The Black Rod

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

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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

Wednesday, 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, Iā€“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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