The Black Rod

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

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Four versions of Pork-to-Strikers raise serious questions

We now have four -- count 'em, four -- versions of how taxpayer subsidized food intended for the poor and hungry wound up in the hands of striking employees of the Winnipeg Free Press.

The strikers' on their webpage provide two accounts of how a half ton of pork was "donated" to them :

There's the still-popular original version:

"Winnipeg Harvest had a surplus and they asked me if I could get rid of it," said the volunteer, who didn't want to be named. "I heard it might be a long haul here so I came here," the man said.

This was followed Monday by the revised version:

"On Oct. 16, a truck came by the Free Press line last week after trying to deliver frozen pork to Winnipeg Harvest. The driver was told Harvest had no room in its freezers for the pork. The truck then came by the picket line and donated it to the strikers, saying Harvest couldn't handle the donation."

David Northcott, executive co-ordinator of Winnipeg Harvest, provided two versions of his own, also on Monday.

To CBC News he said "that the frozen pork had been produced during a federal sow cull program that reduced the province's hog population by thousands. Winnipeg Harvest distributed the pork to more than a dozen organizations in the city for redistribution to their clients. One of those organizations gave the meat to the pickets, he said, suggesting it could possibly have been a group that had Free Press carriers as clients in the past. The meat was in no way surplus, he said."

He provided a variation of the story to CJOB's Richard Cloutier:

Cloutier: So who delivered this to the striking Free Press Workers?
Northcott: One of our frontline agencies who have been supporting working poor anyway. We're trying to find out exactly who because the person is not named…It will be one of the 40 or so frontline groups that picked up product in the last two weeks.

Take your pick. Northcott contradicts the reporters from the Winnipeg Free Press who contradict David Northcott. Professional journalists at work. (Or not.)

The versions range from "I just tried to deliver it to Harvest but their freezers were full" to "We had the pork and gave it to another agency, sometime in the past two weeks."

Here's what we think. Something smells. Somebody isn't telling the truth. Hell, it's hard to say any one of the four versions is the truth.

Winnipeg Harvest has an eight member board of directors, but the board is amazingly complacent about the inability of David Northcott to account for more than half a ton of government-donated food.

How often does a half ton of food disappear from Winnipeg Harvest without any record of where its gone? How often are volunteers told to take food and give it away to their friends and relatives with no accounting? Why hasn't the board of Harvest publicly disputed the donation story being flogged by the Winnipeg Free Press strikers if it isn't true?

Less than a month ago Winnipeg Harvest was begging for food donations. Now they admit they don't know where their donations go.

Something is very, very wrong.

For starters, the Winnipeg Free Press strikers union should not be getting anything from Winnipeg Harvest.

The strikers have jobs. They just don't want to work at them right now. That's their choice. But they can't claim they deserve free food.

The strikers are trying to deflect the opprobrium that's coming their way by claiming that half the Free Press workforce makes less than $15,000 a year. The unstated implication that's intended to stop questioners dead is that fully half of the employees of the Winnipeg Free Press are Dickensian-poor who depend on food banks to live.

Complete nonsense and we at The Black Rod are calling your bluff.

You don't get to push your way to the front of the line ahead of hungry children, the homeless, and the unemployed because you're greedy. Hungry? Your union brothers and sisters will feed you. That's the way it works. You don't get to take food out of the mouths of the poor because you're refusing to work and you don't want to collect a paycheque.

The astonishing thing to come out of the union's disgraceful conduct is David Northcott's confession that Winnipeg Harvest routinely gives food to unions.

It's funny that this has been a well-kept secret for so long. When Winnipeg Harvest goes begging for donations, they never mention that the food may wind up on some union organizer's table. They trot out the children.

Imagine how foolish Winnipeg Sun columnist Laurie Mustard feels today after learning he had been raising food for well-fed adults who worked up a hellish appetite walking in circles a few hours a day. Here's a bit of the heart-breaking column he wrote on behalf of Winnipeg Harvest, pre-strike:

Thu, October 16, 2008
Kids Counting on You


This being World Food Day, a question:
How many Manitoba children would you say receive food from Winnipeg Harvest each month?
Answer: the latest statistics indicate about 40% of people receiving food from Harvest are children -- that's about 16,000 per month.
The good news with regard to children and adults being challenged by access to food here in Manitoba is local food banks have it to put on their table, with no effort spared to make that happen.
This city and province's generous support of Harvest and all local food distribution organizations not only improves lives, but often helps turn them around, enabling those temporarily disadvantaged to recover more quickly and so often give back in spades.
As long as we remember 16,000 Manitoba children each month -- and even more adults -- are counting on our compassion and generosity to help them through their time of need (so often a "working poor" scenario), hunger should not be their main problem.

Remember the children (sob) and (don't mention strikers.)

The FP union carried an interview with Northcott on their strike website saying he's happy they got the free pork, even though he's been trying to distance himself from actually providing it to them.

And he told CJOB that he intends to deliver hampers to the Winnipeg Free Press strikers if the strike lasts much longer and the union asks for them.

In September, the Winnipeg Citizen's Coalition, a newly-formed left-wing political pressure group, issued a public statement titled "Perception is Reality". The group appeared as a delegation at City Hall to attack Mayor Sam Katz. Katz has fully complied with all civic rules and regulations regarding conflict of interest over his business dealings, forcing his opponents, including the Winnipeg Free Press, to invent a totally new argument, as articulated by the Winnipeg Citizen's Coalition:

"When it comes to conflict of interest ethics - perception is a reality that must be taken into consideration."

What then is the perception of the striking employees of the Winnipeg Free Press? Overpaid, greedy SOB's who celebrate taking for themselves food that was intended for the poor.

We can hardly wait for Gordon Sinclair's next column showing solidarity with the little people. "Hey, I know where you're coming from, man. I've been there. I had to get my cheeseburger from Harvest when I was on strike. It was rough. Real rough."

But, but, but…the strikers aren't public servants, so they can't be guilty of a conflict of interest. Let's see---the FP union wound up with half a ton of food that was given by the government to a food bank to feed poor children while the former candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada that runs the food bank can't explain how the food got to the strikers instead of the children. That's called perception. Which, as you know, is reality. Isn't that right, Councillor Dan Vandal?

Way back when the reporters for the Winnipeg Free Press claimed the moral high ground, Bartley Kives wrote a column (Sept. 20, 2008) attacking the Mayor.

"Conflict of interest clear to all except the mayor" was the headline.

"Apparently, Mayor Sam Katz either does not understand the concept of conflict of interest -- or wants Winnipeggers to believe that is the case," declaimed Kives.

"But a greater issue persists: Winnipeg's mayor does not seem to understand there's anything wrong …"

"And he also doesn't understand why it's a problem…"

In the hijacked pork situation, the conflict of interest is clear to all except the employees of the Winnipeg Free Press. They don't seem to understand there's anything wrong. They don't understand why it's a problem.

What's that clucking?

Chickens coming home to roost.

Here's another, more recent story which ran in the Winnipeg Sun.

Sat, October 11, 2008
Food Bank Forced to Cut Rations

Winnipeg's major food bank is starving for grub to stack on its shelves for the hungry. And it fears that Canada's ailing economy is taking a bite out of donations of cash and food to its West End warehouse.

Winnipeg Harvest's shelves have become noticeably sparse to the point the agency has begun issuing food in four-day rations to its clients instead of five days.
"We have only enough supplies in the building that it would provide food for the next two weeks," said Bryan Stone, Harvest's general manager. "We obviously have to adjust so we can spread it out as much as possible."

The FP employees want you to believe that less than one week later Winnipeg Harvest had so much food they declared half a ton of pork "surplus."

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