At 33 storeys, Canwest Place in Winnipeg proudly bills itself as “the largest office tower between Toronto and Calgary,” and there’s no question its namesake tenant—Canwest Global Communications—has also helped raise the profile of the Prairie city. But now, some fear the troubled communications conglomerate could be leaving town after Calgary-based cable operator Shaw struck a deal to buy control of Canwest as it struggles to restructure under bankruptcy protection.
Details of the deal remain sparse, but Shaw says Canwest will continue to be run as a separate company, which would make it easier to retain broadcast licences (Canwest’s newspaper business was not included in the deal). But the reality is that, if the sale goes through, the decision-making power will now be in downtown Calgary, not Portage and Main. “I guess all bets are off in terms of how things are going to evolve here,” says Dave Angus, the chief executive of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. While he says a strong case can be made for keeping Canwest in Winnipeg because of the city’s cheaper costs and a quality workforce, it won’t be the same as when Canwest was a homegrown success story, built by the late Israel “Izzy” Asper, who championed Manitoba at every turn and resisted efforts to move the company out east.
In addition to occupying the city’s tallest building, the company or Asper name adorns a ballpark, research hospital and business school. Asper was also the driving force behind the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is now under construction. Angus says the Canwest situation, while unfortunate, isn’t cause for alarm in Winnipeg, noting that Shaw has significant presence there. Besides, it’s not like anyone is talking about moving the headquarters to Toronto.