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:

Friday, October 14, 2005


The Postleman Always Quotes Twice

We're not sure what's worse---that Manitoba medical czar Brian Postl dropped a bombshell this week and it wasn't reported in the local news?

Or that the Winnipeg Free Press doesn't know who Dr. Brian Postl is?

On Thanksgiving Monday, a published interview with Postl had Prime Minister Paul Martin clutching his chest as he lurched to the phone for help---political help, that is.

It took some doing, but the Liberal damage-control team had Postl issuing a...what? A retraction? A correction? A clarification?
Whatever it was, it was out just before 10 p.m. Eastern time.

And, oh the phone calls that must have been made on the holiday. Not to Mom.

To news directors and editors to kill the Postl story a-sap.
This bombshell apparently only saw the light in the tiniest sliver of the news media --- the Ottawa Sun, CTV, and the London Free Press, as well as Maclean's, where the original interview ran.

And the Winnipeg Free Press? Well, it ran a three paragraph brief of the story and buried it on an inside page among a long list of other briefs. And the editor cut the story off just before it identified the source of the bombshell - Dr. Brian Postl.

Who? Postl? Never heard of 'em. Chop it here and let's see if there's any turkey left.

And it's not like waiting lists weren't newsworthy for the Freep.

* The paper even ran a story Wednesday by Lindor Reynolds about a Winnipeg family of Winnipeg dealing with the wife's 30 month wait for hip replacement surgery. After paying for her own MRI scan in Calgary, losing her daycare business and having to move into an accessible home, she is one of 2015 Winnipeggers waiting for hip or knee replacement surgery. "The prime minister talks about reallocating resource. Well I'm reallocating mine. I'm taking my tax money ($16,000) and paying for something the government isn't providing". said husband John.

Lindor went running to the Canada Revenue Agency and after the obligatory don't -do- this- at- home-kids take, she slipped in the artful spin to blame the provincial government and let the federal Liberals slip off the hook: " Wasn't this problem supposed to be fixed around the same time the government promised to end hallway medicine? And just how long are we expected to put up with it?"

Maybe it is the Free Press that has to reallocate its resources, to find some editors who remember what's been printed in their own newspaper, who could have steered their columnist away from the lame tax angle and back to the point- exactly who is responsible?

After all- the man responsible for determining acceptable waiting times for surgeries had given the answer the day before in her own newspaper, but like we said, no one there even recognized his name and clearly Lindor Reynolds didn't recognize the answers, with or without his name.

* At the start of the week, in an interview with Maclean's, Dr. Brian Postl, President and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the man named by the Liberals in July as the Federal Advisor on Wait Times, said there was no way the government could live up to its pledge to establish benchmarks for wait times by Dec. 31, 2005.

John Geddes Q&A with Brian Postl, the federal advisor on wait times:

Geddes: Under the September 2004 accord, the provinces are supposed to deliver by Dec. 31 benchmarks for how quickly patients should get procedures in five priority areas, from cancer care to MRI scans. Is that going to happen?

Postl: I think what's really coming at the end of December is a starting point for benchmarks... more importantly, what will come is discussion around how you build through research, through evidence, a stronger connection to what benchmarks really are. How do you build the evidence that supports huge expenditures, which is what we're talking about? How do you build processes that improve the way the system mitigates waits? I think the whole concept of information systems will be discussed -- that you can't do any of this until you build a system that tells you where people are on the wait lists. So that's what's coming Dec. 31. I don't think it's going to be a complete and extensive catalogue of benchmarks in these five areas.

Or, a long and windy way to say," No, it's not going to happen."

* Canadian Press reporter Dennis Bueckert spotted the interview and reworked it into a story that went out on Canada News Wire the same day. It was a truncated version of this story that ran in the Free Press on Tuesday.

OTTAWA -- There's growing uncertainty whether Canadians will get the medical wait-time benchmarks they were promised during a highly publicized national health summit last year.
The benchmarks were a crucial part of the $41-billion deal between Ottawa and the provinces that was trumpeted as a decade-long cure for the ailing medicare system.
But one year later, the federal wait-time adviser says the whole idea of benchmarks is impractical because there is little scientific evidence on which to base them.

Imagine the terror that went through the Liberal ranks when they read those opening words. The Liberals had made the benchmarks a cornerstone of their health platform a year ago when they were desparately fighting for re-election and trying to divert attention from the kickback scandals that engulfed them.

To convince voters they were sincere and not just playing politics (oh no, not the Liberals playing politics) the government promised Canadian it would make sure wait-time benchmarks for five key procedures - cancer, heart, MRI/CT scans, joint replacements and cataract removals - were in place by the end of the year.

"Our objective is clear: to ensure that Canadian receive the health care they need when they need it. Canadians want to see results." Minister Dosanjh said when announcing Postl's appointment.

And now they were faced with breaking their blood-oath to the electorate.

Can't happen. Get Postl on the phone. NOOOWWWW.

* Within hours, a "statement" had been crafted, and issued by Postl.

21:54 EDT Monday, October 10, 2005
OTTAWA, Oct. 10 /CNW Telbec/ - "Contrary to a story running on the CP Newswire today, I have every reason to believe that there will be evidence based benchmarks in the priority areas as provided for in the September 2004 First Ministers' Agreement on Health, in time for the December 31, 2005 deadline as set out in the Agreement. There is no doubt in my mind that there is both the capacity and the evidence needed to do so. I believe that the benchmarks we are working toward will be based on entirely sound medical science.
What I did say was that while the First Ministers' Agreement did acknowledge the need for national standards, it also acknowledged the need for some flexibility while achieving that comparability."

The cover-up held for only a couple of days. Thursday, the cat was out of the bag, even at the Free Press.

Wait-time deadline won't be met
By Dennis Bueckert
Ottawa -- Provincial officials say they cannot keep the promise of last year's health accord to draw up evidence-based benchmarks for waiting times for a range of high-priority medical services... (The Winnipeg Free Press, page 11)

* And it's escalating.

Consternation in medical community
Ottawa -- ...If premiers didn't intend to follow through on their commitments in the accord they shouldn't have signed, Normand Laberge (executive director of the Canadian Association of Radiologists), said in an interview yesterday. "If I sign a document, that's my word." (Oct. 14, Winnipeg Free Press, page18)

Still not recognizing the importance of the story, or even identifying Brian Postl as something other than some Ottawa bureaucrat, they buried both stories deep in the paper.

Interview our own health-care mandarin in his own town? Preposterous. What do you think we are, a daily newspaper?

The provinces, with billions of dollars of new money in their coffers, now confess that they won't have any measured benchmarks against which their performance in providing health care can be measured.

Postl spilled the beans on Monday. His solution---more talk, more study, more years of waiting. No wonder he makes $350,000 a year; he's got all the answers.

Too bad The Winnipeg Free Press doesn't have any questions.
The Black Rod has been nominated for an award. The Small Dead Blog Awards are North American in scope and are hosted by the 2004 winner of Best Canadian Blog, the respected Small Dead Animals.
The Black Rod is the only Manitoba blog nominated in the entire poll. We are one of only 4 nominees in the category of Best Whistleblower Blog.

Here is a link to the poll,

on the left side of the screen scroll down towards the end of the ballot (after Best Hard News blog) until you see Best Whistleblower and click the circle beside your favored nominee ;)

According to the rules, one vote is allowed per computer per day.

Thank you for your support.
And while we're gaining recognition, certain columnists have lost their perch. A little birdie tells us local entertainer Charles Adler is entertaining new offers, now that his regular column at the Free Press is being eliminated, after being identified as a cost-that-could-be-cut with no noticeble effect on circulation or readership. Morning talk show listeners of CJOB have already forgotten him as anything other than the voice of car and hearing-aid ads, and after tomorrow Free Press readers will no doubt forget about him too, since no one watches the dreadful 10 minute snorefests Adler passes off as current affairs for Global TV.

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