The Black Rod

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

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Free Press scalps The Black Rod for the true story about the Matthew Dumas shooting

Imagine our surprise to find a story from The Black Rod in the Winnipeg Free Press --- without attribution.

Oh, not the attribution part. We've come to expect that whenever we see the FP cribbing one of our stories.

The surprise was in seeing which story they scalped. And trying to guess why.

Last April, almost one year ago, in an exclusive story, The Black Rod told how a 10-year-old girl witnessed Matthew Dumas fighting with police in a back lane mere minutes before he was shot to death by a police officer on Dufferin Avenue.

It was the critical piece of the puzzle to understanding what happened that afternoon and what was going through the minds of Dumas and the police officers chasing him.The Winnipeg Free Press, along with the other mainstream media in Winnipeg, have studiously avoided reporting our exclusive, until now.

In a story about the gunning down on Saturday of Leon Dumas, the cousin of Matthew Dumas, reporter Bruce Owen writes:

"Matthew Dumas was fatally shot by a city police officer Jan.31 last year on Dufferin Avenue. He had been involved in a struggle with an officer in a back lane and broke away to run to the front street, where other officers pepper-sprayed him in an attempt to subdue him."

With that, the Free Press has finally broken the silence about what happened the day Matthew Dumas was killed.

The full details are still only in The Black Rod, but we applaud the fact that the truth of the case is being made public at last -- however abridged.

The MSM in Winnipeg has been pretending the story didn't exist for almost 12 months now. CBC confirmed our exclusive story, then sat on it because it contradicted the false CBC story that blamed the police for failing to arrest Dumas when they had a chance. The North End Times, a sister publication to the Free Press, confirmed our story separately, then suppressed it for the same reason.

Why has the Free Press finally run with it?

We suspect its because its already been more than a year since Dumas was shot and there's no hint of when an Inquest will be held. The so-called professional jounalists in town prefer to have their stories spoonfed to them by "official" channels, like an Inquest. But waiting for what could be a second year yet before the story is told officially seemed pointless.

Or maybe they were ashamed of the unmitigated revisionism evident in their coverage on the anniversary of the fatal Matthew Dumas shooting.

On Feb. 1, reporter Gabrielle Giroday wrote about 120 friends and family gathering "at a small snow covered plot of land on Dufferin Avenue to commemorate the occasion."

" Family members insist Dumas was not connected to the robbery police were investigating when he was chased and he had been walking on the street innocently by himself."

No he wasn't.

Police approached a group of 4 young men when Dumas bolted from the group and led the police on a chase. Prior to Giroday's story, there had been no question about Dumas running away from police and drawing attention to himself by his suspicious behavior.

Maybe Bruce Owen saw this as an opportunity to correct the record and slipped in The Black Rod's research about the altercation and escape in the lane.

Or maybe the newroom honchos were so busy trying to suck up to the new publisher by claiming our research as theirs, they forgot about the falsehoods Giroday reported only 2 months ago.

In the meantime, we'll have to have a few words with publisher Andy Ritchie about the ethics of professional journalists' taking credit for the work of bloggers. And while we do, we'll leave you with another exclusive story, and see how long before it surfaces in the MSM.

A week ago, five healthy young men in matching outfits walked into a local bar. We'll keep the name of the establishmen out of it, but suffice to say that if you scanned a list of bars from A to Z you would recognize it as one of the city's better known watering holes. The men, also unnamed, appeared intent on becoming better known, for better or worse.

What drew the attention of onlookers, was the unique crest worn on the leather jacket of each man. It bore a name. Something like Los Montagneros, which the more observant readers of The Black Rod will recall is the name of the so-called puppet club set up by the Bandidos motorcycle club. The jackets also carried four initials: S.Y.L.B., which astute observers of the scene will tell you stands for Support Your Local Bandidos.

Apparently, word of the appearance of the jacketed group spread like wildfire thanks to cell phone technology. It seemed like no-time before three members of the Hell's Angels rushed to the bar. The trio is well-known to even casual newspaper readers--Billy Bowden, Dale Donovan and Darren Hunter. But by the time they assembled, the other group had departed, having made their point.

And that point being: we're here.

Now, it's known that there's a worldwide truce between the Hell's Angels and the Bandidos. Given the depletion of the Hell's Angels ranks due to recent arrests, its unlikely anyone on their side wants to upset the balance. But territory carries a high value in certain circles, and some noses may be out of joint ( figuratively speaking, of course) over an incursion that appears more deliberate than accidental.

The burning question now is whether the truce applies to puppet clubs. And whether some hotheads can be trusted to let sleeping dogs lie.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Week of News: Past, Present and Future

It's not every week you get to see the past, the present and the future of news displayed before you.

This past week was a rare treat.

First, the past...

Last weekend, in advance of the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, both the National Post and the Globe and Mail carried stories about the sputtering anti-war "movement" in the U.S. The gist of both was that the anti-war campaign had failed to find any traction in the general public, and was driven by leftover hippies who were trying to relive their anti-Vietnam protest days.

Those, you may recall, were the glory days of the mainstream media, when anti-war protestors were deified and reporters were applauded for being openly critical of the government and of the military fighting the Communists in Vietnam.

Sadly (for the MSM veterans of Vietnam past), there was the present...

The next day we saw the proof of the advance stories. Anti-war marches across Canada, the U.S. and Europe drew pathetic "crowds." In Winnipeg a mere 75 protestors showed up at City Hall (according to CJOB) with barely 200 anti-everything marchers wending their way through downtown. In Toronto, a thousand protestors turned out, a far, far cry from the estimated 25,000 three years ago.

Even worse than the turnout was the reporting. The daily newspapers in Winnipeg both quoted the official spokesmen for the protests, Darrel Rankin and Glenn Michalchuk, without, as usual, mentioning the Communist credentials of the men. Rankin is the leader of the Communist Party in Manitoba and Michalchuk ran for office under the Marxist-Leninist banner.

While Free Press columnists don't hesitate to attack Christians who run for office or get involved in politics, apparently Communists get a free pass.

Why should their politics be an issue, you ask? Because knowing their Communist affiliations affects their credibility as protestor organizers. After all, who can forget the long history of the Communists in fighting for democracy, what with 90 years of secret police, gulags, absolute press censorship and all.

If you want to align yourself with that history, then your motives for protesting anything are suspect and open to challenge. Not that the Winnipeg reporters can figure that one out.

But the past seven days haven't been a complete bust for journalism. Newshounds got a hefty taste of the future....

All week the internet has been abuzz with startling news that's coming out of official Iraqi documents that have been published online by the U.S. government. Thousands of pages of raw files captured after the fall of Baghdad have been put on the internet to use the skills of private citizens as translators.

The results so far have been astonishing. Not that you would know if by reading the Free Press or the Sun or watching the local television news.

Here's a snapshot of some of the information uncovered in the Iraqi documents this week alone:

* Saddam Hussein began cooperating with Osama Bin Laden as early as March, 1995. Bin Laden contacted Iraqi officials and suggested ""carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. Saddam agreed to broadcast lectures by a radical Saudi preacher and left the door open for more. This document states "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open (in the future) based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation."

Another document reads:

Due to the recent situation of Sudan and being accused of supporting and embracing of terrorism, an agreement with the opposing Saudi Osama bin Laden was reached. The agreement required him to leave Sudan to another area. He left Khartoum in July 1996. The information we have indicates that he is currently in Afghanistan. The relationship with him is ongoing through the Sudanese side. Currently we are working to invigorate this relationship through a new channel in light of his present location.

* Iraq funded the Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the Philippines, an Islamic group with strong ties to al-Qaeda.

* A document dated March 23, 1997 details how "directors and managers" are supposed to hide documents and materials from UN inspectors looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

You might think that evidence of Saddam Hussein's cooperation with Osama Bin Laden, his financing of terrorist activity, and his campaign to hide banned weapons years after he allegedly destroyed his banned weapons would be newsworthy.

Well, it is on the internet and throughout the blogosphere. The MSM, however, has a different slant on what it considers news. You might even call it a bias.

The Winnipeg Free Press carried a story about a tiny town in Vermont voting "to impeach" President George Bush. But have you read a word about the Iraq documents?

Ask yourself why. The information is out there.

Even if you distrust the bloggers who have done the most to spread the new information in the Iraq documents, you can find translations on ABC's webpage. And Fox News. The newspaper can't claim ignorance.

It's decision to print an anti-Bush story instead of information supporting Bush's decision to go after Saddam Hussein is deliberate. The newspaper is promoting the "Bush lied" storyline in the face of facts which undermine it.

Thirty-two years ago, people had no idea how thoroughly the MSM slanted the news. Thanks to the internet, people now know how little they can trust the 'news' they get from the mainstream media outlets.

Newspapers like the Winnipeg Free Press are rapidly becoming yesterday's news.

The past, if you will.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Decoding Charles Adler and the Tory Three

It was just by fluke that The Black Rod caught the strangest interview on television since the days of Pollock and Pollock.

While switching channels past the nightly infomercials for Ab-Flex, miracle juicers, and girls just waiting for your call, we landed on Global's daily five minutes with Charles Adler.

Catching our eye was his guests---the three candidates for leadership of the Manitoba Consevative Party. Given that he had devoted a segment to them less than a week ago, we wondered why he had them back so soon.

Then we wondered why they were doing the whole show in code.

Luckily, unlike any other insomniacs or masochists watching, we had a code-book handy so that we were able to decipher the discussion.

On the surface, Adler was exploring the positions of his guests on the question of funding private abortion clinics. Ron Schuler had given an interview to The Winnipeg Sun on the topic and Adler had corralled the other candidates to discuss the matter, sort of.

Except that it was like watching a lost episode of Get Smart. We kept waiting for the Cone of Silence to descend.

Given that nobody really cares what this trio thinks about funding abortions at private clinics, you had to wonder what they were doing there. It was apparent that nobody was really talking about what they were talking about.

They were doing their level best to skirt THE WORD THAT DARES NOT SPEAK ITS NAME.

In the entire "discussion" about clinics, funding, federal law, adoption, social supports (eyes glazing over...ed) neither Adler, nor any one of his guests, had the guts to use the word they were so desparate to avoid.


There, we said it.

Adler, who brags about asking the tough questions, twisted himself into a pretzel (and with his body, you know how hard that is) to keep from saying the word. The closest he came was in asking Schuler about "people who" object to abortion.

Yet, for someone who also brags about being an entertainer, Adler went out of his way to avoid an entertaining interview for something exquisitely boring. If he had done his homework, he would have known that Schuler is already fighting an underground smear campaign based on his Christianity---Evangelical.

The drive-by slags have shown up on the blogosphere, always to be squelched asap by commenters who refer to a gentleman's agreement among the candidates not to say anything bad about their opponents.

Ken Waddell, the most outspoken of the Tory leadership candidates, almost let the cat out of the bag when he said he had discussed the abortion issue with his son, who manages his campaign. We listened intently, but Waddell's internal censor stepped in. He never said his son Mike is with Hockey Ministries International and his other son Rob is a counsellor with Youth for Christ.

Better to avoid the C-word, entirely.

Just for the record, Hugh McFadyen, who looked like he would rather gargle razor blades than discuss abortion on television, is a member of the Anglican Church, which, last we knew, was a Christian demonination.

Maybe McFadyen's discomfort had more to do with the fact that his camp was being blamed for the anti-Christian slurs against Schuler and he wishes the issue would go away and not drag him into a scrap that will leave everyone dirty.

Or maybe he and the others are afraid Free Press columnist Frances Russell will get wind that there's Christians running for office and make them stars in her next Christian-bashing column.

While we're not regular viewers of Adler's tiny television moments, we do think Global is missing a bet. Given that they're putting the resources to tape and broadcast the segment, they should run clips of the show on their evening news, just as Entertainment Tonight packages clips of Leno or Letterman.

Global has lately been sending reporters and cameramen to events which don't make the six o'clock news. While there's a benefit to pumping up the late news with original stories (the groundbreaking for a long-delayed Canad Inns hotel in Grand Forks, a fiery committee meeting at the Legislature), they should re-run the pieces on their evening news the next day. A good story not seen is a story gone to waste.

We predicted that Global's move to local news at six would shake up the other stations, starting with CBC. While the first ratings to reflect Global's move have not been published, we note that CBC has begun saturation advertising for its 6 p.m. (and only) newscast. And, as we suggested, they're highlighting their only asset --- Krista Erickson.

Gone is the "team" approach. No mention of the wretched I-Team. Sports reporter Mike Beauregard is obviously not a draw. The ads sell Krista and only Krista.

Which could turn out a risky strategy. Certain birdies --- legal eagles for you ornithologists --- tell us K's fiance Bob Morrison is telling folks he's not long for this burg after they visit Skibo Castle to do their Madonna and Guy Ritchie imitation. He and his soon-to-be Mrs. are flying the coop, he says. To the centre of the universe. Somebody page Peter....

Friday, March 17, 2006

Trouble in Toryland?

The editorial board of the Winnipeg Free Press knew something was wrong.

The "race" to replace Stuart Murray as leader of the Manitoba P.C.'s was more than lacklustre. It was downright strange.

Instead of using the opportunity to float bold ideas that would attract voters, the contenders were announcing eye-glazing platforms about obscure party rules.

The FP even wrote an editorial asking "What gives?"

Their first mistake was relying on the newspaper's Legislature reporters to give them a clue. They should know, by now, that if you have questions, you go to The Black Rod. Because we were thinking the exact same thing. What gives? Only, we knew where to go for the answer---the blogosphere.

Political reporting is usually peppered with anonymous sources---Insider Abe spinning here and Backroom Bob spinning there, all on the understanding that their insights are "not for attribution." But if you know where to go on the blogosphere, you'll find a sea of party members, insiders, and the occasional elected official posting comments unfiltered by reporters.

Many of the posts are by Anonymous, Anonymous, and even Anonymous. Some are by identifiable sources. Some by posters using pseudonyms. It's like listening to a party line (no pun intended) , as the commenters speak with one another, float rumours, pass on tips, and, the blog specialty, correct misinformation.

If you know how to listen, you can learn a lot. And we did. What we learned explained a lot, even as it shocked us.

For a start, we learned how weak the Conservative Party is in Manitoba.

No wonder the NDP aren't quaking in their boots over the series of scandals that would have brought down any other government.

The best estimate of membership in the Progressive Conservative Party is 5,000 to 6,000. Yikes. Can it be true? One blog commenter used that figure in two separate posts, without challenge or contradiction from known Party stalwarts. We think it is true.

Only five or six thousand members? This explains why the candidates for leadership started their campaigns with obtuse statements about policy votes, taking back the party (from who?), establishing new party offices, creating new party policy vice presidents. They're not talking to the population at large, they're talking to the true believers.

But there's not enough of those true believers out there (and according to commenter Chris, in 8 Winnipeg ridings there isn't even a functioning riding association). This could spell trouble with a capital 'T' in River City.

That's why at least two of the leadership candidates---Ron Schuler and Hugh McFadyen (we're not sure about Ken Waddell)--have an unspoken agenda. They're campaigning for the eyes and ears of federal Liberals, more than Manitoba conservatives.

They think that the Tories cannot defeat the NDP without appealing to federal Liberal voters. Hence the stress on appearing "moderate". Stress, hell, they spell it out in every policy statement.

We're moderate. We want to be in the moderate middle. Have we mentioned how moderate we are?

And it might explain why candidate Hugh McFadyen was so reluctant to go after Liberal Reg Alcock, even to the point of trying to undermine the nomination of Rod Bruinooge, who eventually knocked Reg off his throne.

When a party insider told us months ago that angling for Liberal voter support was the provincial Conservative Party strategy, we thought he was just being pessimistic about his Party's chances in the next election.

We didn't know, then, how low the membership was. Now his comments make new sense.

From what we heard Thursday on CJOB, Waddell is taking a different tack. He wants to attact voters by telling them what conservatism means. It doesn't sound like he's about to temper his campaign to win liberals, either small and large L.

This could cause some consternation in the other camps as the other contenders try to suck up to Liberals without badmouthing a fellow Tory.

The campaign has another six weeks to go before the members, however many there are, cast their ballots for a new leader. It could still be an interesting campaign.

Members got a sampling of the candidates at last night's fundraising dinner.

The night was a reflection of the personalities of the candidates - Ken Waddell's suite was low-key and the drinkers in the crowd quickly moved on to wetter climbs; McFadyen's suite attracted a packed crowd that dispersed early; and Schuler knew enough to keep his hospitality suite open longer than anyone else so people could linger at their leisure.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Waddell Ignored but Scrapping for Attention

They say the first impression is the strongest. And our first impression of Ken Waddell is that he's a scrapper.

Which could be fun to watch, given how the race for leader of the Manitoba Tories has been so listless that the Winnipeg Free Press was driven to write an editorial about it.

Because his base of operations isn't Winnipeg, his campaign for the leadership of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party has flown under the radar of the mainstream media's reporters.

But being an unknown to the big media players isn't necessarily a bad thing. It lets you define yourself instead of having them peg you.Waddell threw his hat into the ring two weeks ago, but you'd hardly know it by the amount of coverage he's received within the Perimeter Highway. Maybe there will be more after he formally files his papers tomorrow.

Meanwhile, The Black Rod decided to find out more about this farmer/publisher who's challenging two sitting MLA's for the party's top job.

For starters, at 57 he's the only greybeard in the race, a race his opponents, aged 43 and 39, are trying to define as a torch-passing moment when the new generation takes over from the old guard. Ken Waddell counters that his experience in local, municipal, provincial and national politics and public service gives him "a much wider base than any other candidate."

That experience includes more than a dozen years as a beef and grain farmer, four years as Mayor of Neepawa, 16 years as publisher of the Neepawa Banner, and various stints on local and provincial Chambers of Commerce and the board of the National Taxpayers Federation.Coming from a farming background, Waddell projects the rural can-do attitude that's frustrating to an NDP more at home in a milieu where people compete to be the victim du jour and plead for the government's help.

There seems to be a consensus that the big issue for the Tories in the next provincial election will be a drive to make Manitoba a 'have' province. Waddell fixed that plank in his platform, and he doesn't mince words.

"I entered this race to bring Manitoba back from the brink of destruction that has been wrought by the NDP socialists... Manitobans can turn Manitoba into a have province with a fully developed economic base in mining, forestry, manufacturing, agriculture, technology and education. What we need to take back is the province we all love so dearly, take it back from the socialist clutches that are strangling every aspect of Manitoba life and economy."

We said he's a scrapper, and he's the only one of the leadership contenders to date to set his sights firmly on Gary Doer and the NDP gang rather than concentrating on internal party mechanics.

"People are looking for inspiration, hope and dynamic leadership. THAT I can provide."

They say it sometimes helps to look at a situation from another perspective. If this was a schoolyard, we'd see:
* Hughie, the fancy boy whose lunch money someone will get later,
* Ronnie, who's so anxious to be liked he'll be happy to do anyone else's homework, and
* Kenny, who talks tough but needs a little more sussing out before the other kids offer to walk home with him.

In that way, Waddell poses a challenge to the perceived front runners even if they haven't acknowledged it yet. The tougher Ken talks, the more likely the older, more rooted members will see his candidacy as a respectable place to park their vote, until the other hopefuls show the piss and vinegar expected from a leader going for Gary Doer's job.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Now is No Time for Fiscal Restraint

We don't need no stinking public inquiry into the Crocus Fund, said Premier Gary Doer last week.

He had, he told the public, questioned himself and found "I have nothing to hide."

Of course, the last person who went on the record with that same statement was Wally Fox-Decent, and we all know how that turned out in the audit of Workers Comp.

If Doer had shut up right there, it would have been bad enough. But he had to give more reasons for stonewalling. And with each reason, he made a stronger argument for holding an inquiry a-s-a-p.

It would cost too much, said the Premier.


Do you need any more proof to dispel lingering doubts?

Here's an NDP government that's overspent every budget by hundreds of millions of dollars -- suddenly worried about spending. They're draining the Rainy Day Fund during the sunniest years in history and they've decided to draw a line in the sand.

No public inquiry on Crocus.

We can't afford it.

Finally, some fiscal restraint.

Inquiries are expensive; we spent $4.5 millon on the Sophonow inquiry, Doer said.

The Black Rod has shown that the Sophonow inquiry was a charade from start to finish. And like shopaholics, the NDP can't resist writing a cheque---unless its to uncover the secrets behind the Crocus scandal.

Doer may say he has nothing to hide, but the NDP's prime supporters, the Manitoba Federation of Labour, the sponsors of the Crocus Fund, are acting like people with everything to hide.

Oh, and they're against a public inquiry, too.

They denied any major problems with the fund until the auditor general published chapter and verse. They fought putting the fund into receivership. When all the fund directors quit, they cobbled together an interim board to keep the books out of the hands of the receiver (but failed to convince a judge to accept them).

After the auditor exposed the mismanagement of the Crocus Fund, the MFL rejected every call for a shareholders meeting. Suddenly they're all for a shareholders meeting to get the receiver to sell the fund to GrowthWorks Capital, an out-of-province venture capital fund. The whole purpose of the Crocus Fund was to keep control of Manitoba venture capital in Manitoba.

Why do we get the sense that the MFL fears what investigators will find when they delve into the way the Crocus Fund operated? And why do we have the feeling that the government's fingerprints are all over the scandal.

Gary Doer says the government has already fixed the problems identified by the auditor. And there's an RCMP investigation underway. And The Manitoba Securities Commission has launched its own process. A public inquiry would just be overkill.

Of course Doer doesn't say he stalled any investigation of Crocus for two years after the first allegations of problems with valuations of investments were raised. The Securities Commission plans hearings into Crocus, but they've already been delayed a year and no one knows if they will begin as scheduled May 1st. Watch for Crocus to admit it made mistakes, pay the fines -- and avoid any public accounting.

The RCMP investigation has been ongoing for almost a year. And Doer would like someone, anyone, to be charged. This would give the government benches a perfect opportunity to deflect all questions. 'Charges have been laid. It would be inappropriate to prejudice a fair trial. Ask us in a couple of years when the trials have been held and the appeals are all over.' Remember, the tainted blood trials just got underway, three years after charges were laid and nine years after the Krever Report.

And don't forget the class action lawsuit, said Doer.

Right. The class action that was filed seven months ago and the only thing that's happened is that the original lawyers were found in conflict of interest and have had to be replaced. Moving right along...

Bernie Bellan, the whistleblower who sank Crocus, doesn't want a public inquiry, either. He, like many frustrated Crocus investors, wants to see an end to the ordeal and he's receptive to the GrowthWorks offer.

But the Crocus scandal has grown way beyond the class action lawsuit and the 34,000 shareholders who lost money.

There's now a question of the public interest.

Manitoba taxpayers subsidized Crocus investors through tax breaks. In the Nineties, it seemed like a good idea. Venture capitalists would sooner invest in North Korea than Manitoba in those days. Why not let the unions raise money and re-invest it in Manitoba. What was there to lose? And in the Nineties, you couldn't lose. The losing started with the tech bubble crash in 2000 ( nonetheless the love affair with the local media flourished for years after).

But Manitobans deserve to know whether the market crash turned the Crocus Fund into a government-supported Ponzi scheme in the years that followed.

Did Crocus need new investors to pay off the old investors, and did they reveal the truth about the poor investments to those new investors?

Don't forget that these were the years the Crocus board was giving money to every Blye-by-night operator in sight. The receiver is getting the bad investments off the books, even if he has to take ten cents on the dollar like he did with the million dollar-plus stake in the Blye Brothers film production scheme.

Were investments like this kept on the books at full value for years to deceive new investors?

And throughout those years, what did the NDP know? And what did they do about it?

We know for a fact they mocked the Tories for raising concerns about Crocus valuations in 2002. We know they had a government representative on the board supposedly sitting to protect the government's shares. And we know the NDP has silenced those successive government appointed directors.

We wonder how much Tim "Don't mention Hydra House" Sale knew. Sale was the NDP's point man on Crocus in the 90's, back when the living was easy.

If you listen to Gary Doer today, you'll hear that Crocus was a Gary Filmon initiative, and its the Tories who failed to act promptly after large investments like Westsun failed.

It's funny how Tim Sale sang a different tune in 1998.

During debate on Bill 40--The Manitoba Employee Ownership Fund Corporation Amendment Act, Sale sang hosanahs to Crocus

Well, in the case of Manitoba, that was one of the participating moments that caused the government of Howard Pawley to begin discussions with the labour movement towards the development of a fund that would allow for the investment of public funds, the workers' funds, pension funds in a Venture Capital Corporation, managed by the labour movement, that would enable companies like that company I referred to, the Varta battery company, to be taken over sometimes with the workers' involvement, sometimes without, but the whole purpose being to maintain the investment, to maintain the jobs, to strengthen the economic infrastructure of a city.


Now, it is quite a tribute to Manitobans' commitment to their own economy and a tribute to Manitobans' willingness to invest in a fund that was to be managed very professionally and very competently by the labour movement...


The Crocus Fund has a very careful investment screen. This is the term they use to describe the process by which they screen investments that might be made by the fund. They have some very important criteria which I think all members, and particularly the government, might consider when it is looking at economic development.

For example, they look at the question of whether the proposed investment is environmentally sound and environmentally sustainable. They look at the issue of whether the proposed investment will turn over some of its profits to its workers, and they look at the question of whether down the road the company is prepared to turn over ownership through an employee buy out or employee ownership transfer. They look at employment equity. They look at a whole range of good corporate citizenship, sound modern management practices, which will give companies the best possible chance to survive and thrive.


So really, it has had an outstanding success rate and some very good companies which have come on the Manitoba scene, including things like Westsun International, Green Gates Restaurant, and a number of other companies have been the recipients of Crocus investments.

Green Gates? Sound familiar? It's been in the news lately, although rarely connected to Crocus.

Green Gates was actually one of the Crocus Fund's prime experiments. You have to recall that Crocus CEO Sherman Kreiner was using the fund to promote employee ownership, one of the basic elements of the Mondragon model of labour capitalism that was the backbone of Crocus.
Here's how he saw this investment:

For us, Green Gates is not just an extraordinary country inn. It is also an opportunity to have significant labor market impacts on a sector which has generally viewed its workforce as transient and treated them poorly. Green Gates is dedicated to the proposition that high quality restaurant jobs, with good wages and benefits, career advancement opportunities, empowerment through participation, and financial security through ownership, will translate into high quality service.

If Green Gates is successful in proving this connection, they will put pressure on their competitors in this sector to match their practices and transform restaurant work into an occupation with a viable, long-term career track. We are assisting their effort through the provision of extensive supervisory training and financial education programs on-site.

Today, Green Gates lies in ruins, like so many Crocus investments.

Almost unnoticed in the stories of its demise is the mention of "approximately 30 individuals who partially owned the restaurant". Employee owners.

Crocus was always on the lookout for ways to promote employee ownership of the companies it invested in. It was very proud of Green Gates and Tim Sale bragged about the company in the Legislature.

The Crocus Fund has done outstanding work to make it possible for employees of, for example, Green Gates ... to develop an equity stake in these companies on the part of their employees. This obviously increases the employees' commitment to their companies, to their work. It allows for the fair sharing of the results of their hard work amongst all levels of the company. So this fund has been an outstanding success on the grounds of its fostering of capital pools and its fostering of employee ownership.


On second thought, we agree with Gary Doer that there shouldn't be a public inquiry into the Crocus scandal.

There should be an omnibus public inquiry. Crocus is the tip of Doer's iceberg.

The interrelations between the MFL, the Crocus Fund, the Workers Compensation Board, the Teachers Retirement Allowance Fund, and the NDP government all need to be examined under oath in a public inquiry. It should focus on

- how extensively the NDP government, aided and abetted the labour movement in funding and promoting its experiment in quasi-socialist labour capitalism,

- how much damage has been done to the provincial economy, and

- who in authority failed the whistleblowers, shareholders, and taxpayers -- and especially the employee/owners who live with the consequences of Crocus' failure to properly evaluate the criteria of ensuring the businesses invested in, had "the best possible chance to survive and thrive. "

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Cindy and Strauss skate down Portage from different directions

If covering speedskating Olympian Cindy Klassen was a sport, we could call it the Cindylympics.

And the 'gold' would surely go to 92-CITI-FM host Cosmo.

Cosmo scooped the rest of the city's corps of journalists last week with Cindy's first post-Olympics interview on his afternoon drive-home show.

Even better, Cindy accepted Cosmo's invitation and pledged to lead an Olympic winners parade of rollerbladers down Portage Avenue when she returns to Winnipeg, likely in early April.

Now that's news. And you didn't hear or read it anywhere else, because the maintream media doesn't aircheck Cosmo's show. After this, they better start. He's an entertainer who obviously makes things happen.

The Winnipeg Free Press thought it was making things happen when it launched a counteroffensive to a stinging story that appeared in the Globe and Mail. The story, by Globe reporter Julius Strauss, ran ten days ago and its still reverberating.

Strauss wrote about the contrast between the gentrification of the Exchange District and the decrepit look of downtown Winnipeg a mere five minute walk away.

While most large cities have jarring contrasts between their haves and have-nots, there is something brutal and depressing about a maiden visit to downtown Winnipeg that sets it apart.

The central streets of Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto buzz with a life force that emanates confidence and purposefulness. In Winnipeg, there is only a feeling of listlessness and displacement.

He featured a new condo owner in the Exchange who said many of her friends were considering leaving the suburbs and moving downtown, but....

One of the great deterrents stopping Winnipeggers from moving downtown is crime.

Although the city's West End, which borders on some of the most exclusive parts of town, is statistically more dangerous, the downtown has a large transient and homeless population.

They come to central Winnipeg because it is simply one of the cheapest parts of the country to live, home to several dingy hotels and homeless shelters.

Winnipeg has been "revitalizing" its downtown for twenty years, and the result, says Strauss, is...

... many property prices around Portage and Main hit rock bottom and much of the downtown was taken over by cheap hotels and drinking holes... Many Winnipeggers say the reason they try to avoid the downtown is the preponderance of panhandlers.

What he wrote is nothing more than what everyone in Winnipeg has said at one time or another. Yet the Free Press played it as the greatest slander, and raised a hue and cry in defence of the City.

Which is such supreme irony since the Winnipeg Free Press was one of the first to abandon the downtown in the rush to the suburbs. Their only remaining contact is to assign some reporter every now and then to visit the Lost World, like Livingstone in Darkest Africa, and return with quaint tales of the strange people that still live and work there.

The newspaper couldn't pretend it was practicing journalism. It was engaged in boosterism, pure and simple. It devoted pages to pretty pictures, suitable for the postcards the mayor wants us to send to friends and relatives in other parts of the country.

Sadly, nobody noticed the absence of people in the pictures, which only supports the Strauss article.

It was as if you moved into a new neighbourhood and the family next door has a fat, homely son. His mother says he's smart, sensitive and artistic. After you've gotten to know him, you realize he's an okay guy. But it doesn't matter. Every time you see him, all you can think of is he should lose some weight and get a better haircut. Downtown Winnipeg is that fat, homely kid.

If the Free Press had wanted to do real reporting on downtown and how people see it, they could have followed in the footsteps of The Black Rod -

They could have reported on how security staff at Portage Place, the downtown's central shopping centre, have to wear body armour for protection.

They could have reported on the colony of sniffers that's set up at Higgins and Main, another five minute walk from the Exchange District. The city's response has been to remove the bus shelter that they had turned into their own crash pad.

The Free Press could have gone in search of the panhandlers who've moved into the new downtown Library for the winter. Strauss writes about them and they're not hard to find.

They could have interviewed City Councillor Don Benham, the champion of the panhandlers, who argues for their right to roam downtown and annoy people, regardless how it reflects on the city to visitors.

They could have attended an event at the MTS Centre and watched the panhandler swarm the crowd. The new arena does bring thousands downtown, and each one goes home and tells their neighbours about having to run a guantlet of scummy streetpeople. If that's not an attraction, we don't know what is.

They could even have read their own newspaper. Take, for example, this real-estate story Tracey Bryksa:

Condos wear disguise on Academy Road
Sun Feb 5 2006

IT seems like the condominium market is going gangbusters in this city these days. New projects are popping all over town and the more competitive the market gets, the more interesting the project.Take, for example, the new project that is being built on Academy Road. Located at 85 Academy, across the street from St. Mary's Academy and just west of the Maryland Bridge, Academy Manor is a boutique-style condominium that is poised to change the condominium market in this city...


When they were originally working with the developers to find the right spot to build, Newman says potential buyers told them they wanted to be "downtown." But after considering numerous downtown sites -- including Exchange District warehouses, several vacant lots and the more exclusive Waterfront Drive -- she says the same buyers all had the same reaction: "No, not that downtown." The Academy Road spot turned out to be an ideal location.

"It gives you that downtown feeling without being downtown," she says. "You're still close and have all the pluses of downtown, without the negatives."

And as for reporter Julius Strauss; well, after learning more about his career from his website, we think he can handle having a few brickbats thrown his way.

The son of a Welsh mother and a Hungarian father and born in London, he became the Globe and Mail's national correspondent based in Winnipeg in 2005. Prior to that he had worked for the Daily Telegraph in Moscow. And prior to that he was a war reporter who travelled from conflict to conflict around the globe.

The war in Bosnia
Uprising in Albania
The Kosovo War
Civil war in Sierra Leone
He was there.

After 9/11 he spent a month in Afghanistan " living with a warlord and going to work on horse-back." That was followed by 12 weeks in northern Iraq covering the Kurds as the Americans fought their way to Baghdad.

In 2002 he moved to Russia as the Daily Telegraph's Moscow Correspondent. He reported on the attack on the Nord Ost theatre in Moscow when Chechen rebels seized more than 800 hostages. "The Russians subdued the attackers with gas and then shot them, but 130 innocents died from gas inhalation." He went into the Chechen capital of Grozny with a Russian Spetsnaz unit.

In 2004 he returned to Iraq to cover the uprising in Najaf, Iraq. In September that year he was back in Russia at the school in Beslan where a hostage taking by Chechen rebels ended in the murders of 300 civilians, half of them children.

From Sarajevo to Baghad, Belgrade to Kabul, Strauss has seen cities under stress. Winnipeg wasn't the worst, and reporters should stop acting as if he said it was.