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, August 31, 2011

Greg Selinger unveils the twin pillars of the NDP's re-election campaign

In front of a handpicked audience Tuesday, unelected Premier Greg Selinger pulled back the curtain on the twin pillars of the NDP's re-election campaign---Hate and Hype.

Selinger spewed unadulterated vitriol at his opponent, Progressive Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen, accusing him of every sin conceivable to a hardcore socialist.

NDP propaganda has been peddling lies all summer that McFadyen plans to poison Lake Winnipeg, to fire doctors and nurses and kill babies, and, most horrific of all, to sell Manitoba Hydro [also known as a.) depending on science not politics to make water policy, b.) supporting balanced budgets, and c.) a myth invented out of whole cloth by the NDP.]

The NDP leader was spitting venom as he viciously attacked McFadyen and painted himself as the saviour of Manitoba who is bravely fighting off the rightwing barbarian hordes. But it's the intensity of his hate that's notable. It's not just a politician disagreeing with policy; it's sheer deranged animus, a deep-seated hatred which leaves a sour taste in everyone except the true believers.

For someone who paints himself as all that stands between your children's future and the evil plans of the demonic Conservatives, he leaves listeners with the unsettling question: would you trust your child alone in the same room as this hate-filled Cassandra?

When he wasn't expressing his loathing of Hugh McFadyen, Selinger was trying his best to breathe life into a tepid "vision" of NDP Manitoba to come.

"The normal we've had for the last decade is something to build," he said. ZZZZZZZZZZ.

More of the same, he promised. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

He encouraged supporters, as one newspaper tortuously put it, "to maintain and improve on the basics: health care, education, infrastructure and fighting crime." ZZZZZZZZZZ.

Did someone mention crime? After 12 years of NDP government, the province is the murder capital of Canada with street gangs running unchecked and violent crime reaching unheard of levels and depths of depravity.

Selinger's plan? More social workers.

"We want neighbourhoods where people feel safe," he said. "It's not just about being tough on crime. It's about being tough on the causes of crime, which is why this government will invest in young people, in education, in recreation and in job opportunities — those kinds of things that give people a sense of hope, a sense of the future and the opportunity to achieve that."

Selinger tried to hype Manitoba's economy under the NDP. It was like listening to the finance minister of Greece.

Everything is super as long as you can keep propping up the economy by borrowing money at near-zero rates. But when, like Greece, the free ride ends and bankers realize you've been living the high life on borrowed money, it's a painful bus ride to bankruptcy court. He has one convert, though---P.C. leader Hugh McFadyen who has abandoned balanced budgets and now promises to spend more than the NDP.

Unfortunately for Selinger, a new report card on Manitoba's economic health was released a day earlier by the Manitoba Employers Council, which describes itself as "the largest collective of individual employers and employer associations in Manitoba."

They didn't grade the province under the NDP, but reading the report shows the government for the past decade would be lucky to get a D at best.

Manitoba is dead last in almost every category measured.
* We have the lowest average weekly earnings among the western provinces (Ontario to B.C.).

* We have less money to spend after taxes (personal disposable income). Even though disposable income didn't drop in Manitoba in the recession of 2009 as it did in the other provinces, we STILL had less money to spend after taxes than workers did in those provinces.

* The labour force is growing slower than any of the other western provinces.

* The NDP has stifled entrepreneurial spirit in Manitoba. The measure of entrepreneurial intensity (businesses per 1000 population) in Manitoba is 69, unchanged in 10 years. The Canadian average is 79.

And when it comes to taxes, it will make you cry.

Get this. For a family of four earning $30,000, every other western province cut taxes over the last decade except Manitoba where that family pays $282 MORE than it would have in 2001.

But it's worse than that. The report states:

"Personal income tax paid, for this low income family, declined 100 per cent in BC, 100 per cent in Alberta, 100 per cent in Saskatchewan, and 129 per cent in Ontario, but increased 128 per cent in Manitoba. (see figure 14)"
Declined 100 percent means they pay NO PROVINCIAL INCOME TAXES. Zero.
The picture isn't better as you go up the pay scale.
At $60,000 that family of four pays $523 less in Manitoba than it would ten years ago. But it would pay $2,749 less in Saskatchewan, $1745 less than in B.C. and $1680 less in Ontario. In Alberta that family only gets a benefit of $520 less than it would pay in 2001.
And yes, the picture is worse than you think. In Manitoba that family pays $3042 in personal income taxes. In Alberta, the next highest province, it pays $1677.

It's the same at every tax bracket.

Brutally high taxes are sucking the life out of the provincial economy leaving it on life support from federal government transfer payments and equalization.

Now that's scary.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hugh McFadyen's dream plan to win the '11 election

On May 31, 2011, Winnipeg entrepreneur Mark Chipman handed the provincial election to Hugh McFadyen.

"Here," he (may have) said, "take it. Carry it over the goal line. Show 'em what a winner looks like."

"Echh," replied McFadyen, "Keep it. I don't want it."

And with that, McFadyen, the hapless leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, showed he doesn't have a single political instinct anywhere in his body.

On May 31, 2011, Mark Chipman announced that NHL hockey had returned to Winnipeg. The Jets were back. The news electrified the province. It should have had Hugh McFadyen doing cartwheels at Portage and Main. He should have bought every billboard in town to carry his face smiling ear-to-ear and the message "I told you so" to every voter in the province.

Because McFadyen was the only politician who even dreamed that the return of the Jets was a possibility.

It's right there on the record. It had been the centrepoint of his 2007 provincial election campaign. And it cost him the election.

Four years ago McFadyen ran on a bold theme: if we can dream it, we can do it. And the biggest dream in Winnipeg, certainly, was to have the Jets back.

So he put on a Jets jersey and held a news conference in the Arena to reveal his platform, with the return of the Jets as the perfect example of dreaming big to take Manitoba out of the ranks of the also-rans and into the winners circle in the 21st century.

But the idea was so outlandish, that instead of inspiring the electorate, McFadyen became the object of unrestricted derision. For just a sample of how brutal the reaction was even to the idea that the Jets would return to Winnipeg, read what we wrote at the time.

Leading the attack on McFadyen was the NDP in government.

"And I'm gonna eliminate winter next year," sneered then-Premier Gary Doer, with his successor Greg Selinger at his side.

And happened. The Jets were back! You can't say that too many times. And just as McFadyen had predicted, it transformed Winnipeg and Manitoba. A perfect example is this column in the Winnipeg Sun by Greg Dicrese.

"The Jets’ return, however, plunged a syringe of adrenalin into the heart of our city’s sagging psyche."

"Suddenly, it was as if our tired and jaded eyes snapped open to gaze upon the city in a new and confident light."

"That sense of being sidelined and second rate when compared to other cities with NHL teams was lifted. A feeling of pride washed over the ‘Peg as we rejoined one of our country’s most important national conversations: The Hot Stove Lounge."

"I’ve heard people say the NHL needed us. I’ve heard these rational reptiles say the city was doing fine, thank-you-very-much, without the Jets’ return to validate it."

"Yadda, yadda, yadda."

"All I know is Winnipeg looks and, more importantly, feels different this summer with the NHL back. And it’s something I didn’t feel when those professional boosters of our city cheered about Ikea coming."

Now any politician with a sliver of political instinct would know enough to grab on to the good news and run with it. McFadyen, instead, stood back and invited Mark Chipman to take the bows.

Unelected Premier Greg Selinger, meanwhile, elbowed Chipman aside at every opportunity to get his own mug into every picture. McFadyen, as he's been throughout his years as Opposition leader, was invisible.

So when we heard that the Conservatives had, ahem, "leaked" their own election platform to the news media on Monday, we couldn't wait to see it. It had to contain something even more spectacular than the return of the Jets, didn't it?

We could never have imagined in our wildest dreams what we found.

In a word: ugh.

Instead of the bold, exciting challenge of the 2007 campaign, Hugh McFadyen was offering voters the promise that Manitoba is going to have an NDP government for the next four years---whether it's the NDP under Greg Selinger or the NDP under Hugh McFadyen.

Because, yes, it turns out Hughie's big dream is to turn the P.C.Party into NDP 2.0.

He's simply adopted the entire NDP philosophy: Spend Spend Spend.

But he's replaced Tax Tax Tax with Borrow Borrow Borrow.
While the rest of the world is trying to get out of debt, Hugh McFadyen has promised to get Manitoba deeper and deeper into the soup.

After years of accusing the NDP of spending like drunken sailors, the Manitoba Conservatives have pulled out the credit card, ordered a round for the house and told the bartender to keep 'em coming.

The NDP, worried about voter reaction to running deficits, claimed they would have a balanced budget in four years. Hugh McFadyen says deficits are your friend, why limit them. Why stop at 4 years when you can run a full eight years of borrowing at ever increasing interest rates? Pile up that debt now, don't wait.

The federal government has a child allowance? We'll have one too.
The home reno tax credit was a big success? We'll have one too.
Ottawa offers a fitness tax credit? Hell, we will too.
The provincial sales tax raises too much revenue? We'll stop collecting it for this, that, and the other thing and make up the difference by borrowing money.
We'll spend money paving backlanes in Winnipeg, because that's a provincial priority.
And we'll create a local government infrastructure fund because you can't have enough bureaucracy.

Oh, and doesn't everyone deserve a cottage at the beach? We'll extend the "$700 property tax credit to cottage owners to make cottage ownership more affordable."

In 2007 the Tory campaign was "if we can dream it, we can do it."

In 2011, it's "money's cheap; borrow your face off. Buy what you want now and stick your kids with the bill, the ungrateful little bastards. Tell 'em to shut up or you'll leave the cottage to someone else."

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Monday, August 29, 2011

The CMHR pulls an Oliver Twist: Please sirs, we want some more - - money.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has informed the federal government in no uncertain terms that it can't pay its tax bills to the City of Winnipeg.

And the CMHR says in its latest annual report that it will have no money to cover its utility bills once it opens.

From the 2010-2011 annual report:

"The Museum will be seeking the government's approval to augment the operating funds already committed by an amount sufficient to cover the required property tax (PILT) payments and to address ongoing pressures of inflation in operating, maintenance and capital repairs."

Translation: The CMHR has a plan.

The government should give it more money to pay its outstanding bills.

Much more than the $21.7 million a year that's budgeted.

Then everything will be alright.

oh, and if the museum doesn't pay its tax bill in 2012 for the third year running it goes up for a tax sale.

In Winnipeg that means the City takes ownership of the property unless the taxes and penalties are paid in full within a year. Does Salisbury House need another restaurant?

And the museum's electricity bill alone is expected to be huge. The CMHR is already signalling to the government, and the public, that its not your father's kind of museum. It runs on electricity.

"The CMHR is a new kind of museum; an "idea" and "dialogue" museum that relies heavily on technology to deliver the stories, videos and digital "artifacts" that visitors will engage with both on site and from around the world. The Museum's unique IT requirements have necessitated greater investment than anticipated in earlier estimates. In 2010- 2011, the Museum invested in network equipment — the first of the required information technology infrastructure. Further expenditures for servers and storage are planned for future years."

Oh, and it looks like the CMHR won't be able to raise the money needed to finish building the "iconic" structure. Can the government help with that too?

Two years ago the museum board of trustees confessed they were $45 million short on the construction funding. Since they claim the private fundraising arm of the museum, Friends of the CMHR, has raised pledges of another $10 million, leaving them still $35 million in the glue with two years to the opening date.

Their chance of raising that money is equal to Gaddafi's chance of resuming power in Libya. But there's always hope, isn't there? Here's how the CMHR annual report presents that hope as of March 31, 2011:

"The Friends of the CMHR has committed to raising the additional $45 million, in addition to its original contribution, from the public and private sectors."

See? The "private" sector will raise money from the public sector, aka governments and government agencies like Manitoba Hydro. They'll get the money from taxpayers, then Sam Katz and Greg Selinger can claim the funding from "private" donors justifies even more spending from the public coffers.

Among the red flags in the annual report is the suggestion that CMHR CEO Stuart Murray did his best to mislead the federal cabinet about the museum's plans and exhibits.

The issue arose when the Ukrainian Community complained that the CMHR was actually a Holocaust museum in disguise, with the rest of Canada's ethnic groups being relegated to second class status by having their stories relegated to a 'Mass Atrocities' gallery which lumped all the world's genocides and mass murders in together while the Holocaust story got its own exclusive gallery.

Federal Heritage Minister James Moore was questioned on this point in April by Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett, who wrote:

"(Moore) said he had been told no final decisions on museum content had been made and that no one subject would be getting permanent status. "There will be no permanent exhibits," Moore said. "That was very clear from Stuart Murray and the board."

The Jewish Post followed up on the Lett story and carried this note:

"However, on April 11 after Lett’s article had been published, Moore’s acting communications director James Maunder told The Globe and Mail: “No final decisions have been made on any permanent exhibits, or if there will be any.”[emphasis added (in the original)]."

And yet, the CMHR '10-'11 annual report says final decisions had already been taken.

"Over the past fiscal year multi-departmental teams — in-house human rights experts and exhibit designers — compiled and then translated this extraordinary raft of research, scholarship and public input into distinct exhibit-design plans. These meticulously crafted plans will now ultimately serve as the blueprints that fabricators will use to bring the Museum's inaugural exhibits to life."

"Included in these new blueprints are detailed 3D models that map out where in the Museum each exhibit will be built and specify the materials to be used. With this critical foundation in place, elevation work, graphic design, information visualization and media and technology design can now commence, setting the stage for the exhibit construction and carpentry that will begin next year."

Was the board deliberately misleading Parliament? It wouldn't be the first time.

The CMHR even rewrites history in its report to hide the fact. It wrote:

"Prior to spring of 2008, cost estimates for the Museum building were based on a very preliminary design. From spring 2008 onwards, engineers and consultants were engaged to advance the Predock design so that more accurate cost estimating could be achieved."

"On February 11, 2008, the Government of Canada introduced legislation in Parliament to create the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the bill was passed by a unanimous decision of the Canadian Parliament. The amendments to the Museums Act received Royal Assent in the early spring of 2008 and came into force by Order in Council on August 10, 2008."

What the CMHR board left out was reported in The Black Rod in May, 2009, in a story headlined "CMHR to Politicians: We Lied. So, Whatcha Gonna Do?"

It turns out that in March, 2008, the promoters of the museum appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights prior to getting the Senate's approval for the project. Present was Patrick O'Reilly, Director, Implementation Strategy, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, who sat with Lyn Elliot Sherwood, Executive Director, Heritage Group, Canadian Heritage, as she answered Senator's questions, including this one:

Senator Cowan: This is not one of those projects where the federal government is left to pick up anything over and above the $165 million that is contributed by other parties, is it?

Ms. Sherwood: The total budget is $265 million. You are putting your finger on a very real risk in the current environment, which is the impact of inflation on construction budgets. That has been factored into planning and is one of the reasons for the urgency of this bill because at the moment the purchasing power of that $265 million is being eroded at the rate of between $800,000 and $1.5 million per month.

Senator Cowan: I am not being critical of this project. However, someone has to hold it at the end of the day.

Ms. Sherwood: The board of trustees will be accountable for bringing this project in on budget and making decisions with respect to the building design and the contingency fund set aside that allow it to bring the project in on budget.
March was a month after February when " the Government of Canada introduced legislation in Parliament to create the Canadian Museum for Human Rights." When questioned by the Senators, there was no mention that the budget for the CMHR was an estimate based on a very preliminary design. Just the opposite. The Senate was told this was a firm figure which contained a hefty contingency that would ensure the government wouldn't be asked for more money, not that you would know from the alternate version of the truth now being peddled by Gail Asper and her ilk.

But the CMHR says they are trying to keep expenses in check. They're holding board meetings via conference call to "minimize costs and maximize value" and coordinating exhibit project meetings via Skype.

Oh, and fifty percent of the water used in the Museum’s toilets will be rainwater collected on site.

What happens in a year like this when there is no rainwater is a proposition to make you shudder. Sort of like the museum's accounting.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Are Tiffany Skye's gang links the clue to her disappearance and death

It's becoming another of those defining stories of Winnipeg.

A young girl leaves home and disappears. She's either never seen again or her body is eventually discovered in the river or in some secluded location. Pleas for help to nail down her last movements go unanswered. She's usually aboriginal.

This week it's the story of 17-year-old Tiffany Skye. RCMP say she was last known to be alive on Monday, August 8, 2011. Five days later, Saturday, Aug. 13, her body was recovered from the Red River near Lockport.

Police quickly determined who she was but an autopsy Aug. 16 failed to disclose a cause of death. Read that again.

She didn't drown. Which means they don't know how she died and how she wound up in the river.

Police then began adding some of the mystery to her disappearance.

They waited at least 10 days after she was found to release her identity to the press. They didn't give out her name until five days after she was buried. When they did, they gave out details of her last known whereabouts that were so obtuse they made no sense.

"Tiffany Skye was last reported to have been in the area of the Forks or Downtown Winnipeg on the afternoon or evening of Monday, August 8, 2011."

Huh? She was either here or there sometime after 12 noon? What the hell are you talking about?

The first mystery is why police can't communiciate with people.

It took Tiffany's mother to do the job of the police and to provide an intelligible answer to when Tiffany was last known to be alive.

She told the Winnipeg Sun that "(o)ne of her other daughters got a text message from Tiffany the night she went missing saying she was out with her “bros”.

So the RCMP know the exact hour that Tiffany (or somebody using her cell phone and pretending to be her) texted her sister. Can't they use technology to determine the location of the phone?

We'll leave the technological questions to them. But it's the reference to her "bros" that may help dispel some of the mystery surrounding Tiffany's disappearance and death.

Two years before her disappearance, Tiffany Skye was a member of Bebo, a social networking website popular with Winnipeg gang members and their associates.

Her site profile is titled Fuck A Bitch.

Her personal information begins:

Me, Myself, and I
    '' Tiffany maureen Skye
is the name..
   i♥nOrthSide fUk tha west.

Northside is one of the violent aboriginal street gangs plaguing Winnipeg and 15-year-old Tiffany (as she was then) was pledging her support.

It ends:

I keep it G and that's a Promise.
I may be a Bitch, but at least I'm

I keep it G means I keep it Gangsta.

Tiffany's mother said her daughter was in a foster home from the time she was an infant until her mid-teens. That means she left the foster home when she was 15 or 16, exactly the time she was professing her allegiance to thug life.

Her connections to the aboriginal gang world go deeper still. Her brother is Isaac Skye, or Isaac Skye-Young as he once wrote it. He was 36 in 2010 when Tiffany last posted on Bebo.

He also had a Bebo page.
His profile declares his colour preference:
"black and red and white all ip colors".

And he wrote glowingly about NSIP---Northside Indian Posse.

He posted his artwork (below)

And homemade posters.

Which is very ironic.

Because, you see, Tiffany and Isaac Skye are cousins of Nathan Starr, the 14-year-old boy who was killed in a fire on Mountain Avenue in 2007 which was set deliberately by two members of the Indian Posse street gang. They were trying to burn out some rival drug dealers but torched the wrong house.

Issac obviously doesn't hold a grudge. And his family is now depending on the police, Winnipeg and RCMP, to find out what happened to their Tiffany.

The point is that many of these missing girls are connected and like Tiffany Skye have dark underbellies to their sweet lives. They are heavily connected to the thug life underworld of aboriginal street gangs, which brings with it heavy drug usage and random violence.

The police and the families of these girls do their best to hide this side of the story. And by doing so, they obscure the probable answers to the disappearances.

The answers don't lie with the general community; they will be found in the aboriginal community.

Is anybody looking?

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hot Buttered Soul. Replacing Jack Layton

Yep. Still dead.

We had to check after Monday's media wallow over the death of the new Moses, Jack Layton, aka the man who accomplished nothing in his federal career apart from propping up the corpse of the Liberal Party until it literally fell to pieces.

Let's see, he was leader of the fourth largest party in Parliament, never spent a day in government, and waited until the Liberals finally imploded to pick up the pieces and lead a gaggle of Quebec students and separatists to Ottawa under the NDP banner. Then he expired, leaving the party in the hands of a 68-year-old woman with the English language skills of Stephane Dion and who, when elected, was a card-carrying separatist party member and financial donor. Way to go, New Moses.

But while the mainstream media commentators rushed to buy sackcloth and ashes before prostrating themselves at Layton's cold dead feet, they studiously avoided the only question anyone wanted answered--- who is going to lead the NDP, now? Or, as all those new-born biblical scholars would say, who will be the new Joshua ?

A passel of potential candidates has bubbled to the surface and no one is happier to see them than the pundits of the governing Conservative party who are dancing a jig at the prospects.

For starters, the Conservatives will walk into Parliament in September to face two leaderless Opposition parties. And it only gets better from there.

Unless NDP apostate Bob Rae performs a true miracle by returning to his roots, seizing the leadership of the federal NDP and then uniting the NDP and Liberals into a single party of the left, the future for both looks mighty dim and foreboding.

The Liberals have a tradition of alternating between Anglophone and Francophone leaders. Wouldn't you know it, it's the turn of a French-speaking leader. With the seminal need to rebuild their strength in Quebec, a leader from that province becomes almost inevitable.

The NDP, meanwhile, finds itself with more than half its members in Parliament from Quebec. To choose a leader from anywhere other than Quebec would be a humiliation.

So in the best-case scenario for the Conservatives, the Opposition parties would go from no leaders to both being led by someone from Quebec. And, apart from the amusement of watching them tear each other to pieces in that province come next election, there's the knowledge that the rest of Canada would vote for Muammar Gaddafi before voting for a Quebecer.

Which takes us back to the NDP leadership contest.

Who is in the running?

<> Topping any list is undoubtedly Gary Doer, former Premier of Manitoba and currently the Canadian ambassador to the United States. Like Jack Layton, he was the political leader you would most want to have a beer with. Unlike Jack Layton, Doer was a winner, in his own province at least. As Premier he hugged the middle of the road, keeping his foot firmly on the throat of his left wing, while deftly knocking aside the ineffectual Opposition leaders in his home province. But he headed for the nearest Exit door when he began feeling the heat from a political scandal involving NDP cheating in the 1999 election that brought him to power. He speaks French like Dion spoke English, and at 63 years old, he will be collecting an Old Age pension by the time the next federal election rolls around; hardly the hopey-changey image of the future the NDP wants to present. No chance.

<> Another Manitoban, Bill Blaikie, came in second to Jack Layton at the last leadership convention. A distant second. He retired from federal politics, took a job at the University of Winnipeg, left that to sit in the Manitoba legislature as an NDP MLA, and announced this year he was retiring and not running in the October provincial election. He may be only 60 but looks ten years older than Gary Doer. Yesterday's man.

<> Thomas Mulcair was Layton's deputy leader. He's from Quebec (Outrement). At 57 he's not sixty. He's a lawyer (ptui). After American special forces killed Osama Bin Laden, Mulcair famously questioned whether the U.S.had photos of Bin Laden's dead body. What was he getting at? Who knows. The NDP shut him up right quick and hid him in a closet where nobody could question him further. Rabid anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories are in the blood of Dippers, so that's not going to hurt him. What will, though, is the strain of anti-Israel sentiment that flows just as strongly through NDP circles.

Mulcair has been called "the most aggressive pro-Israeli MP in the NDP caucus". That's anathema to the left wing of the left wing party. They will be oppose him vigourously if he runs. Does the NDP want a battle over Israel and the inevitable accusations of anti-semitism televised on national networks? Or will they pull an Ignatieff and "select" Mulcair in the back rooms and announce his leadership to the cheering masses? Hot potato.

<> The far left is promoting lesbian Libby Davies, the 58-year-old MP for Vancouver East, B.C. She's the politically correct co-deputy leader with Thomas Mulcair. She doesn't speak French, so her chance of becoming leader is nil. She does speak Wacko, though. She presented a petition to Parliament endorsing 911 Truthers who insist the terror attacks on New York were an inside job by the U.S. government. If this is the best female the NDP can throw up, the party is in deep, deep trouble.

Luckily, for them, she's not.

<> A name being bandied about by insiders is Megan Leslie (Halifax, N.S.) She lists her profession as "community legal worker." Only 38 she's the NDP's health critic, replacing Judy Wasylycia-Leis. She's been attracting a lot of attention including being named "Best Rookie" MP in 2009 by Maclean's magazine, one of 2010's top MPs by columnist Davik Akin, and among Ottawa's Up and Comers in 2011 by Postmedia.

"But, somewhere among all those MPs may be future leaders and even prime ministers - or, at the very least, people who will change government policy in meaningful ways."

"They may be backbenchers, opposition critics or simply sitting on committees that tackle high-profile issues. They may sponsor a private member's bill that generates controversy or just be solid, hardworking MPs who command respect from all parties and, in doing so, wield influence."

"Based on their performance or record to date, and on the issues likely to dominate Parliament in 2011, Postmedia News has assembled a roundup of MPs to watch."

She's not above a little self-promotion and you'll find the latter story on her website

<> Is the NDP ready to be led by somebody whose formative years were the Eighties?

One name sure to be at the top of the list of contenders is Paul Dewar, MP for Ottawa Centre. He's currently the Foreign Affairs critic. At 48, he's about the right age for a leader looking to revitalize the party. He used to be a teacher, but became a union rep and is better known as a "labour and social activist." (Don't any of these people have real jobs?) He speaks French. His drawback, he's got a penis and a wife. A female wife. Politically incorrect.

<> That leaves one frontrunner. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your likely new leader of the NDP.

Peggy A. Nash.
Riding: Parkdale--High Park, Ontario.
Age, 60 (which means she won't stay long).
Gender: just right.
Party cred: She's a union activist and negotiator. First with the Canadian Airline Employees Association, then with Canadian Auto Workers. She's got the union vote sewn up.
She's won accolades for her work promoting women in politics.
She's won awards from the Sierra Club of Canada for her environmental work.
She's been an election monitor in South Africa and two elections in Ukraine.
She's married. To a man, which will go over well with non-Dippers.
The only challenger who could beat her is Black Moses himself, Isaac Hayes. And he died in '08

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Has crime got you worried? Uh oh, its worse than you think

Chances are you've been talking a lot about crime lately.

What with a triple shooting in Transcona and a teenager stabbed in a public park this week, shots fired as two ethnic groups faced off in Osborne Village last week moments before one man was stabbed to death on the street, and a summer of arsons spreading fear throughout Fort Rouge and St. James.

No wonder we're the violent crime capital of the country according to Stats Canada.

What you don't know, is that it's much, much worse than you think.

Statistics Canada divides its annual crime stats into two parts. There's the crime severity index and the violent crime severity index, which get confusing if you don't speak Bureaucrat.

The crime severity index is the number of crimes reported to police in a city and the violent crime severity index is a measure of how serious those crimes are.

So a city may have a lot of shoplifting and vandalism, and place high in the crime severity index. But another city may have a lot of arsons and shootings, and be Number One in the violent crime severity index.

We're that second city. We're tops. Numero Uno. Nobody can touch us. They measure us at twice the violent crime of the Canadian average.

Only, as we said, its worse than that.

We looked at how they create the violent crime severity index. It turns out they give "weights" to the various crimes, then average them out. So that possession of marijuana gets a 7 count while murder gets a 7000.

The weighting depends on how judges sentence offenders.

"The specific weight for any given type of offence consists of two parts. The first component is the incarceration rate for that offence type. This is the proportion of people convicted of the offence who are sentenced to time in prison. The second component is the average (mean) length of the prison sentence, in days, for the specific type of offence." Stats Canada

In short, the easier the judges, the lower the weight given to crimes. So that when Manitoba judges give hand out one day in jail for killing someone, that lowers the average "weight" for murder.

Whenever an aboriginal offender plays his get-out-of-jail-free card given him by the Supreme Court, it lowers the average "weight" for his crime.

And when it comes to crime by juveniles, why bother? All those probation orders for car theft handed out by Manitoba judges don't count for a thing. Even "deferred custody", whatever that is, is treated "as non-incarceral in the model" states Statistics Canada. In short, all the murders, muggings, break-ins, and, yes, arsons, committed by juveniles in Winnipeg don't mean a thing because the most severe sentence a judge can impose is 3 years in jail for first degree murder.

A weighting of 7000? Forget it. Try 0.7.

And----wait for it---- it's actually worse than that.

Stats Canada releases another report on crime every five years. They hate it. The liberal bureaucrats do their best to minimize the findings because it contradicts the myth they want to propagate, namely that crime is falling and there's no need for the Conservatives' tough-on-crime legislation. Here's how the Stats Canada crowd describes their own report:

"Every five years Statistics Canada releases self-reported victimization data from the General Social Survey (GSS), which measures people's perceptions of their experiences of crime for eight offences. The GSS captures information on self-reported incidents of criminal victimization, whether or not they are reported to police. The most recent victimization data were published in September 2010."

Got that? "People's perceptions of their experience."

So remember, the next time someone breaks into your house or your car, that's only your "perception" of crime according to the Stats Canada bureaucrats.

But they can't escape what the report shows.

"According to the 2009 GSS, about 7.4 million Canadians, or just over one-quarter of the population aged 15 years and older,reported being a victim of a criminal incident in the preceding 12 months."

Manitoba tops the list of provinces. The Stats Canada survey indicates that 175 of every 1000 people in the province were victims of one of the eight crimes canvassed: sexual assault, robbery, physical assault, break and enter, motor vehicle/parts theft, theft of household property, vandalism and theft of personal property.

We're so far ahead of the everyone else on the chart (second place was Saskatchewan at 159 per thousand) that if it gets much worse they'll have to create one chart for all the other cities and a separate chart just for Winnipeg.

And remember, that's only eight crimes. Arson doesn't make the list. Does getting your house sprayed in a drive-by shooting count, as vandalism, maybe? And if your 14-year-old son or 13-year-old daughter gets mugged or shot or run down in a stolen car, its an invisible crime to bureaucrats.

Only the damage is real. The physical damage and the emotional damage.

Winnipeg leads the country in criminal violence even when the statisticians do their best to minimize the severity of crimes.

And the number of crimes reported to police doesn't come close to the number of victims.

People have given up calling the police. It's comical to see Winnipeg police spokesman Jason Michalyshen advise people, now that violent crime has erupted in the suburbs, to call whenever they see anything suspicious. Residents of the North End and Inner City have been doing that for years and getting the brush-off from police.

You want a taste of the frustration of real people, not the sugar coating of the police spokesman? Read the blog A Day in the Hood. Here's a sample:

Monday, July 11, 2011
When Is Criminal Behaviour Not Criminal Behavior?

Well, I am sorry to say, I am not over this issue yet.
We had a bit of an incident yesterday, with an intoxicated individual busting through the neighbours hedge and attempting to open a window with his keys. This was followed by the Police advising me that no crime was committed. And the landlord wanted to know what I expected her to do about it.

Let me re-word this.
What if this happened in Charleswood?
What if an extremely intoxicated individual was seen breaking his way through a thick hedge in your neighbours property? What if you heard him snapping branches and struggling to get through the hedge? What if he made his way into the neighbours yard?
Answer: vandalism, public intoxication, trespassing
What if this intoxicated trespassing vandal proceeded to go the window of the next house over and try to cut the screen open with his keys? What if he kept trying to pry the window open? What if you knew the only person on the lease of the suite from that house was a female?
Answer: attempted break and enter
What if this same intoxicated person left the yard and moved to the back yard of the property he was trying to get into? What if he wandered around the yard for a while? And, what if he finally got into his truck and drove off?
Answer: public intoxication, driving while under the influence
What if this same person came back, crashing his truck into the fence in the yard he drove into? What if he was still intoxicated? What if he decided to pass out in his truck to wait for the person who lived there to come home and open the door?
Answer: driving while under the influence, property damage, public intoxication
So, why are all of these things allowed to happen in the North End?

Regarding the Police:
Why did the Police on the phone tell me no crime was committed when I told her about the hedge, the trespassing, the attempted break and enter and the individual wondering in the back yard of the residence he tried to get into? Why did the person tell me they probably live there?
And, of course, there's the mighty press that's raising a hue and cry about the arsons in the suburbs. Here's how they treated the same story in the North End.

There was the fire in my dumpster. Then the fire in the dumpster down the street, in the dumpster that I ordered in, so garbage would not be placed on the ground behind that one house. Then the couch and back of a porch on a house in the lane. And now, the neighbours dumpster.

Those are the fires I am aware of, the ones I noticed, in my one back lane on a single block in the North End of Winnipeg.

A Free Press reported, William Burr, contacted me last week, after I wrote my blog entry Fires Running Rampant ... In Crescentwood?. He was going to come into the North End and take a tour of the area I talked about, the three short blocks that had seven fires within three months, that I was aware of. The reporter said he would have to get the 'ok' from his Editor. And we all know what the editor said ..... "not news worthy". It didn't surprise me one bit that North End fires are not 'news worthy' to the Press.

I also contacted 311 to see if I could get stats on the number of arsons taking place since April 1 from Redwood to Mountain, Main to McGregor (about the same area as stated in the Free Press article on Arsons in Crescentwood). They said to contact the Police, so I did.

Still waiting for a reply...

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

News nobody else is going to tell you

Ditch what you think you know about the melee in Osborne Village last weekend which resulted in shots fired and the stabbing death of one man.

There's lots the police aren't telling the public. Here's some of it:

You've heard that the incident involved an estimated 50 people. You haven't heard that it involved a confrontation between one group of Asians, Vietnamese in appearance, and another group, East Indian in appearance.

Each of these groups was about 15 in number. The rest of the people on the street were bystanders.

The night had been unusually testy in the Osborne Village Inn, with scuffles breaking out in the line to get in, and on the dancefloor. At closing time, the patrons spilled out onto Osborne as usual, but instead of dispersing, they coalesced around a face-to-face confrontation between two men.

One man accused the other of having stabbed his brother a year ago. The sides formed and trouble was in the air. Bar staff stepped in, trying to diffuse the tension by talking to the individuals who were most agitated to calm the situation down enough so that everyone could go their way without a fight.

Then shots ran out.

Who fired, we don't know.

But it transformed the confrontation into a screaming mob looking for escape. One of those running for his life was 27-year-old Baljinder Singh Sidhu. Word is he saw his salvation in a taxi nearby. He jumped into the cab, but, before it drove off, a group of men literally dragged him out of the vehicle and began stabbing him outside the Happy Cooker, located in the former Bank of Montreal building on Stradbrook at Osborne.

He broke free of them and ran for his life across Osborne back towards the bar for help. He never made it. He collapsed, and died on the sidewalk.

Apparently much of the action was captured on cell phone video, but how much of that made its way into police hands is the unknown factor. Nobody has been arrested for the stabbing death of Baljinder Singh Sidhu yet.

There's another fugitive on the lam, and this one is a real cur.

His victim: none other than petite CBC television news host Janet Stewart---among others.

It seems that earlier this summer former CKY sports director Steve Vogelsang was hosting a farewell party at his house after retiring from his job as journalism instructor at Red River College. Among the guests was Janet Stewart.

During the evening, Vogelsang's dog leaped up and chomped down on Stewart's face, the bite coming dangerously close to one of her eyes. With blood gushing down her face, she was rushed to hospital. Despite treatment, the gash got infected. You may have noticed her absence from the newscast for weeks; it wasn't a vacation.

Shocked partygoers were discussing the event when they suddenly realized something---they had ALL been bitten by the same dog at one time or another.

As Janet Stewart was convalescing, Vogelsang packed up his wife and his dog and bid farewell to Manitoba for his new home in Nelson, B.C.

The only description of the fugitive--canine in appearance. Breed unknown.

H/t to A Friend.
It's said "revenge is a dish best served cold". They forgot to add that it tastes like four-month old crow.

Global News engaged in the most reprehensible form of gotcha journalism during the last federal election by "reporting" (and we use that term as loosely as possible) nothing less than a drive-by smear on Conservative candidate Shelly Glover.

On Monday, more than four months after their cheap shot hit their newscast, they apologized, saying, we quote "“proper journalistic checks and balances were not adequately followed and that [Shelly] Glover’s quotes were taken out of context.”

Actually, they still tried to wiggle off the hook by headlining it as clarification, but there's no mistaking the grovel in the statement.

Here, in full, in case you missed it, is the apology to Shelly Glover from Global News. The unforgivable illiteracy and errors are in red.

Global News: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 9:45 AM
.An important clarification and apology regarding a story we first reported on this program on Monday, March 28th. The report centered on excerpts from an interview with Shelly Glover, Conservative M-P fir St. Boniface. During the interview, Mrs. Glover commented on then Liberal MP, Anita Neville's performance, saying she had "passed her expiry date."

In our story, we inaccurately suggested that Mrs. Glover's comments meant she thought Ms. Neville was too old for the job when Mrs. Glover never made any comments related to age.

A review of the complete interview transcript supports Mrs. Glover's assertion that she was
reffering only to Neville's performance in Parliament on behalf of her constituents.

Our story, which ran during the federal election campaign, resulted in some harsh criticism for Mrs. Glover, which was unjustified. Global News Acknowledges that in this case, proper journalistic checks and balances were not adequately followed and that Mrs. Glover's quotes were taken out of context.

A full transcript of the interview with St. Boniface M-P Shelly Glover is available here:

Nelly Gonzalez: What do you think the concern is? We know that most Manitobans here usually vote conservative in many of the ridings. But there is a couple that could be up for grabs. We know Anita Neville, there's a mystery candidate there. If it's going to be Joyce Bateman or other names... What do you know about that and what do you think the chances are for the party to regain that seat in Winnipeg Centre?

Shelly Glover: Well I think Anita is in trouble, I've only been in parliament for two and a half years Nelly and I'll tell you, there are a lot of shenanigans going on in parliament. And we need some fresh blood, we need some new people, who come with some new ideas and who are going to really stand-up for their constituents and I'm afraid Ms. Neville has passed her expiry date. Her constituents are constantly coming to my office because the can't receive service in French, because they can't receive phone calls back. I think Ms. Neville is going to be defeated. I can't tell you who...

Nelly Gonzalez: Because you know who the candidate is and you know this person well?

Shelly Glover: Well I do know who the candidate is, but the person is not a candidate of record as of yet, we're just going to have to wait until that plays itself out. But as I say I think the philosophies of our parties and very different. We stand by what we say. We don't flip flop, when we say we're going to do something we actually do it. The record of Anita Neville's party is not a record similar to ours. They have a number of issues from the past to address. Because they've said one thing and done another. I mean things, like the gun registry. It's a big issue, I know a number of emergency workers, police officers in that riding who are definitely coming out and I’ve had a number of police officers come into my campaign office unexpectedly saying we want to make sure that gun registry is taken care of. It's a waste of $84 million and they would like to see that money go to something far better than a piece of paper that tells you whether or not somebody’s actually filled out a form saying they've got a gun so I think Anita Neville is done, I think Raymond
Smart (sic- it was Simard)is going to try his best but I think these constituents are definitely going to stick with me.

© Copyright (c)
Readers of The Black Rod read the transcript of the full interview way back in March and could see for themselves how biased Global's reporting was.

The collateral damage of Global's gotcha journalism was to the reputation of reporter Nellie Gonzalez who did the interview and had to watch it used out of context to push a false story. Has Global apologized to her?

And speaking of apologies...

Will Dan Lett, Winnipeg Free Press columnist and, em, blogger, apologize to Shelly Glover as well? He attacked her in support of the Liberal Party of Canada, going so far as to psychoanalyze what she was thinking.

Now that the source of the story he was citing has admitted it was 100 percent wrong, will he do the honourable thing and issue an apology?

Bwahahahaha. We said honourable in relation to the Winnipeg Free Press. Ha ha ha.

And don't forget that these are the professional reporters we're supposed to trust. They are highly trained, extremely ethical, and never let their personal biases influence their, ahem, reporting. Oh, and they have editors to catch mistakes. They just can't get the story right, they can't spell and they refuse to correct the record unless forced.

You say Trumel, the rest of the world says Turmel. Bwahahahaha.

It's turning out to be Arson Summer in the Suburbs.

Fear is sweeping Fort Rouge and St. James. Nightly fires have residents on edge. Targets have gone from dumpsters, to garages, to golf courses, condo complexes and community centres. Even the new restaurant of former rock radio shock-jock Dick Rivers got damaged.

A video posted on YouTube in July may have caught a glimpse of one of the arsonists. A home owner in Fort Rouge had three surveillance cameras set up around the back and side of his house. He caught two young men in the lane, hanging around his place, goofing off, swinging hockey sticks, and---what's that?---carrying a gas can?

The video has been "removed by the user". But we watched it before it was, and, sure enough, for a couple of brief seconds, there's a shot of one of the young men walking with a gas can. A more complete analysis of the video is on the blog ReadReidRead:

"This creepy video was taken by the security cameras at a home in my neighbourhood between 8:35 and 8:46 in the evening on July 27. I don’t know where the specific house is. This is new on YouTube. It shows the arsonists lighting a fire! Since it’s eleven minutes long, I’ll give you the highlights timewise. At :55 two boys appear to be playing in the alley. They are the arsonists. They disappear and reappear. At 3:13 in lower right frame, the firestarter walks into yard carrying jerry can. Thereafter the accomplice acts as lookout, at 4:29 hiding when a car comes down the alley. At 4:55 the accomplice walks down the alley, looking back. At 6:13 firestarter runs in opposite direction carrying jerry can. At 6:34 firestarter casually walks by and down the alley, no jerry can. Note the same boxy black runners with white stripe from early shots. By 10:35 neighbours are reacting to hearing the fire engines. As I write this, the video has less than two dozen hits. I hope at least one of them is from the Winnipeg Fire Department. (Update: Sunday, July 31: Wpg. Police Services arson task force is aware of the video.) With today’s face recognition technology, these two should already be behind bars!"

We hope someone screencaptured the suspect and has provided a blow-up to police.

You want fear? Walk into a CBC boardroom. You can smell it.

Sun News is buzzing at the BBM rating of Ezra Levan'ts interview with Mark Steyn. Levant's show, The Source, the feistiest hour of television in Canada, registered 64,000 viewers at 4 p.m. Winnipeg time and 89,000 viewers at the 9 p.m. replay. That's 153,000 total.

CTV News Channel, by contrast, has 59,000 at 4 and 41,000 at 9 for a combined total of 100,000.

The blog A Few Tasteful Snaps ( , by Glen McGregor, Ottawa Citizen reporter, filled in the missing piece.

"I have half-hourly breakdowns from BBM for CBC. They show CBC’s Power and Politics drew 57,000 average viewers between 5:00 (Eastern) and 5:30 p.m. that night, and 70,000 from 5:30 p.m to 6:00 p.m. — an average for 63,500 over the hour, same as Levant."

"In the 10:00 p.m., time slot, CBC averaged 90,000 viewers over the hour, compared to Levant’s 89,000 — so, bang on. In that time slot, CBC was running Passionate Eye - I Shouldn't be Alive."

He concludes: "As I’ve said to people eagerly predicting Sun TV’s demise, there is an appetite for what they’re selling."

And nobody is more worried about that than CBC, the target of daily verbal assaults by Sun News hosts.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Bipole III may not be needed, says PUB in a challenge to the NDP

The Manitoba Public Utilities Board dropped its biggest bombshell yet and it hasn't made a peep in the mainstream media.

It turns out that Manitoba Hydro may not need to build the immensely expensive and bitterly controversial Bipole III transmission line after all.

You read that right.


How can that be?

Manitoba Hydro, which has been frantically hiding the cost, insists Bipole III is absolutely, positively necessary for mankind and must be built or the sky will fall and the seas turn to blood.

Just as fiercely, Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition insists the 832 mile line is a great big boondoggle that's being reeled out on the orders of the NDP on the wrong side of Lake Winnipeg, the west instead of the east, at an inflated cost for degraded efficiency.

Unelected Premier Greg Selinger says Bipole III is being built for free -- Americans will pay the full cost of construction when they buy electricity from new power plants that will pass through the transmission wires and across the border.

But Opposition leader Hugh McFadyen says its going to cost every Manitoban $13,000 and change by the time the the 'on' switch is flipped.

The PUB spent days poking and prodding for the truth and published its conclusions in a ruling issued last Friday (which we've translated into English where necessary).

"During the proceeding, MH modelled only two alternatives: a) build (MH’s preferred approach - the construction of Wuskwatim, Keeyask, Conawapa and Bipole III, a plan that requires new export contract commitments); and, b) “no build”, i.e. the development of Wuskwatim, Conawapa and Bipole III, to service domestic load when required and sell excess generation through opportunity export sales)."

Translation: Hydro wants to build three power plants, one after the other, to churn out elecricity that can be sold to American buyers for a profit until its needed in Manitoba. But the profit can only be assured by signing contracts on a fixed price. The alternative is waiting until local demand is strong enough to warrant each new power project. As each power plant comes into service, any surplus electricity can be sold on the spot market (where prices are lower than firm sales.)

"MH also advised that it had, earlier, considered an alternative approach beyond that of the “no build” option, one relying on the construction and use of Combined Cycle Combustion Turbine (CCCT) thermal generation (refer to MH’s 2008/09 and 2009/10 Alternative Development Sequences), MH did not, in the end, consider employing CCCT generation as a means to defer new hydro generation, and possibly transmission, as is now proposed for in its capital development plan."
Translation: Hydro rejected a third option---to build a natural gas powered plant that would postpone the need for expensive new power plants and Bipole III.
"The deferral of new hydro-electric generation in favour of the diversification of supply through the construction of CCCT generation would represent an approach that may not require additional firm export contracts."

Translation: A gas plant would mean Manitoba Hydro won't get stuck with long-term contracts. The PUB found elsewhere that construction costs are exploding while power prices are sliding and Manitoba Hydro may find itself delivering power at subsidized prices by the time all the megaprojects are finished. And that means higher rates for Manitoba customers who will get stuck with the construction costs; all the pain and none of the gain.

"Overall, the Board does not accept MH’s export revenue forecasts to-date as representing a realistic basis for determining the economic viability of MH’s proposed new major generation and transmission facilities, to be supported by export sales in advance of domestic load requirements."

Translation: We don't trust Hydro.

"In particular, the Board finds it troubling that MH has not explored in any depth natural gas (CCCT) thermal generation supply alternatives to the new major hydraulic generation and transmission projects now planned for by MH."

"With the considerable escalation of project costs for Keeyask G.S., Conawapa G.S. and Bipole III, the Board would prefer MH justify (on a Net Present Value basis) the need for and alternatives to each of these three projects."

Translation: Don't believe Hydro when it says there's no choice but to plow ahead.

"With respect to alternate capital development scenarios (models providing forecasts of financial results out twenty years) not provided by MH, one scenario among others that the Board wants to be modelled involves the deferral (potentially partial, and potentially to represent a “staggering” of elements of MH’s current capital development plan) of the Corporation’s current major capital development plan along with the modelling of the expected consequences of the construction of a combined cycle natural gas generation plant in southern Manitoba."

Recognizing the defiant attitude that Manitoba Hydro has to the PUB and its orders, the board recommended putting some muscle into the review of Hydro's high-cost plans.

"Accordingly, the Board strongly believes a thorough ‘Needs For and Alternative To’ (NFAAT) process, presided over by a quasi judicial panel with independent adjudicative authority and evidence based process should address these issues far in advance of MH making final commitments to enter into its proposed export contracts, and as soon as possible to avoid further massive new investments in MH’s preferred development plan ahead of a thorough NFAAT proceeding."
"That proceeding should examine not only MH’s preferred development plans, but also consider alternative development scenarios including the potential construction of a combined cycle natural gas generation plant, that to diversify supply, reduce drought risk and, potentially defer Keeyask, if not Bipole III."

Translation: If you build a gas plant you can save yourself almost $10 billion in up front expense by not building the $5.6 billion Keeyask generating station and the $3.9 billion Bipole III line.

The PUB crunched the numbers (don't worry, we won't bore you with them) and determined the size of a gas plant we would need in a worst case scenario.

Manitoba Hydro says it needs to build Bipole III to guarantee reliability of power delivery from the plants in the north to customers in the south in the event that weather knocks out the existing transmission system.
The PUB says a gas plant, likely to be in Brandon, could cover the risk very well.

"... to completely meet Manitoba’s peak domestic loads in the winter, if Bipole III were not available Manitoba would need a gas plant having a capacity of approximately 1500 MW."

The cost? The PUB spitballs it at a million dollars a megawatt, or roughly $1.5 billion. Which, the PUB pointed out, would leave plenty from the $3.9 billion saved on Bipole III to buy natural gas to run the Brandon plant.

Its important to remember this ruling came out of a lengthy hearing into the risk management of Manitoba Hydro, a hearing sparked in part as a result of the huge losses Hydro suffered from a drought in 2003-4.

The PUB has a lot to say about Hydro's drought plans, and little of it was complimentary.

"The Board is aware that ICF/KPMG/Independent Experts reports alluded to the ability to gain domestic rate increases (if approved by the Board) as a risk mitigation factor. This is not inconsistent with what happened after both 2003/04 drought and the 2006/07 mini-drought, where rate increases were provided to MH; increases that have provided ongoing revenues that, as a present value, has provided well in excess of the specific revenue shortfalls experienced. Ratepayers have not seen any subsequent rate relief."
Translation: We boosted rates after two droughts hit Hydro's finances hard, but now that they made up their losses and are flush again, ratepayers aren't seeing any relief. Why's that?
"... annual post-mortems (back-testing of decisions) should be normal practice. (The Board, in its 2004 GRA Order directed MH to provide such a post-mortem of its actions through the drought of 2003/04, that report was never filed.)"

Translation: What's Hydro hiding?

"In a response to an interrogatory submitted by the Board, MH responded that it would file a written Drought Preparedness Plan by April 1, 2011; MH did not."

"In cross-examination, MH suggested that a written plan was not needed as MH reacts “everyday” on the basis that a drought could be starting, and it would be difficult to reduce all of MH’s experiences into a written plan, when MH has to plan given an infinite number of variables."

"MH was disingenuous in its response to the Board’s interrogatory and it remains to be seen if the Corporation will follow through on its written evidence and oral testimony by a Vice-President. The Board recommends MH act to meet the urgent need for such a document."
The single bright note for Manitoba Hydro came in what the PUB concluded about the most alarming allegations of the Hydro consultant known as the Hydro Whistleblower. Coming at the very end of the ruling, it reads:
Concluding Note
"On a positive note, and recognizing that the in-depth risk assessment explored in this hearing (limited by MH’s refusal to provide its export contracts, fully updated 20-year financial forecasts and alternative development scenarios, as requested by the Board) was partially stimulated by the dire predictions of bankruptcy and blackouts by NYC, the Board is satisfied by the unanimous evidence of all the experts heard from that such dire predictions are without merit."

How they reached that conclusion is a total mystery, given as how the 111-pages are peppered with confirmation of the Whistleblower's observations and criticisms of Hydro, as well as the public acknowledgements by Hydro's hired consultants ICF and KPMG that they DID NOT examine her report or the issues she raised with Manitoba Hydro or the provincial Ombudsman's office when filing a whistleblower complaint.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

PUB slams Manitoba Hydro's spending orgy

The Public Utilities Board has issued a scathing denunciation of Manitoba Hydro's plans for a decade-long, $20 billion spending orgy on giant new power plants and transmission lines.
Hydro intends to build these megaprojects to profit from exporting electricity to Americans for years before the power is needed by Manitoba customers.

But the PUB warns that if Manitoba Hydro's gamble fails to pay off, those Manitoba customers could see their monthly bills more than double, with Hydro selling electricity to U.S. customers for less than it costs to produce the power in the first place.

The' money quote' from the PUB has been cited in the Winnipeg Sun and the Globe and Mail. (The full 111 page order can be found on the PUB website. We read it so you don't have to. Quotes in italics with translation into English were warranted.)

"The Board indicates within this Order its concern that if MH proceeds with its development plan “as is” the inadvertent result could be domestic ratepayers subsidizing export sales to the United States. The Board is not at all confident that the risk tolerance exhibited by MH is shared by the majority of its ratepayers."

What hasn't been reported is how devastating that outcome could be. Nor has the public been informed of Hydro's denial, deception and defiance when it comes to reporting to the Public Utilities Board.

Currently 80,000 bills go unpaid each month because customers can't afford them, the PUB said. What effect will doubling the rates have?

"Manitoba Hydro’s historical record of having domestic rates that are the lowest or among the lowest in North America has been described as the Manitoba Advantage. And, despite these low rates, Manitoba’s cold weather and the lack of province-wide availability of natural gas mean that some customers, particularly lower income households, receive electricity bills that they have difficulty paying (some 80,000 or so accounts are apparently delinquent following any billing date – being delinquent does not mean the account ends up written-down or off, but it does infer late payment fees)."

Hydro rates have gone up 22 percent since 2004, well above the rate of inflation. Hydro wants annual rate increases of 3.5 percent for ten years and two percent (to keep up with inflation) thereafter. Rates a decade from now would be 70 percent higher than today. But in the worst case scenario, they could be more than double that. Someone paying $50 a month today would be getting billed as much as $110 a month.

The utility's rosy profit predictions have been knocked for a loop by skyrocketing construction costs coupled with rock-bottom prices in the power market, said the PUB.

Estimated costs for the two power plants on the books (Keeyask and Conawapa) have risen $3.5 billion in one year alone. But electricity is selling for only 1 to 2 cents a kilowatt hour on the spot market, thanks to the persistent downturn in the American economy, instead of the 7 cents Hydro expected.

"...the price MH receives from its American utility counterparties for spot and opportunity export sales – which are anticipated to represent at least 50% of the Corporation’s export sales - has fallen dramatically. (MH generally expects “firm” export sales, sales made at prices set in long term contracts, to represent no more than 50% of its total export sales, with the remaining sales being spot or opportunity sales at then-market prices.)"

Hydro hired the consultancy firm ICF to reassure the utility it was doing everything just peachy. The PUB says that ICF conceded its seal of approval for Hydro's big plans was invalidated by the $3.5 billion jump in costs.

"MH’s witness, ICF, provided an estimated present value of MH’s preferred approach which indicated that the approach, compared to the “no build” scenario (which omits Keeyask), the only other scenario seriously modelled by MH, could be expected to be moderately beneficial for domestic customers."
"However, that estimate was made prior to ICF’s awareness of the recent increases to MH’s capital cost projections and the steep “fall off” of average export prices. As well, there has been a substantial “run-up” of the Canadian dollar (export sales to American counterparties are prices in USD), and a change in the outlook for carbon pricing has occurred. MH has reported that in its new export contracts with American counterparties, all “environmental” attributes or benefits associated with “clean” power is to go to the counterparties, and not to MH."

"When ICF was cross-examined at the hearing, the witness acknowledged that the now expected $3.5 billion increase in the capital cost of MH’s development scenario invalidated the consultant’s earlier estimate. "

What scares the bejeezus out of the PUB is that Hydro refuses even to acknowledge the risks to its plans from the poor economy. The utility won't revise its longterm forecasts to see how a continuation of low electricity rates would affect its bottom lines. And it's outright defying the PUB's orders to provide relevant information to the oversight body.

To make matters worse, the PUB is uncomfortable with how Manitoba Hydro fudges its books. It may all be legal accounting tricks, but its giving the PUB the willies.

Manitoba Hydro claims to have reached its target of a debt-equity ratio of 75:25. The PUB questions how Manitoba Hydro reached its equity target.

"While the 75:25 debt to equity ratio target has generally been accepted as being representative of an adequate capital structure, this Board has questioned the “firmness” of components of the equity factor (which include contributions in aid of construction, Accumulated Other Comprehensive Income, and intangible and deferred costs – all “illiquid”), and has raised doubts as to whether the present target ratio of 75:25 will remain adequate if MH’s proceeds to expend (largely based on additional borrowings) approximately $20 billion on new major generation and transmission assets over the next ten or so years)."

Almost a third of Hydro's labour and benefit costs are off the books, to be accounted for in the future when the new megaprojects come into service. Accountants call that capitalization.

"The increase in amounts capitalized mutes, or masks, the growth in OM&A expense recorded on an annual basis."

Translation: Hydro is distorting its annual returns and hiding it's costs.

"If MH were to expense, i.e. charge against annual revenue/net income, labour and benefit costs that it now capitalizes, MH would, in the absence of larger rate increases than those now projected for future years, report net losses in many of its forecast future operating years, rather than forecasting annual net income for every one of its projected future years as it currently does."

"The Board questions the sincerity of MH’s commitment to rein in costs, without action rate increases above inflation remain a probable outcome. As previously indicated, MH continues to capitalize and defer a significant portion of its annual operating costs."

"...the practice allows MH to report higher annual net income results than it otherwise could (if more of the now deferred and capitalized expenses were treated as period costs and charged directly, in the year of incurrence, against the net income of that year)."

Translation: If the deferred costs were paid yearly, as they would be by a private company, Hydro's projections would show losses in many future years instead of profits.

The PUB declares that Hydro is either ignoring the bad economic news or hiding its impact. Snippets from the 111 page report:

* ".... MH declined to test, as requested by the Board, its export revenue forecast against assumptions of low opportunity export sales prices..."

* "..., MH’s current projection of its future financial position does not include the potential for lower overall export revenues."

* "... the accepted “decline” in MH’s forecast financial results does not take into account
any implications that may be related to potential lower than forecast export prices."

* "With MH declining to provide additional lower export price scenarios, for which MH was asked, the Board can only impute what domestic revenue requirements could be in the next 20 years. Shortfalls from expected net export revenue will be reflected in domestic rates, if MH’s financial targets (particularly debt to equity) remain as is."

* "Despite the Board having directed MH to engage an independent risk expert to conduct a post-audit of MH’s actions through the drought, no such report was filed. And, no evidence was presented either at a prior or recent hearing indicating that MH undertook a detailed assessment of its water resource management and decisions employed in 2003/04."

To make matters worse, when Manitoba Hydro could no longer deny the impact of lower prices and higher costs, it simply ran for cover behind a technicality.

The Wuskwatim power project which is expected to go into service next year (2012) is the smallest of the power plants in Hydro's grandiose playbook. When the project was approved, they said it would return about 7 percent on the investment dollar. Halfway through construction, they were saying it would break even.
With construction not even finished, they see we'll be practically giving power away to the Yanks for the next nine years.

Cost of production, 10 cents a kilowatt hour.
Price they pay, 1 to two cents per kilowatt hour.

Hydro's reaction? Presto chango, and the project is now designated for local use, which means that, by their rules, the costs of construction don't count in their budgeting.

"The purpose for Wuskwatim, originally conceived as a generation source for export sales, was revised by MH in this proceeding as being required for domestic purposes, although domestic load is not expected to require additional generation until 2019."

The Public Utilities Board fought back the only way it can.
It rejected another rate increase that Manitoba Hydro asked for, saying the utility has more than enough money.

"It is important to note that since 2008, this Board has approved rate increases that are expected to provide MH over $788 million in accumulated additional revenue through to and including fiscal 2011/12."

"Overall, and on the “face of it” (setting aside the Board’s ongoing concern with respect to MH’s practice of deferring and/or capitalizing a significant amount of its annual OM&A expenditures), MH’s financial position since the 2008 GRA is projected by MH to improve by approximately $253 million over the period 2007/08 through to and including 2011/12."

Translation: Thanks to rate increases, Manitoba Hydro is getting $788 million more money in the four years between 2008 and 2012. Of that, $253 million is a bonus, cash that Hydro didn't expect to get when it did its 2008 projections.

Hydro, notes the PUB, has already spent $400 million on prep work for the Keeyask power plant even though the project has not been approved.

"Regardless of the “good faith” and “good intentions” likely attached to this pre-spending, expending massive funds ahead of final regulatory approval appears to represent speculation, and, given the hundreds of millions that have been spent and the ongoing spending, a degree of speculation rarely found with private utilities, let alone Crown Corporations."
"If the plans do not work out, then the pre-spending may well have to be “written off”, with implications for rates and the current generation of ratepayers."

Translation: Manitoba Hydro is using all the extra money its received from rate payers to cover its gambling expenses.

And this barely scratches the surface of what the PUB calls it's
" lengthiest, most complex and certainly most expensive public proceeding ever held by the Board" focused on MH’s rate requests, risks and risk management.

We'll have more tomorrow, including the PUB's opinion on Bipole III and Hydro's privitization projects that see Hydro resources being sold to groups of, ahem, "investors."

Professional Reporters at work

The Winnipeg Free Press covered the PUB ruling last Saturday, although that may come as a surprise to you. The story by Larry Kusch ran on Page 10. It was 10 paragraphs long. Three paragraphs were background. Four paragraphs were comment and reaction from Hydro president Bob Brennan.

In other words, the 111 page ruling was summarized in three paragraphs in the Winnipeg Free Press, none of which mentioned that Manitobans could wind up subsidizing electricity we sell to the U.S.

The same day, the newspaper devoted 13 paragraphs to the news that two tiger cubs were born at the zoo.

And 21 paragraphs to a story detailing how a woman saw a polar bear in Churchill.

The Winnipeg Free Press becomes more irrelevant day by day.

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