traveled to Club Regent Casino to ask the oracle. Namely, that weird animatronic skeleton-pirate who is always accompanied by his loyal skeleton-dog, Lucky.
"Pirate, I've come looking for wisdom," I declared (as the people around me slowly backed away, careful not to make any sudden movements). "Why all the fuss about casino advertising?"
"Arrrrr," he answered. "Have ye seen the film Casablanca?"
I told him I had.
"There be a scene in that film when a scurvy rat gets busted for gamblin'. Does ye remember that mighty fine scene, arrrrrrr?"
I had to think for a minute, but then it came to me. There's a famous scene in Casablanca, in which the police captain, played by Claude Rains, tries to close down a club for running an illegal gambling operation in the back room.
Gambling? "I'm shocked -- shocked -- to find gambling is going on in here!" the captain exclaims. He's then interrupted by a casino dealer, who hands him an envelope and says, "Your winnings, sir."
"Oh, thank you very much," the police captain replies.
So, I told the pirate I knew the scene he was referring to. But what does that have to do with casino advertising in Manitoba?
"That police captain be like the Conserv'tives, arrrrr!"
Needless to say, this cryptic message was a bit of a stumper at first. What was the Pirate talking about? There's almost no physical resemblance between Claude Rains and Stuart Murray, so that couldn't be it.
I took a guess. "You mean," I told the pirate, "that the police captain in Casablanca is like the Manitoba Conservative Party, which spent the 1990s expanding gambling to the point where you sometimes feel like you can't swing your arms in Winnipeg without hitting a VLT machine. But now in opposition, the Tories are pretending to be shocked - shocked! - to find out casinos are running advertising campaigns. Yet when they were in government the Tories advertised casinos on TV, radio, billboards, and even an entire transit bus. It's just hypocrisy."
That was it. I had it figured out. Even Lucky the mechanical skeleton-dog started barking and jumping around at this point.
You know, looking back on it, that imaginary conversation with a mechanical skeleton-pirate really made a lot of sense.
There are casinos in Manitoba. That's the reality. In Winnipeg they employ almost 2,000 people. Those jobs are vulnerable to competition from other casinos in Regina or the US - and don't think they don't advertise here.
It's true that gambling is far from the best form of economic development, and does have serious social costs.
If you don't think there should be casinos in this province, fine. But to say that we should have casinos but not advertise for them is the kind of mushy-headed policy that only a politician who's trying to have it both ways could come up with.
The Tories' finger-wagging over a few billboards is little more than posturing.
They want us to think they can claim the moral high-road on this issue.