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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Spirited Energy, Legislature style: NDP selling Hydro, Tories surge in QP

NDP mommies and daddies throughout Manitoba were telling their kiddies a scary bedtime story Tuesday night.

In bedrooms bathed by the eerie glow of LED-lit cellphones, they told the tale of the day THE TORY DEVILS SOLD THE MANITOBA TELEPHONE SYSTEM TO THE RAPACIOUS CAPITALISTS.

EEEEEEEK!

Nov. 28 is the anniversary of the day the Filmon Conservative government used closure in 1996 to end the debate on the sale of MTS. It's a day that lives in the NDP annals of infamy, right next to the fall of Allende's socialist paradise in Chile.

The sale of MTS is used as a club to beat the Hugh McFadyen-led Tories every time the lacklustre Opposition demands a public inquiry into the Crocus Fund scandal, yesterday, for example. It's immediately followed by a chant of "We won't let you sell Manitoba Hydro."

And they're right. The PC's won't get a chance.

The NDP is already selling Hydro assets, and the Tories are quietly letting them do it.At least when the Conservatives sold MTS the money went into the rainy-day fund that the NDP has been draining for six years.

The process is reversed under New Democonomics, the economic theory practiced by the NDP.

The New Democrats love to point out that Hydro is a public utility owned by all the citizens of the province for the benefit of all the citizens. It sounds so Tommy Douglas warm and fuzzy. But in practice, it turns out some citizens are more equal than others. Tommy Douglas turned George Orwell.

This year the NDP sold off part of the Wuskwatim dam to the Nelson House Indian reserve. It's the model they intend to follow, they said, with the Conawapa and Gull Lake dams that are next on the list. No bids, no offers.

Just a sweetheart deal that cuts Manitobans out of the profits of their own public utility.

And what a deal!
You couldn't get anything better at Kern-Hill Furniture when daddy Nick was still alive.

NO money down.
NO risk.
Almost 30 YEARS to pay.
A SIX YEAR money-back guarantee.
C'MON DOWN !

Uh, not you, reader.

The Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, aka Nelson House, is a reserve of fewer than 4000 members. It's biggest asset, outside of a swatch of land smaller than a golf course needed for the Wuskwatim dam, is a $40 million Hydro bond, which was payment for the last hydro project affecting the reserve. Oh, and the reserve is broke.

Nevertheless, since June, they are the proud owners of a third of the $1.2 billion dollar Wuskwatim power project.

It's New Democonomics at work.

NDP sold the one-third share of Wuskwatim for the rock bottom price of $85 million. That's an "investment" of 7 percent of the cost for a guaranteed 33 percent of the profits.

That's $85 million for a stake worth $400 million. A 470 percent return on investment to start with.

The Winnipeg Free Press said in March that:
"Sources indicate that the deal includes about $100 million in direct negotiated contracts for NCN. It could include contracts for camp construction, catering and security for the project. NCN band members will also receive some hiring preferences."

If so, the reserve gets all its money back before a single watt of power is sold.

Nelson House First Nation had to come up with $1 million as a deposit, fully refundable if the members walk away from the deal when the dam is built and ready to come online in 2012. The deal calls for Nelson House to come up with another $56 million as a first installment. Manitoba Hydro will lend them the money---- to buy the dam from Manitoba Hydro. And they have at least 29 years to pay it back, presumably from the profits of the dam they're buying.

They still need to find $28 million by the time the dam is built in 2012. How tough will that be?

Banker: And how do you expect to repay this loan?
NCN: Hydro says our share of the profits will be from $26 to $57 million a year.
Banker: Sign here.

The NDP opposes P3's-- private-public partnerships--- because, they argue, the private investors get all the profits and the public takes all the risk. Under New Democonomics the public sector puts up both ends of the investment and still shares the profits. Go figure.

We haven't seen such a sweet deal since, well, since the Crocus Fund.

You remember how Crocus got an "investment" from the Quebec Solidarite Fund (the 'Fond' ) for $10 million? http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/05/crocus-fund-and-mystery-loan-from.html

Except that the terms of the deal---absoutely no risk, the principle fully protected, the return-on-investment fully guaranteed for the length of the "investment"---resembled nothing so much as a loan, so much, in fact, that the Auditor General determined that it was---wait for it---actually a loan misrepresented as an investment.

Yet the NDP is allowed to sell Manitoba Hydro assets at terms so generous they make the Dollar Store seem like Saks Fifth Avenue.

And nobody says boo.

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

Under the Dome of the Legislature

You've heard the old saying "when the cat's away, the mice will play."

Well, when Premier Gary Doer was out of the Legislature for a couple of days (in Vancouver on official business), the Opposition caught fire and scorched the NDP benches.

Even when the Top Cat returned today, the Tories, plus Liberal Kevin Lamoureux, kept the heat turned up. The New Democrats are suddenly looking at the clock and counting the days until this session of the Legislature ends.

P.C. leader Hugh McFadyen seized the reins with, of all things, a revival of the Crocus scandal, the first topic he kiboshed after stepping into Stu Murray's shoes. And the NDP is squirming.

A New Attack

McFadyen rose in the Legislature on Tuesday and declared "J'accuse David Woodbury." He said the Tories have been tipped that Woodbury was the Crocus fund's "Mr. Inside", the point man who handled the Crocus file for the government outside of the normal chain of command. McFadyen said a public inquiry was needed to uncover whether Woodbury had kept Doer abreast of the fund's financial problems before they burst into the public.

On Thursday McFadyen raised the ante. He asked Doer to recuse himself from the matter because of his close relationship with Woodbury, and for the Attorney General to use his authority to issue an order-in-council establishing a public inquiry.

A New Defence

With Doer out of the province, Finance Minister Greg Selinger rushed to the parapets to fend of the latest attack. If the Crocus fund ended in disaster, it was Gary Filmon's fault, he thundered.

Oh, wait. That's the old defence. The new defence is that Crocus lost so much money during Filmon's watch that it was too weak to survive.

The Weakest Link

The Tories have identified the weak link on the government side. They've started peppering Industry Minister Scott Smith with questions about Crocus, which came under his portfolio. Gary Doer and Greg Selinger have had to run interference for Smith by leaping up to answer the questions for him.

Hanky Spanky

Doer's return still managed to fluster McFadyen, though. At one point he interrupted a speech to complain to the Speaker about the insults flying across from Doer when his microphone is turned off.

Fewer Surgeries, Shorter waits

An exchange on Tuesday between Tory Myrna Driedger and Health Minister Theresa Oswald produced some real information about the health care system in Manitoba, although it was lost in the barrage of political rhetoric that accompanied both question and answer.

Driedger asked why the number of major surgeries done in Winnipeg fell from 58,000 in 1998-99 to 53,500 in 2005-06 despite an increase in the health budget of $1.5 billion.

Oswald answered that the government made its spending priority the reduction of wait lists for cancer and cardiac patients, which now stand below the national bench marks. Surgeries have been reduced as a result.

A fair question. And a fair answer. The public could decide which side of the fence they stood---if they could filter out the acidic partisan commentary that poisons Question Period.

Lone Crusader

Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux demanded to know why the Premier has not fired his chief of staff who is being investigated by Elections Manitoba over allegations of interfering in an NDP nomination race. Lamoureux used terms like corruption and bribery to describe what he read in the letter which was sent to the Premier and turned over to Election Manitoba. The Tories are letting Lamoureux carry this ball alone.

Weakest Link, Part Two

There's a reason the Tories have set their sights on Industry Minister Scott Smith. He's been their best friend this session.

It was Smith who revitalized the P.C.'s by letting slip how little support there has been from the private sector for the Spirited Energy rebranding excercise so far.

Stage One of the rebranding was to sell Spirited Energy to Manitobans.
Stage Two, which started this week, was to take the sell to the rest of the country.

The government said Stage One cost about $2.4 million, of which $1 million came from the private sector. In an unguarded moment Smith revealed that some of the "private sector" support was really from Crown corporations. That got the Opposition hounds baying.

Smith tried to quelch the criticism by naming names of some of the private sector supporters of Spirited Energy and how much they contributed. The total fell more than half a million dollars short of the $1 million he originally said had come from the private sector.

Tory leader McFadyen worked this bone Monday, but dropped it the rest of the week. We can't say whether it was because he lost interest in where the NDP spent advertising dollars, or whether he decided it was better not to alienate the Winnipeg Free Press, which has editorially supported the Tories, and which may have a conflict-of-interest when it comes to Spirited Energy ad monies.

The FP ignored Scott Smith's revelations as long as it possibly could, hoping they would go away. Then, four days later, a strange story appeared on Page A6 of Tuesday's paper.

It's a lesson for any journalism student on " How to read the newspaper and separate flim flam from news".

A. There was no byline. Now how unusual is that? It was the only story in the entire paper without a hint of who wrote it. Don't you wonder why?

B. The story undoubtedly started as a legitimate story from the Legislature bureau, probably about Hugh McFadyen's questions on Monday. We bet an editor immediately flagged it for the attention of editor Bob Cox. Cox blanched, and took it to publisher Andy Ritchie. Ritchie wasn't going to carry the can; he dialed the paper's Spirited Energy expert, co-owner Bob Silver, who sat on the committee that recommended the branding in the first place.

Silver made some suggestions. Ritchie and Cox added their own touches. And the story was rewritten beyond recognition. A group effort, nobody wanted the credit of a byline.

C. A story about an alleged lack of support from the private sector for Spirited Energy morphed into a story about the great support of the private sector. Except that the only source quoted was Dave Angus, in his role as the president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. Not one real business owner can be found in the story. The only other person quoted is Free Press publisher Andy Ritchie who gives his boss's branding campaign a rave review.

D. The writer(s) get around to the numbers in the bottom third of the story, the part that only diehard readers get to.

He/she/they wrote that
"private sector and community contributions to the Spirited Energy campaign include $300,000 donated by the Broadcaster's Association of Manitoba for on-air advertising space, as well as $165,000 of advertising space provided by Canwest Global. Manitoba Public Insurance gave $60,000 for this summer's travelling Spirited Energy street teams. Free Press Publications donated $53,000 of advertising space."

E. We guess MPI falls under designation"community contributions." We also noted what was missing from the list.

The Winnipeg Sun.

Scott Smith said last Friday that the Sun's contribution was $15,000.

In the cheapest of cheap shots, the FP refused to even print the name of other newspaper in town.

F. They did however mention Free Press Publications. You see, there's some question about whether the advertising in the Winnipeg Free Press is donated, or if the government is buying it.

Which raises the question of whether the co-owner of the newspaper has a conflict of interest in promoting Spirited Energy to the government through his committee work and collecting hefty ad revenue from the government at the other end.

The question isn't answered by the reference to Free Press Publications. This term just raises more questions.

Did the newspaper intend the reader to understand that the Winnipeg Free Press donated $53,000 worth of ad space for the Spirited Energy campaign? Then why not say it in so many words?

If the story had referred to Free Press publications (small p), we would understand that to mean the community weeklies and Uptown, which are sister publications to the FP.

But that would leave us wondering whether the Free Press made any contribution of its own.

In fact, we are wondering that. A newspaper story is supposed to clear up questions that readers have, not make things murkier.

And they do get murky.

- Free Press Publications shows up on a list of Spirited Energy "partners" on the SE website.

- But the Ottawa Press Gallery carries a listing for "Free Press Publications and Winnipeg Free Press" under 'affiliations', the "and" suggesting they are two entities.

It's obviously going to take a lot more energy to get to the bottom of this story. Maybe that's why we need Wuskwatim and Conawapa so badly.

Monday, November 27, 2006

NDP mega-projects handicap private builders

Winnipeg Free Press reporter Martin Cash tripped across a good story last Friday, even if he didn't recognize it.

It seems that the Manitoba government has ordered twice as many concrete girders as they need for the Winnipeg Floodway expansion project. The girders were going to be used to build six highway bridges. But the government scrapped four of the bridges to try and keep the expansion costs within budget.

More than half the ordered girders aren't needed anymore. Luckily they haven't been built yet, but Lafarge Canada, which had the contract, was counting on the order to guarantee more than 20 jobs and create another 30 at their plant. They may be looking at some compensation.

But this is not the first boondoggle involving the bridges under the NDP's watch.

Manitoba's engineers and architects have been grumbling for some time how the bridge building projects have driven up construction costs in the province. One of Winnipeg's busiest architects, involved in several recent high-profile projects, vented on the Internet recently at how there were no precast concrete piles left in the city a few months ago because they were all being used on the floodway bridges.

" ... private industry had to incur higher construction costs because of this and in many cases had to re-design their foundation systems because of it ... it has taken away skilled labour from private projects that will grow the economy ... some projects have been downsized or delayed because of this shortage and the increased cost of construction....." he said.

He wasn't protesting the projects, just the timing. A mega-project like the floodway expansion should have been undertaken when the economy was weak, he said, not when construction was at unprecedented levels.

The floodway bridges were adopted by Manitoba Tory leader Hugh "Spanky" McFadyen as his pet topic in the Legislature last week. Only he chastized the NDP for cancelling the four bridges. Trying to outspend the NDP is certainly one way of attracting attention.

The first week of the current session of the Legislature was not a happy one for Spanky McFadyen who faced a daily o-t-k lesson from Premier Gary Doer.

McFadyen watched as Doer hijacked day one by forcing a debate and vote on a non-binding plebiscite to support the Canadian Wheat Board.

Then he found himself chasing Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux who made the papers by attacking the opposition's oversight committee, the public accounts committee of the Legislature, as "useless." When you find yourself following the No. 2 man in the No. 3 Party, you've got a problem.

When McFadyen tried to make hay over the public accounts committee the next day, Premier Doer announced his government was bringing in new legislation to set pre-determined dates for the committee to meet. Doer got the headlines.

On Friday, McFadyen was back haranging the government about the floodway bridges. Question Period was almost over, the Liberals had asked their question of the day, NDP members were finished asking their softball questions, when P.C. MLA Leanne Rowat (Minnedosa) rose to her feet.

Her question, the last of the day, was to Competitiveness Minister Scott Smith. And it scored the only body blow to the NDP the Tories were to land all week.

Smith revealed that less than half the "private sector" donations to the Spirited Energy branding campaign actually came from businesses not connected to government. And they were all in donated ad space or "volunteer" time.

The Winnipeg Free Press, which has reaped a bonanza in Spirited Energy advertising dollars, chose not to print a word of Smith's revelations. The Winnipeg Sun had a big story and a photo---of Hugh McFadyen with a Spirited Energy banner over his shoulder. Yes, he somehow managed to elbow Leanne Rowat out of the picture so he could take the credit.

At least we now know there's someone Spanky McFadyen can push around, even if it is a woman.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Public has right to know what the Winnipeg Free Press is hiding

The Winnipeg Free Press dove headfirst into the gutter this week, but that's not why something smells at 1355 Mountain Avenue.

In a continuation of its smear campaign against Mayor Sam Katz, the FP published a story on Thursday designed to malign Katz by manufacturing a controversy where one doesn't exist. It was a story published purely to create the impression there's something suspicious about Katz's ongoing divorce proceedings.

Oh, bleated a pious editor Bob Cox, the Winnipeg Free Press would never, ever, publish details of a divorce that could harm the mayor's children. Not the chiiildrennnn ! But, in this case, there had to be an exception. The Mayor is hiding something and the newspaper (uh, scrap that) the public, uh, has a right to know.

And what's he hiding? Well, no one knows, but one lawyer says its something.

Yep. There it is.
One lawyer. One. Count 'em.
Says it's something. Or rather "we would have to assume" it's something.

And his evidence? Asking to have your divorce records sealed is "uncommon."
Hah. Caught red-handed.

How uncommon? Well, that's not important. Should a newspaper be forced to put a statement into context? What would the public expect next? Facts? Accuracy? Not making up quotations to jazz up a story ( http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/09/true-but-false-driskell-inquiry-like.html )? How could the Free Press operate under these unjust restrictions?

So just take his word for it. It's uncommon.
And who is this expert on divorce? Lawyer Ken Carroll.
Uh, who?

The FP identifies him as a middle-aged divorce lawyer. That's who.

So we've got one lawyer saying in his opinion asking for divorce records to be sealed is uncommon. And that's a story. Uh, why? Well, he spells it out:

"There must be something about the records that might be unique to this particular situation."

If that isn't clear, well, you're obviously not a lawyer.

"Must be something." "Might be unique" "This particular situation."

Oooohhhh. That sounds suspicious. Ooooh.

Not really. It sounds like what it obviously is, a manufactured story. The FP editors decided they wanted a story raising suspicion about Katz's divorce. They assigned it to reporter Gabrielle Giroday. How did she wind up talking to lawyer Kenneth R. Carroll? Good question. Why him? Especially since he's the only person outside of editor Bob Cox quoted in the story.

Is he the top divorce lawyer in the city? Is he the author is a groundbreaking study on when records are sealed? Is he a professor of divorce law at the university? Does he have a late-night talk show where he counsels people going through divorce? Go ahead caller, I'm listening.

Most likely the editors also provided Mr. Carroll to reporter Giroday. Here, Gabby, phone this guy, he knows something.

When a newspaper story turns on a single source, watch out. Especially when there's no obvious reason why that person is relevant to the story.

But readers have been well-conditioned to be wary of any Winnipeg Free Press story about Sam Katz. The newspaper has been bending and twisting facts for two years to smear the Mayor.

Who can forget the series of stories accusing the mayor of having various conflicts-of-interest? Of course the FP had to concede that not a single one of those stories was true, especially the one by Dan Lett and Mary Agnes Welch that even said a complaint had been filed with the city auditor (damn facts always spoil a good smear).


But amazingly, a real conflict-of-interest story right under their noses has gone unreported.

You know, the one involving Winnipeg Free Press co-owner Bob Silver.

Oh, you don't?

Bob Silver may be better known as the co-chairman of the Premier's Economic Development Council, the brain trust behind the Spirited Energy branding campaign. So far $2.4 million has been spent promoting Spirited Energy to Manitobans, of which one million dollars came from private businesses that believe in the campaign.

Or so the story went until Thursday. In a scrum with reporters Competitiveness Minister Scott Smith let slip that some of the "private" businesses were actually Crown corporations.

Reporter Curtis Brown at the Brandon Sun thought this was news and raised it in his blog Thursday night ( http://endlessspin.blogspot.com/2006/11/cash-spirited-away.html ). CJOB also carried the story. But the Winnipeg Free Press, well, let's be generous and say their legislature reporters didn't hear Scott Smith. Otherwise we might be forced to ask whether somebody suppressed the story to keep it out of Friday's newspaper.

But then the story just got better. In the Legislature on Friday Smith admitted that even those private sectors contributors didn't actually put any money where their mouths were. And he named the contributors.

- The Broadcasters Association of Manitoba put up $300,000 worth of free airtime.
- The Winnipeg Sun kicked in $15,000 worth of ad space.
- And Canwest Global provided another $165,000 worth of televison ads and billboard space on their building.

Note who is not mentioned.
Yes, indeed. The Winnipeg Free Press.

And look what's not in the Saturday paper -- any mention of the words 'Spirited Energy' or about Smith's revelations.


Which is surprising given the huge amount of advertising devoted to Spirited Energy that has appeared in the FP.

You don't think the province had to buy all that ad space, do you?

Because if they did, then what role did Bob Silver, co-chairman of the Spirited Energy campaign originators, have in determining how much was spent on newspaper advertising? And where? Did he step out of the room when it was discussed? Should the Premier's Economic Advisory Committee release the minutes of its meetings on Spirited Energy?

You know, the public has a right to know. You might say "we would have to assume there is something fairly unusual or unique about this particular (case)."

Did Premier Gary Doer's government channel the only money spent on newspaper ads to the co-chairman of his own committee which recommended spending money on the campaign it designed?

The questions are endless. Let's see if Gabrielle Giroday asks Bob Silver any of them? Or if Bob Cox addresses any of them on his blog. Or if the FP editorial board asks the hard questions of, well, the newspaper's owner.

Here's one last question. It's nasty in the gutter isn't it Bob?

- 30 -

Links for previous stories referenced by this post:
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/10/free-press-hatchet-job-on-sam-katz.html
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/10/how-free-press-built-smear-campaign.html
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/09/winnipeg-free-press-oops-we-did-it.html
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/10/newspaper-that-makes-up-quotes-calls.html
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/10/fp-admits-bad-reporting-still-says.html

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Grinnin' Gary sweeping the scorecards as Spanky can't land a punch

If this was a prizefight, the crowd would be screaming at the referee to stop it.

We never thought we'd use the words 'Muhammed Ali' and 'Gary Doer' in the same sentence. But then we never thought we'd see "Hugh McFadyen" and "Manitoba Tory leader" juxtaposed either.

Since McFadyen stepped into Stuart Murray's shoes, NDP Premier Gary Doer has out-jabbed, out-danced, out-flanked, and out-smarted him at every step. The Throne Speech and the current mini-session of the Legislature has brought nothing but humiliation to the new Tory leader, who was elected because of his supposed smarts as a backroom politico.

McFadyen has become the palooka hoping to land a lucky punch, while Gary Doer gives him a lesson in ring generalship. Doer has boxed his ears, tripped him, and, spanked his heinie for good measure.

Spanky McFadyen talked a good fight, but after each day in the Legislature, his face is as red as his backside when Doer gets through with him.


It wasn't so long ago that the Tories had Doer and the NDP on the ropes.
The Conservatives and their Liberal Party allies had brought the Legislature to a standstill, stalling the budget by forcing vote after vote on procedure to get the NDP to agree to a public inquiry into the Crocus Fund debacle.


Enter Spanky McFadyen.

The NDP spread a rumour that they were prepared to call a snap election and blame the Conservatives for obstructing the Legislature. McFadyen fell for it hook, line and sinker. He scrapped Murray's Crocus strategy and threw away his best chance for winning the next election.


In its place he announced the creation of Orchard's Irregulars, a secret task force under former MLA Don Orchard, tasked to develop "leaks" from within and uncover the awful truth about Crocus. This bunch doesn't have James Bond's double-o status; they're strictly single O, as in zer-0, which describes the sum total of their efforts so far.

Where Stu Murray landed some hard blows by attacking the NDP's decision to close the maternity ward at Victoria Hospital, Spanky McFadyen has abandoned health care as a front-line issue.

He got lucky in June when Doer got cocky and claimed there were no patients in hospital hallways, a claim absolutely nobody in the province believed.

But when an 89-year-old man was forced to lie down on the floor of the hallway at Seven Oaks hospital because there were no beds for him (Winnipeg Sun, Nov. 18), McFadyen yawned.

When Harry Lehotsky died of cancer six months after writing how he couldn't get to see a doctor to diagnose the severe pain he was in, McFadyen blinked. Harry who? Health care, how yesterday.


Doer shuffled his cabinet before the current session of the Legislature, leaving the Tories punching at air since the rules prevent them from asking the current ministers about decisions made by their predecessors.

In September, Spanky made his maiden speech to the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce, which seemed appropos, given his previous declarations that he intended to distinguish himself from the NDP by his plans to make Manitoba a "have" province.

The Winnipeg Free Press summed up his speech this way:
"A Conservative government would maintain the post-secondary tuition freeze, re-instate standards testing in public schools, cut taxes and rein in spending, Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said yesterday".

The CBC had this take:
"But McFadyen added there is hope Manitoba can improve under a Conservative government, which he said will come up with long-term plans to protect water resources, address doctor shortages and reinvest in highways."

But all anybody talked about was McFadyen's dig at the Communist leanings of Howard Pawley's NDP government (1981-88). Spanky spent the next few weeks on the defensive, trying to explain what he meant.

Then Gary Doer brought down the latest throne speech promising billions in new spending, with lots of it on McFadyen's pet projects like highways. Oh, and tax cuts.

He promised to start building the Conawapa dam ($5 billion and counting). McFadyen rose to the bait.

Who would buy the power, he asked. Ontario's long-term energy strategy, released in December 2005, made no mention of getting hydroelectricity from Manitoba, he declared.
Did too, counted Doer.
Once.
Which is still one more than zero.
Then he closed the trap.

The Ontario Power Authority's 20-year-plan, released the day before, mentions Manitoba eight times.
Huh? said McFadyen.

Doer knew about the report and suckered Spanky. Again.

Did anyone notice that the NDP plan to run in the new election as conservatives? Yes, its all there in the Throne Speech. The NDP plan to contrast their seven years in office with Manitoba in 1999, highlighting their steady string of tax cuts and debt reduction. McFadyen is left gasping.

Tuesday in the Legislature, he lambasted the NDP for cutting a number of bridges from plans to rebuild the Winnipeg Floodway.
The NDP announced the cuts to try and stay on budget.
Spanky once said he wanted to rein in spending.
Now he wants to outspend the NDP.


With only three weeks in this session, probably the last before an expected spring election, you'd think the Tories would want to make a mark. Gary Doer had them wasting a day voting on a motion to hold a non-binding plebiscite into the future of the Wheat Board. The Tories voted against it, a vote which will be used as a club against them in the coming election.

Damn, fell for it again.

When Spanky McFadyen tried to attack the NDP for not caring about smoking on reserves, Premier Gary Doer thanked the member from Carman, Denis Rocan, for his foresight in bringing forward a private members bill to ban smoking in public places. McFadyen, who engineered Rocan's defeat at the nomination meeting for the next election, was left with the usual fixed grin on his face and nothing to say.

McFadyen's promises of bold plans to harness Manitoba's economy seem to have been replaced with a series of musings.

Maybe, he told the annual Tory convention, Manitoba's electoral laws should be changed to introduce proportional representation so that more Liberals were in the Legislature.

Maybe, he told the Winnipeg Sun, the private sector should finance hydro projects.

Or maybe not.

The li'l rascal. You can't hit what you can't see.

But maybe somebody should tell him that rope-a-dope means avoiding punches, until your opponent gets tired --- not taking them all on the chin, until your opponent gets tired of smacking you around.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

NDP's Throne Speech deaf to dead hero's story


Among the almost 2000 mourners at the funeral of Rev. Harry Lehotsky was Premier Gary Doer.

Lehotsky was the American-born Baptist minister who dedicated his life in Winnipeg to cleaning up his tough, crime-ridden West-End neighbourhood and building a community with hands-on projects ranging from renovating dilapidated homes to opening a restaurant staffed by locals.

Doer was the politician who disagreed with almost everything Lehotsky believed about the system -- that it was dysfunctional, that it favoured the politically correct over the competent, that it threw roadblocks in the path of anyone trying to solve community problems.

Lehotsky took shots at the NDP's sacred social causes and made the Socialists squirm.

On the Social Planning Council and do-gooder agencies:
Many people have commented on the fact that it’s always the same people who are first to hear about funding even before it’s announced publicly... It seems the same empowered people keep showing up to control every pot of empowerment funding ... they use their power to keep money from new groups that could provide more services for less funding.

On Immigrant communities and gangs in August 2004:
I have two predictions for next year's review of this year's crime. You'll likely see a serious spike in street crime and also an alarming increase in the number of criminal activities associated with some recent African immigrants ... Left unheeded, this situation will produce far more serious problems... It won't take long before the recruits tire of being "sub-contractors" and organize to grab their own slice of the action. That's a gang war just waiting to happen.

And in 2005 when his warning went unheeded:
But, said Rev. Harry Lehotsky, the city needed the murder of a 17-year-old innocent boy from the suburbs to call attention to the area's plight.
"The problem has been around for years, now the rest of the city knows what we put up with," said Lehotsky, pastor at New Life Ministries...
"I'm surprised people think it's a new phenomena," said the Baptist minister.


And on First Nations funding:
... But I noticed that, even as the Lord’s Prayer was removed and Christmas celebrations neutered, children were increasingly being indoctrinated through publicly funded powwows and other aboriginal spiritual ceremonies ...

Should the criteria for funding social initiatives include funding religious indoctrination to one particular form of aboriginal worship?... It’s amazing how much federal and provincial funding is tied to a requisite display of ceremonial religion. It’s discrimination.... Anyone who doesn’t worship in the “traditional way” won’t get the money.

But Lehotsky was a true local hero, loved and respected in his community, and Doer knew he better stop at the funeral before heading to the Manitoba Legislature for the Throne Speech.

Doer issued a public statement on learning of Lehotsky's death from pancreatic cancer, a statement so tepid it was embarassing.

By Wednesday, he had worked up a better response, declaring he had "great respect for (Lehotsky's) ideas, energy and passion."


Yes, that was an improvement.

And it was better than what the NDP called him when he ran for office as a Progressive Candidate in Minto riding in 1999.

Right-wing reactionary. Law and order ideologue. Religious hypocrite.


While at the service at Calvary Temple, Doer prayed, hard---to the politicians' patron saint of short memories. And, until now, his prayers were answered.

None of the reports about the Throne Speech mentioned Harry Lehotsky.


And all of the funeral stories started with the diagnosis of terminal cancer in May.

But the story of Harry Lehotsky's death and the Throne Speech are really two sides of the same coin.

Maybe I'll become another poster child for NDP health care "improvements."

Lehotsky wrote those words in his column in the Winnipeg Sun on April 30, 2006. It was his last column before he knew he was dying. As he wrote it he knew he was sick, more than likely very sick. And he was mad.

A few months earlier, he had noticed occasional discomfort in his upper abdominal region. This turned into occasional pain, which gradually developed into steady, and occasionally severe, pain. He decided to see a doctor.

Like many sick Manitobans, he learned the hard truth about the Mantioba health care system.His family doctor said he could get an appointment---in a few months. He was that booked up.

Someone suggested Lehotsky go to an emergency room. He went and found 20 patients and one doctor. And the wait to see the doctor was likely 12 hours. Sound familiar?

He left. But by Easter Sunday, the pain was excruciating, and he got to see the emergency room doctor faster this time. The doctor couldn't tell what was wrong. Sound familiar?

But he could make appointments with a gastroenterologist. In seven months.


"The prospect of waiting in pain didn't excite me," he wrote. He sought a second opinion.

The next doctor also thought he might have an ulcer, and " a proton pump inhibitor", a drug that stops your stomach acids. Except that this drug is not covered by pharmacare.


I started thinking, "What if -- in five to seven months -- I find out it wasn't an ulcer? Whatever it was would certainly have gotten much worse -- perhaps even inoperable by that point.
For now, I'll resist paranoia. I'm still assuming I'll get better.
I don't want to change my schedule, both because there's too much to do and it keeps my mind occupied on positive things.
Even when the pain is bad, I know others have it worse. If it's just an ulcer, I know people who suffer daily with more serious problems.
Friends and family started finding out about my situation. Responses mirrored my own feelings -- everything from shock to disgust that I was paying for medical care not available to me.

Lehotsky was raised in the United States, and his friends and family began telling him the obvious---go to the States where you don't have to wait for medical tests.

Part of me wants to stay and fight for what I've paid for here. But the pain and the concern of others may override any "point" I want to make with the system.

A friend, another pastor, visited Winnpeg from North Dakota. Hearing of Lehotsky's predicament, he picked up the phone.

A short while later, I was talking to a doctor in North Dakota.
After reviewing my symptoms and the schedule he said might be able to take me next week for both a gastroscope and a CAT scan, just in case the scope isn't conclusive.
Now I'm wondering if Manitoba Health will cover any of the cost.
Cynicism would suggest that if they're delaying getting the most important diagnostic tests, they'll likely try to duck paying any of the bill if I go south.
What am I paying for?
So what exactly am I paying for here?

The pain was so severe, he wrote, he wasn't eating. "... it seems to hurt less when I don't eat."

He concluded with this indictment of health care under Gary Doer.

While the WRHA bureaucracy swallows more and more resources, people wait longer and longer for even basic diagnostic tests that could reduce long-term costs as problems fester during long delays.
Maybe I'll become another poster child for NDP health care "improvements."
Seven years ago they promised to end hallway medicine in six months.
Not only has that not happened, but now it's worse.
It seems part of this government's strategy on getting people out of hospital hallways is to leave them on the street in pain.

How ironic, that Lehotsky's funeral was on the same day as the NDP's latest Throne Speech.

Healthcare doesn't have the same priority with the New Democrats that it once did. Not when they can announce billions for megaprojects (Hydro, roads), multi-millions for tuition rebates, and sexy "green" grabbers like subsidies for hybrid cars, all just before an election call.

Healthcare was relegated to recycling old announcements about expanding emergency wards at three Winnipeg hospitals, and the odd project at hospitals and health centres in Dauphin, Thompson and Steinbach. Not like the good old days when health care slogans defined the battle: End hallway medicine! Put Grafton out of business! Hire more nurses!

Oh yes, nurses. The Throne Speech found room to brag about the NDP record.200 more doctors, 150 more specialists. 1,300 more nurses.

But if the nursing shortage in 1999 was 500, and we have 1300 more nurses, why is there still a nursing shortage? What's wrong with this picture?

If Tory leader Hugh McFadyen wonders, as the rest of the province does, he would begin the debate on the Throne Speech by reading Rev. Harry Lehotsky's April 30 column in the Legislature.

And demanding answers to the questions that Lehotsky raised, the same questions that every Manitoban who has been in a hospital in the past six years, or knows someone who has, wants answered.

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

One question we had, which no news reporter in Winnipeg ever asked, was how Lehotsky was eventually diagnosed.

Did he go to the U.S. after all?


We thought he must have, until we came across this blog by fellow minister Jamie Arpin-Ricci: http://emergentvoyageurs.blog.com/748751/

In a post headlined Prayer Request for an Urban Hero, he referred to the April 30 column:

"Tests were possibly going to be delayed until November. As a result of his column and pushing, he managed to get in earlier."

Unfortunately, not every cancer victim is a newspaper columnist.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Crow---tastes like chicken

Winnipeg Free Press editor Bob Cox had his fill at supper last night.

For the first course he ate his words.
Then ... he had a dish of crow.

After slagging the work of citizen journalists as "no better than graffitti under a bridge", Cox had the paper scrambling to match our scoop on CBC's new hire, CTV's Janet Stewart.The Free Press said Stewart was unavailable for comment.

But the Winnipeg Sun interviewed her.

And the Sun noted she was planning to stay at CTV local for another couple of weeks until "word got out" of her hiring.

The Sun also got around to the wave of car vandalism outside the Winnipeg Art Gallery last Sunday.

Did you notice that reporter Ross Romaniuk said he knew of it on Tuesday when he spoke with one of the victims? But it obviously didn't become newsworthy until after the Mayor's phones began ringing off the hook when people read about the Colony Avenue crimewave in The Black Rod on Thursday.

*********
It took a lot of prodding and pushing, but we finally uncovered the Manitoba Conservative Party's new youth leader.

Unlike his predecessor, he's not committed to getting the Liberal Party re-elected in Ottawa. And, as far as we know, he isn't planning on leaving the province.

That's his brother.

The new PC Manitoba Youth President is Michael Diamond, a student at the University of Winnipeg.

His brother is Richard Diamond, the president of Young Liberals of Canada, who's studying law at the University of Western Ontario.

Michael Diamond hates turncoats.

Brother Richard Diamond is working for turncoat Tory Scott Brisson to get him elected Liberal leader.

Michael was elected to his post on Saturday, the very day PC leader Hugh McFadyen declared his heartfelt belief that keeping young people in Manitoba is integral to the future of the province (according to the Winnipeg Sun). He replaces Shae Greenfield, who confesses to dual loyalties--- the Tories provincially and the Liberals nationally.

We have to confess we got it wrong when we identified Greenfield as Youth Prez. We foolishly believed what we read on the PC Manitoba website, which had and still has Shae Greenfield listed as PC Manitoba Youth President. Silly us.

We got the part about his planning to get out of Dodge correct though, as he's repeated it to us many times in between insults.

Michael Diamond was a fellow blogger. He wrote The Diamond Room for a year before saying sayonara in May.

He's also a product of the Manitoba education system - just like Shae.

On his blog he said he wanted to see Hugh McFadyen elected "the primer" of Manitoba.
He "ones" got some advice from Liberal MP Rey Pagtakhan.
And he called the far-left bulletin board rabble.ca "comie" central.

Ouch, ouch and ouch.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

CBC's new anchor; We're called names; MSM blind to WAG crimewave

CBC has a new host. PC youth leader calls us names. Crime engulfs downtown Wpg. but MSM is blind.

Don't touch that dial.

We're proud to announce the new host of CBC Television's supperhour news show is... Janet Stewart.

Yes, that Janet.
She of CTV's supperhour news show.

CBC's motto for the new millenium is obviously "if you can't beat 'em, hire 'em."

Janet didn't have to audition through CBC's host-for-the-week process. She's a known quantity, though recent focus groups said they weren't thrilled with what they knew. With her contract running out, and management playing coy, the jump was easy, even if it is a jump down to the lowest rated news show in town.

CBC is hoping that channel surfers, spotting a familiary face, will stick around---at least until they realize they don't recognize any of the reporters and begin wondering if they've enterered a parallel dimension.

If Krista Erickson left any of her leather outfits behind (if Camilla Di Giuseppe decides to leave one of hers on the CKY coat-rack instead of hauling them all to Calgary at months' end), maybe we'll be seeing a new side of Janet Stewart very soon.

********
It didn't take long to get a response to The Black Rod's take on the recent Tory annual convention (http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/11/mcfadyen-has-loyal-tories-chugging.html).

None other than Tory youth leader Shae Greenfield wrote in, with, shall we say politely, a fiery blast of venom.

For someone who just ran for school trustee, and who shows a healthy interest in politics ( Liberals federally, Progressive Conservative provincially ) diplomacy is not his strong suit.

Usually we treat emails to The Black Rod with the utmost confidentiality, but since Shae has posted his reponses on his own Internet website, we feel released from that constraint, although we have redacted his email address.

He also forgot to post our follow-up question to him, and you can ask yourselves why.

Shae Greenfield wrote:
Date: Wed, 08 Nov 2006 20:17:25 -0600
From: Shae Greenfield
Subject: RE: RECENT POST
To: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com
I am not the PC Youth President, but the Past President. And given the fact that Gary Doer is the Premier of Manitoba, I see no corrolation between my intention to leave the province and Mr. McFadyen's leadership of the party. If anyone can be faulted, it would be Mr. Doer who has failed to make Manitoba an attractive place for a young person such as myself who is currently seeking opportunities to grow in his young career.
Shae Greenfield
----- Original Message -----
From: Black Rod
: Wednesday, November 8, 2006 9:10 pm
Subject: RE: RECENT POST
> When were you replaced and who is your successor? As of this
> minute according to the PC website, you're the boy-er, the man.
> http://www.pcmanitoba.com/aboutus.php>
> Hugh McFadyen Leader Brent Pooles President Bob
> McGregor Past President Jennifer Zyla First Vice President
> Grant Cooper Second Vice President Shae Greenfield PC Youth
> President Ken Lee Treasurer Peter George Dyck PC Caucus
> Chair Destiny Watt Secretary

Shae Greenfield wrote:
Date: Wed, 08 Nov 2006 21:23:19 -0600
From: Shae Greenfield
Subject: Re: RE: RECENT POST
To: Black Rod black_rod_usher@yahoo.com
I am well aware that the site has yet to be changed. Nevertheless, I am not the PC Youth President. Your indepth journalism astounds, really. Checking a website. Good on you. That must have taken hours of digging. Isn't that the sort of garbage you whine about incessantly from the Free Press. Of course they at least have the courage to put their names to their work. Perhaps some day I can get a job at a trashy Winnipeg bar and that way I can be a journalist, like yourself.

You are a cheap hack, and worse, a coward. Please leave me out of your posts in the future.

Shae Greenfield wrote:
Date: Wed, 08 Nov 2006 21:50:16 -
: Shae Greenfield
Subject: Re: RE: RECENT POST
To: Black Rod black_rod_usher@yahoo.com
I also would love for you to explain how my decision to look for opportunities abroad is the fault of the Leader of the Official Opposition. It's nonsensical. There's no logical connection between the two. Hugh McFadyen is not the Premier. If you are intent to attack Hugh incessantly - as you have clearly indicated - again, I would ask that you keep me out of it. As per usual, you know nothing about what you are talking about.

If I seem combative and aggravated, it's because I am. You anony-bloggers are a bunch of gutless scum. If you want to mention my name, mention your own, you coward.

We find it interesting that the most fervid supporters of Hugh McFadyen never want to discuss the issues, choosing instead to launch personal attacks on anyone who doesn't toe the party line.

But worse, we lament the level of reading comprehension in our college-educated youth.

The Black Rod simply pointed out that Hugh McFadyen's promises to keep youth in Manitoba falter when his own youth leader is preparing to leave as soon as he gets his degree.

If he doesn't have confidence in his Fearless Leader, who should?


There's an old saying that, given the obvious problems with reading comprehension, youth may find confusing: Do as I say, not as I do.

We're also still waiting to find out when Shae Greenfield stopped being the PC Youth President.
He, for some reason, failed to tell us.
Nor did he answer who has taken his place.

Oh well, we guess in the Tory and Liberal parties, for Shae straddles them both, insults trump facts any day.

********
A regular reader directed us to this story on a local discussion forum:
http://www.newwinnipeg.com/cgi-bin/yabb/YaBB.cgi?board=gen;action=display;num=1162858600;start=0

Under the heading First Hand Account, we read this from poster casualchris:

Ok,

So my girlfriend and I, and two friends decide to take in the Harry Manx concert at the WAG last night (which was very good BTW) and we parked on colony behind the building and when we came out, the WHOLE BLOCK of cars, probably 12-15 had windows smashed and contents stolen/strewn about the boulevard. In the end, all that was lost was (we think) was a satalite radio, roughly 20 cds, and the case. Pretty good IMO because she makes a point of not leaving too many valuables in the car.

But the thing is clearly this was someone who knew the occupants would be away for a couple hours and they figured it was a low risk thing to do. I'm guessing they've hit that spot before.

So I get to thinking, why should I not park there sometime during an event like that and lay on the back seat floor and wait for these MF-ers with a bat and deal with this the old fashioned way. Clearly nothing else will be done to ensure this doesn't happen again because from the sounds of things it goes on everyday without much deterent.

Not a word of this has filtered through to the MSM.

Yet this is exactly the problem facing the city and the downtown.

Each and every one of the people attending the WAG that night told their relatives and their neighbours what happened, and no amount of Spirited Energy advertising will overcome the facts on the ground.


An isolated incident?
Consider these posts flowing from casualchris....

burber wrote:
I'll bet the theft was just for fun. My brother's wedding was at the WAG.....some out of town family parked on Colony. Big surprise, they returned to their car to find all 4 tires slashed, nothing stolen

mrchristian wrote:
I've heard from friends before that have been targeted en masse on that strip while at Art Gallery events - seems to be a regular spot. It makes me wonder why the GALLERY itself doesn't take some ownership of the issue. Either have signs or a volunteer out there pre-event suggesting it's not the best place to park, have a volunteer or security person patrolling the strip during the show or, as it's a dark and isolated part of the street behind the gallery, install huge freaking lights form their property and light that strip up like it's 12 noon.

It should be a concern to them if it happens that often in the same place.

It should be a concern for every citizen of Winnipeg.

Crime downtown is out of control. The news media don't know it because they aren't downtown ( what about CTV and CBC and CITY-TV ? - ed.) We guess nobody has called a news conference to tell them.

The editor of the Winnipeg Free Press calls reports like these from citizen journalists "no better than graffiti under a bridge."

Coming from a newspaper that fabricates quotes to bolster its dipping circulation, his sneers rank as high praise from a wounded and frightened relic of the past.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

McFadyen has loyal Tories chugging Pepto

It takes a strong stomach to belong to the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba these days.

The annual convention last weekend did nothing to settle the butterflies.

In the six months since electing a new leader, the members have learned:

* Tory turncoats who jumped ship to back the discredited federal Liberals, and who still belong to the Liberal Party, are valued members of the new team, more-so than some of the current sitting MLA's who stuck by the P.C.'s through thick and thin .

* The party will be campaigning on a pledge to use millions of dollars of taxpayers money to reimburse people who got huge tax breaks to invest in a private labour-sponsored venture capital fund.

* Tory fundraisers will soon be knocking on doors to raise for money to get more Liberals in the provincial Legislature through changes to electoral laws. ( Tory leader leans toward green, Winnipeg Free Press, Nov. 5, 2006 ).

Policy-by-poll has otherwise replaced the sloppy process of inviting ideas from the party's grassroots.

If a Free Press poll says infrastructure is the top issue, then infrastructure goes to the top of the Tory list.

If the environment scores high, then the Tories will be greener than Kermit.


A wave of queasiness passed over the convention delegates when leader Hugh McFadyen embraced a Green agenda by going all Churchillian and talking about, *gulp*, the sacrifices he would be asking from voters.

"More needs to be done to ensure we've got clean air, clean water and clean land for our children, our grandchildren, and for generations to come."

"That may mean in the short run there's sacrifices to be made." said McFadyen.

"There's a whole bunch of things that cost money and create inconvenience, but they need to be done," he declared.

Since everyone knows "sacrifices" means "taxes", the delegates were overjoyed that none of the reporters on hand pressed McFadyen for more details.

But it wasn't all gloom. There was levity, too. McFadyen understands that the secret of a good speech is "leave 'em laughing."

As the Winnipeg Sun reported:


"Keeping young people in the province is integral to the future of the province and dealing with the environment is one way of accomplishing the goal, he added."

The loud huzzahs that greeted his statement were actually guffaws from the party's executive members enjoying a hearty inside joke.

For even as the Conservatives campaign on "keeping young people in the province", the youth representative on the PC Manitoba board of directors is openly telling people he's quitting this popstand.

Shae Greenfield is the PC Youth President. He supports the PC Party of Manitoba and the Liberal Party of Canada -- in keeping with Hugh McFadyen's theme of turning the provincial Tories into the farm team for the federal Grits.

On his personal website (lemonchicken.ca), Greenfield states:

I am going to focus on finishing up my degree, which I should have by July. I don't expect that I will stay in Manitoba much beyond that point.

As we said, it takes a strong stomach to belong to the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba these days.

***********
Huzzahs of our own:

Two down, four to go.

Tom Brodbeck gave the rest of the class a journalism lesson when he caught Manitoba MP's Pat Martin (NDP) and Raymond Simard (Liberal) flip-flopping in Parliament. Both politicians voted against Bill C-9, the Conservative Party's new tough-on-crime bill, but back in August, both men were for it before they were against it.

The Black Rod called on reporters to hold all the Manitoba Liberals and NDP MP's accountable for voting against the bill despite their mealy-mouthed bleating about crime in their communities.

Brodbeck skewered two of them. Four MP's have not been asked to explain their vote.

The Winnipeg Free Press' Ottawa reporter Paul Samyn also did a story this week.

It was on Halloween night at Stephen Harper's house.


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

Good Old-fashioned Legwork

CTV's Crime Reporter Kelly Dehn scooped his newspaper counterparts covering the weekend shooting death of a 16-year-old boy on Flora Avenue. He was first to report that a frantic witness to the shooting hid the handgun that killed the boy in a neighbour's basement.

How did he find out?

Simple.
He asked around.

********************
Bobby, we didn't know you cared.


The Ryerson Review of Journalism (Summer, 2006, now on the stands) carries a story on the challenge to print journalism from news on the Internet.

"Cyber Siege
Yes, the Internet is a big, scary monster that threatens newspapers. But as Globeandmail.com and others have shown, the counterattack has begun."

Winnipeg Free Press editor Bob Cox is quoted prominently.

" The biggest danger is people posting anonymously on the Web," says Bob Cox, editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. "

"That's no better than graffiti under a bridge."

Now who do you think he's talking about?

Friday, November 03, 2006

FP's tangled web catches editor Bob Cox

It comes as no surprise that the Winnipeg Free Press has had some serious problems with credibility recently.

* One day the newspaper is literally making up quotes it claims were spoken at the public inquiry into the conviction of James Driskel for murder. The quotes proudly appear on Page One, but not in the transcript of the hearing.

* Another day the publisher is blaming his own reporter for screwing up direct quotes taken from a tape recorded interview. The paper claims Lloyd Axworthy said "diasporas", not "the Aspers" when he criticized the political influence of, ahem, people with dual loyalties. No transcript of the interview is provided.

* And who can forget the editor's "clarification" during the civic election campaign for all the blatant misquotes and false headlines attacking Mayor Sam Katz. Clarification is the word you use when you refuse to apologize to the person you smeared in the first place.

And then this week, as they say in radio, the hits just keep on coming.

FP editor Bob Cox was positively giggly when writing on his "blog" about the latest Free Press circulation figures.

Circulation, he claimed, is up, even if only by about one percent.

"This may not sound like much. But, to put it in perspective, the other daily newspaper in Winnipeg lost circulation, as did large papers such as the National Post and the Toronto Star."

"So we're pretty proud of the number of people reading us in print and online. I'm thankful that Winnipeg supports the Free Press and in return I hope we can continue to be the best source of information in the city."

Uh, Bobby? Who do you think you're kidding?

For starters, you would have to actually provide accurate information to the public. No made-up quotes, transcripts of disputed interviews, facts not fantasy when covering an election. And then there's the problem of your spin on the Free Press circulation.

Now, we're not talking about the claim by reporter Dan Lett on his "blog" that the FP circulation is 165,000. You may want to talk to him about that privately.

But we did notice that the FP carried a news story about your circulation success which was the basis of your "blog" posting. And we wonder about the figures quoted in that story.

We don't blame reporter Geoff Kirbyson. He was just minding his own business when he got the assignment from hell --- take these numbers, make the paper look good, and make it look like a real news story. But we have some questions about those numbers.

According to figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Free Press weekday circulation increased from 116,710 to 117,966, Saturday circulation dropped from 164,106 to 162,951, and Sunday circulation rose from 113,788 to 114,709.

That means your average daily circulation was 123,000 and has risen to a whopping 123,800.

Uh, Bob.... Wasn't the Winnipeg Free Press claiming back in January, when Andy Ritchie got the job as publisher, that its average daily circulation was 125,000?

Does that mean the FP lost 1.6 percent in circulation in 2006? And you're trumpeting the return of 0.6 percent?

Or did the ABC audit determine that the 125,000 figure was inflated by 1.6 percent, that the true figure was 123,000?

And did circulation increase 2 percent on weekdays, as the newspaper's owners told their income trust investors in the annual report released March, 2006?

Or has The Winnipeg Free Press's circulation fallen an average of 2.4 per cent each year over the past four years, as the Ryerson Review of Journalism reported this past summer of 2006?
You remember that story, don't you? You were quoted in it. Especially on how major newspapers are losing their readers.

"Every editor in the country is thinking about it," says Bob Cox, editor of the Free Press. He cites threats like the Internet, less time to read newspapers, diminishing reader habits and an aging readership. Cox recently asked an auditorium full of students at the University of Manitoba what their first source of news is. "Two-thirds of the room," he recalls, "put up their hands when I said 'Internet?'"

And while we're at it, are you expecting people to believe that the latest circulation figures are certified by the Audit Bureau of Circulations as true?

Tut.Tut.

With your new passion to be the best source of information in the city, you must know that such an implication is, shall we say, deceptive?

The circulation figures released by the ABC this week come from a Publishers Statement provided by Andy Ritchie. Here's how ABC puts it:

" Publisher's Statements - ABC-publisher members must file Publisher's Statements every six months. These statements, which are subject to audit, are the publisher's claimed circulation figures. Audits are conducted to verify the information in the Publisher's Statements. Newspapers file Publisher's Statements for the six-months ending March 31 and September 30. "

In other words, Ritchie supplied ABC with what he said is the paid circulation of the Winnipeg Free Press. ABC sent this figure to subscribers of its service. The Winnipeg Free Press took their own publisher's figures, claimed they were official ABC figures, and wrote a story patting themselves on the back.

We're not saying the newspaper made up the story, although, given its recent habit of fabricating quotes to create better stories, that wouldn't be so farfetched.

But full disclosure would require you to tell your readers that the publisher's claimed circulation figures still have to be verified. Here's how the process works:

" Audit Reports - Circulation audit results are displayed in ABC Audit Reports. The reports reconcile any difference between the audited findings and the publisher's claims. Most Audit Reports are issued annually, although smaller newspapers may opt for every-other-year audits. "

Coincidentally, today the Poynter Institute carried a story about declining newspaper circulation.

A Closer Look at Plunging Circulation
By Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, November 3, 2006
As was widely reported, the six-month circulation numbers for U.S. newspapers released earlier this week carried plenty of bad news: an industry-wide tumble year-to-year of 2.8% daily and 3.4% on Sunday.
There were much deeper losses in big metro markets like Boston, Los Angeles and Miami.
As grim as those numbers are, a deeper look into the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) reports and into some online data released by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), makes the overall economic picture even a little bleaker.

Read the whole thing at:
http://www.journalism.org/node/2707

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Manitoba Tories Jump the Shark

Pity the poor Manitoba Tory caucus.

They woke up Wednesday morning to find they're on a white-knuckle ride to Hell.

They thought they had already weathered the worst hangover of their lives when they realized six months ago they elected Hugh McFadyen, the John Kerry of Manitoba, as party leader.

His first order of business was to scrub the weeks-long Legislature bell-ringing campaign designed to force the NDP to announce a public inquiry into the demise of the Crocus Fund. In its place, McFadyen announced a Crocus task force to root out hidden information on the Crocus scandal. The media promptly went back to ignoring anything the Tories did in the House and have yet to write a single story about the findings of the Don Orchard-led, John Loewen-assisted team of sleuths.

It's so secret, nobody has heard from or about the Crocus task force since.


The Black Rod hacked into Tory computers to find out what's going on, and the best we could do is uncover that Super Spy Don Orchard plans to buy his team secret decoder rings and pens that write in invisible ink for Christmas. But keep that under your hat, okay?

McFadyen next revealed that he intended to breathe life into the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party by turning it into an arm of the federal Liberal Party.

If that hadn't re-energized the caucus, McFadyen's performance this week had them gasping for air. At least that's what it did to us.

He dropped his bombshell on the steps of the Legislature before a rally of 40 disgruntled Crocus investors.
Yes, 40.

If elected, he declared, the Tories would compensate the investors who lost millions to mismanagement of the fund.

Say what?

Crocus investors have launched a class action suit for $200 million.
Exactly how much of that are the Tories prepared to pay?
And why should the taxpayer who didn't invest in Crocus pay a dime to the people who did?

If people who lost money investing in the Crocus Fund want to recover their losses, they can sue the board of directors personally, they can sue the Manitoba Federation of Labour which controlled the board, they can sue their financial advisors for bad advice.

But keep your hands out of the pockets of Manitobans who resisted the socialist siren call of Sherman Kreiner and James Umlah.

Crocus was a private venture capital fund. It was not run by the government. Manitoba at no time pledged to backstop Crocus losses.

Yet Hugh McFadyen, leader of the Conservative Party of Manitoba, has committed to spending tens of millions of dollars of taypayers' money to---what--- literally buy votes. (The same votes he had in his hand, when the bells were ringing.)

That's sure to be a great vote getter.

The Tory caucus must feel like the passengers of the bus in the movie Speed tonight. Trapped. Hostages to a deranged hijacker. Knowing their fate. This doesn't end well.

But there's more.

If one bonehead policy announcement a day is bad, then obviously two are better.

That's known as "Hugh-logic" within the party.


Fearless Leader McFadyen told the Winnipeg Free Press that at this weekend's annual general meeting the Conservatives will be announcing major changes to their top priorities.

Health care is being downgraded in importance to make room for infrastructure and education.

Yep. At a time when the Manitoba health system is in shambles after six years of NDP mismanagement, the Tories have decided its time to shift their attention somewhere else.

A nursing shortage caused by union members who refuse full-time work, rotating hospital closures all summer long, unabated hallway medicine, people dying in emergency wards, wait times as long as ever despite a billion dollars more in health spending, and the Tories want to concentrate on fixing bumps in roads.

We hear that Hugh McFadyen got a tip The Black Rod was preparing this story. He immediately issued a press release.

The 'L' on his forehead is not for Liberal, he said. It stands for his little known middle name, Lemming.

"Follow me, team."
"That's not a cliff ahead. It's a line in the sand and I'm stepping over it."
" Forward."
" March."