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FP reporters: Money for nuthin'

Somebody must have been spiking the coffee at the Winnipeg Free Press with truth serum this week.

How else to explain the confessions that spilled out from reporters covering important beats, declarations that explain why the newspaper has become a worthless read.

Legislature reporter Bruce Owen wrote Friday that Question Period, the meat and potatoes of his beat, bores him to tears.

(Its) "a great time for me to catch up on email. That’s because, sitting up in the media perch, there’s not that much else to do." he said.

"Other reporters check up on the Facebook profiles and one religiously plays BrickBreaker on his Blackberry. He’s gotten pretty good at it."

Two days earlier, Owen's colleague, education reporter Nick Martin, made his own revelation on his little-read newspaper-sponsored blog.

"I rarely attend board meetings anymore," he wrote. "It’s just not worth my time, or my employer’s time..."


Doesn't the Free Press, along with the rest of the mainstream media, proclaim at every opportunity they are superior journalists to bloggers because they, and only they, can be trusted to attend the boring meetings where the business of the community is conducted?

You know, like the Legislature and school board.

Well, it seems... they don't.

And if they do, they spend their time playing computer games instead of listening to what's being said.

Nick Martin's confession was particularly informative given that he was responsible for the single worst election story during the October-long campaign.

"Candidates offer up some intriguing ideas" was the headline to the Oct. 15, 2010 story in which he provided a paper-thin overview of some of the ideas proposed by 55 candidates for school trustee who responded to a Free Press survey. For a fuller explanation of the positions of these candidates, Martin gave readers a link to the survey.

And readers wondering about the other candidates for school board were told the Free Press education reporter couldn't be bothered to do any reporting on them. Do it yourselves, he told people.

"You'll have to look for websites if they have them, watch for flyers in your mailbox, or maybe they'll come to your door, or you can even phone them up and ask. Their numbers are on the city website..."

Uh, thanks Nick.

But a month after the election, Martin reveals, on his blog that no one reads, that school board meetings often last only 20 minutes before the public is ushered out and the rest of the agenda is handled in secret behind closed doors. And the chairman won't even release the agenda in advance of the meeting.

This from an elected body that's responsible for more than half your annual tax bill.

You might think that this information was priceless during an election campaign, when voters could ask school board incumbents about this practice of secrecy and media obstruction.

Moreover, as the NDP candidate for mayor, Judy Wasylycia-Leis was stumping for more transparency and openess at city hall, her NDP counterpart Suzanne Hrynyk was running for reelection to the Winnipeg School Board where she had been the chairwoman and responsible for the policy of secrecy.

Yet another story the Free Press didn't think was important.

We decided to see for yourselves what was happening in the Legislature as Bruce Owen and his colleagues concentrated on their email and Facebook pages.

* On Monday, Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen followed up on the story that broke the previous Friday afternoon of a shortage of nurses in cardiac surgery at St. Boniface Hospital.

Mr. McFadyen: In response, Mr. Speaker, what those 127 families are looking for is some explanation as to how it is that 11 years in, the government has not been able to meet staffing requirements for an important area like cardiac surgery, and rather than providing responses in the House that would be akin to those that might be provided by the Iraqi information minister, why won't the minister provide a direct response to Manitobans that's clear, focused, relevant and deals with the immediate issue before us for those 127 Manitobans and their families currently on the waiting list?

The NDP let Crazy Dave Chomiak, one of the architects of the 1999 NDP election fraud, respond.

Mr. Chomiak I remind the member, there are no patients over the medically recommended bench times that were not in place during the reckless, mean-spirited years of the Tories, Mr. Speaker.

Got that? After 10 years of NDP government, the wait times for heart surgery aren't any worse that they were 10 years ago.

Or any better.

* Conservative Party leader Hugh McFadyen asked about the lingering questions over the Crocus Investment Fund, which, under unelected Premier Greg Selinger's watch, turned into a Ponzi scheme.

Mr. McFadyen: And I want to ask the government today: Will there be accountability to the–for those thousands of investors who lost money, not just for the sake of their interests, Mr. Speaker, but for the sake of future investors in Manitoba companies who want to know that directors and insiders have a duty to disclose relevant information, because if there's no accountability for Crocus, there'll be no accountability going forward and thousands more people will run the risk of losing money as a result of their failure? Will there be accountability? Yes or no.
The government response came from Peter Bjornson, who did his best to mislead the Legislature.

Mr. Bjornson: Mr. Speaker, and certainly the Auditor General's report, the Manitoba Securities Commission investigation, the RCMP investigation–this has been looked at through five different lenses. The process has been in place now for court-approved interim distribution to shareholders.

The Manitoba Securities Commission has still never held a hearing on charges filed five years ago against the executive of the Crocus Fund. In fact, the news last week was the commission might never hold those hearings, putting the lie to Bjornson's veilled contention that the MSC provided any kind of accountability for the Crocus debacle.

* McFadyen asked the government almost daily the questions on the lips of every Manitoban.

Mr. Hugh McFadyen (Leader of the Official Opposition): On a new question. Manitobans are looking for accountability and transparency in terms of how their tax dollars are being used.
I want to ask the Premier, 236 days since the photo op, with ongoing concern on the part of taxpayers, ongoing concern about – in terms of the impact on the Blue Bombers, when are they going to provide some clarity on three basic questions: What are we getting? How much is it going to cost? Who's going to pay for it?

The unelected Premier's surprising answer?

Selinger: "All people from Manitoba that go to university will have access to it. All members of the community will have access to it. It'll be available 24/7, 12 months of the year."

The NDP refuses to answer the questions people have about the proposed new stadium--what's being built, what will it cost and who's paying for it. The NDP is committing itself to spending as much as $190 million on a new football stadium, but refuses to tell the Legislature how it intends to spend taxpayers' money.

That, in itself, is a story. If only Bruce Owen could tear himself away from his email.

* Almost every day, as well, the Opposition asked why the NDP was refusing to call a public inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair.

Mr. Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach): Mr. Speaker, it's been five years since the tragic death of Phoenix Sinclair and we know that nothing this House can do can bring back that young girl's life, but what this government can do is to ensure that the lessons are learned through a public inquiry, lessons that would ensure this tragedy doesn't happen again.
This Minister of Justice seems content to stall this inquiry while a legal moon shot to the Supreme Court takes place by one of the convicted killers. Why won't he just admit today that the criminal damage has already been exposed through a trial and he's simply trying to mitigate the political damage by stalling this inquiry?

The NDP even refuses to appoint a commissioner to prepare a public inquiry.

Mr. Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach): Mr. Speaker, the government is protecting its own interest when it should be protecting the interest of children.

He knows full well that once the commissioner is appointed there is much work to be done. There needs to be a mandate established, terms of reference, the commissioner needs to get organized, establish a schedule for the inquiry and have the legal experts in place for the inquiry. Perhaps this minister is hoping that all of this will take place after a judgment is rendered on this government in an election to come.

Justice Minister Andrew Swan replies that the case could still go to the Supreme Court which could order a new trial.

In a pig's eye. Legal Aid refuses to pay for an appeal to the highest court, saying there is no merit. The deadline for that appeal has passed. And the only option is a rare and unusual waiver of the deadline by the court, which hasn't been asked because no lawyer wants to commit to going to Ottawa without a guarantee he'll get paid.

After three days of debate, the Free Press finally did a story. "Province wants to wait till killer's appeal done", Nov. 25, 2010.

The story prompted the executive director of Legal Aid Manitoba to write to the Free Press to say the quotes attributed to him were taken out of context---by none other than that paragon of journalistic accuracy, Mary Agnes Welch.

* At the beginning of the week, Education Minister Nancy Allan accused the Conservatives of firing 700 teachers while in government. The Free Press reporters slept through her tirade. Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck caught the lie and wrote about it Saturday.

Amateur & pathetic
Claims of teacher firings by Conservatives latest myth
By TOM BRODBECK, Winnipeg Sun
November 27, 2010

Fired 700 teachers? They did? I didn’t even know they could do that.
Actually, they can’t. Allan just made it up.
Schools are run by school divisions. It’s the school divisions that hire and fire teachers, not the provincial government. So even if the former Filmon government wanted to fire 700 teachers in the 1990s, they couldn’t have.

* On Tuesday, McFadyen asked the government if Manitoba Hydro had a cost update on the Bipole III project given that CEO Bob Brennan had hinted to the Free Press that the cost might have doubled. This is an important question to rate payers who will, no doubt, be ordered to pay for the immense cost.

Mr. McFadyen: ... I know that the Premier will want to look at the actual – he'll want to look for the – look at the actual numbers tabled by Manitoba Hydro in its own capital expenditure forecast. Capital expenditure forecast 2004 for this project: $388 million. Afterward, they're required to add converters because of the west-side decision: it jumps to $2.2 billion. As of 2010, it jumps to $4 billion. It's now 10 times the original budget that it was as of 2004.
Unelected Premier Greg Selinger answered with insults.

Mr. Selinger: This statement, Mr. Speaker, once again shows how reckless and irresponsible the Leader of the Opposition is. He wants to cancel those converter stations. He wants to put hydro at risk for Manitobans. He wants to put our export contracts at risk, for a cost of $20 million. Manitobans would see their rates go up and their power diminish under the members opposite.

* The week also saw a chilling statement made in the Legislature by an Opposition MLA.

Mrs. Bonnie Mitchelson (River East): Mr. Speaker, Phoenix Sinclair, Gage Guimond, Jaylene Sanderson-Redhead, Dillon Breana Belanger, Heaven Traverse, Venecia Shanelle Audy, Patsy Desmarais, Michael Helgason, Tracia Owen, Baby Amelia: These are but a few of the names of children who have died under the care of this NDP government's child welfare system. It remains a system in chaos, as the child–Children's Advocate described it last spring.
Mr. Speaker, review after review has been conducted, and each time the minister says he's outraged about the treatment of children by adults who are supposed to care for them. Each time he promises change but then we hear about the tragic death of another child in care. When will it end?
Mr. Speaker, cultural identity and education about one's heritage is extremely important for all children, but achieving that goal should never come at the expense of a child's safety. Unfortunately, that is what is still happening in Manitoba. Too many children have paid the price for the system the NDP government rushed into place. It's got to stop. We hope the Minister of Family Services (Mr. Mackintosh) will heed our calls for a moratorium on the movement of children from safe, stable, long‑term foster homes until the chaos in our child welfare system is resolved. Thank you.

Ten dead children dead. All under the watch of the NDP government.

At another time the newspapers would have carried blaring headlines about the "crisis". But now the Legislature reporters just shrug off the death toll.
It interrupts their computer playtime.

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