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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.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Richard Balasko: keeper of the NDP's dirty election secrets

Manitoba's Chief Electoral Officer Richard Balasko had the responsibility of assuring the public that elections were fair and honest.

It was on his watch that a forensic auditor examining the 1999 election returns discovered the NDP had engaged in an organized scheme to defraud the public by falsifying election finances to get rebates they weren't entitled to. In fact, he said, they had been doing this for every election in the past 15 years.

Instead of informing the public, Balasko covered-up the information. He squeezed the auditor out by refusing to pay his fees. Then he allowed the NDP to silently refile corrected returns three years later and repay, without interest, the $76,000 they tried to scam from the public purse. Nobody from the NDP was charged, but election candidates and agents with the Conservatives and Liberals who made honest accounting mistakes were dragged into court.

Balasko says he can't discuss his secret negotiations with the NDP regarding their 1999 returns but everything he did was supported by secret legal advice which he can't reveal or discuss either.

Trust me, he says.

Richie, that train has left the station.

The Chief Electoral Officer must have the confidence of the members of the Legislature. Today the only support he has is from the NDP, whose secrets he's keeping.

The NDP ran a dirty campaign in 1999. They knew it.
The inner-circle which devised the scheme and those who were responsible for falsifying the election returns didn't even tell their official election agents, leaving them to be the fall guys in case the scheme fell apart.

Finance Minister Greg Selinger knew it was dirty. The moment he found NDP accountants had been altering election finance reports, he demanded a letter exonerating him from any responsibility. He then joined the conspiracy of silence for the next six years, until outed by one of the NDP's agents.

Other cabinet ministers like Nancy Allan knew it was dirty. They were informed in 2003 that their campaigns had been used to scam money for the NDP from the public purse. They, too, have kept the public in the dark.

We changed the laws so it could never happen again, they now say. That's not the point. They ran a dirty election in 1999---and for years prior---and the public deserved to know.

The man with the responsibility to tell them was Richard Balasko.

Balasko is sitting on a bushel of secrets, two of which deserve special mention.

One, he's never given the slightest acknowledgement to, and the other he hinted at a few times and which could be a scandal bigger even that Rebategate.

David Asselstine, the forensic auditor who turned up the NDP rebate scheme, wrote to Elections Manitoba explaining his decision to leave his job with them. Note this sentence:

"In a letter dated Sept. 27, 2001, from Mr Tom Milne to Mr Green, a complaint was levied against my conduct in an interveiw with Ms Hindle, a controller of the Manitoba NDP when various unions and the Manitoba NDP entered into " quid pro quo" transactions to obtain public funds."

We know how the scheme worked with the unions. They provided volunteers for 13 NDP election campaigns in 1999. The NDP paid the "volunteers" the daily salaries they were foregoing to work on the election. Their union then "donated" the exact amount of those salaries back to the NDP. The NDP then claimed the payment to the volunteers as an election expense for which they received a 50 percent reimbursement from the public purse.

The obvious question is "What unions?"

How many unions participated in this fraud?

How many union execs were aware of it?

Did Balasko's negotiations with the NDP include a promise never to reveal this information?

If not, why not tell us today which unions were entangled in the NDP scheme.

Could it be that he doesn't want anyone to know whether the trail leads to CUPE, whose regional director was Eugene Kostyra?

There's a familiar name.

You'll remember it was Kostyra who was the Crocus Fund's secret back channel to Finance Minister Greg Selinger. Huge Uge is a familiar face in the NDP inner circle.

But Balasko is sitting on an even bigger secret.

Here's what he told the Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs in April, 2004:

"On the elections finances side, a couple of items in our past reports I would draw to your attention. One is we believe there needs to be a very specific requirement in the law that reimbursement that is paid must be used to settle election debts. We had circumstances in the '99 election where this became an issue. From an enforcement and compliance point of view it would be very helpful. It seems to us to be just plain logic that the reimbursement should be used to settle the expenses of a campaign, but it is not spelled out in the act. That does to some extent limit our ability to enforce compliance with that."

That's all he said.

Cryptic? Yes. Obvious? Oh, yeah.

In 1999 the NDP collected $76,000 for expenses they never had. This money wasn't going for printing bills ie. signs and brochures. It went directly into the kitty for the next election.

And the NDP had been doing this for at least four previous elections, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public under false pretences.

They were being reimbursed for election expenses which, because of their cheque-swap scheme with the unions, they didn't have. This money could then be spent on the next election with no trace. It didn't have to be included as a donation on any formal election returns because it wasn't.

Balasko knew what was going on. Did he ever tell the public in plain words?

No wonder the only supporters he has in the Legislature are the government members who depend on him keeping his lips zipped.

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