The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Saturday, July 16, 2005


...Let us say what everyone is thinking: Winnipeg entomologist Taz Stuart is guilty of gross incompetence and should be fired.

His value has dropped further than shares in the Crocus Fund.

And Mayor Sam Katz needs to know that his appalling judgement in backing hippie-dippy Taz unconditionally, means that he should be prepared to resign if a single Winnipeg citizen is infected with West Nile Virus.

Playing games with the lives and health of Winnipeg residents cannot be forgiven.
A simple sorry will never be enough.
Not when you knew better and could have acted at any time, but chose not to.

Why did we have to depend on the province to act decisively in the face of dangerously high levels of West Nile-infected mosquitoes when city officials were telling us there was no problem ?

The press says the mosquito debacle is due to poor communications on the part of Taz, the new boy in the job of mosquito control. That's nonsense.
Compare these two days of mosquito stories on CBC:

On a more positive note, Stuart said the Culex tarsalis mosquito that carries West Nile virus in Manitoba has not been found in large numbers in city traps.

Meanwhile, the city released trap-count figures for the capital region on Thursday that shocked longtime residents. Inside the city, trap counts ranged from a low of 81 in Garden City to a high of 3,392 in Charleswood. Provincial officials say preliminary information indicates the number of Culex mosquitoes, the type that carries the West Nile virus, has increased in most communities across southern Manitoba, with Culex mosquitoes making up 20 to 40 per cent of the mosquitoes in many traps.

Has anyone demanded an answer from Taz as to why he saw no problem the day before the province screamed "Fog"?

We suspect the answer is in the embarassing inteview Taz gave on Wednesday to the CBC. He was all giggly and grinning as the reporter lobbed softballs at him, all premised (and some phrased) on the conclusion that fogging was bad and not really effective anyway.

What the reporter failed to do is put Taz's experience in mosquito fighting into context.

Because before coming Winnipeg, Taz was the bug guy in Regina, a city which has eschewed fogging. Nor did the CBC think it important to mention that in 2003, on Taz's watch, almost 250 people in Regina and district developed West Nile symptoms, many of them in the most severe range. So perhaps his bar for mosquito tolerance is set a lot lower than anyone knew.

Taz has been quite clear since the day he arrived. It's been the press that simply refused to hear what he was saying. "Read my lips. No Fogging!" How much simpler could he put it? Sure he dodged and danced and sidestepped as he said it, but the sum of every interview was the same: fogging is safe and there will be no fogging for mosquitoes.

Taz set himself up as the ultimate arbitor of when to fog. He did away with announcing mosquito counts so that the simple citizens wouldn't bother their little heads with when fogging should take place. He spun a complex formula for when fogging would be necessary, a formula that could only be understood by a graduate of the Hogwart's Academy of Mosquitology like him.

Challenged, he haughtily told the voters they could get mosquito counts once a month, if they filed a Freedom of Information request. When that went too far, he "compromised" and agreed to announce 'average' mosquito counts instead of actual counts in each trap around the city. And what did it mean in the end? Well, just that he would decide what to tell the public and he would decide when fogging was necessary using his own secret formula .

Oh and fogging was not going to be necessary.

The press went along with it, meekly accepting that the previous formula for triggering fogging was based on "arbitrary" numbers of mosquitoes in traps, as if Taz's predecessor just put some numbers in a hat and decided that 100 was the magic number.

But nowhere did any reporter think those numbers through.

When the trap count reaches 100 a night, then that's a pretty good indication, historically supported, that the mosquito population is becoming a problem. The job of the city entomologist is to keep the mosquito population under control. When the count hit 100, or 25 a night over three nights, it was a sign that mosquitoes were getting out of control. Which pretty much describes the present situation.

For mosquito counts to be over 3000 in a trap is outrageous. For the city mosquito fighting forces to have no idea of the extent of West Nile infestation is unforgiveable. Even more disturbing is that Taz has blown the mosquito fighting budget already, just when the worst outbreak of mosquitoes is starting. And he was warned a month ago that conditions were perfect the largest outbreak of West Nile virus ever seen in the province.

Winnipeg Free Press June 25, 2005
"It is calm now, but there is very high potential for it to break very suddenly and with a great deal of fury," said University of Winnipeg professor Rob Anderson.who was the provincial government's scientific advisor on West Nile in 2003 and 2004 before returning to full-time teaching.

In a typical Manitoba summer, three generations of Culex tarsalis mosquitoes are born, each much larger than the last. University of Winnipeg professor Rob Anderson believes extra heat this year could add another generation or even two.

Equally culpable in the delusion of the anything-but-fogging methods to control mosquitoes is the city's new mayor, who was no doubt spurred into reversing his tracks only city lawyers considered the implications of the rumoured class action lawsuit being bandied about by (speaking of bloodsucking insects) their learn-ed friends anxious to canvass anyone who became ill with West Nile and "sign here".

Sam Katz was in full Patton mode during last year's election campaign when he declared a "war on mosquitoes", complete with charts, a pointer and the giant " no-skeeters" logo. He backed up his tough talk by immediately ordering fogging resumed in the face of protests by a lunatic fringe.

But he was already talking about using a secret weapon.
Winnipeg - September 23, 2004 - Winnipeg's Mayor Sam Katz today welcomed new City Entomologist Taz Stuart to City Hall and outlined some ideas to develop a new approach to summer mosquito control that would avoid fogging. Katz will ask Stuart to explore the use of methoprene briquettes, a technique used in American cities such as Boston and New York City. Methoprene is administered in standing water and gradually releases a chemical that prevents the reproduction and maturity of mosquitoes. The briquettes may allow larviciding efforts to endure through extended periods of rainfall in wet summers.

You mean wet summers like this one, Sam?

Did those briquettes come with a money-back guarantee?

Time for the truth. Briquettes, dragonflies, minnows, and whatever other hippy-dippy Hogwart's magic methods have been tried are an utter, total, complete failure. Mayor Sam's three-year battle campaign has ended in a complete rout in year one. The province had to step in and send Sammy to the showers.

Perhaps the final straw was the pathetic shuck and jive routine he did for the television cameras on Wednesday.

He couldn't understand that people are fed up with mosquitoes which are out of control. The insect control branch of government has failed to do its job. The mosquito problem is not a P.R. problem Sam. It's a health problem. And if you can't understand that, you're in the wrong job.

Councillor Harry Lazarenko has been the only one to confront the failure of the city entomologist's office."He works for us. We don't work for him." he said. "I can tell you right now, Mr. Stuart is playing a very deadly game. It could mean his job." Well said, Harry.

When Taz was introduced to the city last year, some councillors tried to share the spotlight.
Councillors Donald Benham (River Heights-Fort Garry) and Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) battled it out to claim him as their own.

Here's how one newspaper saw it:
Benham pointed out that its leaning away from a use of malathion came from his push last year to find alternatives when "everyone was howling" about residential fogging. Not so, says Smith. It's really he and Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) who led the way. "I was calling for larviciding as an answer to replace the idea of fogging a few years ago," Smith insisted. "Jenny and I have had a part in this more than Benham -- Benham is new.

"It was Benham, peculiarly, who uttered the most compelling comment of the launch. "I want someone with Taz Stuart's scientific background," he said, "telling councillors what the real science is."

Now with the threat of West Nile at an all-time high thanks to the disastrous policies of No-Fog Taz, let's see if they'll tie their own political futures to his. (The Black Rod will have more about Don Benham's political judgement in a coming issue.)

Thankfully, that decision has been taken out of their hands by, of all people, Tim Sale.

The Black Rod has been critical of Sale in the past. Need we mention how he botched the Hydra House investigation and still has never apologized for slandering whistleblower Jim Small in the Legislature?

But in this case - he acted properly and decisively.

Bravo Tim.

Now apologize.

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