The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Monday, January 24, 2011

Manitoba Hydro's three magic numbers tell all you need to know


Reading the transcripts of the Public Utilities Board's current hearings into Manitoba Hydro's requests for rate hikes is a lot like mining.

You enter a deep, dark, scary tunnel of near-impenetrable verbiage. Sometimes you wander off into passages that seem to go nowhere, leaving you crying for help. You often feel stifled, struggling for breath as the walls seem to close in on you and the lights dim and you wonder what possessed you to be here in the first place.

But then you stumble across a vein of gold.

Here are some nuggets from the last few days of hearings:

Winnipeg Lawsuit Update

Ten months after the City of Winnipeg launched a lawsuit against Manitoba Hydro for $10 million, Hydro still hasn't filed a statement of defence.

The city claims it was shortchanged when Hydro remitted money it collected from a 2.5 percent tax on electricity and natural gas. Hydro calculated the tax on pre-GST sums; the city says it should have added the tax after the GST.

Winnipeg was balancing its 2010 budget by claiming the money from the Hydro lawsuit as an asset. Hydro, in the meantime, is keeping the lawsuit off its books.

THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Warden, the expanded time frame goes back to a time in which the City of Winnipeg operated Winnipeg Hydro, is that not the case?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Yes.
MR. BOB PETERS: Mr. Warden, does Manitoba Hydro show this litigation as a contingent liability in the financial statements?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: No.

MR. BOB PETERS: Why is that?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Well, we don't consider -- again, it's before the courts, but we discussed it with our auditors at year-end and we -- our preference was not to show it as a liability and our auditors agreed with that.

THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Warden, in the hypothetical situation that the City was successful, the end result would be that customers paid more, is that not the case?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Customers would pay more going forward if the City was successful; the retroactive piece, though, it would be impractical for us to try --attempt to collect that from customers.
Hydro and the city continue to hold discussions "offline", said Warden.
Gary Doer intimidated

Name the American lobbyist who scared Manitoba Premier Gary Doer into abandoning a power line along the east side of Lake Winnipeg. Instead he ordered the line west of the lake at a cost of nearly one billion dollars more.

MR. BOB PETERS: Are there additional reasons as to why the west side routing was selected over east side, Mr. Warden, other than the --
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Well --
MR. BOB PETERS: -- the one we've talked about?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: -- there was a -- a concern expressed by government, conveyed to Manitoba Hydro, that the export sales to the US could be in jeopardy if the routing was -- was on the east side.
MR. BOB PETERS: And why would the -- why would the export sales to the US be in jeopardy if the routing was on the east side as opposed to a different routing?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Because of various lobby groups in the US that have that kind of influence.
MR. BOB PETERS: And who does Manitoba Hydro understand those lobby groups would be representing?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Environmental interests in -- in the US and -- and probably in Canada as well.
MR. ROBERT MAYER: If I understand correctly, the name Kennedy came up a number of times in that kind of discussion when we dealt with environmental issues. And something about rapage -- raping and pillaging the boreal forest in the area and, therefore, suggesting that it might not be as green in energy as the Americans would like to think they're buying.
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Yes, Mr. Mayer, I agree that name did arise.
Backdoor Taxes

The province of Manitoba charges Manitoba Hydro for the water it uses to create power. It also routinely interferes with the operation of Manitoba Hydro such as when it ordered the Bipole 3 line go go west of Lake Winnipeg, increasing Hydro's costs and reducing efficiency. Hydro is forced to ask for higher rates to balance its books. But the NDP dips into Hydro profits, thereby using hydro rates as backdoor taxes.

MR. BOB PETERS: On a comparison of the amounts paid to the province of Manitoba versus the net income of Manitoba Hydro, would you agree with me, Mr.Warden, that the province is realizing a return greater than the annual net income to Manitoba Hydro in most years?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: I -- I wouldn't characterize it as a return, necessarily. There are payments to the province for which Manitoba Hydro is receiving value.
MR. BOB PETERS: My question wasn't meant to imply value is not received, Mr. Warden, but on a comparison of the amounts paid to the province versus the Corporation's net income, the province is being paid an amount greater than the annual net income to Manitoba Hydro?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Yes, that's correct.
MR. BOB PETERS: And I guess what I was saying is for the '09 fiscal year, if you take the payments to the province and you add them to the net income of Manitoba Hydro and you calculated as a percentage, 47 percent was paid to the province with 53 percent staying as net income to Manitoba Hydro?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: I haven't done that calculation, Mr. Peters, but that -- that sound -- that sounds right, yes.
MR. BOB PETERS: Mr. Warden, in 2010 there was a forecast payment to the province of Manitoba of approximately $240 million. You'll accept that?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Yes.

Wuskwatim boondoggle

Wuskwatim power station still gives the PUB the willies.

Wuskwatim, the first, and smallest, of three new power stations on the Nelson River is set to go online later this year. The PUB has been raising concerns about its viability for years.

They were back at it last week.

Wuskwatim was supposed to be the model for the coming megaprojects on Hydro's books.

It was built to supply power for export, years before the power was needed for Manitoba customers. The revenue from American customers was going to pay much if not all the cost of construction.

But things changed, then changed again.

Wuskwatim was delayed a year because they couldn't find a general contractor to do the job. Then Manitoba's need for power increased faster than expected and Wuskwatim power was needed sooner. But Hydro has already signed contracts with American buyers. Which wasn't such a big problem because the recession that hit in 2008 has reduced the call for power.

When power starts flowing from Wuskwatim, it will cost an estimated 10 cents a kilowatt hour. But for the portion sold in Manitoba, Hydro will be earning only an average of five or six cents.

Yep, we'll be buying power for less than it costs to produce.

And, unless Hydro has an ironclad contract with its U.S. customers, so will they. Which means we will be subsidizing the Americans.

And that's exactly why the PUB is scared stiff of Hydro's plans to spend $17 billion to build power plants to supply American customers in advance of our own needs.

MR. VINCE WARDEN Just going through your -- your high level calculations of -- of a cost of ten (10) cents per kilowatt hour, which certainly based on the cost of -- of Wuskwatim and the interest depreciation related cost does not sound unreasonable. However, when you -- when you consider -- and you just reviewed the price -- the export prices with Mr.Cormie and -- and we're looking at ten (10) cents starting to occur in -- in 2019 -- 2018/'19 or earlier. So to build a plant that costs ten (10) cents per kilowatt hour that's going to last for a hundred years and to get the return on that investment starting six (6) or seven (7) years hence,sounds like a really good investment; does it not?
MR. BOB PETERS: You're predicating that response, Mr. Warden, on the export prices rising to where the Corporation has them in their forecast, correct?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: Well, I was just going through the -- the table you -- you pointed out in your book of documents, Mr. Peters, and that's -- that is the forecast of export prices.
MR. BOB PETERS: That was the IFF-09 (Integrated Financial Forecast) forecast?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: It is.
MR. BOB PETERS: Yeah.
MR. BOB PETERS: Well, then let me continue on that. You're asking the ratepayers of today to pay rate increases to help fund the construction of Wuskwatim when that energy isn't needed by Manitobans today?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: But I think that's the point. It is needed. It's -- the new supply is needed imminently. And now is it this year, next year? We'll determine that...
There has been some changes in load growth since we committed to Wuskwatim, but, you know, some of those things are beyond our control. But there's no doubt that new generation is -- is required for the Manitoba load.
MR. BOB PETERS: And if -- if new generation is required for the Manitoba load, Mr. Warden, the price expected on average that Manitoba Hydro will extract for that Manitoba load will be probably closer to the four (4) to five (5) cent per kilowatt hour range.
**********

MR. BOB PETERS: Well, for -- let's pick your residential customer, Mr. Warden, paying six (6) cents and if the price under my math is closer to ten (10) cents out of Wuskwatim, then the residential customer would have to have a rate increase in excess of 50 percent.
MR. VINCE WARDEN: But we're not asking --we're not asking for a rate increase in that order of magnitude in our -- we've got -- we're before this Board asking for a very reasonable 2.9 percent rate increase.
********
MR. BOB PETERS: And so to share in those benefits, Manitoba Hydro's ratepayers are going to be expected to pay additional rate increases?
MR. VINCE WARDEN: To keep the -- the -- the benefits being provided to current and -- and future ratepayers, that's -- that's correct. There's -- there is an investment; there is a return.
The gamble: the ante and the pot

Three numbers are all you need to understand what's at stake in these PUB hearings.

$17 billion. That's how much Manitoba Hydro intends to spend to build three power plants to supply American customers for years before the electricity is needed here. Hydro expects to get big bucks for the power because its "green" and the Yankees will be willing to pay up so they won't have to build coal plants to supply it themselves. But Hydro's got its eye on a bigger prize.

$1 billion. That's the cost of a power line to the Manitoba border. Hydro wants one of its U.S. customers to build the line as part of a deal to get Manitoba power. This line is the ultimate goal of all the U.S. power deals, because it will tie Manitoba into the midwest power grid, allowing us to buy and sell electricity forever at minimum cost to us. Right now, we're restricted by the amount of power the current lines can carry.

$400 million. That's how much it would cost to build a gas turbine near Brandon if we were only looking at supplying power to Manitobans for the next 10-12 years. Plus the cost of the gas, of course. No Keewaysk power station needed. No Conawapa, no Bipole 3, not for another decade at least.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Bob Wilson's moment in the sun

The only person not surprised by the arrest of Whitey Macdonald on a 30-year-old warrant for drug smuggling was his former friend Bob Wilson.

Hard-luck Bob Wilson was left to take the rap for Whitey when, despite being under guard following his 1980 arrest in Florida, Macdonald melted into thin air one day, never to be seen again until a generation had passed.

Wilson was convicted and sentenced to 7 years in prison. An MLA at the time of his arrest, he was kicked out of the Legislature in disgrace. He lost his bailiff business. And he went crazy.

From Day One he's proclaimed his innocence. And every single day since he's been consumed with proving it. He's spent almost every waking hour--- through a marriage, a divorce and even a recent bout of brain surgery--- thinking about his trial, obsessively tracking every person remotely connected to his case, and writing---writing tens of thousands of letters, notes, appeals, and bizarre communications consisting of photocopied trial evidence peppered with his scrawled objections.

He bombarded every reporter in the city for decades with pleas for someone, anyone to take him seriously.

And he told the same story to the few who took some time to listen to him.

You'll find Whitey in Florida, he said.

He's with his wife, Angela, he said.

And sometimes he'd whip out a photocopy of a Florida marriage licence for Jack Ian Macdonald and Angela Louise Smith, nee Hunter. He had paid an investigator out of his own pocket to go to Florida and get it.

A week ago U.S. Marshalls arrested Macdonald in Homosassa, a small town north of Tampa.

He was with his wife Angela.

They were living as Mr. and Mrs. Hunter.

Gosh, said Wilson's trial lawyer Jay Prober, I thought Whitey was dead.

Gosh, said Wilson's prosecutor Bruce Macfarlane, I thought Whitey was dead.

At last, said Wilson.

For Wilson has never given up hope that the truth will come out. And with his renewed Christian faith, he's been more positive than ever. Macdonald's arrest has only revitalized his fight for exoneration.

It's left the Winnipeg press flummoxed. They don't know whether to embrace Wilson as a wrongly convicted innocent, after decades of shunning him. Or to treat him as a deluded and disgraced ex-con who can be milked for a few good stories, but who ultimately isn't worth the time.

Their task is complicated by knowing that if Wilson becomes the 'good guy', they need a 'bad guy' and that position will be filled by former Crown prosecutor Bruce MacFarlane.

Except that MacFarlane is currently a 'good guy' who prosecutes people in the court in The Hague and who, ironically, has written a book about wrongful convictions.

Oh the dilemma.

And, really....who can get excited about a drug charge dating back to the Seventies? For pot? Ha, ha, as one wag said, how old do you have to be to remember when we imported marijuana from the U.S.?

But then, the case has just enough quirky details to make it interesting.

- A hint that drug money was used to buy the Winnipeg Jets and bring them to Winnipeg.
- A prominent Winnipeg lawyer married in a major drug dealer's living room.
- A drug smuggler advised to fly pot shipments to a Manitoba landing strip owned by a prominent Winnipeg judge.
- A relative of then-Premier Sterling Lyon busted with a planeload of pot.
- And, of course, an MLA identified as the secret financier of an international drug-smuggling operation stretching from South America to northern Manitoba.

It all begins with the relationship between that MLA, Bob Wilson, and Jack (Whitey) Macdonald.

It was sort of like the relationship that a shark has with the pilot fish. "I'm with him."

Macdonald was always a hale fellow, well met, whether he was living in Winnipeg (and attending Mayor Steve Juba's New Years Eve parties in Petersfield) or in Florida, where he ran a unique business. He would buy, at auction, boats seized from drug smugglers and resell them at a profit.

Wilson was the quintessential Winnipegger---save-a-dime and stretch-a-dollar. At the time he was being wiretapped for allegedly financing drug deals, he was selling warehouse clearance blue jeans out of his office in the Legislature and worrying he didn't have the sizes to fit the secretaries who were buying from him.

He bought three boats from Macdonald intending on re-selling them in Winnipeg, but to save on the sales tax he registered a business with Macdonald as his partner, and watched prosecutors use this as proof he was Macdonald's co-conspirator in the drug world. When a man showed up with thousands of dollars for Macdonald, Wilson bought a money order rather than sit on that much cash; Whitey went ballistic at the paper trail.

Their worlds collided in May 10, 1979.

That night Whitey arrived in Winnipeg with Michael Gobuty who had recently learned the Jets would be in the National Hockey League. He immediately went to Bob Wilson's house on Middlegate and made himself at home. Wilson, who was at the Legislature for budget estimates, rushed over as soon as he could.

Macdonald phoned one of his local drug smugglers who owed him money. The man delivered $60,000 in cash to Whitey then left. Macdonald also phoned a local businessman who had sold him a speedboat for $125,000 and told him to come over to collect a big chunk of the money he was still owed.

These comings and goings took place under the watchful eyes of police on stakeout.

Wilson would never shake that image of $60,000 cash money from drug sales being counted in his living room. He's claimed from day one he and the businessman were on the second floor of the house where they went when Macdonald told them he didn't want them around while he took care of some business.

Police tailed him from then on, even putting a wiretap on phones in the Legislature he might use. When they thought he was trying to tip off Macdonald, who was back in Florida, that the RCMP were hot on his trail, they swooped down and arrested Wilson.

Some months later, they took Macdonald into custody, too. But he faked a heart attack to get out of jail, then asked to take a shower before going back. By the time his guard checked on him, Whitey had disappeared.

This created a problem for local law authorities. They had just spent two years and $2 million on an investigation and their prime target had flown the coop. They couldn't settle for a bunch of small fry smugglers.

They needed a big trophy and there was nobody to fit the bill -- except MLA Bob Wilson.

The prosecutors had to put some quick polish on the picture if they were to sell it to the public.

In court documents they turned penny-pinching Bob Wilson into a suave Mr. Big of the drug underworld. He never made more than $38,000 a year, and yet, they said, he lived in a mansion and drove a fancy Cadillac. He owned property in Florida, travelled North America, bought pleasure boats, and had thousands of dollars socked away in bank accounts.

They accused him of plotting to kill a Crown witness, which let them get a direct indictment, a rare procedure that committed him to stand trial without a preliminary hearing to test the Crown's evidence.

Then they offered him a deal. Plead guilty to one charge of conspiracy and two others would be dropped, including the conspiracy with Whitey Macdonald. A fine of $1700 and it's all over.

No, said Wilson. I'm not guilty.

The mansion was a three-story house in River Heights with a mortgage. The car was repossessed through his bailiff business. The big money in the bank was a mistaken deposit for $100,000 that belonged to a couple unknown to Wilson. It happens, said the bank, after Wilson was convicted. The travel consisted of taking a friend to A.A. in B.C. to dry out.

The irony was that the jury refused to convict him on the charge the Crown wanted him to admit. But they did find him guilty of the two charges the Crown was prepared to drop.

Now what?

The U.S. Marshalls get to brag they did what the RCMP and FBI could not---find Whitey Macdonald. Although the manhunt turned out to be only slightly more than checking the phone book for Angela Hunter.

Did the RCMP even want Whitey caught?

If he's brought back to Winnipeg and says Wilson had nothing to do with his smuggling operation, they'll run out of eggs in Manitoba because of all the goo on the faces of the legal establishment in the province, which went out of its way to dismiss Wilson's pleas all these years.

Not to mention the extreme likelihood of investigations into RCMP conduct.

Macdonald's chief smuggler said he just happened to bring his book-o'-deals with him when lugging all that cash into Wilson's home. He, ahem, forgot it when he left.

That book was found in Bob Wilson's files by a tax investigator and was used to link Wilson with Macdonald. The funny thing was that the book had already been initialled by an RCMP officer with a date, a date two days before it was "discovered." Hmmmmm.

And then, there's the alleged perjury.

Wilson was questioned after his arrest and the interview was taped by the RCMP. In court, an RCMP investigator testified, under oath, that the recorder malfunctioned and only a couple of minutes of the interview could be found. There was no problem with any other tapes made by the RCMP in the case, he said.

22 years ago, Wilson, using Freedom of Information legislation, pried a 1985 exchange of memos within the RCMP which we'll excerpt (emphasis theirs) :

C.O. "D" Division

Complaint of R. Wilson

snip

"Would you review the original transcript by Cst.GUERTIN to determine if he said the tape was destroyed, and tab the pertinent pages ---jor send a copy back with your report. We have copies of the transcript available."
"Next, at Tab 4, your A-5 indicagtes (a) the tape was never used in court--how does that match with what was said in the transcript and (b) you note Cst. BARRINGTON has had the tape all along--- why was it not entered as an exhibit and treated as such, I wonder."
"What Wilson is saying is there was a tape of conversation (his) made, but one of our members said in evidence that it was destroyed; the jury foreman asked for the tape, but was not allowed to get it. Wilson is further saying this is not true---the member lied. He bases this on the allegation C/Supt. MULLOCK later agreed there is such a tape, to him--Wilson. And now, you indicate indeed there is, and that it was not used in court, and a member has retained it himself."

"I hope there is not an omission on our part here, because such an issue could become very sensitive and embarrassing."

**********
To: Office i/c C.I.B.
From C.O. "D" Division

snip

"...in your memorandum it is noted only about two minutes of the conversation was recorded on the tape in question; this I am sure came from a statement made by Cst. GUERTIN under oath during cross-examination as indicated on the above mentioned Page 3129 of the transcript. In fact, as a result of your memorandum I was able to review the investigation carried out by C/Supt. MULLOCK, and I note (page 7 of his memorandum of 82-01-18) he himself personally listened to the tape and found the first approximately five minutes was very poor with difficulty in understanding any portion of it but the next approximately twenty-five minutes is reasonably understandable. It was only thereafter the tape became blank. I am sure you will recognize the potential significance of this situation and how it would be difficult to explain it if we were suddenly faced with the allegation without previous knowledge."

So....

"such an issue could become very sensitive and embarrassing."

"it would be difficult to explain"
There appears to be an awful lot of people with an awful big motive NOT to want Whitey Macdonald returned to Winnipeg.

As usual, Bob Wilson might be the odd man out.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gail Asper to Ukrainians: Shut up.

Gail Asper has told Canada's Ukrainian community to shut up and accept their second-class status in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

In a hissy column in the Ottawa Citizen on Tuesday, Asper dropped the mask of reason and went for the jugular of Lubomyr Luciuk, director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

"Instead of creating a divisive climate, I would urge Luciuk to give the Canadian Museum for Human Rights' dedicated board, management and staff an opportunity to work on and present at the appropriate time the museum's content in its full form."

Translation into people-speak: shut yer yap, and let the big kids do their job.

Luciuk has driven Gail Asper and her colleagues at the CMHR into a tizzy with his demand, echoed by other Ukrainian associations, that the Holodomor, the deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians on Stalin's orders, be given equal status in the museum to the Holocaust, which saw millions of Jews systematically killed on Hitler's orders.

The Asper-controlled CMHR plans a prominent and permanent Holocaust gallery, with all the other mass murders in the world relegated to the back of the bus in a grabbag Atrocity Gallery, one of 12 "zones" within the museum.

That, said Gail, is because the Holocaust is so s-s-s-s-s-s-special.

" Canada is one of the few western countries that does not study the Holocaust in its national institutions. Luciuk asserts that everyone is fully aware of the Holocaust, so it doesn't need to be prominent. The board disagrees..."

It's "an essential part of the world's human rights history (according to virtually every respected human rights expert)", she wrote.

The killing of millions of kulaks with unpronounceable Slavic names in tiny godforsaken villages on the orders of a Communist dictator, obviously, is not.

And she threw Ukrainians a bone.

"Although this museum is not a museum of genocide filled with one depressing gallery after another, there is a permanent gallery in which mass atrocities will be studied and it has always been the intent to include the Ukrainian famine clearly and permanently."

Her clear message: There's us, the Jews, and there's youse, the rest of the world. See?

Gail Asper, presumably speaking for the rest of the board of the CMHR, thus answered Luciuk's demand that the content committee report be scrapped and the museum's displays be reconsidered.

In his Dec. 20, 2010, Ottawa Citizen column, Luciuk proposed that "Ottawa should reject calls for more funding of this boondoggle from the public purse" until "management and curators... craft a truly inclusive and fair-minded national museum."

That sent a chill down Gail Asper's spine, given the desperate financial straights the museum is in currently. That plus Luciuk's history lesson on how the Asper family managed to get their holocaust museum plan funded:

"Given Canwest's continued influence, Stephen Harper's team came through with funding, attaching the Asper project to the public teat, permanently. It has been sucking generously ever since."

Gail tried rebutting the charge by rewriting history.

"While Luciuk may feel the museum is "sucking generously" on the "public teat" of the federal government, in fact less than one-third of the $310-million capital cost for this project will come from Ottawa, despite the fact this museum is a federal Crown corporation."

Unfortunately for her, the true story was related in The Black Rod two years ago.

On April 17th, 2003, Izzy Asper announced the "potential creation" of a $270 million Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
"The Asper Foundation has proposed a unique partnership for funding the capital cost of the museum, estimated at $200 million for the first phase." he said.
The original proposal, prepared in 2001, called for $100 million from the federal government, $20 million from the province, $20 million from the city of Winnipeg, and $60 million from the private sector.

The original proposal was for the construction of the CMHR with the following stages to encompass an endowment fund to finance a grandiose scheme to bring tens of thousands of school children to Winnipeg each year to tour the museum.

So of Izzy's plan, the federal government would cough up half the money and the private sector about 30 percent. Even then, it turns out, Izzy had no guarantee the feds would buy in. Manitoba's top Liberal MP, Reg Alcock, had a different story for the CBC.
"Chrétien had promised to donate further money, said Treasury Board Minister Reg Alcock, but it wasn't going to be $100 million, a figure he says the Asper Foundation named on its own.
"There's no evidence of that," Alcock said. "Because they decided they wanted that [and] we had to deliver it is just wrong."

Asper also conveniently forgot that the federal government has pledged to provide $21 million a year in operating costs.

And that the board of the CMHR wants another $5 million to $9 million to cover taxes.


And Gail has asked the feds for millions more to make up the shortfall of at least $25 million that the private sector was supposed to pay but she can't raise.

Sucking at the public teat, indeed.

The CMHR's intransigent position on ranking genocides isn't helped when their supporters spill the beans. Liberal MP Anita Neville simply gushed about the CMHR during a not-so-distant session of Parliament, and Gail Asper may wish she had been more circumspect:

In the House of Commons – December 8, 2009
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
National Holocaust Monument Act
Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument
Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.):
We heard a member opposite speak of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, which is an important initiative in this country. The original capital funding of $100 million promised by the previous Liberal government is fully supported by the current government, which I applaud, as is the ongoing operating funding making it a national museum.
However, the important issue is that the genesis of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg was that it would be a Holocaust museum. There was much discussion over it and much input from a whole host of communities as to whether it should be a Holocaust museum or indeed a museum of human rights, as it is now established.
It is equally important that there be a permanent Holocaust gallery in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It was the vision of the late Israel Asper in promoting this museum. It was the basis upon which many private sector donors made their contributions to it.
Now you see why it's so s-s-s-s-s-s-special.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Manitoba Hydro's house of cards develops a lean


Manitoba Hydro has quietly postponed its next planned megaproject, the $3.5 billion Keeyask generating station, for at least a year because it can't agree on a contract with with its American customers.

Hydro is preparing to double in size over the next decade with the construction of three new power stations on the Nelson River---Wuskwatim, Keeyask and the big daddy of them all, Conawapa. Getting the Americans to pay a fat premium for the "clean" power from these plants is supposed to cover most of the $17 billion cost of building them.

But the Yanks' reluctance to sign on the dotted line is making Hydro's house of cards wobble.

Hydro officials told the Public Utilities Board that two factors are affecting negotiations---the economic downturn in both countries, and the unexpected development of shale gas.

The PUB is holding hearings into Hydro's insatiable desire for rate hikes to its Manitoba customers. Manitoba Hydro wants you to pay 2.9 percent more for power this year and 3.5 percent a year more for the conceivable future.

A big part of the PUB hearings centers on how Hydro measures and assesses the risks of its multi-billion dollar dreams.

The Wuskwatim project is almost finished with first power expected to be produced late this autumn. But almost three years ago the PUB cautioned that Wuskwatim would make a marginal profit at best, and that was when financial conditions were twice as good as they now are.

Manitoba Hydro told the PUB it had expected this year's export prices to bounce back from the recession, but that isn't happening. Their internal forecasts saw an average export price of 4.1 cents a kilowatt hour last year rising to 6 cents this year. Instead they were getting an average of 3.26 cents last year with this year's price rising to, maybe, 4.5 cents if they're lucky.

This is affecting the bottom line by millions of dollars, but even worse is why.

Natural gas prices have fallen so low they are kneecapping Hydro's plans.

The development of shale gas has more than doubled natural gas reserves. As long as coal and gas prices stay low, American customers are enticed to buy power on the short-term spot market rather than to lock into contracts that command a higher price for a guaranteed power supply. As an example, the average spot price for power in the midwest is 2.3 cent per kilowatt hour and Hydro is getting an average 5.7 cents kwh from its contracted sales. And they were expecting much, much more from their new customers for Keeyask and Conawapa power.

The PUB is examining the assumptions Manitoba Hydro used to set its export prices, particularly for the planning of the future megaprojects.

As late as 2009, Hydro included a carbon tax in its planned prices. Such a tax would raise the cost of coal and natural gas and make hydroelectric power more attractive. But the U.S. hasn't passed a carbon tax. And even a voluntary Midwest carbon trading market that Hydro joined collapsed late last year.

Hydro never anticipated the boom in shale gas, their officials told the PUB, although they expect the low prices are fleeting. They said (they hope) that gas producers are selling below the cost of production to snatch a piece of the market, and gas prices will start to rise later this year.

The PUB, perhaps inadvertently, pried a secret or two out of Manitoba Hydro in the first week of hearings.

Why, they were asked, does Hydro sometimes buy dependable power for 4 cents kwh while at other times they sell electricity on the spot market for a measley 1.9 cents kwh? Hydro officials sparred with the PUB lawyer for a bit before confessing they hide the price of wind power in that "dependable" column. Then, claiming "confidentiallity", they clammed up.

The PUB, before approving any rate hike, is examining how well Hydro controls its own costs, a big chunk of which is salaries. Hydro said it pays its employees 20 percent less than Saskatchewan pays, foreshadowing years of catch-up increases.

But, they said, they have to pay top dollar or lose employees. Well, the PUB lawyer asked, how many did you lose last year? Five. But in 2007 Hydro lost 17 employees, prompting a 10 percent bonus (since phased out) for high-value employees who stayed.

And we learned that Manitoba Hydro has officially entered the realm of Enron economics in its financial statements. Hydro paid itself $159 million and recorded an equal reduction in transmission costs attributed to the Wuskwatim project.

How's that, you ask?

The money flowed from a corporation, with Hydro and an Indian reserve as unequal partners, that has the right to buy into the Wuskwatim power plant and share the revenues. So Manitoba Hydro, the partner, pays Manitoba Hydro the developer, to share net revenue which may never materialize.

And you wonder why the Public Utilities Board is worried.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Duelling slogans: The bad and the blue


It's a clear case of serendipity.

Once again a government agency has wheeled out a new slogan to sell Manitoba to potential tourists, as well as to people living here already.

"It's Manitoba Time" is Travel Manitoba's new pitch in their coming annual marketing campaign.

They must be plenty gunshy after having watched the brutal rejection of the NDP's previous effort at branding the province---the disastrous Spirited Energy campaign.

The first public reaction appears to be ... huh?

Well, at least the reaction isn't as hostile as it was for Spirited Energy, which was DOA, although the government continued to flog it for months to the bought cheers of a tiny band of sycophants.

Travel Manitoba says don't judge the slogan in isolation, wait for the context of the campaign. And there's some truth it that.

Miller Time was a slogan to sell a beer. But the commercials sold fun. Young men hitting a bar after work to share a brewski or two with good friends while flirting with pretty girls. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Nobody can forget MC Hammer's 1990 signature song hit (U) Can't Touch This with its opening bass line (sampled from Rick James' Super Freak) and Hammer's bizarre pants. It's Hammertime, he sang. Now that's branding.

Manitoba Time? We'll wait for the video, thanks.

But then we saw this bit of marketing in the newspaper:

Little bit of naughty would be nice at Taboo show
Winnipeg Free Press - Maureen Scurfield - ‎
The TABOO: Naughty But Nice Show hits Winnipeg Feb. 4-6 at the Convention Centre, with a Miss Taboo Winnipeg pageant...

...and we thought, now there's a slogan.

A little bit of naughty.

It's fun, flirty, sexy without being offensive, intriguing, and repeatable.

Everything 'It's Manitoba Time' is not.

And where did it come from?

The street.

How much did it cost?

Nothing.

Is that the answer? Are all these branding agencies just trying too hard to be oh-so-clever?

Maybe the next time some government body wants a slogan to sell Manitoba, they should just ask some headline writers.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Winnipeg Free Press: Why screw up once when you can screw up twice?


Waiter, a double serving of crow for the Winnipeg Free Press table, please.

The first week of the new year isn't even over and already the corrections are piling up and apologies flying over at the Free Press.

Facts wrong? Political bias? Yep, just business as usual.

First, there was the public face-plant by columnist Lindor Reynolds whose front-page story about the closing of a family-run fabric store named the wrong store throughout the story. So sorry; heh, heh, we all make mistakes; now quit calling me, she told readers the next day.

And then there was the story by Ottawa reporter Mia Rabson which revealed that the series of Conservative Party-bashing stories she'd written throughout 2010 were w-r-o-n-g wrong. Full-out, completely wrong.

Vaccine centre had quiet death
-- Bidders not told of decision for six months -- Timing rules out local politics as factor
By: Mia Rabson
Posted: 5/01/2011 1:00 AM
OTTAWA -- Canada's chief public health officer decided to scrap plans to build a pilot HIV vaccine production facility more than six months before he told any of the four organizations vying for the project.
Briefing notes and memos to Dr. David Butler-Jones obtained by the Free Press through an access to information request show the steering committee overseeing the bid process put the brakes on what was supposed to be the centrepiece of the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative in July 2009.
The timing of that decision is key because it shows local Winnipeg politics had nothing to do with the decision to shelve the proposed $88-million plant that most believe was destined for the Manitoba capital.

Oh, how it must have hurt to write that last sentence for Rabson had been providing a platform for Liberal and NDP politicians to trumpet the opposite all year long. In fact, she just couldn't let go, so she repeated the lie one more time in the very story that refuted it.

"Manitoba Liberal candidate Terry Duguid has long alleged his candidacy played a role in the process, including limiting the efforts local Conservative MPs made on behalf of the bid by Winnipeg's International Centre for Infectious Diseases. Until August 2009, Duguid was the CEO of ICID. He says he left his post after it was made clear to him by people connected to Manitoba senior cabinet minister Vic Toews that Duguid's candidacy for the Liberals in Winnipeg South could jeopardize ICID's bid for the vaccine plant."
And then, breaking every ethical rule for journalists on the use of anonymous sources, she quoted an anonymous source to take one more cheap shot at the Conservative government.

"A source close to ICID said it is still widely felt in Manitoba that if Quebec's bid had been judged the best, the government would have ignored the Gates study and gone ahead anyway."

Vic Toews' comeback was better than anything we could come up with:
"So there you have it: Rabson reporting that an undisclosed source is telling Manitobans about what is "widely felt" by Manitobans regarding something that might have happened if something that didn't happen would have happened."

But where Rabson managed to dig up an anonymous source to make an irrelevant comment, she was careful to stay far, far away from a central player in her anti-Conservative fantasy stories.

We speak, of course, of none other than the Free Press candidate for mayor, Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

JustJudy was the most rabid proponent of the political conspiracy theory, and Rabson made sure to give her plenty of ink.

MP grills federal officials over cancelled HIV vaccine facility, Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press, April 13, 2010.

"OTTAWA — NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis on Tuesday accused officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada of lying about the reasons Canada cancelled plans to build a pilot-scale HIV-vaccine manufacturing plant.
snip
She said she thinks they are trying to deliver government-issued talking points and are being tripped up by a "tangled web of deceit and obfuscation."
Wasylycia-Leis said she believes the decision was entirely political for four potential reasons, including "petty politics" because of the Liberal candidacy of Terry Duguid. "
**********

Gates study on HIV vaccine facility 'fatally flawed': expert. Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press, March 19, 2010

NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis believes the decision to kill the facility was political in nature and said the Gerson report disproves the Gates study. She said the government should revisit its decision.
"I think we're either dealing with incompetence or a cover-up," she said.
***********
Vaccine-facility decision process 'fair and open': Butler-Jones, Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press, March 16, 2010

OTTAWA - The head of Canada’s public health agency said this morning there was nothing untoward in the decision last month to shelve a plan to build an HIV pilot vaccine manufacturing facility.

snip

"There was a fair and open process," Butler-Jones said, bristling under questioning by NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis. "You suggest somehow I would alter that. That’s untrue."

snip

But there have been a number of accusations politics were at play at least in part in the decision. Wasylycia-Leis said the committee hearing was full of "weasel words" and questionable denials that left more questions than answers about what actually happened.

"This was a highly questionable process," she said.

Now that the facts prove the government was telling the truth all along, you would think Rabson would go to Wasylycia-Leis and ask whether she intends to apologize to the public health officials she slandered while an MP.

Bwahahahahaha. Yeah, right.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Proof that the lunatics have taken over the asylum


A new year brings proof that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

There was this story in the Winnipeg Free Press:

Mould in school keeping First Nation's kids out
By: Larry Kusch Winnipeg Free Press
Posted: 4/01/2011 1:00 AM |

THEIR school contaminated by mould, the 400 elementary school kids at Bunibonibee Cree Nation at Oxford House have not attended regular classes for most of the past 12 months.
The Oxford House Elementary School was shut down in mid-January 2010 after teachers and students complained of nausea and headaches. It has yet to reopen, although an official with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) said in a recent interview repairs may be completed by the end of February this year.

The school is all of 35 years old and they want it replaced. Indian Affairs says they'll give the reserve $1 million "above normal maintenance spending" to fix the mould problem.

On the same day....

$10 million to spend on memorials for residential schools students

By: Staff Writer
Posted: 4/01/2011 8:56 PM |

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is asking for help commemorating the legacy of Indian residential schools.

The Winnipeg-based TRC has $10 million to spend on memorials or events honouring residential school students, and it’s asking artists, churches, aboriginal groups and anyone else to submit project proposals before March 18.

The federal government’s settlement with residential school students included $20 million for memorials, commemorative events or artistic endeavors. That could be anything from movies to community banquets to traditional plaques or monuments at the site of a former school. The TRC is looking to spend the first half of the money this year and in 2012.

So the children on one Manitoba reserve haven't gone to school for a year because there's no money to fix the mould-ridden school, and the Winnipeg-based TRC has $10 million it doesn't know what to do with. What a dilemma.

Any ideas, anyone?

What it also goes to show is that Ottawa has far too much money.

Keep that in mind when federal politicians come knocking prior to the next election and start whining about the deficit and how hard it is to balance the budget.

And speaking of too much money....

Six elementary schools in Winnipeg School Division are teaching students Ojibwa an hour each day for at least part of the school year.

We're spending money teaching a dead language....why?

Because the kids are so advanced in their reading and writing and basic math skills that they're bored?

Or because Winnipeg 1 has so much money it doesn't know what to do with it, either?

Don't they spend millions each year teaching kids to learn English as a second language?

Now they're teaching kids who know English some other language that's perfectly useless in finding a job when they grow up.

Keep that in mind when the school trustees raise your taxes and whine about how hard it is to balance their budgets.

And who is trying to balance her budget with the fruits of child labour?

If you guessed Gail Asper you get a gold star.

A teacher at Selkirk Junior High is teaching 50 students how to build electric guitars.

"On any given lunch hour, from 15 to 20 kids will be in the shop working on their guitars. Students ages 12 to 14 put in time before school, after school, and through lunch hours. One student built five guitars last year." writes "staff writer."

The kids then hustle to get celebrities to autograph their guitars.

"At a gala dinner on May 26, 2011, the kids will auction off up to 30 of their guitars to raise money for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights."

When you're at least $25 million in the hole and you've run out of millionaires to tap, you have to resort to taking money from children, right?

You do if you haven't got a sugardaddy like Greg Selinger in the wings.

Unelected Premier Selinger was coy when asked if he'll bail Gail Asper like he bailed out her brother on the new stadium fiasco.

He's hoping againt hope that nobody asks him where he's going to get $190 million for the new stadium. Or where he's hiding it in the budget.

The NDP released figures in mid-December claiming that if nothing changed much the government would run a deficit of $458 million this fiscal year, $40 million less than projected in the March 2010 budget.

Except that nobody ever discovered where in that budget the NDP had hidden the $115 million it expected to borrow to cover Asper's stadium plan. Nor have they ever explained where the extra $75 million they now need will be accounted for.

Remember that when provincial politicians come knocking during the fall election campaign, whining about how hard it is to balance the provincial budget.

In the meantime, give a listen:

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