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  • Pros and cons of calling an election now

    So, you're Prime Minister Stephen Harper and you're trying to decide whether to call an election this fall. What are the potential benefits from going now? What are the risks? Below, find a brief checklist of the issues you'll need to consider before dropping the writ.PEOPLE HATE ELECTIONS and HATE THE PEOPLE WHO CALL THEM EVEN MOREThis is a common refrain when everyone knows there's an election coming and can't stop it. Generally speaking, voters don't like elections and are cynical about the reasons why politicians call them. Especially if those elections are called too early, or particularly late in a mandate. Parliamentary governments in this country have five years before they must call an election. Around four years is considered good form, especially for those governments that expect to be re-elected. Less than three years is a bit of uncharted territory, and thus a bit more of a risk. Those who cite that risk most often reference the downfall of Ontario Premier David Peterson, who despite having a healthy majority government, decided to call a snap election in mid 1990. He was trounced by the NDP, and many believe it was the snap writ that did him in. In fact, Peterson had accumulated a lot of baggage (Meech Lake, Patti Starr) and the snap election might just have been the straw that broke the camel's back.Will voters punish Harper for calling an election so soon after the last one? Not likely on that one issue alone. Once a campaign starts, people focus on the campaign, not the way it was called.NOT KEEPING HIS PROMISE TO HOLD ELECTIONS EVERY FOUR YEARS WILL BACKFIRE ON HARPERNot likely, although the fact that some voters will be upset about this aspect of the coming election speaks volumes about the idiocy of fixed election dates. Harper is preparing, news reports tell us, to explain that his fixed election date law did not apply to minority governments. It can only apply to majorities, which are under no threat of a vote of non-confidence.This makes sense to me, but the fact he has to justify a decision to dissolve this minority parliament demonstrates (IMHO) the fallacy of laws like this. It's always been part of a political tradition to allow the party in power to determine the schedule of elections. They do this knowing that making the wrong decision (right, Peterson?) could cost them dearly. There is nothing more inherently democratic about fixed election dates. The worst part for the Conservatives is that now they have to defend something that makes complete, practical sense. No fixed date law could eliminate the right of opposition parties to bring down a minority parliament.Will Harper's inability to keep his fixed date promise backfire? I have the sense there are just enough people out there who don't understand the silliness of a law fixing election dates, and the limits on that law, to make some trouble for the Conservatives.VOTERS LIKE MINORITIES AND WILL PUNISH THE TORIES FOR DISSOLVING THIS PARLIAMENTPolls tell us that voters do, generally, like minorities. But as is the case with snap elections, I do not have the sense that voters would disregard a campaign and the issues it raises and make up their mind simply because Harper dissolved the minority parliament. Polls also tell us that barring a seismic shock to the political economy, there is a very good likelihood there will be another minority parliament after this election. Some may find the prospect of an election in this scenario to be a waste of time. Somehow, however, we manage to buckle under and enjoy the battle, regardless of the outcome.Should Harper fear ending the minority? It's not the biggest hurdle he will face on the campaign trail. He should be careful, however, to be too dismissive of what the current parliament has achieved and what a future minority would mean to the nation. If he disses minorities, he might be cast as too power hungry for his own good.HARPER SHOULD CALL AN ELECTION NOW TO AVOID HAVING TO SEEK RE-ELECTION NEXT YEAR WHEN THE ECONOMY REALLY SUCKSThis is probably one of the more compelling reasons to go now. Canada has staved off formal recession despite a free fall in the U.S. economy. But rough waters in the economies of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec are palpable, and there is a very real possibility the economy, and government coffers, will look a whole lot less rosy 12 months from now. Government revenue will go down, no doubt, and that's going to make the Harper government look like it doesn't know what it's doing. It may even cause some to re-think the logic of the two-point cut to the GST, especially if there is a deficit posted next year. In fact, there is no reason to believe the Tories will have much wiggle room to deliver a pre-election budget full of goodies to win votes. It's looking like a lean, mean budget year ahead.Should Harper fear economic storm clouds on the horizon? He should, and likely does. Should he go now before things get too bad? It might be the best reason of all to call an election now.ALL THE TORIES NEED TO DO IS PUT LIBERAL LEADER STEPHANE DION ON A NATIONAL CAMPAIGN STAGE, AND THE NATION WILL TURN THEIR BACKS ON THE GRITS.Many Liberals I talk to are concerned about what will happen to Dion in the harsh glare of a federal campaign. The Grits are holding firm in opinion polls, but everyone knows once an election is called, the daily exposure can either make or break a candidate. Lacking in any communication skills or charisma, Dion would have to run a nearly flawless campaign to hold steady with Harper. The problem is Liberals claim he has isolated himself from advisors who he will need to navigate a federal campaign. There are also concerns he is simply not prepared to helm a campaign, although he will not admit it.Harper is no doubt banking on the fact Dion will wilt and run a bad campaign. He will need both of these shortfalls to convince voters to ignore their own trepidation about Tory policies and performance in government. Harper has accumulated a remarkable amount of baggage (In-and-out election financing, Schreiber-Mulroney and Cadman scandals aside) and done little to find policies that reach non-traditional constituencies. Across the country, the Tories appear to have lost ground to the Liberals in Ontario and Quebec, which makes the challenge of achieving a majority seem all the more remote.Can Harper bank on a Liberal collapse? The table seems set for the Grits to stumble, but it's unclear whether that is enough to save the Tories from their own shortcomings.There you have it - a list of the major issues to be considered before calling an election. So, do you pull the trigger or not?-30-
  • So is somebody going to go to bed with somebody or what?

    I couldn't help but recall the words of the immortal Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh when I considered the most recent round of sparring between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Stepane Dion over which great man would be responsible for causing the next federal election.Harper says Parliament is dysfunctional and he may have no choice but to call an election.Dion says, 'oh, yeah? Well, maybe I will defeat your government with a vote of non-confidence. So there!'Geez. The leaders of the two largest registered political parties are starting to come off like two kids at summer camp daring each other to kiss a girl.I understand the two parties would rather the other was responsible for forcing an election - for some reason it is fashionable in federal politics right now to be seen to be reluctant to go to the polls. But if you look at the basic lay of the land here, you can see that it's going to be more than a month before there is any serious consideration of calling an election/bringing down the government.It is unlikely anyone will force an election before the federal byelections in the fall, the last of which goes September 22. Barring surprising results, it will then be time to seriously consider going to the polls. And it's also unlikely anyone will want to be at the polls in November. With a roughly one-month campaign, you can do the math.Either way, it would be refreshing if Harper and Dion stopped the posturing and figured out whether there's going to be an election or not. As I write this, however, I'm forced to recall another scene from Bull Durham:Crash Davis: Go ahead, take the first shot.Nuke LaLoosh: No way man. I don't hit no man first.Get on with it.-30-
  • I would prefer it was a good fight, no matter who wins

    I really, really hope the next federal election is a good battle. Regardless of who wins, I like a good, close fight that is a bit of a cliff hanger. Nice for us in the peanut gallery when you aren't writing about who is going to win the election in the first five days of the campaign.Given the latest poll results, I guess the next election (which could come as early as this fall) could be close. But I'm concerned it won't be a quality tilt. The Liberals continue to hold ground against the Conservatives, despite a lacklustre leader. The Tories, on the other hand, continue to demonstrate little appetite for broadening their base by looking for issues and policies that appeal outside core supporters. Given that the Conservatives are in power, and control the date of the next election, their failure to broaden their platform is really quite a mystery.Recent stories about cuts to arts funding demonstrate, I think, this curious inability to see opportunities to broaden support. Although total arts spending is up significantly since the Tories took power, there have been swift and deep cuts recently to some programs. This comes on the heels of introduction of Bill C-10, which would cut funding to Telefilm Canada. Although the Tories have generally denied it, there has always been a suggestion the cuts had to do with the content supported by the programs. (I have always believed that voters in this country, by and large, don't want politicians to decide what kind of art is worthy of public support. Could be wrong.) The worse problem is that the decisions were made without any consultation with or warning to the people who administer the money.Why would they do this? I have always felt comfortable deferring to Hacks and Wonks for insight into the Conservative mind. In his recent posting, Hs&Ws suggests the funding cuts are only temporary and even so, this might not be a bad strategy:"The arts community are not Tory supporters, so the short term pain is relatively minor. Over the long term, the Tories manage to tweak a source of funding often directed exclusively towards their opponents."I agree with the basic analysis, but will disagree with the assessment of the potential harm. Pissing off groups that don't support you is a great strategy if you have a majority government. But if you're in a minority position, and seem to be unable to find traction toward a majority, it seems to be bad strategy to go around poking your traditional opponents in the eye. It's going to take a major breakthrough in Ontario and Quebec to get the Tories over the minority hump, and I just can't see how messing with arts funding is going to turn the tide in either of those provinces. However, the Hs&Ws post was very brief, and I assume (with good cause) there is more to the thesis.UPDATE: More than $40 million in total cuts.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness - The Last

    We have arrived at the final day of hearings, which will feature submissions from counsel representing Derek Harvey-Zenk, the off-duty cop who killed Crystal Taman, Marty Minuk, the special prosecutor who cut the plea bargain, and Manitoba Justice. As was the case Wednesday, this is the last opportunity for these lawyers to create sympathy for their clients before inquiry commissioner Roger Salhany writes his final report.Wednesday's proceedings certainly left the impression Salhany is growing short-tempered with some of the arguments being put before him. In particular, Salhany was quite animated about the submission of Shannon Hanlin, counsel for the Winnipeg Police Service. He expressed anger about the manner and substance of her arguments to such an extent, she quite obviously cut short her oral submission. On Thursday morning, Salhany opened proceedings with an apology to Hanlin and lauded her written submission.Out of this exchange, however, many in the hearing room are wondering whether Salhany is merely exhausted and stressed by the pace of the inquiry - which has been brisk - or whether this is a tell on his frustration with the sometimes untenable arguments they made in defence of the police officers and prosecutors involved in this tragedy.Despite the fact that judges are trained to be dispassionate, throughout proceedings Salhany (a retired judge of the Ontario Superior Court) has demonstrated a lack of patience with untenable or clumsy arguments. Part of this is due to the fact he has been quite open about not going to go into overtime to finish testimony or submissions. Are these flashes of anger a preview of his final assessment of the performance of police and prosecutors in this case? Or is this confirmation that Salhany is a judge who takes pride in being punctual in all that he does, and doesn't suffer those who don't share his work eithic? We won't know for sure until we read the final report.Lawyer Jay Prober, who represents Harvey-Zenk, delivered a brief but pointed submission. He chastized media for reporting earlier in the inquiry on facts harmful to Harvey-Zenk's reputation that were later shown to be erroneous. He also pointed out that while the public is angry about the consequences of Harvey-Zenk's actions, he did nothing himself to derail the investigation or prosecution, which is the true subject of this inquiry.There had been much speculation that Prober would offer a new apology on behalf of his client. Harvey-Zenk did not make an apology while on the stand at the inquiry, despite being afforded the chance by commission counsel. He was soundly criticized for that decision.Prober addressed this concern by reading into the inquiry record the extensive apology he offered at his sentencing last year. The apology does seem, on the face of it, to be very heartfelt although it is understandable the Taman family is not moved by his words. Taman's husband, Robert Taman, and his entire family walked out of the hearings on Wednesday when counsel for Winnipeg Police was making his final submission. They did not leave when Prober was making his submission, although there was a moment when Robert Taman pushed his chair back and appeared on the edge of leaving.More later.....-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness (10) part two

    Bob McDonald, the lawyer for the RM of East St. Paul and its police force, has been engaged in some tough sledding as he tries to defend the officers who remain in the employ of the RM. Those include current Chief Norm Carter and Const. Jason Woychuk. Both played key roles in the botched investigation of the Taman collision and both tried to adop the posture of whistle-blowers in their testimony before the inquiry.It was Carter who came up with the concerns that sparked a 2006 RCMP criminal investigation of former chief Harry Bakema. Woychuk came forward to admit he had changed his notes from the accident scene at the bequest of Bakema. McDonald tried valiantly to portray his clients as men who, despite having made mistakes they owned up to, were the sources of evidence that helped expose the horrible handling of the original investigation.McDonald's efforts to rehabilitate the repuations of Carter and Woychuk are stoic, but it's a real uphill battle. Evidence at the inquiry has put both Woychuk and Carter in a bad light. Despite their efforts to expose what they believe was Bakema's wrongdoing, they came across as weak and possibly self-serving. As evidence of the difficulty of McDonald's task, he was several times taken to task by an angry and somewhat frustrated Commissioner Roger Salhany.Here's a rule of thumb for lawyers aspiring to appear before a commission of inquiry: When the commissioner feels cause to bark at you in an angry tone, you should reconsider your tack.More tomorrow.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness (10)

    After the drama of the final submission from commission counsel David Paciocco and Vincent Clifford, we turn our attention to the submissions of other parties to the inquiry. The order of the submissions has been pre-determined - first up is Gene Zazelenchuk, lawyer for the family of victim Crystal Taman. Zazelenchuk has generally been a source of some curiousity at this inquiry. His cross examinations have been occasionally derivative. Sometimes, they have been plain outrageous and on at least one occasion, inquiry commissioner Roger Salhany has had to strike one of Zazelenchuk's comments from the record.His final submission was, thankfully, very brief. Zazelenchuk focused on what he believed was the bad faith shown by the Winnipeg Police Service's Professional Standards Unit. Paciocco did not find bad faith in the PSU's actions; he did find they were incompetent and less than rigorous in their investigation of the actions of off-duty cops who partied the night away with Derek Harvey-Zenk, the cop who killed Taman. Paciocco found the East St. Paul police department was guilty of bad faith, a major reason why he has recommended to Salhany that a new criminal investigation for obstruction of justice be commenced. (Salhany has the power to recommend such an investigation.)We should hear today from cousnel for East St. Paul police department. It will be a fascinating submission because ESP cops took the brunt of Paciocco's criticism the previous day, and because they are the only subjects of the inquiry who it has been recommended should be subject to a criminal investigation.More this afternoon.-30-
  • After a brief synapse, another Taman stream of consciousness....

    Returned from vacation in time to take in the final submissions of Taman inquiry commission counsel David Paciocco. For those who have not attended judicial inquiries, the final submission stage usually begins with a massive analysis of all the evidence heard by the chief commission counsel, who is in charge of the investigation performed by the inquiry and direct examinations of all witnesses. It is typically among the most interesting, and hard-hitting, parts of any proceeding like this.True to the form we have seen throughout the inquiry proceedings, Paciocco did not mince his words. At the morning break, we have only heard a summary of the role and performance of the East St. Paul police that responded to and investigated the tragic collision that claimed Crystal Taman's life in February 2005. A more detailed account by my colleague Aldo Santin now available on the FP web site captures the mood of Paciocco's powerful submission. In his opening volley, Paciocco summarized his findings by concluding that the investigation of Taman's death, and the prosecution of Derek Harvey-Zenk, the off-duty cop who killed her, was a complete "failure of justice."Paciocco is now working systematically through the various players in the miscarriage of justice. Most of the morning is focused on the East St. Paul police force and the failure of former Chief Harry Bakema and others who handled the investigation. What is interesting so far is the fact that Paciocco most definitely believes Bakema and others deliberately manipulated the investigation and suppressed evidence to subvert efforts to hold Harvey-Zenk responsible for the collision.Of course, only inquiry commissioner Roger Salhany will be able to make that formal finding. But he will be heavily influenced by Paciocco's submissions.More later....-30-
  • They made me do it

    For those readers who have closely followed the posts from the Taman inquiry, I'm sorry to say I'm taking a small break from the inquiry to get some much needed vacation in. To be honest, my boss forced me to take holidays. I insisted on working more but he told me to get some rest.And, he reads this blog.See you in about two weeks for the final submissions.-30-
  • Day 3 - Politics, like the weather, is unpredictable

    They promised me three days of sun, but arising this morning in Vancouver all I could see was low, grey cloud and misty rain. The fearless lower mainland weathercasters are still promising sun by the afternoon. We'll see about that.Everyone knows the weather, like an election result, is very difficult to predict. In this election, the incumbent Tories are showing remarkably strong in the polls, but as yet have not pulled into majority territory (40 per cent plus in polls). Will they hold on? Journalists watch the parties very carefully to see if there are signs indicating how they think they're doing. Most major parties do a lot of polling, and poll analysis. The journalists watch for changes in strategy, or the covergence of events, and try to figure out what it says about the trends in voting. And yesterday, there were a lot of interesting strategic issues coming into focus.The Tories unveiled attack ads. That's right, 48 hours into an election they are leading (comfortably) the Tories unveiled pretty nasty TV ads ripping Liberal Leader Stephane Dion. These nuggets were followed by a web attack ad that showed a flying puffin bird pooping on Dion's shoulder. (The offending post has been since edited to keep the puffin but lose the poop, and the Tories were forced to condemn their own web content.) The early launching of bile caused more than a few venerable election watchers to scratch their heads. The Tory launch had all been about positive, kinder, softer Tories, and their positive, kinder, softer leader, Stephen Harper.Attack ads are part of every party's arsenal because, well, they work. But the timing and the right balance of content is critical. The Tory ads, although highly premature, are loud and obnoxious, and more than a little humorous. But their introduction now is certainly raising some question about Tory strategy, and what their own polling numbers are telling them.On the same day, Dion tells journalists in Quebec that his difficulty embracing English is due to a hereditary hearing problem that makes it difficult for him to absorb the subtleties of the other official language.Blogging Tories are furious about Dion's admission, suggesting the Liberal leader is trying to deflect criticism for his inarticulate performances in English and cultivate sympathy in the face of a torrent of Tory attack ads. It is pretty cynical to suggest this is a ploy, largely because it's the kind of admission that might be easily proven untrue in the harsh exposure of an election campaign. It's simply too big a risk to take for something that on its own, has limited impact. That is to say, as an issue it only comes into play if the Tories go overboard trying to exploit his clumsy grasp of English.Consider that Tory attempts to attack Jean Chretien in 1993 backfired in spectacular fashion after the public sensed the incumbents were making fun of Chretien's twisted mouth, a feature due to a childhood bout of Bell's palsy. Could Dion generate some sympathy, and thus some blowback on the Tories, from pointing out that he has a medical condition that makes it difficult to hear and speak English? There is no certainty this will happen. In fact, even though voters at first embraced Chretien's folksy and clumsy manner and appearance, they found him a bit of an embarrassment later in his tenure, especially following the 9-11 attacks when it appeared he did not have the charisma of a Tony Blair or even, dare we say it, a George W. Bush. Watch the Tory attack ads carefully to see if the tone and content changes. That will be the clearest sign that the Harper campaign is concerned about this blowing up in their faces.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness (8)

    Special prosecutor Marty Minuk has finally taken the witness stand at the Taman inquiry. Commission counsel David Paciocco is currently engaged in a pain-stakingly detailed direct examination of every moment of the prosecution of Derek Harvey-Zenk. Although there is still much to come out, one fascinating observation that arose out of the examination this morning.Minuk was supposed to be a fully independent prosecutor. That means he is not to take any direction from Manitoba Justice. And yet, he had nearly 50 documented constacts with two senior officials in the justice department - Don Slough and Brian Kaplan, or their administrative assistants. At the very least, this to some extent betrays the notion of independence. It certainly does not show an effort to ensure the perception of independence.Was independence an important issue here? It goes to the very heart of the justice system's ability to properly prosecute police officers facing criminal charges.More later.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness (7) part two

    Contrary to earlier reports (at least on this blog) Minuk will hardly get a chance to start his testimony today. The pace of the inquiry is a fairly unpredictable thing, and the direct examination of defence lawyer Richard Wolson, the lawyer who represented Derek Harvey-Zenk, took longer than expected. So, as this is being written (approx. 3:50 PM) it looks as if there may only be 15-30 minutes for the special prosecutor to start his testimony.Wolson's testimony was quite interesting. He provided the first inside account of the plea bargain negotiations between himself, Minuk and Chief Provincial Court Justice Ray Wyant, who oversaw the sentencing. Wolson said a number of interesting things, including a revelation that a "bona fide" threat against both him and Harvey-Zenk precipitated a decision to spirit Harvey-Zenk away from the law courts building following sentencing in October 2007.The decision to take Harvey-Zenk out a side door, away from the glare of television lights and reporter's tape recorders, became its own story and sparked outrage that a police officer had received special treatment. Wolson said this was done because he received a threatening voice mail on his cell phone. The voice mail was provided to the WPS major crimes unit, and reported to Wyant, who ultimately was responsible for the decision to allow Harvey-Zenk to depart the law courts from a less-visible exit.This explanation was quite different from the one offered at the time. Sheriff's deputies told the media Harvey-Zenk and his family and supporters were taken out a back entrance to avoid the possibility of a confrontation with anyone upset about the sentencing decision. Robert Taman, Crystal Taman's husband, immediately objected to that suggestion, as it appeared to blame the Taman family and their supporters for creating the security risk.Taman said yesterday he was very surprised to hear about the voice mail threat, and noted that no one from the WPS or anyone else ever questioned a member of his family about being the source of any threat.Wolson also revealed in statements to the inquiry commission counsel that Harvey-Zenk claimed to have suffered a head injury in the accident that killed Taman, and subsequently suffered memory loss. It is not clear how Wolson was able to make this admission to the commission, given that he is still restricted in his comments by solicitor-client privilege. Notwithstanding those restrictions, on atleast four occasions referenced the head injury and memory loss.With Wolson now almost done, we can look forward to Tuesday's testimony starting with Minuk. It should be a very important day at the inquiry.-30-
  • More fuel for the bleeding-heart fire....

    The Toronto Star continues to take a bold stand against the lock-them-up-to-make-society-safer philosophy of the current federal government. I'll repeat my admission that if you've read any of my previous blogs or columns on this subject, you know that I'm in the front row, centre of the choir on this one. However, I still think The Star's recent series is compelling.-30-
  • Random questions at the end of a long week

    After a mind-bending, laborious week of Taman inquiry, a few random questions were allowed to creep into my addled mind.1/Should we come up with some sort of unspoken signal to tell people we are not in fact crazy, paranoid schizophrenic meth addicts, we are actually using a Bluetooth device to talk on the phone? Sitting at a downtown coffee shop, I have seen what I thought were two crazy people who were actually carrying on wireless conversations. I'm a mobile phone junkie, but that experience alone will keep me from getting an earpiece. At least until we come up with a hand signal, a purple ribbon to tie on our belts or a little yellow flag we could attach to the earpiece. I'm just saying.2/Shouldn't the CBC remove the charming pre-movie segment now in rotation in Cineplex Odeon theatres featuring Barenaked Ladies front man Stephen Page making two kinds of home-made flavoured popcorn? Last weekend, I went to see The Dark Knight and was stunned to see a small pre-screening promo for the Steven and Chris show featuring everyone's favourite new cocaine spokesman, Steven Page. As soon as the affable Mr. Page showed up on the screen, there were howls in the audience. He went on to make both “sweet” and ”savoury" home-made flavoured popcorn. He took special pride in showing off his dishes of powdered spices. Seriously.3/Why is it that on nights when the Blue Jays and Bombers both win, and Mike Weir is leading the Canadian Open, I can go to bed with the feeling that I ACCOMPLISHED SOMETHING that day? Even worse, with the knowledge that the Jays are playing tonight, and the Canadian Open continues, I run the very real risk of going to be tonight feeling like a complete failure.4/Why, after promising myself that I would never judge Republican Presidential candidate John McCain solely on the basis of his advanced age (72 later this year) would I find myself returning repeatedly to THIS website and promoting it on my own blog? I nearly peed my pants when I read about Alaska and Hawaii. I won't reveal more, but you should also know that the fellow responsible for my weak bladder is publishing a book as well.Good night and have a good weekend.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness (7)

    The plot thickens.The Taman inquiry was expected to have four or five highly anticipated appearances. Former ESP Police Chief Harry Bakema was one. So was current ESP Chief Norm Carter. The surprise appearance of WPS Chief Keith McCaskill was somewhat dramatic, as was the testimony of WPS Sgt. Sean Black, the man who hosted the party the morning of Crystal Taman's death.For my money, the second-most anticipated testimony will start today with the swearing in of special prosecutor Marty Minuk. (The most anticipated testimony will come later in August when Derek Harvey-Zenk, the man who killed Taman, takes the stand.) It was Minuk's decision to drop alcohol-related charges against Harvey-Zenk that sparked the public outrage that sparked the inquiry. And it will be unique testimony we hear today - rarely if ever is a prosecutor asked to explain his "work product," the reasoning he employed for an important decision. This will provide an unprecedented look deep into the heart of the horse trading that goes on daily in the justice system.More later.....-30-
  • Guilty as charged

    Okay, so this story from The Toronto Star tends to support my bleeding-heart, small-l liberal leanings on crime and punishment, but I think it makes for damn good reading. Consider this glimpse of a state that tried to use more and longer prison sentences to clean up its streets. Nice work Betsy Powell.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness (5)

    A fascinating beginning to Tuesday's proceedings.First, commission counsel David Paciocco revealed that the "investigative matter" that arose the day before - and which required an early adjournment - was an interview with Tracy Fudge, another of the police officers who partied with Derek Harvey-Zenk the night and early morning before Crystal Taman was killed. Essentially, she was allowed to testify in-camera because she is working undercover and could not appear in public at the inquiry. Her testimony, and an earlier statement to the commission, have been entered as evidence for all to read.Paciocco brought up a second matter that will likely end up being the news of the day. Paciocco told Commissioner Roger Salhany that he is having trouble getting the Winnipeg Police Service to turn over all of its documents related to Derek Harvey-Zenk. Paciocco had to ask Salhany to caution the WPS to read the terms of reference of the inquiry, and rules for disclose, and turn over a series of additional documents it is withholding.Shannon Hanlin, WPS counsel, made a brief but futile attempt to argue the documents were not relevant. She said the documents in question deal with adminstrative matters related to internal dealings with Harvey-Zenk, and not the investigation of Crystal Taman's death.Salhany would have none of it. He ordered the WPS to turn over the documents and if it turned out they were not relevant, he would return them and they would not be revealed at the inquiry. Hanlin retreated to her chair.This is not the first time the WPS has been spanked for not disclosing all relevant information. In the James Driskell and Thomas Sophonow cases, the police were summarily criticized for withholding various internal reports. It boggles the mind how, after being so roundly slapped for those cases, the WPS could fall into the same trap again.Read more on this in my column in tomorrow's dead-tree FP.*****Testimony continues this morning with Cst. Dave Harding, another of the officers who drank the night and early morning hours away with Harvey-Zenk. News flash - Harding couldn't actually remember seeing anyone drinking that night, didn't know if anyone was intoxicated, and had no specific knowledge of Harvey-Zenk's condition when he departed the party just before 7 AM.The most damaging part of Harding's testimony is related, as it turns out, to Fudge's in-camera testimony. She said after leaving Black's house, the returned to a restaurant parking lot where Harding had left his car. According to Fudge's in-camera testimony, Harding was still intoxicated and was intent on driving home. Fudge said she and another officer had to "wrestle" Harding's keys away from him.The plot thickens.More later.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciouness (4)

    From this morning's hearing....News from Commission Counsel David Paciocco that today's proceedings will adjourn at 3 PM so additional investigation can be undertaken on a matter that has just arisen. The room tingles with curiousity...In other matters, Sgt. Sean Black finished his testimony this morning. Under cross examination by his lawyers - there are counsel from both the Winnipeg Police Service and the Winnipeg Police Association - he did little to rehabilitate his tattered reputation before this inquiry. He continued to maintain he had no recollection of how much alcohol was consumed and by whom at the house party he hosted in the early morning hours of February 25, 2005, the morning Crystal Taman was killed. He did, however, have a photographic memory about how Derek Harvey-Zenk, the man who killed Taman, slipped out of the house at about 7 AM while Black was in the bathroom. And despite knowing who drank what, he was quite clear that Harvey-Zenk did not appear intoxicated.The inquiry was to hear from Const. Ken Azaransky, a good friend of Black's and one of the guests at the house party. Black's testimony finished about an hour early but when they went to call Azaransky, he was nowhere to be found. "Isn't he required to be here by subpoena," a cranky inquiry commissioner Roger Salhany asked? Yes, a sheepish cop lawyer responded.In a forum that has been pretty hostile to the cops, not showing up for testimony is a bad strategy if you hope to curry any sympathy from the commissioner.More to come from today's hearings....-30-
  • And now, an economic analysis for Point Douglas

    We have heard from the developers, political leaders and inner-city activists about the future of Point Douglas. We even heard in the dead-tree FP from a roaving band of urban planners from other cities. (Wow, now that's a street gang. But I digress.) But what of the hard-core, business types? What is the economic analysis of what's best for Point Douglas?One source for such an analysis is Michael Porter, the Harvard Business School’s guru of inner city development, who has written extensively about how to revitalize inner cities. Porter's arguments were brought to my attention recently by Jino Distasio, director of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg and one hip dude when it comes to the leading edge of thinking about inner cities and revitalization.Porter has organized the Institute for a Competitive Inner City, a think tank within the business school that studies various models for re-inventing the cores of the largest American cities. Porter argues that effective revitalization comes from the careful marriage of existing residents and businesses that need what those residents have to offer. Porter believes there is a competitive advantage for business in the inner city, if government looks to find the right partners instead of forcing the issue with unsustainable incentives.“A sustainable economic base can be created in the inner city," Porter writes, "but only as it has been created elsewhere: through private, for-profit initiatives and investment based on economic self-interest and genuine competitive advantage - not through artificial inducements, charity, or government mandates.”In his seminal treatise on revitalization, The Competitive Advantage of the Inner City, Porter describes a number of case studies to prove his point. In one, he examines how New York City offered substantial financial incentives to a multimedia computer manufacturer to relocate in particularly rundown parts of the South Bronx. The company moved to the Bronx with hopes that both it and the neighbourhood would benefit.Unfortunately, this company had no real connection to the neighbourhood in which it was located. None of the company’s suppliers or clients was located nearby. The company’s clients expressed concern about travelling to a “rough” neighbourhood to meet. After a few years, the company relocated.Porter counters this tale of failure with a number of examples of successful revitalization efforts. In more than one American city, Porter recorded how a grocery store chain started by a group of Cuban-American investors thrived in Boston by locating in neighbourhoods with a predominant Latino population and then offering an extensive selection of Latino foods not available in conventional supermarkets. The stores were not only popular shopping destinations, but they found a willing and motivated workforce within blocks of each location. By employing and catering to the local residents, the stores did a booming business, retained a motivated workforce and were less likely to be hit by vandals and thieves.Porter does not expressly pan the idea of mega projects in his article. He does describe one success story in Atlanta involving a company that made trade show displays and exhibits locating in a rougher neighbourhood to be closer to a new government-built convention centre. The combination of low overhead, a motivated local workforce and proximity to the principal convention facility spelled success for this one business.What would Porter make of Winnipeg, and the South Point Douglas plan? Competitive Advantage of the Inner City makes no reference to large, government-funded sports and recreation facilities, although his citing of the Atlanta example does seem to indicate that almost any kind of development could be justified if you could ensure that it matched up well with the neighbourhood in which it was located.In the case of South Point Douglas, the only ambitious plan unveiled to date is Asper’s stadium-hotel/water park proposal. It is so different from what exists now in Point Douglas, there are concerns it is incongruous. And no matter how you look at the Asper plan, it generally means eradicating some of the historic properties and converting the land into a bold, upscale vision the likes of which has never been seen in this city. Would this proposal achieve an affinity with the locals? Well, not with those people who chose to be in Point Douglas because it is the neighbourhood that time forgot. But, it might to others who see hotels, water parks and stadiums as places that provide employment. Even for those of us who kinda liked Asper's proposal, those are pretty long bows to draw. The fact is, these arguments are pretty academic until we see a firmer proposal.The Porter arguments frame the debate in Point Douglas in an interesting way. In Porter's world, you can see that the light industrial lands that exist in Point Douglas might continue to host light-industrial tenants, because of its central location and proximity to a wide range of other businesses. Could Point Douglas support and information/computer technology cluster? Or, how about bio-technology - could Point Douglas be located near enough to the Health Sciences Centre and National Microbiology Laboratories to be an off-shoot pod of BioMed City? According to Porter, the kind of development that might really work in Point Douglas might be something neither Asper nor the existing residents would relish.The one thing Porter does not discuss in his article is the creation of new residential neighbourhoods around struggling residential neighbourhoods as some think Point Douglas should embrace. Creating Fort Rouge or River Heights on the Point seems like an interesting idea, but it doesn't appear it would get done without massive government investment to acquire and prepare the land. Of course, that is the only thing that Porter believes government should be doing. No tax hand outs, no grants, no development incentives. Buy the land, remediate the land, and get it ready for development. Then sell it off and let people go do their thing.I will endeavour to track down the good Mr. Porter to see what he thinks about re-inventing residential neighbourhoods and mega projects. Until then, he's provided some interesting food for thought.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness (3)

    As a surprise for those in the gallery at the Taman inquiry this morning, Winnipeg Police Chief Keith McCaskill was called as a witness. McCaskill was head honcho at District 13, and the superior officer of Derek Harvey-Zenk, the man who killed Crystal Taman. It was learned last week that East St. Paul police chief Harry Bakema, a veteran of District 13 himself, called McCaskill to give him the head's up on February 25, 2005, that Harvey-Zenk was charged with a variety of offences in connection with Taman's death.McCaskill was credible as a witness, but showed once again that from top to bottom in the police service, cops just can't acknowledge the difficulty they have ratting out one of their own, even if they are charged with a criminal offence. McCaskill acknowledged that he warned his troops, especially those at an all-night drinking party with Harvey-Zenk, to come forward and tell the truth. And yet, when questioned directly at the inquiry, McCaskill said this wasn't because he was concerned the officers would tell the truth.That is the kind of incredible testimony that has afflicted this testimony since its beginning. By now, if we know anything, it's that cops in both East St. Paul and Winnipeg were conflicted about where their loyalties lay. The investigation was completely botched, perhaps delibertely to give Harvey-Zenk a break. And Winnipeg police officers at the party will, we expect, say they were not drunk, nobody was drunk, and dispute the theory Harvey-Zenk was drunk when he plowed into the back of Taman's car. This despite growing circumstantial evidence suggesting heavy drinking that night and no other explanation for how a cop out on an all-night bender could drive his car, without breaking, into the rear end of another.Please see more on this subject in tomorrow's dead-tree edition.-30-
  • Random thoughts, excellent posts elsewhere, and more wifi ranting

    I'll start with a random thought about the $7 million city grant for a water park, and the sudden (but hardly unexpected) realization that an attraction water park is not - REPEAT NOT - an activity the civic government should be involved in funding. So many, many bloggers have already made this point that if consensus counts for anything, the city and Mayor Sam Katz should be worried about the wide range of political ideologies and perspectives that together believe this is a bad idea.The simple fact is that this money should not have gone to a commercial enterprise. There isn't a major indoor water park in Winnipeg now. The first entrepreneur to build one is going to be overwhelmed with pent up demand from families desperate for family activities, especially in the winter months. As it is, many Winnipeg hotels with simple pools and slides see a pretty good business on the weekends from birthday parties and weekend inter-city getaways.This is bad policy. Bad policy. Bad policy.*****Kudos to the Policy Frog for his pointed assault on Manitoba Public Insurance for its poor decision not to fund a bike safety program. MPI is all about vehicle safety, or so says MPI spokesman Brian Smiley. Yes, but it's really about a whole lot more than that.I have been waging a lonely battle in the dead-tree FP to get MPI to explain its lack of effective programming in the area of road safety. MPI will (correctly IMHO) impose immobilizers on the driving public, but it won't help fund the reconstruction of black-spot intersection, the erection of new signage or traffic signals, or the addition of "rumble strips" and barriers on our highways. Why? According to MPI, it's outside the crown corporation's mandate.Really? Let's look at what's in the mandate: Funding crown attorneys to prosecute car thieves; advertising on radio programs (anyone take note of the 'MPI traffic reports' that litter the airwaves each morning and evening; and my favourite, driver education.In one previous examination of this issue, I found out that MPI did a study of the efficacy of its own driver ed program, and found what other studies worldwide have found: kids who take driver's ed get into more accidents on average than those who don't. It's a complex equation, but the best theory is that kids that take DE driver sooner and with more confidence, and as a result they take more risks, get into more accidents. Road safety advocates believe that in addition to DE, insurance companies should drop feel-good promotional activities (like giveaways for charity golf tournaments) and start funding intersection re-design and highway patrol units.There is a big problem with MPI and what it considers in and out of its mandate. Nice work Frog.*****More wifi ranting? You bet.Tried to hook up through my Telus Hotspot account. I maintain several to give me maximum coverage. The system is down in downtown this morning, the nice man on the Hotspot customer service 800-number tells me. Okay, can you credit me an extra day? Sure, I'll give you a number that will access a 24-hour coupon to be used anytime. Okey-dokey - can you email me the number?Nope, he says. Don't have access to the Internet where I am.Shut the front door, once again! So let's review my recent wifi experiences:There was the city-owned Winnipeg Convention Centre that wanted to charge $100 for two days of access, and couldn't allow you to sign up on line - you had to call the business office.Then there was the restaurant downtown that shut down its wifi over lunch to stop cheap-ass wifi junkies from accessing it during the busiest part of the day, ignoring that some paying customers also want wifi;And now, a Telus Hotspot customer service rep that doesn't have access to the Internet.I'm getting out the tin cans and the string. Less range, more reliable.-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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