The Black Rod

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

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Plot Thickens: Cindy Klassen joins Stephen Harper in the Winner's Circle and Sam Katz plans a parade

Once upon a time:...

...a new government squeaked into office. They immediately proved to be a bunch of hypocrites and so the people rose up against them. The defeated party has only to pick a new leader and they will be easily re-elected and order will be restored to the kingdom.

This isn't a plot for This is Wonderland, the recently cancelled CBC comedy. And it's not the next reality TV show.

It is, however, the latest drama being written by hundreds of authors across the country. Day after day we read in the newspapers and watch on TV how the Conservative leader Stephen Harper is under fire after the defection of Vancouver Liberal David Emerson. The shamed Liberals, we are told, are chomping at the bit to pick a new leader and regain the reins of power from the faltering Conservatives.

There's only one problem with this scenario--- it's a fantasy.

Says who? Says the Canadian public.

What's being reported is literally a scenario, a plotline created and followed meticulously by the country's mainstream media journalists.

National Post columnist Adam Radwanski says they can't help themselves. In a piece earlier this month (Biased---in favour of a good story Feb 3), he wrote how journalists have a bias, alright; a bias for "an easy narrative." It's a pack mentality, he says, that agrees on a storyline and then slants every news element to fit.

During the election campaign it was Liberal Stumblebums. After the election, it's obviously Conservatives Hypocrites.

But there's a counter-narrative out there. One that's supported by evidence that's deliberately not being reported. If the press is just out for a good story, you have to wonder why this story of 'change embraced' is being ignored. It couldn't be that fabled liberal media bias, could it?

The Conservative Party won election Jan. 23. Saturday, we learned courtesy of an Ipsos-Reid/Canwest Global poll that approval rating of the Conservatives has reached 59 percent.

Polling Data
Thinking about the recently elected Conservative government under the leadership of Stephen Harper, from what you have seen, read or heard , would you say that you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove of their performance so far?

Feb.18 Feb. 9
Strongly approve 14% 18%
Somewhat approve 45% 36%
Somewhat disapprove 17% 18%
Strongly disapprove 15% 14%
Don't know / Refused 10% 14%

Thinking again about federal politics, please tell me if you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: I believe that the Harper Conservatives will govern in a more ethical way than the Martin Liberals?
Agree 58%
Disagree 37%
Don't know / Refused 5%

And yet earlier this week we were told in the Winnipeg Sun:

Liberals more popular: poll
Lead governing Conservative
Ottawa-The honeymoon with Stephen Harper's Conservatives was over before it began, an SES poll provided to Sun Media suggests.

The poll puts the Liberals at 34 percent of popular support compared to 33 percent for the Conservatives. On election day the Liberals had 30 percent of the vote and the Conservatives 36 percent.

The rookie PM came under fire from within his own caucus when he decided to give turncoat Liberal David Emerson a seat at the cabinet table, passing over dozens of his own longtime loyal MPs.

(SES pollster Nik) Namos said many Canadians looking for an agent of change saw a leader who, in his first hours in power, mirrored the old-style polltics of his predecessors.

Well, that was certainly an interesting story. It was something new, which is, of course, the essence of news. And it's true to the dominant narrative.

If you read carefully, though, you might notice the poll was taken Feb. 4-9, and Emerson didn't reveal his party switch until Feb. 6. So the true impact of his defection may be more in the pollster's opinion than in the poll.

That appears to be truer today when you realize that the Ipsos/Canwest polling was done the same days as the SES poll. It shows the impact of the Emerson defection to be a drop of four percent in those strongly approving the Conservatives, and an increase of nine percent in those somewhat approving.

And especially considering the other polls that came out this week.Oh, we mean the polls the Winnipeg Sun didn't report on. The ones that contradicted the SES poll.

Thursday, an Ipsos Reid said the Conservatives have actually gained popularity since the election and would likely win a majority if an election was held now. Conservative support is at 39 percent with the Liberals dipping to 27 percent.

Oh, look. Two polls showing the exact opposite. That's known as conflict which, in other times, would make it 'news'.

Especially since the Ipsos Reid poll is consistent with the other polls released this month:
Strategic Counsel Feb. 19 Conservatives 39 Liberals 28
Decima Feb. 13 Conservatives 35 Liberals 25

And consistent with another Ispos Reid poll taken specifically to measure the impact of the Emerson defection. This poll showed that 59 percent of respondents believed the matter did not reflect on Harper's character or how he will run the country.

And what's even more significant is that these polls were taken a week to ten days after the SES poll.

By all accounts, then, it appears that the true narrative is that the public has accepted the election results and is willing to let the Conservatives govern.

They disapprove of Emerson's jumping parties, but voters, unlike journalists, haven't tarred Stephen Harper as a hypocrite. In fact, support for the Conservatives is growing, especially in Quebec where they might be displacing the Liberals. And its this power shift that may be fuelling the sideshow protests over the Emerson defection so lovingly covered by the mainstream media.

In the very early days of the election campaign, Stephen Harper commented on the bias of the media as he saw it. He said then that the press was on the lookout for the slightest disagreements within the Conservative party which they could seize on to spin the story of dissention.

A Conservative criticizing a Conservative was the plum for reporters, he said. How right he was. Conservative MP Garth Turner is lionized for criticizing Harper and Emerson. Compare that to how the press has treated Douglas Richardson.

What's that?
What do you mean ?
Who's Douglas Richardson?

Oh, yeah. We forgot. The MSM has done its best to ignore Douglas Richardson.

Richardson wrote a letter to the Globe and Mail. It was published a week ago Friday. Here it is in full:

Liberal praises two new Tory ministers

As a past chief of staff to the leader of the Opposition, former chief of staff to a Liberal finance minister, a vice-chair of Paul Martin's leadership campaign at present campaign co-chair in Saskaatchewan, I am proud of my Liberal background, but clearly I have a bias on theis post-election period.

I am, however, somewhat dismayed at the series of attacks on two new Cabinet ministers: Gordon O'Connor and David Emerson.

Having worked with Mr. O'Connor, I am of the view that he is an honet individual who is most determined to continue the solid work that Bill Graham started. Given Mr. O'Connor's impressive credentials, it is my feeling that, whether Liberals or not, we should be giving this new minister a chance.

With regard to Mr. Emerson, many Liberals are disappointed to lose this capable person. We Liberals have to get over that feeling and allow him to do his job. His constituents may have differing views and all of us understand that they too may be disappointed. But in the past we Liberals have come to understand the value of key members crossing the floor. Occasionally, turnabout is fair play.

As a Westerner, I am aware that Mr. Emerson has made a major commitment to support Western farmers and producers, and all are hopeful that in his new role he will be able to meet those commitements.

Douglas B. Richardson, Saskatoon.

Where were the headlines?
* Prominent Liberal defends Emerson.
* Saskatchewan vice-chairman of Liberal campaign tells his party: Back off.
* Western Liberal puts faith in Emerson, trashes his own party.

That's not news? Instead the media pack creates a story to fit the narrative they want to tell."Emerson silent on killing softwood deal" reads the headline in the National Post, on a story repeated in every newspaper in the country.

The story implies there had been a deal with the U.S. over softwood lumber until Emerson told the Liberal cabinet that the B.C. lumber industry would suffer if it was signed.

The story is attributed to "industry and former government officials". i.e. Liberals. As in Liberals who want to get back at Emerson, and who want to smear him preemptively in case a deal is signed and the Conservatives get the credit for ending the longstanding dispute.

Why wasn't the headline Liberals Scuttled Softwood Lumber Deal?

Radwanski says there's really no political bias in the mainstream media. It's just a pack mentality. And it can turn on a dime to another narrative.

In the meantime, we suppose, we have to accept it because:

They are professionals.
They have editors.
Some even are editors.
And remember, they don't write in their pyjamas.

What did she say?

Journalism is more of an art than a science, and one of the most important skills is quoting people accurately. The trick is learning to listen closely and write it down immediately. But even then the odd word slips in or out even as the gist of the quote is true.

Both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun had the same quote from Cindy Klassen in Thursday's papers. The same, but different.

Randy Turner, Winnipeg Free Press
"I thought it kind of looked ridiculous, with the long blades and wearing a tight speed suit. I knew my friends would kind of poke fun at me because of that."

Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun
"I didn't even want to do it. Because I kind of thought it looked ridiculous, with the long blades and wearing a tight skin suit. I knew my friends would kind of poke fun at me."

This calls for a tie-breaker.

The same quote from CTV's late news
"I didn't want to do it because I thought it looked funny, with long blades and tight skin suit".

Skins win.

By week's end, the public discourse had turned to how the city of Winnipeg should celebrate the success of it's newest favorite daughter.

Friday's Free Press devoted the whole front page to the topic and the rest of MSM breathlessly followed suit. Rany Turner reported how Mayor Katz answered his phone call Thursday night and said "We want to do something big; maybe a parade, maybe a reception at Portage and Main." The rest of Friday saw the other media outlets follow the Free Press's seeming scoop.

Er, notsofast.

If people think the public picked up on the parade idea from the paper, think again. They had already been talking about it -- for 2 days.

What the Free Press didn't report, and the other outlets missed, was that this idea was suggested in a radio interview Wednesday, not by Mayor Katz, but by his interviewer, Citi-FM drive-home jock Cosmo.

"We have to do something and we have to do something significant," Katz said. "A luncheon is a luncheon, this has to be bigger than a luncheon". He then asked Cosmo and CITI FM sports director Scott Taylor if they'd " like to lead the parade".

* Stop the presses *

As in, dismissed former feature sports columnist Scott Taylor? No wonder it slipped the paper's attention.

After all, Taylor is persona non grata (what about when Marty York reported they interviewed Scott for the publisher's job?- ed.), and Cosmo's drive show is only the most listened-to in the city.

That's a secret rival station CJOB tries to keep, er, secret, to preserve the illusion that the days of afternoon dominance with sardonic DJ Allen Willoughby, baritone newsreader Jim Coghill and '25-after-the-hour' sports recaps by Friar Nicholson have never waned.

Here's hoping the Mayor will keep to his offer to have Cosmo and Taylor lead the
Olympian parade with Cindy Klassen, and force the rest of the media to give credit where it is due.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New Editor, New Publisher, Same Old Free Press

Sometimes being a media monitor seems like a full time job.

What's wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, The Winnipeg Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press carried the story of a woman stabbed and robbed just off 700 Portage Avenue (near Maryland).

The Sun said it was downtown. Maryland is not downtown.

A quibble, you say? Well, if you can't trust the where, can you trust the what?

A Winnipeg woman was stabbed and hit in the head with a pipe by thugs as she walked home from the bus station early yesterday morning. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Okay so far....

the woman was walking home...about 12:30 a.m. ...when she was approached by a man in the back lane...

Okay, hold on.

She was walking down a back lane at 12:30 a.m.? Hmmm. Nothing suspicious there, surely.

She was stabbed first, then her attacker demanded her handbag. When she wouldn't hand it over, he hit her over the head with something, knocking her to the ground. He took her bag and ran. She had about 70 morphine tablets in her handbag.

Okay, hold on.

So what was it? Sheer coincidence that a mugger attacks her and runs away with a junkie's motherload of morphine?

Or did he follow her, knowing she was carrying drugs worth $5,000- $6,000 on the street?

Or did he know her, and she wouldn't share or sell?

He? Police say there were two men, but only one description made the papers--a thin white man about six feet tall. Watch for him this weekend, right after the month-end cheques come out.

Where's Lloyd Axworthy's Spence Street Patrol when you need them?

Journalism is spelled with 5 W's, Dave

FP reporter David Kuxhaus had an interesting story in the paper, although you had to dig deep for details.

Chief blackmailed critic: judge.
A federal court judge says the head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs engaged in blackmail and held secret meetings to try and stifle a councillor who was critical of his leadership when he was the chief of Norway House.

Here's where Kuxhaus demonstrated a need for a refresher course in Journalism 101.

The five questions a reporters must answer, Dave, are Who, What, Where, When and Why.

Why did it take you ten paragraphs to get to the Who? -- Ron Evans, former chief of Norway House and now the head of the AMC.

The guy who wants to build a multi-million-dollar governance house on an urban reserve in Winnipeg.

Somebody get his definition of governance before any contracts are signed.


Definin' wuhds ain't nobody's 'dea fun

The FP's city hall reporter Mary Agnes Welch, meanwhile, showed she could use a remedial course in English.

Photo-radar bungled?A botched Winnipeg police photo-radar contract has likely cost the city nearly $50 million, says a scathing new report by the city auditor.

It took another five paragraphs for her to explain that the "cost" is in "lost revenue."

In other words, its money the city won't collect rather than money the city has to pay out. If that wasn't confusing enough, Mary Agnes began reporting in Ebonics.

City hall's arcane confidentiality rules normally keep audits secret until they appears on a public agenda...

Sho 'nuff, sistah. Word.


Remember Tories, vote early, vote often

Finally in our parade of shame comes the unknown political reporter in the Free Press, who gamely tried to break the news that MLA David Faurschou was going to take a run at the PC leadership.

The story got off to a bad start, what with the editor saddling the brief with a headline calling Faurschou's riding
P-o-r-t-G-a-g-e. You'd think he would have bothered to read the copy, which spelled the riding correctly. Five times.

But the reporter did it all by himself when he informed readers that nominations close March15, and the leadership convention was being held November 29th.

Close but no cigar. The reporter was only 7 months off.

The convention is April 29th. We hope the Free Press doesn't miss it.


Remember, these people are professional journalists.

They have editors.

Unlike bloggers, they don't wear pyjamas while writing their stories.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

For some Manitobans, 'freedom' is just another word

It's Freedom to Read Week.

This Saturday, McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park Mall is holding a 24 Hour Freedom to Read Marathon.

Starting at 10 a.m., readers will take turns, in 10 minute segments, reading "from books on the challenged book lost or an article or essay about censorship."

They won't read from Western Standard magazine.

McNally Robinson Booksellers has banned Western Standard magazine during Freedom to Read Week.

Promoters say Freedom to Read week encourages Canadians "to reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom."

Bookstore owner Paul McNally says he'll decide what intellectual freedom is and he's willing to censor reading material if that's what it takes.

From the Freedom to Read website


Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Books are removed from the shelves in Canadian libraries, schools and bookstores every day. Free speech on the Internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read.

Draft Evades Pallister While Winds Whisper a Winner's Name

Brian Pallister can take solace in knowing that his aborted campaign for the leadership of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party has not been in vain.

Now, we know Pallister is living proof that politicians in the new millenium are not John Diefenbaker or Tommy Douglas, or even Steven Lewis, who, even if you disagreed with their message, you knew were sincere in doing what was best for all Canadians.

Who can forget that, only days after he was re-elected to Parliament, Pallister decided to announce he was thinking of quitting, to run for the Manitoba leadership--- providing the federal job was still there in case he lost, of course.

We can't help but think It was this outright contempt for the people that voted for him, and not David Emerson's defection to the Conservative Party, that served as the impetus for calls to put politicians on a tighter leash.NDP leader Jack Layton is trying to steal the limelight and make himself champion of voters disaffected by politicians. He's promised to introduce a bill to force a byelection whenever an MP wants to switch parties. True to his ideology, he wants to make the State the final arbiter.

But this gives Brian Pallister a chance to redeem himself and to prove to Canadians that Conservatives intend to listen to the public's will.

He can do this by becoming the champion of the electorate.

He can do this by declaring that voters deserve the final say, not bureaucrats.

He can do this by spearheading Recall legislation in the coming Parliament.And he can still make an important contribution in Manitoba.

He should continue to press his one initiative that would have made him a formidable opponent to the provincial NDP--- spearheading the drive to make Manitoba a 'have' province. Addressing the democratic deficit (through Recall legislation) and attacking out-of-control spending (through "Have" status ideas) would turn his candidacy from a negative into a positive, and act as a great motivator of the Manitoba caucus.

And it would shock the hell out of U of M Prof.Paul Thomas, Manitoba's most-quoted political pundit. Thomas certainly shocked us by his reaction to Pallister's decision not to run for Tory leadership in Manitoba.

He must have lost a bet with Gretzky to explain his sudden peevishness with the local Conservatives.

Regardless of who becomes the next leader, Thomas doesn't think they'll be able to turn the party around quick enough to defeat the NDP in the next election. (Winnipeg Sun, Feb. 18)

Hmmm. What's behind this sentiment?

* Two years ago, the Tories were a solid 18 points behind the NDP in the polls. The NDP were soaring at 47 percent of the vote, and the P.C.'s bottomfeeding at 29 percent.

* One year ago, the NDP were looking over their shoulders as the Tories closed the gap to 3 percentage points. (NDP 40 and P.C. 37).

* In December, a Probe Research poll found the parties in a dead heat, both with 39 percent, with the hapless Liberals at 19.Pundits said 'so what.' Tory support in the polls doesn't translate into seats. They can't break into urban Manitoba where the seats they need to take power lie.

Then, just last month, the Brandon Sun carried the results of a poll showing the Conservatives leading in both Brandon seats, which are currently held by the NDP. Leading, though not by much. P.C.'s 39, NDP 36. But the momentum is still there.

And for his university smarts, Paul Thomas is overlooking the wild card in the next election--- 34,000 Manitobans who watched their investments in the Crocus Fund melt like a snowcone in August.

And most of them are NDP supporters.

Or were.

How do you think they will respond when the No.1 issue in the election is: a public inquiry into the Crocus debacle? The NDP will never agree to an inquiry.

The Conservatives may be electing a leader of the Opposition, but they are likely picking the next Premier of the province.

The problem is, they are like someone who's been in a coma for years and has to learn to walk all over again. They don't know what a leader is.

It's painful to hear that potential leadership candidates were waiting until Brian Pallister decided whether he was going to run or not before making their intentions known. Timidity is not an attractive trait for a leader, and they have disqualified themselves from the running. You don't lead by standing next to the Exit door (and you might get run over by Hugh McFadyen.)

Now, unfortunately, Pallister has given the Conservatives the worst of all worlds. He squandered time other potential candidates needed to build campaigns. If the Tory brain trust decides, again, that a single candidate is best, it will demonstrate how shallow the party truly is.

If Hugh McFadyen, their annointed one, is the pick, it shows they know nothing about true leadership. How will he rouse the party faithful? By telling them
how he ran from Reg Alcock? Or how he tried to sabotage Rod Bruinooge, the man who eventually defeated the most powerful politician in the province?

And is there another motive for his front-runner status?

Will McFadyen, former Premier Gary Filmon's Chief of Staff, go on the hustings promising a public inquiry into the Crocus scandal? Or will he soft-pedal the issue to protect Filmon's son -- and his colleague at Aikins McCauley--- from nasty questions about the day the Tories were muzzled by a phone call from David Filmon and Charlie Spiring, the CEO of Wellington West.


Maybe Paul Thomas knows more than he's telling.

Wellington West was the Crocus underwriter. Spiring and Filmon fils had a 'chat' with turncoat Tory John Loewen, then MLA for Fort Whyte, who was about to raise questions regarding the valuations of Crocus investments. Loewen cancelled a sheduled news conference and ate crow, with a smile, following the discussion. The duo then met with Conservative leader Stu Murray and told him Crocus was a fine, healthy, thriving company that would sue his pants off if he said otherwise. He took the hint. Obviously, David Filmon is a persuasive fellow.

Back to today.

With three weeks to go before the deadline for nominations, the Conservatives are in trouble. They have no nominations (or one, if McFadyen announces today). That's embarassing.

The Black Rod would like to help with a few suggestions.

The party should immediately announce the deadline for leadership nominations has been extended by eight weeks, to make up for the disruptive effect of the federal election campaign.

They should identify and recruit at least four strong, viable candidates. Four is a manageable number.

It's been said the rule requiring a $10,000 deposit to run is a deterrent to candidates. (It's refundable to those who get five percent or more of the vote.)

Ten thousand dollars is two socials, one in Winnipeg and one in Brandon, each with 250 guests at $20 per. The Party should organize them just to showcase their candidates.

It's the cheapest advertising you can buy--a hall, a band and some kubasa.

So.... that's extend the deadline, recruit candidates and throw socials.

Something's missing.

Oh yeah.

Draft Batra.

There. We've said what everyone's whispering.

Draft Adrienne Batra.

It's a no-brainer. As leadership material, she towers over any of the other contenders floated in the press.

She's known---and respected. She's comfortable on radio and on television. She stands up to Charles Adler and she, more than any of the others, can match Gary Doer quip for quip. Next year, she's even going to be a superhero in a comic book.

Unlike you-know-who, she doesn't run from a fight.
Maybe its her six years in the military. She left with the rank of Lieutenant.

Or maybe it's her 3 years working for the Saskatchewan Party before coming to Manitoba to become the provincial director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Imagine a provincial debate with Batra, against Liberal Jon Gerrard and any NDP standard-bearer. Then tell us who would be a better choice to put in front of the cameras and microphones.

We expect the Tory back room to say she's too small-c conservative to attract the federal Liberals the party needs to win.So they think that Liberal women won't vote for a strong woman because....

Why? Ideology before merit?

And Liberal-friendly minorities won't vote for her because---uh----they don't want their children to see that with education and hard work they, too, can reach the top?

And Liberals who want someone --anyone -- to get a handle on public spending, won't support a professional tax watchdog who knows the tricky language bureaucrats use to bamboozle the media? Puh-lease.

We suspect the movers and shakers of the Party, the so-called Tuxedo Tories, are just afraid to take a chance. But leadership is not giving in to fear. It's taking on a challenge and overcoming.

That's what inspires people. Leaders know how and when to take calculated risks.

If the Conservatives are still too scared to take a risk, they were handed a safety net on Global News yesterday.

Mike Brown interviewed outgoing leader Stuart Murray about the tepid race to replace him.

And Murray dropped a big hint.

He's standing by the phone.
Just in case there's a draft.

A Stu Murray draft.

Friday, February 17, 2006

How can Harper trump a Jack, a queen, a prince, and a David ??

Can the disconnect between the press and the public get any greater?Pick up the newspaper and count the headlines about the "Emerson controversy."

Turn on the T.V. and see the protestors outside David Emerson's constituency office demanding he resign. Tune in a radio talkshow and hear how Emerson's jump to the Conservatives is a "white-hot" topic in the country.

Pundits everywhere are certain the defection is hurting Prime Minister Stephen Harper. His honeymoon with the public is over, they shout. The Liberals are planning a swift return to power.

Problem is, someone forgot to tell the people.

The latest poll by Decima Research reflects none of that. On release of the poll data yesterday, Decima spokesman Bruce Anderson said " the numbers signal a number of things, notably that the controversy surrounding Mr. Emerson's switch and the appointment of unelected Michael Fortier to cabinet have not affected Conservative support."

The Conservatives won the support of 36 percent of the electorate on election day and have dropped a single point according to a poll taken during their first week as government (you know, the week everyone is calling a disaster).

Liberal support, meanwhile, is off five percentage points ,dropping to 25 percent from 30 on election day.

But...but...but. How can that be? These are professionals. They have their finger on the pulse of the country? And unlike bloggers, they have editors!

Oh, that explains it. The election is over and its business as usual. In other words, the press is reporting what it thinks the story should be, facts be damned. Who cares what people really think. The accepted storyline is the Conservatives have blown it, screwed up, can't do anything right. Bury the poll. More stories about the "Emerson controversy".

We've seen this all before--during the election campaign. You remember, how every story mentioned the same-sex marriage debate. It was, you know, the most important issue of the election--- according to the reporters in the field. The same reporters who ignored the Income Trust Scandal.

Winnipeg Free Press reporter: Hey, do we have room for a story on Kreskin the Mentalist?

Winnipeg Free Press editor: Of course. We need a break from how the same-sex marriage issue is going to hurt the Conservatives. Nothing else is happening in this election. So Kreskin the Mentalist is it.

Winnipeg Free Press reporter and editor (together): We're professionals. We know what news is We're not like bloggers, who don't have editors to tell them what real news is.

Ah, yes. The bloggers. Those citizen journalists who recognized the Income Trust Scandal and kept it alive for weeks, until the RCMP announced their investigation and the "real" reporters who know how to read media releases could do a story. One story. Then it was back to same-sex marriage, which was, you know, the major issue of the election according to the professionals.

If the press hadn't been distracted by its own fantasies, it may have had to report on the obvious.

The Conservative Party is the only national party in Canada.

Remember how the Reform and Canadian Alliance Parties were dismissed as regional parties only because they had no representation in Quebec. Well, the Liberal Party has no representation in Alberta, the richest and fastest growing province in the country. So obviously, it is just a regional party centred in Eastern Canada.

And the controversy over suspending Buzz Hargrove from the NDP only reminds us that the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois are pressure groups, not national parties. One has no pretence of governing the country and the other has no chance.

In the 44 years since it was founded, the NDP has never come close to winning power, and can only hope to attract between 10 and 18 percent in the popular vote. It was formed to be the political arm of the union movement, and remains a pressure group to this day.

The NDP hopes to make hay out of the Emerson defection. Like a schoolgirl tattletale, the NDP's MP for Burnaby-New Westminster Peter Julian has gone crying to teacher, in this case the Parliamentary ethics commissioner, Bernard Shapiro. T-e-e-e-e-e-acher. It's not f-a-a-a-a-air.

Was it only last June that the NDP was calling for Shapiro's resignation?

But then we all know how dedicated NDP leader Jack Layton is to democracy. He's the party leader who refused to let his caucus members vote their conscience in a free vote on same-sex marriage, and who opposes any such vote in the next Parliament. Layton rushed to B.C. to exploit the Emerson defection. He announced Thursday a promise to introduce legislation requiring MPs to face a byelection if they want to switch parties.

The NDP will introduce its bill at the earliest opportunity as an opposition day motion, ensuring it is voted on by the House, he said.

We're sure he has the full support of NDP standardbearer Ian Waddell who came in second to David Emerson in Vancouver-Kingsway. Waddell knows all about party jumping.

He was in the provincial NDP cabinet when Gordon Wilson, elected as a Progressive Democratic Alliance member of the Legislature, jumped to the New Democrats in 1999 to become an instant cabinet minister (responsible for B.C. ferries - insert your own boondoggle joke here). Waddell had no objections to party-jumping then.

And Layton will certainly consult with another failed NDP candidate, Ed Schreyer, who ran in Selkirk-Interlake.

Back in 1969 Schreyer's provincial NDP had just won 28 seats in the Legislature, one short of a majority. Larry Desjardins, elected as a Liberal, changed his party affiliation to the self-concocted Liberal-Democrat label so that he could support the NDP and prevent a Liberal-Conservative coalition government from taking office. Now that even Paul Martin has come out of the closet as a confessed party-jumpophobe, the Conservatives have a golden opportunity.

Stephen Harper has to call the Opposition's bluff. They want to show people they are mad as hell at party jumpers and they won't take it anymore. Harper should take them at their word.

Only instead of a limp byelection bill, Harper should introduce Recall.

Protestors outside Emerson's constituency office on the weekend were wearing "Recall Emerson:" buttons, and holding signs with the same message. And at a rally on Saturday organized by the NDP, people were encouraged to sign a recall petition.

B.C. has recall legislation at the provincial level. They obviously like the idea. And if Layton truly wants to listen to the people, he has to be on side too.

Recall. The Reform party championed it. And now Harper can too.

If the NDP and Liberals are serious, they will support a bill in principle without objection. Why trigger an automatic and costly byelection (are you listening Brian Pallister) when you can let the voters who elected an MP decide his fate through a recall campaign?

Simple. Democratic. Timely.

But why limit the public's democratic right to hold the people they elect responsible?
Say an MP turns out to be a law-breaking lawyer who steals expensive rings? Why not subject him to a recall?

Or say an entire government is linked to a kickback scandal involving public funds. How many members would survive recall campaigns?

A special forensic audit commissioned by Justice John Gomery from the firm of Kroll Lindquist Avey found a paper trail showing about $1.7 million of sponsorship money made its way into Liberal Party coffers.
Last November, the Liberals whipped out a chequebook and paid off $1.14 million.

They said that was fair. Then-Opposition leader Stephen Harper called it a plea bargain with themselves.

We've since learned why the Liberals were in such a hurry to pay up.

The Kroll audit noted that it couldn't determine where $40 million in sponsorship money went because, wouldn't you know it, the records were missing. And, Gomery inquiry lawyers wouldn't let them look at financial records that were either the subject of criminal charges or ongoing criminal investigations.

One of those charged, Groupaction president Jean Brault, testified his company alone made almost $250,000 in under-the-table contributions to the Liberal Party plus another $200,000 in special services like putting party workers on the payroll during an election.

Kroll said they found evidence of an estimated $1.7 million in illegal cash donations to the Liberals, but without a concrete paper trail, Gomery couldn't state it as fact.

He did, however, write that "The Liberal Party as an institution cannot escape responsibility for the misconduct of its officers and representatives".

So what if....some future investigation, and the Conservatives have promised one, uncovers evidence of these cash donations. And it turns out the Liberal Party used the kickbacked cash to fund yet another election. Wouldn't it invalidate the elections of anyone who benefitted?

There oughta be a law. T-e-e-e-e-eacher....

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A New Kind of Zero Tolerance

Did you laugh as hard as we did at the Police Department's latest request for public assistance?

You know, the one about looking for a suspect who smashed up Decanters Restaurant & Wine Bar a couple of weeks ago.Y

ou remember.... the drunk guy who got caught trying to steal booze from behind the bar. To get away he threw bottles around, broke some windows and scapped with an employee before staff and customers could get him down.

And the owners tried to call the cops. For almost three hours. Three fricking hours fighting with a violent drunk because they couldn't get one single highly trained, armed, dedicated police officer to come and make an arrest.

Even after someone walked to the Public Safety Building and tried to convince the cops there to take the two minute walk to Decanters and help, no cops showed up. So they finally let the guy go.

Yeah, that guy. The guy cops want your help to find.

Note to police: don't hold your breath.

We thought this P.R. debacle was the icing on the cake on what the public thinks of police service in Winnipeg.

But then last week a civil jury of six topped it. They said they couldn't believe the Chief of Police when he told them the police policy on handling domestic disputes.

Now, this shouldn't have been a surprise, since the other 999,994 people in the province also knew Chief Jack Ewatski was winging it when he said the domestic violence policy didn't force officers to arrest people they knew were innocent.

And yet, we were surprised. The jury of Winnipeg citizens spoke loud and clear when they awarded a woman $46,600, including punitive damages, for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

Ewastski didn't know what he was talking about, they said. And with that, they put the problems with the police service into perfect perspective.

The problem lies with the top. The senior officer who sets the policies and sets the tone of police work in the city. And who has done little more than undermine the force throughout his tenure.

Yesterday we told you how Chief Ewatski announced the exoneration of Tom Sophonow for the 1981 murder of Barbara Stoppel. He has never explained why. And when the province called a sham inquiry into the reasons for the alleged wrongful conviction, Ewatski sat silent as his officers were vilified and blamed for railroading Sophonow. Not one word that Sophonow was more to blame than anyone for his convictions.

Ewatski was content to see the police carry the blame alone.

This past month we were reminded of the shooting of Matthew Dumas by a police officer one year ago. And how Chief Ewatski was nowhere to be found during the tense days that followed the incident. When he surfaced, it was to say he had been "consulting" with native, uh, leaders about a heretofore unknown race-based policy of having the native "community" oversee the investigation whenever an aboriginal is shot by police. We can't remember any show of support for the police officer who was forced to make the fatal decision to shoot Dumas-- as he had been trained.

And before that, there was the infamous arbitration hearing launched by six officers put on administrative leave by Ewatski. He said he had to do it because of allegations the police failed to warn gang member Kevin Tokarchuk of a plot to kill him, and that they may have broken the law by taping a meeting between a lawyer and a gang member.

And we all remember how the hearing turned out.

Shortly after the city of Winnipeg was fined $20,000 because Ewatski refused to hand over documents to the plaintiffs, a settlement was reached, amount undisclosed of course -- but paid for by the taxpayers.

Tack on the lawyers fees the city paid, and keep in mind that a Crown Attorney from Calgary who reviewed the case said charges against the officers were not recommended, and it all adds up to one very expensive lesson.

Experienced police investigators retired, careers were damaged and the morale of the homicide and gang units were devastated by Ewatski's actions.

The only people who won out, said retired Sgt. Dave Oakes, were whoever killed Tokarchuk and five Hell's Angels associates who had been charged with firebombing a police officer's home and who had the charges stayed.

Way to go Jack.

When the police are left to do their jobs, they usually come up shining.

Just look at Operation Clean Sweep, the oh-my-god-what-do-we-do-now project thrown up after innocent bystander Phillipe Haiart was killed in a gang shootout. By all accounts, its been a raging success. West end residents say they can see the changes on the streets as drug dealers, prostitutes and gang members realize the police mean business.

But if it's going so well, what does it say about what Ewatski was doing about street crime before Haiart's death forced his hand? Community activists like Rev. Harry Lehotsky had been calling for just such a quality-of-life policing policy for years, only to be dismissed.

It took a tragedy to get Ewatski's attention focused on something other than opposing his force wearing name tags.

So how has he managed to get away with it for years?

Simple. Take one look at the people who sit on City Council. And ask yourselves who and when have any one of them asked relevant questions about the direction of the police service under Jack Ewatski?

Then take a look at the Press. And ask the same thing.

It's obvious it's time for Ewatski to go. We need a zero tolerance policy on him and his decisions.

The next time the police information officers issue a request for public assistance, maybe it should be for a new Chief of Police.

We'll be at Decanters, interviewing candidates.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Pallister's Culture of Entitlement mocks Stephen Harper

{Thanks to an alert reader who noticed that the blog gremlins had somehow affected the disappearance of this post, originally made on Saturday, February 4, 2006}

There was a sea of red faces in Parliament when Justice John Gomery released his final report this week.

The Liberal caucus turned red with embarassment.

And the Conservative caucus blushed as Gomery echoed their election theme and called for a "culture of integrity" to replace a "culture of entitlement."

Only, the Manitoba Conservative caucus was blushing in shame. Shame at the antics of one of their own, Brian Pallister, the last Member of Parliament to wallow publicly in the culture of entitlement.

Not for him this hairshirt culture of integrity. He has his own definition of integrity which includes

* running for re-election as MP for Portage Lisgar when he doesn't want the job,

* collecting his $144,000 a year pay to represent his constituents in Ottawa while he campaigns in Manitoba to become leader of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party,

* using his paid federal government staff for private purposes as campaign workers,

* and doing it all with the smug satisfaction that if he loses in Manitoba politics, he has a cushion-- his job in Ottawa is safely waiting for him.

Add to that an unnecessary by-election in Portage-Lisgar (if he wins the provincial leadership) and possibly an unnecessary by-election to get him into the Legislature. (Unless he wants to" lead" from the public gallery.)

To some, this sure looks exactly like the culture of entitlement the Conservatives campaigned against. To us, it embodies all the characteristics that have made voters so cynical about politicians that they see no reason to vote anymore.

(Not that a lower turnout makes it any cheaper -- when LibMin Sheila Copps quit her seat because the GST was not scrapped, the Chief Electoral Officer stated that every federal by-election costs the taxpayer a half a million dollars.)

Pallister claims he took himself out of the running for a cabinet seat so he could gauge his support in the leadership race in Manitoba. He obviously wasn't prepared for the peels of laughter this prompted.

After Stephen Harper announced his would be a smaller cabinet, and there would be no Minister of Pompous Egotism, what was there left for Brian Pallister?

His transparent letter to Stephen Harper made him a laughingstock across the country. Even CJOB radio host Charles Adler mocked him in his syndicated weekly column.

Pallister was driven to reply in a letter to the editor, a letter which caught the attention of The Black Rod for its blatant attempt at rewriting history.

Pallister tried playing the victim. "What could I do?" he pleaded. The election was underway when, on Dec. 10, the Tories called a leadership vote for April 29. Too late to quit. Do the honourable thing. Run. Win. Then graciously decline a cabinet seat. No, Stephen, I know you want me, but I must return to Manitoba. I must. They're calling for me. It's my destiny.

Whooah Moses. This wasn't only pathetic, it was false, false, false.

The first Gomery Report was issued Nov. 1st. The Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois called for an election. (Brian Pallister may have been notified something was in the air.)

The election was a foregone conclusion on Monday, Nov. 7 when NDP leader Jack Layton announced he was pulling his support for the Liberals because the two parties had reached a fundamental impasse over health care. (Brian Pallister may have read about it in the papers.)

Two days later, Nov. 9, Layton said he would make a motion of non-confidence Nov. 24. The other party leaders said they would support him. (Brian Pallister may have suspected an impending election.)

Certainly somebody knew something, because on Nov. 9, a new website,, was registered in Manitoba.

Almost immediately, the site began asking people to sign up to support Brian Pallister.

Register with our website:
Register with our website so we can ensure that you get the latest information on our campaign on a regular basis. Please direct your friends and conservative contacts to this site as well and ask them to register. We are collecting names to deliver to Brian. This will assist us greatly as he is gauging support for a leadership bid.

Do you think that Brian Pallister knew about the site?

If he didn't then, he had a clue Nov. 13 when The Black Rod reported on his bid to collect 500 signatures on a petition before announcing his run.

And we said then he had to decide immediately whether to run for office in Manitoba or run for office in Ottawa, or look like an opportunist.

That was Nov. 13, almost a month before he claims he was forced to make a last-minute decision. He was already running a campaign for the leadership. He just wanted a safe government job before announcing it.

Within two weeks, more evidence. A Manitoba telemarketing company was asking voters to do "a quick 45 second survey" on Manitoba Politics. And the questions? Well....

1) Are you a Canadian Citizen?
2) Are you over the age of 18?
3) Are you a resident of Manitoba?
Yes to all lead to...

1) Do you think the PC Party of Manitoba did the right thing by getting rid of Stuart Murray as leader?
2) Do you think Brian Pallister should return to provincial politics?
3) Would you support Brian Pallister if he were leader of the PC Party ofManitoba?

Rather Pallister specific, wouldn't you say? Remember, this was the week before the non-confidence vote in Parliament that brought down the government.

For Pallister to claim he couldn't make a snap decision because the date of the Manitoba Tory leadership convention was sprung on him in the middle of a campaign is just false. He knew he wanted the job. He tried to gauge support through the internet. He tried it by phone. But the groundswell he expected wasn't there. Now he's handing out divining rods to his wife and kids and he's going door to door on your dime to find it.

His letter to Adler is particulary galling.

What would you do in my shoes? Think about this: You are a nominated candidate in a federal election. The campaign is already underway. In the middle of the campaign on Dec. 10, the provincial party decides that it is going to hold a leadership vote on April 29.

False. You knew more than a month before Dec. 10 than a federal election was imminent. And you still started campaigning for the Manitoba leadership. The business about "in the middle of a campaign" is a total red herring.

Do you wish that people forgot you were asked on CBC Dec. 9 whether you were running for the leader's job. You were oh, so, coy.

"I am copping what's known as a woman's answer, isn't it? It's a sort of fickle kind of thing," he said, responding to criticism that a federal election campaign is no time for a candidate to be examining other job prospects. "I can do that, and I'm doing it now. There are always people on the sidelines that are going to be critical. I'm not worried about them. I'm not concerned about the critics."

Manitobans start calling you. They tell you that you should resign and seek the leadership. They tell you that you are the only one that can reunite the caucus and defeat Gary Doer and the Drifters. You love Manitoba. You want to support your provincial team but with the election so close you don't want to let your federal team down by resigning. However if you resign that is exactly what you will do. You consult with your constituency association and they ask you to remain on the ballot.

False. You could have resigned anytime in the weeks before the election was called. If the constituency association asked you to remain on the ballot, then you made your choice. Live with it.

What do you do? Do you resign or do you run? If you say "resign" you have never played a team sport in your life. It would take a special kind of selfishness to walk away from your teammates in a situation like that. Some could do it. Some have. I did not.

Oh, the irony. You are part of a team, one that needs your vote. Resign? It's the big game and your response is to tell the coach 'Take me out, coach. Sure, I might score a few touchdowns and help win the game. But I've got something better to do. Let someone else do it.'

It would indeed take "a special kind of selfishness" to abandon your teammates in Ottawa. That's a leadership trait, if we ever heard of one.

Let's get this straight. If I had resigned in December to run for the provincial leadership, I would have been placing my individual goals ahead of those of my constituents who desperately wanted to vote out a corrupt Liberal government. By staying on the ballot I gave them that opportunity.

Let's get this straighter. If you wanted to run for the Manitoba leadership, you should have resigned in November. Quit trying to fool people with the December date. You knew a month earlier you didn't want to be the MP for Portage Lisgar. To quit now is to place your individual goals ahead of those of your constituents.

Last week I met with our new prime minister and he thanked me for letting my name stand. I advised him that I needed some time to consult with my friends and supporters on the possibility of entering the provincial PC leadership race. Therefore, I asked that he not include me in his considerations for cabinet or other positions. I did this to be forthright. I did not feel it would be fair to wait and see. I will never know what responsibilities I may have been given. The Free Press, the Globe and Mail and various national media pundits had me in cabinet.
Mr. Adler claims he knows I wasn't. That's "chutzpah." He really hasn't a clue. He is a stranger to the truth.

The Black Rod defending Charles Adler. Now that's chuzpah. But Adler is absolutely right. The only stranger to the truth here is you Brian Pallister.

He is entitled to his opinion but how much is an opinion really worth when it is based on a false premise? Not a lot.

Like the false premise that December 10 is a relevant date?

The opinions of others, however, are important to me. I respect the opinions of Manitobans. Over the next while my wife Esther and I will listen to their views and consider our future and that of our family. This decision greatly impacts on our friends and supporters, my staff and my constituents. It is an important decision which merits consideration. My family and will consult and reflect and in the not too distant future I will announce my decision.

In the meantime I'll collect my pay and let you, the taxpayer, cover the pay for my campaign workers. Thanks suckers.

Pallister is demonstrating his brand of leadership very day this charade plays out. He has known since the beginning of November he had to make a choice, federal politics or provincial politics. He made his choice.

Now he wants to go back on his word to his constituents and to his fellow Conservative Party MPs.

Why the Manitoba Tories would want the stereotype of the ego-driven opportunistic politician as their leader is a question for the ages. But they should remember....the NDP have last bats.

After the PC's elect their leader, the NDP will have the opportunity to shuffle their team. Gary Doer will not lead the party into another election. He's tired of the game.

Some of the other lightning rods in the party---"Six Months" Chomiak, "Hydra House" Sale, "Smell the Crocus" Selinger--will also probably drift off, leaving the Tories to fight a new team of fresh faces.

We find it particularly disturbing that the pundits give short shrift to the brave women of the Tory caucus who showed more guts than either of the so-called front-runners for leadership. They challenged Stu Murray, they were punished for their chutzpah, and they were proved right.

Since when is good judgement and the courage to fight for what's right a liability in a political race?

It will be a sad day if the only candidates for "leader" are a man who ran from a political fight and then threw the party's provincial and federal camps into turmoil by his indecision, and a man who's prepared to desert a minority government to satisfy his oversized ego.

Short Snappers:

*** Brandon reporter (and blogger) Curtis Brown has, as promised, started his Eric Alterman Challenge to expose the conservative spin he sees in stories by bloggers, reporters and columnists. Keep 'em coming. Check it out here. We're flattered that he picked up with Exhibit B, following the sequencing started with our own, slightly different version of the Eric Alterman Challenge.

*** Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair scored big this week by unearthing the Zero Tolerance memo and proving that Police Chief Jack Ewatski was full of it when he testified under oath that no such policy existed.

*** Mayor Sam Katz is a new convert to urban reserves. He says he wants everyone to know that there will be a level playing field for businesses because urban reserves pay a negotiated amount for city services equal to what they would pay in property taxes. But why won't any reporter ask the obvious question: if that's the case, why don't they just pay property taxes?

*** Evangelical Christians still have Free Press columnist Frances Russell chewing the carpet. She attacked them again in this week's column. Their crime? They've joined a policial party and want to practice democracy in public by having a free vote in Parliament on the definition of marriage.

If Russell truly wants to warn about the dangers of religion in politics she should be paying special attention to the worldwide attack on Denmark for some cartoons that ran in a newspaper. For the full Muhammed Cartoon Gallery go to Human Events Online.

*** We note that neither the Winnipeg Free Press, the Winnipeg Sun, the National Post or the Globe and Mail have printed the cartoons. You don't think the members of some religion in Canada intimidated them do you? Evangelical Christians? See a sample of that intimidation in Britain here:

*** CityTV broke an excellent story Thursday with the report on how Winnipeg Police wouldn't come and arrest a violent intruder at Decanter's Restaurant, a two-minute walk from the Public Safety Building. City may be stepping up their game in advance of Global TV's move to a 6 p.m. local newscast on Monday.

*** And a regular correspondent took us to task for not giving credit to a local reporter who was probably the only one in the city to predict Conservative Rod Bruinooge "had a shot at beating (Liberal Reg) Alcock ".

He hasn't given us the name of this reporter yet, but, we want to give reporter X a pat on the back for his or her perspicacity anyway, whoever he/she is.

W5 repeats Sophonow myth while Ewatski keeps the secret

Okay. We waited a week for W-5 to say they made a mistake. To say they got it wrong. To say, oops, so sorry, the researcher screwed up.

It never happened. So we'll say it.

W-5 made a mistake. They got it wrong. Somebody screwed up, royally.

Last weekend CTV ran a W5 show about the wrongfully convicted. If memory serves us well, there are about 40 people across Canada whose convictions for major crimes have been overturned by new evidence. As always, one of those on the list is Thomas Sophonow.And, just as always, W-5 showed no understanding of the case against him or the evidence used to convict him.

That aside, there's no excuse for reporter Victor Malarek to have made the egregious error and say that "DNA evidence would finally and fully exonerate Sophonow."

Let's be perfectly clear. DNA evidence did not exonerate Tom Sophonow. We don't know why Tom Sophonow was exonerated.

Police Chief Jack Ewatski has never explained why he said in 2000 that he knew Sophonow was innocent of the murder of Barbara Stoppel. Justice Minister Gord Macintosh has never said why he gave Sophonow a cheque for $2.6 million.

What we know for certain, is that DNA evidence played no part in it.

Oh, you wouldn't know that if you depended on the Mainstream Media for your "facts."

CBC News Online September 15, 2004
On June 8, 2000, Winnipeg police announced DNA evidence cleared Thomas Sophonow in the killing of doughnut shop clerk Barbara Stoppel.


Series Title: AS IT HAPPENS
In 1981 Thomas Sophonow was arrested for murder. After 3 trials and 4 yrs in jail, DNA analysis has finally proven his innocence.

Or, even....

Wrongfully Convicted Database Record
"Wrongfully convicted three times of the 1981 murder of shop clerk Barbara Stoppel. Acquitted by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in Dec. 1985 and released from prison. Winnepeg (sic) police announced on June 8, 2000 that DNA evidence had cleared Mr. Sophonow."

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

On the day he made Tom Sophonow one of the heroes of the unjustly convicted, Ewatski told the press only that Sophonow was cleared because, when he was arrested, the police did not have "a specialized homicide unit, a computer dedicated to crime analysis, and (certain) forensic techniques."

The Winnipeg Police website has a section dedicated to unsolved murders and, there, it states:
On June 8, 2000, Jack Ewatski, Chief of Police, exonerated Sophonow of any wrongdoing after an internal analysis of the case determined he was not responsible.

Again. No DNA.

But the urban myth still perpetuates. We guess it makes a better story than: Sophonow is free and we made him a millionaire but we won't tell you why.

Errr. Actually, it doesn't.

But for reasons unknown, MSM reporters have never gotten around to asking the obvious question: why, Chief Ewatski, did you exonerate Tom Sophonow?

The province tried to deflect the question by rushing to an inquiry by Justice Peter Cory. He supposedly looked into why Sophonow was wrongfully convicted. He actually did no such thing. The Cory inquiry was a charade, designed to throw the public off the trail. Why?

Cory said in the introduction to his report
that the legal authorities agreed Tom Sophonow "had no involvement" in the murder of Barbara Stoppel and "the Inquiry is not to result in a retrial of Thomas Sophonow."

In other words, all the evidence that was presented to three juries that showed Sophonow was guilty, could not be examined, other than to show why it was wrong. That's like having an inquiry into why the Winnipeg Blue Bombers actually won the 2001 Grey Cup -- by examining why every touchdown scored by the Calgary Stampeders should have been disallowed.

Even so, Cory produced two pieces of evidence, which, if known to the Sophonow juries, would have cemented his convictions.

Cory made a big deal about the twine used to strangle Stoppel. Police investigators determined the twine was manufactured in Washington State and sold in large quantities to customers in British Columbia, where Sophonow lived. It was always a tenuous clue at best since the actual murder twine was never linked to Sophonow.Cory decided to do his best to discount even the smallest link to the murder weapon and at the same time show that the police screwed up by not properly testing the evidence.

The twine, he declared, was not from Washington. It was actually manufactured in Manitoba. The police were wrong. The juries were duped. So there....except....

How did he reach that conclusion? Well, he said that the Manitoba manufacturer of green twine used a chemical tracer which was found in the murder twine in 2000. Uh, huh. Except for one problem, or is it two?

- Police, using old-fashioned techniques like taking the murder twine apart, determined it was one-eighth inch polypropeline twine consisting of seven green strands and one yellow strand which acted as a marker. That's so, in case of a problem with a batch of the twine, the purchaser could determine where it was made. And that turned out to be the Powers Company in Washington State.When re-examined, the twine allegedly was found to have a "chemical marker" of some kind. This lead police to another manufacturer, Berkley, which had a plant in Portage La Prairie.

- Cory seized on this to make two points necessary for his job of blaming police for Sophonow's convictions:

1. the murder twine was actually made in Manitoba, so the west-coast link to Sophonow was disproved, and
2. the police screwed up because they didn't test the twine for the chemical marker in 1982. Bad police. Bad.

Okay, here's the problem. Berkley reps were shown the murder twine in 1982, and said it wasn't their's.
Cory admits that: The Powers Company indicated that it was their twine and the Berkley Company, from a visual inspection, indicated that it was not their product. We assume that "visual inspection" means that they eyeballed the murder twine and said "Not ours, we don't have a yellow thread."

Instead, the judge writes, "there was a very significant condition attached to the opinion of Berkley. It inserted a chemical trace element into its twine." This is supposedly what was discovered by the re-test almost 20 years later. Or was it? Powers made a twine with a yellow marker thread. Berkley did not. Or else there would be two companies making the exact same twine with the exact same distinguishing element. Does that make sense?

If twine had a yellow marker thread, it was made by Powers. If the retested twine had the Berkley "chemical trace element", it also had to have the yellow marker thread, or else it was not the murder twine. Simple.Without clearly explaining why the yellow strand is excluded as a clue, all you're left with is that there were two rope companies, one in Washington and the other in Portage la Prairie.

Ahh. Portage la Prairie. You mean the town where Thomas Sophonow spent the night before coming to Winnipeg?

Instead of distancing Sophonow from the twine used to kill Barbara Stoppel, Cory actually made a closer link than the prosecutors did at the trials. If, indeed, the twine used to kill Barbara Stoppel was made in Manitoba. Not that it mattered, since, as we said, the murder twine was never connected to Sophonow in the first place.

And there was one more thing that surfaced during the Cory inquiry. Like that odd statement Sophonow made to the hearing. It was only reported once, in the Globe and Mail, but The Black Rod has confirmed it with reporters who attended the hearing.

Reporter David Roberts wrote:

" The inquiry also heard yesterday that it was Mr. Sophonow himself who apparently got police interested in him as a suspect when he made a report to RCMP in British Columbia about a missing woman they were seeking.

He said she resembled a woman who he'd planned on seeing in Winnipeg, but who wasn't there when he arrived. He'd also called his sister and asked her if police were looking for him in connection with the Winnipeg murder."

...asked if police were looking for him in connection with the Winnipeg murder.We bet the jurors would have been electrified if they heard about that call. Apparently, nobody, especially not Judge Cory, asked him what he meant by it?

Just as nobody has asked Police Chief Jack Ewatski why he exonerated Tom Sophonow and cost the city of Winnipeg $2.6 million.

There were hints the police had another suspect. An arrest was imminent. DNA would prove the suspect's guilt. That was in 2001. Five years later, and we know no suspect was ever charged. The only suspect ever named by police denied killing Barbara Stoppel and an internal police report says investigators had no usable evidence against him and needed a confession. He eventually committed suicide without confessing anything.

On the other hand, prosecutors obviously had a case against Sophonow, even if Cory wasn't allowed to say it. The jurors who heard the evidence accepted it.

Jury #1 was hung 10-2 with the majority voting for conviction. Jury #2 was unanaimous, Guilty. And Jury #3 voted Guilty, too, after one member was removed for refusing to decide on the basis of the evidence presented in court.

There's no doubt the case was purely circumstantial. There was no physical evidence against Sophonow. And the eyewitness evidence was shaky, even then. But the police witnesses were strong. And then there was the testimony of Thomas Sophonow. It seems that whenever jurors heard him in person, they decided the police were telling the truth and he wasn't.

The reason Sophonow was convicted on the murder charge was---Sophonow. Not police misconduct. Not faulty evidence.

Let's be clear. We don't say Thomas Sophonow is guilty of murder. The courts have overturned each of his convictions. We're saying the main reason he was convicted in the first place is because of his own actions and testimony. He admitted he never told police his alibi for the night of the murder because he wanted to get a free ride to Winnipeg. Does that make sense to you? It didn't to the jurors.

And after hearing him testify, the jurors gave the police witnesses the benefit of the doubt whenever they contradicted his account of what happened.

He wasn't railroaded. He was the engineer.

Chief Jack Ewatski of the Winnipeg Police Service now says he's convinced Sophonow had nothing to do with the murder of Barbara Stoppel. We don't know why. And we have 2.6 million reasons to ask.

Why the secrecy? That's a secret held by Police Chief Jack Ewatski.

And since last week, we know that jurors don't believe he's telling the truth, either.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Nouvelle Stadium for les Bombers Bleus?

Awright, skip the dog-and-pony show. The Blue Bombers have some new coaches. Blah blah blah.

Don't you want to know what happened to their big plans for a fancy new stadium?

Hold onto your hats.

More than a year ago the Bombers were beating the drums for a "destination complex" near Headingley which, they said, would include a 30,000 seat "climate-enhanced and expandable" football stadium, a 250 room hotel, a 40,000 square foot water park and a shiny new 200,000 square foot exhibition facility.

The idea, they said, was to have everything fit neatly in one large circular-shaped configuration around the football field. The cost of the extravaganza was guesstimated at about $165 million, give or take.

It was all going to be built on 450-acres of land known as Red River Exhibition Park, just off Portage Avenue West, near the perimeter. It would still technically be within Winnipeg city limits, even though well past the Perimeter Highway.

A quarter-of-a-million dollar feasibility study was commissioned to nail down the numbers and to jump-start the project. Estimated time-of-arrival: spring or summer of 2005.
... which turned into Fall, 2005
... then Winter, 2005
... and then
... silence.

Well, we can tell you the feasibility study exists. And it says the project is--- to quote the immortal words of the Mauro Report on a new arena for the lamented Winnipeg Jets---do-able. Sorta.

The bean-counters say the three-legged beast can walk. Remember, the planners said they were depending on the synergy of the project to give it life. Individually, a hotel, a stadium and a water-park are money-losers, even at the Red River Ex site. Only together can they support one another enough to make the plan work.

Feasibility is one thing. The kicker is getting the damn thing built in the first place.

The cost has climbed into the red seats, hovering in the range of $200 million. Who, exactly, is going to come up with that kind of money is something the study doesn't say.

The cost shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The hotel end of the deal is supposed to be privately financed by Canad Inns. But they've had a devil of a time getting another hotel project off the ground in Grand Forks in part because costs keep going up and up. The last time they delayed they said the price of concrete and steel was skyrocketing and they needed time to find more financial backing.

Hmm. A stadium... Concrete. Steel. Uh oh.

And there's still a lot of jockeying going on about the football stadium itself. There's a strong "dome" faction that wants more than a field that's just protected against the wind.

But a dome means more money. And money means politics above and beyond the board room.

Already the Bombers have a hint that a new stadium proposal will not be smooth sailing. In fact, that's a big reason the feasibility study is still in limbo.

Powerful people aren't happy about giving government money to a facility that appears to benefit Headingley more than Winnipeg, and which stands a good chance of sucking convention activity out of the heart of the city.

And that's why a new suitor is whispering sweet nothings into the ears of the Blue Bombers board.

That's right, gossip mongers. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are cheating on the Red River Ex.

Right now they are considering another offer.
One with synergy.
One that would see a new stadium (dome or no dome) built closer to downtown.
One that wouldn't threaten the Convention Centre.

Who's talking to the Bombers? We can't tell you. We don't know.

So, let's guess together.We hear that the newest proposal will provide a revenue stream that the Red River Ex can't, and that it will be located at a popular site which will win approval from major backers. Which leads us to winnow out the candidates.

1) The planned Asper Human Rights Museum fits the bill but a stadium requires more land than is available at the Forks. Scratch that.

2) If the stadium complex isn't going to compete with the Convention Centre anymore, that may be a clue it will be built in proximity to the Convention Centre downtown. Remember the idea floated by Mayor Sam about a waterpark ? Well so did we... it sounds tempting but again, the lack of oodles of land to build the stadium on seems to eliminate downtown as a locale.

Which leads us to the question, where in the city is there a large tract of land, ripe for development, full of synergy and on-going revenue potential?

Well here's one clue: If your proposal to build a Government House for First Nations had been scooped, what would you want to take it's place on YOUR urban reserve? Would a new stadium at the Canada Packers site be a good consolation?

Step right up, Terry Nelson. And while you're at it, bring along local developers Joe Paletta and Joe Bova.

The Joes have already announced plans for a $70 million recreation complex at the Canada Packers site, to include hockey rinks, speed-skating ovals, rock-climbing walls, golf practice fields, a skateboarding park, bike paths and 18 outdoor soccer fields, and indoor pitches.

A big league football field would be a nice neighbour. Or better yet, a big brother.

Both sides of these individual Canada Packers developments are smarting after recent setbacks.

Nelson was primed to create the first Urban reserve in Winnipeg until the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs closed their own deal to build a $60-million government building near Polo Park Shopping Centre. This left Terry Nelson with an alleged pile o' cash set aside for a government house, and a slice of land at Marion and Archibald with no monument structure.

Paletta, meanwhile, had seen his own hotel/waterpark proposal for Headingley, called Northern Riviera, evaporate. The $35 million project was supposed to break ground this summer on land adjacent to the Red River Exhibition grounds and in competion with the Canad Inns/Red River Ex waterpark. However, one of the principle investors died, and with him his European money connections, leaving Paletta scrambling to find a new partner.

In the middle of this marriage of convenience is the city councillor for the area, Franco Magnifico, who had already lobbied for Western Diversification Funding and who told the media that the Bova/Paletta recreation park ( a campus, he calls it) will be financially self-sustaining once it's built.

Can we expect Coun. Magnifico to suit up for the ceremonial kickoff at the new Italo-First Nations Stadium, home of the Big Blue?

Quick. Somebody pinch us.