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.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Will a wild card trump the Voters Dilemma ?

Midway through a provincial election, there's only one word to describe the mood of the Manitoba electorate---despair.

So far, voters have been given two choices---the incompetent or the inept. Some pick.

On one hand, there's the NDP, consisting of 30 MLA's hanging on for deal life to Premier Gary Doer's coattails. On the other hand, there's the Progressive Conservatives, a dishevelled Opposition praying that their new leader, Hugh McFadyen, isn't as muddled as he appears on the campaign trail.

If this was a boxing match, you'd say they spent the first round circling each other, and the second tossing flurries without really landing any telling blows. Nobody is counterpunching and they're saving their haymakers for the final rounds. At least that's what people are anticipating. Otherwise, it's going to be a deadly dull election.

Given a year to plan and after spending months in the Legislature taunting Doer to call an election, the P.C.'s slow start failed to corner the NDP.

Where he should have defined the government and forced them to defend their record, McFadyen spent the week making lame announcements---a five step plan of forgettable goals, some soccer pitches, licensing specialty wine stores.

He went to Brandon, where two of the hospital's three emergency room doctors are leaving, and the community fears the emergency ward will be closed this summer. Whatever.

McFadyen preferred to talk about amending the Municipal Act to give Brandon more powers to establish business improvement zones and grant business licences.

Gary Doer couldn't believe his luck. He was prepared to have to play serious defence.

On health care. Eight years after being elected to fix health care in Manitoba, the system is a shambles and everybody knows it.

* A billion dollars later and there's no end in sight for hallway medicine.
* Family doctors are overbooked and strangled by paperwork.
* Specialists are leaving for provinces where they can practice medicine instead of jumping through bureaucratic hoops.
* Emergency rooms are operated by doctors flown in from the Maritimes.
* People have died in waiting rooms.
* News conferences are called to announce new diagnostic machines which will sit unused because of a shortage of staff.

And the NDP has built in a crippling inefficiency by allowing nurses to dictate their preference to work part-time -- and we're paying them full-time wages for showing up.

On public safety. The NDP proclaimed they would use a "holistic" approach to street crime instead of punitive Tory measures. Eight years later the streets are overrun with gangs.

* Car thefts are epidemic.
* Shootings are so common they're often not reported by the police.
* Innocent bystanders have been killed in gang shootouts.
* Major prosecutions have been scuttled.
* Gangs have firebombed the homes of police and invaded the homes of prosecutors.

The NDP has lost control. Their response---blame the federal government.

When a high-profile murder trial collapsed, the news media rushed to the party leaders for their response.

Hugh McFadyen said he was not ready to unveil his party's justice platform just yet. And Gary Doer insisted on speaking only about his promise-du-jour, community club funding. He made a joke about his stand. "If you want to connect it, say it's better to be on a team rather than in a gang," he quipped.

This is what passes for leadership in Manitoba.

In the days to follow, Doer made a series of announcements--more nurses, 100 more police officers, 50 more firefighters, 100 more doctors. Neat, round numbers.

The public shrugged, and the press regurgitated the promises without any challenge to Doer's credibility on delivering. Hallway medicine was a verboten topic in the newsrooms of Winnipeg.

Doer remains the most popular single politician in the province and he'll drag the rest of his party across the finish line all by himself if that's what it take.

The Tories decided to make crime their topic during the second week of the campaign. Instead of a big splash, it came off as serious overthinking.

McFadyen promised everything except more school patrols with shinier belts. And that may be coming. If Gary Doer said 100 more police, then McFadyen promised 200. Plus more sheriff's officers. And a Highway Patrol. And more prosecutors.

Is the public clamoring for tougher sentences? Promise mandatory minimums, even if there's no way to deliver because sentences are federal jurisdiction.

Do people hold judges in disrepute for mollycoddling criminals? Then promise a complex system of public input in selecting judges which will make it more cumbersome and less appealing for lawyers to take the job.

Oh, and don't forget a whole new bureaucracy called a Department of Public Safety to do something or other that's either different or the same as the Department of Justice.

A good idea slipped its way past the chaff---another jail.
But was anybody paying attention by then?

The P.C.'s were hoping people were paying attention to their television ads. Cheesy, true. But they begin to grow on you after repeated viewings, unlike the contrived "non-partisan" election ads from the nurses union which have long overstayed their welcome and started to backfire on the NDP.

Meanwhile the press has shown its inherent bias, again.

Not a story about the Tory crime promises appeared without some pontificating professor saying they were hopeless. If a professor wasn't available, then the reporter simply included the criticism without attribution.

No real people appeared in any crime story.

Not a single resident of the West End to say how successful Operation Clean Sweep had actually been.
Not a single resident of Magnus Avenue to say they wanted a heavy police presence to end the rampant drug dealing and gang shootings.

Yet every announcement by Gary Doer went unsullied by a single doubtful opinion.

Not a quoted word from the Opposition.

No pontificating professors to question how Gary Doer blithely planned to hire 100 doctors when the Brandon and Grace Hospital emergency wards were about to close down for a lack of doctors.

Not a single comment from anyone who is in hospital, who has visited a hospital, or who is preparing to go into hospital.

It's not like it's hard to find any of the above. And it's not like the NDP promises are inviolate.

Take the doctor promise. Here's how the NDP put it in their own news release (slightly edited, strongly highlighted - ed.):

Today's announcement will cost $5.36 million and will add 100 more doctors by:

Adding 10 new spaces at the U of M School of Medicine...
Adding 10 new spaces to the International Medical Graduate program...
rural and northern doctors with a guaranteed getaway by establishing a dedicated, $1 million support fund to fill vacancies when doctors need relief.
Creating new incentives for doctors to practice in Manitoba such as a new $500,000 resettlement fund to help doctors with moving and other expenses and the recently announced 60 per cent tuition rebate for graduates who work in Manitoba.
Increasing the number of physician specialists by expanding residencies in key areas.
Introducing new scholarships for Aboriginal medical students at the U of M. The annual scholarships will provide $7,000 each to six Aboriginal students.
Providing new supports for emergency room doctors...

So....the NDP says it will train 26 new doctors (10 at the U of M, 10 under the International Grad program, and six aboriginal).

How does 26 become 100?

The obvious answer is that 74 of the 100 will be doctors already in Manitoba who won't leave thanks to "guaranteed getaways", "new incentives" and "new supports."

So does that mean Gary Doer misspoke himself and the NDP will only add 26 new doctors?

Or less.

The plan calls for six "new scholarships" for aboriginal med students.

But Free Press native columnist Colleen Simard lamented a week ago at the small number of aboriginal students in the U of M's pre-med studies. In 2006, she said, there were 9 applicants "who self-identified as aboriginal", but only two were accepted. Where are the scholarship students to come from then?

And how soon will the alleged 100 new doctors be seeing patients? Especially since the NDP admits in its own news release that "it takes a minimum of six years to train a doctor and nine years for a specialist...."

The answer appears to be quite prosaic.

A careful reading of the NDP press release---an extremely careful reading---gives the secret away.

"Today's NDP will hire 100 new doctors over the next four years as part of a comprehensive strategy to continue to reduce wait times by adding more front-line staff to the health care system in urban, rural and northern communities, Premier Gary Doer announced."

The 100 "new doctors" are those already in school and due to graduate within the next 4 years. The province will then hire the doctors it trained. And if the NDP can keep 100 practicing doctors from leaving in the next 4 years, there will be 100 additional doctors on the books. If not, who is going to remember the promise of 2007 ?

There's still two weeks of the election to go. Maybe we'll even hear about the economy.

When elected party leader, Hugh McFadyen said his priority was to transform Manitoba into a "have" province. That was such a long time ago and he's barely given the idea lip service since.

And we're sure the Crocus Fund scandal will come up.
Which should be very interesting, indeed.

The NDP has abandoned any expectation of getting the votes of shareholders in the Crocus Fund, especially after the shareholders learned from the latest leaks of internal government documents that the NDP was aware for years the fund was going broke --- but turned a blind eye as more and more investors were sucked into the Ponzi scheme.

There were 34,000 shareholders when Crocus sank under the waves, taking their savings with it. If you assume that each shareholder influences only one other voter, say a wife or father or neighbour or co-worker.

That puts 68,000 votes into play, more than the hapless Liberal Party received in the last provincial election.

If only four in ten of them switches their vote from NDP to P.C., the Tories could win the popular vote.

26,500 votes would turn the election around.

13,000 families willing to vote for a party that's promised to hold a public inquiry into how they got hornswoggled.

That's some wild card.

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