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:

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Jeff Browaty: Civic Weasel Number One.

In an uninspiring pack of 15 city councillors, North Kildonan's Jeff Browaty has distinguished himself by being the first to commit to waiving property taxes on millionaire moocher Gail Asper's pet project, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Browaty was asked point blank Tuesday on CJOB's Nighhawk nighttime talkshow whether he would support the expected bid by the CMHR to waive $9 million in city taxes. Gail Asper deliberately or otherwise "forgot" to include city taxes in the annual operating budget she negotiated with the federal government. Given that the museum project is already so deep in the hole they'll reach China before solvency, their only hope is for Gail Asper to come to council waving her tin cup, her gold-plated tin cup, and beg them to forgive the entire 9 mil.

Browaty knows that. So he answered in typical weasel fashion.

"Well, let's just see what the specific ask is. I, uh, you know, I…"

Guest host Marty Gold pressed the point home.

"C'mon now….yes or no. Yes or no?"

Browaty played dumb. (Insert dumb politician joke here)

"I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer. It depends on what they're asking for."

Gold spelled it out, simply, so simply that even a city councillor could understand.

"If they ask for a complete property tax (exemption)?"

Browaty spewed out a torrent of weasel words.

"A complete property…yeah….I mean, I'd have to see the business case to see if that makes sense for the city. I mean, we get enough other, you know, fall off benefits like…I'd need to see a full cost ben

efit on that."

Huh? A cost benefit on that?

Here's your cost benefit analysis: the city desperately needs money and the human rights museum owes the city $9 million a year. Where's the cheque? End of story. No further discussion necessary.

Browaty boasts on his website that he once worked "as a Communications Officer at the Manitoba Legislature." He thinks the public is stupid and easily bamboozled by a professional spinner like him. He's obviously learned nothing in his two years and nine months as a city councillor. If he had, he would know that we understand that the more a politician ducks a question, the more he confirms exactly what he's trying to avoid saying.

In short, he was asked a straightforward question regarding the CMHR's taxes, he refused to answer and tried to deflect the question with bafflegab, and by doing so he confirmed that he favoured telling a multi-millionaire she doesn't have to pay property taxes on her pet project. Taxes are for little people.

Did we mention bafflegab? Browaty's lame attempt to duck the question is classic.

Let's pick up at "I'd need to see a full cost benefit on that."

"I wouldn't be shocked that, you know, there was, there was a notion that perhaps the sale, or, I think someone somewhere has suggested at some point that the sale of the Winnipeg Square parkade, the revenues from that could go towards building a parkade at the human rights museum, for example. When the Winnipeg Square parkade was built, there wasn't a business case to do it. Today it's a cash cow. It's a very profitable entity."
"…In terms of civic involvement in the human rights museum there may be a case that, you know, that would make sense."

Or at least make more sense than Browaty. He was asked if he would support waiving the museum's property taxes and he wound up blathering about the Winnipeg Square parkade.

Not only is parking irrelevant, but he decided to rewrite history as well.

The City of Winnipeg's public works committee mused about selling the Winnipeg Square parkade exactly one year ago. The underground facility earns the city about $1.7 million a year, but the committee members estimated the air rights made the land worth between $20 million and $50 million.

Contrary to Browaty's flight of fantasy, the Winnipeg Square parkade was never an iffy proposition.

It was built in 1977, the year Browaty was born, to complement the Trizec development at Portage and Main, which was to include two skyscrapers plus a new shopping plaza or two. The concern was never that the parking structure wouldn't make money. Rather the debate was whether the slow rate of leaving the full parkade would put motorists' lives at risk from a build-up of carbon monoxide from idling cars.

Browaty and the rest of council should read up on the history of the parkade at

They would also learn that Trizec was to lease the airspace above the parkade for $175,000 a year for 99 years. Only about 70 years to go.

The Winnipeg Free Press published another puff piece on the CMHR Wednesday, all about how the museum is hiring and resumes are pouring in.

However nowhere in the 21 paragraphs would you learn that the museum project is already $50 million over budget, not counting the $5 million in operating funds they need for 2009.

Since confessing to bleeding red ink at a world-class rate, the museum has been long on gimmicks (a fundraising social for ex-Winnipegers in Toronto, a leave-your-footprints-in -cement-for-posterity in Winnipeg). But they've been short on donations.

In fact, there hasn't been an announcement of a penny in new money since CUPE announced a pathetic donation of $250,000 in May. At the rate the project is burning money, that covered about six days of expenses.

In fact, we estimate that without huge infusions of new cash almost immediately, they will run out of money in the spring of 2011.

Or sooner if they can't get a handle on the "unprecedented construction inflation" that the mayor warned city council about in his plea this week for more infrastructure money.


Did somebody say infrastructure deficit?


Just as we predicted, Magic Sam the Magic Mayor's fearsome deficit dragon turned out to be a phantasmagoria when presented to council's executive policy committee Wednesday.

"$7.4 billion" howled Magic Mayor Sam Katz in his best Count Floyd voice. "Scarrrry, boys and girls."

But, as Paul Turenne reports in the Winnipeg Sun, the scary deficit dragon was concocted by taking one part true infrastructure needs ($3.8 billion over 10 years) and one part gigantic spending wish list. ($3.6 billion). Actually the spending wish list was $3.6 gazillion gajillion dollars, but was pared down so the mayor and his sidekick Russ Wyatt wouldn't be laughed out of town.

It turns out Russ Wyatt's brainstorming sessions were phantasmagorical in themselves, so his spending wish list includes rapid transit lines criss-crossing the city hither and yon, and, says Turenne, "a biosolids green energy production facility."

For the uninitiated, biosolids are, as one U.S. newspaper tactfully put it, "the organic materials remaining after treatment of domestic sewage at a wastewater treatment facility." Or, colloquially, shit.

But here's something you likely won't read about the Sam-and-Russ report. And it's good news.

If the true infrastructure deficit is $3.8 billion over 10 years, that's an average of $380 million a year. But in their report to EPC, Mayor Katz says we ALREADY SPEND $476 MILLION. With the existing tax rates.

We're not only keeping up in timely repairs of existing infrastructure, but we're hacking away at the backlog at the rate of almost $100 million a year.

And that, folks, ain't biosolid by anyone's description.

Next: Sherman Kreiner is up to his old tricks