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:

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Black Rod's Newsmaker of the Year 2012. The man who said No

The Shadow has a higher public profile than he does.

You couldn't pick him out of a line-up.  If his picture has ever been posted anywhere, let us know.

What is known is that he's got bigger cojones than anyone at City Hall.  This year he stared down the mayor of Winnipeg and the mayor's closest friend and ally,the city's chief administrative officer, who happens to be the most powerful man in city government.

By the time he got through with them, they were sitting in council chambers like frightened schoolboys in the principal's office as they watched their power to intimidate city councillors evaporate into thin air.

And because of him, those councillors developed some backbone for the first time in living memory and showed they could take the reins of government away from unelected administrators if they wanted.

The Black Rod's Newsmaker of the Year---city auditor Brian Whiteside.

Way back as far as last January, Whiteside gave a warning that things were going to be different at City Hall from now on.

Two years earlier, in 2010, city administrators rammed through a bicycle pathway along Assiniboine Avenue following a sham public consultation process. 

They met with the bike lobby to plan the project, failed to talk to anyone who lived or worked in the area who might oppose the plan, and avoided in their public notices mentioning that the bike path would eliminate parking along Assiniboine. 

One citizen, blogger Graham Hnatiuk (, was so incensed at the obviously phony public consultation that he decided to do something about it.  He would go to the city auditor with a formal complaint against the company hired to do the consultations and insist the city not pay them for doing an inadequate job. 

Hnatiuk phoned 311 to file his complaint.  To his surprise, he discovered his complaint had been intercepted by someone and diverted from the auditor to the city administrator who was in charge of building bike paths---to be deep-sixed.  When he insisted the complaint be delivered to the auditor, a 311 supervisor told him that the auditor did not consider complaints from citizens.  

The city's own  website states:
"The CAO has added the role of Chief Performance Officer to the position of City Auditor. The mandate of the department with the addition of the Chief Performance Officer role is as follows: 

To examine problem areas, within the capabilities of the Audit Department, which are brought to the Auditors attention by taxpayers, department heads, employees, Council, Standing Committees of Council, members of Council and the CAO."

You can see today why they were so anxious to keep Hnatiuk's complaint away from the auditor. Brian Whiteside was appointed city auditor in 2009, but before taking a job with the city in 1997, he had worked for the Office of the Provincial Auditor in---wait for it---the Value for Money Audit Division.

Hnatiuk eventually got his complaint to the attention of Brian Whiteshide with the help of his city councillor, Jeff Browaty. And in January of this year, Whiteside's audit report was delivered to a city committee.  

In it, he completely validated Hnatiuk's complaint.  The public consultation process had been a total farce, he concluded.

Mayor Sam Katz and his pal CAO Phil Sheegl must have laughed themselves silly. Who cares about an audit report about a project that was completed two years ago? And who cares about that powerless pissant who complained?

Well, before the year was out, the joke was on Katz and Sheegl and they weren't laughing anymore.  In fact, they were on tenterhooks waiting for Brian Whiteside's next audit reports.

Within eight months, a series of scandals carpetbombed City Hall, and at the heart of each of them were Katz and Sheegl.

* Shindico, the construction company owned by Katz's partner in the Winnipeg Goldeyes, was caught marketing a lease on city land it didn't own and which hadn't even been declared surplus by the city.

* That land turned out to be part of a secret land swap negotiated by Fire Chief Reid Douglas which was going to be submitted to council to rubber stamp after, and only after, a new fire station was built and operating on land owned by Shindico.

* It turned out that the land swap was, in turn,  part of a project to build four new fire halls which Douglas had divided into four separate projects to keep each of their budgets under the limit at which he had to inform city councillors, and to keep secret the contractor on each of the four projects---Shindico.

* Sheegl, who enjoyed the hospitality of Shindico to watch Winnipeg Jets hockey, said he had been remotely aware ("at 50,000 feet") of the fire hall land swap, without explaining further. He arranged an unprecedented news conference of six city officials to declare the fire hall projects were all done properly, even if city councillors were kept in the dark.

* Sam Katz acquired a million-dollar house in Arizona from the Chief Financial Officer of Shindico and the only documented exchange of money was $10. Katz says he paid a million dollars cash for the house, but refuses to this day to say when the payment was made or to discuss the purchase in any way. The written record shows the tax bill had been sent to his home in Winnipeg  though the house was allegedly owned by the Shindico official.

* Sheegl sold Katz a defunct company he owned in Arizona for $1, saving the mayor $3000 or $4000 in lawyer's fees if he was to set one up himself. Shindico was not involved.

* Council was informed that the fourth and final fire station being built by Shindico was $2.2 million over budget and was being constructed with no tender, no contract, no fixed budget, and no timeline.  You could obviously add "and no oversight".

After refusing to contemplate any investigation of the fire hall deals, Katz, shaken by the string of revelations, finally announced in early September that a financial review would be conducted by -- wait for it -- Phil Sheegl and city financial officer Mike Ruta, both men who had already declared everything had been done by the book.  

The review was supposed to be handed to the city auditor, who, we suspect was supposed to check the arithmetic and then sign off on it.

But something completely unexpected happened.

He said no.

Nobody says No to Phil Sheegl. Brian Whiteside said No.

The mayor was in New York City on the Friday the financial review was supposed to be submitted. We can only imagine the look on his face when he got word that Whiteside wasn't playing ball.

Katz flew back to Winnipeg toute suite. On Monday, he issued a statement with just the proper spin.  He, the mayor, had ordered an audit of the land swap deal---on the recommendation of the city auditor, he declared.  The same audit he had previously refused to order.

Whiteside would lead the process, said Katz, but he could hire "outside agencies" if he didn't have the resources or expertise.  That's all. Nothing to see here. Move along.

But city councillors wouldn't.  They smelled blood.  Brian Whiteside had sparked a revolution on the floor of city council by refusing Sheegl's whitewash review.

A motion was made to audit all of the city's real estate transactions, going back as far as 5 years if the auditor felt it necessary.  A forlorn Sam Katz had to stand up in public and vote in favour of the audit that he had opposed for weeks, and which had his buddies Phil Sheegl and Sandy Shindleman in its sights.

Nobody knows when these audits will be completed. But everybody knows that Katz and Sheegl won't be throwing their weight around for a long, long time.  
Brian Whiteside has done more than anyone to foster democracy, transparency, and civic responsibility in Winnipeg in 2012.  For that, he is our Newsmaker of the Year.

And in that positive spirit, we wish A Happy New Year to:

Graham Hnatiuk, the blogger who demonstrated that sometimes the good guys win. He wouldn't put up with incompetence, arrogance and condescension, and he wouldn't give up. A very dangerous man.

Bob Wilson, who's fought a lonely battle for exoneration for 32 years and who ends the year with a rare victory.  Whitey Macdonald, his alleged co-conspirator in the drug smuggling ring that Wilson was convicted of funding, was indeed a government-protected drug agent just as Wilson has claimed since 1980.

James Jewell, retired police officer, whose blog is a never-ending spring of insight and commentary on crime-fighting from someone who has been in the front lines and knows what he's talking about

James Turner, Winnipeg Sun reporter, whose blog is must-read. There's more background information in a single Turner blog about a news story he's covered than in an entire Saturday Wpg. Free Press. And no paywall.

Mark Stobbe, who deserves a big apology from Manitoba Justice for his wrongful prosecution on allegations that he murdered his wife.  They put him and his family through 12 years of hell, ruining his career and tarnishing his reputation without a shred of evidence against him. Prosecuting an innocent man is so much easier than going after native street gangs.

* Krista Erickson, who has become a journalism legend with her spirited interview on Sun TV of dancer Margie Gillis, that paragon of government largess. Despite a record 6676 complaints about her interview, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled this year that her interview  might have been controversial, but in a way that was "essential to the maintenance of democratic institutions."  Just think, we owe the health of our democracy to Krista E.

Stefanie Cutrona, a first-year student in Red River College's Creative Communications program, who was torn to shreds for telling the truth -- she loves the news but she doesn't read the newspaper, she gets her info online. Them's fighting words to MSM dinosaurs. Just ask Krista.

Donny Benham, the losing Green Party candidate in Fort Whyte byelection, who also did the unthinkable---he floated an idea during an election campaign.  Benham attacked the culture of entitlement that sees politicians quit soon after winning their seats, forcing expensive byelections, politicians like former P.C. leader Hugh McFadyen. Instead of exploring this and other ideas tossed out during the byelection, Winnipeg Free Press politics reporter Bruce Owen announced the byelection bored him so he was going to write about underground tunnels instead.

Pierre Poutine, Canada's most wanted man. The entire Ottawa press gallery has been beating the bushes trying to find the person who wears the pseudonym Pierre Poutine so they can expose his connections to the Harper government and so prove the defeat of their beloved Liberal Party was due to dirty tricks.  Instead they were forced to report that the only party caught misusing robocalls was the Liberal Party of Canada, and the only person uncovered using a pseudonym to smear political opponents was a member of the Liberal Party of Canada. Burn.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

We're all Treaty People. Right?

Imagine this scenario...

Mohammed and Muhammed go to Iran, a state that sponsors terrorism around the globe, and they loudly and publicly denounce Canada.

Less than two months later, an organized group creates a diversion at the Winnipeg International Airport on one of the busiest travel days of the year, possibly allowing others to test the placement and reaction of security officers. This happens only days before Christmas Eve, the holiest time of the year in the Christian religion.

Later, following the disruption at the airport, Mo-Hamed, an associate of Mohammed and Muhammed, informs the members of his organization he plans "an explosive delivery" to the headquarters of Manitoba Hydro, the company that provides electricity to the province--- most importantly, perhaps, to the furnaces that heat everyones' homes in the winter. It also happens to be the organization he's had a longstanding grievance against.

He is stopped by security guards when he enters the Hydro building, but is only asked to wait for some official to meet him. He hands the Hydro official a cylinder filled with an unknown substance and tells him "detonation was unpredictable."

Ha ha ha. It's just a can of beans, not a bomb. Ha ha ha. Big joke.

Now, how soon would you expect the RCMP, military anti-terrorism units, CSIS, and the Winnipeg police bomb squad to insert themselves into this scenario? As long, that is, as it's potential Muslim terrorists that we're talking about? But once it turns out to be aboriginal, er, "protesters", that's different, eh?


Why the double standard? Why the racial profiling? Why are the actions of one group perceived as dangerous and an immenent threat, but the same actions of the other are perfectly acceptable?

Now that we see how easy it is to confuse and overwhelm security at the airport, do you feel safe catching a plane in Winnipeg? A person makes a veiled threat in front of a newspaper reporter, who doesn't call police, and he is still allowed to bring a possible explosive object into Manitoba Hydro headquarters? How safe does that make Hydro employees feel?

It's all fun until someone loses an eye. Or a building. Or a husband, sister or child.

The above scenario was based on fact. It happened in Winnipeg as part of the Idle No More protests. Admit it. You have no idea what the Idle No More protests were about except that it was a bunch of aboriginals complaining about something -- again.

This time we can't even blame the mainstream media for failing to clearly explain what's motivating the protestors. That's because Idle No More is a goulash of rehashed complaints (housing, poverty, blah blah) mixed with trendy new complaints (the environment, we hate oil, we're all gonna die) tied with ribbons of quasi-legal jargon and Marxist spin (native sovereignty, duty to consult, colonialism) and hip aboriginal lingo (ancient ways and teachings given to us by Creator here on Turtle Island).
In short, it's aboriginals complaining about something -- again.

Only this time its with a political spin --- the protestors hate the Conservative government. Hence the Stephen Harper = Adolph Hitler sign so prominently displayed on TV news coverage.
We did some digging into Idle No More (roughly an hour more than any of the "professional" reporters) to try and explain better what sparked, as their original news release puts it, the call for

"a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth."

Uh, yeah.

An hour later we think we deciphered it. This started as an objection to omnibus Bill C-45, which, among other things, calls for greater accountability from Indian Chiefs regarding their pay and how they spend their reserves' money. Keep that in mind the next time you see a Chief endorsing Idle No More.

But the main beef with the government is amendments to the Navigable Waters Act which, in a nutshell, will reduce the times the federal government will have to hold an environmental assessment on development projects around lakes and rivers. The anti-oil crowd has jumped on this as a way to stop the Enbridge pipeline to bring oil sands oil to the west coast. The amendments will destroy 500 lakes, they cry. And, wouldn't you know it, the lakes are the responsibility of Canada's aboriginals who got that job from Creator himself. (No, we're not making this up.)

So, to save the world, the aboriginals behind Idle No more want to stop Bill C-45, and along with it to force the government to recognize that Canada belongs to the Indians and anyone else who is here are "settlers" who need to get the permission of the aboriginals to do anything on the land. (We said we're not making this up.)

Here's the best part in the Idle No More manifesto:

"The spirit and intent of the Treaty agreements meant that First Nations peoples would share the land, but retain their inherent rights to lands and resources."

Threatening to blow up Manitoba Hydro might be considered a joke by the Chief of the Sagkeeng Indian Reserve. Rewriting history is not.

Nothing about this statement is true. In Manitoba at least.

You don't have to be a constitutional lawyer to read the treaties that were signed in Manitoba. They're online.
Search Treaty 1 and 2, Manitoba. You will be amazed at what you read.

Treaty 1, signed the 3rd of August, 1871, states, without equivocation:

"The Chippewa and Swampy Cree Tribes of Indians and all other the Indians inhabiting the district hereinafter described and defined do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to Her Majesty the Queen and successors forever all the lands included within the following limits..." and it gives a description of the lands covered by the treaty. Treaty 2 was signed Aug. 21, 1871 and repeated the language with the exclusion of reference to Swampy Cree Tribes.

There's a saying in the business --- words have meaning. The aboriginal signatories of the Treaties did "cede, release, surrender and yield up"---forever -- all --the lands described.

Webster's dictionary gives this definition of the word "cede": to give up; transfer the ownership of.

The definition of "release" is given as: "in law, to give up to someone else (a claim, right, etc.)"

Surrender, says Webster, means "to give up possession of or power over".

And "yield up" means "to give up, produce".

Got it? For the past 141 years the land we now call Manitoba has been owned by the Queen of England and through her the citizens of Canada.


So the next time some drunken scholar of constitutional affairs stops you to say "Eh, it's my land, eh." politely ask at what university he achieved his degree in constitutional law, and advise him that contrary to his assertion, it's not.

Then there's the claim of the Idle No More crowd about the "spirit and intent of the Treaty agreements."
Wouldn't you know it, but that very issue was addressed in Treaty 1 and Treaty 2.

"... the said Indians have been notified and informed by Her Majesty's said Commissioner that it is the desire of Her Majesty to open up to settlement and immigration a tract of country bounded and described as hereinafter mentioned, and to obtain the consent thereto of her Indian subjects inhabiting the said tract, and to make a treaty and arrangements with them so that there may be peace and good will between them and Her Majesty, and that they may know and be assured of what allowance they are to count upon and receive year by year from Her Majesty's bounty and benevolence."

Right there, in black and writing, as the late Slaw Rebchuk would say, is the intent of the Treaties. The only intent---to open the land to settlement and immigration.

In return, the Queen would give the aboriginal signatories gifts, not from any obligation, but from her bounty and benevolence.

Words have meaning.

A bounty means generosity, a gift or a reward. Benevolence means kindness.
So out of her kindness, she agreed to give the signatories gifts which the Treaty lists as cash, a suit of clothes, a medicine chest, a school in each reserve, and so on. Gifts. Not obligations.

The Chiefs, for their part, had a higher undertaking.
"And the undersigned Chiefs do hereby bind and pledge themselves and their people strictly to observe this treaty and to maintain perpetual peace between themselves and Her Majesty's white subjects, and not to interfere with the property or in any way molest the persons of Her Majesty's white or other subjects."

Bind and pledge carry intertwining definitions which together mean having an obligation and giving a promise to do something. It's a matter of honour and justice which supercedes doing something out of the kindness of your heart.

The Chiefs pledged themselves and their people not to, in any way, molest the Queen's subjects. The word 'molest' in the nineteenth century didn't carry the sexual connotation it does today. Surprisingly, it also didn't mean anything more than it means today -- to annoy, bother, vex or disturb. These days we might add 'a hostile intent' to the word, but that may be more a reflection of the times than the meaning in 1871.

Does disrupting the legal movement of Canadian citizens on the roads and highways count as a breach of the treaties? Does interfering with their airplane connections?

We're all treaty people. Isn't that what all that government advertising said? Isn't that even what appears on Idle No More posters?

Well, who is looking after my treaty rights? Your treaty rights? Our treaty rights?

What lawyer in what government office do we call to protest when our treaty rights are being broken?
Who will go to court on our behalf?

Shouldn't we demand an answer and fight for our rights? Tacit No More starts today.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The story Manitoba Hydro doesn't want you to read

Ladies, leave the room.
Now, what's the dirtiest word you'll ever hear in the offices of Manitoba Hydro?



So what is Manitoba Hydro doing helping to privatize the entire electrical system of another country? You read that right --- country.

The answer is another dirty word --- money.

Nigeria's power system is a total disaster. The country is Africa's most populous nation with 160 million people and is Africa's second largest economy. But it only provides enough electricity, as one newspaper described it, to power a medium-sized European city.

Two years ago Nigeria's president announced a multi-billion dollar plan to privatize the country's power infrastructure to boost production of electricity. Manitoba Hydro was hired this year to make sure the power that is produced gets to substations where it can be distributed to individuals and companies. In other words, to make Nigeria's power system attractive enough to buy into.

Nigeria has divided the job into three sections: generation, transmission and distribution. Manitoba Hydro beat out the Power Grid of India to manage the transmission network, which will still be owned by the government. The next step, once Hydro does its job, will be to privatize six power generation plants and 11 distribution firms.

The management contract is worth $24 million to Manitoba Hydro. There was a small hiccup when the contract was cancelled on allegations of irregularities in the awarding process, then reinstated with apologies.

Manitoba's governing NDP can only hope Hydro doesn't get a taste for privatization.

We only hope Nigeria will stop sending us emails asking for money.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pallister defines himself: rich, successful and stupid

From the day he announced his run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba, Brian Pallister was getting the same advice from pundits and pals alike.

Don't let the NDP define you.

Don't worry, he said. I'll fight back. I won't give them a chance. I'll define myself.

And for a brief, shining moment we stood and applauded Brian Pallister for doing just that. He fought back. Aggressively. He showed more backbone than his two predecessors combined.

And he won. Maybe. Maybe, because it was a pyrrhic victory. He's been defined. Stick a fork in him. He's done. And, if it could be worse, he gave them everything they needed to do it.

We all know by now that Pallister just bought a mansion on Wellington Crescent for $2 million. When the story broke last week, he stood his ground. The house was a product of his success in business and in life, he said. He worked hard for his wealth and he was enjoying it. He refused to be contrite.

The only criticism of Pallister that the Winnipeg Free Press could garner was from Shannon Sampert, a left-wing associate professor from the University of Winnipeg whose area of specialization is women's and gender studies.

If public reaction was any gauge, Pallister won his point. Work hard, make as much money as you can and spend it on what you want, was the presiding sentiment. Who could argue against that, except hardcore socialists who applaud mediocrity because its "fair".

Hell, Pallister even got a deal on his place at $2 million. 761 Wellington Crescent was listed for $3.5 million in 2008 and $2.4 million as late as October, 2012.

But even if Pallister won the intellectual argument, he lost the Battle of Definition.

Emotion always trumps intellect. Even if people can't present a cogent argument as to why Pallister shouldn't buy a $2 million house, they know it doesn't sit well with them. They know intuitively that someone that rich doesn't understand their hardscrabble lives.

Pallister tried to address that in a news conference on Monday at which he laid out how he grew up poor and made himself rich. His life sounded straight out of a Dickens novel. The only thing he left out was walking two miles barefoot in the snow to school and eating dirt sandwiches for lunch. And that's the problem -- for him. His story was right out of the long gone past. It resonated only with people as old as he or older.

People understand wealth even if they don't experience it; they don't understand living in a house without an indoor toilet or a T.V. That's what Pallister can't grasp. So he's been defined as rich and out of touch.

The day of his news conference was the day hearings started into Manitoba Hydro rate hikes.
As people complained they wouldn't be able to pay if Hydro keeps hiking rates by almost 4 percent a year for 19 years, Pallister was joking about paying $32,000 in property taxes on his mansion and fishing for sympathy.

When he ran in a byelection this summer to get a seat in the Legislature, he refused to tell people where he lived, saying it was a matter of security. Suddenly he was holding a news conference to brag about buying a house described in the real estate ads as:

"Incredible 1.7-acre river lot. Immaculate landscaping featuring patios, ponds, river rock dry creek, sport court. Over 9,000 sq.ft. living area. Restored to perfection."

Pallister should have known what to expect once he took possession of his Tara. If he had bought a multi-million-dollar home before running for the job of leader of the P.C. Party, where he lived wouldn't be an issue (except during the byelection). But buying it now is like rubbing peoples' faces into it. I'm rich, I'm living the good life and I'll help you little people if you elect me.

Define us aghast at that lack of judgement.


And just for the much does Shannon Sampert make?
According to a 2011 story in The Uniter, the University of Winnipeg student newspaper, Statistics Canada put the average salaries in 2008-2009 of full-time professors, associate professors and assistant professors at the U of W at $81,576.

That was the year a faculty strike was averted when a new contract was signed which, the Uniter reported, "includes an assurance that faculty at the U of W will earn similar salary scales to other Manitoba universities by October 2012."

"According to 2009-10 figures, the average salary of full professors, associate professors and assistant professors at the University of Manitoba was $113,443 a year."

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