The Sausage Factory

with Dan Lett

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  • What people will say to get elected....

    One of my favorite stories out of the long and arduous saga of the wrongful conviction of James Driskell has to do with the time then NDP justice critic Gord Mackintosh went to visit Driskell at Stony Mountain Penitentiary in the late 1990s. Driskell had been struggling to find evidence to overturn his 1991 first-degree murder conviction. Manitoba Justice (as it turned out) was doing everything it could to bury evidence showing he did not get a fair trial. During his visit to the big house, Mackintosh said that if he ever became justice minister he would surely do something to review Driskell's case.Fast forward to 2003 and not only is Mackintosh the justice minister, but Driskell has uncovered new evidence that casts doubt on his conviction. However, rather than fulfilling that earlier promise, Mackintosh honored the wishes of his senior prosecutors and did everything in the government's power to try and keep Driskell in jail, and to keep buried evidence of a miscarriage of justice. Ultimately, when reminded of his earlier pledge, Mackintosh and the NDP government did do the right thing and asked Ottawa to review the new evidence. That gesture helped tip the scale in a subsequent decision by then federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler in 2005 to overturn the conviction and declare Driskell officially a victim of wrongful conviction.I have never doubted Mackintosh's sincerity in his visit with Driskell. I feel comfortable with the conclusion that Mackintosh was only acting on the best advice of senior staff in the Public Prosecution office, and was honoring a tradition where the minister rarely interferes in matters that unfold in a court room. However, it does make you wonder what people will say to get elected.The current federal Conservative government has found itself in much the same situation. In a powerful and moving analysis published in this week's National Post , the ordeal of Joanna Gualtieri is examined in detail. Written by former MP David Kilgour, Health Canada whistle-blower Dr. Michele Brill-Ewards, former foreign affairs whistle-blower Brian McAdam and consultant David Hutton, the article recounts the war of attrition being waged by federal lawyers against Gualtieri, a former foreign affairs employee who blew the whistle on her own superiors for lavish and wasteful excess in the 1990s. Gualtieri claims she was ultimately forced from her job, and filed suit against the federal government.Recently, media reports documented how Gualtieri was forced to endure 31 days of examination at the hands of government lawyers, facing more than 10,500 questions. The former federal civil servant suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Twice, the Post reported, she collapsed during or after marathon examinations. Through all of this abominable treatment, she has paid her own legal bills; she has no union to help press her claim.What is particularly galling about the Gualtieri ordeal is that, although it began under Liberal watch, it continues under the very noses of aConservative party that promised to bring in whistle-blower protection as part of it's much vanunted anti-corruption measures. Of course, the final version of what would be known as the Accountability Act was significantly watered down, in large part by a flurry of amendments by the Liberal dominated Senate. (One such amendment limited the amount the government would pay in legal fees for a whistle-blower to $1,500. That kind of amendment seems like an act of conspiracy when you look at the way federal lawyers are trying to run out the clock on Gualtieri.)How could a Conservative government allow the tax-supported muscle of the federal justice department to eviscerate Joanna Gualtieri after promising to introduce a law to protect whistle-blowers? In 2006, she was mentioned by name in Conservative campaign literature discussing the anti-corruption measures that would be brought in should it form government. Prior to being elected, Gualtieri was a hero and a prime example of the need for whistle-blowing legislation. After being elected, she is apparently just another poor unfortunate citizen destined to be steamrolled by government.We have long known that politicians will say almost anything to get elected. It's not unfair for voters to expect that once in a while, they live up to the lofty ambitions of those promises once they achieve power.-30-
  • One hundred years from now, what will people think about...

    This comment from a reader, sent to various reporters and editors from the Free Press:"I am an active participant in my son’s daycare and recently received the results of a survey that outraged me! This survey stated that a person could make more money at McDonalds, Domo or Tim Horton’s than they could caring for and teaching my child in a daycare center. We’re talking about molding children into respectable, functioning, educated citizens and daycare is the first step to that. Early childhood education is HUGE! Who do we want the next generation to be? How can they become all they can when the Early Childcare industry is not attracting many people and those that do decide on that route, many leave quite quickly when faced with all the responsibility and low pay."As it's tax time, it's a reminder of the Conservative government's efforts to reform daycare. I will be accused of grossly simplifying the program, but in essence the Tories opted to give every family in the country $100 a month, $1,200 a year, to support whatever form of child care they wanted. So, if you chose to stay at home and care for your children, you get $100 a month. If you dolled out for child care, you got $100 a month.I acknowledge it's an issue on which opinions vary wildly. There are traditionalists who believe only a parent can provide child care and that daycare causes everything from ADD to sociopathic tendancies. There are more modern views that claim ECE prepares children better for school, while allowing men and women to pursue careers that make them more complete, fulfilled and happier taxpayers. There is also a strong argument to be made that our modern economy needs dual income families to fill important jobs and to contribute tax dollars to support our rapidly aging population.The reader's comments above raise an interesting question: Would a majority of Canadians support paying $100 a month to stay-at-home parents or using that money to improve the wages of Early Childhood Educators? Your comments are most welcome at this point.
  • Sometimes the faster it gets, the less you need to know...

    Yes, it's a line from an all-time favourite rock and roll song by the incomparable Tragically Hip. It's also been a personal mantra, at times, that reminds me how to get things done in a maelstrom. You see, the rest of the song reminds us that "The smarter it gets, the further it's going to go." So, without further commentary on whether I fall into the "less you need to know" or "smarter it gets" category, here are a few things drawing my attention, some of which will become columns in the dead-tree version quite soon.*****Public art budget cut. Seriously folks, if anyone thinks that cutting a few hundred thousand dollars from the budget for public art makes for a better city, you haven't travelled much. As noted in a Free Press editorial today, this is a perfect example of small-minded thinking.We don't spend a lot on art, and don't pay nearly enough attention to architecture for that matter. (Just consider the awful appearance of the Maryland and Sherbrooke bridges, gateway to River Heights and Crescentwood, one of the premier areas of the city. The bridges lwere completed renovated a couple of years back, but no effort was made to give the bridges some aesthetic appeal. Now, they look like highway overpasses. Shame.)Property taxes are high here, despite effective efforts to allow property values to rise while keeping a relative lid on taxes. But a community is not built solely on utilitarian infrastructure. You've got to add a few bells and whistles here and there.Would anyone visit Assiniboine Park (and the Leo Mol sculpture garden) if it were just an unkempt meadow? Would the Forks and its controversial/bold Riel Esplanade attract visitors if it was a bunch of empty warehouses and a muddy river bank? Many other communities continue to do what Winnipeg used to do, which was build buildings and public amenities that were functional and aesthetically intriguing.Public art is one of the most important expressions of what a community wants to express about itself. Winnipeg city council, apparently, wants the world to know this is a place without artistic merit or creativity. Now there's a tourism slogan.*****The Free Press reported this week a committee of trade experts, assembled by Mayor Sam Katz, advised that Winnipeg needs an internal freeway to promote transportation and international trade opportunities. The idea is not without merit. But it is so completely and utterly ridiculous to discuss the construction of an inter-city freeway without dealing with other transportation issues first.Yes, it would be great if citizens and long-haul trucks could move about the city in a less encumbered manner. But to spend even a dime more on expanding or extending freeways without delivering on a rapid transit plan is just plain dumb. This is a city that has been told over and over again that it cannot prosper without rapid transit. A city with a downtown that is surrounded by rivers, and accessible from three sides only by bridges (that cross either rivers or rail yards) this city needs a way of moving people in and out of downtown via rapid transit. And spare me the whining about how Winnipeggers won't use it - they will if it’s designed effectively from suburb to downtown destination, if the service is timely, if the equipment is top notch, and if it becomes unpleasantly expensive to drive our cars and park downtown. (The oil market will take care of the former, the city might think about a surcharge on the latter.)Mayor Sam Katz needs to stop unleashing blue-ribbon panels on issues in isolation, and focus more on a broad approach to transportation problems.*****I'm puzzled about the current battle between the city and the Manitoba Hotel Association over who gets the right to add a tax to hotel bills. Both the city and the MHA want a tax: the city to help fund Destination Winnipeg and create a reserve to fund future Winnipeg Convention Centre expansion; and the MHA to promote tourism. The hotels have the advantage of knowing the hotel and visitor industry normally charges, collects and spends this money in other cities. The city has the burden of knowing it spends millions each year to support Destination Winnipeg and the WCC.On that last point, the WCC continues to require a $2-million annual grant from the city to make ends meet. I have trouble figuring out that equation. I am searching for information from other cities about whether ALL convention centres operate at a loss. Conventions and other CC events bring in millions of dollars in tax revenue and economic activity, to be sure. But if the WCC is doing its job,, surely it could operate on a break-even basis. No?Apparently not. Stay tuned for more on this curious, troubling issue.*****Brandonites have once again rejected the construction of a casino within their city limits, this time in a plebiscite that was not manipulated beyond recognition with silly questions as was the case in the past. Good for Brandon - democracy has spoken. However, given that it's quite likely the casino will be built anyway, just outside of the city in a rural municipality with no reservations about legalized gambling, was this the right decision?Brandon worked itself into a lather twice before when debating the establishment of a casino in the Wheat City. The plebiscite may have been more transparent this time around, but as colleague Curtis Brown points out in this analysis, they haven't really rid themselves of casinos.The first nation sponsors of the casino, who have permission to build another gaming facility in WesMan, are likely to go ahead just outside of city limits, if early reports hold true. Now, Brandon will have a casino in its midst, but lose out on some of the direct economic benefits, like property and business taxes which, while not nearly as formidable as proponents would have you believe, are still pretty big.Brandonites are trapped between a rock and a poker chip on this one.-30-
  • I knew that guy in the minivan was to blame

    Much thanks to the Freakanomics guys who blog at the NYTimes website for this fascinating link on traffic jams.They noted this story from New Scientist about traffic jams and how they are caused. I expect this kind of research could do a lot to help cities program their traffic lights. For cities like Winnipeg who can't program their traffic lights yet, it's just hypothetically interesting.Please watch the video on the New Scientist site. It will explain to you what happens around Confusion Corner at 4;30 PM almost every weeknight of the year.
  • A great line, and half of a good idea

    So, I consumed way too much blogosphere to tell people that I have no real position on the Upper Fort Garry debate. I'm still having trouble getting my dander up about one side or the other. However, a recent post by one of my all-time favorite blogs, Comments Closed, really snaps off something very funny, and very profound:So, its stupid. A bunch of ridiculously wealthy Manitobans have started arm-twisting a Premier who loves having his arm-twisted. All so we can tear down some buildings and show the world we mean business by building a fur-trading fort. Seriously. Winnipeg is building a fur-trading fort.Okay, so I don't think it's so stupid, but that doesn't mean I don't recognize a good burn when I see one. It also made me think about a scene in Michael Moore's breakthrough documentary, Roger and Me. In one seen, the city fathers in Flint Michigan conjure a plan to turn their city into a major tourist attraction by building an exact replica of Flint in its glory years. The real downtown was a rat and crack infested oozing wound, but the city spent millions recreating downtown flint in an indoor amusement park. I've always thought that was a fantastic example of how misdirected some people are in their pursuit of the next big idea.Hey, perhaps I'm getting close to actually taking a position.*****A story in this morning's Globe and Mail describes a federal government plan to force oil sands projects and coal-fired electrical generating plants to spend money retrofitting their projects to caputre CO2. At first blush, it's a great plan.As the story notes, the oil sands projects in Alberta are expected to contribute 25 per cent of the entire country's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Canada's plan is to cut emissions by 20 per cent below 2006 levels by the middle of this century.A good start, but why does it seem that all the federal green programs put off the inevitable? Reduce emissions below 2006 levels by 2050? The mathematics of emission reductions appears to be a "smoke screen" (sorry) for the fact that we're moving at a glacial pace.In the end, forcing emission reductions later rather than sooner will just put Canadian businesses at a disadvantage in the future. The faster we retrofit heavy industry to reduce emissions, the more competitive we will be. In the future, those industries that have delayed investments in green technology to reduce emissions will be left behind; those who have made the changes will be sitting pretty. Surely it's a good idea to make the necessary changes now while oil is hovering near $105 a barrel and profits are flowing much faster than the bitumen is being excavated?I guess half of a good idea is better than a bad idea. I guess.-30-
  • More things that make me happy...

    It's one of those days where all the sticks that were dumped out on the floor this morning are starting to form patterns. Go figure - there are days when all I can see is a pile of sticks. Today, however, when I perused my favorite Manitoba political blogs, it was all about government and environmental policy. In no particular order......Blogging supersite Policy Frog has taken the current debate on whether to control the use of plastic grocery bags to a new level with this post. I'll one-up the Frog by suggesting the city take it's $15,000 public relations budget and buy a whack of reusable grocery bags and hand them out free one day each quarter at city buildings. It wouldn't be that much different a program to make heavily subsidized backyard composters available. The city sold them at a deep discount at locations around the city each spring for a couple of years. If the Frog is right about the unit cost, that 15K could buy a lot of resuable bags. Plus, you know how Winnipeggers love free stuff.*****Blogger Jim Cotton, who is now PITT, makes a fantastic observation here on what he believes is the wrongheadedness of the province's hybrid car rebate. Cotton is joined by Hacks and Wonks who points out here how Science and Technology Minister Jim Rondeau got so carried away trying to pump up the province's modest hybrid car rebate program, his rhetoric was showing.*****This one actually has nothing to do with the environment, but I wanted to note it nonetheless. Blogger R.U. Serious is much better than I am at posting YouTube videos on his blog. (I'll blame it on our crappy freeware, which is actually true) but in a post earlier this week, he included this fantastic spoof that had me rolling in the aisles for several minutes. With two brothers in sales of one form or another, this is going to make for some very funny chatter @ the next family reunion.-30-
  • I can't believe that you believe what you just said....

    The headline for today’s post comes from an actual question asked at a news conference I attended back in 1995 in Ottawa.The tobacco lobby had come to the nation’s capital to rant against the Liberal government’s proposed restrictions on tobacco advertising. To press its point, the lobby brought along a number of the race car drivers sponsored by cigarette-maker Players. There, the handsome (if not surprisingly diminutive) drivers told us that without Players, they wouldn’t have become the hotshots they had become. And despite the fact that every inch of their clothing was covered in logos for the cigarettes made by their sponsors, they all claimed they were not, you know, promoting tobacco use.This was the assertion made several times by Greg Moore, a successful driver who was tragically killed in 1999. Looking every inch the clear-eyed, smooth-skinned non-smoker he was, Moore insisted that he was not doing anything to convince race fans to smoke cigarettes. A grizzled reporter from the Canadian Press then asked the question of all news conference questions: “Mr. Moore. Quite frankly, I’m having trouble believing that you believe what you just said.”I was reminded of that event this morning while reading this article by conservative activist Ezra Levant in the National Post. Mr. Levant, stalwart of the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties, weighed in with a first-person rant to support the argument that the Conservative Party of Canada could never, ever have tried to bribe former MP Chuck Cadman into voting against the Liberals in 2005.To prove his point, Levant turned to an account of his now infamous 2002 battle with Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the Canadian Alliance nomination in Calgary Southwest. Levant had won the nomination in February of that year but when Harper was elected Alliance leader the next month, the party asked Levant to step aside to give Harper a clear, safe shot at entering the House of Commons in a by-election called for May. Levant argues in his Nat Post article (also posted on his website) that he knows the party did not try to bribe Cadman into bringing down the Liberal government because it refused to bribe him to give up the Calgary Souhtwest nomination.(I can only imagine the unbridled joy gripping Conservatives this morning now that Mr. Levant has taken up the cause of defending the Conservatives in a scandal that is fast becoming political quicksand. Especially since in his effort, Levant has decided to dredge up an event that, at the very least, was considered by many in the Alliance a black eye for the new leader.)To make Mr. Levant’s long story shorter, Harper did in fact ask him to step aside. Levant refused at first, but after the party howled and pleaded, he relented and gave up the nomination. By not adhering to (IMHO) one of the more honorable Parliamentary traditions - where backbenchers in safe seats step aside for leaders - Levant made Harper look like a hypocrite who was only interested in the much-celebrated “grass roots” as long as they didn’t queer his own career plans.What is most fascinating about Mr. Levant’s account of the behind-the-scenes negotiations with senior Alliance advisor Tom Flanagan was that he admits he asked for compensation. “So as it became clear that a conflict over Calgary Southwest was coming,” Levant wrote, “we put out feelers to Flanagan to see what consideration might be offered should I step aside. Would my nomination expenses be covered? Would I receive a paid position with the party? Would my personal debts be paid? Such crass inquiries were all but ignored by Flanagan, even as an embarrassing clash between us loomed in the media. In purely pragmatic terms, Flanagan had every incentive to give me an offer --even an offer he didn’t intend to keep -- just to make Harper’s entry smoother. But he didn’t.”By refusing Levant’s admittedly “crass” demands, Mr. Flanagan (one of the two men who visited Cadman) was demonstrating that he wasn’t then, nor could he ever be, in the business of buying someone’s allegiance or assistance.There are a couple of things Mr. Levant is not telling people in his article today. The first thing is that there was a good reason hea sked for financial compensation. In the Canadian political system, parties and riding associations maintain accounts containing hundreds of thousands of dollars of slush money that remains outside of the control of the Chief Electoral Officer. There are limits on what candidates can spend in any general election, but no limits on what they can raise. Thus, any money raised above and beyond campaign needs goes into the riding association bank accounts, or is remitted to national party accounts. Once there, it can be (and routinely is) spent on whatever the party wants it to be spent on, even though at the front end the donors did receive a government tax receipt.This has allowed parties to “compensate” people who need to be compensated. Leaders can be provided with a bit of extra money to pay for clothing and other personal expenses. Star candidates are lured into running with promises that any campaign debt will be magically paid off, or that personal expenses above and beyond what Elections Canada allows will be covered.Levant asked because he knew it was part of the way the game was played. Kudos to Flanagan for turning him down and forcing Levant to show some loyalty to a new party he admits was in turmoil. But to suggest that Flanagan couldn’t have tried to bribe Cadman because he didn’t agree to bribe Levant is a pretty long bow to draw. It also conveniently ignores the fact that Harper has acknowledged that the party did talk to Cadman about compensation, even though he denies it was a $1-million insurance policy.The Cadman story is slowly but surely working its way to the front line of discussions about which party will trigger the next federal election and why. Although it is hardly surprising the Conservatives tried to incent Cadman, the image of party bag men trying to entice a dying man into bringing down the Liberals is fast becoming a very heavy weight for Harper to carry around. Mr. Levant has done little to ease that burden with his article.All that having been said, I still find it pretty hard to believe that Levant believes what he’s saying. But I could be wrong.-30-
  • I've tried, but I can't help myself

    I've been unable to get a certain image out of my mind, which could be evidence that despite all my protests, I'm not a very nice person.Everytime I read about Lord Conrad Black going to prison, I see Mike Myers in Austin Powers in Goldmember as Dr. Evil singing and dancing with his version of Jay-Z's Hard Knock Life, a song originally from the musical, Annie.Like I said, it's probably just that I'm a bad man.-30-
  • Taxi Trouble

    The most recent attention over Winnipeg's taxi situation has summoned some interesting memories._MG_0845.jpg In 1986, the Free Press captured a moment at the Manitoba Legislature that I have framed and hung in my house.Then Workplace and Safety Minister Gerard Lecuyer is standing at the top of the grand staircase in the Legislature, surrounded by a ring of TV cameras, who are in turn surrounded by several hundred cab drivers. (As noted by a reader, the protest was in response to concerns about a murdered cab driver, and whether the province was doing enough to ensure the safety of other hacks. It was not about expanding licences.) It is a fantastic photo, one that captures the raw power of democracy (whether you agree with the protest or not) and the burden faced by all politicians.I have to wonder whether we'll see another such protest if the Taxi Board decides to consider expanding the number of licences, as it has said it is considering in this story. Winnipeg remains, for those of us lucky enough to visit other cities, the only city of its size or larger where you can't walk out on to a downtown street to hail a cab. Quite frankly, that's just not civilized.Stay tuned.*****A contest? Why not.I've compiled a decent pile of political books over the last year. You'll get your pick of the litter if you can identify the person in the above photo who in the years gollowing went on to find some fame and some fortune by penning a screenplay for a Hollywood movie.

  • Gunfight at the Upper Fort Garry Corral

    I must admit, I've had trouble figuring out where to come down on the Upper Fort Garry debate. I have watched from the sidelines as my colleague Gordon Sinclair has waged battle to preserve the historic site from being converted, in part, into a residential development. I've also consumed huge quantities of blog debate over the efforts of Gord and The Friends of Upper Fort Garry to get private and public funding to create a permanent historical site.To be honest, I was surprised at the hostility that this plan has generated. I understand this is a debate over public and private monies, and what they should best be used for, but I find it passing strange that when the Asper or Richardson families give money (as they do quite often) to some things, they are philanthropists. On other issues, like Upper Fort Garry, the philanthropists are now rich cry babies and bored millionaires. They are also, remarkably, portrayed as the opponents of progress, which is a difficult case to make after you consider the fact the core of The Friends are the sources of most of the private capital that gets invested in this city.Yes, it's true that The Friends were no where to be seen when the Fort was just falling into disrepair. And yes, they only came forward after a private developer proposed a development there. But I think that if the Aspers and Richardsons and some of the other Friends want to engage in a vanity project now and then, I'm okay with it based on all the other good they have done for this town. But that's just me.On a collateral note, I'm also quite surprised at the skepticism directed at The Friends for getting involved in the political game to get their project some money. I think it's become increasingly unfashionable for people to get involved in the political process, either as a supporter of an issue or a political party. It's too bad the people who don't like what they're doing couldn't find the same get up and go, and go down to City Hall and get their point across. I acknowledge that the supporters of high-end residential developments don't have much of a grass-roots lobby but perhaps they should consider starting one.That leads me to the media involvement. I remember quite clearly when the MTS Centre (aka True North Centre) was being built. There was a lot of flak directed towards the Free Press and other media outlets about championing the cause of the downtown arena development. I felt comfortable enough to tell people who didn't like the arena proposal, and who didn't like our support of it, to keep one point front and centre: it's not a conspiracy; we respectfully disagree. Gordie and radio station CJOB definitely support Upper Fort Garry. On the editorial page of the Free Press, the editorial board is more skeptical and would like to see a public-private partnership develop the site. The news coverage is, I submit, fairly balanced but in the end, the bias of the stories is whatever the people reading it want it to be. That is to say - once you write a story in the newspaper, you have to concede that people will read into it things that you never intended. This past week, the story was about a public campaign to raise money for the project. Some may feel our news stories were not critical enough, but that's certainly because they believe the project is pure folly. Fair enough.The bigger question here is whether or not it is responsible for a media outlet to campaign for a community issue. That is something that is constantly debated in a mainstream media outlet. Getting on the bandwagon is not a modern invention; in fact, if anything it's a throwback to a time when newspapers were more political, partisan and self-interested in public policy and economic development.The Free Press has been a champion of certain issues - especially downtown redevelopment (despite our abysmal decision to flee to suburban industrial park) - and we've lived with the fallout. Those who agree with us think we're fabulous; those who disagree think we're the guys who planned Watergate. The bottom line here, IMHO, is that anyone who tells you that a newspaper's ONLY job is to be blindly objective either doesn't understand the history of journalism, or is just plain pissed off that no one at the newspaper agrees with them. Newspapers have always had many parts to them, with many different mandates. News pages, columnists and editorial writers will occasionally align on an issue. More frequently, they exist at odds with each other on most issues. Keeping all this in mind makes you a better consumer of the news.Which brings me to another issue. The results of the Free Press Insider's Reader's Panel on the Upper Fort Garry issue is certainly worth noting. The Insider's is a voluntary panel of readers who have agreed to be polled on major issues on a continuing basis. I would never suggest it's science, but it's a step up from the hot-button daily reader polls many newspapers use. Why? Because it's harder, not impossible, but harder to hijack the Insiders. On the fort issue, three out of four Insiders want the property kept as a historic site. The sample was more than 3,000 readers. Not science, but worth considering.Now, as to what The Friends are proposing. This is the toughest part of the equation because, frankly, I've never been entirely satisfied that a historical site is all that much better than an architecturally appropriate development that tries to blend new commercial development with historical site. I like historical sites, not as much as my wife, whose fondness for "old things" as I call it knows no bounds. I think a historic site is completely appropriate for the plot of land under discussion. It's close to the River Walkway, the Forks and the Manitoba Legislature. I would also support the expenditure of public monies for a project like this. We don't build communities to be proud of by focusing solely on potholes; projects like the fort are part of defines us.So, after weighing all these issues. where would I come down on this? It's a worthy goal to save the site, and if The Friends can find the money, then we should thank them for not only taking charge on this issue but putting in the spade work to get it done. If the money and thus the support, the city and province should ensure the aforementioned commercial development maintains that balance between historic public space and upscale residential.I also think it's quite alright for Gord Sinclair, or other opinion writers, to get behind the project. That kind of support is completely transparent and as readers, you're all free to agree or disagree with the individual writer's arguments. Gord isn't right when he advocates the salvation of Upper Fort Garry. He's just passionate.Bottom line - I like the idea of filling in old parking lots with real development, and restoring historic sites. As long as it's something that generates visitors - I'm all for it. Whether it's a historical site, or a blended commercial-public project, is of less concern to me. On that note, I submit a final word from my favorite magazine.This fantastic story from the New Yorker on efforts to save a historically significant building from demolition reminded me a bit of the Upper Fort Garry debate. I have recommended this story to many people, and there always seems to be a slightly different reaction from each person who has taken the time to read it. You will find what you want to find in this story - sadness at the destruction of a unique, historic building, or frustration at the hoops that private developers are forced to go through when they are opposed by fanatics.I hope you all find what you're looking for.-30-
  • Yikes

    Two catastrophic computer implosions and a sun-and-fun holiday, and it's been ..... too long since my last entry. Much to say, and so little time to say it. Here goes.If you haven't, you should read a New Yorker article by Eric Alterman entitled The death and life of the American newspaper. It is a fantastic examination of the challenges facing newspapers, the most mainstream of the so-called MSM, and the opportunities that exist for these organizations in the on-line world. Perhaps most interesting of all, however, is the critical analysis of the contrasting roles of and conflicting relationships between MSM and the alternative media, in particular the blogging community.The article correctly points out that dead-tree editions of traditional newspapers are dying; fewer people are spending less and less time reading newspapers and are turning more and more to getting their news (albeit in smaller bites) on line. There is also an acknowledgement that the more progressive MSM outlets are moving more and more of their resources on line, to reflect the new economic reality.However, the article also examines the relationship between the traditional media and the alternative media, and discusses the good, the bad and the truly ugly that results from the oddly symbiotic relationship between the two.While public confidence in the MSM is declining, and consumption of the alternative media is increasing, Alterman and some of the notable people he quotes, including Arianna Huffington, front woman for the Huffington Post, do not believe that traditional media as a source of content is going the way of the dinosaur. In fact, the evolution of on line news and information is really in its infancy. The economics of providing on-line news is still evolving, as are the standards for the collection and publication of information. In this regard, both the MSM and alternative media voices have a lot of work to do, Alterman suggests.Alterman notes that while traditional news outlets and their journalists have lost credibility as elite insiders, there are concerns about whether on-line alternative media personalities have either the credibility or the tools to do the same job, or a better job, in a different form. There are success stories. Alterman correctly fetes the most successful new media journalists, including Joshua Micah Marshall's influential Talking Points Memo site which is widely credited with breaking the story of the firing of federal justice department lawyers who were considered politically inconsistent with the Bush administration's politics. Marshall not only set a new standard for alternative media reporting, but became the first blogger to win a George Polk Award, one of the most important journalism awards in the United States. Marshall has demonstrated that the form of media is not as important as the standard of the work.However, the article argues that most blogging sites neither aspire to Marshall's level of journalism, nor employ the resources to compete at that level. Many bloggers will cite heavily from the New York Times coverage of the war in Iraq, Alterman notes, but bear none of the burden of the $3-million cost of maintaining the Times' bureau in Baghdad.This is not just Alterman's opinion, but a view shared by some of the more notable bloggers. Although "reader driven" news reporting has the potential to expose quality control issues in the mainstream media, including our over reliance on "professional sources" that have lost touch with the sensibilities of the ordinary citizen, most blogging sites are simply not sources of original information. They merely aggregate news from other sources (mostly MSM sources) and offer opinion and criticism. This "parasitic" relationship between blogging sites and MSM, as Alterman describes it, is perhaps the biggest point of conflict between the two communities, and one of the greatest unresolved issues on a go-forward basis.To extrapolate Alterman's analysis locally, you can see the Free Press and other media outlets moving more content on line to better meet the needs of its audience. You can also see a flurry of alternative media bloggers who feed daily off of what we and other MSM outlets produce. As has been discussed in the Sausage Factory before, this is a new dynamic that challenges the age-old tradition in the MSM of not reviewing or criticizing the work of other MSM outlets. Alternative media voices do not see the virtue in that tradition, and we in the MSM need to recognize that the "policing" of the MSM by bloggers is a reflection of the new relationship the media has with its audience thanks to advances in information technology.And really, even if it is parasitic in nature it is not without its virtue. Alternative media critics may not agree, but MSM outlets are actually no strangers to criticism. In large part, however, that criticism has been delivered in more discrete packages. Critical letters to the editor are part of the tradition of any good newspaper, but the longer and more robust criticism which appear in blogs are a new experience for the traditional journalist. As is the exuberant, often profane, commentary from some on-line communities that riff off the bloggers. Although alternative media critics should be concerned about the standard of debate they are encouraging, the ability of our audience to react to and debate the veracity and quality of our work is a reality now, and something no legitimate journalist should fear.(One digression about the alternative media's role as critic: in our stodgy, out-of-date methodology, we in the MSM put a high price on contacting the people we want to sandbag to ask for a comment. Many bloggers do not see the benefit or the value in doing this. Not all bloggers ascribe to this approach; the folks at Comments Closed,, for example, do regularly offer comments, ask questions and seek further explanation about some of the things I write. Good on them.)Alterman did not deal with the issue of anonymity head on, but after reading his article I think there is a strong argument for a more robust debate among self-identified alternative media sources about those alternative media outlets that hide behind pseudonyms. One of the things that make Talking Points Memo a legitimate source of news is that Marshall identifies himself, and his contributors, and their politics. He admits he is a left-leaning commentator and with a liberal bias. He is regularly quoted in a wide range of media outlets. He does not hide behind a clever handle like a computer hacker.The alternative media may not appreciate, nor respect, the creeping influence of the MSM in the on-line news revolution. Certainly, there are still many in the MSM who do not believe the on-line or alternative media is a legitimate source of news. But it appears that for better or worse, and for the foreseeable future, we are going to be partners in evolution of journalism.Let the games begin.-30-
  • Coast to coast crime

    This past week, our good friends at the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party unleashed a direct-mail campaign accusing the NDP government of being soft on crime. "Your family is not safe!" the Tory pamphlet blared out. The ad campaign is really a triumph of hyperbole over fact, but that's politics for you. However, in light of the Tory campaign to get us to stay indoors, all the time, I thought I'd dust off a greatest hit from last year's blogging posts.A while back, I took a Saturday morning and surveyed every major daily newspaper in the country to come up with the worst crime story in each paper that day. I wanted to show some of the chicken little's in Winnipeg that crime is a problem EVERYWHERE, not just in our fair city. So happy, was I, with the results that I promised to myself I'd do it again. So without further delay, here is another instalment of coast-to-coast crime:In St. John's, Newfoundland, police are still looking for the people responsible for the slaying of a 12-year-old girl. As you can see in this story from the St. John's Telegram, the investigation is not going very well.In Fredericton, New Brunswick, the provincial government is on the hot seat in this story from the Daily Gleaner detailing how the family of a mentally ill teenager have aunched a lawsuit for failing to protect their son. The boy was jailed, sexually abused and restrained with the use of Tasers while in the custody of provincial officials.In Montreal, Quebec a senior city police officer was fined $750 for punching a suspect in custody. The story in the Montreal Gazette notes that the judge in the case was quite concerned the officer, with more than two decades experience, was the officer in charge on the night in question.In Toronto, we find chilling account in the Toronto Star of a first-degree murder conviction of three gang members who shot another man in revenge for an earlier killing. Particularly chilling is the account of the reaction of the three men when the judge imposed the automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.Although it's not really a tale of horrific crime, this story from Regina certainly adds a new twist to an old crime. Six first nation men on trial for running a pot grow-op argued they were producing the illegal herb as traditional medicine for first nation people. First nation readers of the Leader Post weren't buying it, as you can see in this well-written story.In Calgary, the streets may be paved with black gold, but there are still homeless people and one died in a shelter last week after being savagely beaten, as you can see in this account in the Calgary Herald.In Vancouver, the gangland executions just keep on coming. In this horrifying story in the Vancouver Sun, we learn about how a man was shot to death as he sat in a minivan downtown. Police are calling this a targeted attack.The Tories may think it's not safe anywhere in Manitoba, but I think most people in Manitoba and throughout the country realize they are not in immediate danger. Yes, crime sucks. But so does fear mongering.-30-
  • Fresh from the teletype....

    Another day, another wave of fantastic material to work with. Consider the following gems....Every read something so good, you desperately wish you wrote it. Well, I'm totally lovin' this. Yes, if we could only find a way to battle obesity AND rehabilitate infrastructure, we'd all be better off. Anyone who has seen me lately knows I'm ready for the chain gang.*****Ottawa finally decides to do what everyone knows we should be doing, by banning these. But 2010? Good lord that's a long time, and a lot of irreparably damaged water table away, no?*****I know the new Conservative government is dead-set on eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board but isn't today's news a new cause for concern about this policy? The CWB reported that 91 per cent of their record revenue haul went to farmers. I guess those wheat growers in southern Alberta are upset about not getting the other nine per cent.-30-
  • Go trans-it, Go trans-it...

    According to this story the CIty of Toronto is getting more buses to increase ridership. Take a look at the very last line of the story to see the subsidy per ride in the country's busiest rapid transit service.Your thoughts appreciated at this point.-30-
  • When stories collide

    I love reading newspapers, in large part because regular attention to the printed media can provide to the reader a broad relief map of the news. Page to page and day to day, you can scan stories from Winnipeg and the rest of the world and connect the dots between issues.I had that experience just this week when three stories on different days collided. First, just this morning I read a very good story by colleague Joe Paraskevas about a report on its way to city councillors with a stern message to consider raising property taxes. Winnipeg has enjoyed a property tax freeze for more than a decade. This is thanks in part to provincial funding efforts, and some intestinal fortitude at city hall. But as the cost of repairing basic infrastructure continues to rise, and revenues remain relatively stagnant, something's gotta give, according to the report.A stark statistic in that story: Winnipeg actually collects $58 million less in property taxes now than it did in 1998. For all those who think the city is a wasteful monstrosity, name another business that could operate with that kind of revenue trend.Large corporate entities, of which the city is one, should always strive to do more with less but there is a point where that equation is no longer legitimate. Without an effort to modernize revenue streams for the city, we're all headed to a crumbling, pot-hole-filled, decaying future.If that wasn't enough to freeze the property taxpaying blood in my veins, I was confronted by a Statistics Canada report telling me that Winnipeg's infrastructure is second oldest in Canada, next to Saskatchewan. At an average age of 17.1 years, our bridges, roads, water and wastewater systems and sewer networks are about one year older, on average, than the rest of Canada. That year doesn't seem like much, but it certainly underlines the concern that our infrastructure is going to fail much sooner than it will in other jurisdictions, and we're one of the least prepared from a fiscal point of view.How interesting then that Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard should surface a day earlier with a proposal to have the province contribute $75 million to Winnipeg to jump start a rapid transit plan. Grand designs for a rapid bus freeway were shelved when current Mayor Sam Katz came to power. The Free Press story notes that although Katz spearheaded a plan to set aside the most recent Winnipeg Transit fare hike in a reserve account for rapid transit, there are no immediate plans to proceed with any specific project.Gerrard may be, as many Grit insiders have suggested, a lame-duck leader, but he is no dummy. He knows that rapid transit is not just a good investment for environmental reasons, it also takes vehicles off roads which means those roads last longer, and require less repairs and reconstruction. How refreshing that he should remind Winnipeggers of the critical need for both rapid transit and new revenue to get it done. (Perhaps Dr. J sees a future in municipal politics? There's a fascinating prospect to consider.)No, the city doesn't have enough money to take care of basic services and infrastructure. And yes, that's a bigger problem here because that infrastructure is already among the oldest in Canada. And finally, yes, (IMHO) the province should help prime the pump at Winnipeg City Hall on a rapid transit plan.Two days, three different stories. But all connected to the same issue, and reaching somewhat the same conclusion.Now, if only leadership at city hall and the Manitoba Legislature could make the same connection.-30-
  • Some of my favorite things

    Me and my family were particularly moved by a recent CBC Marketplace investigation about the relative advantages and disadvantages of all-season tires. Turns out there is no such thing as a tire that works well in summer and winter, but tire makers continue to make us believe there is such a thing. When you examine accidents like the one involving Lisa Klassen this week, makes you wonder if snow tires would prevent a lot of mishaps like this from ever happening. Lamentably, Quebec is the only province that legally requires snow tires. Perhaps MPI could get on the snow tire bandwagon by offering discounts to people who can prove they use them four or five months of the year?Meanwhile, my seven-year-old son, who saw the Marketplace piece, asks me every other day when we're getting snow tires. If a wee fellow like him gets it, shouldn't we all get it?*****If you haven't, please stop by Rise and Sprawl, a new blog (new to me at least) that is a wonderful source of intelligent thought about urban planning and other issues related to the quality of life in Winnipeg. Particularly engaging his the author's discussion of the impact of an allegedly soon-to-opn Starbucks on Portage and Main.I'll admit to being a Starbucks junkie, although my attraction to the chain has less to do with the coffee (nothing says 'good morning' like a $5 cup of joe!) and more to do with the wifi. I travel and it's too darn convenient to know that I have a wifi connection that works at every Starbucks in the entire world.I'm particularly interested to see if Starbucks is going for street traffic, or just trying to suck the coffee drinkers out of the Winnipeg Square concourse. Stay tuned.*****A recent article in the New Yorker magazine provides a fascinating take on how something simple can really be the key to better health care. Particulary fascinating is the observation by the author that a medical researcher figured out a way to use something widely employed by wedding planners, accountants and moving companies to save life and limb in hospitals.The article is proof, IMHO, of a new idea in health care: it's not just about how many doctors and nurses and other resources we have, it's about how we use those resources. You'll be reading more in the Free Press in days to come about how the way in which we employ the resources in the health care system often determines the outcome. Waste, duplication, turf wars, dysfunctional information technology and politics in the medical professions do as much to delay or impair care as a lack of doctors and nurses. Stay tuned.-30-
  • An ongoing debate

    Perhaps this entry represents my inability to keep my blogging resolution, or perhaps it's just my contribution to what is becoming a fascinating debate. I'm sure y'all will let me know. But after resolving NOT to comment on every single blog entry that dumps on me or the Free Press, I am motivated to toss another two cents on to the heap.I "limped" back into the blogging game recently with an entry that discussed, among other things, my intention to focus more on interesting stuff, and less on the sniping and verbal abuse that seems to pervade some blogs, particularly those that deal with politics and public policy. I referenced a long-standing mainstream media canon about not commenting on the veracity or tone of other media outlets, which stands in contrast to the predisposition in the blogosphere to spend a lot of time and effort critiquing mainstream media.Two fascinating responses appeared to my born-again manifesto. First, a fellow named Spirted Kenny really let me have it in his entry Mainstream vs. Alternative Media: The Final Battle. In Spirited's opinion (or is that Mr. Kenny?), your humble author is a cop out for not calling out other reporters or columnists for presenting warped truths or manipulating facts. This ability to police other media, Mr. Kenny submits, is a core function of the alternative media, of which blogs are certainly a key pillar. Otherwise, Mr. Kenny writes, we are left with "Status quo. Lets not challenge things, lets not ask questions, lets just keep doing what we have always done and things will be all right. No person, company, or country has every accomplished anything great by just doing the status quo."The debate continued on R.U. Serious Blog in a pointed, if slightly less abusive way. The author in this entry raises some very valid questions about the roles of reporters versus columnists, a differentiation that often (I agree) leads to confusion among readers. The author notes however that what drives the blogosphere's vigilant criticism of mainstream media is less a need to be mean spirited than it is an expression of concern. It's not, the author says, "that they (bloggers) fancy themselves as the alternative media, or the true source of news, teller of tales the MSM won’t tell, but that there doesn’t seem a hell of a lot of Jack Webb style “Just the fact’s ma’am” news reporting out there that let’s the listener/reader/viewer filter the facts through their own filters of life experience."To deal with the last blog entry first, R.U. raises a very good point. The antidote to bias, or manipulation, is to be found (IMHO) in consuming multiple sources of information. I often tell groups who have asked me to speak to them about media and politics that no single news organization has the responsibility to make readers/viewers fully informed. I know there is a lot of marketing hype out there ("The only source for news you'll ever need!!!!") but honestly, what intelligent person could remain in that state by reading one newspaper daily, or watching one television news program? Consuming, and contemplating, multiple versions of a story will immunize the consumer against bad journalism.As for bias, everyone has a set of values and varying experiences through which all events are viewed. I remember recently toying with the idea of a column that lambasted Ottawa city council for ending funding for a clean needle program. Before I could muster the words, colleague Tom Brodbeck at the Winnipeg Sun wrote a piece lauding Ottawa for getting rid of the clean needle program. I decided to move on to another subject, but there was an issue where I believe the words "truth" and "bias" are really meaningless. I felt strongly that Ottawa should have supported the program, Tom disagreed. Perhaps Spirited Kenny could tell me who was being truthful in that debate?While I accept the benefits of an alternative media acting as watchdog for the mainstream media, the most vociferous watchdogs continue to, I believe, miss part of the point when it comes to the mainstream ethic of avoiding criticism of other media. Mr. Kenny believes good journalists should "have the balls" to call out rogue journalists who abuse fact or truth. I would humbly submit that value of good journalism to democracy does not come from being able to shout the loudest. If there is value in journalism, it comes out of the construction of a persuasive argument that moves public opinion AFTER - and this is the most important part - AFTER the public has considered all points of view.The reason we in the ball-less mainstream media don't spend that much time commenting on what other media do is because all news outlets - and alternative news sources for that matter - should have an opportunity to join the debate on any given subject. Solid journalists of any philosophical background or medium should never fear, or loathe, someone of an alternative opinion. Bury them with your own fact and logic, and respect the fact you have to share the stage. I know that is presumptuous when one journalist gets access to a big organization like the Free Press and others don't. But isn't the beauty of the on-line journalism community the fact that technology is helping citizen journalists jump into the game with old-school, bricks-and-mortar news outlets?The warmest of thanks to both R.U. and Spirited Kenny for keeping the debate going.-30-
  • Absurdity in all its splendor

    The newspapers are buzzing this morning with Hillary Clinton's desperate efforts to apologize for comments her husband made on the weekend. Former President Bill Clinton said that black voters in South Carolina had only voted for Democratic leadership hopeful Barack Obama because, wait for it, he's black.Hillary was forced to suggest her husband slipped up, and that he could be suffering from sleep deprivation. Why would Mrs. Clinton devote so much energy to disowning her husband's comments? Sheldon Alberts wonderfull written account of it today in the National Post notes that Clinton's campaign is worried that by making these comments, the former president had "pushed the issue of race to the forefront of the Democratic contest."Wuh? With a truly viable African-American candidate vying to lead one of the two mainstream political parties in the U.S., perhaps it's safe to say that race has been, and will continue to be, an issue in this leadership campaign and, perhaps, a subsequent presidential campaign. If race and gender weren't genuine issues that confound the U.S. electorate, an African-American or a woman might have been elected president already.What is most disturbing about Clinton's apology is that it seems to suggest that she believes her husband was suggesting that black voters were being simple-minded, even stupid, about choosing an African American candidate over a better qualified woman just because he was African American. If that's true, the apology was as bad as his original statement. That in an of itself is hardly surprising; it was Mrs. Clinton who suggested earlier in the race that former President Lyndon B. Johnson had done more for the civil rights movement than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It might be an issue worthy of debate, but in the heat of a political race, Clinton surely showed she does not understand the meaning of the word tact.Such is the inherent aburdity of issues such as race and gender. In Canada, I believe these issues are reasonably well contained, despite our equally pathetic record of electing women and minorities. In the last Manitoba general election, for example, the NDP elected a record number of women candidates. NDP strategists suggested this was an election where "women stepped up and elected women" to the legislature. I don't remember anyone suggesting that the NDP believed women voters were lacking in intelligence or discretion by voting for female role models.I think it's reasonable to assume that black voters would be attracted to a legitimate black candidate as a role model, just as women tend to support strong women candidates as role models. While Obama drew more than 80 per cent of African American voters in the South Carolina primary, Mrs. Clinton drew the majority of women. So there.And we certainly know that white voters tend to favor white candidates. Just look at any legislature in this country for the evidence.As an early prediction, I'll suggest that Obama will triumph over Clinton. Which is too bad in a way. Four years of President Hillary and the unruly first husband would make for fantastic copy.-30-
  • Better Luck Next Time...

    It's Saturday morning, the coffee is just starting to kick in and my "Best of 07" playlist is blaring. And best of all, I'm keeping my 2008 resolution to continue blogging. "My name is Dan Lett, and I'm a lazy blogger. I have been blogging again for two days....."Perhaps they should try to organize a one-car parade firstThe federal Liberal Party in Manitoba was supposed to hold its annual general meeting this weekend in Brandon. Problem is, the party forgot to tell party members. Up take on the event was so poor, it was cancelled. Now, as the party scrambles to maintain a beach head in Manitoba, it's got a bit of a public relations mess on its hands.Party brass portrayed this as an unavoidable perfect storm of conditions - bad weather, competing events in Brandon and the simple fact that a good number of Liberals would likely choose an open-bar happy hour at a Cozumel hotel over the salad bar at the Royal Oak Inn. Truth is, the event was poorly planned, and poorly advertised. The Grits pretty much got what they deserved this time around.This is NOT necessarily indicative of Liberal support in Manitoba. Winnipeg South Centre Grit MP Anita Neville recently drew more than 250 to a fundraiser. The secret of Neville's success? She held the even in Winnipeg .The timing of this gaffe is very bad. The Grits are going to be in tough to keep their two Winnipeg seats - Winnipeg South and Winnipeg St. Boniface - and trapsing off to Brandon was the last thing they should have been doing. Several Grit sources commented that taking the AGM outside of Winnipeg was something the party did when it was in power.Note to Liberals: those days are over.-30-
  • Here today, gone to Costa Rica tomorrow

    There has been much speculation about Brian Pallister's recent announcement he was retiring from politics. There was a strong theory at work that Pallister was considering a return to provincial politics, which would likely be bad news for current provincial tory leader Hugh McFadyen. If appearances can be trusted, this appears to be more of a "Freedom 55" kind of thing for Pallister than a back-door back into provincial politics.Turns out Pallister is building a vacation house in Costa Rica. With a successful family business that provides insurancce and financial planning to retiring farmers, and now a getaway cottage in a warm climate, it doesn't appear that Brian needs either the life demands or grief of a life in politics.Best of luck Brian in your new life.-30-

About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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