Blogs

  • Under the Dome

    When bad news is good news for NDP

    So how is the delegate system working for the NDP?

  • Nick Martin: Telling Tales out of School

    Red River College tells me to 'play fair'

  • Mia Rabson: The Capital Chronicles

    Freudian Joe?

    Finance Minister Joe Oliver has been clear for several weeks the federal budget will be delayed until at least April hoping oil prices might stabilize so the government has a bit more certainty about its revenue estimates.

  • Random Acts of Kindness

    Great care at Grace

    I recently attended Grace Hospital as an outpatient for a daytime procedure.

  • Kelly Taylor: Road Noise

    There snow way you can see...

    Have you ever seen a weird warning on some product and wondered why it was there?

    "Do not place vacuum nozzle over eye," or "Hot liquid — do not hold between thighs."

    The best was on a commercial for a video game, where the two adolescents are chasing bad guys on animated all-terrain vehicles that morph into flying motorcycles not unlike those in the movie Star Wars: Return of the Jedi as the duo instantly travels through a rift in space-time to a distant planet.

    "Professional drivers. Do not attempt." As if.

    I'm hoping the last one was a joke by the video game developers, but most times, if you see a warning label advising against doing something you're too smart to even think about trying, it's because there is someone out there who is not as smart as you. Seriously.

    So it was with more than a little interest when I read a press release a while back from the Winnipeg Police Service warning drivers to do more than clear a credit card-sized hole in the windshield to see through. I'm sure it's because an officer in the traffic unit said to a superior, "Hey, you'll never guess why I pulled 10 drivers over today..."

    You must clear the car of snow and ice before you drive. It's just common sense. You should be able to see as well in winter as you do in summer. Given we just had another dump of snow, I wasn't surprised to see a few snow cones driving around.

    Snow on the hood will blow into the air intakes and, if your car is still cold, ice up the windshield on the inside. Snow on the roof might slide backward under acceleration and block your rear window or, worse, fall forward under braking and block the windshield. Ice might fly off your car and strike another. That is something that has had tragic consequences in the past and if it happens to you, you could be held liable.

    Bristles on snow brushes can scratch clear coat, so be careful. Or check out a bristleless snow brush at Canadian Tire.

    Winter plays havoc on your car, so be prepared. Carry some non-perishable food, some blankets, a shovel, candle, matches and a metal cup if you have to melt snow for water. You should also carry a sign to put out asking other drivers to alert police you're stranded.

    Above all, stay with your car. Unless you can see help, leaving your car is a fool's gambit.

    Keep your fuel tank above one-quarter full: that will not only help prevent condensation and fuel-line freezing, it gives you a cushion if you get stranded and have to run the engine to stay warm. If you do, make sure your exhaust is free of snow, and double-check from time to time if you're stuck there for a while.

    When driving, remember that you can't count on the same traction as during summer. It's important to drive to conditions, but that doesn't mean driving slowly just for the sake of driving slowly. If it's slippery, you'll know and you should most definitely slow down. But if it's not slippery and other drivers are therefore not slowing down, being a rolling roadblock isn't safe, either.

    Most importantly, do not try to be a speed cop. If there is a driver out there with a comfort level higher than yours, let him by. If you do slow down, do so in the right lane. Besides, if you think he's being reckless, wouldn't you want him in front of you anyway?

    Paying attention is always important, but never more so than in winter.

    In summer, if your concentration lapses for a second and you have to correct, the available traction will often bail you out. You may not have that traction in winter.

    As well, looking as far ahead as possible provides several benefits: you can plan for stoplights and stop signs, you can see threats developing and you get the earliest possible indication your car is starting to spin. The correction of a spin should be automatic, as your hands instinctively turn where you want to go, but doing it at the earliest possible moment makes it feel like you haven't done anything at all and prevents the rebound skid that can send you into an uncontrollable slide.

    Slow down for stops early and brake early, too. It's better if you find out you have no traction while there's still time to do something about it, such as steering towards the snow between wheel ruts to find traction.

    Anti-lock brakes are an important safety feature that help you steer even while braking. But they aren't a replacement for proper planning and they do not help you stop more quickly. When you know you have to stop, being able to stop without activating the anti-lock feature will give you more control and improved stopping ability. A slowly rotating tire will always brake better than a wheel where the brakes are being released several times per second.

    If your anti-lock does kick in, let it work. Keep your foot on the brake pedal and don't let up. Trying to work against the ABS will only put you in conflict with your car, and neither of you will win.

    Above all, use winter tires. They do make a big difference in traction, and they also mean the difference between your car's ABS and stability control working well and not working at all. Both systems need traction to work. Winter tires also have a limited impact on your long-term tire budget. Basically, you're paying the same for tires over time whether you use winter tires or not.

  • Inayat Singh: Digits

    Federal parties are seeing strong fundraising results as they prep for an election

    Federal political parties saw a bump in donations in the last three months of 2014, as they gird up for a long and expensive election campaign this year. But the fundraising efforts came with a new sense of urgency for some parties, with the end of a per-vote subsidy, cutting off a source of public financing and forcing them to overhaul fundraising strategy.

  • Mike Deal: The Hungry Eye

    Homelessness; it's getting worse instead of better

    For over eight years Ron Eldridge and his wife Marsha have been trying to help out the downtrodden and homeless, especially during the winter months. They hand out hot chocolate, doughnuts, and clothing every weekend.

  • Bob Cox

    Maple Leaf making tracks in Sweden

    If you are alarmed by the yellow and blue symbols that seem everywhere since the arrival of IKEA in Winnipeg, you can take comfort in the fact that a similar invasion is  happening on the other side of the ocean.

  • Mary Agnes Welch's Gripe Juice

    Muzzling those who know

    Like any reporter should, I cringe at anonymous sources. In many cases, I worry it's lazy journalism that allows people to take swipes at rivals with no consequences or manipulate a story in secret. Anonymous sources also make it hard for readers to judge someone's credibility and motivation for speaking to the media. It's up to the reporter to ask "why is this person really talking to me? Is there a reason that undermines the information they're offering?" In the race to be first with a good story, we may not always ask that enough. I've tried, in recent years, to avoid using anonymous sources, especially in political stories. In fact, when Shelly Glover was named Manitoba's federal minister, Bruce Owen and I made a little deal with each other to only quote people on the record for a short profile we were assigned. (The result was kind of a boring story, unfortunately, which also illustrates why unnamed sources can be hard to resist.)
     
    But what should reporters do when people who know the most about a complex and troubled system are barred from speaking publicly? That's the case with child welfare, a system always under scrutiny, again since the death of Tina Fontaine. 
     
    In the years since Phoenix Sinclair's murder, I've talked to probably two dozen child welfare workers - some for hours, some for a few minutes, some over and over, all off the record. I don't think I've ever quoted one by name. When they're hired, child welfare workers sign gag orders barring them from speaking about their work. They say they would face discipline or termination if they spoke to a reporter, and their union agrees. They often give me information I can use to question the province or child welfare agencies, but sometimes I resort to the familiar "sources said."
     
    This blanket gag order protects the agencies, the authorities, the government and even First Nations chiefs who have some degree of control over child welfare services. I can't see how it protects children.
     
    I can understand barring CFS workers from revealing private, deeply personal information about kids and families in care. In my experience, CFS staff are incredibly careful not to do that. I once had a long and detailed conversation with a social worker from a northern agency who referred in passing to a death review done on a child she'd had contact with. I asked her which child, figuring I'd recognize the name. She would not tell me anything - not the gender, age, where the kid lived, whether we'd written about him or her before. She got mad that I even asked.
     
    Privacy, I get. What I don't get is why child welfare staff can't talk about the system - staffing levels, funding, programs, political interference, corruption, their own safety. Given the problems we've seen for a decade in child welfare, and the huge cost both in money and misery, there is a public interest in hearing from the people who know the system intimately and who might help us fix it. 
     
    Today, I did a story quoting two anonymous support workers who staff group homes. They raised fears about the quality of service provided by Complete Care, a for-profit firm that backfills group homes. I got two more phone calls this morning from group home staff who echoed all the same fears, which assuaged some of my anxiety about building a story around nameless people. The value in reporting their detailed experiences, especially in light of mounting evidence about Tina Fontaine's last days, outweighed my qualms about quoting them anonymously. They had credible, valuable, interesting first-hand information we couldn't get quickly any other way. 
     
    By the same token, social workers often feel, quite legitimately, that we pick on them, that they are blamed when things go wrong. Off-the-record conversations have been invaluable to me in mitigating some of that, in helping me understand the pressures, the case loads, the profound damage done to kids that no one worker can fix. On-the-record conversations with a face attached would help me explain that to the public.
     
    If real people were allowed to come forward, it might spur the kind of change we need in child welfare. It might prompt public support for the cash to invest, for example, in skilled shelter workers who are paid a decent enough wage to stay for a while, instead of contracting kids out to a temp firm.

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