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:

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Premier Greg Selinger to Hydro Whistleblower: You're Wrong

The first day of the December rump session of the Legislature turned out to be an unexpected day of revelations.

Hugh McFadyen revealed why he is the worst Opposition leader in living memory and why he's no threat to the NDP government with or without Gary Doer.

And unelected Premier Greg Selinger revealed why the NDP's "historic" Whistleblower legislation is--- and will continue to be--- a farce.

McFadyen went on the attack from the start, and promptly fell flat on his face.

Why, he asked the Premier, was there no mention of Manitoba Hydro in the Throne Speech, "when Manitobans are seeing their rates go up by 9 percent over two years with the prospect of severe rate hikes into the future."

Hon. Greg Selinger (Premier): "The member from Fort Whyte first makes a comment about the rates. Let's remember it was him-it was he that, in the last election, promised to increase rates to full market value and stick it to every single Manitoban with a 40 percent increase in rates, and he still-and he still has never apologized to the people of Manitoba for that dramatic rate increase."

Selinger 1, McFadyen 0.

Why, persisted McFadyen, didn't Selinger, as minister responsible for Hydro, try to get to the bottom of a risk-management consultant's concerns about Hydro when he first heard of them in 2007 instead of waiting for her to file a whistleblower complaint which only became public knowledge in 2009?

"I wanna ask the Premier: Why did he drop the ball so badly in first asking the provincial Auditor to look into this issue when he was well aware that the Auditor was in no position to do so?"

Tossed a soft ball, Selinger hit it out of the stadium.

Hon. Greg Selinger (Premier):"The Auditor-the Auditor General was requested by the Ombudsman to undertake this investigation. The independent officer of the legislation-of the Legislature was seized of this matter and asked for the assistance of the Auditor General. That is how the facts unfolded."

"The member opposite knows that. The member opposite, if he has any civility at all, would simply get up and apologize for his error of fact and his misconstruction of the facts."

But McFadyen, demonstrating he hadn't even bothered to read the Act before opening his mouth to stuff his foot in, wouldn't shut up.

Mr. McFadyen: "Mr. Speaker, the fact is that it was he and his minister who put out a news release in response to the whistle-blower's allegation, calling on the provincial auditor to do the special audit. She's come to the right conclusion, that she's not in a position to deal with the sensitive issues raised by the whistle-blower and raised by the government. They're the ones who put her into that position."

If he had taken the time to read the Legislation he would know that Selinger was 100 percent right.

The complaint was filed, as required by the law, with the Ombudsman.

It was Ombudsman Irene Hamilton who sat on it for three months and then turned it over to Auditor General Carol Bellringer. Bellringer then tucked the complaint under a carpet for another 9 months before returning it to the Ombudsman. The government asked for a speedy audit after Bellringer had already dithered for 8 months.

If McFadyen was less obsequious to Bellringer, he would have known it was her fault, and her's alone, that she was "not in a position to deal with the sensistive issues raised by the whistleblower."

Bellringer's conflict of interest in handling the complaint against Hydro was known almost immediately, yet she insisted for 9 months that it didn't matter that she had sat on Hydro's board of directors at the same time that the consultant was doing her risk analysis.

She only changed her tune when The Black Rod exposed the fact that Bellringer had never broken her connection with Hydro and had been sending a representative to Hydro board meetings from the moment of her appointment as the "independent" provincial auditor.

Selinger 2, McFadyen 0

The Winnipeg Free Press reported Tuesday that Ombudsman Irene Hamilton has no clue how to address the first whistleblower complaint ever filed under the province's Public Disclosure Act.

The newspaper says she "met Monday with MLAs on the legislature's management committee to get guidance on how her review should be conducted."

So what exactly did she do as the complaint sat on her desk for the first three months? If this isn't a classic example of bureaucratic incompetence, what is? She not only did nothing for 3 months, but apparently didn't even know "the scope" of what she was supposed to do.

It's no wonder then that, seized with enforcing the legislation, she sat on her ass for the next 9 months as the Auditor General ignored the complaint, even to the point of telling the CBC she was under no deadline to complete any investigation. None, except for Section 20.2 of the Act which read: 20(2) An investigation is to be conducted as informally and expeditiously as possible.

Which raises the question, what did Hugh McFadyen's favourite bureaucrat do for 9 months?

Apparently, it wasn't defining the scope of the review and determining what outside expertise is needed. The Ombudsman is now going to spend ANOTHER FOUR MONTHS
to decide what exactly she should be doing.

Here's a hint: start with the declaration by the Opposition Leader in the Legislature Tuesday decrying " the treatment of this whistle-blower who has-who has had a campaign of smear and disinformation brought under the watch of this government."

Why aren't both of these government "watchdogs" brought before the Legislature to explain their incompetence? It's obvious that both of them breached the act by not acting "as expeditiously as possible" and a year after the complaint was filed neither of them knows what she should have been doing in the first place.

Greg Selinger revealed why.

According to the unelected Premier, who, as Hydro minister has been hearing Hydro's side of the case behind closed doors for 2 years, the whistleblower's complaint is baseless.

Yes, folks, the government has prejudged the complaint even before a single interview has been conducted, or a single document has been examined.

Here's how Selinger put it in the Legislature:

"Because it's an allegation doesn't necessarily mean it's accurate. It doesn't necessarily mean it's true. It means they have a right to have it investigated, and during that procedure they have the right to be protected, and that's exactly what's gone on here. The member opposite, he would like to move from allegations to confirm them as points of fact. The reality is there have been other independent reviews of the stability and the solidness, financially, of Manitoba Hydro, and they have come back with very solid results, that Manitoba Hydro is in excellent shape. "

It's no wonder then that Carol Bellringer was cocky enough to ignore the provisions of the Act requiring all complaints to be handled as expeditiously as possible. She understood full well that that was just window dressing, and that her political masters had already dismissed the conclusions of the Hydro consultant in advance.

Selinger, you have to understand, is the dirtiest politician in the Legislature. He's splattered with mud from the worst scandals to be exposed involving the NDP.

* When the NDP got caught for fraudulently claiming $75,000 in election rebates for the 1999 provincial election, Selinger figured charges would be laid for sure. He went running to the executive demanding a letter exonerating him from any blame. The NDP's new best friend, Elections Manitoba chairman Richard Balasko stalled the investigation until he could get rid of the auditor who uncovered the fraud, charged only Conservative candidates for election misspending, and did his best to cover up the NDP's offence.

Selinger, assured no charges would be laid, kept the secret for five years and now says it was just a simple misunderstanding.

* In 2007 we reported on the Selinger Memo, which, we wrote, " is clear evidence that the NDP conspired with the Crocus Investment Fund to hide the fund's liquidity problems from future investors even to the extent of letting them run a Ponzi scheme."

Crocus was supposedly under the eye of the ministry of Industry and Economic Development. But when Crocus reps outlined their vision for the next 10 to 15 years, IEDM officials declared there were issues of policy and practicality that had to be addressed first.

Fuggedaboutit, said the Crocus people. The plans "had already been cleared by those in higher authority"

Guess who.

Leaked cabinet documents, including the Selinger Memo, showed that Crocus had a back channel into cabinet directly to then-Finance Minister Greg Selinger, bypassing the alleged legal oversight of the Industry Minister.

That fact was kept from the public and provincial auditor Jon Singleton who, in the first diversionary use of public servants to take the heat off the NDP, was assigned to conduct an examination of how well the Industry Ministry supervised Crocus.

The NDP wasn't pleased with Singleton's Crocus report, so after he retired, they put in their own auditor who was sure to be more amenable to the government.

* Carol Bellringer's first job for the NDP was to take the heat off Education Minister Peter Bjornson who became enmeshed in the O'Learygate scandal when he lied to a whistleblower.

Bellringer issued a report that said that the Seven Oaks School Division lost $300,000 on an prohibited land development, but that if they claimed they would eventually, sometime in the untold future, sell the land they already owned to themselves for $800,000, they could show a profit on the books today and get her okay.

* With more heat on the NDP, especially the finance minster, over the enormous risks Manitoba Hydro is taking with its $16 billion plans for expansion, who did they call to the rescue? Yes indeed, step right up Carol Bellringer.

First she pulled the rug from under the Public Utilities Board which has been trying for more than a year now to get Hydro to show them their risk analyses. Bellringer said she was going to do a report on Hydro's risk, by coincidence, and it would take her 18 months at least. So the PUB shouldn't hold their breaths for those reports.

And when it was revealed that the Hydro whistleblower's complaint had been in the auditor's hands for months, Bellringer said she was just wrapping it into her other risk study. So the whistleblower shouldn't hold her breath for a speedy investigation of her complaints.

And then we put too much heat on Bellringer and she fled the kitchen, leaving Selinger claiming credit, as the previous minister of the Civil Service Commission, for bringing in the very Whistleblower Act which he's working hard to undermine.

At least now the public knows they've got a clear choice in the next election: the dirtiest politician or the dumbest politician.

Who will do that risk analysis on that?

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