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:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sam Katz fudged the truth when comparing Winnipeg property taxes to other cities

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz had to do some big-time fudging of the facts to sell his runaway property taxes to the public.

His latest budget calls for a 3.87 percent increase in taxes, and a promise to keep raising taxes for the indefinite future. So what, says Katz, the City of Winnipeg still has the lowest municipal property taxes among major Canadian cities.

In fact, those are the exact words used in a wraparound Winnipeg Budget supplement carried by all the city's weekly newspapers, just immediately above a photo of Mayor Sam grinning from ear to ear, and beside a bar graph allegedly comparing taxes in Canada's major cities.

You will note we used the word 'allegedly'.

Memo to the Mayor: did you really think we wouldn't check?

The Mayor's PR blitz cites the source of the comparative taxes paid in cities from coast to coast as "City of Calgary 2011 Residential Property Taxes & Utility Charges Survey", released November 2012.

First, he changed the "municipal property taxes per average house" paid in Calgary and Regina to show they are higher than Winnipeg, when the survey shows them as lower. We checked.

Then he dropped five cities from the 12-city survey (Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, St. John's, Leduc, and Spruce Grove) and replaced them with three cities that weren't surveyed (Edmonton, Hamilton and Ottawa) but which he claimed had higher taxes than we do.

Yeah, like we're going to trust figures provided by the mayor or his right-hand man, city CAO Phil Sheegl, the pair who can't even tell us how much over budget a new firehall being built by their pal Sandy Shindleman in St. James will be.

It's full of bar graphs and tables. There's the comparison of Total Property Tax for a Representative Single Family House in 2011 (city taxes plus school taxes) which shows a Winnipeg homeowner paid the fourth highest taxes in the country ($2965) after Toronto ($2993), Victoria ($3387) and Vancouver ($4039).
We dropped to ninth highest when the comparison was on property taxes alone. But here's where Katz's figures get fishy.

Katz's bar graph and the graph in the Calgary survey both have a Winnipeg taxpayer forking over $1,429 on the average house.

But Katz has Calgary taxes at $1,480; the Calgary survey has them at $1,347.
And Katz has Regina taxes at $1,519 while the Calgary survey has them at $1,369.

When comparing property taxes plus provincial homeowner grants or credits (Winnipeg, $700), we fare well, ranking third lowest in the country among cities surveyed by Calgary.

But compare taxes plus utilities and we're third again, third highest in big-city Canada.

Conclusion: the Mayor of Winnipeg jacked up property taxes then used fake figures and bogus graphs to try and con homeowners into believing he's still providing the lowest municipal taxes in the country.

He should tax credibility. He wouldn't have to pay a penny.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

One of the secrets of Idle No More the MSM doesn't want you to know

You don't say.

Or should that be, you better not say, White Boy.

Mia Rabson, the Ottawa reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, writes that poking fun at the faux hunger striker Chief Theresa Spence "plays into the stereotypes and racism that underlie much of the struggle First Nations have had in this country for the past 140 years."
Oh, and the taunts "encourage the racist thinking that has reared its ugly head in spade since Idle No More and Spence started gaining national attention."

Rabson and the rest of the MSM crowd are big on smearing people with the label "racist" to silence them. Her colleague Lindor Reynolds went to Morris, Manitoba, to prove her liberal bona fides by attacking the editor of a local newspaper who gave a thumbs down to native "leaders" who make terrorist threats.

Free speech be damned. The "professional journalists" have spoken.

And while they speak, they sure don't want you to.

The FP routinely shelves comments to its stories if they contain stuff like excerpts from the Treaties with Indians signed, er, 140 years ago. It seems that the "professional journalists" don't want people to know what's in those treaties, even though, as the government tells us, we're all treaty people.

The Free Press has, over two weekends, published five full pages of stories on Idle No More and Theresa Spence and the recent Indian protests, but has never found the space to reprint the treaties that govern Manitoba. It's no wonder.

They don't want people to know that the treaties belie everything the Idle No More crowd claim to be true.

*  This is OUR LAND; the Indians ceded it all in the treaties signed in the nineteenth century. Even the land the self-proclaimed First Nations live on is OUR LAND, not some sovereign country; it's Canadian land that's reserved for the benefit of aboriginals.

*  All the so-called rights the Idle people claim, don't exist; everything given to Indians under the treaties is specifically noted as coming from the beneficence of the Queen. There was never any intent to "share" the land equally; Indians were allowed to hunt and fish on land where they always hunted and fished -- until settlers moved in and then they were expected to become farmers or to move.

*  There's no right to consultation in the treaties, that's something judges made up out of whole cloth and judges can't unilaterally change the constitution of Canada, there's a lengthy and detailed process that must be followed.

But you wouldn't know any of this from reading or watching stories on the MSM.

And here's something else you wouldn't know, something that goes straight to the heart of racism in the debate.

First some background: four Saskatchewan women are credited for starting the Idle movement---Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Nina Wilson and Sheelah McLean.

(A fifth, Tanya Kappo, of Alberta, gave the movement its name by originating the hashtag #idlenomore for Twitter followers. She's been pretty much written out of the history of Idle No More, perhaps to keep people from noticing her work with the Liberal Party's Aboriginal Peoples Commission prior to the last federal election in which she ran as a Liberal Party candidate in Peace River. She got 4,573 votes and lost to Conservative candidate Chris Warkentin who collected 27,785 votes.)

But, back to the four founders. The only non-aboriginal is Sheelah McLean, who is as white as can be. She's an academic. In fact, her area of expertise includes the field of -- are you ready? -- whiteness.

You read right. Whiteness.

If you're like us, you said, "What?" We had to look it up. And yes, there is a field of study called "whiteness."

It is the study of being white. You see, that's bad. White people suffer from white privilege. And that's bad. White privilege is benefiting from society because you're white and the rules of society are set up to reflect white values.

When white people came to North America they colonized non-white people. Colonization is making your culture superior to the culture of other people. In the act of colonizing North America, white people made their values predominant. So our legal system is white, our electoral system, our sense of right and wrong is all white. That makes non-whites feel bad.

And that makes being white, bad. Even whites who jump up and down and insist they're anti-racist, are actually racist because they don't realize they benefit from white privilege and they don't see how society is white oriented. So whites are racist whether they know it or not. And racism is bad. So whites are...well, you know.

There's a term for that kind of thinking in Canada.

Villifying "a person or a group on the basis of one or more characteristics such as (ahem), colour" is the accepted definition of hate speech.

So one of the basic premises of Idle No More is hate speech.

Oh, can we say that? Or will that make Theresa Spence feel bad?

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Friday, February 01, 2013

Paula Havixbeck---Sam Katz's worst nightmare---a smart, brave woman who puts taxpayers first.

Winnipeg city councillor Paula Havixbeck has had a target on her back since October. So her vindictive removal from the mayor's coveted executive policy committee came as no real surprise. It had just been a question of when.

October, that's when the rookie councillor did the unthinkable. She stood up to council's bully twins--Mayor Sam Katz and his closest friend city CAO Phil Sheegl.

Katz and Sheegl were then furiously trying to cover-up the scandal of how the company owned by Katz's business partner and other close pal Sandy Shindleman wound up with $14 million in city contracts to build four new firehalls without anybody on council knowing about it.

"What's the big deal? Everybody knew," was Katz's first try to put the fire out.

Everybody did know the firehalls were being built, but the name of the contractor was kept a deep, dark secret by then-deputy Fire Chief Reid Douglas, who had inexplicably gone behind council's back to split up the single contract for four firehalls that they expected into four contracts for one firehall each to hide the name of contractor Shindico.

Oh, and he approved Shindico's construction of a firehall on land the city didn't own, but Shindico did, on the strength of a secret land swap which he negotiated and expected city council to rubber stamp because the fire station would by then be built, operating and paid for.

Havixbeck wasn't having any of it.

She started asking pointed questions about who knew what about the firehall contracts. And she was stonewalled. By Sheegl. By Reid Douglas. By the mayor. And by everyone else in the city bureaucracy.

So she did the unheard-of. As chairman of the city's protection committee, she called a special meeting and summoned Phil Sheegl, Reid Douglas (promoted to Fire Chief) and Chief Operating Officer Depak Joshi to answer questions.

She didn't get many answers. It turned out Sheegl, the most senior bureaucrat in the city, didn't know anything about anything. He was too busy overseeing and not micromanaging $14 million dollar contracts.

Douglas and Joshi only raised more questions with their non-answers.

Sheegl was humiliated at being treated like, well, just a bureaucrat and not the giant intellect he thinks he is. Katz struck back quickly. He removed Paula Havixbeck from the Protection Committee chair to send a message to anyone else thinking of challenging him and his buddy.

But Havixbeck's hearing invigorated city council. The usual torpid councillors stirred to life.

Far from being intimidated, they were inspired. Before the year was out, it was a full scale council revolt. Councillors forced the mayor to approve an audit of the firehall deal plus a separate audit of all property deals conducted by the city going back as far as five years.

Katz was humiliated in turn, having to vote in favour of the very audits he opposed publicly for months. Sheegl sat stone-faced behind him in council and plotted revenge.

That revenge came this week when Katz finally saw his chance to punish Paula Havixbeck.

He removed her from EPC. He then spent the day smearing her for reporters by claiming she kept flip-flopping on issues and he couldn't trust her anymore.

That charge would have more impact if Katz had any credibility left.

It hurt to write that because we've been among his biggest supporters, coming to his defence each time the Winnipeg Free Press unfairly attacked him. But he's become undefensible.

Sam Katz's own record of flipflops includes opposing an audit of the firehall deal before voting for it, and running an election on a pledge to avoid raising taxes followed by a steady increase in taxes each year after his win with promises of constant tax increases for years ahead.

But then Katz doesn't care about consistency. He's not running for mayor again.

Katz is smart enough to know he's done like dinner in this city. Glen Murray, he of multiple chins, would beat Sam Katz in an election in a heartbeat if he came back to town. Former candidate Maryann Mihaychuk would beat him easily. Even Judy Wasylycia-Leis would turn an election into a race too close to call depending on whether voters hate Katz more than the NDP.

C'mon. He can't wait to get out of here. He's just sticking around to keep a lid on the firehall scandal as long as he can before he and Sheegl fly away to Scottsdale, Arizona where they've both built or bought homes and can engage in busin - em, retire.

Who wants to stay and face awkward questions about how he managed to acquire a million-dollar house for $10 from the chief financial officer of Shindico?

Katz has the EPC he wants. All men. A strong woman's view is not welcomed or wanted. Havixbeck's replacement Brian Mayes was positively elated to become a yes-man.

What did Havixbeck do to push Katz to pull the trigger? She refused to roll over and support unquestioningly the tax increases he wants to push down peoples' throats.

The public doesn't know how strongly she fought to hold the line.
She came to EPC with detailed arguments on how to find all the money the higher taxes would raise out of existing sources---and even give taxpayers a rebate.

That's right. No tax increase necessary and the possibility of a small tax holiday.

Her fellow committee members wouldn't even listen to her ideas.  And the MSM reporters can't be bothered to detail her tax savings plans.

The budget passed. It's over. Nothing to see here. We can go back to covering the cat bylaw.

But Havixbeck is still on council. As Margaret Thatcher said, this lady's not for turning. A mother of two raising her children alone, by getting booted from EPC she's lost $22,000 a year in extra pay for sticking to her principles.
Sam Katz, though, forgot Machiavelli's number one lesson for how to be a dictator: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

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