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:

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Peter Kent Challenge - Free Press provides exhibit A

When veteran broadcaster Peter Kent announced he was running for office as a candidate for the Conservative Party, he threw down a gauntlet. Not for his Liberal Party challenger in the Toronto riding of St. Paul's.

For journalism schools.

Kent, the former host of CBC's national newscast and later Global TV's national newscast, said he sees political bias creeping into television and radio reporting and certainly in the news pages. And that bias favours the Liberals at the expense of the Conservatives every time.

He challenged j-schools to do an election study to examine his allegations. Of course he recognized that most journalism school teachers are small L liberals, themselves. Maybe that's why we haven't heard which schools took up his challenge. If any.

But The Black Rod is up for it and we'll be the guide to any students from Red River or the University of Winnipeg who are game for The Peter Kent Challenge.

With the election announced on Monday, we didn't have to wait long for our first example of the type of reporter that Kent is warning about.

Exhibit A: Paul Samyn.

In a Page One story in Tuesday's Winnipeg Free Press, Samyn delivers the newspaper's overview of the election announced the day before.

But wait...There's something missing.

Oh, okay. There it is. IN PARAGRAPH EIGHTEEN.

ON THE JUMP PAGE inside the paper.

Samyn couldn't find room to mention the GOMERY REPORT until deep, deep in his story even though he admits it was "the trigger for the fall of the Martin government..."

But he did find plenty of space to slip a Liberal bias into his story before having to type the G-word.

The Free Press' Ottawa reporter begins with a cliche, always a good start.

"Canadians will be plunged...into a snow-shovelling, mud-throwing campaign..."

Plunged? The build-up to the non-confidence vote couldn't have been more telegraphed. Why the negative verb? Could the next sentence be a clue?

"The first federal winter campaign in almost 25 years will be launched despite the opinions of many Canadians who have said they do not want to see politicians at their doors at Christmastime."

Did you catch it? The subtle pitch of a Liberal Party campaign talking point. "...despite the opinions of many Canadians..." Many Canadians? What about the many Canadians who want an election. Why the emphasis on the "many" that allegedly don't?

Oh, here's why, right out of the mouth of Liberal leader Paul Martin:

"A general election, one forced over the holidays by the three opposition parties, will be held on Monday January 23rd."

'Unwanted election' talking point. Check.

Samyn's next paragraph is equally as subtle, depicting the "fragile government" of the Liberals as victims, "unable to survive" a non-confidence motion. Boo hoo.

And look, he says, now that an election is a certainly, the opposition parties have ganged up on the Liberals, resulting in nastiness. Bad parties. Bad.

The story meanders for another nine paragraphs on the front page, then is continued on Page Four. Another four paragraphs precede the first mention of the Gomery report which, we are told, "portrayed a trail of corruption within the Liberal party's Quebec wing."

Portrayed? Not revealed or exposed, but portrayed.

Even the Free Press editorial stated outright that the party "used organized theft and kickbacks to win power". The editorial writer notes that Judge John Gomery uncovered "the theft of some $100 million from the public treasury.." But, to Samyn, the judge's report "portrayed" a trail of corruption, which prodded the NDP to pull its support from "what they too called a corrupt government."

Samyn can't find room in his story for any details about this so-called corrupt government. because he has to let Liberal Reg Alcock boast that he is "enormously proud of what we have done (to repond to the sponsorship scandal)..." Still no details, which are obviously something that only gets in the way of a good story.

And it only delays the prediction, on the first day of the campaign, from Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, that "the question is will it be a Liberal minority or a Liberal majority."

Gee. Day One and Paul Samyn has already declared a winner. And it's---awww, you peeked.

Election choice: Integrity or the next revolution?

Canadians are so polite.

Even our revolutions are so bloodless that hardly anyone notices.

The last time the public rose up, 12 years ago, it destroyed the ruling party without a shot being fired. Tired of the sleaze and arrogance of Brian Mulroney's government, voters crushed the Progressive Conservatives at the polls, reducing them to a rump of a rump of only two seats, and sending a clear message: no more.

The scattering of the Conservative Party to the winds led to the formation of the aptly named Reform Party by former Tories disgusted at Mulroney and his followers.

And the Mulroney Conservatives were replaced by the Liberal Party of Canada, which has shown itself to be --- a party of corruption and even greater arrogance.
Worse, the Liberals now insist they can never be replaced. Their sense of entitlement, where even a stick of chewing gum has to be charged to the taxpayers, exceeds all reason.

But their biggest crime is having convinced voters that everyone is as corrupt as them. How often have you heard the sentiment "Why bother voting. They're all the same"? In the ultimate hypocrisy, the party that cries crocodile tears about the "democratic deficit" says all politicians are equally venal and untrustworthy. Oh, and vote Liberal.

They may have flummoxed the pundits and pro-Liberal reporters, but The Black Rod wants to be on the record as saying that's not true. There are honest people out there. Decent people who believe in public service as a public good.

Some of them are even Liberals, members who still retain the capacity for shame at what their party has done and who might be capable of creating a Reform Party of their own.

Canadians are afraid of change. In the United States, they have an order of succession in the event the President is disabled or impeached and convicted. The next person in line takes the office, beginning with the Vice-President, then the speaker of the House of Representatives, the President pro-tempore of the Senate, the Secretary of State, and so on.

The framers of the constitution put faith in the people to judge the holders of the top office, to keep them or remove them by election, but to have no fear of the person holding the job--- for they can always be replaced.

In Canada, we have an Opposition Party which is, in theory, the government in waiting, the next in line, if you please. If the Opposition Party can never be the government, then Canada has become a one-party state, no different than Zimbabwe or Uganda, where the pretence of multi-party democracy is maintained only until it threatens the ruling elite.

The coming election is probably the most important election in the history of the country. There is only one issue. Integrity.

Not health care.
Not the economy.
Not national defence or crime or marriage.

Will Canada be ruled by a party of thieves, a party that has stolen tens of millions of dollars that we know of, that has made instant-millionaires of party supporters with taxpayers' money, that has wasted literally billions of dollars and goodness knows how much of that money has gone to kickbacks and payoffs and into the coffers of the Liberal Party?

The Liberals pretend they want to run on issues. But their only issue is spending taxpayers' money to bribe voters.

In the run-up to the election they were announcing a billion dollars of spending each day. Was any of this preceeded with detailed policy statements, or debate on the merits, or anything other than unadulterated vote-buying?

* Health Care? Here's 41 billion dollars. Do you want more?
* Indian Affairs? Here's four billion. Plus two billion. See you next election.
* Immigration? Here's some mega-millions. When it runs out, there's more where that came from ---as long as you vote Liberal.
* Defence? Start spending this billion. We need the news announcements asap.
* Crime? So the billion or two we spent on a gun-registry didn't do a thing. We promise to change the laws that we said all year we'd never change. Trust us. In the meantime, can we give you some money?

The Progressive Conservative Party under Brian Mulroney and his short-lived successor Kim Campbell was shattered by the decent members of the PC party as much as by the rest of the public. If the decent members of the Liberal Party don't stand up to be counted, then the message of this election will be as clear as the election of 1993: kleptocracy is good.

How do you build a country on that?

The Liberals re-election campaign has begun with a smear, hinting that the unity of the country is at stake if the Conservatives win. The future of Canada is at stake, but not the way the Liberals and the pundits see it.

If Canadians can't vote the Liberals out this time, when their corruption and arrogance has been exposed as never before, then they never can.

And that means Canadians, especially in the West, will have to reconsider what it means to stay within the federation.

The West is already irrelevant to the Liberals in terms of seats. They ruled the country after the last two elections only by the seats they won in Ontario. If the Liberals can never be replaced because Ontario will never support a party based in the West, then we have to face the fact that we have two distinct power blocs within the country, and one has the power to impose its will on the other.

And believe us, the plans are in the works. Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal Party's star candidate (and heir apparent to Paul Martin) has already declared the need for a royal commission to investigate the "fiscal imbalances between provinces and their effects on federalism."

You don't need a decoder ring to understand what that means.

Alberta has money and the Liberals in Ottawa want a piece. A kickback. Old habits die hard. And you can bet they're planning how to spend all that Alberta money already.

If Alberta lets them.

The next revolution might be coming sooner than you think.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Libranos deny being organized crime

For the best example of why the blogosphere has become the cutting edge of news, a reader has only to turn to the stories carried by the old media about the threat by the Liberal Party of Canada to sue the Conservatives for linking them to organized crime.

* "Grits fire legal warning shot toward Harper" read the headline in the Winnipeg Free Press to the CP story by Alexander Panetta.

* "Liberals threaten suit over Harper's rhetoric" was the headline for the Globe and Mail story by Brian Laghi and Campbell Clark, "with a report from Michael Valpy", whatever that means.

* "Harper links organized crime, Grits" was the Free Press headline to the previous day's story by Anne Dawson from Canwest News Service.

Variations of the same headline preceeded the story on radio and television newscasts. What's sad, and disturbing, is that all of these mainstream reporters, and pundits in their wake, have it wrong.

They have completely missed the story, a story that anyone who has been reading the blogs since the start of the Gomery inquiry, knows fully. These reporters jumped to the wrong conclusion and, of course, joined the pack in reporting the error as if it was the truth.

The fact is that Steven Harper wasn't saying the Liberal Party of Canada had ties to the Mafia. He was saying the Liberal Party of Canada was a mafia of its own. It is the organized crime he is refering to. And the Liberals know what he's talking about; they're playing on the fact the reporters don't.

Here's what Harper said on Thursday:

"If I belonged to an organization, and led an organization that was found to have been involved in a massive corruption ring using organized crime to defraud taxpayers, I cannot understand why anyone found in that position would want to be associated with that organization."

He said the Liberals had lost their moral authority to lead the country due to the sponsorship scandal.

"(Liberals have) been found guilty of breaking every conceivable law in the province of Quebec with the help of organized crime. The Liberal party has no desire to change, no intention to change, and no ability to change.''

Readers of the blogosphere know that he's referring to the Libranos, the name branded on the Liberal Party of Canada by blogger Kate McMillan in her well-read blog Small Dead Animals.

"The Libranos" sticks so well to the Paul Martin/Jean Chretien Liberals because it accurately describes an organized crime organization as defined by the Criminal Code and as revealed by evidence before the Gomery Commission.

Here's that legal definition found within section 467.1(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada:

A "criminal organization" means a group, however organized, that:

(a) is composed of three or more persons in or outside Canada; and,

(b) has as one of its main purposes or main activities the facilitation or commission of one or more serious offences, that, if committed, would likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of a material benefit, including a financial benefit, by the group or by any one of the persons who constitute the group.

Uh, Liberal Party of Canada, anyone? Fraud, money laundering, kickbacks, bribes and extortion extending over years.

Harper could have just said "using crime to defraud taxpayers" but he was, indeed, more correct to say "using organized crime." Yet the Ottawa reporters had no clue. Because they don't read the blogs. Like most MSM reporters, they think they are the be-all and end-all of news gathering.

Now, consider the threat to sue the Conservatives.

It isn't directed at Steven Harper.

It's a threat directed at the newspapers and television reporters who will be covering the coming election campaign.

The Liberals don't want anyone knowing the crimes committed by their members and supporters. They want to stop even the hint that the Liberals were ever engaged in kickbacks and fraud. So they're firing a warning shot over the heads of reporters and editors.

Don't mention the crimes uncovered by Judge Gomery. We might sue you.

And they're trying to muzzle Conservative Party candidates across the country. Don't link us to criminal activity, despite the evidence presented in public for months. We might sue you, too.

This is how the Liberal Party of Canada defines democracy and freedom of speech - Tell the truth and we will sue you.

The truth is that the Liberal Party of Canada fits the legal description of organized crime.

The Libranos is an accurate title.

And the reporters who cover politics in Ottawa have no clue how passe they have become.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Gangs shoot up houses while Huff 'n Puff shoots blanks

Okay...we tried. But what can we do?

We did our best to be nice about the NDP.

The Black Rod was the only one in town to recognize that the NDP's new gang initiative was based on a successful Quebec model. We gave them a pat on the back for adopting a plan that had worked successfully elsewhere, even though we suspect that the judges in Manitoba who have done their best to devalue life will undermine the plan.

We gingerly commended the NDP for abandoning their five-year-old "holistic" gang-fighting program which has only resulted in more gangs, more violent gangs, and, now, innocent people becoming victims of those gangs. The NDP still continues to subsidize the crack trade by supplying free crack kits, but at least they haven't fallen for the gangs-speak-for-the-people-on-the-streets line that was being peddled when they were in the Opposition.

But what can we say about the latest NDP boondoggle? Last week we blamed the full moon for making people crazy. Is the NDP always under a full moon?

Now the NDP are building a super-courtroom for another mega-trial of gang members. When the Conservative government constructed a special facility for gang trials, the NDP were relentless in calling it a waste of money. After they came into office, they gleefully mothballed the...uh...super-courthouse. Six years later, they've proven their incompetence, once again.

They've shown that they sacrificed $3 million (the cost of the courthouse) for their own ideological purposes. Now, in a classic example of New Democonomics, they will be spending at least $100,000 of taxpayers' money to recreate something that existed before they scrapped it.

Believe it or not, Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh says they can't use the courtroom designed to hold 35 gang members because a judge recommended that no more than 10 suspects be tried together. Hey, Minister, ten is less than 35.

And, Mike McIntyre, the Free Press' crime reporter, should stop relying on NDP hacks for the background to his stories. Contrary to McIntyre's declaration that the trial of the Manitoba Warriors intended for the special courthouse "collapsed", the prosecution was the biggest success in the history of gang-fighting in the province. All 35 accused were convicted of some gang-related crime or else became co-operating witnesses for the Crown.

When you're talking about failed prosecutions, Mike, your best examples are the disasters launched by the NDP. And don't get your hopes up, just yet.

The NDP is trying to raise their crime-fighting profile with a mega-trial of members of the Indian Posse street gang who are charged with attacking their former leader in prison. That's right...they're going after gang members already in jail. How's that for making the streets safer?

Oh, and just to balance things out, they've issued suspensions to some sheriff's officers who tried to control some gang members being driven to Headingley.

The NDP are sending a clear message to gangs---we're a bunch of bumblers.

And the gangs have heard it loud and clear.

That's why they weren't a bit worried about shooting up a house within a block of the Justice Minister's house a couple of weeks ago.

It was the day of the big snow storm. The streets were impassable, except for bus routes, and wouldn't you know it, one of those bus routes runs along Cathedral Avenue. In broad daylight, shortly before noon, three men with guns began shooting at a house in the 100 block of Cathedral. Was it a run-by shooting, or did they think their target was trapped in the house by the snow and that there was a good chance he would catch a bullet?

After peppering the house with shots, the men ran to their getaway vehicle, an SUV, and took off down the only plowed street in the neighbourhood. They may have driven right by Minister Huff 'n Puff's house.

A garbled story in the Winnipeg Sun had the next page of this story. Four men were arrested the next day or two after a chase near Polo Park. The story was so poorly written it was unclear where the chase started, how long it lasted, and whether all four were arrested in the Polo Park shopping centre. There was no follow up story, and the police issued no news release about the arrests.

The Black Rod, however, suspects the shooting was related to the member of the Zigzag Crew spotted driving his motorcycle down the back lane of the 100 block of Cathedral in the days before the shooting. Given the gang's propensity for internecine battles, this may be simply a family matter and not connected to the gang war that's been waged all summer under the radar of the local news media.

On the other hand, the shooting Wednesday morning into a house on Boyd Avenue fits the pattern of the on-going gang war. Someone fired into the bedroom window of a house in the 200 block at 5 a.m.

Do you think shooting into a bedroom in the middle of the night is intened to kill someone? Obviously the NDP's gang-fighting message needs a little fine tuning.


The Tory Opposition, which should be holding the NDP to account, remains in disarray with a lameduck leader at the helm.

Maybe that's the challenge that's attracting the attention of federal Conservative MP Brian Pallister, who's making his interest in replacing Stuart Murray more apparent every passing day.

Even as a federal election call is only days away, Pallister is polling Conservatives on his chances to be leader. The problem is, his timing couldn't be worse.

If a federal election is called next week,as expected, Pallister will be running for re-election for the Conservatives. He will be telling voters that he wants their support for another five years as their Member of Parliament. To run for leader of the provincial Tories, he would have to abandon his federal constituents--- and the provincial party has enough abandonment in its ranks.

John Loewen abandoned his provincial constituents, his party colleagues and the thousands of Crocus Investors who thought they could count on him. Loewen woke up one day and decided his values were more in tune with the federal party that has been stealing millions and wasting billions.

And Hugh McFadyen (note: the Y follows the D, it's not McFayden) is a true successor to Loewen. He abandoned the Conservative voters in Winnipeg South, costing the federal Tory Party six months of preparation time for the coming election. For that vision, he's being touted as a leader of the provincial party.

Pallister's dilemma is that the provincial Conservatives need a true leader, and someone they can trust.

Pallister has many options, and few at the same time.

* He can run federally and stay as an MP whether the Conservatives win power or not.
* He can run, win, then quit in a few months to run provincially.
* He can quit now, on the eve of an election, forcing a scramble to find a new candidate in his riding. Can someone say Hugh McFadyen?

Timing is everything, but it's not kind to the Conservatives, federal and provincial.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A new brand for Ed Schreyer and one for Manitoba

There was a full moon this week which is why, we conclude, people are acting so crazy.

Case in point:

Ed Schreyer, the socialist premier of Manitoba from 1969 to 1977, came out foursquare against the NDP plan to freeze natural gas rates this winter, the most socialist program in the NDP's term of office since coming to power in 1999.

" the most retrograde step the government could possibly take. It's so wrong it's perverse."

Peter Holle, president of the Frontier Centre, a private think tank most people would assume promotes free enterprise, opposes the NDP's natural gas program because it's not socialist enough.

And Heather Stefanson, Progressive Conservative Health Critic, starts talking like her socialist counterpart when she declares the government has to do more to fight creeping Americanization of the health care system.

The NDP wants to prevent home heating costs going sky high this winter. It's promised to pass a law that would freeze natural gas rates, with any losses to Centra Gas to be made up by Manitoba Hydro, which is making obscene profits from selling electricity to the Americans thanks to the heavy spring and summer rains that filled our lakes to the brim. It's classic socialism, the profits of a publicly owned utility going to help citizens at a time of need.

But here's Ed Schreyer saying its the worst thing the Doer NDP have ever done. Triple-dipping Ed has come a long way from his days as defender of the little guy. Now he's arguing that the environment (the new god of the new socialists) comes first and the little guy better cough up if he wants to keep warm this winter.

Schreyer has joined the Chicken Little's of the world. Here's what he told the Toronto Star a year ago:

"We are 10 minutes to midnight... Almost anytime soon, perhaps in this decade ... supply and demand will be out of balance and so will price - and so will almost everything else that makes for a stable society and civilization...There's no let-up in fossil dependency, nor supply, nor CO2 escalation.This is courting disaster - a form of irrational behaviour or collective madness."
In that, he's supported by Peter Holle. The website of the Frontier Centre carries essays with this message:
*make the rich pay
*subsidize the poor----and middle class voters
*put more taxpayers' money into the hands of government
*let government change private behaviour for your own good

Hmmm. Does that sound familiar, Ed?

Holle feels gas prices should be allowed to go through the roof to encourage people to use less gas. If the government is to subsidize anyone, it should be the poor and the middle class, so Hydro would save money be not giving any subsidy to the rich. In the longer term, the governnment can force people to use renewable energy, like electricity to heat their homes.

(Note to the Frontier Centre. The last time the world "ran out of oil", in 1980, lots of Manitobans switched to electric heat. They then watched the price of the non-existent oil go lower, and lower, and lower, and lower, and lower --for 25 years-- while the cost of electricity held steady, except for those years when it went up to pay for new a Hydro dam. It's not like we're about to build a new Hydro dam, are we?)

Holle says if we can use less energy, Manitoba Hydro can export more and make oodles more money. Which, of course, will then be spent by the government while we shiver in our homes.

Some of it might even be spent on health care. And everyone knows how the government spends on health care.

We're now spending a billion dollars more than when the NDP came into office in 1999 but the nursing shortage has tripled, hospitals are closing emergency wards, and waiting lists have blossomed. That's government efficiency, which Heather Stefanson prefers to good-ole American-style efficiency.

The NDP is huffing and puffing about a private MRI in Winnipeg, proving that to them ideology trumps any effort to reduce pain and suffering. As long as the rich suffer, too, then suffering is good, is the NDP motto.

The NDP will never subsidize the rich, except perhaps forking over $30 million to the Aspers to build a human-rights museum instead of using it to cut waiting lists by buying medical services from private clinics.

That, of course, would be bad. That would reward enterprise by giving a profit. And profit is bad. Maybe that will be Heather Stefanson's slogan if she runs for the leadership of the Tory party.

That would certainly make her stand out from the crowd of contenders. And speaking of standing out, that's something else the NDP is for. That's why they hired Interbrand, a New York company to develop a branding image for the province.

The project was supposed to be completed this summer, but has been delayed. The Opposition tried to make hay out of the delay. The Black Rod, however, used the extra time to look at Interbrand's track record with other places.

We found that Interbrand designed image makeovers for smaller places, cities like Johannesburg, London, and Norwich (England), and for entire countries, like Estonia. We tried to understand how they do their work, and to guess at what their brand for Manitoba might be like.

Johannesburg needed a change of image. The old ( home of apartheid) and the current (rape capital of the world) just weren't doing it anymore. Interbrand stepped up with a new logo.

The new logo features a tower, the city's best-known landmark. transformed into an exclamation point. The designers explained that "the dot represents the City of Gold; the exclamation mark expresses the city's identity as a "lively, vibrant and dynamic place" and the tower at the top shows its unique variety. The whole "projects the name of the city as the 'hero' and no longer concentrates on an architectural skyline as a symbol".

And with the new logo, came a new name...Joburg. Interbrand called it "the familiar, affectionate name for the city". Johannesburg had been called Jo'burg, but Interbrand decided to drop the apostrophe, which apparently was enough to project the values of Johannesburg, "creativity, fun, leadership and determination; they speak of entrepreneurial impetus and dynamism."

Sure, some people didn't like it. But there will always be critics of any new idea.. The Black Rod will therefore concentrate on the positives of Interbrand's logos, and leave the carping out.

But there was a lot of carping in Norwich when Interbrand proposed a new slogan for the city: Norwich, England's Other City. What blithering nonsense, people cried. Okay, we know that sounds a lot like what you would expect from right here in Negativeapeg (note to Interbrand: Negativeapeg ( TM) The Black Rod). But we're concentrating on the positives, remember.

London was positive about Interbrand's logo for it, London Unlimited.

In fact, some Canadians liked it so much they "adopted" it for themselves, hence Toronto Unlimited.

Interbrand doesn't limit itself to cities, and tackled the challenge of promoting Estonia abroad, in a way that would attract potential tourists and even more importantly, potential investors. After a lengthy process, the company unveilled its brilliant idea---wait for it---
Welcome to Estonia.

Oh, sure, the boo-birds were outraged at the simplicity of the idea.

But, said Interbrand, the ingenious things are usually simple. And the brand for Estonia was more than met the eye.

Imagine a box. At the top of the box is WEL. Below it is COME. Below that TOEST. And below that ONIA. Cool, eh? The brand sellers called it "a 70s retro-chic logo with rounded edges and letters with shadows." See for yourself here

Which brings us back to Manitoba. Are there enough clues from these examples to give a hint as to what Interbrand will propose for our new image? Something old but new (Joburg), something simple (Welcome), something true (unlimited).

We managed to infiltrate one of the focus groups, and we can tell you the slogan that's currently the frontrunner.

Fuck It's Cold

Remember, think positive.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The spicy gumbo of Tory contenders

It looks like the Manitoba Tory leadership race is swiftly turning into a spicy gumbo of contenders, even if the stew doesn't include Stu Murray.

It seems we were hasty in thinking that MP Brian Pallister wouldn't give up the bright lights of big city Ottawa for the simple pleasures of his home province.

Pallister, it seems, is not being coy when he's not denying an interest in running for Stuart Murray's job. He just wants reassurance he's not taking a leap off the same cliff.

We hear he is gathering a list of 500 names as an endorsement. 500! Holey moley.

But there's the matter of a federal election and that's playing havoc with Pallister's plans. We hope Pallister also understands the optics of his entry into the race.

If he drops out of federal politics before the election, he looks like a quitter. ( The Tory party already has one running for office in Hugh McFadyen.) If he runs and the federal Conservative Party comes up short again, he'll be coming to Manitoba a loser. Which does he want to campaign as, Brian Pallister the quitter or Brian Pallister the loser?

And he'll have to face Hugh McFadyen, whose dithering guaranteed that Reg Alcock would run with minimal opposition. When you start talking let bygones be bygones, you're in Stu Murray-John Loewen territory, and we know where that got Stuart Murray.

McFadyen, meanwhile, drops strong hints he should be the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. He still has to win the Fort Whyte by-election and now that a date has been set, he'll have to have lots and lots of election signs printed up. He could have used the signs he had made up for his aborted run against Reg Alcock, except that, we hear, he never had any signs printed.

Funny, isn't it, that a veteran of 12 election campaigns didn't have any election signs printed for an election that was expected to be called any minute after he won the nomination? We said he was comic relief. A laugh a minute, which is about how long his dedication to a race lasts.

And add Heather Stefanson to the list of potential candidates. Lots of Tories are asking if she's running, so many, in fact, that we hear she's started mulling it over. At 35 she would be the youngest candidate. Her performance in the Legislature as Health Critic shows she's no pushover.

And how about this...guess who's showing up on Tory radar?

Here's a clue. He's the backroom's worst nightmare.

Let's hear it for------Darren Praznik.

His people were working the room at the Tory convention last week and they've been sounding out the caucus this week.

That's what we get for trusting the papers to tell us he wasn't leaving his six-figure job in Toronto. He's the executive director of government relations with the Canadian Blood Services, which may be as dry as it sounds. His big project a couple of years ago was making June the national blood donation month.

Praznik was prepared to step into Gary Filmon's big shoes in 2000 before the Tory powers-behind-the-scenes decided that neophyte Stuart Murray would make a better leader and parachuted him in with so much money tied to his belt that Darren got the hint and stepped aside.

This time the shoes are smaller and the chefs in the backroom have lost a lot of clout.

The race is on and already the pot is boiling.

NDP pins its hopes on Quebec's gang strategy

The caller wanted to talk about the stabbing in the park.

Some chitchat followed, nothing more than was said in every home and public place where the attack on a jogger in Assiniboine Park was discussed.

Then the caller dropped the bomb. He'd been talking to someone in the social services field.

"It has all the hallmarks of a gang initiation," he said.

Damn. Just as we were about to put out a story giving the NDP credit for their gang initiative...

Oh well, let's start with the good.

After ignoring the gang problem until an innocent bystander got killed, the NDP did something other than wait for the federal government to do something.

Except that at first glance, it appeared like a lot of nothing. More police, more prosecutors, more "crime prevention" programs. Blah blah blah. Been there. Done that. We guess the city's news media thought the same thing, because the coverage of the new gang initiative was lukewarm.

But we decided to dig a little deeper, and what we found was surprisingly positive given how we're ragged the NDP about their abysmal efforts to fight gangs. It turns out that the government is turning away from its five-year-long holistic, touchy-feely, group-hug approach to gangs in favour of something tougher, something that's already proved that it works.

The NDP has apparently modelled its gang strategy on the successful gang-fighting techniques of Quebec.

How successful?

Well, in Quebec, 67 of the 115 full-patch Hell's Angels are either in jail or just out of jail and on parole. And their arch-rivals, the Bandidos, are "essentially destroyed" after all 25 members were arrested and charged.

Four years ago, Quebec set up dedicated prosecution units designed to go after the gangs and put them out of business. Since then, almost 500 gang members and associates have been charged. More than 300 have been convicted, with 200 still waiting their day in court. Very few of the cases result in charges being stayed by the Crown, in stark contrast to the situation in Manitoba.
And prosecutors are proud that even when courts acquitted some gang members of some of the charges, all were convicted of something.

"There have been no accused who have gotten off scot-free," bragged one chief prosecutor.

To accomplish this, 25 Crown attorneys were taken from their normal jobs and placed in new teams, more than doubling the number of prosecutors working against gangs full time.

Quebec had realized that the old system was too cumbersome and inefficient. Provincial prosecutors were overworked. (Is this beginning to sound familiar?). They often had to divide their attention between a complex trial of a motorcycle gang and the usual flood of smaller cases. If assigned a multi-defendant biker trial, they'd be faced with reading hundreds of pages of evidence, which could take months.

The dedicated prosecutors work hand-in-glove with the police assigned to organized crime investigations. Prosecutors are assigned to a police investigation as soon as it begins. The same prosecutor provides the investigators with advice whenever its needed.

This has proved of crucial importance to obtaining convictions. Crown witnesses in gang trials are often unsavory lawbreakers themselves whose credibility is attacked by defence lawyers. The dedicated prosecution units work with police to provide independent evidence that bolsters the witnesses, as well as advising on the admissability of evidence before charges are laid. Once police file charges, the game is up and the gangs are alerted, so correcting flaws in the case in advance has proved invaluable.

Prosecutors assigned to investigations wind up being the prosecutors who take the cases to court. This gives them a personal stake in the outcome to ensure the case is as strong as it can be. And being familiar with the case means they can go to trial sooner than if they had to spend months reading police reports.

Quebec justice officials say that possibly the biggest sign that their anti-gang strategy is working is that the majority of bikers have pleaded guilty once their saw the evidence the Crown was using against them.

And that's what the NDP hopes to see here as well.

That's why they're doubling the gang prosecutions unit to 16 Crown attorneys over the next year. More police are being added to the specialized gang units. And, in anticipation of success, the province is adding more jail capacity at Headingley Correctional Centre and the Dauphin Correctional Centre and an interdepartmental group is looking at other options to expand capacity even more if needed.

And you don't have to look far to see how this has translated into a new attitude within the Winnipeg Police Service.

The papers carry stories almost daily of widespread raids on gang houses, of seizures of firearms, Tasers, and crack, crack, more crack. And the arrests now include members of the native street gangs which have almost had a pass in the NDP administration until now.

If the Quebec-model gang strategy works, by this time next year we'll be celebrating.

The wild card, as we've said before, remains the judges in the province who remain reluctant to offend offenders by taking them off the streets.

People within the justice system see what happened in Assiniboine Park and say it looks like a gang initiation. One man has been arrested and charged with, among other things, breach of probation.

We'd like to know what he was on probation for, and which judge released him.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

CTV has short memory on Nov. 11th

Remembrance Day is a day when we're proud of our veterans.

This Remembrance Day, however, became a day to be ashamed of our news media, particularly CTV Newsnet, host Jennifer Ward and Ottawa reporter Roger Smith.

At issue was the silent protest conducted by a group of veterans against Governor General Michaelle Jean. The group turned their backs on her twice, once when she arrived, then again when she placed a wreath.

Veteran Frank Laverty, 80, said the protest was against letting someone who has been sympathetic to the FLQ, the terrorist group spearheading the Quebec separatist movement in the Sixties, take part in such a solemn event.

"We reject Governor General Michaelle Jean's participation. She's associated with the FLQ terrorist criminals who murdered, kidnapped and wounded innocent Canadians in an effort to incite a violent revolution in Quebec."

There's no doubt there. See our previous stories in The Black Rod here and here.

Laverty noted that as Governor General, Michaelle Jean is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, a commander who "toasted independence by revolution for Quebec and whose husband loves those terrorists."

Showing the same bravery that carried veterans through the battlefields of Canada's wars, Laverty and his group stood to be counted. They stood for those who died fighting for freedom, who would have been appalled to see someone who supported the break-up of Canada by drinking a toast with a Quebec terrorist to his goal, mock them by her belated "remembrance" of their sacrifice.

* CTV's cameras were apparently in the best position to cover the silent protest.

CBC's Diana Swain made only a passing reference to it in her newscast with a brief shot of them turning their backs to the GG.

The Saturday Free Press completely ignored it and the Winnipeg Sun ran only a short wire brief.

CTV and CTV Newsnet carried full stories, but how they differed is a story in itself.

* CTV Newsnet host Jennifer Ward introduced a story about the Michaelle Jean protestors, then interviewed Ottawa reporter Roger Smith. With Ward acting as his Greek Chorus, Smith did his best to discredit the group.

It was a tiny bunch, only about 20, he said. Others at the wreath-laying said it wasn't the place for a protest. The Governor General herself was oblivous to them.

"It was small incident. Nobody noticed."
said Ward, supportively.
Michaelle Jean denies she's a separatist and, if at some point she had some sympathy for separtists, said Smith, well, people are allowed to change.
"That they are," piped in Ward.

Smith had a final zinger. The protestors were a bunch of hypocrites. They said they were exercising their right of free speech, but when a teenager said their protest was inappropriate, the group shouted him down. And if that wasn't enough, one of them ripped the poppy right off the boy's chest.

* That version of the story, broadcast to Newsnet viewers, might have stood up, except that a fuller story was shown on CTV National News with anchor Lloyd Robertson.

This version included a video clip of the infamous toast, ending any speculation about whether Michaelle Jean did toast the success of separatism in Canada. And it had a complete sequence of the confrontation between the teenager and the veterans, one which exposed Smith's slanted version for the cheap shot that it was.

After showing the veterans turn their backs on the GG, CTV went looking for someone to criticize them. They found a couple of people who used judicious language to say they had come to honour the veterans, full stop. Finally, the reporter found an 18-year-old boy who said the veterans' protest was "inappropriate."

The vets found this insulting, and said so to the boy. By what right did this snot-nosed kid have to judge the veterans? What war had he fought in? When did he risk his life for the right to free speech?
The kid was shocked that these old people would be upset at being lectured by him. (What's their beef, anyway?).

Then, with a move as fast as one of Muhammed Ali's jab, one of the women in the group snatched the poppy right off the kid's chest.

Bravo, shouted The Black Rod.

The kid had forfeited the right to wear the poppy. He may have tossed a few coins in a box, but he obviously had no concept of what the veterans of Canada did for this nation and how their right to speak trumped his vast 18 years of knowledge of world and national affairs.

His disrespect to veterans earned him a few minutes on national TV. No doubt good training to join CTV's news team when he grows up. Then he'll be on national TV everyday, fully qualified to replace Jennifer Ward and Roger Smith who failed to remember there is good reason for veterans to reject Mme. Jean as Canada's Commander-in-chief.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

PC Backroom yet to decide Tory draft pick

This was a bad week for men at the top.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost their head coach. And the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party lost its leader.

Their misfortunes made great fodder for pundits, but has anyone noticed that both men were shown the door for the same reason?

Their teams wanted leaders with fire in their bellies. A fighting spirit. A passion that inspires the team into battle. What they got was cold porridge.

When the Blue Bombers lost 41-1 to the B.C. Lions, Jim Daley said: "We did not represent ourselves as coaches and players and our city and our province very well." Well... duh.

When John Loewen betrayed his Tory colleagues by joining the federal Liberals, Stuart Murray wished him well and (figuratively) passed around an envelope to buy him a nice going away present.

Now both men are watching the press debate their successors.

In the case of the Tories, reporters are just parroting each other without applying any thought or analysis. Allen Mills was only too right about the state of reporting on politics in Manitoba.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to winnow out most of the alleged contenders for Conservative Party leader.

1. Stuart Murray.
Give the guy a break. How much humiliation is he supposed to take? He's given his all for five years and he gets barely more than fifty percent support from party members. He know his time is up. In order to be a competitor for his own job he'd have to give a speech in the Legislature that was so spectacular it had NDP MLAs crossing the floor to join him. In football, that's called a Hail Mary pass. In politics, you may say a few Hail Mary's but you know you're finished when you're praying for miracles. Scratch Stuart Murray.

2. Jim Downey,
Former deputy premier, party stalwart, old warhorse. But his future is with his experience and his contacts in the back rooms. The Party is not going into an election with a leader who's collecting an old age pension. Scratch Jim Downey.

3. Brian Pallister.
He's a giant. Literally. A leader so tall commands attention whenever he rises to speak. But as a member of Parliament he's earning $144,000 a year plus perks and a nice pension when he leaves. Why leave the Opposition in Ottawa to sit in the Opposition in Manitoba for half the pay? Scratch Brian Pallister.

4.Mervin Tweed
We're sure he's a nice guy and hardworking. But he's also an MP (see No. 3) and with as much pizzaz as the fabric he's named after. Scratch Mervin Tweed.

5. Hugh McFadyen
Added to all lists for comic relief, surely. If the Party is looking for fighting spirit, the last place they'll find it is with Hurricane Hugh. He's never won a political contest. He says his priority today is winning the Fort Whyte byelection. Six months ago his priority was winning election in Winnipeg South against Liberal giant Reg Alcock.

But as soon as he realized he might lose, he cut and ran for a safer race. Conservatives went to the movies last weekend to see Chicken Little because they thought it was the Hugh McFadyen Story.

Hughie ran Belinda Stronach's leadership campaign in Manitoba in 2004 and he suffers from the same delusion that somebody with no experience can just walk in off the street and become party leader.

He has one fan, already, though. Free Press Columnist Gordon Sinclair like Hugh's spunk. He finds McFadyen a kindred spirit who shares his values.

When a liberal likes a conservative because he's just like the liberals, you might think this would be a warning signal.

Sinclair also liked John Loewen and wrote glowingly of him when Loewen turned Liberal and said he never really believed in the Conservatives. How funny would it be if the Tories picked Hugh McFadyen as their leader only to watch him join Belinda and Party Jumpin' John in the Liberal ranks. A real kneeslapper, we bet. Scratch the comic relief.

It's funny how the reporters go on and on about the men who have no chance, yet barely spare a paragraph for the women of the party who have more balls in a political fight than Baby Huey has ever shown. They stared down the Party establishment to push a vote on the leadership. They stood tall when Stuart Murray punished them by moving them to the back benches. And they marched back with heads held high to reclaim their seats after the vote. Even Heather Stefanson, who backed the losing horse, is a fearsome critic that has the NDP cringing whenever she stands up.

Still, the real answer as to who will be running for Stu Murray's job is that no one knows anything. The backroom hasn't picked a candidate yet. Remember it was the party establishment that annointed Murray five years ago when it looked like Darren Praznik would become leader.

This time, though, the backroom boys are facing a feisty caucus.

And they know the locker room has to approve the playbook.

Two Free Press columnists, one right, one wrong

The dramatic collapse of Stuart Murray's leadership of the Manitoba PC's stimulated both daily newspapers, through their editorials and columnists, to discuss Manitoba politics with more urgency than usual.
Perhaps it is because they see the writing on the wall; it is so obvious that this province is beyond dysfunctional and that change is on the horizon, that the Free Press admitted it even while ignoring the warning signs in their own pages.

Columnist Allen Mills places much of the blame on the state of the local media.

His column, entitled 'President Doer' getting free ride as provincial politics whither away', is a far ranging analysis that went far beyond the usual "Doer strong, opposition weak" throw-away. By picking apart the conditions of what he calls "perfect political calm" (you know, the opposite of perfect storm), Prof. Mills explained how the media is played like a fiddle, as part of the formula that allows the NDP to rule Winnipeg like a fiefdom.

" Undergirding this mix of cautious politics and managerial centralization has been a highly coordinated media control-strategy; and also a calculated effort to keep provincial politics out of the news by actually reducing the sittings of the Legislature to an absolute minimum... This is scandalous and is intentional on the government's part. The provincial government is now an $8-billion operation and it is the Legislature that is supposed to ensure that public monies are well spent. Hide away and avoid examination is part of the government's strategy...
Also, the provincial government of what is increasingly the city-state of Winnipeg has many fingers in many pies, especially in the educational and cultural community and even in private economic organizations.
In a city-state, relations are always close and personal. It is hard to lobby the government for a special favour for a symphony orchestra and then in another capacity criticize the government's politics in general. You can but don't expect a favour next time. There is a lot of self-censorship in the province among the elites about the provincial government."

Wow. This is something we never expected to read in the paper, because it sure sounds a lot like how the Crocus Scandal unfolded, doesn't it? The one that was ignored and then buried by the press? (You know, like O'Learygate?)

But then Mills turns his sights on the local media and it ain't pretty. Mills sees the press as soft on the Doer government because newsrooms barely cover the House if at all, don't have reporting skill, lack institutional memory, and rely on NDP scripts to work from.

"But it gets better for the provincial government. The media in Manitoba are also complicit in this silence on the land.
CKY TV is not interested in provincial politics at all.
CBC TV has now only a half-hour of local supper-time programming and news -- Global TV the same -- and has lost its investigative capacity and instincts.
Global did not have them, ever. "

Imagine that. Even with new co-host Glen Kirby (or maybe because of him), City-TV, breathing down CBC's neck in the ratings, does not even register with a political science professor who helps teach college students where to turn for information.

Mills, no doubt to the horror of his University of Winnipeg boss Lloyd Axworthy, then utterly dismisses third place CBC - as having zero ability to sniff out and break news anymore. It's like the I -Team doesn't exist. ( CBC may put up a fence on Spence Street if they read what their neighbour said about them. )

Then he dismisses second place Global for never having any ability in political journalism to start with. ( Well, we think Mike Brown is trying hard at least.)

But that's Ok, because the far-and-away ratings leader may have changed its name to CTV, but has no interest in provincial politics either.

And that isn't the end of Mills take on the local media.

"The print media could cover provincial politics in greater depth and more extensively. Journalists in the province are largely young and inexperienced.
Noam Chomsky, in his famous theory of how governments use the media to deliver propaganda, claims that this sometimes occurs through the media's dependance on official sources.
There is amazement in hearing, periodically, local media essentially broadcasting, verbatim and unedited, the press releases and the political spin of the provincial government. "

Mills has, without realizing it, explained the rise of bloggers--- citizen journalists-- in the realm of the news business.

Blogs break stories the mainstream media tries to ignore or, alternatively, to bury. The MSM monopoly on deciding what is "news" no longer exists.

Blogs don't depend on press releases or government hacks to shape content. Blogs have an immediate relationship with their readers who can add their own expertise and knowledge of the facts to a story (need we mention Rathergate again)..

Blogs can get stories out with immediacy (which is what radio should do), and explain to the public the government's current spin on a story (and, regretably, the spin of media coverage).

All these factors help keep a story on track and the audience engaged. By contrast, the press lately has "distinguished" itself by indulging in feeding frenzies that have sent the public to the blogosphere to unravel.

In New Orleans, they tried to one-up each other with atrocity stories about murder and rapes, which turned out to be false. The panicky evacuation of the Kashechewan reserve in Northern Ontario was big news--until it turned out the water problems were easily fixed and didn't require an evacuation. And here the press was consumed by the suicide of a girl distraught at having witnessed her father roughly arrested in her own home.

Well, it turned out the suicide was an accident and that the girl wasn't in the home when her father was cuffed, and that all the stories blaming the police were wrong. We in the Black Rod discussed among ourselves how the media would report how they were wrong. The surprise was on us.

The biggest offender in the media suicide feeding frenzy was Free Press writer Lindor Reynolds whose maudlin columns put her in a category all by herself. We didn't write about her, or anyone else, in The Black Rod because we couldn't do a better job than our fellow blog Dust My Broom

Reynolds wallowed in the tragic aspects of the death in her columns. When it was reported that some of the pertinent details may have been manufactured, we (damn our cynical minds) were first surprised that she actually addressed the issue. But we were even more amazed at how Lindor tried to wriggle off the hook. She said it didn't matter what the truth was, just so long as the parents' feelings weren't hurt!

"The truth will eventually come out, but the credibility of the parents took a serious hit.
It continued because a hard lesson about being forced into the public eye is that someone always turns up a piece of your dirty laundry.
There is plenty of that in the Beardy home and many suggested the parents look into their own souls rather than blaming the police or society at large.
Christina Beardy said only some of that version of the truth is accurate and all of it is unkind.
"It doesn't just hurt me," she said yesterday. "It hurts the whole community. We live in poverty. We are on social assistance and we struggle every day."

Reynolds ignored the fact that it was the Free Press and notably her own column that forced the family into the public eye. The parents both being arrested and charged is not "dirty laundry" - it is public record. No one would have ever heard about the arrests anyways if the Free Press had remembered why Winnipeg media traditionally did not report on suicide - in case it wasn't.

Her first column was designed to make the focus on a family victimized by poverty, race, or whaever label fits as long as in the end, the police arrest of the father caused a 12 year old to kill herself and great overwrought copy resulted.

Her second column was designed to blame the public for having second thoughts about her first column.

Readers have the right to make up their minds about what happened with the parents and the police, starting with maybe the little girl didn't see her dad beaten and arrested in the first place, and maybe she wasn't even trying to commit suicide.

Silent about what may have been a false portrayal of their actions and their supposed "role" in the "suicide", Lindor Reynolds owes the police an apology.

The worst hit of all is to the credibility of the Free Press whose policy seems to be for columnists to get a free ride in the truth department because telling the truth might undermine their victim du jour.

Another advantage of the blogosphere is that mistakes get corrected without fuss.

It turns our we may have misunderstood Charles Adler. Not him personally, but his hints.

His written missives about his new post-Free Press print opportunity used the word national with a capital N (actually a capital everything). Given the symbiotic relationship between the Freep and the National Post, we made the natural assumption.

But now we hear that Adler is going back to the Sun chain-- as a syndicated columnist.
A big difference between that and "NATIONAL", as in Post. Back to the platform from whence he came.

Adler does have his fans and we welcome diversity of opinion. Why, here is letter of support for Adler.

Mr. Black Rod:
Good work lately. Look, if you're following the Free Press, and you always are, ever explore why the Freep yanks Adler's column but retains Harold Buchwald, Val Werier, Frances (plagariast?) Russell, any of the so-called Issues Network writers? Now I know you dislike Adler, but his column was chatty, sometimes witty and easy to read, even if it was a bit juvenile.

How about Buchwald? What a dreadful bore! On Tuesday he slammed the U.S. method of picking supreme court judges as creating a circus, yet fails to point out that if Harriet Miers is a bad pick, the U.S. Senate can reject her. In other words, the circus is a check and balance on Bush's powers. Martin could name a downtown panhandler to the Canadian supreme court and no one could do a bloody thing. There wouldn't be a circus. Is that what Buchwald wants. The guy totally contradicts himself. Is this the kind of guy who should be given a column in the venerable Free Press?

So you have to ask yourself, is Buchwald a Freep columnist because he is buddy with people like Bob Silver, maybe Ron Stern? If so, talk about cronyism. My guess is he is buddies with at least Silver. You can dislike Adler, but I guarantee he had greater readership and read response than than boring old fart Buchwald ever will. So maybe check this out. Cheers, and thanks for reading this note. Still love your blog.

{ BR says - Today, Adler dismissed bloggers as delusional for thinking they had any impact outside their basements. But he was sheepish when CTV news honcho Robert Hurst pointed out Adler's own bluster included delusions of grandeur ( Adler Nation, anyone) and Adler agreed the delusion didn't fall far from the microphone. }

And the topic of delusions makes us think of the office of Governor General, where the previous incumbent occasionally slipped into the delusion that she was the Queen and not the Queen's representative. The New GG, thankfully, has not drunk that Kool-aid. And she has her fans, as well.

Hey Black Rod, the Governor General may be a biased CBC type, but her jokes on Andre Boisclair were hilarious, and even Jean's sister (a PQ member) is pissed off. The GG just won me over (somewhat) by mocking Boisclair and his coke-sniffing past. She deserves a bit of love for that one. cheers,(faithful reader)

{ BR says - While we have been critical of Michaelle Jean this reader gives her credit for giving him a good laugh at the expense of the PQ. For those who missed the joke, at a speech to the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner, Jean quipped that the front-runner in the Parti Quebec leadership race "always follows the party line." }

We want to thank all our readers and supporters who voted for us in the national blog awards "The Bloggies", that was conducted by

We were honored to be the only Manitoba blog nominated in the poll, and we congratulate the other nominees Angry in the Great White North, who won the contest for Best Whistleblowing Blog, and Captain's Quarters , who finished second.

The Black Rod finished only 7 votes behind Captain Ed, and we are grateful to be recognized in such respected company ( also a shout out to Brian Malony of Radio Equalizer who was the other nominee in our category.)

Saturday, November 05, 2005


We're betting it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Gomery report was just released, pointing out how corrupt and sleazy the Liberal Party of Canada was.

You know you have to respond, so Paul Martin assigns the job to three trusted people--the most obnoxious MP on Parliament Hill and two Tory turncoats.

Oh, and, according to party insiders, MPs are told to be contrite.

Except that somebody forgot that that word doesn't exist in the Liberal Party dictionary, as Manitoba MP Reg Alcock (see Parliament Hill above) proved by his belligerent interview with Krista Erickson on CBC TV's Canada Now.

Alcock was every inch the bully as he tried to run roughshod over the CBC Winnipeg host to push the official Liberal line, from the very get-go. He was by turns antagonistic, condescending ("kiddo") -- and the ever favorite--obnoxious, as Erickson asked him tough but fair questions.

He was reduced to lecturing her that even asking these questions was parroting the Conservative party critics, while he had been at the forefront of cleaning this mess up blah blah blah.

Despite his best efforts to overpower and intimidate her, Erickson stood her ground and did the best under unexpected circumstances. Perhaps she realized that at this point, with the lockout over, the Liberals need the CBC more than the CBC needs the Liberals.

(And your eyes weren't playing tricks. Alcock has lost weight. A lot of weight. He says he's lost a hundred pounds so far and wants to lose another hundred. Yes, folks, he was over 400 pounds back when the Liberals were riding high.)

The next night at the end of the newscast, CBC replayed a clip of L'Affair Alcock as well as the comments of outraged viewers demanding he apologize to Krista for belittling her while she was just trying to do her job.

Reaction to Alcock's interview has been so negative that he would almost be worried for his seat---if Hurricane Hugh McFadyen hadn't cost the Conservatives six months of preparation time by claiming he wanted to run against Reg, then chickening out of the race when it looked like the Liberals had recovered from the Adscam headlines. Hugh couldn't have done a better job for Reg if he was a Liberal plant.

Now, imagine if the roles of Krista and Reg were reversed, and a reporter was bullying a politician.

In that case you would have The Winnipeg Free Press.

The Freep's campaign to undermine Mayor Sam Katz continues apace.

Last month the newspaper was surprised to find its full-frontal smear campaign against the mayor exposed by The Black Rod on the blogosphere. After we exposed how flimsy the trumped- up scandal that they were trumpeting was and how suspicious many of the alleged quotes from politicians and pundits were, the paper retreated into silence.
However this week we noticed that the campaign has relaunched, only in a different guise this time. But the reporter remains the same.

Note these recent leads by Mary Agnes Welch:

"Mayor Sam Katz shuffled his powerful cabinet yesterday, dumping the lone left-leaning woman and promoting what some critics called right-wing "yes men."(Katz shuffles his cabinet, Nov. 1, 2005)

"Mayor Sam Katz may disband city hall's beleagured environment committee, signalling for many the mayor's failure to make the city greener."(Mayor may scrap civic environment panel, Nov. 1, 2005)

"It's not often Mayor Sam Katz turns down the chance to attract a big money convention to Winnipeg. But he has refused to write a letter of support to lure a conference promising up to 4,000 people and several million dollars."(Katz nips pot party in bud. Nov. 4, 2005)

Get it? The old way was too blatant (It's a scandal! Sam Katz bends the rules to help his friends and get a payoff!) and also wrong. Not to mention we blew the whistle.

The new way is subtle, ever so less apparent, and (we have to get both sides) ever more "fair."

Is it our fault that Katz DUMPED a WOMAN and promoted "yes-MEN"?
We can't be blamed that he removed someone who is left-LEANING (that's good) in favour of someone RIGHT-WING (that's bad).

Is it wrong to point out the mayor has FAILED to make Winnipeg "greener" despite the efforts of the environment committee which is BELEAGURED, as are all victims of oppression.

Surely we should be commended for reporting that contrary to his pro-business image, Katz TURNED DOWN a conference which would bring 4000 people to Winnipeg.

It's not until well into the jump page that Mary Agnes Welch mentions that the conference organizers themselves made the stipulation that the Mayor of the host city has to endorse the conference, the national convention of the Canadian Cannabis Coalition. She even quotes a board member bad-mouthing Sam Katz for being the only big-city mayor to refuse support to the group.

She says the conference is about the medical use of marijuana, but nowhere mentions that the Canadian Cannabis Coalition has had a problem with unauthorized statements on behalf of the organization. It's even issued a warning bulletin on its website:

Unauthorized CCC Statements
November 4, 2005
Recently, unauthorized statements attributed to the Canadian Cannabis Coalition have been made to the press.
The CCC is a national umbrella organization for cannabis and hemp organizations, medicinal use, related media, commercial and retail outlets. Since it's inception in 1999, there has been no official spokespersons, and any official CCC statement or position is posted in the Press Release section of the website at or on other parts of the official website, except public forums. Any statement attributed to the CCC that is not present on the website, is the view of the member only.
The CCC has never had, nor currently has, any funds, but has discussed the possibility of holding a first ever cannabis/hemp tradeshow in September or October of 2007, in an already selected location. Any news or information about it will be issued via official Press Release.
We hope this clears up any confusion about statements or positions regarding the CCC.
The Canadian Cannabis Coalition

The Free Press just carried stories where Industry Minister Jim Rondeau was being raked over the coals for a government loan to a failed gay porn store. Imagine the bad press a mayor who endorsed marijuana would received, particularly if the conference included open smoking of the still-illegal drug. But, then, do you expect the Free Press to dilute its campaign against Katz with logic?

"I think what they're trying to do is embarrass the mayor," said Councillor Harry Lazarenko. We couldn't put it any better.

Mary Agnes Welch let a few of her own reporting secrets slip out at a public function this past year. She confessed that she is a "liberal" of the "small L" kind and brings that view to her stories. She said she doesn't believe in being "objective" in her reporting; she stands by her ability to be "fair" instead.

Maybe we're now seeing what "fair" means to a liberal (with a "small L").

Or maybe Mary Agnes Welch was one of those who was there when the new Governor General Michaelle Jean met with some journalism students in Winnipeg during her recent visit.

"She said that it's important to keep ourselves in the story, and that we don't put ourselves above the story," said one of the students. "It's okay to be a little subjective."

And no wonder. If anybody knows about subjective stories, it's someone whose career has been at the CBC. And look what slipping a little opinion into stories did for her?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Will This Romance be a Schur Success?

Strike up the band and cue the choir. Winnipeg empresario Danny Schur is taking his show on the road.

Saskatoon's Persephone Theatre has picked Schur's musical Strike to open its 2006 season.

Artistic Director Tibor Feheregyhazi went ga-ga over the play and wanted to be first to snap up the rights.

This is a big feather in Danny's cap but only step one in his big plan to fill the void left by the demise of Canada's numero uno in the world of musical theatre, Garth Drabinsky, whose Livent productions of Phantom of the Opera and Ragtime were Broadway staples in he Nineties.

Schur risked everything and lost a small fortune putting on the musical about the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. He fought tooth-and-nail to get his show into the Rainbow Stage venue this spring, only to see the worst weather in history dilute his audiences despite rave reviews. But Strike still managed to be a bigger hit than the dead dog of a play Rainbow Stage staged on their own, and his dream stayed alive.

With the Persephone deal, Schur shows he is living proof that persistance pays. He's had meetings with a handful of Broadway producers, only one of whom said "Getattahere, kid. You're not ready for the Great White Way." And a deal with PBS in the United States is closer than you think.

Schur hopes his foray into Saskatchewan will be only the first of a host of productions of Strike in Canada, and eventually in the U.S. So do his investors, more than 40 strong, who stand to earn half of whatever profits Strike eventually makes.

And, just like a Broadway musical, we hear that love was in the air when movie hunk Brad Pitt was in Winnipeg putting in his one-day on the local shoot of his new movie The Assassination of Jesse James.

According to Aussie reporter Nick Papps, hell, we can't say it better than him, so read his take in the Australia's Sunday Telegraph:

LOVE hunk Brad Pitt was seen sobbing into his phone on the set of his flick about outlaw Jesse James.

"I can't live without you," Brad reportedly bleated to Angelina down the blower in Winnipeg. Not even for a minute, it seems.

Papps goes on to say that Brad and Angelina had been inseparable during the shooting of the movie in Alberta. On the day Brad came to Winnipeg, Angelina flew to New York where,

"she and her escort - her brother James Haven - attended the Worldwide Orphans' Foundation Gala.The next morning, Brad had his lady back by his side. Now that's true dedication - or absolute love."

Ahhh.. Ain't love grand.


And now, Love, Winnipeg Style.

That's what's being whispered in media circles in Winnipeg after a prominent television host showed up for work with a horking big engagement ring on her finger.

The only flaw in the picture is that her fiance, a highly placed Crown attorney, still wears a wedding ring. And, if memory serves us well, his wife is a divorce lawyer.

This love story may inspire Danny Schur's next musical, LOCKOUT.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

John Harvard, where were you in 2002

Canadians love to feel superior to Americans.

When terrorists attacked New York in 2001 and killed thousands of innocents, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien muttered that they got what was coming to them because they're so rich.

When the United States was convulsed by the Watergate scandal, Canadian intellectuals sniffed in satisfaction at watching a right-wing President brought down for covering up a break-in ordered by his re-election team. It couldn't happen here, they said. We have Question Period. We hold our governments accountable.

So superior. So spectacularly wrong.

The one time the Canadian system was tested, it failed---every test.

It could happen here.
It did happen here.
And they got away with it.

The Liberal Party is chortling in relief and triumph today. They got away with it.

John Gomery released his report and said the people to blame for stealing a few hundred million dollars of taxpayers money during Adscam were the Liberal Party, the other Liberal Party, the party of Jean Chretien.

Forget that everybody in this Liberal Party sat in the other Liberal Party and applauded Jean Chretien for his every move and gesture. Who remembers? Not the Press, that's for sure.

It was an aggressive press that chased the Watergate story to its ultimate conclusion. But that was in the United States. Canada, you will remember, is superior. The Press here is superior. We don't chase scandals like those ghastly Americans...

Watching the coverage of the Gomery report, we waited for someone to start talking about the cover-up. About the role of Paul Martin, Reg Alcock, and others right here in Manitoba, in doing their best to put a gloss over Adscam, to minimize the sponsorship scandal, to deflect blame, to pretend all was well and God and The Liberals were in Heaven as they should be.

So let us do the job of the Press and remind you what the Liberals did when their thievery was exposed.

It was 2002.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser had found the trail. The scent of corruption lead her directly to the Liberals. The government had given lots of money to Liberal-friendly companies, like Groupaction, which couldn't explain what work they did to earn the money. Sheila Fraser said people "broke every rule in the book" in making these deals. She said the RCMP should be called in to investigate possible fraud.

Her report got lots of press. The Liberals knew they had a problem, but the well-oiled machine swung into action to put out the fire before it grew too big to control.

- Step one. Since the scandal trail led directly to Public Works Minister Alfonso Gaglilano, get him out of town. Get him so far out of town nobody can question him any more.
- Step two. Attack the messenger. Smear Sheila Fraser and send a message yourself. This is what happens when you mess with The Liberals.
- Step three. Take over the "investigation." Get ahead of the posse. Lead them away from the trail. Get to the b-b-b-ottom of the scandal by making sure nobody gets hurt. Nobody in The Party, that is.

*Step one*
If Alfonso Gagliano has to go on the lam for a bit, he's got to go in style. It can't look as though he's being run out of town. He's got to get a parade. But quick.

So for his long service to the country and his deep interest in foreign countries (and we don't mean Quebec), Alfonso Gagliano found himself appointed Canada's ambassador to Denmark.

But first he had to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament to be vetted. Everyone, Liberals and Opposition, knew what was going on.

"The man is not qualified to be an ambassador to a small rural town in Kansas let alone to a country and the fact is, he hasn't faced up to the charges against him," said Canadian Alliance MP Brian Pallister.

"There is a cloud of sleaze and corruption over this minister," said NDP MP Svend Robinson, before his own proclivities for stealing expensive rings was revealed.

Gagliano had his defenders. In those days, that is. When they had to be sweet to him and get him away from investigators. Defenders, like Manitoba MP John Harvard.

"This is not a trial, and this is not a prosecution," said John Harvard, a true footsoldier in the Liberal army.

The Liberals who formed the majority on the committee blocked opposition questions about the allegations of impropriety during Mr. Gagliano's stint as a cabinet colleague of Paul Martin . They knew this was probably the last time the Opposition could question him about the scandal, since he was getting out of politics and beyond their reach.

There was one last hurdle to cross before the getaway was complete.
Law-breaking lawyer Svend Robinson moved a motion--

That the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade decline to support the nomination of Alfonso Gagliano as Canadian Ambassador to Denmark at this time, pending a full Parliamentary inquiry into the serious allegations of misconduct by Mr. Gagliano during his tenure as Minister of Public Works and Government Services, which if confirmed would adversely affect his qualifications to represent Canada as Ambassador to Denmark.
The Liberals easily defeated the motion. Voting Nay were: Sarkis Assadourian, Marlene Jennings, George Baker, Stan Keyes, Garard Binet, Pat O'Brien, John Harvard, Carolyn Parrish, and Paul Szabo.

Harvard got his own payoff from Paul Martin when he was appointed Manitoba's Lieutenant Governor. Apparently none of the local reporters could find him yesterday to ask about his role in the cover-up. But, then, maybe Harvard remembers...

* Step Two *
While the public applauded Sheila Fraser's 2002 report, the Liberals knew what they had to do. Hell, it's S-O-P for any gang. Mess with us and we mess with you.

No sooner had she started answering press questions than certain Liberal birdies began singing a funeral dirge for the Auditor General. Who's she to talk, they said. What's she know about anything?

Look, the Auditor General's office, should talk. She's made mistakes worth way more than a few measly sponsorship contracts. She didn't even notice an accounting mistake that had the provinces raking in $4 billion in equalization overpayments. What a loser. Shouldn't she be called on the carpet? New Brunswick Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc, a former Chretien staffer, said publicly it was time to "look into mistakes her office made".

Ontario MP Dan McTeague accused Fraser of being on a "witch hunt." Paul Martin liked his spunk. When he became Prime Minister he appointed McTeague as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Today, Martin is throwing people out of the Liberal Party, but not, of course, those who came to the Party's rescue when it mattered.

Paul Martin has an affinity for those who step up, as they say on The Apprentice. And the best project managers come during Step Three of the cover-up.

* Step Three *
Get to the b-b-b-bottom of the scandal, Liberal-style.

When Sheila Fraser first uncovered the lid of the sponsorship scandal in her 2002 report, the Liberals knew exactly what to do. Step right up and take the investigation away from her and anybody who wanted to follow her.

Her allegations were so serious, they said, they had to be examined in more detail by a committee of Parliament. Look, public and members of the Press, we're innocent. We want to know what happened. We'll find out and let you know in a jiffy.

Sheila Fraser's report was handed to the Standing Committee on Public Account. The committee's chairman was from the Conservative Party but nine of the 16 members were Liberals and they chewed Fraser's report like a dog with a toy bone. Grrrr. Look at us. We're getting to the b-b-bottom of it.

They played games, like failing to turn up with enough members for a quorum when it was convenient for the party. They forced hearings to be in-camera so the press wouldn't get too much to get worked up over. They quibbled over which witnesses could be called and how much of their testimony to make public.

A funny thing happened as soon as the Press let go of the bone. The Liberals lost interest. They voted to wrap up their hearings despite the Opposition's cries of anger. Step Three. Done.

The cover-up worked for a couple of years. When the scandal flared up again after Sheila Fraser's 2004 report, the machine knew the routine.

Step One. Get Jean Chretien out of town. Hey, look, he's no longer in politics, so let this thing drop, eh.
Step Two. Fraser's out of control. She likes the spotlight. You can't trust a gloryhound, can you?
Step Three. Oh, look, another committee conducting another investigation of her allegations. Another committee which shuts down just before an election.

But don't worry, we're still getting to the b-b-bottom of it.

And it that's not enough, look, here's Manitoba MP Reg Alcock on CTV, and he says its no biggie anyway. The sponsorship scandal is nowhere as bad as Sheila Fraser is making out. An "independent accounting firm" has discovered only $13 million is at issue, not the hundred million Fraser said.

Chipping away at the Auditor General's credibility on national television is a good days work. The retraction the next day won't get much coverage. Did I say $13 million? An independent study said what? Gee, I must have been mistaken. That small figure came from my friend and colleague Toronto MP Dennis Mills, and, heh, heh, you know, we really want to get to the b-b-bottom of it.

Alcock knows you've got to be a project manager if you want to impress Donald Trum....we mean the Prime Minister. So he's grabbed the best project. What better way to show you're sincere in fighting a scandal, than to encourage other people to report government scandals.

Ta daa. We're talking Whistleblower protection.

And Reg Alcock has been talking whistleblower protection for years now, every time, it seems, someone begins asking embarassing questions about Adscam. It's a perenniel kneeslapper. Sort of like having John Gotti write the rules for the witness protection program. "Sure, Louie, the only peoples gonna know where youse lives is the mob, er, the Party. You can trust us to look after youse and your loved ones."

The government first introduced legislation to protect whistleblowers on March 31, 2004, in the wake of Fraser's second Adscam report. But it died when Paul Martin called the June election. In October 2004, Alcock introduced a new "whistleblower" bill that was supposedly tougher than the legislation that died. Now that the Gomery report is out, expect a new bill anyday now and we bet its going to be really, really tough.

In the meantime, The Party toughed it out. The Rules worked like a charm. And the cover up held. Long enough, at least, for the the old guard to leave and a "fresh" face put on the leadership.

Except that Paul Martin wasn't so fresh, and wasn't so stupid.

He read the papers. He knew what was going on. How couldn't he.

In February 2002, when he was finance minister and the senior minister for Quebec, he got a letter from the national policy chairman, Akaash Maharaj, begging him to look into widespread rumours that taxpayers' dollars were being diverted from the sponsorship program for "partisan purposes."

"I don't really remember this letter," he said two years later when the letter was published in the National Post.

Martin to this day pretends he did nothing about the warning letter because it just seemed to echo what was in Sheila Fraser's 2002 report. But he's a smart man. He knew exactly was "partisan" meant. And why Fraser was so gingerly avoiding that allegation. And why he wan't going there. (See Step Two for a refresher).

Martin knew that deniability is paramount in a cover-up. I don't know nuttin. I dinn see nuttin'. I don't remember nuttin'. I want a lawyer. And my lawyer says don't say nuttin.

And it worked. Gomery "exonerated" Paul Martin. What warning letter was that?

Ain't Canada grand? We wouldn't let a Watergate scandal happen here. We hold our governments accountable.

Except sometimes we can't tell our governments apart.

And Gomery never even touched the question, of why the Liberanos were funneling hundreds of millions into their friends pockets, but had only gotten a fraction in kickbacks. The answer is obvious. There's a much bigger story still to be told.

** new readers may want to review **
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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Free Press says "goodbye" to columnist, "get lost" to union. And get ready for Madame Mayor??

Imagine our surprise to learn that the Winnipeg Free Press had a new editor and we didn't know a thing about it.

Right there in Monday's Business Calender was the notice for a welcoming reception for the paper's new man, Box Cox.

Where did he come from?

Reading further down, we saw he was obviously sharing the job with the former editor, Bob Cox, who is sitting on a forum on Red River College later in the week.
We hope page editor Steve Pona will offer a clarification soon on how Box and Bob intend to share duties.

The paper is big on notifications lately.

The deathly silent indifference which greeted the departure of Charles Adler from the editorial pages of the Winnipeg Free Press was so overwhelming, that 10 days after the last dreadful column appeared, editor Bob Cox was compelled to take note of the absence in a small note to the readers.

To convince the readers that they were actually missing Chuckster's "always engaging and provocative columns" the past Saturday and Wednesday, Cox tried to reassure everyone, notably Adler, that it was because his new national radio puff-fest resulted in his accepting "a new opportunity to complement his on-air work."

The fact neither Adler nor Cox made mention of his "opportunity" when the last column ran is duly noted. Yep, no "thanks for the past year', no "sorry I repeated everything I already said on my morning show and had almost no original stories to justify the Free Press putting me to ink", no "The Black Rod was right I'm outta here."
Winnipeggers are preparing to ignore Adler's Chanukah-time return to print in the pages of The National Post, the same way they already ignore his segments on the Manitoba Evening News. The common denominator, of course, is Canwest owns both the Post and Global TV outlets.

Now instead of paying something for nothing, the Free Press can pay nothing for nothing, because they can get Adler's new column for, um, free, under an existing arrangement to reprint Canwest news stories.

And make no mistake about it, the bottom line is the driving factor in the willingness of the Free Press to unburden itself of the vastly overpriced - $450 a column anyone?- radio entertainer, and to cut each and every cost, to make the broadsheet as attractive as possible for the Asper's to finally purchase their hometown paper.

While Adler trumpets high and wide that his departure has nothing to do with moolah, the newspaper is crying poverty to its union.

That's why Adler's departure was met with zero resistance from the owners. He was a cost that could be cut. After all, they're trying to cut the commission rate paid to salesman who had to peddle the notion Adler's column upped circulation.

That's right, the newspaper that made $30.3 million in the second quarter this year- a tidy 8.7 % increase - are offering their sales staff a CUT IN PAY of TWENTY ( 20) PERCENT.

And that's not all.

They want to reduce the number of circulation managers and basically eliminate the job entirely. Management wants to limit the seniority rights of circulation workers who can now choose their shifts. They refuse to extend seniority rights to their telemarketers or to the creative services (in the old days this was the composition room) part-timers.

And in a "we couldn't make this up if we tried" moment, the Free Press is trying to clawback money from their carriers by reducing the pay for delivered items from 5c to 3c per piece.

Yessir, Stern and Silver are trying to nickle and penny the operation. Imagine that.

Now imagine the Freep is trying to squeeze every penny possible out of advertisers and you'll understand why the paper is breaking a long-standing tradition by publishing this Remembrance Day. You don't think they're hoping anybody who compares this year's circulation with last year's will be fooled by the addition of an extra day's in '05, do you?

FP Newspapers grossed $111m in 2004, up from $105m the year before. They cleared 24 million dollars. The Income Trust returned 9.8% to unit holders. (Did we mention they are saving the $50 g's they were dishing out for Cha..., oh you figured that out too.)

But they told the union the workers offer of a 2 year deal is "a non-starter", that revenues are declining and the union has to make a long-term commitment and thank you and goodbye. The paper is offering a wage increase totalling 2.5 percent over three years. The employees, having just written stories about how the CBC is getting 12 percent over 3 years, are grinding their teeth and girding their loins for battle.

But there's a subtext to the labour story. It's a prelude to something bigger, something that will only take place after the gory negotiations are over and peace is restored.

We speak, of course, of the eventual absorption of the Winnipeg Free Press into the Asper Empire. Its only a matter of time. How much longer can the Aspers go cap in hand to Bob Silver whenever they want something from the city's major daily?

The Black Rod has been trying to figure out what is behind the delay in that acquisition, and, at the same time, what is behind the Free Press smear attack on Sam Katz heading into next year's civic election . Call us cross-eyed but it sure looks like the two are connected. After all, how would it look if a prominent family bought a newspaper, just as one of the sibling owners was sniffing around a run for the mayor's chair?

This way, the paper can continue to "neutrally" promote all things Asper until after the mayoral election - for instance:

- David Asper's new Times Square wanna-be giant video screens (which happens to face Portage and Fort, and not Portage and Main). The derelicts and panhandlers across the street on Fort won't have to leave the sidewalk now to seek entertainment.

- The Museum for Human Rights which is now a $300 million dollar project and climbing, and has as many shovels in the ground as the Can-Ad hotel/waterpark project in Grand Forks, which is to say, none.

- The Governor-general comes to town? Make sure the first quote is from Gail Asper as if - nothing personal here- she is the barometer of what an "average Winnipegger" thinks of Mme. Jean.

That could come in handy on the hustings next year n'est pas? But, we've already said too much.

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