The Black Rod

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

Name:
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: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Katz wins, we do the Post-Mortem

The Big Freeze

Thank goodness the election campaign is over. Now they can take the real Sam Katz out of the freezer, where he's been kept for the past seven weeks in a cryogenically frozen state. When he thaws out, they can tell him he won.

Katz is one of the most charming people in North America. Anyone who has met him in person knows he's sweet and funny, warm and engaging, not the klutz fronting the Katz re-election campaign.

There's no doubt that they were using a double of Sam Katz throughout the race. The real Katz could cruise through a campaign on personality alone. He could just be himself and voters would trust him with their first-born. He would never stoop to something as stupid as turning spray paint or synchonized traffic signals into a mayoral election issue.

Okay, okay, last time he promised a war on mosquitoes with mosquito-killing briquettes. But he was new, so cut him some slack. We blame the body-double this time.

When Mayor Sam is brought to room temperature, he'll prove he's back by announcing a rock-and-roll museum/slash/nightclub at the Metropolitan Theatre and the new stadium for the Blue Bombers at the Canada Packers site that Franco Magnifico was hinting at on CJOB.

You mark our words.

Fresh O.U.T. of Ideas

That's what you get for hiring family.

At least that's the best explanation we can offer for the absolutely appalling campaign run by the Katz team.

The most exciting moment came early on when they announced Juno nominee rapper Fresh I.E. and curling champion Jennifer Jones as co-chairs of Katz's election campaign.

The pair then disappeared for the next month. Wassup with that?

Hey, dude. Fresh I.E. writes rap songs. The number of raps for Sam? Zero.

Jennifer Jones is one of the most beautiful women in the city. So, of course, the einsteins got her to do radio ads.

Pretty girl. On Radio. Brilliant, guys.

Working Both Sides of the Street

CJOB snagged former councillor John Angus as their election pundit.

Was that the same John Angus who was working for Jennifer Zyla's campaign in River Heights/Fort Garry?

You don't think that had anything to do with his prediction Zyla would win, do you?

Dreadful

The only thing worse that the Sam Katz's terrible election campaign was the dreadful coverage of the election by the Winnipeg Free Press.

Two experienced reporters working full-time for two months and not a single story hinting that Mark Lubosch, the man behind the smoking ban, was toast or that veteran Jae Eadie was lost. Almost every winning incumbent and newcomer said the key issue in his or her riding was crime, and the only story in the Free Press was how crime was not a valid issue.

But the topper had to be how the Free Press completely missed the revolt in River Heights/Fort Garry against incumbent Donald Benham.

Three weeks before the election The Black Rod flagged the ward as one to watch. Something's brewing, we said. Benham is acting strangely, cutting his ties with his staunchest allies on council. Almost as if he's scared to be associated with them.

A week before the election, ultimate winner Brenda Leipsic released a press release welcoming two prominent defectors from Benham's camp who helped get him elected in 2004. They said a big reason they were abandoning Benham was his knee-jerk negativity towards Katz. Anyone with a lick of news sense recognized this as big news.

The Winnipeg Free Press didn't carry a word about it.

Finally, on Tuesday, the day before the election, the Free Press profiled the battle of River Heights.

The story read as if it was tossed together at the last minute (it actually was the last minute). It consisted of a follow to a story that ran the day before in the Winnipeg Sun about a photocopy of a story Benham wrote attacking Pope Paul II which had been left on cars outside some neighbourhood churches. It was padded out with a few cheap shots at Sam Katz, the specialty of reporter Mary Agnes Welch.

In fact her reporting got so bad that editor Bob Cox had to apologize for it by way of an unprecedented column offering "clarifications" of two of earlier her stories. Welch did manage to mention the Leipsic news release--- in the second last paragraph of the story. She didn't identify the two men (Michael Radcliffe, his former official agent, and Bob Vandewater, his former chief fundraiser) nor did she offer their reasons for abandoning Benham. Why would that be of interest to anybody, right?

She ended the story with a single mention of third candidate Jennifer Zyla.

It was clear that Benham was her favorite and she was going to do all she could to resuscitate his fading chances by slagging Leipsic for having Katz's support and barely mentioning Zyla.

Benham was the target of mudslinging, she said. (Bad Leipsic. Bad Zyla.)
While Leipsic had faced criticism. (That Donald, always taking the high road. Whatta guy.)

Benham's column, the one left on car windshields, was written when he was a reporter and journalism instructor. Uh, so what? He wants credit for getting his facts right?

The column criticized the Pope as irrelevent, said Welch. Actually, Benham wrote "At best he is irrelevant, at worst a continuing menace to a fragile world." We think maybe it was the "continuing menace" part that upset Catholics?

Benham apologized for the column, she said. What did he apologize for? For writing the whole thing? Or was it a weasel apology---I'm sorry if you were offended (you thin-skinned Papists)?

Welch doesn't say. She's too busy snidely mentioned Leipsic's "cosy relationship" with Katz, that she's "his handpicked favourite" who enjoys "behind-the-scenes support" of the mayor and staff.

Benham declared the mayor's "meddling" won't work, Welch wrote.


Well, maybe it did.

Dumber than Pumpkins

The pamphlet affair has become a cause celebre among some media types. The Winnipeg Sun called it a smear. The term was being freely used by reporters election night.

Yet none of these journalists explains what the smear is?

If someone else wrote the column and claimed Benham did it, that would qualify. But the column was written by Benham, something he freely admits. Those are his words, unedited.

He's apologized. But so what? He wrote what he did and must have meant it when he wrote it.

Did the distributor of the pamphlet intend readers to believe Benham put it on their windshields because his picture was printed on the back with his campaign office phone number? Or was he just drawing attention to the fact that the author and the candidate were one and the same?

Someone was upset enough to have kept the ten year old column and decided to bring it to the attention of Catholics who might have not read the column or had forgotten it. It's not a smear to remind people what a political candidate thinks, or once thought, even if its embarassing to that candidate.

should have told that to Brenda Leipsic and Jennifer Zyla who showed the public they both turned dumber than pumpkins when they were put in the spotlight .

Confronted by reporters about the pamphlet, both women said they opposed attacks on anyone's religion.

"I'm myself am familiar with religious slurs. It's wrong and it's ignorant," said Leipsic.
"To bring religion into civic politics, to me, is so irrelevant." said Zyla.

Uh, ladies.
Nobody was attacking Benham's religion.
If anything, he was indirectly attacking Catholicism by attacking the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church.

If you want to see what a real smear is, all you need to do is listen to the story CJOB was running Wednesday. It's so short, we'll run the whole thing:

It's been a heated race in River Heights, where Mayor Sam Katz has endorsed an opponent of Benham.Then this past weekend a column from the former journalist from ten years ago that suggested Pope John Paul the second was a hypocrite was placed on windshields of vehicles outside two churches within the ward. The intent was clear - embarass the incumbent. Sources point to key people within the Katz team. Flat denials from their campaign. CJOB's Richard Cloutier reporting.

Richard Cloutier accurately honed in on the key fact. "The intent was clear -- embarass the incumbent."

But embarassing a candidate is not a smear unless you use false information in the attempt.

Say, for example, claiming that "sources point to key people within the Katz team." Now that qualifies as a smear. Who are the sources? Unnamed, of course. What are their credentials? Did they see someone sneak out of Katz's office with a handfull of pamphlets? Did they see someone leave a pamphlet and then jump into a car marked Vote for Sam?

No clue. Simply a claim with not even a hint of proof.

Cloutier should be embarassed to have had anything to do with this smear. Our advice: leave it to the professionals at the Free Press.

Dan Lett has been at it for well over a year, starting with the story he and Mary Agnes Welch wrote about a non-existant complaint against Sam Katz for conflict-of-interest. After a couple of more conflict-of-interest stories, Lett finally confessed last week that none of them were true, that Katz had done no wrong, the rules had been followed, but the rules had to be changed to comply with the Free Press's twisted reporting.

Lett continued the Free Press smear campaign today
.

He and his colleagues ignored the River Heights campaign when Donald Benham was losing it, but now they fiercely champion the victim card, and expanded the allegations of dirty tricks in the ward. In the past year, The Black Rod has exposed every one of the newspaper's smear attacks against Sam Katz and it looks like we have another 4 years work ahead of us.

Trying to keep one step ahead of scrutiny, Lett is now accusing other people of a smear campaign -- against Benham. For example, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, whose "smear" consisted of reminding people that documentation legally acquired through a Freedom of Information application showed how liberally Benham used his city hall credit card, for everything from a $400 Sobey's spree, to books on how to win elections. He even used it to pay for a haircut (which we hope he got a refund for).


Lett's slant is that the CTF used "ambiguous documents" and it doesn't matter because Benham paid the money back (once he got caught).

Where's the smear, Dan? The ambiguous documents are clear, cold, hard, audited facts. And what better time to raise a candidate's misuse of public funds than during an election campaign?

And now he's parroting the CJOB story which itself depends on anonymous sources to drag the Mayor into the River Heights Pope-pamphlet issue. But because CJOB said it, Lett can ignore the lack of cold, hard facts and treat the rumour as truth.

Now that's smearology at it's best.


Harvey promises

Re-elected councillor Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) was clear on his No. 1 priority when interviewed on Global News.

"Backlanes," he said.

Councillors from the suburbs just don't understand backlanes, he said, and he's tired to fielding complaints from citizens. So "backlanes" it is.

We confess we were a bit surprised. We fully expected him to come out with the other firm pledge he made during the election campaign.

Swerve magazine sent out a questionaire to election candidates and Harvey Smith was the most enthusiastic respondent to question No. 1.

1. Former mayor Glen Murray advocated the development of a "gay village" (a business and residential area largely composed of gay/ lesbian people similar to ones in other major North American cities) for downtown Winnipeg. The idea was that this would act as a hub for culture and a focus of entrepreneurial spirit that would help revitalize the core. Do you agree with this idea and would you support it?

Harvey Smith (incumbent councilor Daniel McIntyre) It is too bad that Glen Murray had his eyes on greener pastures, giving up the position of Mayor to run federally. Just by being the first gay Mayor of a Canadian city was a first step to redefine Winnipeg as a welcoming centre for gays. Now it is important to elect individuals to City Council who will carry Murray's view forward. I support this concept for in visiting San Francisco I was excited by what the gay community has done to make that city's business community dynamic.

1) The establishment of a "gay/lesbian village" could be a real boon to the City of Winnipeg. I would be prepared to introduce and support a motion that would give tax and financial incentives similar to those given to corporations wanting to establish in Winnipeg. The initiative for establishing such a village should come from the gay/lesbian community itself and would develop a community of businesses and residences in and around the village.

Kaj Hasselriis may have fallen short in his bid to be mayor, but he can rest assured that Harvey Smith has picked up his torch and will carry it high at city council.

Junior -- call home

Among the mysteries of this campaign is the whereabouts of anti-Katz columnist Gordon Sinclair.


Sinclair, who openly wrote of trying to recruit Lloyd Axworthy to save the city from Katz, filed not a single column inch about the election after telling of his desire for a bury-the-hatchet lunch with Katz (results, and who picked up the tab as yet unknown).

In 2004 he used his Free Press column to boost Don Benham by providing oodles of free plugs. But this time around, Gordo's visibility matched his credibility - zero.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The unreported race: knock 'em down, drag 'em out in River Heights/Fort Garry

When they do a post mortem on the 2006 civic election campaign, the No. 1 question will be why the news media did such a poor job covering the hottest race in the city?

We're referring, of course, to the election in River Heights/Fort Garry where incumbent Donald Benham is pitted against two challengers, Brenda Leipsic and Jennifer Zyla.

This dust-up has turned into a surrogate mayoral election thanks to the dearth of credible candidates running against Sam Katz.

It's no wonder that the MSM has treated the race for mayor as a sideshow, given the poor quality of opponents: an unemployed fringe festival performer, a "self-employed" joke candidate, and a hard-left socialist who told a community newspaper that her proudest accomplishment in politics was an empty field of tall grass.

It's in River Heights ward that the real issues of the city resonate, with candidates who serve as stand-ins for the mayoral election.

- Benham, a former journalist and the incumbent, has been the most vocal opponent of Sam Katz at city council on almost every issue.

- Leipsic, a marketing consultant, helped organize Katz's City Summit, where former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani promoted his crime-fighting methods which Katz had adopted as the centrepiece of a new term in office if re-elected.

- Zyla, a small business owner familiar with the challenges of operating in Winnipeg, is also the first vice chairman of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba.

The Black Rod flagged River Heights as a ward to watch three weeks ago. The pundits had all given their opinion that incumbents were next to impossible to defeat. But we noticed that Benham was acting strangely

He passed up an opportunity to bash Sam Katz.

This was so unusual we drew attention to it. Why was Benham not joining in on the slam - Sam debate over leasing a slice of land for a parking lot next to the baseball stadium? Why was he apparently putting some distance between himself and his biggest ally on city council, Jenny Gerbasi?

So we began to pay closer attention to the ward. And we noticed that Benham was not acting like a confident incumbent. He was looking scared. But why?

We expected the news media to answer that question. We obviously expected too much.

Yet the clues keep coming in.

This past Saturday the Winnipeg Sun carried a story about a rally at city hall of opponents to the Olywest hog processing plant proposed for St. Boniface. The newspaper had a photo of the politicians showing solidarity with the protestors. There was mayoral candidate Marianne Cerilli. There was city councillor Jenny Gerbasi. There was councillor Harvey Smith. There was council candidate Dan Vandal.

Missing, again, was Donald Benham.

The Uniter, the University of Winnipeg student newspaper, continues to have the best civic election coverage in town with candidate profiles by Michelle Dobrovolny. In her look at River Heights/Fort Garry we noticed a startling omission in Donald Benham's answer to the question Other than previous terms on council, what experience will you bring to City Hall?

Glen Murray had been deleted from Benham's memory.

He talked about teaching at the University of Winnipeg and Red River College; about working at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Winnipeg Sun, and CBC radio; about his "time" in public relations and political communications. But no mention of ex-Mayor Glen.

Benham spent two years kneeling at Murray's right knee as his director of communications, the two years when Murray was touting his New Deal for Winnipeg. And now Benham doesn't want to talk about it?

Why? Why is he distancing himself from Glen Murray whose ideas he once embraced enthusiastically.

Election reporters haven't given us any reason to believe that challengers Leipsic and Zyla are forcing Benham to change his long-held positions. In fact, in the Uniter profile, Benham remains the odd man out when asked what is the key issue in the riding.Leipsic and Zyla said public safety and crime. Benham said roads. (Note he said roads and not the poisoning of children by nerve toxin. He's apparently doffed his tin foil hat and abandoned the anti-malathion/what-West-Nile-Virus campaign of the Moonbat contingent, at least at election time.)

Election night will show us which of the candidates was out of touch with the voters.

The most significant development in the election campaign appears to be the defection to Leipsic of two of Don Benham's biggest supporters in the last election.

Michael Radcliffe was Benham's official agent and Bob Vandewater was his chief fundraiser. A news release from the Leipsic camp says Radcliffe "said he became disenchanted with Benham because he seems to object to all issues just for the sake of objecting. "He thinks he is the leader of the opposition at city hall an attitude that is out of step with the residents of the ward." "

Both men said they doubted any of the people who endorsed Benham in the 2004 election still supported him. A bold claim, but no election reporter thought it was important enough to contact those people and ask.

In terms of election coverage, it's notable that the news release announcing the defections was reported in the Winnipeg Sun but not in the Winnipeg Free Press. Does anyone know why the FP passed on the biggest story of the most contested race in the election?

As late as today, two days before the election, the FP printed its profile of the River Heights race and still didn't mention the defections. However, reporter Mary Agnes Welch did make a last ditch effort to rehabilitate Benham by referring to his "two years on council relentlessly picking apart Mayor Sam Katz's threadbare agenda."

Old school journalism would call that editorializing, but obviously it's okey-doke at the Andy Ritchie school of journalism.

Benham, however, may be wishing he got less notice in today's Winnipeg Sun.

He made the front page in a story about someone's attempt to remind people about Benham's opinion of Pope John Paul II a decade ago. The Sun calls it a smear campaign.

But Benham acknowledged that he did, indeed, write the column attacking the Pope that was copied and placed on car windshields near St. Ignatius Catholic Church. The smear, apparently, lies in the fact Benham's picture and campaign office phone number were printed on the back.

Benham wrote, ten years ago in the tiny weekly Metro, that "At best (Pope Jean Paul II) is irrelevant, at worst a continuing menace to a fragile world." He said he later apologized for the column. But as a journalist he should know that nobody remembers apologies. That's why the Winnipeg Free Press doesn't bother with them even after fabricating quotes and reporting on complaints about the Mayor that never happened.

And if he had read the how-to-win-an-election books he bought with his city hall credit card, he would know that anything ever written or said by a candidate is fair game in an election. And crying about something so irrelevent as a 10-year-old story only raises attention to what would otherwise die a quick natural death.

But his overreaction is another sign of something brewing under the surface in River Heights ward.

If cutting his ties with the malathion moonbats, with Jenny "just-say-no" Gerbasi, and with Winnipeg "Visionary" Glen Murray (now living in Toronto), isn't enough to win the election, Benham may still have a use for those election books.

Rumour is he's already made overtures to the Manitoba Liberal Party which is always looking for new candidates.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

FP admits bad reporting; still says paper right, Katz wrong

The hubris of the Winnipeg Free Press is breathtaking.

For the past two years the newspaper has been flogging a series of "controversies" involving Mayor Sam Katz, none of which has had any traction outside their offices on Mountain Avenue.

This weekend the FP, via reporter Dan Lett, finally conceded that, contrary to their own stories, Sam Katz has always followed the rules, acted within the legislation, and behaved properly on all votes at City Hall.

Not good enough, says Lett.

His proof? Why, the many controversies surrounding the Mayor, of course.

The Free Press, with a straight face, declares that the existence of the alleged controversies shows that what wasn't wrong, should be wrong, and therefore, Katz was wrong, even if he was right.

To buttress this argument, reporter Lett, cites his own story from 2005 accusing Katz of conflict of interest in voting to put a Salisbury House restaurant on the new Provencher bridge. Katz had previously loaned money to David Wolinsky, who was a director of Salisbury House.

What Lett failed to mention was that his story inaccurately stated that a complaint against Katz had been filed with the city auditor.

The Black Rod exposed this within days and brought it to the attention of the broadsheet brass.
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/10/how-free-press-built-smear-campaign.html

The Free Press never corrected the error, never apologized for the inaccurate reporting, never even published a "clarification" (a new tactic pioneered by editor Bob Cox on his blog to hide errors without actually acknowledging them to readers of the physical paper).

In other words, the inaccurate information was allowed to stay on the record as if it was true, which, in newspaper terms, is the same as publishing a lie.


Dan Lett is the last person at the Winnipeg Free Press who should be writing about conflict-of-interest. He won a newspaper award for a series of stories on convicted murderer James Driskell's fight for a new trial. You could say he has an interest in Driskell's case.

But when the Winnipeg Free Press fabricated a quote that acted as the basis of a front page story (by another reporter) at the inquiry looking into Driskell's conviction ( http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/09/true-but-false-driskell-inquiry-like.html ), Lett was silent.

He has never, to this day, commented on his newspaper's used of a phony quote to support its own coverage of the case.

Perhaps Lett has been taking lessons in the fine art of the cover-up from one of his sources. In his Katz/conflict story, Lett actually used former Liberal MP Reg Alcock as an expert on Ottawa standards for politicians.


Yes, only the Free Press would go to a member of the defeated, disgraced Liberal government as a suitable source on ethics.

The Winnipeg Free Press has a double standard when it comes to conflicts-of-interest. Just days before the newspaper started its latest campaign against Sam Katz, it carried a story by its Ottawa reporter Paul Samyn headlined "Feds probed cabinet leak to Free Press."

The story was an inside-joke.
Samyn wrote that the federal Liberal government tried, unsuccessfully, to find the source of a leak to the Free Press, of a confidential memo to cabinet. The leak became the story "Secret native housing cure?" printed Wednesday, Oct 26 2005.


What he failed to report was that the leak came to him. He knows who leaked the memo. You might say he had a conflict of interest in writing the story about the probe. You can bet he was laughing up his sleeve as he wrote it. Ha ha ha.

Strangely missing from his story was the name that was so prominent in Lett's story---Reg Alcock.

All official leaks to the FP had to be approved by Alcock, the senior cabinet official in Manitoba.

The FP and Alcock even had an agreement. Whenever Alcock was to make a formal announcement in Winnipeg of some federal funding or some new program the Free Press would get an advance copy the day before. The newspaper would then have a Page One story on the day the announcement would be made to the rest of the news media in the city.

This quid-pro-quo agreement has never been discussed because it immediately raises questions about how far the FP would go to slant its stories in favour of the Liberal party to continue to get their "exclusives".

But what the stories by Samyn and Lett show is how selective the newspaper is about its sources. Who they interview and on what subject, depends on what spin they want to put on the story that day and not on any obligation to inform the public of the facts.

Samyn's story was a mockery of the process. And by laughing in the face of the public, it was a mockery of the readers of the Free Press.

But maybe the readers are laughing back.

New information has made us rethink our previous post on the circulation of the Winnipeg Free Press. We used the figure of 125,000 which we took from the FP's own claim to the investors in its income trust.But then we took a closer look at that claim.

It actually says "...the marketing reach that comes with the ability to distribute newspapers to an average of 125,000 readers seven days a week, including over 162,000 on Saturday."


This is cleverly written to inflate the truth.

The industry rule of thumb is 2.1 readers per copy sold. The latest estimate from the Newspaper Association of America is 2.3 readers per copy. In other words, the actual circulation of the Winnipeg Free Press ranges from 54,000 to 59,500.

The newspaper is telling its advertisers on the QT that their ads will go to 75,000 subscribers. Comparing that figure to paid circulation means that about 15,000 copies are distributed free to new subscribers, as promotions, and on airplanes and in hotels in discount deals.

54,000 is a far cry from 125,000.

In fact, you might say the distance is humbling.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The newspaper that makes up quotes calls Sam Katz unethical

Oh this is too rich for words.

The Winnipeg Free Press, the newspaper that fabricated a key quote in a front page story ( http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/09/true-but-false-driskell-inquiry-like.html ), is lecturing Mayor Sam Katz about ethics.

The Winnipeg Free Press, the newspaper that reported on a non-existent complaint about Sam Katz ( http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/10/how-free-press-built-smear-campaign.html ), is criticizing the mayor for challenging his critics.

The Winnipeg Free Press, the newspaper that seemingly concocted a phony explanation for a story that embarassed the Asper family ( http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/08/credibility-cloud-over-axworthy.html ), is attacking Sam Katz for an "unseemly controversy" that exists only in the eyes of the newspaper's editorial board.

The Winnipeg Free Press, the newspaper that had to publish an unprecedented "clarification" for a series of blatantly wrong headlines and misquotes in stories about Sam Katz ( http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/09/winnipeg-free-press-oops-we-did-it.html ), is demanding Katz be held to a higher standard than simply abiding by the rules of city hall.

The editorial in Friday's Winnipeg Free Press is a new low for the newspaper whose standards sink deeper into the abyss with each passing week.

Not content with two failed smear campaigns against Katz---both exposed by The Black Rod ( http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/10/free-press-hatchet-job-on-sam-katz.html ) and both rejected as junk journalism by the rest of the news outlets in the city--- the FP has resorted to shameless grasping at straws.

Their latest editorial acknowledges that Sam Katz broke no rules and bent no laws when he voted with the majority of city council to bail out the Burton Cummings Theatre last year. But, but, but, sputters the FP, the theatre paid off a mortgage held by Sam Katz six months before the bailout. So there.

Just because the mayor had no financial interest in the theatre when he voted to give it a grant, doesn't mean there wasn't a conflict of interest that precluded Katz from voting to help the theatre.

Er, does it?

The phony controversy was raised Thursday by reporters Dan Lett (whose byline appears in the first Katz smear story in 2005) and Bartley Kives (the new boy at City Hall who's been pretending he knows nothing about the non-existent complaint reported by his colleague Lett).

Their story stated that Katz personally pumped $330,000 into the Burton Cummings Theatre in a series of short-term loans, for which he accepted a $50,000 buyout of a second mortgage. Somehow that astonishing generosity didn't merit a story of its own. Not when the FP can sink to still another cheap drive-by smear.

The only person complaining that Katz got any money back was Katz challenger Kaj Hasselriis, whose personal contribution to the arts in Winnipeg has been his performance in the 2004 fringe festival production Hey Hetero which promised "a taste of the high-flying homosexual lifestyle... behind the pink curtain of the homo world" which would "reveal all the dirty little secrets of gay life."

Sam Katz's response to the latest allegations was to call them "cheap theatrics belonging on the stage of the Burton Cummings Theatre"...

To which we add that the roles of Town Fools are being played by Winnipeg Free Press reporters and editors.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Why can 350 people hold Winnipeg hostage? Civic election issues 3 and 4

Everyone running for office in the current civic election should be asked to answer one question: Why are 350 people allowed to hold a city of 700,000 hostage?

Which brings us to the second half of our examination of 'The Big Four' election issues candidates are skirting instead of addressing head on.

3. The Car Theft Epidemic

In 1992 the City of Winnipeg had the lowest rate of auto theft of any major city in Canada.1992 seems so far, far away.Last year (2005) almost 12,000 vehicles were reported stolen to Winnipeg police.

The year before that it was over 13,000.
The year before that, 10,000 plus.
35,000 stolen autos in three years.
50,000 in five years, and that's not counting 2006 yet.

Manitoba Public Insurance paid in the vicinity of $150 million in claims over the past five years, and since 84 percent of provincial car theft is in Winnipeg, that means a touch over $126 million went to Winnipeg car owners.

This year MPI is spending $40 million to get motorists to install immobilizers and is bragging that "only" about 10,000 cars will be stolen in 2006. Whoopee. The statistics are appalling.

Just as appalling is city council's refusal to even admit there is a problem. Council discusses parking lots, traffic lights and bicycle paths but has never had an emergency debate on the car theft epidemic. Car thieves have been responsible for 12 deaths in the past five years, and 100 serious injuries.

If West Nile Virus had been as deadly the city would have declared a health emergency.

City Hall has to make car theft a priority. It's a quality of life issue that affects all citizens.

Up to now, mayor and councillors have been content to let people think car theft if purely a provincial matter. And what a disaster that has been.

The Government of Manitoba has proved to be completely incompetent at fighting car thieves. Winnipeg politicians have to seize the initiative and force the Province to do a better job.


The government is not impotent. We keep hearing that about 300 hard-core auto thieves are responsible for most of the problem. And most of them are teenagers that the courts molly-coddle, and they know it.

Stealing cars is not a healthy activity for children. The province can use Child Welfare legislation to take control of the car thieves who escape any penalties from the court system. If parents can't control their children, then the province must act in loco parentis.

We can take 300 thieves off the streets and put them into 24-hour provincial care.
It can be done. The money is obviously there. What's missing is the will.

Winnipeg politicians have to get that message to the Legislature. They have to tell MLA's that unless something effective is done to stop the car theft epidemic immediately, then the Mayor and councillors will, as a block, target the incumbents in city ridings in the next provincial election.

Silence is not an option for anyone running for mayor or for city council.

4. Panhandlers and other downtown cancers

Winnipeg used to be infamous for having the worst skid row in the country. The geniuses at City Hall decided to clean up the Main Street strip by knocking down the derelict hotels where the derelicts would hang out.

As a result, skid row expanded south and has now basically relocated from Main Street to Portage Avenue. The Heart of Downtown Winnipeg: Now infested with derelicts and panhandlers and drug dealers.

Left behind was Thunderbird House, a disaster in its own right and the latest white elephant in line for government handouts. Plus a new crop of derelicts. The colony of glue sniffers that hangs around Thunderbird House is a scene right out of the Dawn of the Dead zombie movies. Is this a harbinger of what downtown is to become?

Winnipeg politicians have spent years denying the cancer that's spreading throughout the downtown. There's only 50 aggressive panhandlers, they say. Put that in perspective, that 50 derelicts is more than all the police officers in cruiser cars answering calls in all of Winnipeg.

Former Mayor Glen Murray's response was to throw street parties.
You've got cancer? Hey, let's par-tay. It'll make you feel better.

Under Mayor Sam Katz's watch the answer was street ambassadors to make people feel safer downtown. That's like telling you you're doing well because there are so many nurses in the hospital.

Katz has given street patrols the authority to detain impaired panhandlers under the Intoxicated Persons's Detention Act. Call it minor surgery when aggressive treatment is required.


The cancer has spread. Downtown may already be in Stage Four.
Terminal.

Ask the security guards at Portage Place who still wear body armour to protect themselves from knife-wielding gang members.
Ask the crack dealer who openly conducts business outside Air Canada park each day.
Ask the downtown hotel staffers who have to witness the welfare payday whoop-ups.
Ask the residents of Winnipeg (or as we read on a weekly basis, visiting musicians and performers), and return from arts events to find their windows smashed, dashboard hacked, garage door openers and registration stolen (the better to commit home invasions) -- if they find any trace of their vehicles at all.

Councillor wannabes don't hold campaign appearances downtown because they don't want to be asked "Will you do something - anything! - about this rot?"

Mayoral candidates don't have campaign appearances downtown because they don't want to see the contempt in the eyes of people who work downtown when they unveil their empty solutions to the problem.

Even the Sals closes at 5 PM.

How can 350 people hold a city of 700,000 hostage?
Because we let them.

People running for office think that talking about bike paths is what voters want to hear. They think vision means waxing poetic about a "green city" with highspeed electric trains whizzing people about. They think a promise for Wifi internet access downtown is what wins votes.


But if any of the candidates really listened, they would know in one day that Winnipeggers have their priorities straight.

First comes safety, something which is deteriorating every year.
Then comes efficiency. Winnipeggers hate to see their hard-earned money wasted on "visions".

Only after they are assured they can work, shop and raise their families in a safe environment, and that their tax dollars are spent wisely, will they say: Okay, what next?

*************************
That's Running for Office 101, the book Coun. Donald Benham never bought with his well-used city hall credit card.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Will civic hopefuls go 'on the record' about The Big 4 ?

When a big-city newspaper devotes four pages to the mayoral election, it should be a cause for celebration in recognition that electing a mayor is serious business with serious consequences.

When those four pages turn out to be stupid questions about pop culture, you're left wanting to pull out your hair at the waste of space and opportunity.

At least that was the first reaction at The Black Rod to the election coverage in Sunday's Winnipeg Free Press. But then we realized we had just misread what the newspaper was doing.

In reality, the Free Press was signalling that the election for mayor is over. Sam Katz has lapped his opponents twice over and is jogging to the finish line backwards and blindfolded. It's now time to have some fun with the remaining two and half weeks of the campaign.

Maybe the unemployed gay activist, the self-employed lawyer wannabe, and the "raise taxes" eco-feminist failed to catch the public's imagination with their issues. But that doesn't mean there aren't serious matters that deserve to be discussed during a civic election.

The Winnipeg Free Press may not think so, which is why they went the make-the-election-a-joke route.
But The Black Rod believes that all candidates, for mayor and for city council, should be grilled for their stand on The Big Four.

1. Urban Reserve

Once there were two on the table, but only one survived the year.The Roseau River Reserve had been talking about buying a parcel of land at the old Canada Packers site in St. Boniface for Winnipeg's first urban reserve.

That plan hit the dumpster when Indian Affairs told them early this month that they would have to spend a bundle to clean up the land to meet environmental standards before reserve status could even be considered.

In August, the Long Plain Reserve bought a piece of land in St. James from Manitoba Hydro for an urban reserve. Their plan is to build a $40 million Native Governance House on the property, with construction to begin in late 2007. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs hopes the federal government grants the property urban reserve status before the building is completed in a couple of years.

Mayor Sam Katz took a fact-finding trip to Saskatchewan in January and came home a booster.
"From what I saw today, I felt very confident that this will become a reality," in Winnipeg, Katz said to the CBC on his return home. "I was very pleased with what I saw. Most importantly, it was verified to me that you definitely can create an even playing field, which I know is one of the main questions that people have."

He was accompanied on his trip by Ron Evans, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The AMC is the chief proponent of the First Nations Governance House.

Barely three weeks after Katz came back to Winnipeg, Ron Evans was in the news.

Band council involved in 'influence peddling, blackmail': court
CBC News
The former chief and councillors at Norway House Cree Nation say they will appeal a federal court judgement that accuses them of blackmail and influence peddling.

The chief in question? None other than Ron Evans.

Justice Pierre Blais blasted the chief and councillors for failing "to respect the notion of representative democracy."

Marcel Balfour, an elected councillor, started asking questions about how the reserve was being run, specifically about expenditures on the Helen Betty Osborne Memorial School. He found himself frozen out by Evans and his supporters.

His computer was seized, his cell phone was disconnected and Evans cut his salary from $60,000 to $5000 a year. Balfour was told he could get back in the good graces of the chief and council by shutting his mouth and not to ask questions about how the $40 million for the school was being spent.

Justice Blais called that a "clear indication of influence peddling and blackmail."

In a separate case, another judge ruled that Evans acted unlawfully when he appointed one of his strongest allies as acting chief before resigning to go to the AMC.

Evans now wants to bring his brand of native democracy to Winnipeg under the protections of an urban reserve.

Winnipeggers got another look at what an urban reserve would mean when another judge ordered the province to extend no-smoking legislation to on-reserve casinos.

No way, said the AMC's Evans.The province can't dictate its no-smoking policy to reserves, he said. It's a jursidictional issue. Reserves (read urban reserves) will decide for themselves whether smoking will be allowed or not.

The AMC has coughed up $15,000 for Roseau River First Nation Chief Terry Nelson to go to court on the issue.

Ahhh. Terry Nelson, he of the aborted urban reserve in St. Boniface.

The demise of his plan also brought some interesting information to the attention of Winnipeg citizens.

Everyone, including Katz, always says that urban reserves will be on an equal playing field with other businesses in the city because they will sign a service agreement that covers the costs of property taxes, business taxes, fees, police and fire service, water service, and whatever else business pays. ( Nobody ever explains why reserves just don't pay these without a special service agreement.)

Now it turns out that Chief Terry Nelson is disputing a bill for back taxes from the RM of Franklin for land bought in 1999, and is refusing to sign a service agreement because, as the Winnipeg Sun put it, "the reeve was being unreasonable." Nevertheless, a proposal to have the land become an urban reserve is still working its way through the system.

- How does Winnipeg plan to enforce a "service agreement" if the urban reserve decides that city council is "being unreasonable" and refuses to pay?

- Will urban reserves allow smoking in public places like, say, restaurants and Governance Houses?

- If the First Nation has $40 million to build their own faux Legislature to boost their egos, do they need any extra funding from city coffers for anything?

- What kind of due diligence will the city undertake on our "partners" in the urban reserve. What standards will the city insist on? Can we agree on No Blackmail?

2. The Asper Human Rights Museum

You have to give the late Izzy Asper an A-plus for audacity -- er, chutzpa -- for his plan to build the 240,000-square foot Canadian Museum of Human Rights at the Forks.

When the backers say they want to build the iconic equivalent to the Eiffel Tower in Winnipeg, they're not kidding. It's not just rhetoric. They mean every word. And God bless them.

And if the sheer boldness of the idea doesn't leave you in awe, then maybe the price tag does.

The Asper Foundation, which is leading development of the museum, used to use a figure of $270 million for two stages--construction $200 million and an operating-plus-perpetual- endowment fund $70 mil. The fund would go toward sponsoring 100,000 students and their chaperones to come to the museum for three days each year.

But costs have been creeping up this past year and the latest estimates toss around the figure of $311 million. And remember, this is Politician money.

In Real People's Hard Earned Tax Money, we all know the final cost will be a half a billion dollars or more once all the "unexpected" expenses are tallied.

The city's nut? Twenty million. For starters, surely.

We were worried the museum promotion machine was stretching the truth a bit when they said they expected the museum would draw 400,000 visitors a year. But then we learned that the dinosaur exhibits at the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, draw 400,000 people annually. So it wasn't such a stretch, after all.

Not unless you think dinosaurs are a bigger draw than, uh, human rights. And who doesn't?

Do you think there's a reason why the Aspers have to ambush people, wrestle them to the ground and twist their arms until they cough up a donation to the human rights museum?

Let's face it. A museum dedicated to human rights is as appealing as a lecture from your Mom when you're a teenager.

Sure, it's important. Sure, we're thankful. Sure, they deserve recognition. Can I go now?

Do a simple experiment yourself. Tell your children you're going to take them to a museum this weekend. Which museum do they want to go to? Dinosaurs? Or human rights?

Let's see. One is fun and exciting. The other is educational and depressing.
Tough choice, there.

If election candidates think Winnipeg has $20 million to pump into a black hole, maybe they should also look at some other ideas. (Just in case, don'cha know.)

Is an architecturally spectacular building what we want to put Winnipeg on the world map? Make it a museum of comic book heroes. Who stands for justice and fairness better than costumed super heroes?

The legion of comic book readers (i.e. anyone who has ever been a ten-year-old boy) would fill the private funding requirement in a flash. Heh, heh, The Flash. Get it?

You wouldn't have to subsidize 100,000 reluctant children a year, you'd have to find accomodations for 100,000 parents of super hero crazy kids.

Or take the money and bring Garth Drabinsky to Winnipeg and let him make his magic.

Introduce him to musician and theatre producer Danny Schur who's struggling with his homegrown musical Strike.

Garth....Danny.
Danny....Garth.

Drabinsky made Toronto the centre of mega-musical theatre with Phantom of the Opera, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Showboat, Joseph and the Technicolour Dream Coat, Ragtime...They shut him down, killed Livent, hit him with every charge in the book (still pending after how many years), but with him went a magic era of big box office musicals.

Could we rekindle that kind of magic with $20 million here in Winnipeg?

Now that's chutzpa.

( 3 and 4 tomorrow )

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Handicapping the races to 510 Main

Reporters makes the mistake of ignoring city council races because they think the seats are decided on local issues.

Yet councillors, once elected, vote on issues that affect the city at large. Which gives every citizen a stake in the election of certain councillors, and the defeat of others.

There are 15 council seats to be filled in the coming civic election and easily two-thirds of the incumbents deserve to be replaced.

The Young'un
Justin Swandel (St. Norbert) gets a bye. He's only been a city councillor for a few months. He's barely learned where the washrooms are.

The Greybacks
On the other end of the scale, however, are the Old-Timers.

Jae Eadie (St. James) 25 years
Harry Lazarenko (Mynarski) 22 years
Mike O'Shaughnessy (Old Kildonan) 19 years
Bill Clement (Charleswood) 22 years
Lillian Thomas (Elmwood) 16 years

These five share a collective responsibility for the state of the city we're in.

The undiminished decay of downtown Winnipeg? Them.
The high taxes that sparked the exodus to satellite towns? Them.
The epidemic of car theft? Them.

The time for excuses is long past. They've either been wrong too often to warrant re-election, or they've proven to be too pliable to bone-headed mayors, or they're too weak to effect change.

It doesn't matter any more. It's too late.
In a perfect world they would be called into the boardroom to hear those immortal words: You're Fired.

The Moonbats
Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) and Donald Benham (River Heights) are an embarassment to the city. Their embrace of junk science in the fogging-for-mosquitoes debate is bad enough. But their willingness to maximize the risk of contracting West Nile Virus disqualifies them from any responsible body of legislators.

The Sophomores
This group of two-termers has been around long enough to know better.

Gord Steeves (St. Vital) 5 years
Mark Lubosch (North Kildonan) 10 years
Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) 7 years (plus another five in the Eighties).

They have no excuses for the more recent boondoggles inflicted on the city. They either supported them, or, if they opposed them they've demonstrated they have no leadership abilities to warrant their staying on the job.
A quick list:

* The red-light camera contract that earns more money annually for the company that installed them than for the City of Winnipeg that paid for them.
* The unanimous vote by council to give the city's chief administrator the power to set the pay for senior managers, and the skyrocketing pay-and-bonus system that followed.
* Addressing out-of-control car thefts by holding street parties.
* The huge cost overruns for the city's water treatment plant ($65 million and counting) because city councillors rejected a private-public partnership in favour of an in-house model. The Winnipeg Free Press said the water and waste department was warned of the "grave risk of escalating costs throughout the construction phase, but declared it would manage that risk."

Sitting councillors accepted that risk, and now they should pay the price. To do less would be to reward failure.

The Forgiven
They're the newbies on council.

Russ Wyatt (Transcona) 3 years
Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) 3 years
Franco Magnifico (St. Boniface) 1 year

Wyatt has been a poseur, a media hog long on noise and short on results.
Pagtakhan is fighting complaints that he's never there for the people he represents.
And Magnifico is gambling he can overcome the organized opposition to his principled support for Oly-West and the 1000 jobs it will bring to Winnipeg.

People grow into their jobs as they gain experience and knowledge. So let's forgive this trio for errors of commission or omission. If their constituents give them another term, so be it.

Vacancy
One seat is vacant. Peter de Smedt (St. Charles) chose not to run for relection after 7 years in office. How ironic is that? The one guy who did the right thing, and you can't even vote for him

******************************

When satire falls flat


We were too clever by half in our recent take on funding cuts to Literacy Partners of Manitoba. We went for a play on words and wrote "read and right" instead of "read and write".

We wanted to test how long it would take readers to correct our "mistake". But we couldn't agree on how to flag the test word (italics?quotation marks? a different font?) and before we decided, the item was posted.


Sure enough, we got caught. For the record, reader B.M. got back to us within two hours. We've learned our lesson. When in doubt, cut it out.

Peek-a-boo

You know you've reached a certain level of notoriety when you have cyber-stalkers. Baby bloggers have taken to staking out public hearings in hopes of spotting The Black Rod. We're flattered, but how can we tell them the cell phone photos are not of us. It has given us an idea though --- The Black Rod t-shirts.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Reporters: A company of parrots in Winnipeg, an unelected opposition in Ottawa

How bad are the reporters in Winnipeg?

Read on and weep.

All 3 local supper-hour television news shows, and the Winnipeg Free Press, proved beyond doubt this week that their "journalism" consists of attending news conferences and parroting what they hear.

In this case the news conference was called by Literacy Partners of Manitoba, one of the insignificant groups losing funding to federal spending cuts.

To hear Lorrie Apps, the executive director, tell it, the federal government had just killed every literacy program in the province, condemning the illiterate to lives of desperation and poverty forever.

And CBC, Global, and CKY news agreed because their reporters couldn't be bothered to correct the impression Apps was leaving. Or to insert simple facts into their stories.

To begin with, none of the televison reporters, and here we use the word extremely generously, asked the simple question --- what exactly does Literacy Partners do to warrant its funding.

Well, for starters, they don't provide any literacy training. That's right, They don't actually teach anyone to read and write.

So what do they do?
They advocate. That's what.
And they research. Uh huh.
And they go around telling other groups what a great job they're doing.

Lori Apps spends a third of a million dollars a year telling illiterate people they should learn to read and write.

And without her, those people are doomed. Doomed, we tell you.

There's obviously nobody else in the province who tells the illiterate they should learn to read and write. Is there?When the spending cuts were first announced a week ago, the Winnipeg Free Press correctly reported that "literacy classes are funded provincially."

But you wouldn't know it from the hysterical rant of Lorri Apps, duly reported by the three television stations and FP reporter Jason Bell.

None of those "journalists" bothered to ask anyone from the provincial government how many illiterates were going to be sent into the wilderness because of the federal spending cuts. Nobody from a single provincial illiteracy program was interviewed, identified, quoted, or even hinted at.

The reporters failed to use any independent thinking when they put their stories together. And so did their producers and editors who have to share the blame for letting such pathetic, shoddy reporting get put before the public.

But cream rises to the top, and one local reporter has managed to humiliate Rachel Legace, Jason Bell and the others who simply regurgitated the Apps news conference.

In his latest column in the Winnipeg Sun, Tom Brodbeck, again, has all the facts the others missed.

Of course, now may be the time to look at the whether the provincial programs are all they're cracked up to be. Just look at the 'literacy' in this description of one of the provincial programs that we found on the internet:

" Open Doors offer classes three afternoons and two evenings per week. It is a Literaacy/Upgrading program and is open to everyone. A family litreacy program is also offered. Computer insturction is available. Short courses dealing with various topics will be offered. Literacy Stages Progamming levels: 1; 2; 3; 4 and additional services for family and one-on-one literacy programming is available. "

Ouch.
It's enough to make you cry.

**************
And how many of you had this day marked on your calender?

What's today, you ask?

Today is the day the Parliamentary Press Gallery resumes its War on Harper.

One month ago the PPG announced a truce. The 450 members would temporarily suspend their boycott of Stephen Harper news conferences to give the Prime Minister time to surrender and plead for forgiveness.

The PPG would accept his contrition and announce victory over tyranny and the world would be safe for democracy again.

It didn't happen.

So now the PPG is back at war. The Hill Times reported this week that Don Martin, political columnist for the Calgary Herald, predicted "reporters will remain professional and won't deliberately set their sights on Mr. Harper's downfall."
"If he's doing well in the public mind and well in polls and has the look of a winner about him, it's going to be pretty hard to poke holes in him. The only risk from the media is if he falters or falls, and there becomes a pack seizing on him like hungry dogs looking to rip him apart," Mr. Martin said. "I don't sense a vindictiveness yet, but there's a thousand ways you can take a shot that you might not have taken at someone if they were playing ball, but I wouldn't go as far as to say that he's going to suffer for his behaviour-yet."

But it's already clear who the leaders are of this rabid pack of anti-Harper attack dogs.

Susan Delacourt of the left-leaning Toronto Star rejected any truce with the Prime Minister.
Ditto Don Newman, host of CBC Newsworld's show Politics.
The CBC's Julie Van Dusen has abandoned any semblance of respect for the office of the Prime Minister (her shameful grandstanding when she hammered on the door as Stephen Harper met privately with cancer-stricken children is but one example.)

The dissidents who broke with PPG solidarity -- Canwest's Peter O'Neil of the Vancouver Sun and Mark Kennedy of the Ottawa Citizen, Joel Denis Bellavance from La Press, and Randall Palmer from Reuters -- are unlikely to come back into the fold. Maclean's Paul Wells has said to count him out too.

Which puts the ball in the PPG court. Don Newman dropped a hint of what to expect.
"When people break gallery rules, the gallery executive usually imposes some kind of censure on them"" he told the Hill Times. They didn't want to press the point a month ago and chose to go the truce route, he said.

But ... he didn't need to spell it out. That was then, and this is now.

At least one former member of the PPG thinks they're riding for a big fall.

Political columnist Alan Fotheringham writes:
Today, there are 450 members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, most of them 22-year-old graduates of journalism schools, in jeans, and half are female, armed with tape recorders that they jam into the gums of any politician (annual salary $147,000) they can find.

Stephen Harper, a shrewd man, has decided to go to war with the 450. It's a very interesting battle. Interesting because he's going to win it.

The reason he's going to win it is because Missus Bloggs in Moose Jaw thinks the Ottawa media is overpaid, lazy, drinks its own bath water, interviewing each other over beer and is into pack journalism. She knows that. So does the prime minister.


This is a very serious matter, you must understand. If Hogtown Toronto thinks it is the centre of the universe, in Ottawa, the town that fun forgot, the panjandrums of the Press Gallery seriously believe that they hold democracy in their frail little hands.

Read the rest at http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/531376.html

The PPG has turned this spat into a black and white issue. Who runs Parliament Hill---the elected parliamentarians or the self-appointed press?

They've publicly stated that they see their job as attacking the government's policies rather than explaining them to the public.
To do the latter is to give in and become Harper's lapdogs.
To do the former is to be independent and brave, beholden to no one.

Not even the little people who just want enough information, unfiltered by press biases, to let them make their own decisions.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Political Reporting--a rave, applause and a pan

The Black Rod has discovered the best civic election coverage in town.

Reporter Michelle Dobrovolny has been doing a series called Candidate Profiles, in the Uniter, the University of Winnipeg student newspaper. It's terrific.

Just as sketch artists at the Fringe Festival can capture a person's key features with a few deft strokes of a charcoal pencil, Dobrovolny, with only four questions, manages to provide a sharp snapshot of the candidates in each ward.

Her take on the election in St. Boniface is a gem. The Winnipeg Free Press keeps saying how tight and how important this election is. But Dobrovolny gives us such a concise comparision of the three men running that any voter can instantly pick a favorite.

Everyone knows the heavyweights in the election--- former councillor Dan Vandal and incumbent councillor Franco Magnifico. Dobrovolny introduces us to the third candidate, Murray Cliff, who "is running a virtually unpublicized campaign due to his pledge not to spend a dime on elections in an effort to "revolutionize" the Canadian electoral system." We liked him already.

Question No. 1 set the stage. "Other than previous terms in city council, what professional experience can you offer City Hall?"

The answers (abridged here):

Cliff: I sit on the policy committee for the Manitoba Liberal Party.
Vandal: I've been a social worker.
Magnifico: I worked for the railway for 13 years in union, then management positions. I bought a hotel when I was 31 years old, ran that for 19 years and sold it. I currently run two rural hotels.


A policy wonk. A social worker. And a business owner.

Who makes a better city councillor? Who do you think understands the challenges of the city best from their perspective and who can offer the best solutions to problems?

Question No. 4 left no doubts. "Why should young people stay in Winnipeg?"

Cliff provided a nuanced, saying nothing political answer.
Vandal:
We have a great quality of life, and a vibrant arts and cultural scene. We have interesting architecture in the city, and our music scene is second to none in Canada.
Magnifico: Young people need jobs. They need to know when they graduate they"ll have opportunities. They need to know that their quality of life will be ensured. That goes to things like bike lanes, NHL teams, the Human Rights Museum. Those are the kinds of things that improve the quality of life. They need to know that when they graduate, they will have a job to afford those things.


Four questions. Stark contrasts. Clear choices.
Somebody hire this girl now.

We can't wait for her profile of River Heights because it looks like something's brewing there.

Going into the election incumbent councillor Donald Benham was Sam Katz's bete noire. He could always be counted on to vote No for anything the mayor supported and to say something to get Sam mad.

But when the lunatic fringe of council (read Jenny Gerbasi) led the predictable shrieks of opposition to Katz at a meeting into whether to lease some land to Katz's baseball stadium for a parking lot, Benham, for the first time ever, wasn't around fighting for the spotlight.

Could it be he's found that travelling with Gerbasi's Moonbat Circus isn't the vote-getter he thought it would be?

**********

When a story leaps out at us, we frequently wait to see if the mainstream press will cover it, even as we begin our research.

Just as frequently we're disappointed and we step into the breach when the MSM fails to do its job.

But this Sunday we were applauding Winnipeg Free Press national reporter Paul Samyn for his commentary on the hypocritical attitude of native "leaders" over smoking on Indian reserves.

First Nations want it both ways on smoking issue
Sunday Oct 1 2006
PAUL SAMYN
OTTAWA -- So let me see if I've got this straight. Manitoba's native leaders want judges, politicians and pretty much everyone else to butt out when it comes to aboriginal rights to light up on First Nations. At the same time, they are fuming at the Harper Tories for last week's $11-million cut to the First Nations and Inuit Tobacco Control Strategy designed to get natives to stop smoking.
Huh? They want to smoke. They don't want to smoke. They can't have it both ways, can they?
Well, apparently that is exactly what native leaders are trying to do, given their anger at federal-government budget-slashing last week and at the province for baby steps to extend the Non-Smokers Health Protection Act to reserves.

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. But we have to wonder why Jen Skerritt, the reporter who covered the Chief's' protest at the Legislature, didn't make this connection in her story?

*****************
Even as we give Samyn a pat on the back, we shudder at the bad reporting by his Free Press colleague Lindsey Wiebe who also wrote a story about the federal government spending cuts. It was such a classic of a bad story (or a good example of bad reporting) that it should be studied in journalism schools.

Literacy group's future in peril. Ottawa is cutting $28,000 in funding.
By Lindsey Wiebe
Manitoba's premier literacy advocacy group may shut its doors in six months because the federal government cut $17.7 million in literacy funding this week.
Lori Apps, executive director of LiteracyPartners of Manitoba, said her group found out Wednesday that the $280,0000 they receive in federal funding was pulled, effective immediately.

What followed was a stereotypical kneejerk victim story.
Apparently reporter Wiebe thinks that you can get away with shallow reporting as long as its on motherhood issues like 'literacy.' C'mon , who's against literacy? Those evil Conservatives, that's who, right Lindsey?

Unfortunately, it was immediately obvioous to anyone who bothered to read the story why the funding was cut.Other than going around cheering "Literacy, Literacy, Rah Rah Rah", the group doesn't do anything. It has no measure of success, because, obviously, just talking about literacy is sufficient.

Wiebe couldn't find a single real person who credited Literacy Partners for getting them into a literacy program. That should be the first red flag when the only people supporting a program are the bureaucrats being paid by the program.

Second, Wiebe just didn't do her math. She wrote that Literacy Partners "has distributed more than $70,000 in Raise-a-reader money to roughly 40 literacy programs over the last few years."

Divide $70,000 by 39 (which is roughly 40) and you get $1,700. Divide that by 3 (last few years) and you get $600. Got that? They've provided about $50 a month to fewer than 40 programs for at least three years in a row. Whoop de doo.

What kinds of programs does Literacy Partners fund? Well, they brag about two on their website.

One is called Certified Literate Community Project in Beausejour. What does it do? Well, apparently it "certifies" a community that meet its criteria as "a "literate community", a good place to live and a good place to do business."
And what are these criteria? These:
· increasing public awareness of the benefits of raising literacy levels,
· encouraging everybody to take responsibility for literacy,
· bringing adults who have dropped out, back to lifelong learning programs,
· promoting the use of plain language for effective communication.

Wow.

Just as good is the other program, Literacy and Health: Defining Links and Developing Partnerships.

"Our purpose in this project is to bring literacy and health people together at training sessions to look at ways of improving health and raising literacy levels in the "hard to reach" segment of the population. Literacy workers will learn how to incorporate health materials into their classroom. Health care workers will learn how to reach low literacy clients. Resources will be offered to both groups."
On their website Literacy Partnerships offers 15 training sessions to health care professionals to get them to promote literacy.

Wiebe can't bring herself to report honestly that nobody will miss these training sessions because they're a total waste of everybody's time.

The federal government is cutting these programs because they achieve nothing. They are examples of how the Liberal party spent taxpayers money to create the appearance of caring, of doing something about a problem without ever measuring what was being done, if anything.

But the appearance of caring is the only thing reporters like Wiebe care about. Hence the pathetic reporting.