The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dave Chomiak, Manitoba Minister of Everything, says apologies are for sissies

Cabinet minister Dave Chomiak poked a thumb in Premier Greg Selinger's eye on Friday, and dared the Premier to do something about it.

The mainstream media reported on the thumb, but ignored the eye, leaving it up to us to do their job again.

"Six Months" Chomiak is one of 12 cabinet ministers who got caught taking free tickets to Winnipeg Jets hockey games from Crown corporations, Red River College and private companies that do business with the government.

But he's the only one to declare that he intends to pick and choose what sections of cabinet policy on accepting freebies he will follow and what he won't----because he can.

Earlier in the month, the Premier gave a televised mea culpa for the scandal that's enmeshed his government and announced that ministers who enjoyed Jets games on someone else's dime would pay back the cost of their tickets, and do the right thing and apologize.

Chomiak said 'blow it out your ear'. At least, we think he meant 'ear'.

Friday, he declared he had no intention of apologizing to anyone for anything. As Minister of Everything in Manitoba, he had an obligation to take free stuff, he said. He just has to, because that's the way business is done, and as Minister of Everything he has to do business, see?

He did, however, agree to pay to charity the sum of the free ticket to a Jets game that he got from Tundra Oil and Gas, the biggest oil company in Manitoba.

Selinger could only grin and bear it. That's because he can push around junior ministers like Erin Selby and make them toe the cabinet line, but he doesn't dare try to muscle Chomiak---because Chomiak knows where the bodies are buried.

Selinger could try to remind Chomiak that he's responsible for appointing Chomiak as Minister of Everything.

But then Chomiak would remind Selinger that the NDP is in government only because of him, Dave Chomiak.

That's the part that the mainstream media forgot to report on Friday.

Chomiak was front and centre of a huge election rebate fraud in 1999, the election that brought the current NDP to power in Manitoba. They managed to keep the fraud covered-up for ten years with the help of the head of Elections Manitoba. But in 2009 a whistle-blower, a former NDP campaign worker, spilled the beans.

You can read the dirty details in The Black Rod here:
In brief, during the 1999 election, when Dave Chomiak was co-chairman of the NDP campaign, the NDP engaged in a rebate fraud which saw the party get tens of thousands of dollars of government rebates for election expenses by claiming that unpaid union volunteers were actually paid election workers. They had been pulling this scam for years previously, it turned out.

When they got caught, by a forensic auditor years later, they first tried to get the auditor fired. Then they had him removed from the file while they made a backroom deal with the head of Elections Manitoba to pay back the rebate for the 1999 election, secretly, while he glossed over the fraud as a minor transgression to be reported in obscure terms only in an internal publication released days before the Christmas holiday weekend -- when nobody would notice.

We forget whether the deal was made before chief electoral officer Richard Balasko got a big raise, or after.

Greg Selinger was a candidate in that election, but wasn't aware of the fraud. However he was notified in 2003 that his campaign manager was implicated. His first instinct was to get a statement, in writing, from the NDP that cleared him of all blame. His second instinct was to help with the cover-up---until it fell apart six years later.

Chomiak can do whatever he wants because he pulls the puppet strings on Selinger. And when he says apologies are for sissies, Greg Selinger can only grin and do a happy dance.

Friday's appearance by Chomiak was a carefully choreographed event.

After Chomiak was exposed as one of the beneficiaries of Ticketgate, he mysteriously came down with a case of "apology flu" which kept him out of the Legislature and away from embarassing questions of the better part of a week.

He was treated by the NDP's top spin doctors who devised a cure.

Chomiak would appear at a non-news conference at which he would made a non-announcement about some non-event and answer a few pesky questions and that would be the end of it.

So on Friday Chomiak showed up to announce Mining Appreciation Week or something and to blow off questions about Ticketgate. Standing beside him was the CEO of Tundra Oil to give moral support and to help get Chomiak off the scandal hook.

Big mistake.

Chomiak couldn't shed his insufferable sense of entitlement. He wouldn't apologize, he sniffed, because as Minister of Everything he was only doing his job by accepting free gifts from business.

Yeah, said Tundra president Dan MacLean. The giving and taking of freebies is part of doing business as everyone knows, he said. For example, he took the oil minister of Congo to a baseball game.

We're not sure how comparing Manitoba with Congo was a compliment.

And, he said, as head of the biggest oil company of Manitoba, this was the only way to get "facetime" with the Energy Minister.

Say what? The Energy Minister won't meet face-to-face with the biggest oil company in the province without some gift changing hands? That's interesting.

A free ticket to the Jets game was no different than taking the minister to dinners or shows, Maclean said, digging his foot deeper into this mouth.

No, maybe it's not. Which is why we really should know all about which dinners our government ministers go to and with whom. At present they only need to report any gift over $250, but their share of dinner will rarely meet that threshhold, and yet, as Dan Maclean says, lots of business, or dare we say lobbying, is conducted at free dinners.

But the real bombshell was reported by CBC News which said that Dave Chomiak may have been a guest of Tundra Oil at the Jets game, but he sat in the private box of Richardson & Sons, the owners of Tundra Oil.

In other words, he was a guest of the richest man in Manitoba.

And, somehow, Chomiak didn't think that a ticket to sit in the private box of the richest man in the province was worth $250 and needed to be reported

So he waited until May 8 to fill out his disclosure forms just as Ticketgate blew wide open.

So what picture are we left with?

* Dave Chomiak, Minister of Everything including Energy, is so incompetent he can't make the time to meet with the head of the biggest oil company in Manitoba

* Dave Chomiak, the Minister of Everything, believes accepting gifts and gratuities is normal business practice and he, as a servant of the public, must do business

* Dave Chomiak, cabinet minister, won't apologize for taking freebies, although the Premier said cabinet ministers who took free Jets tickets would apologize

* Dave Chomiak can blackmail the Premier into letting him do whatever he wants.

Hey, maybe Manitoba is more like the Democratic Republic of the Congo that we thought.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Erin Selby coverup. See what free Jets tickets can buy you.

Erin Selby used to pride herself for being an honest journalist. That was before drinking the NDP kool-aid.

These days, as a cabinet minister in Greg Selinger's government, she finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand of unethical influence peddling, secret backroom lobbying and slippery moral judgement greased by cheap excuses.

Her most recent performance was in front of the Legislature's Estimates committee. She tried to do a dance of seven veils when questioned about the enticement of a free ticket to a Winnipeg Jets game from Red River College. She came up several veils short.

She admitted she found the offer of a Jets ticket from Red River President Stephanie Forsyth irresistible.

"Yes, I was asked by the president of Red River College if I would go to a Jets game with her, to which I accepted," she said.

But it was business, she insisted. A chore that comes with being the Minister of Advanced Education.

"One of the things that I think is important is for me as minister to meet regularly with students, which I do... and I meet regularly and have regular conversations with the presidents of all our institutions."

She then spun a story of magnificent ignorance.

She didn't know who else attended that day on Red River College season tickets. She met a woman, but she drew a blank at who it was. She didn't even hazard a guess at who sat in the fourth seat that the College owns.

"There was myself, Stephanie Forsyth, and another woman whose name I don't remember now, who Stephanie introduced me to. But I'm afraid the member would have ask the president of Red River College who she's attended Jets games with, because it's not something that the ministers office keeps tracks of."

So we don't know if that other woman was Debbie Scarborough, Forsyth's lesbian live-in. And we can be certain from Selby's answers that the fourth ticket did not go to her CBC cameraman hubby, who was likely home with the triplets watching the game on TV.

Unless she was misleading the Legislature, of course.

And Selby isn't curious why cash-strapped Red River College spent $20,000 on four season tickets to the Jets which they've been sprinkling around to government officials. Beside herself, of course, RRC tickets have been enjoyed by Finance Minister Stan Struthers, Justice Minister Andrew Swan, and Paul Vogt, the Cabinet secretary in the Manitoba government who is head of the civil service and responsible for the Premier's department.

For a glimpse of the view the Red River tickets get you, see here:

And for a glimpse of what Red River College is buying for their Jets tickets, you can read the transcript of the Estimates committee meeting.

Start with where Opposition member Ron Schuler asks Selby,"When she went to the Jets game with the president of Red River community college, did she discuss any of the ethics complaints that had come forward?"

Selby did everything she could think of to avoid answering the question short of tipping the table and bolting for the Exit door.

She ranted about Tory education policy twenty years ago; she praised herself for raising the number of aboriginal students in university and college -- from 9 percent to 9.8 percent -- she insisted she talks about graduation rates with everyone she's with "whether we're at a Jets game or monster trucking".

The only thing she didn't address was ethics complaints.

Because she knew exactly what Schuler was talking about.

You see, a year-and-a-half ago, Stephanie Forsyth gave the order to kill a talk show on radio station Kick-FM because it offended Margo Goodhand, editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, by constantly pointing out the newspaper's biases and general bad reporting. The radio station is allegedly an arms-length non-profit operation, but in reality is completely controlled by Red River College through interlocking management reporting to Forsyth.

Avid listeners to the talk show contacted the station and Red River College for an explanation for the cancellation. They were given a number of reasons, until emails surfaced through Freedom-of-Information requests. They documented Forsyth's and Goodhand's behind-the-scenes roles and revealed the truth. The listeners at that point knew that Red River College officials had lied to them, and were continuing to lie to protect Forsyth.

A little research showed that Red River College has a code of ethical conduct to which officials must adhere. So several listeners filed official complaints about breaches of this ethical code, not least of which was lying to members of the public.

Red River College simply ignored the complaints. The listeners then raised the matter with Erin Selby, a former journalist (ha ha) , and the Minister of Advanced Education.

She replied to some of them that their concerns, in her view, were "serious." But she advised them to take it up with Red River College, not her.

Last week, months and many Jets games later, Red River has done nothing with the ethics complaints. And Erin Selby has done no follow-up whatsoever to what she said were "serious" complaints.

See what a few free nearly unobtainable tickets to the most prized event in Winnipeg can buy you?

Silence. Complicity. A blind eye.

What do you expect a minister with her own ethical blind spot to do about ethics complaints against the person slipping her a free ticket (or was that two)?

Are they going to take their complaints about breaches of the provincial Corporations Act to the Justice Minister? Ha ha.

Or their concerns about financial mismanagement by Red River to the Finance Minister? Ha ha ha.

Or to the Premier, who sets the moral tone of the government and pours the Kool-aid ?

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The lazy press lets Selinger and Struthers get away with ticketgate cover-up.

Exactly one week ago, Finance Minister Stan Struthers was feeling pretty smug.

The Opposition thought they had some traction with a scandal involving free tickets to Winnipeg Jets hockey games that the Liquor Control Commission had given to a few cabinet ministers.

Struthers was confident the government had squashed the scandal. They had contained the damage to three cabinet ministers, announced that the ticket takers had paid back the cost of their freebies and that the NDP had a policy in the works to prevent MLAs from taking free tickets to any sports events in the future.

During Question Period in the Legislature, Struthers spoke with unmitigated scorn at Opposition members who asked questions about the ticket scandal.

Mr. Struthers: Well, again, Mr. Speaker, I know it must be frustrating for members opposite when the facts don't back up the narrative that they're trying to get across. I understand that frustration, but the facts of the matter are that nobody from this side of the government benefitted through Jets tickets at the expense of the Manitoba taxpayer. That's clear; that's obvious.

NDP Premier Greg Selinger, the dirtiest politician in the province, even tried to turn the scandal back on the Opposition:

"And what we've done, I–perhaps the member missed it, but we've said, no more tickets to Cabinet members, caucus members, or senior officials in our government, and we're still waiting for the policy from the members opposite on how it applies to his caucus."

Struthers was cocky when he attended a committee meeting on Estimates later in the day. He was armed with his party's talking points and ready to rumble. He was so ready, in fact, he sprang to the attack without bothering to listen to the questions asked him.

Mrs. Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo): And I gather the minister was out with the media and discussing some issues with the media, so was maybe a little delayed coming here today. No problem, but I do have a question for the minister.

I wonder if he could indicate if he went to any Jets games at all this year.
Hon. Stan Struthers (Minister of Finance): I don't mind the question. It gives me an opportunity to go back in time and remind people of how the Jets got here in the first place and who supported the building of the arena which is part of the equation for the Jets to make their triumphant return back to Winnipeg, and who participated in locking their arms around the Eaton's building to protest a progressive move forward.

But I won't do that, Mr. Chair.

Very directly, I went to three games. I went to three games because I'm a, I guess, a small player in a consortium of season ticket holders. So I managed to get drawn for three games.

Struthers launched into a long, detailed story about taking his son to two of the games, how he cheered for the Jets against his "former team, the Leafs" and how his son high-fived "with everybody in our section" when the Jets won against the Florida Panthers. Awwww.

It would have been touching if it wasn't for the fact that Struthers was lying.

He was using his son as a shield to minimize the scandal. It was a diversionary tactic to further a cover-up of how widespread the giving and taking of free Jets tickets actually was.

Unfortunately for him, the cover-up fell apart only one day later.

CBC News spilled the beans.

"In an email to The Canadian Press, Red River College said it also provided tickets to Finance Minister Stan Struthers and Justice Minister Andrew Swan for a game last December 23rd."


On Monday, Struthers was eating humble pie.

He had "inadvertently" misled the Legislative committee, he admitted. No, really, inadvertently, he said. He actually attended SIX Jets games, but only paid for three. He had forgotten "inadvertently" to tell the committee he got free tickets for Jets games from Red River College, the Manitoba Homebuilders Association, and an acquaintance he wouldn't name.

Slipped his mind, he said. Can't explain how he forgot. He meant to tell 'em.

Nobody is buying his act.

Struthers wasn't talking about the free tickets he got, not as long as the cover-up was holding. And neither was somebody else. His boss, Greg Selinger.

Anybody who knows anything about politics, knows that the first thing every NDP MLA did the day the scandal broke was divulge what Jets games they attended and how they got their tickets. Greg Selinger knew that Struthers was lying to the Legislative committee two days later, but he said nothing. He was part of the cover-up.

What's more shameful is that the lazy press in Winnipeg never asked Selinger what he knew and when he knew it.

We're not promoting an adversarial press. The Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa prides itself in being the true opposition to the Harper government. The day they engaged in a public tiff with Stephen Harper over how questions are asked at news conferences, they became adversaries with a personal bias, and thereby lost all credibility with the public for being fair and balanced reporters of news.

That's not the case in Winnipeg for the most part. Legislature reporters here just don't ask relevant questions. It's too much bother.

Even worse, they're so easy to spin. Just this week both CJOB and CBC regurgitated the NDP's attack on the Opposition over the free-tickets scandal by asking if Opposition MLAs took freebie tickets themselves.

Here's the question they should have asked. So what if they did? You can't bribe somebody who is in no position to give you favours. You can only buy influence with somebody who has influence, who is in government.

Neither CBC nor CJOB has asked Selinger when he knew that the number of MLA's involved was not 3 but 13.

We're betting he knew from Day One and said nothing.

Is Energy Minister David Chomiak really sick, or is he hiding out from the Legislature so that nobody can ask him whether he will apologize for taking free Jets tickets as Selinger said he would? Is he too sick to answer the phone at home? That's news in itself.

Bruce Owen writes in the Winnipeg Free Press that Selinger has his own season ticket to Jets games. Really? It's funny that he never once mentioned that during the last election campaign or any time since.

Selinger the social worker is a big hockey fan? Isn't that a good story for any sports reporter? It's a story we have yet to see.

And WHEN did Selinger buy his ticket?

The first crack at season tickets went to Manitoba Moose season ticket holders, mini-pack holders and corporate advertising partners. Was Selinger a Moose season ticket holder? Or a mini-pack holder? He certainly wasn't an advertising partner.

Sales to the public went on sale Saturday June 4 and were sold out in just 17 minutes. Did Greg Selinger sit at home at his computer and snap up one season ticket during those 17 minutes. That's a hell of a story itself. We haven't read that one either.

Does Selinger sit alone at the games, or does he sit with somebody. Who? Somebody who could be considered a lobbyist? Maybe it's somebody who is a registered lobbyist. That would be an interesting story, too, if the press could shake themselves awake and start asking questions.

Imagine if Greg Selinger "inadvertently" misled the press about that season ticket. 

Would that make paragraph 15 of a Bruce Owen story the way Struthers' fibbing did last Saturday?

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Premier Greg Selinger isn't talking about his free Jets ticket

When Premier Greg Selinger released a list of 13 NDP MLA's who got free tickets to
Winnipeg Jets games he forgot one name -- his own.

On Oct. 9, 2011, the Winnipeg Jets played their home opener and Greg Selinger was among the invited guests, along with former NDP Premier Gary Doer and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Blogger Allison Pattison, a Creative Communications student at Red River College, wrote about Selinger's attendance at the game.

"The MTS Centre was packed to the roof. Literally. I would say about 80% of the fans in there were in white, which was a good thing because that means when the Jets request a white-out, fans will know what to do."
"The game started off with a ceremonial puck drop; Rick Rypien's mom had the honour."
"Along with Rypien's mom in attendance were a few other known names. Our Prime Minister Stephen Harper was there. He sat behind the Jets bench at ice-level. Pretty good seats if you ask me."
"Gary Bettman, NHL's Commissioner was also there, as well as Premier Greg Selinger and Canada's Ambassador to the United States Gary Doer."
"Selinger had a personalized Jets jersey with his last name on the back for a custom namebar and sported it with pride throughout the game."

The P.M. had four seats to the game. And his office has made it crystal clear that whenever he goes to a sports event he pays for his seats personally. Not the PMO, not the Conservative Party.

"The prime minister always pays for his own tickets out of his pocket," Carl Vallee, press secretary for the Prime Minister's Office, said in an email statement to the Winnipeg Free Press last month. "He does the same for family and guests that go with him."
From the same story:

"Provincial cabinet spokesman Matt Williamson said in an email no Manitoba premier has claimed a sport ticket as a business expense in the last 30 years. He said Premier Greg Selinger has never expensed a ticket to a sporting event, and a provincial policy says any claims must be for expenses incurred on government business."

Well, attending a hockey game is certainly not government business. So filing for the cost of a ticket was never in the cards. However some newspaper accounts have said that Selinger, like Stephen Harper, pays for all the sports tickets he gets.
But Selinger hasn't filed any disclosure that he received a ticket to the first Jets game. Nor has he revealed publicly that he paid his own way, although he now says that his new policy on taking bribes includes refusing all offers of free tickets.

And assuming Selinger did pay out of pocket for his Oct. 9 Jets ticket and thereby it wasn't "free"; given the confusion surrounding who got what tickets from whom, when, and why nobody declared it and when they supposedly repaid their benefactors, we think he needs to show the cancelled cheque -- if one exists.
And did he pay Jets co-owner Mark Chipman before going to the game? If not, he got a free ticket and paid it back later.

And his name goes on the naughty list.

There are still many unanswered questions about the Jets Ticket Scandal (click here for part 1 of our analysis). Topping the list is the four tickets from the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission that passed through Jim Rondeau's office into the hands of Gord Mackintosh.

They were sent by the MLCC to "the minister's (Rondeau) office" according to a freedom-of-information response sent by the liquor commission to the Manitoba Taxpayers Federation. But they were used by Mackintosh at the Jets game the same day.

Did Mackintosh go trolling for tickets for that game? Did Rondeau contact the MLCC and ask for tickets? Or did the MLCC coincidentally have four tickets lying around and someone decided to ask the minister in charge of the Liquor Commission if he knew of anyone who was interested in taking in a Jets game?

Because if the minister in charge of the MLCC picked up the phone and called somebody at the Liquor Commission and, ahem, asked politely if there happened to be four tickets floating around, then we're in a whole new ballgame of political pressure for personal favours.

The same question applies to Justice Minister Andrew Swan who managed to get his hands on eight free tickets to the Jets. 
Is he so charming that Red River College, Manitoba Public Insurance, the home builders association and Canada Inns were lining up outside his office to give him free hockey tickets?

Or was he calling them to see if, ahem, there were any free tickets floating around?

Swan has said he belongs to a consortium that purchased some season tickets. So sometimes he went to games where he paid for his ticket just like the average Joe. A reader of The Black Rod saw him at a game where the reader's friend approached Swan, who he knew, and discovered he was sitting with Health Minister Theresa Oswald. We're giving him the benefit of the doubt and saying it was on a day when Swan had his consortium tickets and he decided to treat a colleague to a game.

But on the question of how he snagged eight tickets, we think he owes the public answers he hasn't given.

Selinger said Friday he expects the 13 NDP MLAs to apologize to the public for taking free tickets. At least one of them, Hydro Minister Dave Chomiak, said (to Global News) that he's not sorry and he has nothing to apologize for.

Maybe at least he can tell us who the blonde was that he went to the game with.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jets Ticket Scandal: It started with an innocent question back in March

It started March 21st.

It was near the end of a long, boring meeting of a committee of the Legislature at which the Opposition gets to ask questions about crown corporations like the Liquor Control Commission.

Out of the blue, Ron Schuler (P.C. St. Paul) asked," Is the MLCC a season ticket holder of the Winnipeg Jets?"

The resulting discussion was hardly momentous.

Roman Zubach, acting president of the liquor commission, answered,"We do hold 10 season tickets..."

Schuler asked Jim Rondeau, minister responsible for the Liquor Control Act, "Has the minister been to any Winnipeg Jets games using MLCC Jets tickets?"

"No," said Rondeau.

"Could we have a list who has access to those tickets?" asked Schuler.

Rondeau squirmed a bit about providing names of citizens who won tickets in contests but "(i)f it’s talking about board members or MLAs or Cabinet ministers, absolutely. I have no difficulty whatsoever providing that to you." Schuler was satisfied.

That was it.

Except that the MLCC's 10 tickets were actually ten season tickets which translated into 440 actual tickets to games. Was the liquor commission prez being coy about how many prized Jets tickets he had at his disposal? Maybe. But Rondeau seemed honest with his offer to cough up the names of politicians and board members who had access to those tickets.

Skip ahead six and a half weeks. Monday, May 7, 2012.

Ron Schuler stands in the Legislature and asks Rondeau, where's that list you promised?

Rondeau is a lot less conciliatory than he was in March.

Well, replies Rondeau, its a lot of work and the liquor commission is extremely busy combining with the Lotteries Commission as announced in the budget speech, and its going to take more time.

He was stalling, as we can now see.

There had been a flurry of activity behind the scenes. NDP cabinet ministers had been tipped off that questions were being asked about Jets tickets. They, ahem, suddenly realized how it would look if word got out that they had received free tickets to Jets games from public utilities, crown corporations and businesses they deal with. There was a rush to, ahem, "pay" for the tickets.'

* In early April, Gord Mackintosh, Minister of Conservation and former Minister of Justice, coughed up the cost of four Jets tickets he received from the MLCC for a game on Feb 7th.

* Stan Struthers, Minister of Finance, remembered he had a cheque somewhere that he had been meaning to mail for the two Jets tickets he got, one from Red River College and the other from the Manitoba Homebuilders Association, both of which thought he was working too hard and he needed a break with some homegrown recreation.

* Erin Selby, the Minister of Higher Education, finally got around on May 4 to paying for a Jets ticket she received from Red River College -- on October 24th.

Colin Craig, of the Manitoba Taxpayers Federation, was puzzled by Rondeau's answer. Puzzled because he was holding in his hands a list of how the MLCC distributed its Jets tickets. He had asked for the information under the province's freedom-of-information laws on March 1st.

Tuesday, May 8th, 9 AM.:

“We received the details five weeks ago from the MLCC.” Craig said in a news release he issued that exposed the stall tactic.

"Of the 440 Jets tickets received by the MLCC, a March 30 freedom of information response shows four of them went to Minister Rondeau’s office, 66 went to the Board, 188 went to head office staff, 108 to store managers, 62 to MLCC Executives, eight to the MLCC Social Club and just four to charity."

So when Rondeau told the committee back in March that he hadn't gone to any Jets games courtesy of the Liquor Commission he was sorta kinda telling the truth. He had received four tickets from the MLCC (at his request?) on Feb. 7, but had given them to his pal and colleague Gord Mackintosh. What a guy.

The Taxpayers Federation blew the stall tactic out of the water.

The Legislature. 1.30 PM, Tuesday, May 8.

The NDP admitted that three cabinet ministers received tickets to Jets games. The new gambit was to declare that they had all paid for their tickets so there was no scandal.

"The three Cabinet ministers that did receive tickets have repaid those tickets, and that has put the matter to rest from their perspective as they paid for them out of their own pocket." declared Premier Greg Selinger.

The NDP named the three hockey-loving members of cabinet as Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton.

Overlooked by most commentators was Struthers' confession that he couldn't say whether all three received their tickets through Crown agencies or otherwise.

Again, Struthers was being disingenuous. He would have known that Mackintosh got his tickets from the MLCC after being laundered through Jim Rondeau. He would have known that Andrew Swan had been the recipient of EIGHT Jets tickets even if he didn't know who Swan's benefactors were (Manitoba Public Insurance, Red River College, the Homebuilders Association and Canad Inns). And Ashton's two tickets came courtesy of the homebuilders and the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation.

The NDP tried to seize control of the scandal by claiming they had a policy to prevent any ministers from getting free tickets to Jets games.

"...the members opposite also need to know that with respect to Jets tickets we've brought out a very clear directive that no minister or senior official should receive the benefit of free tickets from a Crown corporation or any private business." said Selinger.

The Opposition called his bluff.

Mr. Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach): "I wonder if the Minister of Finance (Mr. Struthers) can table for the House this great policy he's been talking about. Can he table for the House so we know what this policy actually is?"

Uhhhh, said Stan Struthers. They were working on that.

Hon. Stan Struthers (Minister charged with the administration of The Crown Corporations Public Review and Accountability Act): " Mr. Speaker, work on this policy started a number of weeks ago, well ahead of anybody in the opposition even being interested in this whole topic. "

He continued,"... we've–I've been very clear that this government is coming forward with a policy that will be fair, that will address the accessibility issues when it comes to Jets tickets."

"I also was very clear, Mr. Speaker, that any minister in this government who received tickets, Jets tickets, paid for those Jets tickets out of their own money."

"So, Mr. Speaker, we will–we are endeavouring to get the information–all of the information to all of the questions that the members opposite are interested in. We've been up front in saying we would follow up with that, and that's under way."

"Mr. Speaker, my hope is that members opposite would take this as seriously as we are."

How seriously were they taking it?

Well the next morning, Wednesday May 9th, Premier Selinger went on CJOB to declare he was taking it seriously. He had put a policy in place, he said. The Opposition didn't have a policy, but he did. So there. That seriously.

In the Legislature, Struthers returned to the Party Line.

Hon. Stan Struthers (Minister charged with the administration of The Crown Corporations Public Review and Accountability Act):. "The–as we reported yesterday, as has been made very clear, no Cabinet minister benefited on behalf of the Manitoba taxpayers, absolutely, end of story on that."

It wasn't the end of the story. By nightfall it had been revealed that EIGHT cabinet ministers had accepted free tickets to Jets games.

But, but, but...they paid the money back, pleaded Selinger. Nobody was listening.
By question period Thursday, May 10, the NDP was reduced to flailing around for a response to the scandal that was growing larger by the day.

They tried going on the offence. They accused the Opposition of being anti-Jets.

Hon. Stan Struthers (Minister charged with the administration of The Crown Corporations Public Review and Accountability Act): "I suppose the other way to look at this–that if we had followed the advice of members opposite, the Jets wouldn’t have come home in the first place and there wouldn’t be this problem, I guess, Mr. Speaker. "

It was pathetic.

It only sounded more pathetic the next day.

4PM Friday, May 11

A contrite, apologetic Greg Selinger called a news conference as late in the day as he dared.

The truth, he said, was that there were THIRTEEN NDP MLA's who enjoyed Jets hockey with free tickets given them by public corporations, private companies, lobby groups, and even a retirement home.

THIRTEEN, not three as they said on Tuesday. THIRTEEN, not eight as they admitted to on Thursday.

They had or would all pay back the price of those tickets. And they wouldn't accept any other tickets. And they would apologize to the public (still waiting...ed). Honest, he said. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.

Do you think that's the end of the story?

Hardly. Stay tuned.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

U.S. special envoy stirs up hatred against Canada's Ukranians

A special envoy for U.S. President Barack Obama was in Winnipeg on Monday to reignite the hate campaign against Canada's Ukrainian community on behalf of the Asper-led Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Hannah Rosenthal, described as Obama's envoy to "monitor and combat anti-semitism" was here as a speaker at the "first annual Shindleman Family lecture at the Canadian Institute for the Study of Ai-semitism". CISA, you'll remember, is the front group created and financed by supporters of the museum with the task of smearing as anti-semitic anyone who challenges the Asper Family's plan for the CMHR.

Rosenthal, reiterating she was here "as a representative of the United States government", praised CISA for being "one of only six institutions in the entire world dedicated to the scholarly study of anti-Semitism."

She failed to mention that CISA is a one-woman show--- director and energizer bunny Catherine Chatterley--- a sessional lecturer at the University of Manitoba who has failed to win a full professorship at any university since getting her doctorate five years ago. But she's been successful in getting a lot of academics to add their names to her institute's "distinguished academic council". Prof. Elie Wiesel tops the programme as "honorary chairman". Chairman of the Board of Directors is Sandy Shindleman, who has given his family name to the lecture series that sponsored Hannah Rosenthal.

Rosenthal delivered a speech that parroted word for word CISA's first official act upon its creation in 2010, an attack on the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association for daring to challenge the plan to give the Jewish Holocaust special and exalted status within the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

She did note that the museum would "have a permanent exhibit on the Holocaust and a temporary exhibit on the Holodomor--a tragic Soviet starvation campaign that cost the lives of millions." She forgot to mention that the museum has no money to build the temporary gallery where that temporary exhibit on the Holodomor would, theoretically, be situated.

Rosenthal then accused the Ukrainian association of distributing "offensive postcards across Canada that could be construed as characterizing the supporters of the permanent Holocaust exhibit as pigs."

Uh, no.

She was right that the postcard depicted a pig whispering into the ear of a sheep and saying, “All galleries are equal but some galleries are more equal than others.” It cleverly plays off the central, anti-Communist message of the book that the Red slogan "all are equal" is perverted in practice to "but some are more equal".

But the idea that the pigs were Jews was the sole interpretation of Catherine Chatterley who had to find some reason to attack the Ukrainians who had been meticulous never to mention or even to hint at the ethnicity of the family that conceived the CMHR.

And by buying into that interpretation, Rosenthal joined Chatterley in demonstrating her ignorance of literature. You see, George Orwell's novel Animal Farm was set---wait for it---on a farm. And the characters were -- wait -- farm animals. And the animals that made the infamous statement that all the animals were all equal, except that some were more equal than others were -- wait, wait -- pigs.

So, to claim to see the pigs as Jews is a deliberate misinterpretation by someone with an agenda---an agenda bought into by the special envoy to U.S. President Barack Obama.

There can be no mistaking that Rosenthal came to join the smear campaign against Canada's Ukrainian community. After regurgitating Chatterley's anti-Ukrainian spin in defence of the CMHR, Rosenthal threw in a gratuitous attack on the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

"In 2010, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress called on the government to amend Canada’s war veteran’s allowance legislation to designate Ukrainian resistance groups as allied veterans and extend benefits to their surviving members. While these groups fought against the Soviets during World War II, some members were also complicit in Nazi crimes. In response, 100 international scholars sent an open letter to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, criticizing the proposal."

"History must be precise," she lectured.

Well.....we did some historical research of our own.

We discovered that Obama's special envoy has a biased and prejudicial definition of "precise."

While she pretends to be fair and to accuse only "some" Ukrainians of being complicit in Nazi crimes, she ignores the fact that "some" European Jews were also "complicit in Nazi crimes."

Apparently 'some' has a different meaning depending on whether you're trying to smear a national group or not.

There's still a debate over how much blame to assign to the Judenrate, the Jewish councils that administered Jewish ghettos for the Nazis. With their own Jewish police to keep order, they delivered Jews to the Nazis either for forced labour or to be deported to concentration camps and death camps. Complicity indeed.

Perhaps the most famous of these council leaders is Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the head of the Judenrat (spelling of a singular council) in the Lodz ghetto, who collaborated with the Nazis when they demanded he hand over 20,000 children and elders to certain death. His infamous chilling speech to the ghetto residents was preserved for history.

"A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They are asking us to give up the best we possess - the children and the elderly. I was unworthy of having a child of my own, so I gave the best years of my life to children. I've lived and breathed with children, I never imagined I would be forced to deliver this sacrifice to the altar with my own hands. In my old age, I must stretch out my hands and beg: Brothers and sisters! Hand them over to me! Fathers and mothers: Give me your children!"

The Chief Rabbi in Berlin compiled lists of Jews for deportation. Jakob Gens headed the Judenrat in Vilna. He selected people for extermination. He roused the people against the resistance. He personally arrested a resistance leader and turned him over to the Nazis. And sources say his police were the only ones known to have joined firing squads killing Jews.

“It is true that our hands are smeared with the blood of our brethren, but we had to accept this horrible task. We are innocent before history." Gens said.

Other Jews joined the Nazis as "catchers", human bait who lured out Jews who were hiding from the Nazis in Berlin and Vichy France so that they could be arrested and ultimately killed.

In Berlin alone, catchers are credited with rounding up almost all of the estimated 15,000 Jews living underground during the war. Only about 1500 survived.

"Some" Jews served as kapos in the death camps. Kapos were camp trustees who kept the other inmates of a concentration camp in line, delivering full cooperation to the Nazi commandants even when it meant the deaths of their fellow Jews.

Its fascinating, though, to see how sympathetically Jewish historians treat their collaborators. They faced a "terrible choice" and their policies were "the only one that afforded hope and some prospect of survival."
These words are never used by people like Hannah Rosenthal when discussing other victims of the Nazis like Ukrainians who also faced "terrible choices" during the war.

One person who could teach Hannah Rosenthal a lesson is Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, certainly a more knowledgable and more respected Holocaust expert than Catherine Chatterley.

Wiesenthal was interviewed by author Alan Levy for his 1993 book The Wiesenthal File, and he told the story of being attacked by a fellow Jew, David Zimmet, who had been a Kapo in Mauthausen.

"By 1946, Zimet (sic) was a DP in Austria and was recognized by several survivors from Tarnów. Wiesenthal was still collecting testimony about him in the DP camp when Zimet learned that Simon was, as he puts it, ‘occupied with his case, so at seven o’clock in the morning he is coming to my office there with a knife. He was a big, strapping healthy man back in ’46 while we were all still so thin. He had lived good in the ghetto and, in the crematorium at Mauthausen, they were all given double food … I pick up the inkwell from my desk and throw it at his face to protect myself and I shout so loud that people come running to help me and his is arrested. Zimet was four weeks in jail for this. But then, because he had worked in the crematory, they need him for the Mauthausen trial and bring him to Germany as a witness. From Germany, he emigrates to Canada.’

Years later, Wiesenthal was looking over a confidential list of cases being investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, when he read:

ZIMET, David. A policeman in ghetto in Tarnów. Witnesses have attested to his brutality. ‘Zimet!’ Wiesenthal exclaimed. ‘This is my old case!’ He informed the Canadian authorities of his evidence against Zimet, but they proved unwilling to prosecute a Jew for Nazi crimes. The Canadian Jewish Committee intervened and Zimet agreed to submit to a council of arbitration established by the committee.

‘Nothing ever came of it,’ says Wisesenthal, ‘because the Jewish community was reluctant to publicize the case since Zimet was himself Jewish.’ This is so terrible! Through this false attitude that we must ignore Jewish helpers of the Nazis, we are losing credibility when we say we are acting against all people that commit crimes. If everybody could see that we are not looking only for Germans and Ukrainians, but even for our own Jewish criminals, then we would have much less opposition'."

Rosenthal no doubt thought she was being clever when she concluded her speech saying:

"Where there is hatred whipped up by irresponsible leaders, we must call them out and answer as strongly as we can – and make their message totally unacceptable to all people of conscience."

Well, we're calling out Hannah Rosenthal for whipping up hatred against Canada's Ukrainian community. Did she make Obama proud?

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Winnipeg's water park controversy: Hard facts with a tittle of speculation.

A confession....

We did our best to ignore the water park story that dominated the news in Winnipeg last week.

We didn't read the newspaper stories, watch the TV newscasts or follow the debate on Internet forums. What for? It was just another example of another backroom boondoggle by the most dysfunctional city council in the country. So what else was new?

But after a personal request from a trusted reader to try and make sense out of the mess, we started collecting info. Then, on the weekend, the debate lurched from farce into delusion, and we couldn't turn away from the train wreck they call City Hall. no particular order, here's what we uncovered:

* the land in question is nowhere near The Forks (or what everybody knows to be The Forks)

* CentreVenture may have kiboshed an offer of a better water park three years ago

* Admission to the proposed water park would be $35 a head, for children at least

* They call it " one of the most valuable pieces of publicly owned property in Winnipeg", but we're paying a million dollars to a developer to take it off our hands

* The Winnipeg Free Press continues to rewrite history as far as the Aspers are concerned.

1. It's NOT AT THE FORKS. Repeat. NOT at The Forks. And, in case you weren't paying attention, it' s NOT AT THE FORKS!

The Forks,as everyone knows it, is at the middle left marked in blue. The site of the proposed water park-slash-hotel is top right marked City Owned Land (future development site).

It is NOT AT THE FORKS, so relax. No green space is being lost. The "city owned land" known as Parcel Four is an empty lot that was being used by the Goldeyes baseball team for parking. That green triangle at the top right is the ball park.

The confusion stems from the fact that the land falls within the Forks development zone which stretches along the Red River almost as far as Higgins Avenue.

2 . If this land is so valuable, why are we giving it away for free?

Free? Hell, we're paying the developer a million dollars to take it off our hands.

The developer wants to, ahem, "buy" the land for $6 million while the City of Winnipeg gives Canalta $7 million to offset the cost of a water park. Not bad, eh. They make a million dollars without turning a spoonful of dirt.

The twist is that whoever builds a water park has to agree to provide $700,000 worth of admissions per year for 25 years to youth who are underprivileged, poor, disadvantaged, or however you want to categorize them.

That's technically $17.5 million worth of admissions. But it doesn't cost a cent to open the doors, so the cost to the hotel is zero.

3. There's something funny going on here. We had a better deal three years ago.

In 2009, the mayor's business partner Sandy Shindleman came to the city with a proposal. He was acting as an agent, it was said, for an unnamed hotelier (unnamed to the public, that is) who was offering to buy Parcel Four for $7.7 million. The deal included a 70,000 square foot water park.

The deal was never consumated for reasons unknown.

Up to last week, Executive Policy Committee was prepared to sell the same land to an Alberta-based hotel chain for $6 million and a commitment for a 50,000 square foot water park.

Less money, and a water park that's almost a third smaller. What's wrong with this picture?

4. Who made that 2009 offer and why was it rejected?
All anyone knows is that the proposal was for "a luxury hotel" and " a signature hotel".

Just by coincidence, City of Winnipeg reps went to Quebec in 2009 to visit the headquarters of Groupe Germain, the people behind the ALT Hotel that's now being built in the heart of downtown Winnipeg right across the street from the MTS centre on Portage Avenue. They call ALT Hotel a "boutique" hotel. Is that anything like a "signature hotel"?

Did CentreVenture poach the hotel from Forks North Portage for its own development downtown and kill the 2009 water park?

City councillors know a lot more than they're telling, but they signed a confidentiality agreement in 2009 when being briefed on that water park/hotel project. Now they're pretending its all new to them.

5. Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett should read his own newspaper, especially the online comments. He wrote Monday:

"The city has promised it will have access to $750,000 annually in admissions to the water park. But we don't know how many admissions that translates to because we don't know how much it will cost to use the water park. We also don't know how the city will identify beneficiaries of the free admissions. Will there be an income test? Or will the city ask outside groups to make the decision? Nobody knows."

Well, maybe nobody at the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe knows.

Two weeks ago, Deputy Mayor Coun. Justin Swandel was responding to criticism of the water park proposal via email (which was posted on a FP comments section) in which he said:

"The final point I would like to make is regarding the City's $7million contribution and the public access agreement. For this money the City will get $700,000 annually of access for 25 years. This means that each year over 20,000 less fortunate Winnipegers, who might otherwise never see the inside of such a facility , will have access. We should be very proud of this achievement."

Divide 700,000 by 20,000 and you get $35 per head.

Lett's FP colleagues, Barley Kives and Jen Skerrit reported April 12 that "admission credits would be doled out to low-income families through social-service organizations."

6. The Free Press has started propagating the myth that failed entrepreneur David Asper was the victim of a backroom deal to deny him the opportunity to build a water park. Here's how columnist Lett put it:

"How Parcel Four came to be connected to this development is unclear. The city first sought expressions of interest for the water park in the spring of 2008. Although it is not known exactly how many proposals eventually came forward, it seemed to boil down to three proposals from two different developers. Canad Inns suggested a water park and hotel addition at its Polo Park site. Creswin Realty came forward with a sprawling indoor/outdoor proposal for Kilcona Park and a smaller hotel and water park for Parcel Four."

"In June 2008, the city announced Canad Inns won over the Creswin plan. The city never indicated publicly why Canad Inns triumphed, and according to Creswin, the city never issued reasons privately for its decision."

The only thing wrong with this version of history, is everything.

Here's the truth...

- Three expressions of interest were submitted to the city.

- Canad Inns proposed building a 66,000 sq. ft. indoor water park adjacent to its existing hotel near Polo Park. The water park would be part of a second tower that would add about 100 rooms to the hotel complex.

- Creswin Properties Ltd. proposed a multi-use facility on the east side of Waterfront Drive at Higgins Avenue which would include a 69,000 sq. ft. water park, a new hotel and restaurant(s).

Creswin also suggested a similar development at Kilcona Park which is at Lagimodiere Blvd. and Springfield Road. Note that neither of the Creswin water park proposals involved Parcel Four.

City administrators recommended the Canad Inns proposal. Their report to council reads:

. Highlights of the proposal relative to the EOI Review Criteria are as follows:
• Consistent with Plan Winnipeg and complementary with the community and surrounding area.
• Property for the development is owned by Canad Inns and is zoned for the new development.
• Proponent has submitted evidence of financial capability for the project.
• Proponent has substantial experience in waterpark development and a proven track record.
• Project will utilize the $7 million contribution from the Recreation and Leisure Facilities program for the Water Park Development.
• Proponent will enter into a Public Access Agreement as well as provide in-kind services / reduced admissions at $700,000 per year for 25 years
• Project has good transportation access via vehicular, pedestrian and transit routes.
• The project is in close proximity to other major city and tourist venues (Polo Park Shopping Center, Canad Inns Stadium, etc.).
• Existing municipal services and transportation infrastructure are sufficient to adequately service the site.
• The Facility Design and components meets the requirements of the EOI in both facility size and components/features requested

The Creswin/Waterfront Drive proposal was unsuitable because

" the proponent does not own nor do they have options on the proposed site. The purchase and assembly of numerous active business and residential properties is required. The proposal did not demonstrate that the land assembly required for the project is feasible within a reasonable timeframe and this was reflected in the evaluation score."

The Creswin/Kilcona Park proposal suffered from the same failings.

"... the main issue with the proposal is again its feasibility to be operational by approximately November 30, 2009 as specified within the EOI & Q. The proponent would need to negotiate and purchase the land from the City of Winnipeg. Even if the City agreed to sell the land, Creswin would still require rezoning, and a Plan Winnipeg amendment to enable the proposed use. The proposal did not demonstrate that the assembly and servicing of land required for the proposal is feasible within a reasonable timeframe and this was reflected in the evaluation score."

There was no conspiracy against David Asper. He just didn't own the land or have the zoning required for the projects he was proposing. Contrary to what Lett wrote, the reasons why Canad Inns got the nod were publicly announced.

Nothing spoils a good story like the facts.

Facts, however, are irrelevant to columnists, as any reader of the Winnipeg Free Press can tell. In Saturday's paper, Lett's colleague Gordon Sinclair, must we add Jr., simply concocted his own version of reality for why the public overwhelmed city councillors with objections to the most recent water park proposal.

It was, he said, a universal agreement that a water park didn't fit the majesty of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.


Never mind that the CMHR barely registered in the hundreds of comments posted about the water park, or that the museum spokesman had no comment about the water park when asked directly. A good delusion needs no facts to support it.

But, you know what they say...always leave 'em laughing and what a better way to end a tumultuous week at city hall.


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