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, February 03, 2019

Professional Journalists At Work / 2018 Bozo Of The Year

The Grammy's, the Oscars, the Golden Globes.  It's awards season. Which reminded us we hadn't yet given out our last (dis)honour for 2018---Bozo of the Year.

It's a category we introduced in 2013 when there was a bumper crop of contenders--Greg Selinger, Eric Robinson, Stan Struthers, Christine Melnick, and the eventual winner, University of Manitoba Professor Gary Stern who nosed out the policians by being so stupendously wrong with his scholarly declaration five years earlier that because of global warming the Arctic would be ice-free by 2013.  It's been ten years now and we're still waiting, Gary.

The award has lain fallow for a few years, but it was time to revive it for 2018 because one candidate sprinted ahead of the pack and almost demanded the recognition.  So, without further ado, we present the winner of the Black Rod Bozo of the Year 2018 award to----David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation.

Chartrand spent the year imitating the cartoon character, the Tasmanian Devil. He quivered with rage, spewed insults at the Premier, flashed fire out of his eyes and threatened, threatened, threatened, threatened, threatened to sue the government.  

He turned into a whirling dervish after Premier Brian Pallister deep-sixed a handshake deal between the MMF and Manitoba Hydro that would have funneled $67 million over 20 years into the Metis Federation and in return the MMF promised not to oppose, in court or otherwise, Hydro's boondoggle northern dams and power lines to the U.S.

In between his threats, his threats, his theats, and his threats to sue the government, he actually got into a courtroom.  A judge listened to the MMF's demand for an injunction to stop the government from walking away from the Hydro handshake, then promptly gave it a thumbs down.

Chartrand stomped out of the courtroom and announced---you guessed it---he was going to sue the government.  Oh, and he was going to hire lawyers to fight Hydro's plan to sell subsidized power to Americans via a new powerline. So there!

But that's not what won him the award. No, it was an interview he gave to the Canadian Press. Here's a snippet:

"While there is no mention of lost land in the proposed deal, Metis federation president David Chartrand said the money was partly to compensate for land cleared for hydro poles."
"There was clear-cutting that was done in traditional areas that were used for cultural events or berry-picking," Chartrand said earlier this week."
"We have some very famous areas where we pick our blueberries ... and so it (would have) helped to develop new blueberry areas."

You read that right. The whole matter is over blueberries.  We can't make this sort of thing up.

Chartrand has said he intends to hold up Manitoba Hydro's billion-dollar power sales for the sake of blueberry picking.

What a bozo.  

Oh, and about taking it to court.... When filing for an injunction, Chartrand provided the court with a long affidavit laying out the MMF's position.  In the sworn affidavit, Chartrand admits that THERE WAS NEVER A "BINDING LEGAL AGREEMENT" 

He stated: 

"Finally, Article 9 includes a commitment that “a binding legal agreement” to implement the Major Agreed Points would be completed within 30 days after agreement between the MMF and Manitoba Hydro."


"144.Mr. Shepherd (Kelvin Shepherd, Manitoba Hydro president and CEO) and I had a series of meetings and calls throughout the Fall of 2017 with respect to further implementing the Major Agreed Points through “the drafting of a binding legal agreement” as contemplated by Article 9.

145.Through these discussions, we jointly agreed to extend the 30-day timeline set out in Article 9. Mr. Shepherd informed me that this was necessary because Manitoba Hydro had been unable to meet with Manitoba on the Major Agreed Points.

 In all these conversations, Mr. Shepherd assured me that Manitoba Hydro ...was not seeking Manitoba’s consent or agreement to the Major Agreed Points. "

Once the government learned of the plan, it used its oversight power to kibosh the idea, blueberries and all.


Professional Journalists at Work

Editorial, Winnipeg Free Press, January 23, 2019
"Indigenous economics boost our bottom line
Manitobans entered the new year with news that Indigenous individuals, businesses and governments injected $9.3 billion into Manitoba's economy in 2016.

"The report has some gaps. The Metis, for example, were not included, but are major economic players in the province."                                       ____________________

Indigenous Contributions to the Manitoba Economy

P. 17  Spending By Indigenous People 
Creates Economic Impacts

Spending by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit are the inputs for this 
economic model. Based on that spending, the model estimates the 
impact that millions of  dollars of  Indigenous spending has on the overall 
provincial economy.

P. 18  On a household level, there are well-established Canada 
Revenue Agency rules regarding the taxation of  Indigenous people. Inuit 
and Métis people always pay the same taxes as other Canadians, as do 
First Nations who do not have legally identified Indian status.

 Taxation is complex but there are two important points: Indigenous people are 
paying taxes and some First Nations people have exemptions in some 
circumstances, as regulated by the Canada Revenue Agency. 

P.19 Indigenous Government - 
Spending and Impacts

Indigenous government spending refers to remuneration, expenses, 
and other spending presented in financial statements by First Nations 
governments, Tribal Councils, and Métis and Inuit organizations

...all First Nations government spending is considered to be on 
reserve where the government operations are headquartered. Conversely, 
all Métis and Inuit government spending is considered to be off reserve. 

P. 27   The number of  First Nation businesses are 163 (58 in the North, 105 in South). Métis and 
Inuit business counts are based on a ratio related to population, with 29 
in the North and 514 in the South. 

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Bob Cox Made The Newspaper Safe for Fake New To Flourish

When selecting a Newsmaker of the Year for 2018, the Winnipeg Free Press delegated the job to their readers.  Apparently the newspaper has nobody on staff with enough news sense to be capable of sifting through the year's stories to determine who had the biggest influence on Manitobans.

So the FP went with the readers' choice---Tina Fontaine, who was described as the "heartbreaking catalyst for change."

The fact that she had been dead for four years was not a strike against her. It was the death of the fragile 15-year-old girl whose body was discarded in a blanket in the Red River that made her what she is today -- an icon of the missing and murdered aboriginal women movement.

"... Tina's story was a primary driving force behind a public inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, which the federal government granted in 2016," wrote Niigaan Sinclair, the author of the Newsmaker 2018 story.

Sinclair normally writes an opinion column for the Free Press wherein he delivers one-note rants against every known and imagined wrong by white people against natives.

In true segregationist fashion, the Winnipeg Free Press couldn't allow a white reporter to write the story about Tina Fontaine, so they gave the job to their in-house red writer.  But while opinion columnists are allowed to ignore or even make up facts, news writers are not.

And that's where we came in.

The Niigaan Sinclair story is a classic example of fake news. 

A story based on a biased narrative  with any contrary facts ignored, or, better still, denigrated. 

It's exactly the sort of "journalism" that's driven away thousands of newspaper readers. They haven't stopped reading newspapers because they can't find ads for used cars in the classifieds; they quit the paper because the biased reporting no longer reflects them or their communities.

And that's the sort of reporting that Winnipeg Free Press editor Bob Cox is committed to saving thanks to his campaign for federal government subsidies to newspapers.  The papers won't have to worry about publishing fake news and turning off readers anymore; government subsidies will keep the papers profitable with or without readers.

The Tina Sinclair Newsmaker story was presented as a news story, not opinion. So when we read it we were careful to check the factual bases of the story. 

"By all accounts, the 15-year-old from Sagkeeng First Nation was a bright, happy teenager. Her aunt Thelma Favel said she was always respectful, and loved to bake with her family. She was separated from her mother but cared for by Favel, her ill father, and other members of her family. She loved children and planned a future working with them." wrote Sinclair.

On what planet?
Maybe when Tina Fontaine was a pre-teen,  she was all these things. But by the time of her death she was a chronic runaway, a thief, a doper, a prostitute---everything you don't want your daughter to be.

She wasn't planning a future working with children. She was planning what hovel she could crash at with her boyfriend and how to get drugs to get high. 

The story was even illustrated with a photo of an angelic Tina Fontaine in a sweet pose highlighting her innocence.  That photo was obviously taken years before she disappeared. The Free Press won't run the last photo of Tina Fontaine, showing the hair partially regrown over the half of her head she had shaved, the big hoop earrings, and the punkish red jacket she was wearing. 

"Then, as the public learned about how Tina was failed by the health-care system, police and federal, provincial and municipal governments, the story of Tina's life, and her death, became a condemnation of Canada," harangued Sinclair.

We addressed this canard three years ago here:

The system worked perfectly. Every time she fell, there was a safety net to catch her. The problem was her. She refused all help. She had been raised in such a dysfunctional environment that she rejected the good for the attractions of the bad.

Sinclair, of course, mentions "the police who could have helped Tina just before she was killed". You mean the police officers who were made scapegoats for following former-Police Chief Devon "Mack Daddy" Clunis' police of non-intervention with teenage prostitutes?  When they met Tina Fontaine she had just hopped into a stranger's truck to pick up some quick money. 

Contrary to legend, she was NOT MISSING at the time. She wasn't reported missing until the following day! When police stopped the truck they could not hold her because of the police chief's policy of not interfering with prostitutes while going after their customers instead. 

But why let truth enter the realm of fake news?

The hook for making Tina Fontaine the year's newsmaker was the trial of the man accused of murder in her death.  He was found not guilty by the jury. Sinclair's story fails to mention the Crown brought the charge to trial even though there was no evidence against the man.

Sinclair quotes Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, as saying the verdict was 'not acceptable'. 
"How can we talk about reconciliation when the very nets that we're asked to participate in do not fulfil what they're supposed to fulfil?"

What's not acceptable about justice being done. The man wasn't convicted because there was no evidence against him. No, really, there was no evidence.

A real newspaper would have used this as an opportunity to examine how the aboriginal community sees the legal system. A real newspaper would have delved into what their understanding is of the presumption of innocence and the state's duty to get a verdict from a jury convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt".  Do the "chiefs" reject the hundreds of years of jurisprudence based on Judeo-Christian principles?  A real newspaper would have asked what sort of justice system would satisfy the aboriginal community and protect the public at the same time?

A real newspaper would have examined the decision by police brass to spend months trying to trick the accused man into confessing to Tina Fontaine's murder by techniques straight out of the Stasi guidebook--- bugging his home 24-7 and actually acting out various scenarios with police officers to engage him and get him to say something incriminating. 

It was all a total waste of time and money, something you would think would interest journalists.

The Winnipeg Free Press carries pages and pages of house ads for themselves every day.  The weekend newspaper is packed with multi-page stories of little interest. So the problem is not of lack of space. It's lack of will coupled with a lack of news sense.

Take the trial of Tina Fontaine's alleged killer, for example.  A big problem of the prosecution was that there was no cause of death. She wasn't shot, stabbed, strangled or beaten to death that the coroner could see. In short, there was no evidence of murder.

So how did she die? 

The answer was blatantly obvious. It was even discussed during the trial.  A real newspaper would have explored the likely cause of death. But that would have destroyed the agreed-upon narrative. How could she be among the murdered aboriginal women is she wasn't murdered?

Read the stories of the trial and you will see repeated references to "the 71-pound" girl.  A normal 15-year-old girl weighs about 115 pounds.  Tina Fontaine was only two-thirds the weight of a healthy girl of her age.

The toxicologist who testified said Tina Fontaine was drunk and stoned on pot when she died.  He found no evidence of the other drugs she was exposed to at the residence she was staying---cocaine, meth or gabapentin (a prescription drug to control seizures which can also cause seizures and suicidal thoughts).

But its obvious that offered that smorgasbord of drugs, Tina Fontaine was a walking time bomb. Weighing a third less than a normal girl at 15, she was susceptible to an overdose of one or more of those drugs at any moment.

Faced with the body of a dead underage girl, someone wrapped it in a bed covering and disposed of it in the river rather than answer questions by police. 

But none of that fit the narrative for the Winnipeg Free Press Newsmaker of 2018.

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Friday, January 04, 2019

2018 Newsfaker, em, Newsmaker, of the Year

Okay, sabbatical's over. Time to get back to work.

The first order of business is some overdue unfinished business, namely the annual recognition of the Black Rod Newsmaker of the Year for 2018.

It was a bit of a headscratcher as the year's end approached closer and closer. No name jumped  out from the sad pack of also-rans--- Pallister, Bowman, some overpaid hockey player... Yikes, was there nobody?

But then just before the stroke of midnight on the last day of the year (and too late to publish) it came.  Of course.  A dark horse. Someone everybody knows but nobody knows. The man who influenced more Manitobans, more Winnipegers, more Liberals than anyone else in the province...

The Black Rod Newsfaker Newsmaker of the Year for 2018 -- Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press.

For years Box Cox (as he's affectionately known) has travelled the country far and wide preaching, threatening, lobbying, pleading for somebody to step up and save the newspaper industry in Canada. 

Advertising dollars, the life's blood of the industry, are being drained away by digital media. Newspapers will die out, he bellowed, unless someone levels the playing field, not with subsidies (ptui, curse the word), but with tax breaks, changes to charitable status for privately raised funds, and, okay, maybe some levelling cheques here and there.

Cox never flagged. As one year passed into the next he just redoubled his efforts until he was insisting that the only thing standing between us and Hitler was the daily newspaper.  If that falls, then its the end of democracy and the freedom we have come to love, he cried.

And then, finally, success in year '18. The federal government has promised $565 million to buoy the print media across Canada. 
(Details to be rolled out through the year.)  

Atta boy, Bob. You did it. We're safe. You hear that, Martha, we're safe. And we owe it all to that Bob Cox in Winnipeg.

And a federal election in 2019. 
(more to come. Lots)

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Feminist voters in Winnipeg prefer a metrosexual to a real, strong, woman for mayor.

Jenny Motkaluk landed a couple of haymakers on incumbent Brian Bowman the day she announced she was running for his job as mayor.

No more rapid transit, she said, and even the unfinished line to south Winnipeg was on the chopping block if possible. Rapid transit was  Bowman's legacy project.

And as for his pledge to open Portage and Main to pedestrians? History. Not gonna happen, declared Motkaluk.

The battle lines appeared drawn.  

Instead of spending hundreds of millions on Bowman's vanity transit plan, she believed in "putting more buses more frequently onto the roads that we already have so that we can serve Winnipeggers right now."

She would be a meat-and-potatoes mayor.  Spend tax money on the priorities of the taxpayers and not the politicians. What a concept!

Bowman was momentarily stunned. Interestingly he didn't rush to the defence of his vaunted rapid transit dream.  But he countered Motkaluk's Portage and Main stand---he would hold a referendum and abide by the result. Point, Bowman.

Since then neither mayoral candidate has said much about Portage and Main, leaving the referendum fight to others. Neither of them wants to die on that hill.

Motkaluk, the challenger, made a scattered series of weak announcements in the weeks following. More police in schools. (Huh?) Police on buses. A task force to tackle meth dealers. (Wow, why hadn't anyone thought of that before?) Replacing a bridge that everyone agreed needed to be replaced. More traffic signs around schools. And saddling homeowners with a new bill to remove organize waste. (What happened to the priorities of taxpayers?)

Bowman bided his time, and then, it paid off.  Jenny jumped the shark.

She would spend more than half a billion dollars to replace Winnipeg's diesel buses with electric buses.  Yep, all the savings from ending rapid transit would be spent.  

From bold to bananas in one easy step.

If you have $500 million to play with, you could cut property taxes to zero and still have $50 million left over.  That's got our vote. (The city's rule of thumb is that every one percent rise in property tax raises $4.5 million.)

The polls, as bogus as they might be (see the previous Black Rod), showed that her trip to airy-fairy wonderland had put the brakes on any momentum she might have had.

Bowman was back in the game. But because of  some momentus brain fart, Bowman decided that property taxes were his strong point.  He promised to raise taxes yet again as he had for his entire first term, but this time only by 2.33 percent a year.

And he dared Motkaluk to reveal her tax plans.

So she did.  A maximum hike of 1.16 percent a year.  

And she had a detailed explanation to show how she would do it.

Bowman, again, was stunned.  WHATTTT?

The Winnipeg Free Press found someone to challenge Motkaluk's plan---an 85-year-old retired lawyer who fought an assessment case in the Supreme Court a generation ago.  "I'm really confused and don't understand what she's talking about," he said.

Winnipeg Free Press opinion writer Dan Lett jumped in to clarify the situation.

"However, there is a more important concern in Motkaluk's tax proposal. No matter how you spin it, it will provide less revenue to the City of Winnipeg than Bowman's proposal," he wrote.

Duh. Thanks for pointing that out Dan. Raising taxes one percent will bring less money than raising taxes two percent.  We see why you get paid the big bucks.

Bowman  found his voice.  "I don't believe the plan is credible and it's risky," he said.

And at that moment he must have realized the truth: the best man in the race for mayor was a woman.

"It's risky," he said, the words turning to ashes in his mouth.

Four years ago Brian Bowman embraced risk. He told everyone he wanted to be bold.  Bold. Bold. Bold. He wanted to take bold decisions about bold plans to put into action his bold initiatives.  The other word for bold is risky.

His online bio even brags: 

Brian Bowman has the ability to turn vision into action, and that has created many positive changes for Winnipeg!
Prior to entering the race for mayor, Brian was instrumental, as the Chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, in launching the Winnipeg BOLD Initiative. This community driven think tank brought about the creation of YES!Winnipeg, The World Trade Centre, and the Centralia Conference (that showcased Winnipeg to 600 companies from 30 countries). 

Do you know who else can put Yes!Winnipeg on her resume?  

Yep, Jenny Motkaluk.  Her bio reads:

Worked at YES! Winnipeg. Helped attract Canadian Tire’s Cloud Computing Centre, expansion of Market Force and Momentum Health Care in Winnipeg and the creation of the MTS DataCentre.

Bowman can lay claim to having "launched" Yes!Winnipeg, but Motkaluk did a lot of the heavy lifting to make it successful.

And her tax announcement showed she was still thinking bold. (Okay, boldly.)

Where was this bold candidate during the campaign?

Bold Jenny started strong, but got lost and wandered into lalaland. Then she came back.

Motkaluk should have used the time to introduce herself to voters.  

She has a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology.

We don't know what that is, but she's smart.

Bowman was a privacy lawyer. What the hell's that?

He held positions with the Chamber of Commerce and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Glorified P.R. positions.

Motkaluk has years of business experience.  Real jobs. Including six years on the board of revision where she learned more about property assessments and the rules governing them than Bowman can imagine knowing, if he even cared.

A smart, experienced, ballsy woman running against a  disillusioned Gen X metrosexual.  

The last election poll showed that Bowman’s strongest level of support is among those who say they are Liberals (72 per cent) and New Democrats (69 per cent). Men favoured him 59 percent to 27 percent, and women 63 percent to 28 percent.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Not even Brian Bowman believes the fake polls that have him winning re-election. With reason.

Brian Bowman is running scared.

Six weeks away from an election for mayor of Winnipeg, a poll showed that eight out of ten voters were looking for someone other than the incumbent to fill the post. After four years in office, Bowman had the support of barely 22 percent of decided electors.

But with the undecided measuring at 57 percent, the poll was meaningless. The polling company, Probe Research, should be ashamed to have even released such a perverted measure of opinion.

Three weeks later, a (heavily manipulated) poll (more about that in a minute) showed that Bowman's support had grown to 34 percent, or roughly three voters in ten. This time the pollsters claimed they could peer deep into  the undecideds ( 39 percent of those polled) and detect that Bowman's support was actually 61 percent. 

Given that his main opponent's support had barely climbed from 11 percent to 15 percent among decided voters, Bowman should have been taking a victory lap. But a poll with 39 percent undecided is as bogus as one with 57 percent undecided.  Nobody knows that better than Bowman.

When first running for mayor in 2014 against Judy Wasylycia-Leis, the polls had the election a toss-up, too close to call, even-stephen right up to election day.  Bowman won taking 45 percent of the vote to JustJudy's 25.

So, had all that insane grinning. All those selfies. All that posing and pandering and Pride parade marches been for naught?

Perhaps if Bowman wasn't such a failure as mayor, his standing would be higher.

He certainly can't run on his record.  And he's shown by his campaign for re-election that he has nothing left to offer.

After four years of Brian Bowman at the helm, Winnipeg is a shithole.  Not figuratively. Literally.  There's a team of up to 16 people that hits the streets of downtown Winnipeg every day to wash away the shit and piss left in storefronts, yards, and bus shelters by the army of so-called homeless.

We practically fell out of our chairs when we heard this. Bowman was a chairman of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, for crying out loud, and he let this happen?

Crime is at the top of every elector's list of concerns again. Did you ever think you would live in a city where thieves just walk into liquor stores, help themselves to as many bottles as they can carry, and waltz out of the store unmolested and totally unafraid of being arrested?

River Heights started an on-line Broken Windows Club where residents exchange accounts of auto break-ins, garage break-ins, and rampant bicycle thefts. 

One bus driver has been murdered and a transit supervisor was actually dragged off a bus in downtown Winnipeg and savagely beaten by one of the roving gangs of homicidal thugs that roam the city.  Police have actually warned people to avoid certain no-go zones in the city because of the danger of these gangs. 

Bowman's approach?  His hand-picked choice as finance chairman on the city's Executive Policy Committee, I'M-MARTY-MORANTZ-AND-I'M-A-LAWYER,  declared that Winnipeg had too many police.  He's not running for reelection.

We're told there's a meth epidemic ravaging the city.  Bowman dropped the word meth into his State of the City 2018 address exactly once--- to say police would work to solve  the problem.  

 It's almost as if current Mayor Brian Bowman just doesn't care about the city. And, the more we thought about it, the clearer it got. 

He doesn't.

He doesn't care about Winnipeg 2018 or 2019 or 2020.

This certainly isn't the city he promised when he first ran for mayor.  Then, he talked about building a city for the future, a city for one million citizens, a city stitched together by six rapid transit corridors from one end to the other carrying happy commuters to work and play. In other words---he had a vision.

Unfortunately, a little something called reality derailed him.

He's got nothing this time around.  His lackluster campaign demonstrates the well is empty.

After hiking taxes steadily for four years, along with frontage levys and water-and-sewer rates, he's---wait for it---promising to raise taxes higher if elected.

He promises a new recreation facility in Waverly West,  to spend a whopping $100,000 on crime prevention, and to create a list---yes, an actual list---of bylaws to update or scrap.

He's throwing out promises on the fly.  When his closest opponent makes a transit announcement, he does too.  Scrap a needed new roof for a bus garage and promise heated bus shelters. And a new bus pass for low-income riders. The cost to the city? Don't know. The cost of the pass? Don't know.  When would it roll out? Don't know.

Bowman is counting on the name-recognition and momentum of an incumbent to carry him back into the mayor's chair. That and the shambolic campaign of Jenny Motkaluk,  his strongest  challenger.  (more about that next time)

Before leaving, we must discuss the 'Bowman 61' poll which falls under the heading Fake News.

Why don't we start with the story  as it appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, one of the originators of the poll.

Incumbent mayoral candidate Brian Bowman has reason to smile based on recent poll numbers.
by  Aldo Santin
Incumbent Brian Bowman has built a huge lead over his closest mayoral competitor — with just three weeks left in the election.
Bowman has the support of 61 per cent of decided respondents, compared with 28 per cent for his closest rival, Jenny Motkaluk, a new Probe poll commissioned by the Winnipeg Free Press and CTV Winnipeg has found.
Or we can look at the headline on the CTV story:

Over 60% of decided Winnipeggers planning to vote for Bowman: survey

The poll did NOT find that Bowman had "the support of 61 percent of decided respondents."

Bowman had the support of 34 percent of decided voters. 

Another 39 percent were undecided; Probe asked them which candidate for mayor were they leaning toward and 44 percent of them said Bowman.  

Now, 44 percent of 39 percent equals 17.16.  That means that when you add the leaning undecideds to the decided voters, Bowman's support stands at 51 percent---NOT 61 percent.

Professional reporters at work.

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Friday, June 08, 2018

WFP publisher suppresses stories while lobbying for government subsidies

It was a year ago this month that Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox began his campaign for federal government subsidies to newspapers whose advertisers have abandoned them.

Since then we've learned all about fake news---that's when reporters make up facts then write stories based on their invented truths. But what about fffake news---news the papers want to conceal from the public and do it by not publishing them?

The Winnipeg Free Press is currently sitting on two doozies, both about lawsuits --- against the Winnipeg Free Press.

In one, the newspaper is accused of stealing the research of a prominent Winnipeg scholar and cheating him out of royalties from a book t
hey told him they would never publish, then did. To add insult, they submitted the book for journalism awards.

In the other, the (former) editor of the Free Press used libel chill to silence a radio talkshow host whose critical reporting on the Winnipeg Free Press she didn't like. Her backroom campaign enmeshed the president of Red River College, the college lawyer, a faculty dean and college staff in a conspiracy to kill the host's show and hide the reason from angry listeners. 

Copyright infringement. Censorship of a citizen journalist.  Topical issues you would think the local daily would love to publicize and explore.  Not.

Dr. Frank Albo teaches History classes at the University of Winnipeg. But back when he was working on his master's thesis, he uncovered a true-to-life Da Vinci Code-style secret in the heart of the city.  The architect of the Manitoba Legislature had incorporated clear Masonic symbols into his building!  

The Winnipeg Free Press partnered with Dr. Albo on a book (The Hermetic Code) based on his discovery. It became a best-seller and earned Albo $200,000 in royalties.

That's the undisputed part of the story.

In 2011, Albo came across a "second startling discovery", as the lawsuit puts it. It was "a hidden master plan for the City of Winnipeg". Apparently "city elites sought to transform Winnipeg into an urban utopia based on an international philosophy called The City Beautiful Movement."

The Movement called for the use of architecture to be used as a control device "to correct social order and instil moral and civic virtue amongt citizens."

In September, 2013, Albo delivered the keynote lecture at the Heritage Winnipeg Ball, where Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox was in the audience.  He proposed a partnership with Albo. Step one was a two-hour presentation in the WFP newsroom the following month about his findings re: the hidden master plan for Winnipeg.
Albo began working with newspaper editor Paul Samyn and reporter Randy Turner, says the lawsuit.  

But very soon afterward, Samyn informed Albo there would be no book and no royalties flowing from their collaboration.  Albo would be paid an hourly rate for his work.

Imagine his surprise when, less than a year later, he spotted the announcement of the launch of a book published by the Winnipeg Free Press with the Manitoba Association of Architects, titled "City Beautiful. How Architects Shaped Winnipeg's DNA".

The Albo lawsuit is just the sort of story that would have been reported on The Great Canadian Talk Show on KICK-FM, if it was still around. But both TGCTS and Kick-FM, the community radio station hosted by Red River College, are long gone, thanks to former Winnipeg Free Press editor Margo Goodhand.

In October, 2010 a weeping Melissa Martin sat in editor Margo Goodhand's office to explain why she didn't do a story. (Sounds like a theme, here, doesn't it.) Ross Eadie was running for a seat on city council and at a public forum he declared (according to multiple witnesses) that he was getting financial support from the NDP in order to afford to run.  Problem.  Funding of campaigns by political parties is illegal. 

Martin didn't write a word about Eadie's confession.  But it was well covered on the internet, including by The Black Rod.  The tearful Melissa didn't like what people were saying about her.  Don't worry, Margo Goodhand told her.
Goodhand blamed Marty Gold, the host of TGCTS for saying not nice things about Melissa Martin's decision not to report a major political story.  

First, she gave Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth an earful about it. Then she sent a follow-up email to Forsyth, and her message was unmistakeable.

Gold was setting journalism students a bad example by defaming her reporters, she said. She had, she said, run his blog posts by a lawyer who told her so. (She admitted at trial for the lawsuit that she never listened to his radio show.)

Something had to be done -- hint, hint. The implication was clear. If nothing was done -- hint, hint --- the Winnipeg Free Press could sue Red River College and, boy, would that cause embarassment. And the newspaper could refuse to hire graduates, which would damage the reputation of Red River's journalism program. And she could badmouth the college to colleagues across the country and, well, you know. Hint, hint.

Forsyth got the hint.  She immediately called a meeting.  The attendees left the meeting knowing what they had to do.  Dig up dirt on Marty Gold, then cancel his show.

Two weeks later, just before a scheduled nomination committee meeting of the radio station board of directors, a few of Forsyth's underlings met informally and agreed, formally, to cancel TGCTS.  

A couple of days later, they informed the station manager of their decision.  He was unhappy. Programming was his job. He saw no defamation. And he could address Margo Goodhand's concerns in other ways. But his bosses said no.

The station manager sent Gold a heads-up message: the president wants you fired. 

The next day the FP's on-line editor got wind of the station manager's recalcitrance. He told Margo Goodhand.  
She immediately sent a furious email to Stephanie Forsyth, the gist of which was "What the Hell?"

On her next day at work, Forsyth convened another meeting in her office. Her message: "What the Hell?"  

Within hours, Marty Gold was informed his show was cancelled and he was out of a job.

But Red River College wasn't prepared for the blowback from dedicated listeners of the show. RRC offered various explanations as to why the show was cancelled, none of which mentioned Margo Goodhand.

They eventually told the court that it was a policy change, to give students more time on air.  They overlooked the obvious: the alleged policy change only affected one show and one host, and coincidentally it was the exact show and exact host that Margo Goodhand had complained about.  Go figure.

When listeners asked who made the decision to kill TGCTS, college officials winced, swallowed hard and said it was "the executive committee" of the radio station.  Except that there was no "executive committee."  

The radio station bylaws said the board may create committees, but there was no record of any creation of an "executive committee" that year, or any year prior.  Or any minutes of any meeting of said committee ever.

The college officials were claiming a committee that didn't exist, with no designated members and no outlined powers, could usurp the power of the official board of directors whenever it wanted about whatever it wanted. Oh, what a tangled web they weaved.

But it was reciprocated.  When the National Post contacted Goodhand for her side of the story, she emailed her boss, publisher Bob Cox (remember him?). 

She asked his advice for what to say because "I don't want to throw Stephanie under the bus."

So, Goodhand lied to the Post and said she knew nothing about the cancellation of TGCTS.

Just as readers of the Winnipeg Free Press know nothing about these lawsuits. Until now.

Both of them have already gone to trial and are awaiting decisions.

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