The Sausage Factory

with Dan Lett

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  • Not again....

    He's doing IT again. Sheesh.-30-
  • Who's stupid enough?

    I rarely cover the same ground here that I do in dead-tree columns, but there is a fascinating debate raging about Bill 38, the NDP's amendments to the Balanced Budget Law, and quite frankly I'm not sure I could sell my editor on back-to-back Bill 38 columns for the newsprint edition. So, operating on the basis that I didn't explain myself properly the first time, some additional thoughts.Does Bill 38 provide the NDP, or any government for that matter, with a free pass to increase spending? It does allow for deficit financing but the argument is whether the NDP, or any government, would actually do that? In fascinating email exchange with a senior Tory staffer that went on for most of Friday, it was mutually decided this was the central issue with Bill 38 - is it just a tactic to allow a government of the day to deficit finance on the operations side, and hide it with surpluses on the consolidated financial statement side found in the gaudy reserves of crown corporations?The Tory staffer said yes, it would definitely do that. And you could count on it happening because, well, the NDP were in power and they are famous for deficit financing. Just look at what they did in the 1980s. Personally, I don't think you can stamp the double-ought version of the NDP with that label. It's as fallacious as, let's say, claiming that all Tory governments, including one led by current leader Hugh McFadyen, would drastically cut spending on health care and education because that's what former Tory Premier Gary Filmon did.Provincial governments govern for the times. In the 1990s, it was all about slaying the deficit. Ottawa did this by cutting transfer payments for health care and education. The provinces followed suit (what could they do?) and cut spending on health care and education. I do not for a minute believe that Filmon believed this was the best thing to do; it was the only thing he could do under the circumstances.If this was 1985, and Gary Doer was Howard Pawley, then you could see a NDP government rushing to take advantage of this new opportunity to overspend. But it's not. And without inflating anyone's sense of self-worth, the media (mainstream and alternative) are not about to let any government get away with deficit financing on the operations side. Forget about Balanced Budget Law - consider how the electorate would punish a government that spent without good justification. General elections are the litmus tests of government policy. If you can't justify a decision to spend excessively, you're likely to get turfed.And for those leaping to their feet to claim the NDP is overspending wildly, I'll sugget you look at the provincial budgets for the other nine provinces over the past decade. As Ottawa has increased transfer payments, the provinces have spent that money. It is certainly reasonable to debate whether that money earmarked for health, education and social services should have been used to lower taxes or pay debt, but you should acknowledge that it is now fashionable for the provinces to spend the money for what it was intended. Just as it was fashionable (or necessary) to cut spending in the 1990s.One last point. Several "alternative" media commentators have suggested this theory is flawed (fair enough) because the electorate is essentially too stupid and uninterested to hold anyone accountable. One even went so far as to call voters "uneducated" and thus unable to make an informed decision about government finances. To those commentators, I humbly point out that you're on a slippery slope.Implying that the great unwashed is too stupid or uninformed to know what's going on is supposed to be a classic mistake made by the mainstream media. You know the refrain - mainstream media is solely focused on the limited opinions of the chattering class because the public does not understand an issue well enough to make an informed comment or decision. I think the allegation is actually quite valid in some areas of the mainstream media.However, this admittedly mainstream commentator believes this IS an issue the public understands. And while I join alternative commentators in lamenting the poor turnout in elections, we still have hundreds of thousands of passionate, informed people casting votes every four years. What has the alternative media come to when it turns on the very people it claims to serve in ways the mainstream media cannot? Shame.I have wagered a bottle of 15-year-old Scotch with the Tory staffer that the NDP are not stupid enough to run up deficits on the operations side, which I believe would give the Tories a free pass to victory in the next election. He thinks they are that stupid, and he comes by his opinion honestly. One of us is going to be delightfully drunk on the next election night.-30-
  • Making a bad situation worse

    I rarely ever use this kind of language to describe a decision by any government, but THIS is wrong, wrong wrong.The decision to appeal is a triumph of small-minded ideology over reasoned judicial consideration and effective public health. A banner day for the federal government, and the country.-30-
  • An unlevel playing field

    Many of the shrill crime-and-punishment activists in our community likely sneer whenever private lawyers complain about the fees paid to them under the provincial legal aid program. The province recently boosted those rates by 40 per cent but for many types of cases, the pay is still ridiculously low. It is like this all over the country.What tough-on-crime advocates forget, however, is that low legal aid fees create a constitutional crisis in the justice system in that it denies the accused a right to a fair trial. This unfairness is created by the fact that lawyers working FOR government get paid many, many times more than lawyers working for defendants.The Canadian Press reports today that lawyers representing the accused in national-security cases are being paid about $90 per hour to represent four Arab-Canadian men scheduled for deportation. However, the federal government pays private lawyers $275 an hour to help them review and assess evidence in the same case.This injustice is played out daily across the country. Lawyers representing accused get a pittance, while contract lawyers acting as special prosecutors get six-figure retainers and fees that add up to a rate that is many, many times more than the lawyers they are opposing.Perhaps to ensure a level playing field, the provincial and federal governments should start paying special prosecutors and contract counsel the same rates as legal aid lawyers. The inability of government to find a lawyer to work for those rates might finally convince them to start funding the court system in a way that is fair commensurate with the importance of the work done on both sides of a court case.-30-
  • There are two kinds of stupid....

    A long time ago a colleague made an observation to me about the two kinds of stupid that I have frequently quoted in my days as a journalist."There is running around naked in your living room. And then there is running around naked on the front lawn."The first is, generally speaking, none of my business. The second is, well, certainly worth a look.I think we know where Maxime Bernier was running around.-30-
  • Too much information?

    One of the drawbacks of being a politician, especially an elderly politician, is that your medical history is apparently fair game for the public.Sen. John McCain, who continues to campaign aimlessly for president as he awaits a Democratic opponent, was forced to release his medical records to the media in a bid to show voters he is, despite his nearly 72 years on the planet, healthy enough to govern the last Superpower.We know from release of his records that he has seen no recurrence of the skin cancer he once experienced, but has suffered from colon polyps and kidney stones. McCain's doctor, the fellow who regularly looks up the chute to see if the polyps have returned, expressed nothing but optimism for the senator's prognosis.Wow. That is really too much information.This extraordinary sharing of information is, of course, a reflection of modern politics and media, where almost nothing is considered off the radar screen. It is also a reflection of the conflicting tendancies of the voting publlic to both embrace older candidates and worry about whether they are healthy enough to govern.At 72 (in August), McCain could be the oldest first-term president ever elected. Canada has regularly elected Prime Ministers in their 60s or older. Paul Martin was 63 when he was finally made Prime Minister in December 2003. Martin replaced Jean Chretien, who was 69 at the time.When Chretien returned to politics in the early 1990s to campaign for prime minister, he faced much of the same scrutiny now experienced by McCain. Chretien had a cancer scare in 1991 while out of politics, and there was some speculation he was not up to the task of leading Canada. In an exchange on a campaign plane during the 1997 federal election, Chretien treated reporters (me included) to a story about how his advisors decided to quash rumours of his ill health by inviting a photographer to the family's cottage in Quebec to take pictures of the aspiring prime minister water skiing.Chretien has been an accomplished water sportsman most of his life. But at 60 years of age, could he still carve up the water? The iconic image of a grimacing Chretien, skiing slalom on a solo ski, certainly put to an end any concern about his well being and set the stage for his impressive decade-long run as PM.I know he's much younger, but has Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a physical lately? If so, can Canada's new government explain why we haven't seen the results of his colonoscopy and some blood work? Are they trying to hide something? And perhaps Liberal Leader Stephane Dion could pee in a cup provided by the National Press Gallery.The life of a big-time politician is many things, but it's never dull.-30-
  • Questions du jour

    Today is one of those days when all I have is questions, no answers. In no particular order:Doesn't the exclusion of Michigan and Florida delegates from the Democratic presidential nomination process create the possibility of an illegitimate result? Both states held primaries before the official start of primary season, against party edict. As a result, Barack Obama did not campaign in either state, and took his name off the ballot in Michigan. Hillary Clinton won both, of course, and now wants the results counted or a re-vote. I know those two states broke the rules, and perhaps as some have argued it wouldn't have stopped the Obama train from pulling into Denver as the rightful nominee, but it just doesn't feel right.*****I'm not a fan of inflation, but isn't there something hopeful about the fact that astronomical energy and base metal prices have pushed the price of bullets through the roof? Perhaps, just maybe, if bullets get to be too expensive, gun nuts will turn to a less harmful hobby like raising rabbits or racing tractors. Fewer gun nuts means fewer guns means fewer guns being stolen to fuel the illegal gun market in the U.S. and Canada. Tallyho.*****Why, oh why, have western nations become so ambivalent about having their children immunized? Ontario's Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences reports that only 66.5% of two-year olds in that province have been fully immunized. Public health experts in this country have been hard pressed to explain this phenomenon, which has seen declining immunization rates for many years. Fear of adverse reactions is certainly part of the equation, fueled by an ill-informed, paranoid and dangerous anit-immunization movement. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Ontario study found immigrant families had a better record of immunizing their children (69%). It's not surprising because many of those people came from countries where access to immunizations is considered a human rights issue. Perhaps those parents who deliberately avoid immunizing their children should live for a year in a developing country. Just to test their resolve.As usual, your answers to any of these questions are most welcome.-30-
  • A good idea is a good idea, no matter where it comes from...

    Colleague Curtis Brown has a gem in his blog today about Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen meeting with former Liberal assassin extraordinaire Warren Kinsella. Yes, that will be a bit awkward for some Tories even though McFadyen has history with Kinsella as the two worked together at a top-flight Toronto consultancy. However, perhaps McFadyen knows what I know about Kinsella. If he does, then perhaps this meeting is about more than just swapping Big Smoke war stories over a couple of beers.Many political animals consider Kinsella a top strategist. And most know that he is a life-long Liberal in general, and a Jean Chretien operative in particular. But many people don't know that Kinsella may be responsible for one of the greatest re-brandings in Canadian political history. Given that McFadyen is desperately trying to find a new brand for Manitoba PCs, meeting Kinsella is not the worst thing he could do.I take you back to 1983, where an erstwhile punk rocker and part-time cartoonist for The Charlatan, Carleton University's student newspaper, decided to abandon student journalism for student politics. Kinsella led a slate of candidates to a landslide victory, and served out a tumultuous year as the head of the Carleton University Student's Association.However, what really separated Kinsella's student political career from many others was the novel re-branding he used. He called his posse of candidates "The No-Name" slate, and stole (rather shamelessly) the entire motif of the Loblaws yellow label with block black lettering no-name house products for his campaign literature and signs. To say that it worked does not capture what I remember as a genuine phenomenon. The student body could not ignore a group of politicians who were not only witty, but had a sense of humour too.I leave others to judge Kinsella's legacy as CUSA president. I do think it's important to note that there are quite a few people across the country, myself included, who remember the No-Name Slate. That's got to be worth something.Yellow signs with black lettering for McFadyen? Probably not. But perhaps Kinsella could find a little of the old No-name magic for his Manitoba buddy.-30-
  • Now that I have time for more than one word...

    My previous post was abbreivated because of a busier-than-anticipated weekend. Nonetheless, I wanted to post additional thoughts about Bryan Scott's fantastic blog - Winnipeg Love and Hate, a venue for Scott's haunting photographic images of what he calls "the most beautiful, most repulsive city in the world." The images posted by Scott are predominantly of core area buildings - some of extreme architectural significance and others of less artistic value. The blog site is, for anyone who has lived here for an extended period of time, a sweet and sour experience to be sure.Images of the city's greatest architectural accomplishments from decades past have more than a blush of melancholy when you realize many of them are empty or underutilized. Still, even in those instances where Scott has chosen a building in some state of crisis or disrepair, the stoic nobility of the buildings comes through loud and clear.What is remarkable about Scott's portfolio is that it captures - for me at least - the underappreciated beauty of Winnipeg's downtown. While it has become fashionable for many Winnipeggers to dismiss downtown as an empty shell of its former glory, those of us who live large portions of our life in the heart of the city continue to quietly celebrate the persistent energy of the core. Suburban Winnipeggers who consider a trip to the big box complex a celebration of community have long lost interest in downtown, despite the fact that it remains a remarkable, vibrant place in its own right. Scott's images bring that concept home in spades.Scott is not the first Winnipeg artist to lovingly nurture a love-hate realationship with the city. In One Great City, Weakerthan's frontman John Sampson penned a song celebrating most of the lamentable characteristics of his hometown. The now iconic chorus of the song proclaims "I Hate Winnipeg" but upon closer consideration, it's apparent Sampson does not, in fact, hate the city. But he has some fun lampooning the naysayers who have nothing good to say about the place. The question left at the end of his beautiful ballad is simple: Does Sampson really hate Winnipeg, or does he have an issue with people who spend their lives tearing the place down? For me, it is a love song for the city, albeit an unusual one.I have had many arguments with anti-downtown forces in this town, with me arguing that the downtown is a wonderful place to visit and my opponents arguing that a combination of urban grit, panhandlers and economic dysfunction is not worth visiting. These people have given up on downtown a long time ago. Thankfully, people like Bryan Scott have not.Many cities, especially big cities, are beautiful and repulsive at the same time. It is part of the appeal, and the absurdity of large urban centres that combine new and old, function and dysfunction, extreme wealth and extreme poverty. This is just as true in Vancouver as it is in Toronto and Montreal. If Winnipeggers ever learn to appreciate those contrasting elements, the heart of the city will once again be great.-30-
  • One word....

    FANTASTIC. Check it out yourself.-30-
  • Neither a carrot nor a stick

    Stories emanating from Burma (Myanmar) about the refusal of military leaders to allow international aid into the weather-beaten country are enough to make sensible people vomit. Unfortunately, Burma is only the latest in a growing list of countries that thumb their noses at the international community and its acts of humanitarian largesse.Some readers may know that I spent six weeks in Sudan in 2006 to write a story about a shipment of Manitoba wheat that was sent over as humanitarian aid. We were fortunate enough to track the wheat in Sudan, and watched it being distributed in a refugee camp in south-eastern Sudan, very near the border with Eritrea. It was, for the author, a life-changing adventure. It also ensured that I would never look at international aid the same way again.The fact is that at best, many nations accepting international aid are hostile to those trying to help them. That is not true for all nations, but in many of the neediest, aid is viewed with great scepticism and even hostility. In Sudan, the military dominated Islamic republic government has established an enormous bureaucracy to manage and manipulate aid agencies. This bureaucracy is really just an extension of a national secret police agency, and it wields enormous power.When floods ravaged communities along the Red Sea coast in 2006, aid agencies already in Sudan trying to deal with the chronic starvation sprung into action to deliver medical and food. The military refused to allow them into the area, a politically sensitive region that had been a hot bed of anti-government sentiment. To this day, aid agencies are not sure how many people died with aid that could have saved them kept just out of reach. Sudan's government continues to be one of the largest recipients of international aid in the world today. Sudan's leaders accept the aid with the understanding there is no obligation for them to change in any way; aid is apolitical and the agencies that deliver it would never require a quid pro quo.The horrible truth is that International aid is neither a carrot nor a stick when it comes to broader political issues. Most non-governmental aid agencies will not tie aid to any political or human rights goal. So, for example, aid continues to flow into Sudan's Darfur region despite the fact the government is directing a bloody ethnic battle that has displaced millions and killed hundreds of thousands. Bilateral, government-to-government aid, on the other hand sometimes does try to attach demands of democratic or political reform, but with little success.Unfortunately, some of the world's largest donors - okay, really just the United States - have been overly political about their aid. In fact, it was a widely held belief that many U.S. non-governmental agencies had been conscripted to gather intelligence for the U.S. State Department in countries like Sudan that are considered enemies. In this kind of scenario, it is easy to see how some nations, even those ruled by cruel dictators, are reluctant to open the door to aid out of a fear it will lead to a potential overthrow. That is not to say that overthrowing some of these governments wouldn't be a good idea, but only that the threat is enough to convince the worst of the worst to turn their backs on aid even at a time of great need.The only comfort we have at times like this is that despite the better efforts of the military leaders to cut off their afflicted country, the tragedy in Burma will unfold with the international community watching intently and keeping track of the loss of life. We should hope that every person who dies unnecessarily waiting for aid that never arrived will serve as another nail in the coffin of the untenable dictatorship in Burma.-30-
  • Thin skins and defamation

    Am I wrong, or are more and more people in politics resorting to defamation lawsuits?In Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a letter threatening legal action and asking for an apology from Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, who accused a Harper aide of peddling influence in a dispute between a Montreal real estate company and the federal government.Harper then filed a $2.5-million suit against the Liberals for statements made about allegations the Tories tried to buy the support of dying independent MP Chuck Cadman to win a vote of non-confidence.In New Brunswick, Tory opposition leader Jeanott Volpe has sent a letter of intent to sue the province's health minister, Mike Murphy, for defamation. Murphy accused Volpe of hijacking her own caucus to sustain a fillibuster on a key government bill.Now, we have word from Powell River, B.C., a small Sunshine Coast city, that the mayor has threatened a lawsuit against two citizens who publicly criticized his handling of a contentious plan to borrow $6.5 million to improve the community's harbour. A campaign opposing the harbour project raised concerns about how the city was surveying its residents about whether to borrow the money.As the criticism of the project grew, Mayor Stewart Alsgard sent two citizens letters threatening a defamation suit. The BC Civil Liberties Association has responded by filing a law suit against the city for attempting to chill citizens engaged in legiatimate democratic action by threatening legal actionHaving been the subject of legal threats and lawsuits, it's not a pleasant experience. Anyone who may need to make allegations of a sensitive nature in the commission of their professional duties has come to expect legal threats as part of the normal course of business. But generally, politicians have refrained from suing other politicians, and certainly politicians suing citizens is, while not unprecedented, still rare.Although politicians deserve to be protected from defamatory commentary as much as the next person, the decision to launch a lawsuit is not one to be taken lightly. First and foremost, politicians, especially those in government, have access to virtually limitless resources for legal fees. In many cases, these resources dwarf the resources of the people being sued. The absence of any kind of a level playing field must be considered when expending taxpayer money for this form of political defense.It would be better to enforce some sort of noble rules of engagement in politics that eliminates any possibility of politicians taking liberties with the reputation of other politicians. Unfortunately, if you consider the tenor of debate in Ottawa, that appears to be a somewhat Utopian concept right now.Politicians are often unfairly criticized, but they also have direct access to the media to not only defend themselves but undermine the arguments of their detractors. Let's leave the fight where it belongs, in the court of public opinion.-30-
  • This is a hopeful sign

    Could the current federal government put aside ideology to keep the Vancouver safe injection site open? Stories in Tuesday's papers suggest it maybe so.If the Tories follow through, there should be credit where credit is due.-30-
  • Days when I love being a journalist....

    Like today. If you haven't already seen it, take a look at the Globe and Mail's front page. (Again, not being a seven-day subscriber, I can't provide an appropriate link.) The front accurately and appropriately points out how poorly this nation has fared in terms of real income over the past 25 years. The headline shows graphically that in that quarter century, median income has only gone up $53.The entire front page, and the attitude expressed by the Globe today, is what makes me glow a bit about being part of an industry like this.-30-
  • Short snappers - coast to coast edition.

    What do you know - Manitoba isn't the only province in this country worried about getting approval for an electricity transmission line. In Ontario, proponents of new transmission lines needed to get juice from recently re-started plants at the Bruce Power nuclear generating station are finding it more than a little difficult to get everyone to agree on how and where the new line should be built. Globe and Mail provincial politics guru Murray Campbell explains the arse-backwards scenario facing electricity-starved Ontarians now in a solid column in the April 29th edition. (Link not available because blog author is not a six-day subscriber.)This story certainly resonates here in Manitoba, where Premier Gary Doer is sticking to his pledge to stay away from the pristine boreal forest east of Lake Winnipeg when Manitoba builds its new transmission line sometime in the next 10 years. The Ontario experience is good news and bad news for the premier.On the good side, the troubles in Ontario seem to justify the premier's concern about what first nations and environmental activists could do to delay construction of the Hydro transmission line. However, on the bad side of the equation, it also substantiates the concern that there could be the same level of opposition no matter where the line is established. Doer has said the line will go down the west side of the province, but Manitoba Hydro has not identified a proposed route. You can bet that once that route is laid out, there will be local governments, property owners, first nations and environmentalists lined up for a chance to derail the project.*****Not back to the future, but all speed ahead to the past!The people responsible for operating North America's only supervised, legal injection site for people addicted to illegal drugs are urging the B.C. Supreme Court to "just say no" to federal efforts to shut it down. The site had been operating with a judicial exemption from federal laws dealing with possession of illegal drugs. That exemption is scheduled to run out this summer and the federal Conservative government has not indicated whether it will consider a renewal. The injection site operators are going to court to plead their case.It's 2008 and despite mountains of evidence indicating that safe injection sites reduce the disease and crime associated with drug addiction, we're still letting our squeamishness get the better of us. The federal government apparently believes tough love - in the form of harsher sentences and additional law enforcement - is going to wean addicts off hard drugs.Those who know otherwise can only wonder what they are smoking.*****People, and not guns, may kill people, but Toronto City Hall is still urging the federal government to ban handguns outright and increase the penalties for anyone other than police and members of the military to own such weapons.The council motion, which passed 39-3, comes as Toronto struggles with a near epidemic of handgun-related crime. Last January, a bystander was killed by a stray bullet from a semi-automatic handgun that was legally registered to one of the men now charged with his death. Gun enthusiasts like to claim that the problem is illegally smuggled guns that are at the root of the problem.Toronto Mayor David Miller , currently Canada's most outspoken anti-handgun activist, has correctly pointed out that this is untrue. Studies in the Greater Toronto Area have shown that a majority of the guns involved in crimes were at one time legally owned guns in Canada. In fact, the biggest source of guns used in crimes is legal gun collectors/owners who are the victims of break-ins, or who do not take appropriate care in storing their weapons.The motion from Toronto city council is not binding, of course, on the federal government. Nor is it expected to be particularly effective. Bloody shame.-30-
  • The path of least resistance

    The Ontario Attorney General decided not to call evidence in the second murder trial of Robert Baltovich, which automatically obligates the jury in the case to acquit. The prosecutor in the case determined there was not enough evidence to support a reasonable likelihood of conviction. So more than 16 years after Baltovich was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain, he is a free man acquitted of the charges against him.I won't go into the tortured details of the case. For those who are interested, Derek Finkle's seminal book, No Claim to Mercy: The Controversial Case for Murder Against Robert Baltovich, will more than explain the botched investigation and tenuous prosecution of Baltovich. It will also explain why Baltovich's lawyers, including noted criminal attorney James Lockyer, believe Paul Bernardo is the more likely suspect.In the wake of the confirmation of a wrongful conviction, it has been my observation that there are usually two camps among those who feel a need to speak out. There are those who weighed the evidence available and, as objectively as possible, confronted the reality of the allegations without dismissing or ignoring the nagging shortcomings. These people are not convinced that a guilty verdict is necessarily a just verdict.Then, there are those who cannot get beyond their outrage at the crime, and allow that to blind them to what's really going on.It's easy to be outraged about the brutal murder of a young women. It's a horrible, horrible crime, and any reasonable person with even a remote grasp on sanity would be outraged. But it's lazy and willfully ignorant to dismiss the problems with the investigation and prosecution of any heinous crime and instead continue to harp on and on about how outraged you are about the crime.Justice isn't about putting ANYONE away for a horrible crime. It's about getting the RIGHT person behind bars. Those who are outraged about the crime should save a little of that outrage for a justice system that allows murderers to go free because the wrong person is behind bars.-30-
  • I know a set up when I see one...

    Federal Conservatives should probably reconsider their strategy when it comes to dealing with, and trying to intimidate, regulators of any kind. The big splashy execution of a search warrant at federal Tory HQ last week was a clear signal that it's not nice to mess with the Chief Electoral Officer.The Tories and Elections Canada have been locked in a legal battle over the latter's decision to reject expense claims by 67 Conservative candidates in the 2006 general election. EC has alleged the candidates were part of a scheme to launder national advertising expenses through local campaigns. The Tories have challenged Elections Canada in court.I'm not going to get into the substantive details of the allegations made by Elections Canada - that will come in the days ahead in the dead-tree version of the paper - but let it be said now that it appears the legal strategy employed by the Tories has backfired. How do we know that? Because the entire search warrant raid was a massive set up that is causing the ruling party no end of embarassment.Experienced police reporters will tell you that you only get to witness the execution of a search warrant if the police involved want you to see it. Elections Canada clearly wanted the media to see this one. I was stunned to see investigators surrounded by television cameras and reporters as they knocked on and entered Tory HQ. But that was not the only evidence of a set up.Within days of the raid, Canwest News Service obtained copies of the information used by police to get a search warrant. Experienced reporters will also tell you that it is very rare to see that information so soon after the execution of a warrant, unless of course the people executing the warrant want you to see it.Was it a set up? It sure looks that way. Was it dirty pool? Well, that depends on whether you're more outraged by Elections Canada using a weapon of mass destruction to deal with a mouse-sized problem, or by the arrogance of the Conservative Party.The moral of the story? The laws of probability state that even if you THINK you're the toughest guy on the block, sooner or later you'll meet someone tougher.-30-
  • I think they're missing the point about Question Period

    Winnipeg MP Anita Neville sent out a note to reporters in Manitoba this week bringing our attention to the fact there was a video of her latest efforts in Question Period to ferret our information about the possible patronage appointment for Treasury Board President Vic Toews. In fact, the best of the Grit questions from Question Period are now available in a video library available on the party's website. What a good idea. It's not always convenient to take in QP via cable TV, and being able to see a snippet of Question Period on a newsworthy topic is a great resource for journalists on the go.Great resource, except for one small problem. The Grits only archive their questions. They do not include the answers.This is not a criticism of the MPs themselves. Neville asked some very good questions about Toewsgate. However, anyone passionate enough about politics to regularly visit the Liberal website to watch taped-delay video of QP would probably appreciate hearing the answers.At first blush, this is one of the most politically narcissistic things I have ever seen. I know they call it Question Period, but the answers are just as important, perhaps more important than the questions. Posting videos of questions without showing the answers is really quite silly.Note to Liberal HQ: You'd look much better to your constituents if you showed how poorly the government was in answering your questions. Otherwise, all you're doing is providing a video diary for MPs to admire themselves when caught briefly in the glare of television lights.Better luck next time.-30-
  • Short Snappers

    As an antidote to the long, mind-numbing posts of recent days, several bite-sized chunks.....Is Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams like the coolest premier in the country? Rhodes Scholar, lawyer and successful businessman, Williams has about as impressive a resume as any premier in this country. He has sparred with the federal Conservatives and generally created an impression that he doesn't tolerate shite from anyone. This week, however, Williams cut a whole new chapter in his impressive political career when he commented on the cancer screening scandal rocking his province.More than 400 Newfoundlanders received inaccurate breast cancer screening results between 1997 and 2005. A class-action suit is in the works. Williams, who claimed he was talking as a lawyer and not as premier (as if that's possible) suggested that he would like to see the government settle with the affected patients as soon as possible. "My preference is not to see these people put through any further anguish."Hear, hear. By admitting liability and offering to settle fairly with the patients, Williams is showing that political leadership can be an antidote to government bungling. Moreover, he is showing that effective leadership can and should trump corporate liability issues. The trick now for Williams will be to ensure the bureaucracy acts on his comments. It has been the case that offers of compensation by politicians are not always supported by bureaucrats. We wish Mr. Williams luck in this endeavour.***Canada may have had, at one time, a strong hand to play when it came to influencing the direction of democracy building in Afghanistan. Then Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier opened his pie hole and Canada - as Jerry Seinfeld would say - no longer had hand.Bernier’s public denunciation of Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid - he actually told reporters that Khalid should be replaced - is one of the biggest gaffes ever made by a Canadian foreign affairs minister. It was inappropriate, it was ill-timed, it was completely against all logic and experience in the diplomatic world. It was positively Dick Cheneyesque in the magnitude of its stupidity.Canada is a major player in the fight to bring democracy to Kandahar province, and could have quietly pushed Khalid to adopt a more modern approach to governing. Canada could also have used quiet diplomatic pressure on the national Afghan government to keep a tighter leash on Khalid as a condition for continued Canadian involvement in the province. In fact, a discreet campaign seeking to do all these things was underway, until Bernier did his cannonball.I'm not normally supportive of calls for a minister's resignation. I've only seen a handful of incidents in more than 20 years covering politics where a resignation was really warranted. This is one of those times.***While we're talking about ungoverned pie holes, could someone please get a hold of Sea Shepherd Society honcho Paul Watson and tell him to give his head a shake. This week's events, which saw a SSS ship confiscated by the Canadian Coast Guard for allegedly venturing too close to the annual east coast seal hunt, should have been a public relations triumph for the society. The confiscation of the ship, and charging of its crew, could have been a real embarrassment for the federal government, especially since it appears the ship can prove it was outside the protection limit of the hunt when it was boarded. That was before Mr. Watson cracked the pie hole.In response to the death of four seal hunters from Iles de la Madeleine, who died when their disabled boat capsized as it was been towed by a Coast Guard ship, Watson told reporters that while the deaths were a tragedy "the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups is an even greater tragedy." Watson's comments were inappropriate, and have done a disservice to his cause.I love the SSS's spunkiness, and the fact it posted bail for its arrested crew in toonies. I cringed when I heard Watson talking about the deaths of the sealers. I think many other people who might passively support the end of the seal hunt cringed as well.***Finally, the Globe and Mail today published the latest poll results from the Strategic Counsel, which show the Conservatives retreating to 2006 levels with only 36 per cent support, only six points more than the Liberals. It is hard to assess the veracity of poll results these days, given the radically different results that have been published in the past month. Some show statistical ties, while others seem to show the Conservatives in majority territory.But without a consistent trend across several different polls, it's likely safe to conclude the Tories do not have the support to win a majority. Conservatives who are so close to a majority they can taste it should ask, and soon, why that is. Your thoughts about why the Tories seemed stalled in the mid 30s would be most welcome.-30-
  • Telling like it is isn't a winning strategy

    Once again, I'm stunned about the absurdity of the U.S. presidential race. Front-running Democratic contender Barack Obama sparked another weekend of angry debate after he suggested that some voters, embittered by their depressed economic prospects, turned to guns and religion as solace. These comments prompted challenger Hillary Rodham Clinton to respond that Obama as "elitist" and out of touch with common Americans.Where to start?First, Obama and Clinton are both elitists. It's part of the particular style of democracy embraced in the western world that elitists generally dominate politics. That's a blessing and a curse, as many voters know. Good because it puts smart, successful, educated people in positions of power; bad because those smart, successful, educated people sometimes have their heads up their well-read asses. But the issue here is not whether politicians are elitist, it's about whether elections help to solve or entrench the biggest problems faced by a society.Eruptions of self-righteous indignation have dominated the Democratic leadership campaign. Whether it was former president and possible first husband Bill Clinton's suggestion that African-American voters were voting for Obama just because he was black, or Obama's slick dance around his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., an incendiary religious leader who has garnered attention for scathing speeches in which he describes the U.S. as a deeply racist, war mongering nation. Now, we have Obama on the defensive again for his portrayal of certain pockets of the American public for whom religion and their obsession with the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment eclipses every decision they make in an election.Second, although reasonable people might still object to the tone of some of these comments (in particular, Wright's rantings) there is very little in what any of these people have said that is evil. African-American voters are passing over Clinton for Obama, much in the way many women are turning their backs on Obama in the hopes of electing the first woman president in U.S. history. Racism is still alive in the U.S. (as it is in every country) and as for war mongering - the cost in dollars and human lives of the effort in Iraq is certainly fodder for debate. Obama's recent comments about bitterness, god and guns may have been poorly worded, as the senator now claims, but there are signs that he's not too far off the mark.Consider that alongside the New York Times article about the Democratic dust-up is a Google ad for something called The Church of God, and its collection of books and pamphlets which predict that the United States will drift closer to the Kingdom of God in 2008 when the aforementioned God arranges for the return of Jesus Christ and thus kicks off the destruction that results in the end of the world.Now, we still have most of 2008 to get through, so I'll be cautious in my assessment of the Church of God. But is there a small possibility here that demand for books like this have a little bit to do with the tumultuous international events, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the deepening fiscal crisis now gripping the U.S.? Suffice to say those conditions haven't hurt sales of the Church's books, which in true apocalyptic fashion are actually free. (I mean, why go through the hassle of on-line billing and charging for shipping and handling if the world is ending this year?)Perhaps Obama doesn't expect evangelical gun nuts to vote for him, and thus making comments like this don't really worry him. Or, perhaps he is a rare breed of politician who doesn't mind talking about these things because, out in the open, perhaps there is a better chance of addressing and repairing the fractured American populace. Remember, this is a country where a gun-loving, anti-government libertarian blew up a federal office building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people in response to the federal government's mishandling of a raid of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, the resulted in the death of 76 devotees.At first blush, there appears to be a connection between guns, religion and economic disparity, and the potential for violence that springs out of this equation will not be alleviated if politicians are afraid to talk about the underlying causes while occupying the spotlight of an intense election campaign.-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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