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, February 24, 2009

Porkgate Square One: Harvest insider speaks up

Citizen journalism is literally rewriting the rules of reporting. And one of those new rules is 'everybody knows something'. That means that, thanks to the internet, everyone with personal knowledge can add his or her voice to a story without going through a gatekeeper "professional" reporter for approval.

We've been getting an earful from readers about the Picket Pork scandal since our last story.

Thanks to them we now know important details of how the government-subsidized pork wound up in the mouths of Free Press employees instead of the poor and hungry it was intended for. And we are one step closer to identifying the person responsible for diverting the food from the needy to the greedy.

While some of the info we got has to remain confidential, we also received this detailed response from a Winnipeg Harvest insider. It's long, but read it all; its worth the time and effort.


You asked for it, now you got it. I will explain everything I know about Winnipeg Harvest, it's distribution systems, and everything else I can. I do not give you the permission to post my last email, I CC it to myself as well as to others and I do not give you the permission to post it. I will however allow you to post this email on your site because I am going to be as transparent about my experiences at Harvest as possible for I feel that I have nothing to hide. I would like to demand that you post the whole email intact, without omitting any of the points or information I have written.

Also, I would like to make sure it is understood that this email is strictly my personal opinions and observations which I will let you know about, and Winnipeg Harvest does not know I am doing this, nor do they necessarily agree or disagree with any of the things I will post throughout this email.

Now let's start with the basics of daily operation. I used to open the Harvest warehouse at approximately 7 AM Monday to Friday. I was basically in charge of unlocking the shipping gated area, turning off the alarms, turning on the lights to the warehouses, letting in any of the early morning volunteers that show up to help fill orders, drive trucks, or perform any other needed duties.

We at Harvest have one major difference compared to other shipping departments in corporate warehouses and that is that our stock is constantly changing. Sometimes we have crackers, sometimes we have pancakes, sometimes we have received bread dough some times we have received expired soda etc. For this reason we have a method of distributing the extra goods before they spoil, or take up too much warehouse space. The method is simple but effective. It is called the "Add to food banks list".

It was my job to take a morning walk around the warehouse to see what needed to be added to the Add to food banks list. This list was constantly changing because our stock is constantly changing. I will give you an example of what I would do. I would walk into the cooler and see what we needed to move quickly and I then I would estimate as to how much to add. Sometimes we would get a pallet of yogurt that was about to expire so I would make sure to add yogurt to my list.

The list would read as follows:

Add to foodbanks list

Item Per House Hold Amount Location
Large Plain Yogurt One tub or tray Cooler

Crackers One box Floor

Canned Cola 4 cans Floor

Frozen Pork 1 KG PKG Freezer

This list was hand written and would be different every day because of our changing stock. The Add to food banks list is added to our regular orders. The orders are dealt with in the following ways. The orders follow a bi-weekly system so every 2 weeks Siloam Mission Food Bank has an order. There were on average approximate 20 to 25 orders a day. Agencies that receive orders are food banks, soup kitchens, meal snack programs(after school food programs, the boys and girls club for instance) and day cares.
An example of an order is as follows:

Siloam Mission Food Bank
Address etc.
Time of Delivery

Vegetables ______ 100 Lbs
Fruit ______ 100 Lbs
Milk(for households with children) ______ 33 Liters
Baby food ______ 25
Formula ______ 4 cans
Diapers size 1 ______ 2 (PKGs of 6)
diapers size 2 ______ 0 " "
diapers size 3 ______ 1 " "
Boost or ensure ______ 10 cans
Bread ______ 100 Loaves

Now the amount of food that is listed on the above food orders for food banks is based on how many households that are on the list that day. This number is constantly changing because people stop needing to use the food banks one day or new food banks recipients are added. So during one bi-weekly cycle Siloam Mission Food Bank may have 100 households to distribute to and the next week they may have 120. Now the amount of baby products, milk, boost/ensure, dog food, and other things on the order is based on how many house holds have children, how many households have pets, if the recipients have diabetes or other medical conditions. These variables are processed by the 2 staff in the agency office. They email or call with the changing numbers every 2 weeks and then she enters the new variables on to the order list.

So the base amount of vegetables, fruit, bread, kits, onions, potatoes are usually set to one pound per house hold, and we will give more, if we have more to give. Sometimes we suddenly receive a huge amount of bread, so that day I have to double or triple bread. Sometimes Peak of the market will drop off 6 pallets of Carrots so I have to double or triple the amount of vegetables that we give out. How we determine how much to double or triple vegetables is usually based on a list that we have.

We have a daily list that tells us how many households we have for that day. So say we have 600 households today, and we have 2 full pallets of lettuce to give away because it is starting to sweat in the bags, then we will count the total amount of bagged lettuce that we have and divide it between the amount of households that we have for that day, or for the next couple of days. We can then determine that we can get rid of this pallet of lettuce in 2 days if we double the amount of bags. Now as for lettuce, we are usually swimming in it. There are different sizes of bags, but we usually have lots of small and big bags. Lettuce takes up a lot of valuable cooler space so it is usually a high priority to get rid of it. The problem with lettuce is that there is only so much you can give away to one household. Some house holds are just one senior citizen widow, and it is hard to give that one person 5 lbs of shredded bulk lettuce that was produced for say subway sandwiches, or some other corporation. So we usually have a limit of giving away a maximum of 3 small bags or heads of lettuce per household, or one extra large bag per house hold.

As for the Soup Kitchens, day cares, or meal snack programs, their orders were based on the amounts of people they will feed within a two week period. So say Sister Mac Boys and Girls club feeds 30 kids a day, then their order will be based on those numbers. The agency office will work together with that agency to see what they need to feed their people. These numbers usually didn't change much from week to week. Also we do not use the add to food banks list for these meal program agencies. Also, these agencies get priority for bulk items because it is easier for them to use huge bags of lettuce or bulk bread dough than distributing those giant bags of produce or product to 100 different households. Also, when I saw that I would have a Soup Kitchen order, then I would scramble to get rid of a lot of strange odds and ends that I could not give to normal food banks. 2 bulk boxes of habanero peppers for instance, or a 4 liter pail of cottage cheese, or a 20 lbs box of butter.

I would like to further stress that yes we did get "luxury food items" donated to Harvest like 5 gallon pails of ice cream, or one or two Giant wheels of brie cheese, but you can't make the recipients of harvest feel bad for this, these products are usually on the verge of spoiling, or they have torn packaging so they can't be sold in the stores so instead of these things getting thrown into the landfill, they were donated to Harvest so they could be used. Now a giant 5 gallon pail of ice cream is pretty much impossible to distribute to 150 households at a food bank, so they are usually given to soup kitchens and snack programs that cook for huge amounts of people.

Now you mentioned to me that your news agency received an email from a food bank client about how they had not received pork that week, while the free press got some. Like I said before stock is constantly changing. So maybe that week we had finished distributing all of the pork on hand, so unfortunately until we get the next shipment in, the food banks clients will not receive pork. That is just the way the food bank works though. If we get 6 pallets of bananas on a Thursday afternoon that will be rotten and dripping by next Monday, then that means that on Friday we are breaking our backs to get rid of those bananas that will not make it through the weekend. It is just the way it is when you get varying stock, from random sources, at random times, and at random levels of decomposition.

I would like to take this time to let you know that we do get visits from health inspectors, and we are always very concerned with what we are giving to our people. When it comes to bread, we try to never give it out if it has expired. Yes sometimes people get food that is moldy or questionable, but it is our goal at Harvest to avoid these situations whenever possible.

Now I would like to talk about waste. Yes sometimes Harvest has to waste food, it is just the way dealing with food is. Like I stated before, once we received 20 pallets of bananas on a Thursday and the thing with bananas is when they are huge 2000lbs plus pallets they start to cook in the boxes. So the bananas may look great when we get them, but within 2 days they will be super hot cooked bananas in the box that will be juicing everywhere. So now, yes we have a distribution problem, as you stated. There are only so many bananas you can give away in a day and half. So on that Friday I use my add to food banks list and I put 10 pounds of bananas per household. That is an extreme amount of bananas, let me tell you. If you are a single person and you get 10 lbs or bananas in one day, it takes a lot of work to eat them, give them away. There are only so many smoothies that one person can consume in a 3 day period.

During these "over stock emergencies" everybody in the warehouse is trying to contact as many agencies as we can to come and get some bananas. I think that in one day we distributed 7 pallets of bananas, which is a huge feat. Each pallet is over 2000 pounds, so that is somewhere near 14000 pounds of expiring bananas that we got rid of. Now what happened to the other 13 pallets of bananas? Well if they went bad, then we have to send them to the dump. There is just no way around it. We tried our best to deal with this major stock issue, and now we have to get rid of the cooked bananas. I saw this as a major issue when I worked at Harvest, so I started a composting program to at least divert some waste away from the landfill. We ended composting 6 pallets of bananas and the rest had to go to the dump. The compost was taken by Samborski Garden Supply who has donated compost bins to Harvest as well as them picking up compost at Harvest instead of Harvest having to deliver the compost.

So because of these issues, sometimes a food bank will get grapes on Monday and another food bank will receive sour cream on Friday. That is just the way dealing with the type of stock we receive with is. So yes some food banks could have not received pork on Monday or Tuesday, but then suddenly on Wednesday we receive 24, 3000 lb pallets of pork and then we have to deal with storage issues. You can guarantee that if we got the pork early enough that day that I will go above and beyond to add pork to the orders that day.

Now let's deal with the "pork fiasco" story that does not want to go away in the news. That week we had suddenly received a huge shipment of pork. So due to rotation issues and storage space issues, we have to move out as much freezer stock as possible. When these issues happen, we try to give away misc freezer stuff like mixed pallets of bulk items from sysco which might contain torn bulk chicken bags, fries, frozen peas and so on to soup kitchens and other agencies in a "surplus" type fashion. We will arrange a special event where agencies come to Harvest and pick through numerous excess pallets that we have to get rid of to make room in our coolers or freezers. WE ARE NOT LIKE A CORPORATION!!! We have a limited budget, and because of this we have a limited amount freezer space, cooler space and non perishable items space. When these situations happen we have to try our best to make room, find room, get rid of lower priority items. If we get 20 pallets of soon to expire imitation crab meat, it will have a higher priority than say, bulk lettuce bags. So we will try to distribute as much as possible, and dispose of what we can.

Now what happened with the pork situation was that we realized that we has suddenly receive more than we could store. So we called various agencies around Winnipeg and rural Manitoba to see if they were interested in getting pork meat to distribute to their food bank clients, or communities. So within a several day period we had probably more than 20 agencies show up at Harvest to receive some pork meat. Some agencies could only handle to take 4 cases, while others who had large communities to feed, and who had appropriate transportation methods took more.

One of the many agencies that came to pick up from Harvest, decided all on their own to drop off a load of pork to the strikers. We did not authorize them to do that, we did not know it had happened until the news had broke about it. All of the staff were shocked at the way this happened.
Now we are not saying that we would not have helped the strikers if they needed help, we are saying that we have an intake process and we usually demand that if somebody needs help, that they have to go through an intake process with our intake staff. These staff ask questions like what are the clients Social Insurance Numbers, how many kids that the client is supporting, how many people in their household, what is their financial situation and other things. All I know is that this is the proper channels to go through if you need help from Harvest. You have to call and make an appointment.

As the executive director of our organization, David had to speak on our behalves. The thing is that David's job is to deal with public relations and to deal with the Harvest board. He also has to try and get funding for different things at Harvest. He isn't one of the guys driving the forklift. So he did investigate what had happened, he spoke to the agencies office, to the shipping department and he had to go to deal with it at the free press. Now because he is not a blue collar worker, he may not know the exact methods in which we do things, he is not perfect in that regard, but he tried his best in dealing with the seasoned veterans in the journalism field. I do not speak for David, but he may have said contradictory things throughout this problem, but that is the way it is to be human. You say things that don't always make sense, you say this when you mean that etc. I am not excusing all of the things he may or may not of said during this situation, I am just saying that people make mistakes, people say stuff that they may not know will look bad to other people. We are all just human, and David is especially human.

I am asking you as journalists to please stop splitting hairs here. We can look over the manuscripts of what David Northcott said at 3:54 PM on this news station and compare them to what he said at 8:32 PM on this day to that person etc. He is not perfect. Anyone can find the flaws in what people have said if they just read and reread and investigate people constantly. It is easy to find faults in everyone if you are constantly searching for them. You know damn well what sound bites are, and with sound bites you can affect the way people are perceived and the way the story sounds to others. That is why I am demanding that you post this whole email on your site, instead of taking this section, and that section just to make your story seem a certain way.

Yes David has stated that he is happy they got the pork, or that we would support them if they needed it. He is a humanitarian, he works at a non-profit committed to distributing surplus food to Manitoba's needy. Of course he will not bash these Union people, and he will treat them with graciousness. He is a good man, a loving man.

Now i hope that what I have typed will help people understand that at Harvest we are just a non-profit organization who are trying our best to do a good job at distributing excess or donated food. We do make mistakes, because we are all only human, and I hope you can forgive this mistake that happened. Please allow us to move on from this dark time, and support us in our goals to eliminate hunger in Manitoba. Also, please remember that David just suffered a major health issue, thank god he did not die and please stop harassing him. He needs to heal, so let him heal and move on to the next sensational story!

Damien Gagné
Past Winnipeg Harvest Employee

PS. I forgot to mention something. Stock levels are cyclical. An example being that around this time of year we start running low on non perishables but during christmas stock levels increase. Also there are times when we almost have no food. Its kind of like we are either feasting or dealing with famine. I forgot to mention that it is our policy to accept all donations. Also this this is very important. If harvest wasn't here, most of our donations would just end up in the landfill. Yes you can post my name.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Memo to Gordon Sinclair: Northcott's stress = Porkgate cover-up

Put down that phone.

The call to the Pope will have to wait.

Apparently city councillor Justin Swandel and Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair have launched a campaign to have "Winnipeg Harvest boss" David Northcott declared a saint.




But, but, but, he works so hard; he cares so much, he drove himself to a heart attack, sniffed Sinclair on Friday.

It was the stress, including the stress of "watching the number of hungry mouths that were diminishing slightly at the beginning of last year suddenly climb by three per cent at the end of 2008," wrote Sinclair.

What he so carefully failed to write was what happened during the time of Winnipeg Harvest's greatest need, at the end of 2008.

At the very time that Harvest was scrambling to meet the demand for food for the needy, highly-paid employees of the Winnipeg Free Press were scrambling to load their freezers with 1500 pounds of prime pork meat that had been donated to Harvest to feed the poor.

The FP employees and union have refused to say where the pork, nicely packaged with Winnipeg Harvest labels, came from. They've given a series of different stories on how the meat-for-the-needy was delivered to the picket line last October four days into their strike against the FP.

Gordon Sinclair never wrote a single word about how his colleagues wound up with food that was intended specifically for the poor and disadvantaged. Nor did he write how David Northcott applauded the delivery of the food to the strikers instead of the poor.

At the time, Northcott claimed in a CJOB radio interview he had no idea how the food made its way from Winnipeg Harvest freezers to the picket line other than a stop at an unidentified local food bank along the way. And, he said, he didn't care. It was a humanitarian gesture which he supported.

So maybe the stress on Northcott wasn't so much from feeding the poor, but rather from explaining why well-paid strikers got food before the poor and hungry.

Maybe it was having to deflect questions about why Winnipeg Harvest has no controls over the food it collects, allegedly for the poor, but which can obviously be distributed to whomever.

Maybe it was the exposure that his political priorities (making sure strikers are supported and fed) take precedence over the truly needy.

Maybe it was the revelation that meat given to Harvest in prime condition can be allowed to spoil before it's handed out.

And maybe it was because the cover-up got bigger than he ever expected.

Way back on December 18, "in response to a concern raised by a local radio station", the Winnipeg Health Department stated that, contrary to the Free Press union's own claims, only "350- 1 kg meat packages" or about 750 pounds of pork was delivered to the picketers. Where did they get that figure?

The answer was provided only this week by none other than Mayor Sam Katz, who said the information came from Winnipeg Harvest.

But how would Winnipeg Harvest, i.e. David Northcott, know exactly how much purloined pork was in the mystery pick-up truck? How, unless someone told him.

And who would be the most likely informant?

Obviously someone from one of the 40 or so food banks and distribution outlets that Northcott allegedly questioned back in October when he was allegedly trying to find the source of the pork.

Someone came clean. And Northcott decided to keep the secret.

Just like the employees of the Winnipeg Free Press, including columnist Gordon Sinclair.

To watch Sinclair now pretend he cares so much about the hungry that he wants to promote a fund-raising campaign to take the pressure off David Northcott is obscene.

If he really cared, he would start by getting his union to pay for the food it took out of the mouths of those hungry.

Then he would plug the leaks in the Winnipeg Harvest distribution system that sees strikers with jobs paying $70,000 to $90,000 a year get priority over the poor.

But instead he's shopping for a halo--- for a fellow conspirator.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Canadian Human Rights Museum scamarama - add this to your list, Free Press

Owww. We're still nursing the bruise.

Winnipeg got its 10 seconds of fame on U.S. television this month, and whoever said there's no such thing as bad publicity should be shot.

Just over 10 million people watched How I Met Your Mother on Monday, Feb. 2. They went away with an impression of Winnipeg, and it had nothing to do with energy, spirit or shiny glass buildings.

The episode was titled The Possimpible (the place where the impossible and possible meet, of course).

Robin, currently unemployed, gets a letter telling her that her visa has expired and she has five days to find a job in her field (television) or she has to leave New York City and go back to Canada.

She's frantic, but fails to get even a nibble. Barney, who has a secret crush on Robin, tries to inspire her to keep looking. He describes her fate if she doesn't.

Imagine, he says, you're doing this story on the mayor of Winnipeg's nephew. And you sign off: "Reporting live from the worst place in the world, I'm Robin Scherbatsky. "

She's immediately convinced to give jobhunting in New York another shot.

Owww. 10 million viewers. Still sore.

The Winnipeg Free Press has been doing some good work on the WRHA scandals lately, but it slipped into bad old habits Saturday with its look at oversold Winnipeg development hypejobs such as Waverly West ("It's too soon to call Waverley West a bait-and-switch job…"). Oh, the stories were good at looking at the past, but the reporters stopped short at the obvious next-in-line for their list.

Yes, we're talking about the biggest hype of all - the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Everything they needed to say was already in print in the Feb. 10 story "Museum spinoffs an economic bright spot" by Murray McNeill.

The bloom is clearly off the rose even before construction starts.

"Museum officials also expect to spend at least $265 million to build and equip the new 12-storey facility…" wrote McNeill.

Expect to spend? At least?

Uh oh. Is somebody hinting at something?

"The museum's chief operating officer Patrick O'Reilly said in an interview the final price tag could be higher because construction costs have risen significantly since that cost estimate was calculated in 2004."


The cost of the white elephant is almost FIVE YEARS out of date?

Alarm bells ringing.

Red flags flying.
Dead fish smelling.
Pinocchio noses growing.

We reported last May

that the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights were already desperately trying to cut costs.

The built-in cost overrun contingency fund was evaporating at the rate of $1.5 million a month. And the board of trustees pledged to the Senate to bring the project in on budget.

Translation: expect major, major design changes.

But McNeill's story is a treasure trove of exactly the sort of bait-and-switch hype spotlighted by the team of Kives and Welch.

The museum will spend $27.2 million a year in operating expenditures, said their colleague.

Ohhh? That's $5 million more than the $22 million the federal government planned to spend just a month ago.

The cost of running the museum has gone up almost 25 percent already and there isn't even a hole in the ground.

Maybe they expect to earn five million smackers from, what? Admissions? Merchandise? "Getcha T-shirts here. Team Hutu. Team Tutsi. Twenny dollas each. T-shirts here."

And best of all is this howler: "Then there are the economic benefits that will flow from the museum attracting an anticipated 75,000 new tourists a year."


Nine measley months ago the Winnipeg Free Press was writing:

Museum could lure 200,000 a year
By: Geoff Kirbyson
May 7, 2008
A new report suggests Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights could attract more than 200,000 visitors a year.

That means the CMHR now expects only 125,000 of the 2.7 million tourists (not counting locals) to also visit the museum while they're here anyway. That's not even 5 percent, and less when you realize that the museum will be counting on-line visits in their totals.

And about that 75,000 new tourists. We know that 20,000 of them will be high-spending junior high schoolers press-ganged into attending.

So the museum expects to attract 50,000 people a year to Winnipeg?

The Conference Board of Canada predicted that tourist visits to Winnipeg would grow by 4.8 percent in 2008 - without the museum for human rights. That translates into almost 130,000 new visitors.

You don't think the CMHR is trying to claim the normal increase in tourism as their doing, do you? Nahhh. They wouldn't do that. At least, they won't get away with it while we're watching.

One mystery related to the CMHR has been solved.

Two months ago we questioned the inexplicable rush to fabricate an "official groundbreaking." They literally trucked in unfrozen soil and went through the charade of having grinning politicians pick at the alien earth with shovels for the cameras.

"For reasons unknown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to Winnipeg to participate in the phoney-baloney groundbreaking and, so, officially to turn on the money taps. There's obviously a reason for the pretence that the project has been started before Dec. 31, 2008, even though the private donors have failed to raise their required share of the funding."

Now we know what that was all about.

The "stimulus" budget contained millions upon millions of dollars for
-wait for it -- shovel-ready projects. In order to tap into the largesse, you had to prove you were ready to roll. Hence the literal shovels in the imported ground at the CMHR site.

They can't be honest about the cost.
They can't be honest about the tourist value.
They can't be honest about the government bailout.

That's gonna hurt.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Brian Sinclair cover-up: the timeline tells the tale

Sept. 19, 2008

3 p.m. Brian Sinclair arrives at the Health Sciences Centre.

It will be another four and a half months before details of what transpired in the emergency room are revealed. Even then the reports will be so confusing that we can’t tell with assurance which is accurate.

The earliest reports say Sinclair arrived by taxi. But Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra says “an unidentified man who drove a white van wheeled Sinclair into the ER and up to the triage desk.” (Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 4, 2009)

Security video shows that Sinclair wheeled himself into the line at the triage desk where the triage nurse on duty was seeing one person ahead of him. “a triage aide then approached Mr. Sinclair, spoke with him and wrote something down on his clipboard. Mr. Sinclair is then seen wheeling himself into the waiting area. (Brock Wright, vice-president of the WRHA, Winnipeg Free Press Feb. 5, 2009)

Sept. 20

Sinclair began to exhibit symptoms of the bladder infection that would kill him.

Brian Sinclair sat vomiting in the Health Sciences Centre emergency room as security guards tried to alert triage staff to the ailing double-amputee’s urgent need for care. Hospital security staff tried “many times” to get the attention of triage and “other staff” because Sinclair needed help. (Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra, Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 7, 2009)

A man, whose identify is being kept confidential by CTV, saw Sinclair in the waiting room. He appeared asleep. He may have fallen into a coma at this point.

Sept. 21 Just after midnight

The same witness noticed Sinclair was still in the waiting room and in the exact same position as the night before. The man and his wife became concerned and tried to get nurses to examine him. They finally got a security guard to come over. The guard felt for a pulse, then called for help. Sinclair was pronounced dead a minute later

"The nurse said we'll go and check, [but] nobody ever went and checked on him. We waited another hour or so and we told another nurse twice to go and check." The witness said the nurse told him she was too busy and couldn't check right away.
The witness claims he told a security officer of the man's condition, but said the guard told him the case would be "too much paperwork."
(CTV Local News)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We went to tell the nurse. The nurse said, "We'll go and check." Nobody ever checked on him. My wife grabbed the security, and I was with her. And he went up to the fellow, pinched him on the neck and lifted his head, and he was obviously dead. (CTV National News)

"The security employee recognized Mr. Sinclair and noted that he was sitting in his wheelchair with his head slumped to the side, as if he were sleeping," Balachandra said. The security guard wheeled the unresponsive Sinclair to the treatment area where emergency staff tried to revive him." The man was pronounced dead a minute later.
(Dr. Balachandra, Winnipeg Free Press)

DR. BROCK WRIGHT, WINNIPEG HEALTH SCIENCES CENTRE: There was reason to believe at that time that the patient had passed -- had been dead for some time. We don't know how long. (CTV National News)

Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra said Brian Sinclair, 45, hadn't been able to urinate for 24 hours because of a blocked catheter and his bladder was full. He had been dead for hours and rigor mortis had set in when finally attended to. (Canadian Press, Sept. 24)

At room temperature,
rigor mortis starts about 3 hours after death and is complete about 3 hours after that.

The appalled witness calls CTV local news. He says Sinclair had been in the waiting room at least 10 hours.

Sept. 22

Morning: CTV reporter Kelly Dehn begins asking questions about the death. The WRHA knows the story has leaked out.

Afternoon: The WRHA finally tells Health Minister Theresa Oswald of the incident.

Evening: CTV breaks the story on its 6 o'clock newscast.

Sept. 23, 2008

Brock Wright blames Sinclair for his own death. It won't be the last time.

"Right now, the system does rely on, and is pretty heavily dependent on the patient, or the patient's family, or the ambulance, bringing the patient to the attention of the triage staff... We don't have a policy that says every person in the waiting room should be approached... That's not part of the process right now." (Brock Wright, CTV Local News, Sept. 23)

Wright gives some details of the investigation that’s underway. Key staff have been interviewed. Security tapes are being reviewed, he says.

"He had some contact with the staff in the department, but he was never assessed by the triage nurse, and was therefore never identified as a patient requiring care...we did interview a few key staff, and further interviews and information gathering is ongoing."
Security tapes of the facility are being reviewed as part of the investigation, Wright said.
(Brock Wright, Winnipeg Free Press, Sept. 23)

The WRHA has begun to rely on what will be the cornerstone of their argument for the next 20 weeks: that Sinclair was never assessed by the triage nurse. That’s the truth, but not the whole truth, which they know. They added he “had some contact with the staff in the department” to give themselves plausible deniability in case anyone in the furture accuses them of hiding the facts.

But CTV comes closest to exposing the truth in its story today without knowing it.

Sinclair is seen on the hospital's security camera footage when he arrived at the department's main entrance Friday afternoon. He is not in the footage the entire time, but health officials say they believe the man was in the waiting room for the full 34 hours. It's also believed the man interacted with aides and cleaning staff, but not medical staff. (CTV News)

Four and a half months later the public will learn that this is a garbled reference to a “triage aide”who spoke with Sinclair when he arrived at the hospital. The Winnipeg Free Press will report that these aides also do some cleaning.

"The challenge for us right now is to explain how it is somebody could be in the department for 34 hours and not have been brought forward to the triage desk area and be entered into the system," Wright said. (CTV News)

This is a complete falsehood. Sinclair did come forward to the triage desk area. Wright won’t admit this for months.

Sept. 24, 2008

The Premier told the Legislature that Health Minister Theresa Oswald was trying to get information out to the public as quickly as possible.

“Premier Gary Doer: We have asked the Chief Medical Examiner to be independent of government and examine this on an urgent basis. The minister has met with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the Health Sciences Centre management to determine as quickly as possible the reasons for this tragedy, to, while they're reviewing this, expedite the process in terms of public disclosure of what went wrong and to fix anything that they discover as part of their review.” (Hansard, Sept. 24)

Gary Doer on CJOB radio blames the Health Action Centre for contributing to Sinclair’s death. The health clinic sent Sinclair to the emergency ward with a note explaining why, but did not call the ER to alert them he was coming.

Gary Doer: The individual was seen at the Health Action Centre by a nurse, seen at the Health Action Centre by a doctor, conveyed to the emergency ward by a taxi with referral material. Because of that, the obvious gap, because of the failure and the tragedy that resulted, the Minister of Health (Ms. Oswald) and the health authority worked on a new protocol yesterday. (Hansard Sept. 25)

Health Minister Theresa Oswald repeats the falsehood that Sinclair never approached the triage area.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald noted that the addition of reassessment nurses to emergency wards did not address the problem of people who don’t present themselves to the triage desk in an emergency room, as appears to have happened in Sinclair’s case. ( CBC News )

Sept. 25

Its hard to tell whether new facts are coming out or old facts are being garbled in the transmission.

Sinclair was dropped off at the Health Sciences Centre by a taxi Friday afternoon after visiting a downtown health clinic which is part of the Winnipeg health authority.
Some hospital staff - including housekeeping and security guards - did speak with him at some point, but it was not until shortly after midnight on Sunday that he was examined and pronounced dead. (Winnipeg Free Press, Sept. 25)

We assume the “housekeeping” reference is to the triage aide who does cleaning. And we’ve never heard that security guards spoke with Sinclair, just that they tried to get him help when he was vomiting.

Sept. 27

A funeral is held for Brian Sinclair.

Sept. 29

Brock Wright blames Sinclair for his own death again.

The hospital is no closer to understanding how Sinclair sat waiting so long without care, he said. Wright suggested Sinclair's difficulty communicating may have contributed to what happened, but that will ultimately be answered in an upcoming inquest. (Canadian Press, Sept. 29)

Sept 29/08

The government introduces changes to emergency rooms to assure that another person doesn’t die of neglect like Brian Sinclair. The Opposition reveals the government issued a gag order on medical staff at the Health Sciences Centre.

Mr. Hugh McFadyen (Leader of the Official Opposition): Earlier today, Mr. Speaker, some seven days after becoming aware of the tragedy in Health Sciences Centre's emergency room, the government announced a program of greeters and green wristbands as a pilot project for the Health Sciences Centre emergency room.

The reality is that the recommendations with respect to reassessments were made more than four years ago in the report that followed several other tragic incidents in Manitoba emergency rooms.

Mr. Speaker, the top priority of the government following the disclosure last week was a directive to doctors and nurses within the emergency room to not communicate either internally or externally with anybody with respect to what had happened in connection with Brian Sinclair's case. In fact, the directive was so specific that they were told not to use, in particular, e-mail communications either internally or externally with respect to what had happened with Mr. Sinclair.

I want to ask the Premier: Why is it that the top priority of government was the political damage control strategy and a week later they got around to thinking about patient safety with a greeter and wristband announcement this morning? (Hansard)


In late October, draft copies of the WRHA reviews of the Sinclair incident are being circulated to government and health officials. Health Minister Theresa Oswald is among those who read the full details of Sinclair’s final moments.
She fails to notify the Legislature or the public, keeping the details secret until they’re revealed by the chief medical examiner.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald first learned Brian Sinclair approached the emergency room triage desk for help last October -- a detail she never publicized in the wake of the double-amputee's tragic 34-hour wait for care. (Minister sat on truth about ER death/ Learned last year initial reports were inaccurate, Jen Skerritt, Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 10, 2009)

Nov. 19, 2008

The WRHA releases partial information from the Sinclair reviews along with "key recommendations" to reform the ER triage system.

November 19, 2008
WRHA Releases Information from Sinclair Reviews
Full Administrative Review to be Submitted to Inquest

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority today released information flowing from reviews into the September 21, 2008 death of Mr. Brian Sinclair as part of its commitment to keep the public as informed as possible prior to the commencement of the inquest into Mr. Sinclair's death.

The province's Chief Medical Examiner (CME) conducted an autopsy and announced shortly after Mr. Sinclair's death that he was ordering an inquest into the death, and that he would be turning the matter over to a provincial court judge to set a date. The WRHA will cooperate fully in that court process, which has not yet been scheduled.

The circumstances surrounding the death were reviewed by a Critical Incident Review Committee (CIRC), which was struck immediately following Mr. Sinclair's death. While the work of the CIRC is protected under legislation, the recommendations made by the CIRC are being released today because of the exceptional circumstances surrounding this case.

An administrative review, also undertaken immediately following Mr. Sinclair's death, identified actions taken to date and recommendations for further action. Those portions of the report are being released today. The entire report will be submitted as evidence at the inquest.

Nov. 25

Health Minister Theresa Oswald writes to Manitoba Ombudsman asking if the review can be released.

Hon. Theresa Oswald (Minister of Health): There are concerns that have been raised about the release of that full review as it relates to the inquest. I've written a letter to the Ombudsman asking for a judgment on that. If the Ombudsman suggests that the full review can come forward, then we will release it.

It's revealed only this month that Oswald told the Ombudsman to contact Dr. Brian Postl, CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, first. The WRHA told the Ombudsman they would not release the full review.

Feb. 4

Dr. Balachandra issues a news release advising he is calling an inquest into Sinclair’s death. This is hardly news, since he announced this days after Sinclair’s death. But he includes details of the death, including
the bombshell that Sinclair did approach the triage desk, contradicting everything the WRHA said about the incident from Day One.

The cover-up collapses as each succeeding day brings more and more revelations.

Brock Wright, the WRHA spokesman on the Sinclair matter, admits he’s never seen the security video. The next day he’s watched the video and does a full 180, now acknowledging that his statements since September, 2008, have been false.

Oswald says she doesn’t want to see the security tape. Then she admits she’s known since October that Sinclair went to the triage desk but has kept it secret.

Feb. 10, 2009

In a last ditch effort to keep the facts from the public, the WRHA declared they had a legal opinion which said they couldn’t release the reviews into Brian Sinclair’s death. The press, now refusing to believe anything the WRHA says without proof, demands to see the legal opinion. It turns out it's dated the day before the WRHA news conference. And Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck reveals it is full of qualifiers.

(They also claim at the press conference that the triage aide has no recollection of encountering Sinclair and the writings on the clipboard "were not preserved".)

We read through Manitoba’s Privacy Act and found the following:

The Privacy Act
In an action for violation of privacy of a person, it is a defence for the defendant to show

(f) where the alleged violation was constituted by the publication of any matter

(i) that there were reasonable grounds for the belief that the publication was in the public interest; or

(ii) that the publication was, in accordance with the rules of law in force in the province relating to defamation, privileged; or

(iii) that the matter was fair comment on a matter of public interest.

Conflict with other Acts

8(2) Where there is a conflict between a provision of this Act and a provision of any other Act of the Legislature, whether special or general, the provision of this Act prevails.

Nothing prevented the WRHA from releasing its reviews with names blocked out.

Oh, wait, something did.

Manitoba's former deputy justice minister Bruce MacFarlane told the Winnipeg Free Press (Feb. 13) there is nothing in law preventing the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority from publicly releasing an edited administrative review into the death of Brian Sinclair before a provincial inquest is held.

“While the WRHA can take this position as a policy position, they should take responsibility for their decision and not try to portray it as an impediment that the law has created. That is, quite simply, not the case."

The cover-up continues.

But why?

Does this point to what the WRHA and the government are so anxious to keep from the public?

Hansard Oct. 9, 2008

Ms. Oswald: Certainly, I can inform the House that when we immediately began the review to learn what went so terribly wrong in this tragic situation, of course one of the initial questions that we asked concerned staffing. We were initially led to understand that there was an 87 percent full staffing level on the Friday and that any gaps that existed were certainly transferred into a reassessment process. We know that part of that process did not work effectively.

We know that the staffing on Saturday was somewhere between 97 percent and 100 percent.

But that's what this inquest is going to show us, Mr. Speaker, is where the errors have occurred. We do not want to presuppose the answers to that.

The Health Sciences Centre ER was short-staffed when Brian Sinclair came in. They were depending on a reassessment nurse to fill the gap. But her job is to watch over patients after they’ve been officially entered as patients.

Was a nursing aide filling the gap at the triage desk and that’s why Sinclair never made it into the system?

Will anything fill the growing credibility gap between the public and Brock Wright, Brian Postl, Theresa Oswald and Gary Doer?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Smokescreens fail Doer, nurses point to known ingredients for Brian Sinclair tragedy

Four days after Brian Sinclair was discovered dead in the HSC emergency room Gary Doer was manoeuvering to use the death to his political advantage.

Annoyed by questions from the Opposition, Doer went on the attack against Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen. He talked a lot about accountability.

"You want to talk about backbone in terms of accountability, we need no lectures from the Conservative Party of Manitoba. I have stood up in this House every day. You know, I have stood up in this House and I'll continue to do so and he can be accountable for his comments, Mr. Speaker. We've accepted responsibility. He can be accountable for his comments. I can tell you when nurses here-that he is out there speaking about the culture of neglect with people that work on the front lines and save lives every day.
He's going to be accountable for his comments and we will be accountable for our actions and comments, Mr. Speaker."

And again...

"But, Mr. Speaker, I would say that there is not a human culture of neglect with doctors and nurses on the front line of health care. He owns those words and he'll be accountable for them."

Doer was loading up ammunition to use against the Tories in the next election.

He never expected the sky to fall on his head as it did last week.

When the time came for Doer and Health Minister Theresa Oswald to be held accountable for what they said in the Legislature and in public about Sinclair's death, they were both unusually tongue-tied.

Oswald ducked reporters last week claiming she was just too, too busy. Those ribbons don't cut themselves, mister.

And Doer showed up Tuesday for his regular Town Hall with the Premier slot on CJOB where he fielded questions about traffic at a Winnipeg intersection and a woman's dental bills. Amazingly, not one listener to CJOB was curious about the premier's role in the Sinclair death coverup.

Yet Doer and his strong NDP woman cabinet minister were neckdeep in controversy. Oswald belatedly confessed to the Free Press that she knew in October that Sinclair had, contrary to every statement made by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the NDP, been in the triage line and a hospital employee spoke with him.

But Oswald and Doer failed to tell the Legislature in October, or November, or the public in December, or January, or even in February that they had been misled.

In other words, the Premier and the Health Minister made a conscious decision to deceive the legislators and the people.

They would have continued to lie to the public if their hand hadn't been forced by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Balachandra last week, with his revelation that there was security video that showed exactly who talked to whom in the ER.

When caught red-handed, Doer and Oswald did what every perp does on Law and Order. They lawyered up.

We really, really, really wanted to tell you the truth, but the lawyers said we couldn't. And still can't. Sob.

Doer and Oswald are hiding behind a legal opinion by their companions-in-coverup, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. The WRHA's high-priced hired gun delivered a dandy memo declaring that nobody could say anything about the internal reviews of Sinclair's death. If they did the would contravene the Health Act by revealing the personal health information of Brian Sinclair (note to WHRA, Sinclair is dead, and was dead before the review started. There was no "health" information to reveal...ed)

The WRHA can't reveal any information about its employees, said the lawyer. That's against the law and the law says you even have to hide from the public any views and opinions expressed about those employees, as in who screwed up and how.

Izzata fact?

If that's true, then the WRHA board must immediately censure and punish WRHA vice-president Brock Wright. Wright went to great lengths in November to reveal personal information and internal views and opinions of Dr. Larry Reynolds. Reynolds, you'll remember, was dismissed as Head of the Department of Family Medicine and Professor at the University of Manitoba and Head of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Family Medicine Program.

You'll find the details of Wright's handiwork at

Wright didn't even bother to leak the information. He just blabbed away to reporters and sat back smugly to watch the smear work.

So if the lawyer's legal opinion is anything more than another smokescreen, the WRHA must immediately discipline Brock Wright. Or we'll know how phony their latest ploy is. And we'll know the cover-up continues.

Cover-up? Critics and defenders alike agree on one point---what could the WRHA be hiding? They must have known the security video would show up at the inquest. Their internal reviews have damaging details being kept from the public, but, again, those facts will be put on the record at the inquest. So....?

Well, since the WRHA and the government are playing dumb, it opens the field to speculation.

We'll start.

WRHA CEO Brian Postl said on radio that the security video was seen by only a small number of people who he described as "two HR and legal folks."

Two Human Resources managers, eh? You can bet one of them is Ms. Gloria O'Rourke Vice President & Chief Human Resource Officer. And the WRHA has a second human resources arm--- Aboriginal Human Resources.

Now why would Aboriginal Human Resources be involved? Brian Sinclair was native, but he wasn't an employee of the Health Sciences Centre.
Was the triage aide who spoke with Brian Sinclair the afternoon he arrived at the ER an aboriginal employee? Is that what the WRHA is hiding so fiercely? It would make sense.

An aboriginal patient in a wheelchair waiting in line to see the triage nurse. An aboriginal employee hired to liase with aboriginal patients approaches him and gets some particulars, name, last visit, complaint.

The WRHA revealed Tuesday that the most vital piece of information in the death of Brian Sinclair is missing---the memory of the triage aide who spoke with him.

Only two days after speaking with him, the aide had no recollection of what was said, what was written down, what Sinclair was told before he wheeled himself to the waiting room, what was told, or not told, to the triage nurse.


Or was the aide lawyered up as well. Did the HSC lawyers rush in and give a legal opinion that the video had to be restricted to certain people--like the managers of the WRHA only?

How could the triage aide develop amnesia over the weekend?

It's bad enough that the dead man was aboriginal, leading to the usual (absolutely unfounded)allegations of racism in treatment, but if the person responsible for his not getting treatment turned out to be native as well, imagine the outcry against the hospital.

Okay, enough about what we don't know. Let us tell you what we do know.

Where the WRHA doesn't want information coming out before their lawyers can look at it, we think the public needs to know as much as possible as quickly as possible.

After the news broke of Sinclair's fatal experience at the HSC emergency room, various health professionals turned to the internet to post details of the scene. From them we learn:

* Four shifts of staff came and went in the time he was there.

* The HSC adult emergency room is staffed with at least one triage nurse, a reassessment nurse, a minimum of two security personnel, and, during the day, volunteers in the waiting room.

* The reassessment nurse's duty is to assess triaged patients every four hours at a minimum. She has the power to upgrade a person's urgency status if need be. But she doesn't go into the waiting room to check everyone; names are called and patients present themselves to her. Would she be the one to call if someone saw a patient puking in the waiting room?

*Gary Doer said there was no shortage of doctors at the HSC, and six shifts of doctors changed in the time Sinclair was at the ER. "I'm informed the basic staffing was there at the Health Sciences Centre on the afternoon shift, on the evening shift, on the midnight shift, on the morning shift, on the afternoon shift, again on the evening shift, while the tragedy took place." he told the Legislature.

* security staff do check up on the 'regulars', even during the graveyard shift.

* Sinclair may have been dead as long as 10 hours before anyone noticed. Kelly Dehn, the CTV reporter who broke the story in September, told a radio audience Wednesday that the tip he received said the man had been at the hospital 10 hours before being pronounced dead. It turned out later that he had been there 34 hours.

The tipster said he saw Sinclair in the waiting room Saturday, then again Sunday sitting in the exact same position. This suggests his own hospital visits were 10 hours apart, and the fact Sinclair's position never changed, suggests he had been dead at least that long.

Here's how one nurse described the dynamic of that emergency room:

"If you have had the need to access the emergency area at Health Sciences, you will find that there is very little room for people to line up seeking assistance from the Triage nurse without cluttering the entrance.

The Triage nurse will take particulars then have to reach out through the glass partition, over the desk to take pulse, temperature, etc. providing the nurse has the flexibility to do so. Others standing around have to wait and witness this "painful" process to determine injuries, and queued for treatment. Close to the entrance is a desk that is occupied by security personnel. Other security officers are standing around waiting for the next violent outburst. The Emergency waiting room is usually full of people seeking treatment, some vomiting in trays provided, others trying to get sleep, and some who are in dire pain. This is not a nice scene."

Another nurse wrote to Lindor Reynolds, providing what may turn out to be a major finding of the inquest:

"I work In a Med Sur ICU that is short staffed everyday, with most of us exhausted and discouraged by all the overtime we are asked to work, I CAN imagine how a man who appears to be sleeping can be overlooked. Some times I arrive at work at 7:30 am and the next time I look at a clock it is 3:30 and eight hours have passed in what seems like a blink of an eye.

Every hospital in this city is shortstaffed, be it Drs Nurses, Technicians, etc etc. I believe we are all doing the best we can, and I can feel great empathy for HSC staff who I am sure are devastated by this tragedy."

And still another nurse wrote about the institutional attitude at HSC emergency:

"... my suggestion was to have a separate room for the many homeless ,the intoxicated,the cold and the lonely..what I suggested was this: one nurse and one unit assistant could watch over and care fore ,as well as clean up the people and give them clean clothing ,BE AN ADVOCATE FOR THEIR NEEDS ,a mattress on the floor ,a blanket ,an assist to the washroom ,nothing fancy ,but someone that is willing to watchover them until an appropriate discharge plan could be arranged .We would check and ensure safety ,tolerate being sworn at and @ times assaulted , I was told that it is inappropriate to segregate them (rather than being an object of curiosity and a very smelly entity in the waiting room) and they should be treated like all others and be responsible for their own care and needs."

Tomorrow, the essential timeline...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fang and Fluffy, the story of two government watchdogs

A week of cascading scandal at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has tossed up a rare opportunity.

Manitobans can now contrast the work of two watchdogs of the public interest--the province's auditor general and the chief provincial medical examiner.

It ain't pretty.

Last week started with Opposition leader Hugh McFadyen's call for the provincial auditor to investigate the WRHA's brown-envelope policy of accepting extra gifts from suppliers who win contracts.

As described by the WRHA, after the contractor is selected, a group of four health authority managers open an envelope which contains details of what additional goods and services the bidder is willing to throw in. They call these value-adds. Sometimes the envelope contains a cheque or a promise of a cheque (the stories aren't clear) which the WRHA can cash and spend at its discretion. More than $2 million has been collected in this fashion. Since 2007, all the cash gifts have been controlled by WRHA CEO Brian Postl.

McFadyen said he wanted to know, through the auditor, "which companies gave money, where the money went, and whether the "extras" in brown envelopes influenced who won the contract."

Two days later, a letter to the editor from Postl was published in the Winnipeg Free Press. In it he said that he, too, wanted the provincial auditor involved.

"We've asked the auditor general for her advice on how to best strengthen our approach, and we will act on any recommendations."

Later in the week he revealed he had written the auditor general on Monday, the same day, coincidentally of McFadyen's news conference. Great minds do think alike.

The very next day, auditor Carol Bellringer said she was in.

"Certainly we're interested to find out what exactly is going on with all this," Bellringer told the Winnipeg Sun. "I would have felt very uncomfortable not going in."

"As soon as something becomes a public story we do look at saying, we have a role to play in getting the clarity of information into the discussion as soon as we possibly can because we do have the ability to access everything," she told Jen Skerrit, who broke the brown-envelope for the Free Press.

"I think there are quite a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of suggestion that there's more behind this...We like to ensure that we've gone and done enough work to make sure that all the facts are on the table and there's no suggestion of anything that may or may not have happened. We'll be able to conclude whether or not it has," Bellringer told the CBC.

Hugh McFadyen told the Free Press he was pleased that the auditor general was going to be involved, adding he was happy the review would begin so quickly.

Well, Hugh, you're in luck. If its alarcrity you're after, you've come to the right place. You don't have to wait for Bellringer to complete her review of the WRHA's practices.

The Black Rod will tell you today what will be in the auditor general's report on the WRHA.

Carol Bellringer has a track record of providing favourable audits to the government, and the NDP has a track record of using the auditor as a diversionary tactic to take the heat off a series of political scandals.

The government will now announce that critics should wait for the auditor's report on the WRHA's value-added policy and that they will make no further comments until its finished. They will then declare that since the auditor general looked into it, and changes have been made, there's nothing more to be said.

They did this to deflect criticism over the Crocus Fund ponzi scheme. They called in auditor Jon Singleton to examine the oversight provided by the Economic development department. It was only months after his report was out that leaked internal memos revealed that Crocus did all its business with the government through a back-channel through the Finance Department, something Singleton was never told and which his mandate prevented him from examining.

The tactic worked so well that they used it again when the illicit land development scandal known as O'Learygate erupted. Singleton was gone by then. The NDP called in their new auditor general, none other than Carol Bellringer.

And she delivered.

Her scandalous work is documented in The Black Rod and is must reading for anyone who wants to know what her WRHA report will be like.

Friday, August 17, 2007
Auditor gives O'Learygate a makeover

Sunday, August 19, 2007
O'Learygate: Follow The Money

Sunday, September 09, 2007
Auditor approves Enron math to mask O'Learygate loss


Tuesday, September 11, 2007
O'Learygate: The Provincial Auditor's selective, misleading timeline exposed

For the uninitiated, here's an O'Learygate primer:
* In 2001, anticipating the need for a new high school, the Seven Oaks school division bought land in the Riverbend area of West Kildonan.
* They bought twice as much land as they needed for a school.
* Instead of simply selling the surplus, they became land developers-- with taxpayers' money, something forbidden by law. So they hid their plans from the Public Schools Finance Board which is supposed to approve all school spending.
* Although they were refused permission to build a school on the land they bought, they eventually sold 71 finished lots in what is known as Swinford Park--- and lost their shirts.

Bellringer acknowledged that the school division lost slightly more than $307,000 on the undertaking (page 28 of her "special audit") but that, using generally accepted accounting principles, the school division showed "net income" of $512,118 (page 29).

How did they manage to turn a loss into a profit? By giving themselves an IOU. They claimed the land was worth what they said it was worth because they intend to build a school there, sometime, maybe, whenever. And Bellringer accepted the IOU as an asset, resulting in the ficticious "net income." Net income which wasn't realized, hasn't been realized, and may never be realized, but which was essential to justisfy the illicit land speculation scheme retroactively.

And to save the hide of Education Minister Peter Bjornson who was implicated in the cover-up of the project. The scandal became known colloquially as O'Learygate after Brian O'Leary, the superintendent of the Seven Oaks school division, and former NDP campaign chairman.

The provincial Auditor General hadn't a word of condemnation for either man in her so-called "special audit."

Pay close attention to her conclusions in O'Learygate, for they will be the same conclusions in her review of the WHRA:

Auditor Carol Bellringer said she couldn't find that anyone in government or at the school board personally profited from the land deal.

The Seven Oaks School Division made an honest mistake because of confusing policies, procedures and practices.

And, Bellringer blamed the Public Schools Finance Board`for failing to keep the Seven Oaks School Board from breaching the act that prohibits trustees from playing fast and loose with taxpayers' money, and for failing to see that the school board wasn't giving them the information they were legally required to provide.

Bellringer has no intention of investigating McFadyen's three questions: which companies gave money, where the money went, and whether the "extras" in brown envelopes influenced who won the contract.

She refused to tell Jen Skerritt what the scope of her probe was. Wonder why?

* She will conclude that since she couldn't find any cheques made out to Brian Postl or his wife, or to anyone else in the WRHA that nobody personally profitted from the value-adds.

* She will say any confusion regarding the value-add policy is due to confusing policies, procedures and especially practices. There hasn't even been a conflict of interst policy for the WHRA for two years.

* And she will blame the contractors and suppliers for tempting the WRHA with free stuff even after Brian Postl said he didn't want any more.

In O'Learygate, the ethics of misusing taxpayer dollars and then covering it up escaped her. She also spent as little time as humanly possible examining the fishy accounting of the Seven Oaks School Board's short experience as land developers.

Bellringer said that was not her job. That was the job of the Opposition which could raise those issues at the Legislature's public accounts committee.

Oh, look, she has already said she will make her WRHA mini-audit public through the very same public accounts committee.

But Carol Bellringer's announcement of her audit of the WRHA was overshadowed by another announcement by another government watchdog.

Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra, Manitoba's chief medical examiner, announced Wednesday that he was calling an inquest into the death of Brian Sinclair, the unfortunate man who died awaiting treatment at the Emergency Room of the Health Sciences Centre last September and whose body was discovered in the ER waiting area 33 hours after he arrived.

His announcement was odd. Way back in September, within days of Sinclair's death, news outlets were reporting that Balachandra had called an inquest.

He sounded angry at the time. He said he wasn't going to wait for the WRHA's internal review of the death. Canadian Press reported his saying the inquest would be convened "as soon as possible."

"They can take their sweet time," he said. "I don't care."

On Wednesday, his announcement of the inquest call came with reasons. The public thought they knew the reason---a man died waiting almost a day and a half for treatment at Winnipeg's biggest hospital. Balachandra thought they needed to know more.

He obviously thought they needed to know that the WRHA and the provincial government had been misleading them for the past four months.

Balachandra revealed that security tapes of the emergency room showed that Brian Sinclair had sought help at the triage desk of the ER, something that had been specifically denied by the WRHA---and the government--- from Day One.

Sinclair could be seen on the video speaking to an aide with a clipboard as the triage nurse spoke to another patient, according to news reports.

The four-month-long coverup came crashing down in seconds, taking with it the credibility of WHRA vice-president Brock Wright and WRHA president and CEO Brian Postl. They had claimed for month after month that Sinclair had come nowhere near the triage desk. Wright even admitted he never saw the security video, he just told the public a lie without even trying to learn the truth for himself.

Not fair, bleated Postl. We've always acknowledged we were in the wrong (except when Wright blamed Sinclair for his own death - ed.), squeaked the WHRA president. The problems were systemic, systemic, systemic. And they've been fixed, fixed, fixed. It's not fair to blame anyone specifically now, he huffed.

But a growing chorus believes its is time to blame the people who worked so hard to mislead the public. Starting with Brock Wright and Brian Postl.

And the two Human Resources managers who watched the tapes and kept silent as Wright repeated falsehood after falsehood.

And the WRHA legal team that saw the tapes and said nothing.

"The buck's got to stop somewhere," said Manitoba MLA Jon Gerrard.

And since his first revelation, Balachandra has exposed even more suppressed information. He told the Free Press that a security guard who saw Sinclair vomiting, hours after entering the waiting room, tried and failed to get the attention of ER staff.

Just another factoid Brock Wright and Brian Postl forgot to tell the public.

Balachandra didn't need to make these details public. He could have waited for the inquest. But it appears that, unlike Carol Bellringer, he believes that his job includes blowing the whistle on unethical behaviour--- like coverups.

And he will do the right thing regardless of whether his political masters like it or not.

No date has been set for the Sinclair inquest. It will be the most awaited legal proceeding of the year.

And an update for anyone wondering what happened at The Hague in the trial where Bruce Macfarlane is acting as special prosecutor...

Saturday, January 24, 2009
The Further Adventures of Bruce MacFarlane, Manitoba Special Agent 204
What's a mild-mannered Manitoban like Bruce MacFarlane doing as a possible defendant at the International Court in The Hague?

The court issued this statement last week:

February 3, 2009
Florence Hartmann Trial Commencement Postponed
The start of trial in the case of Florence Hartmann charged with contempt of court has been postponed, the Special Chamber announced today.

The trial was postponed until further notice due to the Defence motion for disqualification of two members of the special chamber and of senior legal officer in charge of the case. (That's our Bruce - ed.)

“Considering that the Motion was filed only two days prior to the scheduled commencement of trial on 5 February 2009, it is impractical to dispose of it in a definitive manner before this date,” reads the order signed by Judge Carmel Agius.

Hartmann, a one-time spokesperson for a former Tribunal Prosecutor, is charged with contempt for allegedly willfully disclosing information in knowing violation of an order of a Chamber.

A Scheduling Order providing the revised start time for the trial will be issued in due course.

MacFarlane, by the way, was cleared to continue as prosecutor.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

WRHA Board minutes provide clues to the mystery of the brown envelopes

When a reporter came knocking on Brian Postl's door to ask about brown envelopes, he wasn't surprised.

Postl, the President and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, already knew he had an ethical hot potato on his hands.

In November, more than two months earlier, the WRHA board of directors had discussed its Value Added Policy. The minutes of that meeting describe the discussion discreetly, with no mention of brown envelopes containing promises of gifts from suppliers...

WRHA Board of Directors Page 4
Tuesday, November 25th, 2008
9.4 WRHA Value Added Policy

A briefing note regarding the Value Added policy for benefits received from suppliers was provided.

The current policy and direction is to not accept "restricted" value adds and to not include these in the bid evaluation process. A general discussion ensued on the reasoning for value add benefits as opposed to reducing the price. Members were advised that the value add benefits have been long standing relationships and behaviours in the health industry. It was noted that other jurisdictions still include value adds in their negotiation and bid evaluation process and that the WRHA is a Canadian leader in excluding value add benefits from its bid evaluation processes. This will be brought back to the Board for future discussion and decision.

When Jen Skerrit of the Winnipeg Free Press arrived with embarassing questions about the Value Added Policy, Postl should have been prepared.

Why, then, was his response so disturbing? Why does he sound as if the WRHA's guilty of something? And of what?

On the surface, his defence of the Value Added Policy makes perfect sense (even if we think its misguided and flawed).

Under the old system the WRHA evaluation team had a hard job.

Say they were considering bids for dialysis machines, an example Postl has used. (We have no idea what a dialysis machine costs, so we've pulled numbers out of the air.)

A offers dialysis machines at $100,000 each and no-cost repair or replacement of any machine for two years.
B offers machines at $107,000 each -- but adds a year's free dialysis liquid.
C offers machines at $98,000 each, a one year warranty on parts and dialysis liquid at half price if you sign a five year contract.

The evaluators had to weigh each bid and see which was the best combination for Manitobans.

It was a complicated process and you can see how over the years a perception could grow that its the perks and not the product that sells the deal.

The WRHA says it made the process more transparent.

Now the bids are examined on cost and quality and a winner is chosen.

Then, and only then, the winner's brown envelope is opened to see if he is offering any value-adds.

The new system seems to eliminate any incentive for providing perks. Yet the WRHA still collected $20 million worth of value-adds over 8 years. Obviously the suppliers felt there was still value in giving something for nothing.

It's not hard to speculate that not much actually changed with the new system. If, say, company A sells a variety of pharmaceuticals, winning one contract means the evaulation team sees the perks that come with the bid, so they can anticipate that the company's bid on another drug contract will come with perks, too.

Or, maybe a company actually wants research on liver cancer. It may find it cheaper to give the WRHA a couple of million dollars for dedicated liver research instead of building a lab, hiring scientists, buying white mice, and then starting a research project.

But Postl has adopted a holier-than-thou attitude where he sees the world as consisting of manipulative suppliers endlessly trying to corrupt the decent health care providers.

We have more faith in people and in their judgement.

The old system of bids actually seems more transparent. The public could see exactly what the winning bidder promised. It was right there in the bid. Under the new system, the promises are secret and known only to four people who open the brown envelope attached to the chosen supplier. The WRHA can accept or reject the gift, or, and here it gets dicey, ask for a monetary donation instead to be used at the discretion of the WRHA.

And, it seems that the WRHA collected $2 million in just such monetary donations over the past 8 years.

And here's the problem.
How did Brian Postl spend the $2 million under his control?
Why won't he tell us?
Who gave him the money? Not him, personally, but him as the corporate representative.

Instead of simple answers, Postl has unleashed a series of bizarre defences to the questions.

Red herrings. Selected leaks. Playing the victim. And rewriting policy on the fly have been part of his arsenal.

Postl and Health Minister Theresa Oswald have dragged so many red herrings across the trail that their staff has to stand downwind. Both of them tried to deflect the spotlight from the WRHA to individual physicians by pretending that somehow the brown envelope policy was created to prevent doctors from being influenced by phamaceutical companies to overprescribe certain drugs.

We know what you're thinking...Huh?

When that tactic failed, Postl feigned co-operation. Initially, when Jen Skerrit asked for a detailed breakdown of how the $2 million in unrestricted "donations" was spent and which suppliers donated money instead of goods or services, the WRHA told her to file a Freedom of Information request. This is government-speak for "get stuffed."

But within a couple of days, Postl was dropping hints as to where the money went. Education (always a popular and nebulous area), staff training, and breast-feeding clinics were mentioned.

It didn't take long to see where the breast-feeding clinics came from.

WRHA Board of Directors Page 2
Tuesday, June 24th, 2008
Moved, Seconded
And Carried
7.1 Infant Nutritionals
A briefing note regarding the practice of contracting with infant nutritionals companies that provide formula free of charge was provided for discussion. The options were reviewed and discussion ensued regarding the ethical decisions related to providing free breast milk substitute and members felt that there is a need for better education on the benefits of breast feeding. Members felt that the issue of breast feeding was a separate issue. The Board did not make a decision but asked that an updated briefing note including an education component be brought back for further discussion and decision.

Staff training? Why is it that the first thing that pops to mind when you hear that term nowadays is the Caribbean cruise taken by staff at the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation? That was paid for out of their professional development budget. Surely the WRHA didn't hold any meetings or retreats in say, Banff, paid for by the value-added funds they accepted.

And upgrades to the infection prevention and control program? You only have to read The Black Rod's post for Jan. 27, 2009 to see how well the WRHA's infection prevention and control program works. An entire ward of elderly patients exposed to the deadly Superbug because they don't know enough to quarantine a carrier. Who will investigate the hospital's negligence leading to the death of at least one of the patients?

Brian Postl began to squirm only when Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen issued a call on Monday for the provincial auditor to investigate all the "value added" gifts accepted by the WRHA, particularly any cash and cheques.

Postl went on the offensive.
"I think they're trying to politicize something that isn't necessary…there's no impropriety there," he told the Free Press.

Note to Brian Postl. Bone up on your civics.

The Opposition is the government in waiting.
You are not the government in anything.
You have to answer all the Opposition's questions and concerns in a respectful manner, not challenge them for asking the questions or attack their integrity.

You are supposedly non-partisan, although that's debatable, as we'll see. You must be open to the questions of the Oppositon which represents half the electorate in the province.

The WRHA must provide the facts if asked and not hide behind bureacracy. That's transparency.

What's worse, Postl acknowledged that McFadyen was right to call in the auditor. In fact, claimed Postl, he had done exactly that, coincidentally the very same day of McFadyen's news conference. Will wonders never cease?

Postl's claim came in a letter to the editor published in the Free Press on Wednesday. He wrote "We've asked the auditor general for her advice on how to best strengthen our approach and we will act on any recommendations."

Hold it….That's not what the Opposition asked for. But that's right out of the NDP playbook. We saw this tactic during the Crocus Fund scandal. The NDP called in the auditor to examine if the fund was properly monitored by the department of Industry and Economic Development. It was only well after the auditor released his report that we learned that the Crocus Fund had a secret back-channel to Finance Minister Greg Selinger through the Finance Department, not Industry, and Selinger was responsible for keeping Crocus afloat.

Postl appears to be asking the auditor to become an ally rather than a monitor.

And who's politicizing what?

The minutes of the WRHA for April, 2008, show the Report of the Chief Executive Officer (that would be Brian P.) who informed the board:

* The process of tracking election promises is continuing by having regular meetings with Manitoba Health.

Well, isn't that cozy? Have the priorities of the NDP have now become the priorities of the health professionals?

Postl had one more card up his sleeve.

If all else fails, rewrite history.

"Two years ago we moved to limit even the perception of influence by large pharmaceutical companies and equipment vendors by refusing any value-added benefits that had strings attached," he wrote in his letter-to-the-editor.

Except that here's how the Value Added policy approved by Postl in June, 2007, actually reads:
"Companies shall be informed that where value added benefits are offered, the WRHA prefers that these be of an unrestricted nature."

Well, at least they have a Value Added Policy. The Conflict of Interest/Personal Gains Policy that's supposed to be read in conjunction with the V-A policy
is still missing and unaccounted for.

A diligent reader managed to unearth the old Conflict of Interest Policy and sent us a link.

We read it with interest and discovered…it was boilerplate. It contained what you would expect it to contain. Don't hire your wife. Don't buy from your own company. And don't tip off your brother-in-law about an upcoming contract.

We can't see why they needed to change it two years ago.

Maybe they were antsy about Section 3.1
"The potential for conflicts arises because of the nature and scope of the activities engaged in by the Facilities. WHRA Logistics Services assumes that potential for conflicts of interest will occur regularly in the normal conduct of activities."

Anyone with a potential conflict of interest was expected to advise WHRA Logistics Services
"verbally and follow this up with a completed Disclosure Statement returned to WHRA Logistics Services within a specified period of time as requested."

At first glance it reads as if they require employee/board members to tell someone of their possible conflict of interest, and, if requested, to put it in writing. Is that how you read it?

Which, of course, raises the question, why is Postl so worried that his colleagues and staff can be bought off? Has there been some major payoff that we're not being told about?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Brock Wright must go. First.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has been misleading the public about the ER death of Brian Sinclair for more than four months.

We now know that the conclusions of an internal review sanctioned by the WRHA were blatantly false. The review concluded that "the facts and circumstances surrounding Mr. Sinclair's death did not derive from any action or inaction by any single individual."

And it's apparent that the WRHA was prepared to continue the deception right up to, and even after, Manitoba's Chief Medical Examiner forced their hand Wednesday by revealing the truth of what happened.

We still don't know why, although we're prepared to venture a guess.

They knew there was security video of Sinclair arriving at the Health Sciences Centre on Friday, September 21, 2008, 34 hours before he was found dead in the emergency room, never having been treated by a doctor.

Winnipeg Free Press reporter Gabrielle Giroday spoke with Dr. Brock Wright, the WRHA's vice president and chief medical officer, and wrote in a story published Sept. 23:

"Security tapes of the facility are being reviewed as part of the investigation, Wright said."

Already by then officials of the WRHA knew what was on the tapes. CTV had the details which appear in their story also dated Sept. 23:

"Sinclair is seen on the hospital's security camera footage when he arrived at the department's main entrance Friday afternoon.
He is not in the footage the entire time, but health officials say they believe the man was in the waiting room for the full 34 hours. It's also believed the man interacted with aides and cleaning staff, but not medical staff."

And the CTV story contained the first step of the WRHA deception--- blame the victim. Brock Wright spoke for the WRHA:

"The challenge for us right now is to explain how it is somebody could be in the department for 34 hours and not have been brought forward to the triage desk area and be entered into the system," Wright said.
Wright said the system relies on people approaching the triage desk so that they can be placed in a queue based on the urgency of their medical needs. He said Sinclair was known to hospital staff, and said staff was surprised Sinclair wouldn't have checked in at the triage desk."

Wright tempered his comments after that, preferring to repeat only that Sinclair never saw a triage nurse and was never officially in the system. Sinclair, said Wright, simply fell through the cracks.

That is, that's what he said until M.E. Thambirajah Balachandra stepped forward.

There was no apparent reason for Balachandra's news conference Wednesday. The fact he was calling an inquest was known almost from Day One. No date has been set for an inquest, and Balachandra had nothing to add, nothing that is except to reveal the hospital video contradicts everything the WRHA wanted the public to believe about Sinclair's death.

We need to be clear as to what Balachandra said.

The Winnipeg Free Press has reported he "released a statement saying that a review of Health Sciences Centre's security tapes found an unidentified man wheeled Sinclair into the ER and up to the triage desk around 3 p.m. Sept. 19, 2008."

And "Statement from Balachandra: "It appears an employee of the HSC at the triage desk spoke to Mr. Sinclair at that time"."

But Canadian Press, which has proven more accurate that the FP with details in the past, reported:

"WINNIPEG - A homeless man found dead after a 34-hour wait in a hospital emergency room spoke to an employee at the triage desk within an hour of his arrival and may have thought he was registered, Manitoba's chief medical examiner said Wednesday.

Thambirajah Balachandra said security tapes show that Brian Sinclair, a 45-year-old double amputee, was wheeled to the desk by an unidentified man after arriving in a taxi last September.

"He was seen wheeling into the triage area," said Balachandra late Wednesday after formally calling an inquest into Sinclair's death. "The CCTV shows that he spoke to some hospital employee who was in a hospital uniform . . . and then he wheeled back."

Officials from the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre said Sinclair spoke to an aide and was never properly registered by a nurse. But Balachandra said Sinclair may have thought that he would be called by a triage nurse after speaking to a uniformed hospital employee."

Whichever version is correct---the taxi driver wheeled Sinclair to the triage desk or Fontaine wheeled himself "into the triage area" up to an hour after arriving--- the bottom line is the same.

Sinclair spoke with someone in a hospital uniform, someone standing by the triage desk, someone, it's since been revealed, who carried a clipboard and wrote notes as he spoke with ailing man.

Who was this man?

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, Thursday...
"On Wednesday, Wright said Sinclair had contact with at least three staff members in 34 hours, including one triage aide.
Triage aides typically do minor cleaning in the ER, but should also alert the triage nurse of someone waiting for care."

Sound familiar?

On Sept. 23, more than four months ago, CTV reported that health officials "believed the man interacted with aides and cleaning staff, but not medical staff."

They saw the same video that Dr. Balachandra saw. Unless they're professing some editing trickery, they saw more than four months ago that Sinclair spoke with a triage aide near or at the triage desk.

Yet they allowed Brock Wright to say in repeated interviews that Sinclair never approached the triage desk. They knew this was a lie.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported that even after Balachandra's news conference...
"Dr. Brock Wright, WRHA chief medical officer and senior vice-president of clinical services, maintained that Sinclair interacted with an HSC employee near the triage desk, but never formally presented himself to the triage desk or spoke to a triage nurse."
"Wright said he hasn't watched the security tapes, but was informed of their content by senior HSC staff who did watch them."

Elsewhere they quoted him saying: "I didn't feel the need to review the videotape myself... My information is that he did not formally present himself to the triage desk. If that's later found to be incorrect, then we'll learn that from the inquest. What is not in dispute, I don't believe, was Mr. Sinclair was not triaged."

Still clinging to the thin reed---the absence of a triage nurse---Brock's resolve lasted only one more day. On Thursday he announced he had finally watched the security tape and he was now acknowledging that Sinclair did, indeed, formally present himself to the triage desk.

"The WRHA released a statement this afternoon saying in light of Balachandra's comments, Wright watched the security tapes for the first time today. Wright now says the video shows that Sinclair wheeled himself into the line at the triage desk where the triage nurse on duty was seeing one person ahead of him." (Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 5, 2009)

Why hadn't he looked at the video immediately?

He didn't want to be accused of "interfering", according to an internal update sent to WRHA staff Thursday.

Yes, that's right, the spokesman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority thought the best way to explain to the public what happened when a man died in a hospital emergency room was to know as little as possible about what happened.

But someone knew. Unnamed "senior HSC staff" to begin with. People connected with the various reviews, certainly. People who kept their mouths shut as Brock Wright misled the public time and time again.

There's a name for people like that.

Team players.

And Brock Wright likes team players.

In November, after Dr. Larry Reynolds, the head of family medicine at the University of Manitoba medical school, was fired from his job, Dr. Brock Wright went to the extent of revealing confidential employee information to the press to malign Reynolds.

Wright sniffed that multiple performance reviews concluded Dr. Reynolds wasn't a "team player."

"He did have a tendency sometimes to take his concerns directly to the minister, directly to the government, without letting us know in advance that he was doing so. That's not really appropriate for someone in an administrative role -- they're expected to bring their concerns right to us."
We can now see why Dr. Reynolds would have been motivated to take his concerns directly to the health minister and bypass Brock Wright.

Dr. Reynolds would not be part of any WRHA cover-up.

(For more on why Wright opposed Reynolds, see The Black Rod

Wright pushed Reynolds out, and now it's clear that it's Wright who must go.

He deceived Manitoban's for four months.

He had a duty to tell the truth.

All he had to do was watch the security video.

He refused for four months.

His credibility evaporated the second the camera lights were turned on Dr. Balachandra. There's no way back. Show him the Exit door and give him a strong push.

Once again we're faced with the usual questions for Dr. Brian Postl, CEO of the WRHA.

What did he know and when did he know it? Was he too busy opening brown envelopes to get the truth of why a man died in a Winnipeg emergency room? Did anyone try to bring their concerns about the false story being put out, only to be turned away?

On the heels of the unresolved Crackerjack scandal (a prize in every envelope) and his refusal to say how he spent $2 million in the WRHA slush fund, Postl should spend time reviewing his retirement plan.

And what about the rest of the team? We need to know who else in the WRHA saw the hospital video and stayed mum as a false story was peddled to the public. We need to know why the internal reviews overlooked the triage aide at the triage desk taking personal information from Brian Sinclair.

And we need to know, how soon they can be fired?

And what about the one public servant who was supposed to make sure such a schmozzle never happened? We're talking about one of the NDP's strong women, Health Minister Theresa Oswald, who has spent the past day hiding from the press until she figured out what to say about the latest WRHA scandal.

Late Thursday she crept out and spoke.

She would not watch the hospital video, she said. She had more important things to do.

She understood why the WRHA was selective in showing the video to some officials, and not to others. It was only to avoid "predictable" accusations of impropriety (as CJOB put it), because, goodness knows, everyone knows its improper to get the facts.

Oswald is counting on the fact that the press is lazy, the Legislature isn't back in session for months, and there's a good chance she'll be replaced by Bill Blaikie by then and won't have to ever answer questions about Brian Sinclair again.

But she's demonstrating what a failure she is as Health Minister, worse, if it's possible, than Dave "Six Months" Chomiak. Instead of getting as much information as she can about the scandalous death in the ER, she's off cutting ribbons, which seems to be her forte.

Even worse still, instead of holding health officials accountable for misleading the public, she makes excuses for them.

Last September, when the death of Brian Sinclair was first reported, the Opposition asked Oswald when she was first notified. Here's what she said. Note how she said it.

Hon. Theresa Oswald (Minister of Health):

Indeed, that question first came from the Member for Inkster (Mr. Lamoureux) the first day we were in the House when the incident was reported. I reported clearly then that my first awareness that I was made where I was able to know something about the patient that I can now reflect on as being accurate was approximately midday on Monday, Mr. Speaker.

She calls that bafflegab "clearly"?

But the Opposition made its point. The Health Minister didn't learn about Sinclair's death until a day and a half after his body was discovered and well after even reporters (Kelly Dehn, in this case) knew about it.

That's how little officials in her own department think of her.

What do they know that we don't?

Finally, we have to return to the question we raised at the beginning.

Why the deception?

They knew there was going to be an inquest. They knew that the hospital video would be an exhibit. They knew the truth would come out eventually?

The stakes had to be high to play the game so long, and even to bluff on the last hand.

We suspect that the inquest will discover that Sinclair was overlooked at the Health Sciences Centre ER because of one of the WRHA's policy changes.

They needed time to correct the problem without admitting they created the problem. Look for evidence of overworked nurses, a change in nurse schedules and duties, or something along that line.