It was an announcement many in the community had hoped would come for a long time.
But for a select few in the political realm — where timing is everything — the airport renovation project hit smack dab in the centre of a political target they had been aiming for, buoying their fortunes for the foreseeable future.
Few can dispute that our airport is a mere shadow of some of the other locales serviced by WestJet or other national carriers.
Aside from the installation of an ILS (instrument landing system) a couple years back, our municipal airport hadn’t seen any significant upgrades since Herman Miller chairs and shag carpet were snapped up to furnish the aging structure. It looked and felt outdated, and furthermore, with the arrival of WestJet, felt cramped, with guests shouldering into secure staging areas while waiting for the daily flight.
The time had come for the city and other levels of government to pony up the dough to renovate the complex — or officially check out on continuing the decades-old saga of trying to attract and keep an air carrier in the city.
This week’s $8.8-million announcement — split among the municipal, provincial and federal governments — is positive for the long-term feasibility of the growing business community in Westman.
Plus, as mentioned in the opening, it props up politicians who may be in need of a win such as this. This does not, in any way, detract from the work done by many to make this a reality. It just shows that timing can be so key in politics, and all three levels of government can stand to benefit from the work that went into securing the project.
First and foremost, it is something Mayor Shari Decter Hirst made a priority in her first term in office, and on this she can say leadership and a strong business case delivered the goods.
The mayor has scored two victories when it came to flying the friendly skies — first in attracting WestJet to the city and now in helping secure funding for the airport expansion and upgrade.
It likely won’t silence many of the mayor’s detractors — though little would — but being part of the team that made this happen will definitely be a proudly worn feather in Decter Hirst’s cap on the campaign trail.
Coincidentally, the airport was the first real spark we’ve seen from a quiet mayoral campaign thus far. Decter Hirst tossed a barb back at mayoral hopeful Rick Chrest for his platform announcement on the status of air service. Here is hoping it will breathe further life into spirited debate and provide both campaigns a pulse leading up to voting day.
Second to benefit from this announcement was the provincial government of Premier Greg Selinger, who had a whirlwind tour of Westman with the airport announcement, community forums and deals struck with post-secondary institutions.
Those who doubted whether the NDP government was in full-on election mode should be silenced after this past week. One need look no further than the rolled-up sleeves, and newly minted signs popping up in the community sporting the slogan “Steady growth and good jobs,” to see that electioneering at the provincial level has begun in earnest.
The third entity into the fray may have stood to benefit the most from the announcement.
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire has pretty much been unstoppable in his time in office thus far. He has silenced many of his detractors in this area by being practically everywhere at events and opportunities — a move that has not only been a boon for the longtime politician, but has helped solidify what once appeared to be a fractured riding association.
At the federal level, the Conservatives still have plenty of issues to deal with if they are to remain in government. But locally at least for Maguire, should he run again, it looks like a smoother journey down the campaign trail than the first go-around.
All political posturing aside, the one key that must remain in place on this airport expansion is the timeline. This cannot be a project that lingers and stumbles through re-announcements and delays.
The city has alluded to the fact it hopes the expansion will be completed 12 to 18 months after the shovels break ground. That won’t affect the civic election, but making the deadline will benefit both the province and feds — two entities that, without a doubt, will use it as evidence of investment in the region and leadership for the residents.