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:

Sunday, January 29, 2006

What a small --and dangerous-- City

The Winnipeg Sun did a good job Saturday of tying together the threads of a series of seemingly unrelated crimes throughout the city.

We planned to do the same thing, but they left us only crumbs to work with.

But they're good crumbs, and worth sharing with you. We'll try to keep any overlap in stories to a minimum.

* Police say some men had a scrap at the Charleswood Motor Hotel early Thursday morning. They took it outside and one of them came up with a World War Two sten gun (where do you even get ammo for one these days?) and fired a few shots. A stray bullet flew into the Roblin Bakery and Pastry Shop and almost hit a night baker.

Twenty-year-old Garrett Gamble, of Ste. Anne, was arrested and charged with firing the gun.

* Just by coincidence, two days earlier, police arrested a good friend of Gamble's, Sandro Rocha, 26, of St. Andrews, in a parking lot near Simon's Niteclub at Logan and McPhillips. He was in a car along with 20 neatly packaged one-ounce bags of crack cocaine.

* Both men were out on bail while awaiting trial for the June, 2005, abduction of a suspected drug dealer, Kham Chanthalangsy, who was stuffed in the trunk of a car but managed to escape before finding out why he was being taken for a ride.Kham C. had the unfortunate knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

* For example, he and Rocha were in the same bar when a member of the Hell's Angels was shot in March, 2005. Given their later history, we presume they were at opposite ends of the trendy Corydon Avenue pub, Dirty Laundry, where the action took place.

Biker Billy Bowden was shot in the leg that night. And an associate shot his shooter. Police imply that Rocha may have been that shooter, seeing as how he showed up at hospital later that evening with a bullet wound to his leg.

* Kham's streak of bad luck didn't end there. Early Friday morning, Dec. 9, 2005, shortly after midnight, callers to 911 in Burnaby, B.C. reported hearing gunshots. Police arrived to find a body lying on the ground in the 4200 block of Southwood Street. He was only identified as "an Indo-Canadian in his mid-twenties."

Investigators soon had a name to put to the city's latest murder victim and the body of Kham Chanthalangsy was returned to Winnipeg. His funeral was Dec. 16. What effect Kham's death will have on the trial of Gamble and Rocha remains to be seen. You did get a statement from the alleged abduction victim on tape, didn't you, Mr. Morrison?

* Gamble is no stranger to the court system. He was facing a murder charge in a high-profile case a few years ago until a co-accused pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

* That same year a drug dealer pleaded guilty to firing a shotgun at a member of the Zig Zag Crew, the Hell's Angels farm team, in the parking lot of Simon's -- the very bar that Rocha used to own. He was a sloppy shooter and shotgun pellets hit not only his intended target but two innocent people as well.

According to the newspaper, Rocha is no longer connected to Simon's. For the past two years he has been a co-owner of Phatcat Video Rental on Sargent Ave.

* Last October, 17-year-old Phillip Haiart was walking through the parking lot of PhatCat Video when he was hit in the stomach by a bullet fired from a house across the street.

Gang members had started shooting at rivals and missed.
And Phil Haiart died.

He wasn't the target, any more than the baker in the Charleswood Bakery and Pastry Shop.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Will Manitoba Tories make Betrayal a party virtue

Manitoba Progressive Conservatives obviously need to make it clear that they are looking for a new party leader and not the Village Idiot.

Brian Pallister, fresh from asking voters in Portage-Lisgar to send him back to Parliament as their representative, has announced he's not really interested in the job. He wants to abandon a minority Conservative government so he can run to be provincial party leader.

The government of Stephen Harper hasn't even been sworn in, and Pallister wants to reduce their slim hold on power.

Is this what passes for leadership material in the Manitoba party?

Someone who tricked voters into giving him their trust?

Someone who conned 25,158 supporters to cast their ballots for him as a representative of the Conservative Party in Ottawa, only to have him say "Fooled Ya."

The Manitoba's Tories think they have the NDP on the run for their mismanagement of the Crocus Fund and Workers Compensation Board files. They should think again.

The NDP are snickering up a storm watching the Tories make betrayal a party virtue.

John Loewen was the party's hero when he went after the government for its mishandling of the Crocus Fund. Then he saw the federal Liberals, a party mired in corruption and scandal, and said "They share my values."

He abandoned his colleagues and the 33,000-plus Crocus shareholders who trusted him and joined Reg Alcock's team.

Hugh McFadyen claimed he wanted to challenge Alcock in Winnipeg South and convinced enough Conservative party members to win the nomination. When Loewen resigned his provincial seat, McFadyen abandoned the people who supported him in Winnipeg South in the blink of an eye so he could run for Loewen's safe seat. He's now on every pundit's list of leadership candidates.

And then Brian Pallister abandons the voters who stuck by him in Opposition so he can further his ego and make a run to eventually, he thinks, be Premier of Manitoba.

We thought we had seen the last of the Me-Me-Me School of Politics with the passing of Glen Murray. How wrong we were.

If Pallister forces a by-election in Portage-Lisgar less than a month after winning the seat, the voters should send a message to their next choice. They should not vote for the Conservative candidate whoever he or she may be.

They should send a Liberal or a New Democrat to Ottawa so that with every vote in Parliament, the Manitoba Tories will be reminded that voters cannot be taken for granted.

And the politics of personal ego is not leadership.

Friday, January 27, 2006

All is Well in Local Biker Gang World

Imagine a hastily called summit conference convened to deal with a rogue member who threatens to upset a truce between two natural enemies.

No. We're not talking about Hamas.

And no. We're not talking about the Liberal Party caucus, either.

We're talking Winnipeg, which is not the Centre of the Universe East or the Centre of the Universe West.

The meeting was at an undisclosed location. Present were three Hell's Angels and three Bandidos. Upper echelon. Deadly serious.

In the past year the two gangs have been observing an international ceasefire between their respective organizations, to the benefit of both.

The Bandidos installed themselves in Winnipeg without the expected fireworks. To the relief of their West End neighbours they've eschewed the usual trappings of a clubhouse to stay under the radar.

They've even set up a puppet club of their own. We hear it's called Los Montaneros (pardon us if its misspelled). It sounds cool, though, and leaves the Hell's Angels puppet club, the Zig Zag Crew, sounding kinda fey.

It seems there was an argument in a barroom. (Sigh.) Feelings were hurt. Reputations were at stake.Cooler heads stepped in before things could escalate and called the sit down over that universal peacemaker between men -- beer.

The Hell's Angels, whose man started the ruckus, wanted to make sure everyone knew there wasn't anything official behind it. It was just a case of mistaken identity.

That happens when you keep a low profile; nobody knows who you are. (Believe us, we know.)

The Black Rod has learned that the stakes have risen dramatically with the expansion of Bandidos influence and it may have been in the Hell's Angels best interests to put out the fire quickly.

We're told the Indian Posse and Manitoba Warriors have aligned themselves with the Bandidos. This would leave the Hell's Angels vastly outnumbered if push came to shove.

It may also explain the heavy hardware discovered in a police raid last week. Those automatic weapons scared everyone.

It's to everyone's benefit that rogue elements of one team don't undo the truce. And this rogue, who's been at the centre of many a publicized scrape in the past couple of years, risks becoming a liability to his own side.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Liberal Values Rejected

Well, we waited three days and the country's news outlets are still avoiding the obvious.

From the first day the election was called, to that day in Winnipeg when he famously launched Phase Two of the campaign, to the final day of his Bonkers Tour of Canada, Liberal leader Paul Martin was clear there was one and only one dominant issue in the campaign: values.

On debate night the Liberal Party restated the battle lines:

Tonight's debate made it perfectly clear that there is a vast difference in values between Prime Minister Paul Martin and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. On January 23rd, it will be up to Canadians to decide whose values reflect their own.

"If you want to stop Stephen Harper, if you don't agree with Mr. Harper's values... there's only one choice you can make and that's the Liberal party," Martin said in speech after speech.
"Choose your Canada," he bellowed over and over.

Well, Canadians chose.

Liberal values were rejected.

And the country's radio, television and newspapers are silent.

When George Bush beat challenger John Kerry in the U.S. presidential election by 3 percent, the news media agonized for weeks about the part values played in the final vote. There was a spirited debate in newspaper columns, blogs, radio talk shows, and TV newsmagazines. The Democrats undertook a self-examination to ask themselves if they were, indeed, out of step with the majority.

In Canada, the Conservatives defeated the Liberals by six points, yet nobody wants to talk about the very thing the Liberals said was the defining issue of the election.

The Calgary Sun yesterday carried a headline "Tory Values Resonate With Canadians". But it was a case of a headline writer carried away with enthusiasm.

The story was really about a Decima online poll that showed the voting public overwhelmingly felt Conservative Party priorities (cracking down on crime, a patient wait times guarantee, an Accountability Act, child care funding, cutting the GST) were either critical or important. But policies are not values.

The difference in values espoused by the two major political parties is basically summed up in the parable of the Ant and the Grasshopper.

The Conservatives are the Ants.

Work hard and you will be rewarded. You have a duty to those less fortunate. Give generously to charity.

The Liberals are not the Grasshoppers exactly, they just Grasshopper enablers.
As long as there are Ants, government can take the fruit of their labour and "share" it with everyone else. Don't worry about earning rewards; you deserve them. Don't hurt anyone's feelings by saying otherwise. And the government will hurt you if you do.

But, but, but....what about the Bloc? The NDP? The Greenies? They hate Conservative values. Don't they count?

The Bloc and the Green Party are one-note Charlies whose values were irrelevant in this election. An Environics profile of voters found that the single strongest value to Bloc supporters is the need to be held in high esteem. "I'm HUMILIATED" said the Frenchmen and we laugh. But it's not funny to them. Their noses really do go out of joint.

As for the NDP....with a leader who felt he was entitled to subsidized housing when he and his wife earned more than $100,000 a year, and a star candidate who was a lawyer with a rap sheet that includes contempt of court and jewel theft ... the less said about values the better.

NDP leader Jack Layton tried to enter the values debate once in Quebec. "...if you feel the way I do about Stephen Harper's choices and values...if you want to be represented in Ottawa by people who respect you, and respect your values... On January 23, vote for the NDP." On January 23, voters elected 10 Conservatives and zero New Democrats. 'Nuff said.

Even as the news media tiptoes around the values issue, we can see the local reporting, at least, begin to slip into old patterns.Wednesday, Winnipeg Free Press reporter Leah Janzen wrote a mainly positive story about Rod Bruinooge, the Conservative who gave incumbent Liberal Reg Alcock the boot in Winnipeg South.

But she couldn't resist identifying him as "a Christian, and a firm believer in the Conservative platform." Immediately below was her story about Reg Alcock. He is, she tells us, married with two children. There's no mention of his religion.

An earlier story about Liberal winner in Churchill, Tina Keeper, doesn't mention her religion. The previous day's stories about defeated Churchill candidates Niki Ashton and Bev Desjarlais, didn't mention their religions.

A story about Liberal winner Anita Neville didn't mention her religion.

The story about NDP winner Judy Wasylycia-Leis didn't mention her religion.

Bruinooge is a Conservative. And he's Christian, see? Subtle.

Certainly more so than "Christians Captururing Tory Party", FP columnist Frances Russell's near-hysterical attack on evangelical Christians last July, a column the Free Press defended as fair comment.

Now that the public has made its values choice, the Winnipeg Free Press should consider shuffling its array of columnists. It has plenty of columnists spreading the liberal message -- Frances Russell, Bill Neville, Gordon Sinclair, Val Werier, Gwynne Dyer, Colleen Simard, need we go on.

The conservative side is represented by ... Tom Oleson.

A rebalancing is in order if the paper is truly listening to its readership. You know...fair comment and all.

If the Free Press has any doubts, it has only to go to the recent columns by Gordon Sinclair which raise questions about the thin line between opinion and political propaganda.

Opinion is a reasoned argument based on at least some facts.What can you call Sinclair's personal attack ad column where he flatly stated his vitriolic characterization of conservatives and anyone who supports them?

He was at it again today, rewriting history as fast as his fingers could type. Conservative Rod Bruinooge, who defeated Liberal Reg Alcock, wasn't humble enough for Sinclair's taste. As a winner, he shouldn't have called Alcock arrogant. And he should have acknowledged how hard Alcock worked for Manitoba.

- Here's what Bruinooge actually told CBC: " They want someone who they feel is representative of them, who doesn't rule from an ivory tower, who has humility," he said. "I think those are very important assets that unfortunately Mr. Alcock hasn't shown lately. I agree, he has been a money man, but clearly that's not the primary voting agenda of voters in Winnipeg South."

And here's a sample of Alcock's work.

- In the 2004 election he campaigned loud, long and hard on the New Deal to share Ottawa's wealth with cities. After the election he showed up at City Hall and said "Here's a string for you, and one for you, and one for you."

The "new" New Deal, Alcock-style, was that Ottawa was giving money to Winnipeg but only be used for a transit system (a Liberal value) instead of roads and sewers (a Winnipeg value).

Funny how he didn't mention that during the election campaign.

- Reg Alcock, in Sinclair's eyes, is "the epitomy of class and grace" in defeat. That's a good one. The key here is all Liberals put on their best face forward in defeat.

Alcock showed his real face in the campaign.

Maybe Sinclair was sleeping when the Winnipeg Free Press co-hosted an election forum with the CBC and Alcock was questioned by someone from the the prison guards union. He responded with shocking contempt and condescension, captured live by the cameras.

- On his way out of the auditorium, he was confronted again by union members and, according to their newsletter, he told them he had no respect for them, they could "go to hell", and he had answered their questions over the past four years but correctional officers "are dumb as posts."

Sheer class.

Except that this time it turned out one person was even dumber than a post, and didn't see the blue tide coming in to sweep him from office.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Eric Alterman Challenge by Proxy

During the recent election campaign, a political reporter in Brandon took umbrage at our conducting The Peter Kent Challenge. Kent, you will recall, challenged journalism schools to monitor the press for an alleged anti-Conservative bias during the campaign.

We couldn't find any schools that took him up, so we decided to conduct the challenge in Manitoba ourselves.

The reporter blustered that he would start the Eric Alterman Challenge. Eric Alterman is the author of the book What Liberal Media? in which he argues the political right controls the news.

We enthusiastically encouraged him to do it.
Well, we waited and waited, and nothing happened.
We concluded that maybe he's just shy and needs a little push to get started.

So, today, we're doing the first Eric Alterman Challenge... with our own twist. Our subject is:
William Neville, Winnipeg Free Press columnist and head of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

Neville restrained himself during the election campaign, taking the high ground expected of a university professor. He left the flat-out hate spiels to his fellow columnist Gordon Sinclair (Peter Kent Challenge Exhibit G) and the clever distortions and deceptions to his fellow traveller Frances Russell.

As polls showed that the Conservatives were expected to win the election, Neville couldn't contain himself any longer. He reached for the mud and elbowed Gord and Fran aside.

With the clock ticking down, Neville had only one column left to influence the election. It ran Friday, Jan. 20 under the headline "Voter suspicion is still Harper's Achilles heel." And it was a doozy.

Neville said he received an email in which "Don", the supposed Chairman of the Conservative Party tells supporters "We will have the power to get on with repairing the social fabric of the country and restoring the Christian values we all hold dear."

Neville wrote that as soon as he read the email, he suspected it was a hoax, because it was too obvious. It "directly and succinctly" expressed what "many voters" suspected and feared---the Conservatives have a hidden agenda. But, said Neville, the Conservatives wouldn't circulate an e-mail about their hidden agenda, would they? It must be a hoax. Not that he could prove it.

(So what better way to deal with a hoax than to publish it in the main newspaper in the province, right? Neville doesn't get into that.)

Instead he said the Conservatives know people are suspicious about them and they've addressed this by pointing out the Canadian system has checks on elected governments, checks such as the Senate, the bureaucracy and the courts. You can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool a political studies professor. You can almost hear Neville scream "Gotcha."

Neville recites how the Reform Party transformed into the Canadian Alliance, and became, aha, the current Conservatives. And guess what? The Reform Party "dismissed, mocked or reviled" the institutions of the Senate, the bureaucracy and the courts. So who does Stephen Harper think he's kidding? Not Bill Neville, Oh, no.

"If this is yet another indication of the way in which he has 'evolved' (to use his own word), it is surely one of the most improbable."

Hah. You can't fool a political studies professor. The Conservatives are only pretending to believe in the institutions of Canada. And why? Because they have a secret agenda. Just like the hoax e-mail says.

False, but accurate. The liberal mantra for the 21st century. First articulated in the Rathergate affair. And now an article of faith.

Neville makes a big production about realizing instantly that the e-mail was phoney. That would carry more weight if it wasn't for the fact that the e-mail had been circulating for over a week and everyone knew it was a fake.

Radio host Peter Warren, a week earlier, had a guest on his show who revealed how he tracked the email to St. Petersburg, Russia, to an account opened Dec. 18, 2005.

Bloggers picked up the trail and before you know it, even more details were coming out on Small Dead Animals such as:

One of the false names on the Russian e-mail account was Alice B Tokarov(Alice B Toklas was a pot smoking character from the 60's. Tokarov is/was a standard Soviet era pistol: ie:"smoking gun").This is getting to(sic) good for words.Posted by: RW at January 15, 2006 03:45 PM

Neville didn't write his column to expose a phony email.

He wrote it to expose the scary Conservatives, based on a phony email that he couldn't wait to share with Free Press readers.

And this guy teaches at a real university.

Now that's scary.

Post-Election Musings

It was funny to watch Winnipeg's four television stations fall over themselves doing stories on new MP Rod Bruinooge, aka the man who gelded Reg Alcock.

Two days ago they couldn't pick him out of a line-up.

Even funnier was that none of the stories had any comment from Hugh McFadyen, the man who did more than Alcock to keep Bruinooge out of the House of Commons.

CTV's Stacey Ashley gets the nod for telling viewers how Bruinooge's background in movies and advertising helped him win. CBC can count coup for having Bruinooge's concession speech when he thought he had lost an hour before the final tally showed he won.

But coverage of Tina Keeper's victory in Churchill was downright surreal. Every reporter gushed at how she brought out aboriginal voters who put her over the top. Whaaat?

Simple math shows that the only reason she won was because voters split their support between NDP candidate Niki Ashton and Independent Bev Desjarlais, who was the MP for the riding in the last Parliament. Put together, their vote topped Keeper's by about 1,800. Like Elijah Harper before her, Keeper is a one-term MP.

And the ballots had barely been counted before the Free Press started rewriting history. Leah Janzen, with files from Jason Bell, wrote Desjarlais "left the party to run as an independent."

That's news to Desjarlais.

She thought she was kicked out of the party by Jack Layton for failing to vote the party line on same-sex marriage.

We bet she's glad the Free Press set her straight.

And with all the hoopla about Tina Keeper being the aboriginal voice in Parliament, don't you find it strange that nobody mentioned that Rod Bruinooge is an aboriginal too? That's right. The most successful politician in Manitoba is aboriginal. But then he's a Conservative. And you know that aboriginals who are Conservatives don't register on reporters' radar. It's not bias, it's a mind-set.

They just get their minds around the fact that every aboriginal doesn't support the NDP or the Liberals or want government handouts. That would require thinking outside the box, which is not safe in the mainstream media. (Hell, at first none of the media seemed to connect the winner to his Winnipeg International Film Festival. But WIFF didn't stage any government funding announcements, so it didn't get a lot of media coverage in the first place.)

But, then, look at someone who did think outside the box and who is sorry now.

NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis is credited for almost single-handedly sending the Liberal Party into Opposition. It was her longshot complaint to the RCMP that turned Grit fortunes to dust. Look into possible insider-trading as a result of a government leak about the Liberal Party's income trust policy, she said.

Political pundits from coast to coast say the turning point of the election came the day in January when the RCMP told her they had launched a formal criminal probe into her suspicions. The Liberals began dropping in the polls and never recovered.

Who? Me? She now says. I didn't do anything. The Liberals did it themselves.

Anyone else would glory in the spotlight. But "progressive" voters are upset that Judy's tip brought in a Conservative government, and she's thinking its prudent to keep a low profile. She doesn't want them spitting at her when she stops at the North End Sals for a nip and a coke.

In his post-election story in the FP, Dan Lett discussed the controversy over Judy's complaint and how angry it made Liberals, on and off the record.

He should have discussed the controversy over why the Free Press, and almost every other mainstream newspaper and television news, failed to report on the income trust story between her complaint and the RCMP announcement.

He quotes Wasylycia-Leis:

"We studied the spike in marked activity. We heard from other people on Bay Street who said this was unusual. There was this huge hue and cry about what happened."

There was? Not in the Free Press.

The FP had a reporter assigned to Kreskin the mentalist, but not to the income trust story.

It was bloggers who kept the story alive, who dug up evidence of spikes in trading, who uncovered an ever-widening circle of government officials who knew about the announcement.

Even in his election-day-after story, Lett provides none of the evidence that Wasylycia-Leis says she uncovered.
Take, for example, this tidbit posted on one of the blogs.

Read the Bloomberg story.

"Canadian Finance Minister Ralph Goodale will say later today that he is leaning against imposing a tax on income trusts as part of his review of the tax treatment for the high-yield securities, a person familiar with the plan said. "

This reporter was clearly told the content of the Income Trust announcement ahead of time. The story was *last updated* at 16:14 on the day in question, 45 minutes before the announcement was made.
Who was the 'person familiar with the plan'? Am I crazy, or is there a gun beginning to smoke here?
Posted by Clive at January 5, 2006 05:12 PM

It didn't take much digging for any reporter to get enough information for a story on the income trust scandal. Citizen reporters had done much of the heavy lifting. And still the professionals ignored the story which would have such bad implications for the Liberals.

Was that thinking outside the box? Or was it that other thing?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Tale of Two Tories - The Giant and The Mouse

We're sure Rod Bruinooge is too polite to say it himself, so we'll say it for him.


The entire Tory caucus in Manitoba watched in awe as their favorite punching bag turned into a political Muhammed Ali as he roped-a-dope in the general election last night.

In the red corner...the LOOOSERRR ----REG ALLL-CAAAWWWCK.

Reg Alcock? Lost? Impossible.

He's the Manitoba sugar daddy. Old Grit Macdonald, himself. Here a cheque, there a cheque, everywhere a cheque cheque. He can be weakened, challenged, harassed---but not defeated. Not Reg.

And by who? The guy the Manitoba Tories treated like dirt all year long?

He ran for the nomination to go against Alcock in Winnipeg South and lost to Tory pretty boy Hugh McFadyen. He shook off the loss and, when Tory turncoat John Loewen quit to join the Liberals, Rod announced he would run for the empty provincial seat.

But Hurricane Hugh had decided Reg was too tough, unbeatable in fact, so he sauntered over and said he deserved to sit in John's empty chair. Again the brain trust dumped Bruinooge and let McFadyen get an easy ride.

There's a reason we called Bruinooge the
Chumbawumba of politicians. He got right back up again and went after Reg as he wanted to in the first place. He never even mentioned the six month setback caused by McFadyen's waffling and his despicable attempt to sabotage Bruinooge again by supporting someone else on the QT for the Winnipeg South nomination.


Bruinooge demonstrated the perseverance and passion missing in the Conservative party for the past six years. He ran a brilliant come-from-behind campaign. He was given so little chance to win that CBC lumped him in with other also-rans in a filler election story last week.
The papers gushed about a poll showing Anita Neville might lose her seat, but never raised a hint that the Mighty Reg might be in trouble.

Rod is the only candidate in living memory to use television ads in his local campaign. It was a stroke of genius, since Reg Alcock is the man the television cameras hate the most.

While Bruinooge used TV to win, Alcock used TV to lose.

His condescending interview in November with CBC host Krista Erickson showed the bully in him, and his contemptuous treatment of prison guards who questioned him at the CBC televised election forum solidified his image as someone who liked pushing weaker people around.

Meanwhile unnoticed by MSM was the sudden appearance of clever Bruinooge TV ads on Global's newscast, and an anti-Alcock ad during CTV's American Idol that never actually mentioned Rod but viewers definately watched.

Maybe that explains why dejected Global analyst (and Liberal) Dan Vandal said no one could have possibly anticipated this; none of the local pundits noticed what Bruinooge was doing to battle goliath.

* He used his experience and knowledge of the film industry to tailor a campaign using the best techniques of the new media

* He used his established popularity with the online community (as a game inventor) to get his name out.

* His TV ads, cleverly shot like movie trailers, appealed to voters with his sincerity and jabs at King Reg.

So much for the old style of politicking. Rod went full steam ahead.

He shocked the world by knocking out the Sonny Liston, the big bad bully, of the Liberal establishment and Rod gave up a 6 month head start, and didn't have a dime to hand out to voters.

Maybe Hugh McFadyen, that "veteran" of a dozen campaigns, was intimidated. Rod Bruinooge took the fight to the heaviest Liberal in town, and when the night was over there was only one man standing.

The Manitoba Conservatives need to reinvent themselves with the Bruinooge can-do spirit.

They can start by making it clear to the news media that Leader of the Party is not an entry-level position. Hugh McFadyen, the mouse that squeeked, need not apply. When the Legislature resumes, the Tory caucus should tell Hurricane Hugh here's your seat, sit down, shut up, and when you know as much as The Black Rod, raise your hand.

Until then they can ask the New Giant of Manitoba politics to give a seminar on how to run a winning campaign.

And when he asks "WHO'S THE MAN?", they all know the answer.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Bjornson fails test, NDP still facing final exam

Education Minister Peter Bjornson was a popular man yesterday---for all the wrong reasons.

He was sought out by CJOB, the Winnipeg Sun, CTV, and Global News who were all following the prior day's story in The Black Rod where we revealed the name and story of the second whistleblower mentioned (obscurely) in the Auditor General's review of the Workers Compensation Board.

Bjornson toed the party line---bla bla did the right thing, blah blah personnel matter, bhlah bhlah nothing wrong---until Global's Mike Brown commented that some people ask if Bjornson can even recognize a whistleblower.

People can say what they want, sniffed the minister.

Well, we want to say that all the ministers in the NDP cabinet can recognize whistleblowers. They've had so much experience.

* Bernie Bellan warned them about overvaluations of shares of the Crocus Fund.

* Pat Jacobsen warned them about conflicts of interest at WCB.

* Tom Ulrich warned them about investment practices at the Teachers Retirement Allowances Fund.

* Bob Snyder warned them about illegal land development by the Seven Oaks School Division.

* Jim Small warned them about public dollars being redirected to perks and bonuses for executives and their live-in consultants rather than for client care at Hydra House.

Peter Bjornson now says they have no guidelines for dealing with whistleblowers. But it looks like they were all following the same rulebook.

* Bernie Bellan was ignored. Crocus was allowed to keep selling overvalued shares to unsuspecting investors for another two years. The NDP took great delight in the humiliation of an Opposition MLA who thought Bellan's questions had merit, but who was intimidated into silence.

* Pat Jacobsen was betrayed to the people she was complaining about. She was fired and the NDP says even now that they would do it again under the circumstances.

* Tom Ulrich (the second whistleblower in the Auditor's report) was dismissed with a form letter.

* Bob Snyder was blown off by a letter prepared by the School Board officials who were, indeed, involved in an illegal land development. He was told everything was being handled properly and he should take his concerns directly to them and stop bothering the minister. The superintendant of the school division, former NDP campaign manager Brian O'Leary, would handle his concerns about O'Leary's own project.

* Jim Small was sloughed off as just a "disgruntled employee". The minister so limited the scope of an investigation into Small's allegations that he could report no wrongdoing, and still profess surprise when a subsequent investigation confirmed everything Small said.

In the years since Hydra House, Ministers have become more efficient. They now skip pretending to be surprised, and move right into damage control.

Auditor Jon Singleton had barely finished formally releasing his WCB review when Finance Minister Greg Selinger announced he was preparing whistleblower legislation. And other ministers were trotted out for the cameras to express relief that henceforth they would have 'guidelines' on what to do if confronted by a whistleblower.

It's all a charade, as anyone reading past the headlines can see in a second.

- The legislation doesn't address how the government can appoint directors and board members to arms-length organizations like Crocus, WCB and TRAF and yet accept no responsiblity for what they do.

The boards of WCB and TRAF were powerless to censure or overrule Chairs that they could not replace or remove.

- It doesn't address how government appointed "representatives" don't report back to government about problems within the organization because, the government says, they are only responsible to the shareholders, but they never speak to or meet with shareholders.

However they expect the shareholders to pay for their lawyers if they are sued.

- It doesn't address how the NDP can wrap every single complaint from within organizations as an internal "personnel" matter. Tom Ulrich wrote a 17 page letter and not a word was about a personnel issue, but rather it was all about a government appointee, Alfred Black and his management and investment practices, which Ulrich rightfully questioned.

- And the legislation will do nothing to stop government henchmen from scaring off whistleblowers by threatening or launching lawsuits that intimidate them into silence.

* Officials of the MFL-sponsored Crocus Fund threatened to tie Bernie Bellan up in court for years and to bleed his business dry if he didn't shut up.

* Tom Ulrich was sued by the government-appointed CEO of TRAF after writing his letter to Education Minister Bjornson. The lawsuit accuses him of defamation and breach of confidentiality. He's still fighting the lawsuit.

* Jim Small had his reputation attacked in the Legislature where he couldn't defend himself from Tim Sale's scorn for daring to embarass his department.

Who will risk the financial pressure or not have second thoughts when looking at years of lawyer's bills ahead? The lessons to be learned from the enduring unemployment of those who followed Jacobsen out the door at WCB, and from Ulrich being shunned by the very teachers he represented for years, is not hard to fathom. This is a small town, sit down you're rocking the boat.

What whistleblower can't be accused of defamation and breach of confidentiality? Is the whistleblower legislation going to indemnify people against lawsuits? Is black white?

The NDP's committment to whistleblowers has been tested five times that we know of. And five times they've failed.

No wonder the education minister is against mandatory testing.

Tom Ulrich said relying on a criminal investigation is again, a case of the government trying to limit a search for the truth about what their appointees and the MFL were doing with other people's pension and investment monies.

Only a judicial inquiry can examine the interlocking relationships between government appointed officials and their allies at the Crocus Fund, WCB, TRAF, and even into the Manitoba credit unions.

They promoted and sold Crocus shares and poured millions into "socially responsible investments" that served an agenda contrary to the best interests of union members saving for their retirement, injured workers and their employers, retired teachers, and their own credit union members.

An inquiry might discover the fingerprints of the NDP's chief backroom strategist, Eugene Kostyra on some of these deals and appointments.

We already know that Kostyra was chairman of the Assiniboine Credit Union when they dived into the True North Centre, with Crocus and WCB soon to follow. Is this why the NDP is avoiding a judicial inquiry like a case of avain flu?

Given what has happened to whistleblowers thus far, and with the scandal closing in on Premier Gary Doer, only the protection of a court will convince whistleblowers and insiders that it is safe to talk.

The next test for the government will come when the Securities Commission holds its long-delayed hearings into the Crocus Fund.

If the commission finds that Crocus duped Manitobans into buying overvalued shares even as the government ignored Bernie Bellan's cries to investigate, then an omnibus inquiry like the one proposed by retired Tory MLA Jim Downey won't seem so far-fetched.

Has there ever been a socially-conscious tar and feathering?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Auditor siccs Shamus on press as NDP drop excuses on disbelieving public

Imagine you're Nancy Allen, sitting in your comfy Labour Minister's office, when in comes a reporter from the Winnipeg Sun asking rude questions about the Auditor General's review of the Workers Compensation Board.

You panic.

The report isn't supposed to be released until tomorrow. YOU HAVE NO GUIDELINES.

You have to answer the questions as best you can, without the authorized spin. How can government function in such an atmosphere?

Politics is hell.

Manitobans got their first taste of what unrehearsed politicians are like thanks to a leak of the WCB report. We think they like it.

The report said the government could have saved a lot of time and trouble by listening to the former CEO of Workers Comp, Pat Jacobsen, when she wrote a letter in 2001 complaining about the tyrannical governing style of President Wally Fox-Decent and his board supporters.

They could have saved the workers and employers who contribute to WCB a lot of money, as well, by investigating Jacobsen's concerns that WCB was risking lower returns on investments by getting into social investing.

Allen told Winnipeg Sun reporter Rochelle Squires that she thought her predecessor, Becky Barrett, did the right thing when she ignored Jacobsen's complaints and sent her letter to the WCB board. The board fired Jacobsen three days later.

Barrett, said the current minister, had no choice because it was a "personnel matter" which she couldn't, by law, get involved in.Compare Allen's first-day honesty (from the NDP point of view) with the abysmal performance by Education Minister Peter Bjornson Wedneday on CJOB. To every question asked by Richard Cloutier, Bjornson read from the prepared script:


Meanwhile Barrett inexplicably told OB's Richard Cloutier that she -- that's right -- followed the rules when she betrayed the whistleblower.

The same rules nobody in government now can remember ever existed.

When it came to writing the script, someone forgot to send a copy outside of cabinet to their former colleague.

The Black Rod has discovered that Jacobsen was more right than anyone is admitting.

She worried that WCB would lose money on an investment in the Manitoba Property Fund, a downtown Winnipeg real-estate development initiative put together by the Crocus Investment. Fund. After she left, WCB advanced $2.3 million of a $10 million commitment.

Nobody's yet said what a return WCB got from its involvement in the property fund. But we found a detailed breakdown of the value of Crocus investments culled from the receiver's report by Paul Sveinson, whose warnings about the performance of the Crocus Fund was ignored for years.

His findings at show that the the Manitoba Property Fund was worth $4,071,538 at the end of March, 2004. By June 28, 2005, the receiver put the value at only $928,462. (Scroll down to 'DROP IN HOLDING VALUE' )

It appears WCB has lost almost its entire investment.

Defenders of Wally Fox-Decent, who was one of the prime movers for WCB involvement, say the board has a surplus of $70.5 million, as if that mitigates the risky investments and eliminates the questions of why the board approved the risky investment in the first place. And only they could sniff at a loss of a million.Auditor General Jon Singleton says he's started an investigation into the leak of his report. He's wrong when he says it's unprecedented. The Black Rod has learned that two of the Alberta auditor's reports were leaked to the media last fall.

He may feel his cash-strapped office should spend money on Bob Anderson, Manitoba's Columbo, but Manitobans themselves have moved on to demanding answers about the intertwined relationships between the Crocus Fund, WCB and TRAF (which was brought into the Manitoba Properties Fund thanks to the government-appointed chairman -Alfred Black, who also sat on the board of WCB and was later appointed interim chairman of Crocus).

Did someone say conflict of interest??? Oh ya, the auditor general did.

We just remembered that Premier Gary Doer's wife, Ginny Devine, was awarded a half million dollar contract by WCB to do client statisfaction surveys and focus groups. She owns Viewpoints Research along with Leslie Turnbull, wife of Rob Hilliard, the president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour (and a former member of the Crocus board). And, according to the auditor's report, the MFL had undue influence in Workers Comp.

Oh, and Viewpoints did work for Crocus too. And Crocus was sponsored by the MFL.

Given this tangled web of inter-connections, family, professional and political, only the dimmest of pundits could continue to claim that Singleton's reports, which are not allowed to name names and instead must use obscure code to identify who did what, stands in place of a full public inquiry.

WCB clients, Crocus shareholders, institutional investors and taxpayers saw many millions of dollars disappear in to the bottomless pit of the Crocus find's socially conscious investment revolution and no longer accept Gary Doer's crew of ministers as stewards of the public trust.

In the meantime, we have only the auditor's inquiry into how his report got leaked.

May we suggest he look into who was in a position to lend it out on Monday, and have it back intime for Tuesday's formal announcement. Or have we attached too many episodes of Profiler.



* Construction of then $40 million, 10 storey new Canwest head office at Portage and Main is about 6 months away. it will house Canwest's corporate operations, Global TV, their digital cable stations, COOL-FM, and it's national newsdesk. Does that mean national host Kevin Newman is moving to Winnipeg? Cool.

* Why did police raid a home of a former city councillor in Point Douglas last week? He's told neighbours nothing was seized in the raid. Was the late-night visit by police connected to another raid 3 days later, just a block away?

Gord Sinclair ushers out the Peter Kent Challenge

The Liberals have abandoned all restraint as election polls suggest the reins of power may slip from their hands next week.

In the process they've revealed their true face. Canadians are seeing the Liberal Party with its mask torn off, revealing the unadulerated hatred of citizens who don't share their way of thinking, the blatant contempt for the West and its "Alberta values", the casual arrogance that leads them to promise anything to anyone to win at all costs.

We thought they couldn't go lower than the attack ads launched in the last week, which twisted quotes and facts to imply Stephen Harper was going to turn Canada over to George Bush, then post soldiers in cities to suppress dissent.Wednesday, nouveau-Liberal Buzz Hargrove topped that by advising Quebec voters to vote for the separatists to stop Harper from winning the election. To vote for people whose only goal is to break up the country. Apres nous, le deluge, Buzz?

But if the Liberals were bombastic, the New Democrats were pathetic, what with leader Jack Layton begging voters to "park their votes" with the NDP just this once. This has to go down in the books as the saddest campaign inducement ever.

We don't know if its pathetic or bathetic, but the Winnipeg Free Press printed a columnist attack ad of its own this week, and so Gordon Sinclair and the online editor of the Winnipeg Free Press become the final entries to The Black Rod's Peter Kent Challenge.

Why bother, you ask? The headlines are blaring about a possible Tory victory. What tiny transgression is worth noting at this late date? Our answer is that, like Jack Layton's forlorn siren's call, it's sheer audacious desperation deserves to be recorded for posterity.

Sinclair's Tuesday column was the typically weary narrative he's turned out for the past ten or 15 years. A woman was complaining about being cut off in line for gas at a service station. That's about it. She was tired. The kids were cranky. The people in the van ahead didn't say sorry.

But Sinclair saw it as a parable about the evil nature of Conservatives, who he describes as "a pack of Reform wolves in Conservative sheep's clothing... poised to take over with a right-wing agenda that, philosophically, favours those who already have lots over those who don't have much."

Got it, yet. Van cuts off car. Kids cry. Woman has to wait. It's a microcosm of the world the evil Conservatives will bring, where the downtrodden are tortured for the amusement of the rich and powerful.Throughout the election campaign we have not used columns for the Peter Kent Challenge, because they are, by definition, opinion pieces. So despite Sinclair's revealing his true face to his readers, some of whom might have been conservatives, he gets a pass for his personal attack ad.

Except for the headlines that accompanied his story. Note we said headlines, plural.

Because, you see, there were two.

"Respect was all she wanted," read the headline in the newspaper version of the story.

The online version, though, carried the more inflammatory title:

Her elders were acting like Tories."

Some Winnipeg Free Press editor was revealing his own Liberal bias by endorsing Sinclair's definition of Conservatives. It's cheap shots like this that Peter Kent was trying to alert Canadians to, slight twists of fact, a small slant to a story here, a big omission there, all geared to add up to the intended storyline--Liberals good, Tories bad.

It's the sort of subtle partiality that can't be undone, not even if the Winnipeg Free Press editorial board endorses the Conservatives on the final day of the election. But with education, readers will recognize the biases in the headlines and which reporters can't be trusted to present the facts fairly. The introduction of blogs such as ours are helping to hasten that education, even as we bring The Peter Kent Challenge to a close.

We're honoured that at least one Manitoba reporter finds us such an inspiration that he's written on his own blog that he intends conducting a similar exercise, which he's calling the Eric Alterman Challenge.

Now, some people say the Brandon Sun's Curtis Brown is just being facetious. But we're taking him at his word because we know who Eric Alterman is. He wrote the book "What Liberal Media" in 2003 to prove there is no liberal bias in the press. Instead, he says, the news media is overwhelmingly conservative.

Alterman has even revealed his own true face of hatred for conservatives. In a 2003 Esquire magazine interview he said he was sorry surgery to restore talk radio host Rush Limbaugh's hearing was successful.

"I hate to say it, but I wish the guy would have gone deaf. I shouldn't say that, but on behalf of the country, it would be better without Rush Limbaugh and his 20 million listeners." Such compassion.

Alterman has since passed the ultimate litmus test for membership in the ranks of liberal journalists. Dan Rather's use of forged documents on CBS's Sixty Minutes Wednesday to try and sway the electorate in the 2004 U.S. presidential election is not, in Alterman's eyes, a case of liberal bias. In the April 11, 2005, issue of The Nation, he defends Rather, saying the CBS story was "based on documents, by the way, that still have not been proved to be forgeries--"

That's the new liberal pardigm. Fake but true. Reporters don't have to verify the authenticity of their material anymore. If anyone objects, the onus is on them to prove the documents are false. And it doesn't even matter if documents are false, if the story is so obviously true that only conservatives don't believe it.

(And for the record, CBS admitted the Rather team had no idea where the alleged memos came from, their experts proved they were "not authentic", and the producer and three other employees were fired.)

Newsweek reported on an alleged incident of a Koran being thrown into a toilet at Guantanamo, then had to admit the information was wrong. It wasn't our fault, the magazine said, the White House didn't deny it. And anyway, there were other incidents where Korans were damaged. Fake but true.

After a website proved that one of Oprah Winfrey's book-club authors made up parts of his book to make it a better read, she declared that the "underlying message" of a memoir was more important than its truth. Fake but true. Though not a journalist, Winfrey demonstrated that the liberal journalist credo is getting around.

With that, we wish Curtis Brown well on his Eric Alterman Challenge and we can hardly wait for the first installment.

Maybe it will be on all the endorsements that Anita Neville is getting. Her election brochure lists rave reviews from all and sundry, including one Bobbi Ethier, a member of the Winnipeg Humane Society. We're sure the Humane Society is pleased to be seen endorsing a Liberal candidate.

Otherwise B.Ethier would be forced to use her other designation---president of the Manitoba wing of the federal Liberal Party. You don't think she was trying to fool anyone into believeing she was just a normal, puppy-loving voter, do you?

But then, that's not something Curtis calls news. When a Brandon Liberal candidate and his campaign manager tried the exact same thing and pretended to be jus' ord'nary folk endorsing a Liberal candidate in another riding, Curtis said "nobody cares."

What would Eric Alterman say?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

NDP frantic -'who do you trust, him or us?'

Strike up the band and clear the floor.

The semi-annual NDP Scandal Dance has begun.

Traditionally, the Auditor General leads and the press follows. Then partners change and the government takes the press on a merry whirl.

This year, though, Auditor Jon Singleton was stood up as the press danced alone, and Labour Minister Nancy Allan barely got through a rendition of the government standard "We Listened and Learned" before stepping on the Auditor's toes.

And here's where we cut in.

We watched as Allan tried to deflect the press from Singleton's criticism of her predecessor in his report into mismanagement at the Workers Compensation Board. In his report Singleton noted that the government should have detected the problems plaguing WCB in 2001 after the agency's CEO, Pat Jacobsen, wrote an 8 page letter to then-Minister Becky Barrett.

Jacobsen outlined everything the auditor general's review found wrong with governance at Workers Comp.
Instead of looking into her concerns, especially regarding Chairman Wally Fox-Decent, Barrett sent the letter back to ---Wally Fox-Decent.
And three days later Jacobsen was fired.

Singleton wrote:
The issues were not addressed by the former Minister, but instead were referred to the former Chair to handle in conjunction with the Board. The former Minister considered this to be a personnel matter. In our opinion, this was inappropriate as several of the concerns raised dealt specifically with the former Chair.

Nancy Allan said: Hogwash.

What Becky Barrett did was "reasonable," she told CJOB."We believe the previous minister who received the letter from Pat Jacobsen did the right thing," she told CBC.

Allan rushed to say the government "will develop and introduce comprehensive legislation to protect public sector whistleblowers."

Reporters didn't notice, or were too polite to point out, that she flat out contradicted the auditor general.

And by doing so, she revealed the government's true attitude to whistleblowers.
And it doesn't involve open arms and a warm embrace.


Jacobsen got tired of butting heads with a dictatorial President who wouldn't let her do his old job. She saw the dysfunction at WCB and took her complaints to the person she thought would care and would do something.

She never thought that Barrett would betray her expectation of confidentiality by exposing her to the very person she was complaining about.

Barrett, and the NDP cabinet today, say it was a "personnel" matter, as if the CEO was just some "disgruntled employee", a term they're exceptionally fond of using when dealing with whistleblowers.

Barrett's intent can be deduced by the fact that she did nothing when WCB fired their CEO a suspiciously short time after the minister tipped them to Jacobsen's letter.

She asked no further questions about the serious matters raised in the letter. Not then, nor later after WCB went housecleaning and got rid of six other people who disagreed with the way Wally Fox-Decent was running his ship.

The purge must have seemed "reasonable" to the NDP, then and now.

Barrett was known to be labour-friendly. Wally Fox-Decent was obviously labour-friendly; wasn't he also on the board of the MFL-sponsored Crocus Investment Fund?

And the auditor's report shows how much the Manitoba Federation of Labour dominated the WCB.

Not only do they put up a third of the members of the board, but Singleton raised concerns that the MFL had influence with the NDP over the appointment of public sector board members, as well. They held almost all the expertise on the board, as public and employer reps rarely stayed around long, but labour reps were rarely replaced.

And the board let labour reps play both sides of the fence, sometimes working as advocates and other times sitting on the board as adjudicators.

It would be easy to translate that into anti-Wally = anti-labour.


Nancy Allan is hoping to take the spotlight off the government by promising new legislation. Except that the legislation isn't at fault, it's the people who are supposed to administer the laws.

The auditor criticizes another NDP minister, and he's still sitting in the Legislature."We are also aware of one other instance in which a former CEO's letter of complaint to a Minister received insufficient action on the part of the Minister," wrote the auditor general with few details.

Note the similarities. A former CEO's letter of complaint. To the minister. No action. Do you detect a pattern? Keep reading. You will.

That minister is Education Minister Peter Bjornson. The former CEO is Tom Ulrich of the Teachers Retirement Allowances Fund. He appears in the auditor's WCB review, just not by name.

Ulrich says he lost his job because, as he told a newspaper a year ago, he resisted pressure to institute a "socially responsible investment policy" that included investing pension money in risky investments through the Crocus Investment Fund.

A large chunk of that investment was the Manitoba Property Fund which is an important part of the WCB review.

Wally Fox-Decent (chairman of the board and the Crocus investment committee) and Alfred Black, (the chief investment officer of WCB, at the same time the chairman of TRAF) were anxious to get their boards to participate in the real-estate fund, which was being set up as an off-shoot of the Crocus Fund. The project was being championed by WCB financial consultant, and Crocus honcho Sherman Kreiner.

They had managed to overcome everyone's objections, except Tom Ulrich's. What a stick-in- the-mud.

In January, 2004, Ulrich discovered his contract with TRAF was not being renewed, with no reason why. In September, he wrote Education Minister Peter Bjornson. Premier Gary Doer also got a copy of his letter.

Ulrich said he believed TRAF's 2003 annual report was incomplete because his president's message had been omitted. He said he and Alfred Black clashed over Black's constant push to get involved in "socially responsible investments", by which he meant Manitoba companies to boost the provincial economy.

He wrote that TRAF was already heavily invested in Manitoba, that few good investments existed and that those TRAF had were not performing well.

"I reminded (Black) that TRAF was not an economic development fund and that risk-adjusted returns always had to be kept in mind," Ulrich said in the letter. He got no answer, although Singleton notes that part of the letter was sent to TRAF by, guesss who.

Did someone say pattern?


Nancy Allan says she's a born-again believer in whistleblower legislation. That won't help Tom Ulrich, who, it turns out, is being sued by the very people he blew the whistle on.

Allan says her new legislation will apply to the public service but arms-length organizations like WCB and TRAF will get "guidelines."A true test of whether she means what she says about welcoming whistleblowers is whether she heeds Ulrich's call for action.

One year ago when informed of the auditor general's review of WCB, he said: "The logical next step is the auditor should be looking at TRAF."

Perhaps sometime soon, we will hear Richard Cloutier ask Allan on his morning show, if she has turned over Ulrich's old letter, to the government's harshest critic the auditor-general, or if the guidelines don't apply retroactively.


Bjornson, you'll remember, is no stranger to whistleblowers. In May 2004 he was tipped off by a taxpayer that the Seven Oaks School Division appeared to be engaging in land development, something forbidden by law. Investigate? Nawww. He---wait for it---sent the letter to the Public Schools Finance Board with a request that someone draft a reply for him to sign. The reply to the taxpayer said everything was fine, there was nothing funny going on, and for more answers the taxpayer should go to the school board.

Meanwhile SOSD superintendant Brian O'Leary,a former NDP campaign manager, said he was only selling surplus land, land which wasn't needed for a new high school once the government decided it was cheaper to renovate West Kildonan Collegiate.

When the matter was eventually raised in the Legislature, Bjornson first claimed he never received any letter. Provided the letter, he changed his story to say oh, that letter, well, um, the school board was engaged in a land development and he would look into it, but it was making a profit, so Opposition members were making a stink out of nothing, Filmon bad, Doer good, you know the drill.

Barely 6 weeks later, after being battered by the opposition in Question period over
O'Learygate, a proper investigation proved
- the taxpayer had been right all along,
- the School Board was breaking the law, and
- a panicky cover-up had taken place.
And the so-called profit, was actually a loss of a few hundred thousand dollars.

Bjornson has never formally advised the Legislature that his statements about a profit were misleading. He did, however, apologize to the whistleblower, which is something Tim Sale has never done to the whistleblower he slandered in the Legislature.

What???you ask, another whistleblower ignored?


We quote ourselves from May 9, 2005:

When he was Family Services Minister, a whistleblower tried to warn him about the free-spending by the managers of Hydra House. Sale ordered an "NDP investigation" which found Hydra House - surprise - clean as a hound's tooth. Sale then stood up in the Legislature, praised Hydra House management to the heavens, and demeaned the whistleblower as a "disgruntled former employee".

But then, two years later, an independent investigation by the provincial auditor confirmed every one of the whistleblower's allegations about financial irregularities. Every One.

To which Tim Sale said: Oh those allegations; we didn't look at those allegations, we looked at the other allegations, didn't we tell you how we limited our "investigation?" And hey - it was Gary Filmon's fault!

Someone say something about a pattern?
* Complaint to Minister Barrett/ Bjornson/Sale about (arms-length or publically funded) organization and inappropriate financial activities of the board of the group;
* Complaint handed directly back to the subjects of the complaint instead of sent for an independant review;
* The review, if forced on them, never found anything wrong;
* If the complainant was an employee a pink slip was issued, if it was a taxpayer a blow-off letter was sent;
* Some time later after a public outcry and opposition grilling, an audit or report is ordered to quell the noise -

Oh but that is where it backfires.

Each and every report confirmed that there was impropriety, after each and every complaint was blown off in the first place by each and every NDP cabinet Minister approached by a whistleblower.

Gary Doer should learn a lesson from the federal election. The voter is getting tired of politicians who promise the moon but never deliver.

But they do trust the auditor-general.

Instead of promises that nobody trusts, promise the full funding Jon Singleton has been asking for. Then Manitobans will know they have a government that leads by example.

The ABC's of WCB's Conflicts of Interest

You'd think that in this age of instant scandale du jour, every business and every agency would work at being squeaky clean when it comes to questions of conflict of interest. You obviously don't know about the Manitoba Workers Compensation Board.

Manitoba's auditor general says that until recently the Workers Compensation Board had no clear conflict of interest policy. And the problems from that omission were never more obvious than when WCB went into the real estate development business with the Crocus Investment Fund.

Auditor Jon Singleton says the compensation board "placed their public reputation, and monies of the WCB, at risk" with the partnership because of the tangled web of interconnected relationships that created at least the appearance of a conflict of interest at almost every step.

Singleton makes clear he isn't speaking about anyone making a personal profit out of the deal, but rather about the power relationship between the major players that had underlings expressing concern, over and over, about how it looked. And it looked bad.

The auditor's review of WCB governance and other issues uses what it calls the "ABC Fund" to illustrate the conflict of interest situations.

The Black Rod can tell you that he's referring to the $25 million Manitoba Property Fund, which was announced with great fanfare by Crocus CEO Sherman Kreiner in the summer of 2004.

Singleton gives a blow by blow account of how the fund was put together, but the story is confusing and sterile without an understanding of how central the Crocus Fund is to the deal.

WCB and the Teachers Retirement Allowances Fund (TRAF) were to each contribute $10 million to the property fund, Crocus would kick in $3 million and Shelter Canadian Properties Ltd. would add $2 million.

The purpose of the fund?

" develop real estate in downtown Winnipeg," according to John Pelton, senior vice-president of investments at Crocus Investment Fund and president of the Manitoba Property Fund. The words revitalization and redevelopment were tossed around a lot.

The fund was a dream come true for Sherman Kreiner, who had, for years, talked about taking Crocus the next step up into managing third-party funds. In this case, Crocus and Shelter would collect a management fee of 1.5 percent of committed capital in a roughly two-thirds, one-third respective split.

The idea for the fund was first floated in December, 2001, according to Singleton. It was pitched to the WCB in March, 2002, a month after Kreiner squashed Bernie Bellan's plans to ask questions publically on behalf of shareholders about the valuations of Crocus fund holdings. Life was good.

Singleton's review makes clear how much of a one-man-show the Workers Compensation Board had become. Chairman Wally Fox-Decent ran a tight ship; staff told Singleton he micro-managed them to death. And 'What Wally wants, Wally gets' was pretty much the WCB motto.

But that's where the problems began.

* Wally Fox-Decent was chairman of WCB and at the same time the chairman of the Crocus Fund investment Committee.
* Sherman Kreiner was CEO of Crocus, and at the same time an advisor to the WCB investment committee.
* And Alfred Black, the chief investment officer of WCB, was at the same time the chairman of TRAF. He would later become interim, then permanent CEO of Crocus.

Confusing enough? We'll try to unravel the web.

- Sherman Kreiner wanted WCB to invest in the Manitoba Property Fund.

- Wally Fox-Decent stickhandled the idea through WCB committees, mollifying concerns raised by his own board members, consultants, and his director of investments.

The concerns? A lack of other institutional investors; conflicts of interest amongst certain of the parties; and the need for WCB to perform its own due diligence on the investment, among others.

- Kreiner was doing his part with the help of Alfred Black. They pitched the new fund to the TRAF board to become that other "institutional investor".

By December, 2003, it was almost a done deal. Kreiner informed WCB that TRAF was in, the deal could be consumated.

But who wasn't "in", was the CEO of TRAF who had resisted all the blandishments and kept raising concerns. In late January, 2004, he was advised by Black and the TRAF board that "his employment was terminated."

- The deal was announced in July, 2004---just before the Crocus Fund entered its own death spiral.

At year's end, says Singleton, WCB had advanced $2.3 million to the Manitoba Property Fund. The books still show the same value 18 months later and with the fund apparently moribund.

- Last July, WCB informed the management company partners (Crocus and Shelter) they were in default of their obligations.

- The vaunted property fund only ever invested in seven properties---four parking lots and three buildings.

Singleton concludes:

1) The lines of authority were so blurred that a senior manager had to remind the Board that the interests of WCB were not the same as the interests of the Crocus Fund and WCB should conduct their own due diligence.

2) He couldn't find an explanation why WBC didn't have their consultant manage the properties as usual, and asked why WCB would allow Crocus and Shelter to manage the fund when they could have done it themselves.

But the answer eludes his review.

Nowhere does he mention that Kreiner had a vision of becoming the Mondragon King of the City, bringing the Spanish model of co-operative business and development to little 'ol Winnipeg through Crocus, through the property fund and who knows what else.

He hasn't given up on his dream. He's now one of the three directors of the University of Winnipeg's newly created U of W Community Renewal Corporation. It's goal: to revitalize and redevelop downtown Winnipeg.

It's only accomplishment so far has been to shut down a section of Spence Street to traffic and turn it into an empty space spotted with large planters holding dead flowers, surely a crude metaphor for the fortunes of the Crocus Fund.

But the university did add 81 new parking spaces at two new parking lots, one on Young Street and one on Spence.

Forgive us for speculating that one or both are the property fund's lamented holdings - where WCB clients can come and see their investment.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Crocus scandal taints WCB: Auditor

What's that smell, we asked ourselves.

We knew the hog plant intended for St. Boniface was still at the planning stage, and they tell us its not supposed to stink anyway. So we kept sniffing around, and it wasn't long before we caught wind of it---the sickly scent of scandal and the stench of fear coming from government circles.

It didn't take long to confirm the tip that our digging into the Crocus-sponsored Manitoba Property Fund was on target, that the barely-remembered fund was a focal point of a new report which dismantles the veneer of competency at the Workers Compensation Board.

The NDP is holding another hot potato. Potato? Hell, it's a bombshell about to go off and singe their eyebrows away again.

Auditor General Jon Singleton is putting the final touches on a report into governance, human resources and investment management at the WCB. Ordinarily our reaction to that news would be "dull, dull and duller."

Not this time, not when people who know what's in the report say it's already sending ripples of fear throughout the administrations of government and the compensation board.Could it be because we're about to hear echoes of the Crocus Fund scandal?

Certainly some of the same players are about to be named in the WCB Report---Wally Fox-Decent, Alfred Black, Sherman Kreiner. (These days, it seems its not an auditor general's report if it doesn't mention Sherman Kreiner.) And you can bet the links between Crocus and WCB don't bring a smile to Singleton's face. Far from it.

And need we mention red flags. There will be red flags. There were bright red flags which were flown and ignored by government ministers. Again.

We know that the auditor general has some harsh words for the WCB. Words like "shocking and unacceptable" at the arrogance of some WCB officials who stalled his work by refusing him access to documents, and even questioned why he wanted them in the first place.

It's the first time a public sector organization has given him a hard time, and it doesn't sit well with him.

And just when he thought he was getting the proper cooperation, he discovered a climate of fear, with people scared to talk to him for fear of getting fired. They had seen it happen and they didn't want to be next.

The auditor general's report covers a lot of ground---from the shabby treatment of whistleblowers to a hostile work environment in the organization that's a centrepiece of the Manitoba labour movement.

But its the way the WCB manages the millions of dollars in premiums it collects from more than 20-thousand companies and over 325-thousand workers that's going to raise eyebrows and raise questions about government oversight.

Shades of Crocus.

The Black Rod has learned the report will raise concerns about :
* the WCB's lack of due diligence in making investments,
* an investment committee not accountable to anyone,
* perceived conflicts of interest in one high-profile $10 million investment,
* and, especially, a practice of accepting lower rates of return for under-performing investments in Manitoba without even trying to determine if better returns could be achieved out-of-province.

The audit of the WCB was started, in part, because of a letter of complaint about former CEO Wally Fox-Decent. The report has much to say about his tenure, including the fact he was appointed and reappointed to the post so often by both the Filmon and Doer governments that he stayed for 12 years even though the Act specifically sets a five-year limit for board members.

Singleton will say Fox-Decent managed with an iron hand, and problems arose after a period when he served as both Chairman and CEO when he couldn't let go of control even after a new CEO was hired in 1998. He and she butted heads until she was fired by the board in 2001.

The auditor general is particularly critical of Fox-Decent for phoning a consultant, hired by his office, at her home. He will say the consultant was unnerved by what she considered a warning that her career was threatened if the report was critical of the WCB or Fox-Decent.

In the strongest language in the report, Singleton condemns this "interference" with the work of his office.

Next: The ABC's of WCB conflict of interest.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Exhibit F: Brandon reporter-turned-blogger makes the Peter Kent Challenge

The Liberal Party's Harper hate-ads are already having an effect on the election.

Today, with slightly more than a week still to go in the campaign, the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives.

Even they couldn't stomach the Paul Martin gang's tactics any longer. The Liberal die-hards are now left to fight an increasingly desperate rear-guard battle.

At week's end we had ethics professor Arthur Schafer telling entertainer/interviewer Charles Adler that attack ads which hint that Stephen Harper is a stooge for George Bush are legitimate, and Winnipeg Free Press 'Voice of the West' columnist Bill Neville lamenting the fact Stephen Harper isn't more obviously "centrist" (read: liberal, like me) then whispering in conclusion 'he's scary.'

With the daily discussions of the Liberal attack ads blurring the lines between bias in reporting and reporting on bias, The Black Rod was getting ready to shelve our Peter Kent Challenge, in which we accepted his call to monitor the news media for an alleged bias against the Conservative Party. But as we did our daily scan of election stories on the Net, we found one more piece which can't go unmentioned.

Saturday, Jan. 14: The Peter Kent Challenge Exhibit F: Curtis Brown, political reporter for the Brandon Sun.

Brown not only writes for the Brandon Sun, he also writes a blog.

In his latest posting, he boasts he's not going to do a story about an attempt by some Brandon Liberals to mislead the public because-wait for it---the story was first exposed by supporters of the Conservative Party.

He admits the facts of the story are true. The former Liberal Agriculture Minister, Bob Speller, is running for election in Ontario (Haldimand-Norfolk). He has a website. On his website he posted an endorsement headlined:

Western Farmers Want Bob Back

The so-called "western farmers" who signed the endorsement are:
Murray Downing, a Liberal candidate in Brandon-Souris,
Andrew Dennis, the Vice President of the Brandon-Souris Liberal Riding Association and
Daryl Knight, Murray Downing's campaign manager.

Bloggers, including some from Manitoba, spotted the deception and reported on it. Curtis Brown notes the blogs where the fake endorsement is reported, then adds with a flourish:

Where you won't read it: The local news section of the Brandon Sun.

"Big freakin' deal," he says. Nobody cares. It's not news. It's not relevant to the real lives of people.

With every justification he digs his journalistic grave a little deeper. Brown exposed his true reason for ignoring the story in the very beginning of his post when he denigrates the sites that carried the story:

* Strong World, "whose author obviously supports Speller's rival, Diane Finley, and wants to embarrass the former ag minister as he tries to reclaim his old southwestern Ontario seat"
* Bourque Newswatch, "who has made it an unfortunate habit of publishing every little tidbit of made-up dirt spewed from the blogosphere in this election."
Hacks and Wonks which has "a great big C on his banner"
* Drew's News whose author, according to Curtis Brown, shills for the Republican Party.

That should be a clue. Brown, the "objective journalist", can't resist a crack about the Republican Party, which, in liberal circles, is code for everything evil the right-wing (read Stephen Harper) stands for. And, of course, Bourque publishes "made-up dirt" about Liberals. To quote Brown, more about that later.

If there is a poster boy for the MSM (mainstream media), it's Curtis Brown.

He says flatly that it's not news until he says it is. He, the professional journalist, is the gatekeeper. He will decide. It doesn't matter if other people think it's news, only Curtis Brown has that right - and he bears the burden heavily.That makes it even more disturbing to realize how poor Brown's news judgement is.

This election is not about the price of gas, or Brown's paycheque, or surgery wait lists.

It's about integrity.

It's about electing the people who will make the decisions about all those things.

It's about secret slush funds which could have gone to reducing wait lists being used to channel hundreds of millions of dollars to Liberal party supporters, who then kicked back some of it to the the Party.

It's about keeping taxes high and Curtis Brown's paycheque low, to bribe the NDP to support the coverup of the Adscam Scandal a little bit longer.

It's about raising gas prices through new Kyoto taxes to give to Liberal-friendly associations to endorse the Liberals.

And, yes, it's about a former Liberal Minister of Agriculture trying to pull a fast one over on voters with the help of Brandon Liberals.

What does it tell about the integrity of the Liberal candidate and his campaign manager who went along with this scheme? Shouldn't the public be allowed to ask that question?

The Brandon "farmers" scam is a local hook to a national story -- what every reporter wants, especially every political reporter during an election campaign.

A government beset by proven corruption, allegations of bribery offers, RCMP investigations into leaks to benefit Liberal friendly corporations, and the Brandon Sun finds a local angle about Liberal Party workers pretending to be ordinary voters to deceive real voters, and the paper decides it will ignore the story because it will likely help the Conservatives. Some might call this media bias.

But not Curtis Brown.
He doesn't believe in media bias.
It doesn't exist.
He's told us so in his blog.

when I was in journalism school

Hahahahahahahahaha. Sorry, that one always cracks us up when people say it with a straight face. Let's start again.

when I was in journalism school, no one showed up and suggested I buy a membership of any party or support any particular political movement. In fact, we were told (and have been told since) to stay utterly non-partisan. So why is it that right-wing people are convinced young journalists are brainwashed into being biased against them? Why do they always accuse reporters of being liberals or socialists? It's because by their own twisted logic, anyone who doesn't parrot the gospel according to them is an enemy.

Journalists are taught to question authority and give voice to the voiceless from from the moment they enter J-Schools. Traditionally, conservatives have authority and have a voice. So when the mainstream media does its job, they get their noses out of joint and start complaining about biased reporters.

(Okay, a slight interjection here. The Liberals have held office for 12 years. The NDP in Manitoba for the past six. Liberal stand-in Glen Murray was mayor of Winnipeg for six years. And the MSM reporters have to challenge conservatives because conservatives have the authority. Uhhh. Right.)

That's when they start going on about how they need their own voice to combat the dark forces of the CBC, Toronto Star and Globe and Mail by starting newspapers and TV stations that perfectly reflect their points of view.

Enter the Sun media chain, the National Post, Fox News, the Western Standard and other right-wing voices to cheerlead for Conservatives and their allies.

See? Journalism school graduates are non-partisan, unlike right-wing reporters for the National Post, Fox News and the Sun media chain, who are cheerleaders for conservatives.

Or, more simply,

conservative = cheerleader / non-conservative = non-partisan.

Brown believes that all complaints about media bias are really examples of media bias by the complainers. The news media is unbiased. Complainers see a bias because they can't accept the "truth" (or reported "truth", since reporters like Brown often choose which truth they don't want reported).

Last August, to prove his point, he crowed about a study by two economists - Stefano Della Vigna of the University of California-Berkeley and Ethan Kaplan of the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University which purported to show that the introduction of the "right-wing" Fox news had no measurable effect on influencing voters during the 2000 U.S. presidential election. To Brown, this proved that what people saw in the news simply reflected their own opinions.

Of course we're all awaiting the follow-up study about the influence of Fox News on the 2004 U.S. presidential election. That's the one where Fox was the only network to report on the Swift Boat veterans, the issue that proved the turning point in John Kerry's fortunes.

In Canada, the turning point for the Liberals may turn out to be Income Trust Scandal. You know, Curtis, the one that the mainstream reporters like yourself ignored, but which bloggers didn't, turning up more and more information about suspicious trades until the RCMP were forced to act.Brown doesn't hold bloggers in high opinion. The Brandon "faux farmers" deception is not news because

"outside the bubble of the blogosphere, where politically-active people with overbites and Vitamin E deficiencies from a lack of sunlight get worked up about this sort of thing, no one cares."

It's exactly this fallacy that's making the MSM more and more irrelevant.

The fact that the Brandon Sun doesn't carry the Brandon "faux farmers" story doesn't make it less of a story. It is already being read on the blogosphere from coast to coast.
Local reporters can't scotch a scandal anymore.

Once discovered, they're posted on the Web, like on, which acts like an internet news agency that can be accessed without an intermediary such as, say a newspaper.

Ministers are scrutinized within hours as word of gaffes gets around. The Prime Minister is punished, not only for his own faults, but for the statements of Anne McClellan, who tried to claim he didn't approve the military attack ad, for the farcical attempt of Tony Valeri to run from reporters who wanted to ask him about the Income Trust leaks, to an alleged bribery offer by a Liberal candidate in B.C. That's the power of the web, and it's why people are turning away from newspapers and television news to the blogosphere for their election coverage. And why the MSM is now reduced to chasing stories instead of breaking them.

People know if they click onto Bourque Newswatch, or blogs like
SDA or Dust My Broom, they will get today's election news.

If they read the Brandon Sun, or the Winnipeg Free Press, or watch the newly revamped CBC televison News at 6, they'll get a slice of today and a lot of yesterday, or the day before.

Some established journalists have recognized the sea change, even if Curtis Brown hasn't.

Here's what Peter Newman wrote in the Globe and Mail this week.

There is a consensual apathy adrift in the land that threatens not only the political parties and their hapless leaders, but the viability of the democratic system itself -- and that's the parlous attitude this country desperately needs to reverse.

Partial and largely makeshift salvation has emerged from an unexpected source: The Internet has been transformed into a giant blogosphere. Whatever else they represent, bloggers have emerged as an influential, if still primitive, force that has burst the political process wide open. Their messages relay this urgent war cry: "Here is what I believe -- judge for yourself."

They are changing the nature of political discourse, partly because most of the recognized pundits who blog save their best material for their informal jottings, since it's them speaking out, not their publications. It's all part of the scary fact that access to computer screens has become almost universal and almost indiscriminate: Warren Kinsella can have an effect on as many Canadians as The New York Times.

You can bet you'll be reading more about the impact of blogs following the election.

Where you won't read about it: the Brandon Sun.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Election Madness Pandemic

We tried to warn people, but we were obviously too late.

Stop the insanity, we cried. Little did we know that the election campaign had already descended into full-fledged madness.

We, like you, have been overwhelmed with the barrage of lunacy in the past couple of days. We don't know whether to laugh or cry. Or just cringe at examples like these:

* Winnipeg Free Press reporter Dan Lett got a televised all-candidates meeting confused with an audition for the next Scooby Doo movie. Sporting bizarre chin whiskers Lett appeared to be angling for the role of Shaggy.

We give credit to CBC host Krista Erickson for not bursting out into guffaws everytime she called on him to ask a question.

Someone should have told Lett that television is a visual medium and if you show up looking like a ridiculous cartoon figure, you park your credibility at the door.

Shaggy, you remember, was scared of everything. Maybe Dan Lett was channelling his inner Shaggy to express how scary he finds the Conservatives. In that he would find solace in the Liberal Party attack ads unleashed as a last-ditch effort to shore up support. The Liberals have come up with the pinnacle of insanity with these ads, and none more perverse and deranged than the ad intimating the Conservatives planned to occupy Canada's cities with troops as a prelude to a military takeover. The only thing missing was an overdub of jackboots echoing down Yonge Street.

After a frantic 24 hours of brainstorming, the Grits have concocted an "explanation" of the Harper-is-Hitler ad. They needed one because they've been falling over themselves trying to put out the firestorm ignited by the ad. Yesterday, deputy prime minister Anne McLellan claimed the ad was never approved by Paul Martin. This came as news to Paul Martin - who said he personally approved every one of the attack ads, including the military ad.

Today, they're singing from the same hymnbook because now they're both claiming the ad was really intended to attack the suggestion that Canada's military should be dispersed instead of concentrated in one place. Lame. Very, very lame. And very, very transparent.

* This morning the Liberal Party said Stephen Harper's proposal to include property rights in the constitution could be used to strike down laws child labour laws. We don't know about you, but we've noticed Harper has never explicity come out against using eight year old boys in the coal mines of Nova Scotia. Do think that's just an oversight?

* Sure, call us crazy, but then how crazy do you have to be to piss off Mike Duffy, CTV's main political pundit? The Liberals did it. In a normal world, the story of a Liberal party insider trying to intimidate a journalist into not talking about a political scandal would be big news. As we said, forget normal.

The story is all over the blogosphere, just not in The Winnipeg Free Press or the Winnipeg Sun or the Globe and Mail or the National Post. Kudos to Charles Adler for picking it up and having Mike Duffy as a guest on his national show yesterday.

The story, in a nutshell, begins on Duffy's CTV show Countdown the day after the party leaders French language debate. Duffy talked about the military ad, and was going to let Liberal Party spokesman John Duffy (no relation) respond after a commercial break.

To his surprise, John Duffy confronted him and, wagging a finger in Mike D's face, tried to browbeat him into dropping the subject. When the show resumed, Mike Duffy was never so angry on camera, and he tore a strip off the Liberal hack.

For fuller details see Angry in the Great White North where a transcript from the Adler show has Mike Duffy's account of the incident. We guess this was the first time the Puffster saw Liberal thug tactics firsthand, and didn't like the Liberal values he was seeing.

* We can't let this pass by, though, without noting Adler's own attempt to take his audience into a parallel fantasy world.

Before his national show, Adler loved to brag on CJOB that he was an entertainer first and foremost. "I don't do your grandfather's radio," he repeated ad naseum. Now that he's sucking up to Toronto, he's changed his tune.

Look at how he's revised his interpretation of what he does: "A talk show host like myself are sometimes slagged as just being entertainers, tabloid, looking for a charge, confrontational for the sake of being confrontational."

The grammatical errors are his. As is the revisionism. Charles Adler the entertainer has mutated into---an aggrieved journalist? Madness, we say.

* And the madness goes on.

The Winnipeg Sun made our Peter Kent Challenge earlier in the election campaign by having anti-Conservative opinion columns appear on the election news pages. Yesterday, the newspaper put the columns of Greg Weston, Sheila Copps and born-again journalist Charles Adler where they belong, on the op-ed page.

That made room on their election page for an opinion column by the paper's court jester Laurie Mustard, who, surprise, surprise, endorsed the Liberal party. How the political opinion of the paper's least qualified pundit warrants coverage as election news is a sign how deep the campaign insanity runs. In his less-exhalted days, Mustard was best known for writing the most useless and irrelevant column in the city--- until Doug Speirs came along to claim the title for the Free Press. Now he advises people on how to vote.

* We can't mention Peter Kent, without talking about another rift in the time-space continueum.

David Asper, Chairman of the National Post, plans to vote for the Conservative Party. In the words of the Liberal attack ads:
we're not making his up . Shuffling off a lifetime of family support for the Liberal Party, and risking being haunted by his late father Israel, Asper came out to support the candidacy of Peter Kent and to reject reelection of the Liberals.

"The need for a man of Peter's integrity became even more clear to me after hearing the Prime Minister say during the last English language debate that 'we've got to have a more intelligent debate. Enough is enough: this idea of drive-by smears doesn't make it true', and then the next day launch a series of Liberal advertisements that are some of the most insulting, base attack ads that I have ever seen. The Prime Minister is correct. Enough is enough. It's time for a change and Peter Kent is someone who represents not only change itself, but change for the better."

* With the earth tipping on its axis this way, it's left our heads spinning.

There was a time we thought the paranoid fantasies of the loony left couldn't be topped for their mindblowing insanity, but then we never imagined in our wildest dreams that the Liberal Party's election campaign would incorporate those very fantasies: the Americans taking over Canada by funding the Conservative Party which would then station the army in cities to suppress dissent.We do however, owe an apology to Free Press columnist Frances Russell.

She was the first one in Winnipeg to print an alarm about the plan to station soldiers in Canada's cities. We thought it was because she was a charter member of the loony left.

Now it turns out she was just a stalking horse, a propagandist entrusted with flying a trial balloon for Reg Alcock et al to guage the effect of the Liberal Party's planned attack ads.How could we know? Frances Russell has demonstrated she has a problem with the truth in her columns. Whether its
a problem with identifying sources , or selectively editing letters she quotes , or, as in her latest, omitting relevant information.Wednesday's column was an attack on the Conservative's child care plan. It turns out, she says, the plan is just another scheme to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Those evil Tories at work again.

She quotes, as her source, a study by the Caledon Institue of Social Policy, which, she says, is "one of Canada's leading public policy research centres." The report she relies on was written by Ken Battle, Caledon's executive director.Search as hard as you can, and you won't find the most important fact about Ken Battle in Frances Russell's column.

Battle used to be the senior policy adviser to the Minister of Human Resources Development, Doug Young and his successor Pierre Pettigrew. He was instrumental in creating the National Child Benefit for the Liberal Party, a program he cites as "the most important innovation in Canadian social policy since medicare."

"I wrote the basic document making the case for the National Child Benefit," he brags on the Web.

He proudly outlines how he stickhandled the plan into law, including:
- "a one-on-one discussion of my paper with then-Finance Minister Paul Martin",
- a presentation to a Cabinet committee on social development along with Minister Pettigrew, and - "helping HRDC officials make the case for a sufficient down payment on the NCB in the 1997 budget which announced the reform."

"I wrote the first draft of the 1997 budget document proposing the National Child Benefit."
Funny how Frances Russell didn't mention that the attack on the Tory child care plan was by the author of a Liberal child care plan.

But, then, as The Black Rod has pointed out before, accuracy, honesty and facts are not required by the Winnipeg Free Press in its columns.

* There is one conforting thing, in an election gone mad there is always one thing you can count on. When the Liberals are in trouble in the polls they can always count on their friends in the mass media like the Toronto Star to come to their defence.

Right now the Star is conducting push polls that are based on the likelihood of a Tory victory . Instead of simply measuring public opinion the Ekos Research poll seeks to guide voters by asking the question, if you thought the Conservatives are going to win a majority would you change your vote.

Given that even lifetime Liberals are trying to distance themselves from the campaign, it may be a little late for Paul Martin's bunch to rely on the old standby tactics.