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 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:

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?

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