The Sausage Factory
with Dan Lett
- IT again. Sheesh.-30-
- 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-
- 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-
- 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-
- second is, well, certainly worth a look.I think we know where Maxime Bernier was running around.-30-
- 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-
- 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-
- 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-
- 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-
- it out yourself.-30-
- 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-
- Stories in Tuesday's papers suggest it maybe so.If the Tories follow through, there should be credit where credit is due.-30-
- "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-
- 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-
- 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-
- 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-
- 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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