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 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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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: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Time to Start Asking the Ombudsman the Big Question


The complaint from the Manitoba Hydro Whistleblower has been punted back to the province's do-nothing Ombudsman.

The Public Utilities Board last month told the whistleblower, a New York energy risk consultant, "Tough luck, sweetie. It's not our job to see if Hydro pissed away a billion dollars of taxpayers' money."

Their exact words in bureauspeak were:

"The Board’s jurisdiction derives from The Public Utilities Board Act of Manitoba and The Crown Corporations Public Review and Accountability Act, in connection with regulatory responsibility for MH. As a result, it is not possible for the Ombudsman or the Auditor General to transfer their investigations to the Board, although this may have appeared to be the process to the NYC. The Board is also not governed or bound by The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act in the completion of its statutory responsibilities."
So the complaint is back in the hands of the person who has done nothing with it for 14 months and counting, despite the law's direction to deal with complaints expeditiously.

And we understand she's planning to immediately do nothing more until she sees what the PUB concludes in its own analysis of Hydro's risk management, a process that's only just started and which will take months to complete.
But now, the ludicrous performance by Ombudsman Irene Hamilton to, ahem, "investigate" the one and only complaint ever filed under the NDP's much vaunted Whistleblower Protection Act has to be brought under official scrutiny.

Her abysmal failure to do her job and enforce the law makes the obvious question unescapable:

Is it incompetence or collusion?

Incompetence is a given. That's not incompetence in a perjorative senses; it's fact. She is not competent even to understand the complexities of energy risk management. She got a law degree and became a bureaucrat---the two most useless skills imaginable for anyone tasked with wandering the labyrinth of Manitoba Hydro's financial and construction affairs.

But in 14 months of twiddling her thumbs she could have gotten a degree in hydro engineering or higher mathematics.

Or, maybe, she could have talked to the whistleblower and got an understanding of the complaint beyond "Omigod, I'm not going to fight Hydro and the government. I've got a pension to protect."

Collusion now becomes an option to be investigated.

Remember, Hamilton worked in the NDP government for five years as the assistant deputy minister of Justice prior to being appointed Ombudsman in 2005. She sat on the whistleblower's complaint for months, then handed it over to the government's pet bureaucrat, the Auditor General. AG Carol Bellringer, who sat on Manitoba Hydro's board before taking her government job, then announced she wasn't bound by the Whistleblower Act and that she intended to take a year and a half at least to, ahem, examine the matter.
Or, in other words, put it under wraps until after the next election so it doesn't hurt the NDP.

Bellringer, you'll remember, is the NDP's go-to gal to put out political fires, like the O'Learygate scandal (detailed in our story Follow the Money ). In that one, she saved Education Minister Peter Bjornson's ass after concocting a bogus timeline and ruling that a $300,000 loss on an illegal housing development venture under his watch was more than offset by a whimsical idea to build an unnecessary school on a parcel of land the school board would sell to itself at a "profit."

That land, by the way, still sits empty five years later, used only as a seasonal mosquito breeding ground.

When The Black Rod exposed Bellringer's monthly briefings from Manitoba Hydro even after she became Auditor General, she told Irene Hamilton to take back her whistleblower complaint.

Hamilton then sat on it some more before pushing it over to the PUB, hoping they would take the hot potato off her hands.

No such luck.

She's stuck with enforcing the law, something she's done her level best to avoid.

The Whistleblower Act protects the identity of the person making a complaint. When Hydro CEO Bob Brennan did his personal best to reveal the whistleblower's identity through his public statements, Hamilton said nothing.

When Manitoba's unelected Premier and former Hydro Minister Greg Selinger gave Brennan a very public nod and wink and words of support, Hamilton failed to admonish him and insist on at least the appearance of impartiality.

Hydro filed court documents to continue their campaign of harassment of the whistleblower, including another effort to disclose her identity, and Hamilton leaped into the fray---to have the Ombudsman's office removed from the record.

Instead of fighting Hydro in court and publicly defending the provisions of the Act protecting the identity of all whistleblowers, Hamilton was struck dumb as she ran for the exit.

Incompetence?

Or collusion?

Why won't the Opposition ask the question?

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