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First Casualty of the Election

The election hasn't been called yet, already it's claimed the first casualty.

It's been apparent for weeks now that there has been a deep split at the Winnipeg Free Press between the editorial page and the editors of the newspages. One has been railing against the corruption exposed by the Gomery Inquiry and calling for an immediate election; the other has been promoting the federal Liberal party and local Liberal MP's at every turn.

Guess which was which.

Call us precient or paranoid, but The Black Rod was in the midst of writing about this scism at the very hour the stretcher was called onto the battlefield.

Wednesday, the paper made it clear it speaks with one voice, and that voice is not the voice of ex-Publisher Murdoch Davis, who has been unceremoniously shown the door. And with him, we expect, will go all those calls for the resignation of Paul Martin and his Liberals.

There can be many reasons for a change of top management, ranging from financial misdeeds to personnel matters (read hanky-panky), but the timing of Davis' departure seems to point in one direction---politics.

The day after the ban-on-publication on Jean Breault's testimony was lifted and everyone could read for themselves of the kickbacks, payoffs, inflated contracts and general corruption enmeshing the Liberal Party, the Winnipeg Free Press editorial du jour declared an election was needed, immediately. Given the paper's staunch support of the Liberals in the last election, this was a shocker.

The day after Paul Martin's grovel on national TV, the FP editorial on Friday declared "Mr. Martin is Wrong", citing "the evil that has been disclosed" and concluding the public needed "a chance to clean house in Ottawa."
This week, with the publisher conspicuously missing from his office, the editorials in the Winnipeg Free Press came out strongly for corporate tax cuts. The words "Gomery" and "evil" have been nowhere to be found, like Murdoch Davis.

The litmus test of our supposition will be whether the Free Press editorial page endorses the same-sex marriage of Paul Martin and Jack Layton even without the necessary legislation.

It's hard to say who ordered the tumbrell for Davis---newspaper owners Ron Stern and Bob Silver, who pretty much turned the Free Press into a Liberal cheer-sheet last June or soon-to-be-owners the Aspers, who were just promised $100 million from the federal Liberals. Hmmm.

No one would like the answer more than Ottawa bureau chief Paul Samyn whose Tuesday scoop is looking more and more like what's known in the business as a C.E.S.-career-ending story.

In what was an obvious Page One story at any other newspaper, Samyn's story appeared buried innocuously in the second section of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Samyn cited official documents showing that proponents of the Asper Human Rights Museum tried to get taxpayers to pay for limos, gourmet coffee, and in-room hotel movies. More than half the expenses the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights wanted to pass off onto the public purse, was $12,000 for consulting services from former Liberal Party candidate Glen Murray!

One quote in the story seems fishy, though. "We don't pay people to negotiate with us to get contracts from us" said Daniel Snidal, a payments officer with Western Economic Diversification Canada.

Oh? Since when? Somebody better tell Judge Gomery, the rules have changed.

Of course the placement of the story was such that it wasn't meant to be read. Not like the Page One stories "Spring election? Bad idea" and "Day-care cash at risk", which is part of a series, following "Gas-Tax Money at risk" and "Floodway expansion money at risk."

The Gomery Inquiry story on Tuesday consisted of ten paragraphs on Page 10. The daily picture of Liberal MP Reg Alcock was on Page B2.

Even better proof the firing of Davis was all politics, was evident in the April 28th edition of the Free Press.

Page 3 blared "PM to make key visit to Winnipeg" ... and right beneath the story, the announcement "Davis out as Free Press publisher". Right underneath it. The juxtaposition makes the message very clear.

It turns out that Davis was axed the same day- the same day, mind you, as an exclusive interview with Prime Minister Dithers was granted to Samyn.

Amazingly, with all that is going on in Ottawa these days, the most extensive comments made by Martin were in defence of - you guessed it - his appointment of Glen Murray to chair the National Roundtable on Kyoto and Martin's bleating about the "partisanship" of the parliamentary committee that rejected the nomination.

"I really hold the Tories responsible for that."

Memo to Paul Samyn: next time remind the PM that his new bedmates, the NDP also voted, without exception, to reject Glen Murray. They didn't see Murray as "an outstanding mayor who had extensive involvement in environmental issues." Maybe they'll have to sleep on the couch for awhile.

The other person left hanging by the sudden disappearance of Murdoch Davis is new Editor Bob Cox. Before he could even see his new office, he's lost his mentor.And his job is getting tougher than ever, even if you discount the political "guidance" he's going to get when he arrives.

Case in point: the story that topped the second section of the Winnipeg Free Press on Tuesday, headlined "Katz cleared of conflict" by Mary Agnes Welch.

Ostensibly the story is about twin reports by the city auditor and the provincial ombudsman exonerating Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz of any suggestions of conflict of interest over the sale of the old Winnipeg Arena. The arena will be sold to land developers represented by Katz's friend and business partner Sandy Shindleman instead of to a group that wanted to build a water park.

But if you read deep into the story - deep, deep, deep into the story---over onto the jump page, you'll find that the city auditors recommended what Mary Agnes calls "small tweaks" to the way the city handles "requests for proposals."

The only hint of what these changes will be is a mention of "clarifying exactly what kind of information must be included in a proposal." This sounds more than a "small tweak" to us.

This sounds like exactly why they rejected the water park proposal.

And if that's the case, wasn't the selection process flawed? Not to mention behind closed doors.

We can't help but think that the rehabilitation of Sam Katz in the pages of Free Press is directly connected to the fact that despite the parallel municipal lordship being established by Lloyd Axworthy, Sam Katz is the man who runs things in this town, and the feds have to hand him the cheques, and not Dan Vandal, Murray's was-to-be heir-apparent.

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