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:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Meet the saddest man in Manitoba

He's the saddest man in Manitoba today.

Unelected premier Greg Selinger has just felt the earth collapse under his feet and his future slip away into the swollen flood waters that still cover much of the province.

The Jets are coming back. That's shorthand for 'Winnipeg is about to get an NHL hockey team, again.' And it's exactly what Greg Selinger was praying would never happen.

Selinger has spent the last few weeks painting himself as The Man Who Saved Manitoba. He was supposed to stride into the fall election campaign as a hero, he who singlehandedly staved off the flood on the Red River, first, then the Assiniboine, and even the LaSalle.

But the water just won't go down, and the scramble to build dikes and fill sandbags and evacuate cattle just keeps going on and on and on. And its getting worse, with the overflowing lakes threatening to engulf cottage country and precipitate a new wave of evacuations and property loss, as we undergo another rainy weekend.

Meanwhile, back in Winnipeg, where the flood is old news, there's excitement building---for everybody except Greg Selinger.

The Jets are coming back. And nobody deserves to celebrate more than Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen.

Four years ago, during the last provincial election campaign, McFadyen dared Manitobans to dream big, starting with the return of the Winnipeg Jets.

"People...have been reluctant to become too hopeful and too optimistic because of the negative experiences of the past," he said at the time. "What we're saying is, 'Let's be bold again. Let's start to think optimistically about our future'."

But McFadyen paid a heavy price for his optimism. He was mocked mercilessly by the pundits and opinion makers and, especially, by NDP leader Gary Doer in the Legislature.

He lost the election, he lost seats, and everyone pointed to his Jets announcement as a major blunder and turning point in the campaign.

Today, the last laugh belongs to Hugh McFadyen.

Selinger, at a news conference Wednesday, declared his government wouldn't help anyone buy an NHL team, which is great, given that nobody has asked them to.

In other words, his first reaction was to say what he WOULDN'T do to bring NHL hockey to Winnipeg.

He failed to mention that his predecessor, Gary Doer, gave $40 million--thats FORTY MILLION DOLLARS---to millionaire Gail Asper for her pet project, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which has guaranteed her a lifetime of free travel and accomodations around the world at taxpayers' expense.

Come election day in October, nobody will be talking about the flood, and everybody will be buzzing about hockey.

Hugh McFadyen will be talking about the role of hope in the future of Manitoba and Manitobans.

The NDP will be talking how great the Seventies were and how we should relive them, with Hydro megaprojects creating the illusion of growth and investment, and high taxes spent on social workers and bigger government.

The NDP know they have only one hope--- a summer of increasingly dirty attack ads. brought to you by the dirtiest politician in Manitoba with nothing to lose.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The big con: Manitoba Hydro-style, according to the Hydro Whistleblower

We know, at last, why Manitoba Hydro launched its balls-to-the-wall, take-no-prisoners assault on Miss Whistle, their former consultant who filed a Whistleblower complaint over Hydro mismanagement.

The answer slipped out in the latest hearings of the Public Utilities Board into Hydro's risk management practices.
It turns out the Hydro Whistleblower...
* was standing up for the Manitoba ratepayer.
* said Manitobans were being overcharged
* said Hydro was deliberately overestimating the chance of a record drought in order to dupe the PUB into approving the higher-than-needed rates, and
*said Hydro could make more money with less risk without embarking on a decade-long spending orgy on new dams to fulfill long-term contracts to sell power to the U.S.
In short, she was saying everything Manitoba Hydro didn't want you to hear.
The PUB counsel was questioning Dr. Atif Kuburski, one of two economists from McMaster Unversity hired to look at Hydro's operations, including the allegations of the New York consultant.
DR. ATIF KUBURSI: I mean, she -- what she is really saying is that they are using the drought as a sort of a scare that would justify raising the rates and persuading the Board to acquiesce and pass higher rates to consumers. And that in the absence of the scare about the drought and the willingness to create a buffer zone or a buffer cushion against this, these rates might not be allowed. These rate increases may not be allowed. So this was their argument, is that they're using it a bit of a boogeyman and trying to scare the Board and the citizens of Manitoba to acquiesce to higher rates than would be necessary.
DR. ATIF KUBURSI: Actually, the largest share of questions NYC had are concentrated in the area of long-term contracts. And she felt that this is the area where probably where the risks are there. I mean, she had, as I argued yesterday, that she has discounted the cause of the drought and felt that the cause of the drought is exaggerated by MH to cover, in her view, the actual exposure to risk in the long-term contracts.
In peoplespeak, he said Manitoba Hydro conned the PUB by claiming they needed a huge kitty to cover a record-setting drought that could come any day now. But they're really hoovering up the cash to cover the risk of their unnecessary multi-billion dollar construction spree.
We also learned a lot more about Miss Whistle's qualifications. Hydro has sneeringly dismissed her as a nobody temporary contract consultant who didn't do much work and wasn't worth the money she was paid.
But here's what Dr. Kuburski said:
"I -- I would -- I would honestly say, and looking at her CV, this is a new basically theoretical physicist from Cambridge University; studied with Steven Hawking. I mean, thi -- this is not an average person; no question about it. Her education, her intelligence and things is without any -- any doubt."
Dr. Kubursi and his colleague, Dr. Lonnie Magee, are no fans of the New York Consultant, NYC, as she's called in the PUB hearings. ( Her identify is protected under the Whistleblower Act, despite the fact the Ombudsman, who is legally obliged to investigate complaints under the legislation, has done nothing with hers for going on 3 years.)
A meeting with her in New York was going swimmingly until Kubursi mentioned he was interested in Hydro's modeling methods. NYC stopped all communication with the McMaster profs, fearing they were trying to learn her proprietary modeling techniques to incorporate into Manitoba Hydro's models.
The economists, having spent their professional lives sucking at the public teat, couldn't understand the sensitivity of a professional consultant protecting her livelihood. So, Kuburski, his nose out of joint, took every opportunity he could to disparage her before the PUB no matter how childish he wound up sounding.

11 ... There is -- there is the allegation by the
12 NYC that:
13 "Only one (1) to (2) select personnel
14 know the source code in HERMES, and
15 there is no documentation in the
16 system. It is known as a black box and
17 nobody knows what is going on in
18 there."
19 Do you see those statements that I've
20 selected from the NYC public document assertion 232?
21 DR. ATIF KUBURSI: Yeah, I recognize she
22 made these things, but they're a contradiction because
23 she says two (2) people know, and then in the same
24 sentence says nobody knows.

Oooh. Snap! Nothing escapes an egghead economist, eh?
Then he acknowledged that NYC had raised a perfectly valid point.

DR. ATIF KUBURSI: But we -- we've argued
4 very strongly that we'd like documentation, formal
5 documentation of these models. That would be a good
6 idea. I mean, there is no question there is a tremendous
7 amount of knowledge. We've seen it demonstrated in every
8 model that we work with, and I'm sure you -- look, you
9 have Excel, you have Quattro, you have things. There is
10 always a very thick documentation that comes with it. It
11 would be nice, and this is something that's not beyond
12 the resources and the abilities at Manitoba Hydro to have
13 this formal documentation.
14 Maybe they are there, but we did not see
15 that formal, exactly commercial-like type of
16 documentation, what we call technical manuals, user
17 manuals. That would be great -- great help in one sense
18 or the other. Again, this goes to the institutional
19 memory. You would codify something that, if there is a
20 turnover or somebody goes, there is something codified,
21 formal exists there for others to use.
And yet he couldn't let go without taking another run at Miss Whistle.
22 MS. ANITA SOUTHALL: Did you specifically
23 ask how many people know the source code of HERMES?
24 DR. ATIF KUBURSI: We argued too, and we
25 -- one (1) time I know we -- we got them all in one (1)
Page 6224
1 room, and everybody was, What on earth are you doing. I
2 said, I would like to really see the number of people who
3 are familiar with these models (Note, NOT how many know the source code...ed). And some of them have
4 worked on this model, went into another one. No, there
5 are people, and there is a good community. We want it to
6 be more formal, we want it to be more explicit, more
7 overt, and that they could work and learn from each
8 other. This is something that we have recommended.
9 MR. ROBERT MAYER: How many people were
10 in the room, Doctor?
11 DR. ATIF KUBURSI: Yeah, yeah. I don't
12 know. I didn't count heads, but I would say, you know --
13 how much would you say? Like twelve (12)?
14 DR. LONNIE MAGEE: I'd guess ten (10) or
15 twelve (12).
19 DR. ATIF KUBURSI: Definitely more than
20 two (2).

In plain language, only about 10 of Hydro's 6000 employees, at best, knows anything at all about one of the three key modelling systems that keep the power flowing. And nobody has a manual on hand in case there's a problem and one of the fixers isn't available.

But the most egregious conclusions by Kuburskia and Magee involve NYC's concerns about the risks of long-term contracts to the U.S.

They scoffed at her suggestion that selling power at spot prices would be safer and more lucrative than locking in sales with long contracts.

DR. ATIF KUBURSI: We found that the
19 contract prices, the historic contract prices, with the
20 exception maybe of a year or two (2), 2007, maybe a
21 little bit at the edge of 2006, that the contract prices
22 were sufficiently higher than MISO opportunity prices.
11 .... I
12 mean, the claims of NYC was that Manitoba Hydro should
13 stop immediately any long-term contracts. That the terms
14 of the contracts, the prices that were negotiated are all
15 defective, they are far below what the spot prices were.
16 I mean, she was right on one (1) thing, in
17 2006/2007, the spot off-peak prices were really higher
18 than some of the con -- but in every other year if you
19 look at them in the whole sweep over the contract, the
20 average price of the contracts were higher than the spot
21 peak or off-peak prices for most of them.
22 So the -- the way the things came out is
23 that her recommendations and assessment of the long-term
24 contracts were a bit on the exaggerated side. And her
25 recommendations were, to some extent, a -- a bit farreaching. They're not reasonable. I mean, completely
2 stop any long-term contracts, cut out all the long-term
3 sales? there any significance to when spot prices fell below contract prices? 2008? Did something happen?

The world dipped into recession in 2008, drowned in red ink for two years and still can barely keep its head out of the mire.
Do you think that had anything to do with keeping demand for electricity low in the U.S.?
These guys are professors and they can't figure that out?
Maybe they should have picked up on the hint that Manitoba Hydro can't sign a contract to justify Keeyasak, the next big dam, because the price they want is stratospheric and what the customer wants to pay is not. The contract was supposed to be signed, sealed and delivered this past January. Instead, negotiations have been postponed for a year until everyone sees where the economy will wind up.
Sure we're making money on old contracts and almost giving power away for free on the spot market, now. But we're also subsidizing the electricity we're selling Americans from the Wuskwatim dam because costs exceed revenue, and we will for years to come.
With construction costs doubling every time we look at them (Bipole III anyone?) and interest rates about to start zooming upward, the PUB has a hard decision to make about the rates you pay.
Kuburski and Magee says they should be higher still.
The New York Consultant says they're too high already.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is the North End spree killer back at work?

Or in-your-face?

On Saturday last, the Winnipeg Free Press ran a full-page update on the police investigation into a spree killer's night of murder last October. Two men dead, one girl shot in the stomach, one teen with a hole through his clothes where a bullet passed millimetres from his body. No arrest. Hell, not even a viable suspect.

But before the day was out, another man was in hospital with a gunshot wound suffered under eerily familiar circumstances. A knock on a door, a man answered and a stranger shot him in the head at point blank range.

The location, the 500 block of Dufferin Avenue, literally a stone's throw away from the second shooting in October. The MO, identical to the third shooting that fall evening; only in that case the victim died. The target of Saturday's shooting was grazed by a bullet but lived to tell about it.

He was, said a police spokesman, "cooperating with police."

Did the newspaper story trigger the spree killer to come out and taunt the police by killing again?

If it was him, he escaped with the same ease he did in October. On Saturday police on foot scoured back lanes, a tracker dog at the ready, a helicopter in the sky illuminating back yards and keeping people in the North End awake in for hours. The result---nada.

The description of shooter in the latest failed murder attempt was more or less identical to the spree killer---a tall, skinny aboriginal male in his late teens or early 20's. Oh, and this one was bald.

That's about all the police are telling the public about their investigation. As far as we know, they know doodly squat about who did the shootings seven months ago.

The FP story may have run a full page, but it had little new to say.

Let's see ... police have surveillance video from a community centre from across the street from 261 Stella Walk where the killer opened fire on a group of teens, hitting a 13-year-old girl in the abdomen and narrowly missing one of her companions.

Have the police shown the video to the public to jump-start their stalled investigation? No. They're keeping it under wraps while the spree killer runs free.

Ten minutes after the girl got shot, and as police swarmed the area, the brazen killer struck again, fatally ambushing a man leaving a home at 495 Dufferin Ave. And a half hour later, as police criss-crossed the North End, he, or, believe it or not, a second shooter, knocked on a door on Boyd Avenue and shot the man who answered. In that case, police revealed to the FP, he had a female accomplice.

Police don't know, or won't say, if there is one killer or two or even three (counting the girl) on the loose. They don't know how he, or they, escaped--bicycle, on foot or by car. They're showing pictures to area residents. They're hinting drugs might have been involved -- the shooter asked the teens if they wanted some pot, just before he started blasting away, and the second October victim, well, there are allegations.

It's all very hush hush. And unsatisfactory.

Has the killer has come out after hibernating all winter? Why won't the police tell the public anything?

Compare how the Winnipeg police are handling their hunt for a double-murderer with how the police chief of Orangeville, Ontario, population 27,000, attacked an unsolved murder in his town last year.

In August, Sonia Varaschin, 42, was killed by an intruder in her home in Orangeville, northwest of Toronto. The killer put her body in her car, drove it 12 kilometres to a neighbouring town, and dumped it next to a remote road. He then drove back to Orangeville, and abandoned the car in an alley.

Four months later, police pulled out all the stops on the investigation. They hosted 25 criminal profilers and investigators from across North America in a three day "investigative summit" to thrash over the details of the crime and to create a profile of the killer.

There were officers from the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP, homicide investigators from Toronto, Ottawa and York Region, plus FBI profilers.

In attendance were criminal profilers from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's Virginia-based behavioural analysis unit, Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP, plus senior homicide investigators from several forces, including York Region, Toronto and Ottawa.

In December they issued a lengthy profile, something to engage the public and stimulate leads.

In Winnipeg, the chief of police begs people to contact police. Then he rushes off to the next photo-op.

They haven't solved the Varaschin murder yet. But at least they have no doubt their chief of police has done everything possible to nail her killer.

We can't say the same.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Election 2011: Blaikie bombs; Run, John Harvie, Run

If there is such a thing as an NDP hit squad, it's currently tracking down John Harvie, the Green Party candidate in Winnipeg North.

Harvie didn't come anywhere close to winning the seat, but he came close enough to deny victory to the NDP's star candidate, Rebecca Blaikie, daughter of NDP heavyweight Bill Blaikie.

Winnipeg North was considered a rock-solid safe seat as long as Judy Wasylycia-Leis was the incumbent, but after she retired from Parliament to run a Quixotic campaign for mayor of Winnipeg, the riding fell to Liberal Kevin Lamoureux in a byelection.
Lamoureux instantly became Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's lucky charm, appearing at his side at every public appearance as a sign of the resurgence of the Grits. But the NDP were double-dog-determined to retake their Winnipeg fortress.

They spared no resource, from a 'name' candidate, to money, to foot-soldiers. And for much of election night, it looked like the NDP was back in the saddle. But slowly, slowly Lamoureux chipped away at Blaikie's lead, then slipped ahead, and, at the bell, managed to squeak out a win by, well, by the hair on John Harvie's soul patch.

The numbers tell the story.

Lamoureux won with 9241 votes to Blaikie's 9124. That's a margin of 117 votes (by coincidence, one for every day Lamoureux sat as an MP).

Harvie got 471 votes, more than four times his vote in the 2009 byelection. If he hadn't done so well, those votes likely would have gone to Blaikie and she would now be the MP-elect for Winnipeg North instead of trudging down Selkirk Avenue to her social worker job.

But maybe Harvie isn't the one to blame.

Remember, the NDP were supremely confident they would hold the seat being vacated by Judy Wasylycia-Leis in the byelection to replace her. But 7600 NDP voters stayed home and the NDP candidate Kevin Chief lost to Kevin Lamoureux 7303 to 6490, a margin of 813 votes.

The NDP was determined to get their vote out this time. And the voter turnout in Winnipeg North suggests they did. The 2011 turnout (about 25,600) is higher than the turnout the last time Judy Alphabet was elected (22,500). But if those lost 7600 NDP voters did show up, they didn't all vote NDP this time around.

Rebecca Blaikie bested Kevin Chief's vote tally by 2600. Lamoureux gained about 1900 votes over his last outing. But Blaikie's vote count was almost 5000 lower than the vote for Judy Wasylycia-Leis, suggesting that she and Kevin Lamoureux each attracted new voters (hence the higher turnout) but the turning point was still the former NDP voters who turned their backs on the NDP for the second time running.

And the Conservative candidate, Ann Matejicka, hoovered up 5000 more votes than her predecessor in the '09 byelection.

It makes a pundit wonder what the Conservatives could do if they actually ran a real campaign in Winnipeg North. It's something Kevin Lamoureux should think about.

Right across town, Liberal Anita Neville (14,772) went down in flames to Conservative Joyce Bateman in Winnipeg South Centre (15,468)

Turnout wasn't much higher than in the last general election (about 39,600 to 38,900) and if Neville had managed to hold her vote (16,438) she would still be the MP for the riding. But she didn't. She bled off 1666 votes while the Conservatives added 1360 to their total. Negative momentum meets positive momentum sends the incumbent to the showers.

The Green vote in Winnipeg South Centre fell by almost 1,500 while NDP support was up almost 2,500 votes but still a distant third.

In Elmwood-Transcona, Conservative Lawrence Toet snatched the riding from single-term NDP incumbent Jim Maloway.

The most interesting element of this election was the comment in the Winnipeg Free Press that awarded credit for the win to the support of NDP maverick Russ Wyatt, the city councillor for the area.

Wyatt has been openly gunning for NDP Premier Greg Selinger for a long time and Maloway might have just been collateral damage. In any event, such open revolt within the party on the eve of a provincial election bodes ill for Selinger.

What's it cost to run for election to Parliament, you ask?

The election expenses for this year's vote aren't available yet, but take a peek at what some people spent in the last general election.

Jim Maloway spent $73,584.

His main opponent, Thomas Steen, spent $60,628.

Kevin Chief's losing bid in Winnipeg North cost him $64,586.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis spent $55,724 to win the seat the last time she ran.

Her Conservative opponent, Ray Larkin, spent $6136. He came in second with 5033 votes to her 14,097.

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