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:

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Tim Sale Story: A Free Press fairy tale

Someone call a doctor. She's got a bad case of amnesia.

How can you write about Tim Sale and not mention Hydra House, the granddaddy of the scandals that's tarring the NDP government.

* Whistleblower Jim Small wrote to then-Family Services Minister Tim Sale warning him about the free-spending of the managers of Hydra House, a non-profit housing corporation.

* Sale, setting the standard for NDP investigations, slandered him in the Legislature by dismissing his complaints as coming from a "disgruntled employee".

* He then ordered a review of a carefully selected slice of Small's allegations, which, as expected, "cleared" Hydra House of all wrongdoing.

* Until two years later, that is, when the auditor general did his own investigation and substantiated all of Jim Small's complaints.

Of course, a couple of million dollars had been misspent by then but Tim Sale didn't care, he had moved on to the Health portfolio, and it was someone else's problem.

And so was Aiyawin, the non-profit native housing corporation, which was also enmeshed in allegations of financial irregularities. Yes, they too had come to the attention of then-Housing Minister Tim Sale, who hemmed and hawed and never quite got around to investigating them.

So, 18 months later when the auditor general delivered a report condemning the problems of Aiyawin, Tim Sale was, you got it, gone.

His tenure at the Health Department, replacing the overwhelmed Dave Chomiak, has been anything but rosy. Not that Mia Rabson has noticed.

Sale has managed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more each year and the health care system keeps coming apart at the seams. And don't even mention the people dying waiting for treatment in Emergency wards (no problem, she didn't- ed.).

Which brings us to Tim Sale's timely departure.

You see, in early July, a poll was released indicating that for the first time since the NDP was elected in 1999, the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives are leading in popular support. By five points, 43 percent to the NDP's 38 percent.

Winnipeg Free Press columnist Frances Russell, an NDP supporter, proclaimed the reason was obvious. Roads. And highways.

People were fed up with potholes and poor roads and were taking it out on the government, she declared.

like university professors Paul Thomas and Alan Mills immediately concurred. Roads, they said. And highways. It's obvious.

Well, boys...and girl. It's not.

The poll was conducted over the least two weeks of June, which corresponded with the closing days of the Legislature. And the big issue at the Legislature was not roads. Or highways.

It was health care. Namely how the shortage of doctors meant the closing of hospital emergency wards. And Health Minister Tim Sale delivered his usual icy response each day.

It's not such a big problem. We've got it under control. Why are you griping?

The Opposition was griping, because voters are griping.

Everyone in Manitoba has either experienced the health care system, or knows somebody who has. And despite all the millions Tim Sale has spread around, people have lots to gripe about.

If it's not enough doctors to staff emergency wards, it's how long it takes to see a doctor when you need one.

We started to write about the four-hour waits at Misericordia Hospital, where people are told to go if they need a doctor for a non-life-threatening problem. Except that family and friends just laughed at us. Four hours? We wish, they said. Try six hours. Try eight hours.

And it's not just Misericordia. It's throughout the system. And the NDP knows it.

So Tim Sale, the Health Minister, is retiring from politics. Expect him to start by leaving cabinet. His replacement, of course, will not be able to answer questions in the House when the Legislature resumes sitting in late September. House rules doncha know.

So much for the Opposition's plan to take up where they left off. Purely coincidental, of course.

Sale will blaze a trail to the Exit door for others whose presence at election time could be poisonous on the campaign trail.

Say goodbye to Dave Chomiak. He of the promise to "end hallway medicine in six months." The NDP plan consisted of getting the unions to stop compaining about hallway medicine. Problem solved.

When it was pointed out patients were still in the hallways of hospitals, the NDP said that couldn't be. Those hallways had been redesignated waiting areas. Problem solved.

Some people still didn't get it and kept griping. So the next year the NDP pointed to official medical records that showed there was no hallway medicine.

Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck discovered that the magic secret involved pairing patients in hallways with rooms at the far reaches of the hospital. One patient and one room cancelled each other out, even if the patient was in a hallway and the room was empty. Problem solved.

Except that people might not see it that way. So, it's time for a new health minister, someone not burdened with a promise unkept and scandals unforgotten.Someone, like maybe, Minister Huff 'n Puff, himself. Aka Justice Minister Gord Macintosh.

Sure he's been a disaster as minister of justice. Street gangs are rampant. Motorcycle gangs unchecked. The crack epidemic uncontrolled. Car theft epidemic.The value of life in Manitoba worth one day in jail.

But as former House leader, he knows the rules of the Legislature. He can stall the Opposition through the winter until an election is called in the spring just before the Securities Commission may get around to holding hearings into the Crocus Fund scandal.

After all, you can't stall an investigation foreever. Eighteen months to two years is about par, even with the new leader of the Conservatives on side. Ask Tim Sale. He's got more experience dodging scandals than anyone else in cabinet.

In fact before he got into cabinet he was the NDP's point man on - you guessed it -
Crocus, and saw nothing wrong with investments in Westsun and Green Gates.

Ok Ok, maybe that was too early for Tim to tell there something amiss.

But when Seven Oaks School Division's Brian O'Leary leaked a provincial math test and was reported by a teacher in 1998, O'Leary's biggest defender was - that's right -
none other than Tim Sale.

So like we said, ask Tim Sale about dodging scandals. But hurry. His time is short. There's an election to win.

And while you're at it, ask him when he's going to rise in the House and apologize to whistleblower Jim Small.

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