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:

Friday, July 09, 2010


What's going on here?

* The City starts fogging for mosquitoes in mid-June without the usual whining from the moonbats on and off council, and footdragging by hippy dippy city entomologist Taz Stuart. The spraying of malathion is aggressive and weekly.

** Mayor Sam Katz, the erstwhile champion of fighting mosquito infestations with briquettes, dragonflies, minnows, and assorted other Hogwart's magic methods, muses that the conditions to begin fogging are too restrictive and need to be changed.

*** The City announces that wading pools and spray pads will stay open well into the Fall as long as it stays warm and children want to play. Nobody says we can't afford it.

**** The City declares war on property owners who fail to repair derelict buildings that have peppered low-income neighbourhoods forever, acting as magnets for crackheads, arsonists and gangs. The goal is to eliminate 100 vacant and derelict buildings a year. A new law giving the city the teeth to do it is expected to pass unanimously.

What's going on? Election year, of course.

What other reason would there be for the mayor and council to do what citizens want them to do and to spend money on what taxpayers want money spent on instead of their own pet projects? Ain't it grand.

In fact, it's so unusual to see the civic government officials working on behalf of the citizens instead of their own egos that nobody expects it to last past the election in October.

But....what if?


Why not?

Everyone laments the low turnout at civic elections. Then they trot out their lame solutions.
Serve pizza. Lower the voting age to 12. Offer pony rides.

But none of the "experts" wants to address the obvious---why vote when your vote doesn't matter?
Mayor Sam Katz announced "public consultations" to let the public choose from three designs. The public rejected the most expensive bridge and settled on the mid-range option.

The City then held secret meetings with a special-interest group
and announced the official replacement for the Disraeli Bridge would be two bridges, neither of which had been seen at the "public consultations" but which the special-interest group approved.

Then a secret design process began, leaving residents in the neighbourhoods to be affected by the new bridges in the dark.

When they tried to get answers from their elected city councillors they discovered they had no representation from anyone.

Mynarski Coun. Harry Lazarenko, who's somewhere in his 70's, has discovered how to collect a paycheque without doing any work.

He either just ignored all his constituents' phone calls or told them to take their concerns to the Disraeli Bridge consultants.

Point Douglas Councillor Mike Pagtakhan had his eyes set on a run for federal office. He couldn't be bothered returning the calls of his constituents as he worked to become a Liberal Party candidate. (Elmwood's Lillian Thomas was holding Judy Alphabet's place on the left side of the running-for-mayor line - ed.)

Not that it mattered a whit in the end.

Premier Gary Doer decided to interfere in the bridge building process
before he left his job by dangling $50 million before Katz -- provided the city built yet another bridge that nobody had seen or heard of before, and which carried a pricetag that had been explicitly rejected.
Correction---the new pricetag was higher than the bridge the public rejected.
Katz took the money and diverted all criticism with the bogus claim that "we already had public consultations, don't bother me."

The politicians had nothing but contempt for the voters, and the voters have nothing but contempt back. So why is anyone surprised at the turnout?


if we can give the electorate a reason to come out to the polls, democracy wins, even if the politicians lose.

Here's how it could work:

First, we need to add another five city councillors. (Hey, don't go away. It makes sense if you give it a chance.)

This would bring the size of council to 20, plus the Mayor.

The goal then is to design a system to elect five city councillors each year. Each batch of five would serve four years. The mayor, elected from the city as a whole, would serve a four year term before facing the voters again. The transition to this 21st century election system would take three years.

As an example:
In 2010, the mayor and 15 councillors would be elected.

In 2011, five new councillors would be elected for a four year term.

The 15 sitting councillors would be divided into five groups of 3 councillors, roughly grouped around regions of the city. A citywide vote would be held to select one councillor from each of the five groups to stand in the re-calibration election the next year.

In 2012, the five councillors in the first re-calibration selection would be elected to a four-year term.

A citywide vote would be held to selected five more councillors to run in the next re-calibration election. The choice would be between the two councillors left in each of the 5 regional groups.

In 2013, the second batch of five would run in a re-calibration election.

In 2014, the remaining five councillors elected in 2010 would run in a re-calibration election.
A mayoral election would also take place.

From then on, there would be yearly elections for five councillors with a new mayor elected every four years (2019, 2023, etc).

Hey, this is the 21st Century. People expect instant feedback.

There's nothing sacred about an obsolete electoral system that moves at a snail's pace and excludes public opinion.

Put the mayor and city council on a short, short leash.

Every year 25 percent of council would have to face the voters and defend their votes in the previous year.

Bye bye "walking on" the mayor's pet projects for an instant vote that binds the city for decades and millions of dollars in expenses.

If you have a project that's worthy, you'll have to convince people before it's approved.

That's called democracy.

And it gets better. Why waste a good election year?

The City should hold citywide plebiscites each year on important issues.

Four or five questions to gauge public opinion. Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail? At what cost? If you can't boil the question down to a paragraph, you're hiding something.

Do you want to improve voter turnout, this one idea alone will do it. No need for balloons or hotdogs or circus barkers. Ask peoples' opinions and mean it and they'll walk across fire to tell you.

We're telling you.

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