The Sausage Factory

with Dan Lett

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  • Taman stream of consciousness (2)

    This morning, former Branigan's server Chelsea O'Halloran testified. She single-handedly served the 20+ cops from Division 13 who came into party at Branigans late on February 24, 2005, a group that included Derek Harvey-Zenk, the officer who eight hours later would drive his truck into the back of Crystal Taman's car, killing her.What is amazing about the now 24-year-old O'Halloran is how clearly and concisely she answered questions. She very precisely described how drunk the cops were that night, and how some of them acted rudely toward her. And how they talked about leaving Branigan's and going off to an after party. She also admitted she deliberately left out many of these details when she gave a statement to Winnipeg police two weeks after the accident. She said she had been encouraged by her boss at the restaurant - a good friend of some of the cops - to "play dumb" to spare the restaurant and the cops any trouble. She came forward after guilt and the Taman family's suffering prompted her to tell the truth.Her performance stands in stark contrast to the bumbling, memory-challenged performance of former East St. Paul Police Chief Harry Bakema, who seemed at times that he wouldn't be able to remember his own name.The constrast in styles of testimony is certainly speaking volumes to those of us observing the proceedings.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness (6)

    Wednesday is NOT expected to be a big day at the inquiry. Commission counsel has indicated he would like to get through four witnesses today. Given that there is usually a fairly long (1.5-2.0 hr) direct examination, and then cross examinations by three or four other lawyers (for WPS officers, this includes Taman family lawyer, and lawyers for WPA, WPS and Derek Harvey-Zenk) and then a re-direct by commission counsel, that is one ambitious plan.I say Not expected to be a big day because we're hearing from four additional cops who were at Sgt. Sean Black's house the night and early morning before Crystal Taman was killed by Harvey-Zenk. As has been noted in the blog and in dead-tree columns, the testimony has been improbably consistent. All have forgotten the same things, all remember the same things and all have used the same language to explain why their memories are so unreliable.If the inquiry completes the work load it has set for today, then Thursday could be a very interesting day. We are scheduled to hear from two investigators from the WPS Professional Standards Unit, which was inexplicably called in to help with the criminal investigation of Harvey-Zenk.More later.-30-
  • Taman stream of consciousness (5) part two

    Many of the officers drinking the night Crystal Taman was killed claim they were drinking pints of beer at Branigan's restaurant. One of those officers, Cst. Dave Harding, said he had about five pints in two hours at the restaurant. For the record:1 pint = 550 ml5 pints = 2.75 l1 bottle = 341 ml5 pints = 8 bottles of beerIn two hours. That's one bottle of beer every 15 minutes for two hours.-30-
  • It's probably just me....

    ...but aren't we witnessing some sort of perverse yet profound overlap of stories related to mobile phones and texting?On the one side, we have everyone up in arms about efforts by Telus and Bell to massively increase the charges for incoming text messages. Consumers are also up in arms about pricing plans for the new iPhone - Ted Rogers might as well change his name to Jesse James - which put the monthly costs of operating one of the mobile wunderdevices in the same category as operating a car.It's quite clear that the mobile companies introduced texting at virtually no cost, and are now moving in for the kill with the knowledge that an entire generation of its clients have become profoundly addicted to text and IM. For all those texting addicts out there, who is LTAO now?At the same time, however, concerned parties are urging the federal government to create a criminal code offence for bullying using instant messaging or texting. The Canadian Teacher's Federation, which is spearheading the campaign, said it performed a national survey and found that more than one-third of students had been cyberbullied or knew someone who had been.I'll put on my parent's hat now and say that generally, I do not subscribe to the idea that the Internet is a tool of the devil. In fact, if parents took the time to do some basic monitoring of Internet use, including a demand to see IM logs, and took computers and high-speed Internet connections out of bedrooms and put them back into more public areas of our homes, a lot of the problems parents complain about would be solved. However, IM and text is a very difficult thing to monitor, and it is becoming a greater concern for anyone concerned about what kids are saying to each other.I have a friend whose teenaged daughter pretty much ruined her high school experience after becoming addicted to IM and text. Many of the messages this young woman was exchanging tended to be of sexually explicit nature. It became so distracting, it compromised her ability to get through school work. It was evidence, IMHO, that that writing a text message or IM is not only addictive, it frees up those inner demons.This is one of those posts that has been written with entirely no idea of what, ultimately, I have concluded on this subject. I find it odd that we're engaged in a national tug-of-war with mobile companies to lower texting fees while at the same time others are warning us about the social dangers of rampant texting and IMing. As a consumer, I'm offended by the cash grabs. As a parent, I wonder if horrendously expensive texting isn't a good thing.It makes for an interesting debate, no?-30-
  • Taman inquiry - a stream of consciousness

    Occasional breaking dispatches from the Taman inquiry for Monday July 14:East St. Paul Chief Norm Carter finished up this morning. Over three days of sometimes gruelling questioning, Carter was forced to admit his contributions to one of the sloppiest criminal investigations ever. And yet, it's hard to get away from the fact that Carter was at least trying to be a good cop. It appears the combination of a horrible fatality, and the involvement of an off-duty Winnipeg cop, combined to create a hurricane that Carter couldn't contain or effectively navigate. He did make mistakes in handling the suspect, Derek Harvey-Zenk, messed up his notes and made poor decisions about how to conduct the investigation. But did he sink the case against Harvey-Zenk? No.This afternoon, we're supposed to hear from former ESP chief Harry Bakema, and it's going to get pretty interesting from this point on. Bakema has been soundly, roundly criticized by many witnesses. The testimony has been so bad for him to date that he's been painted into a pretty tight corner. Several witnesses have essentially suggested Bakema tried to scuttle the case against Harvey-Zenk to help a fellow cop. Others testified he was just plain incompetent. Bakema will likely offer a lot of spice to the inquiry - it's expected he's going to point a lot of accusing fingers back at his accusers.Stay tuned.
  • More wifi madness.

    I'm a huge fan of the eats at the FIXX chain of restaurants. Love the Old Market Square location, and the Portage Avenue spot has been a fave for a quick lunch while I troll the Taman inquiry at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Along with great food, the restaurants all have some form of WIFI. And as you may have noted in my previous post about the idiotic WIFI policy at the WCC, WIFI is really important to me. Okay, I have a bit of an addiction, I'll admit it.And now on top of all that, I've got ANOTHER huge problem.At the Portage Avenue location, which is right beside the MTS Centre, the owner shuts down the WIFI everyday over the lunch hour (until at least 2:30 PM) to stop WIFI squatters from taking seats away from paying lunch eaters. What about the lunch eaters who want WIFI too? The staff could only shake their heads. Fortunately, I'm able to just reach a MTS WIFI signal from the MTS Centre (who would have thought) but it's so weak the connection is constantly disconn..........ecting. See what I mean?Would a table minimum not be better than shutting down the WIFI? One might think so, but apparently not at the FIXX. I'll encourage the owners to consider something like that so I don't have to do without my "What's Gotten India" sandwich.Does anyone else have a woeful tale of WIFI idiocy? I'd love to know the best and worst places downtown to grab a signal.-30-
  • Shut the Front Door!

    The Sausage Factory, and it’s dead-tree edition, continue to be immensely disappointed at the failure of Mayor Sam Katz to follow through with his promise to blanket the city’s downtown in free WIFI Internet access. This was one of the few pledges Katz made in his original election campaign that aimed to actually transform the city, and not just patch it up. Katz ultimately unveiled his grand plan – a pay-for-use contract with Manitoba Telecom Services to provide WIFI in city-owned buildings including libraries, recreation centres and pools.As much as I’m disappointed with that sham of a plan, nothing could prepare me for my disappointment at what has been done WIFI-wise at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. I am currently covering the Crystal Taman inquiry, which is being held at the WCC. This city-owned facility formerly offered WIFI through the Bell-Rogers-Fido-Telus “Hotspot” consortium. Although it was pay-for-use, it was very reliable and a great spot to stop for WIFI downtown (open long hours, lots of places to sit down, no need to buy a coffee just to justify a quick WIFI hit). Now, however, the WCC is providing its own WIFI, and doing so in a rather obscene fashion.First, after signing on to the WCC WIFI homepage, you find out that you cannot subscribe to their service on-line. You have to call a phone number to register and pay. Making wifi customers dial in to create an account is so incredibly backward, I don’t know what to say. But it’s only after calling the number listed on the homepage that the real joke is unveiled.Get ready - $100 for two days worth of access.Shut the front door!Most commercial WIFI ISPs offer their services for between $30 and $40 per month, unlimited access. Even on a daily basis, it would be hard to find a service that charges more than about $15.So, the marquee meeting place in Winnipeg, the place where we welcome all kinds of conventions, trade shows and special events is offering WIFI that you cannot subscribe to on line and at a rate that puts it well outside the budget of even the wealthiest business traveller. We just can't get this one right. Even in our public libraries, where hard-wired internet access if free, we cannot do what virtually every other library in North America has done - offer free wireless to acknowledge the new wireless age.I have a suggestion for the new city slogan.Winnipeg: Enduringly Backward.-30-
  • An organic approach....

    Coincidence or no? News unfolds in a way that makes you wonder if someone is up there pulling the levers for maximum dramatic input. As evidence, I humbly submit a story from today's Free Press about the most recent condo development for Waterfront Drive.The developer, Green Seed Development Corp., has acquired an oddly shaped parcel of land from Centre Venture which is just north of existing condos opened last year. GSD hopes to erect cube-styled condos that will range in price from $170,000 to $300,000. The development is supposed to appeal more to childless couples and young professionals who could not muster the capital to move into the other Waterfront Drive condos, which are much more expensive. The developer is collecting deposits on the units and if enough people plunk down their cash, construction will begin this fall.What is fascinating about this development is that it didn't wait to see if a football stadium was built further north in Point Douglas, and it precedes efforts to offer Tax Increment Financing (TIF) grants to spur development. The developer has what he believes is a good idea, and he's going for it. In this regard, it is a truly organic free market entity.Is this an important development in the debate over the football stadium for Point Douglas? Both sides of the equation will find ammunition here.First, neither the developer nor the first gaggle of investors seemed rattled by the prospect of a 30,000-seat stadium in their neighborhood. GSD reported, in fact, that the first group of people to lay down their cash seemed to be very positive about the prospect of a nearby stadium.Those opposed to the stadium will correctly claim GSD is evidence that you don't need mega projects to spur development of the area. This is a case where the developer is neither daunted by, or motivated by, the prospect of the Asper development. So, if the Asper vision for Point Douglas is turned back, then there is a good possibility other developers will step in to do their own thing.We may get a chance this fall to determine what Green Seed means in the grander scheme of things. If uptake on the GSD proposal is slow, the project may not proceed. If that happnes, then people can try to blame it on the mega projects proposed for Point Douglas. (Of course, all that may be dust in the wind in a few weeks.) If the project, and Asper's plans for PD go ahead together, it would be very solid evidence the stadium will not preclude mixed-use development for the area.The debate continues.-30-
  • Getting a degree in applied auto theft

    The stunning report by colleague James Turner in today's dead-tree Free Press has certainly advanced the contentious debate over what to do about the very worst car thieves. The report notes that nearly half of 194 inmates serving time in the Manitoba Youth Centre are in for auto-theft related crimes. Worse, these "worst-of-the-worst" offenders spend their time at the MYC swapping war stories and tips on how to steal certain kinds of cars or evade police in high-speed chases.The hard-core, thrill-seeking car thief has certainly become THE story in this city. Week after week, we read about chronic and incorrigible auto thieves who are begging for police to take them on a high-speed chase through city streets. Then we read about how they celebrate their criminal accomplishments and thumb their nose at the inability of the youth criminal justice system to stop them from unleashing their mayhem on the city.There has been a vigorous debate ongoing in this country about how best to deal with youth offenders. This space has challenged the efficacy of longer sentences as a tool to curb youth crime. But let me be the first to say that what may apply to the gross majority of youth offenders does not apply to the hardest of the hardcore. Longer sentences may not deter these violence junkies, but society is probably left with little other choice but to create a new category of dangerous offender whose sentences will be comensurate with their lack of remorse and dedication to their evil craft.I suppose there were quite a few people who saw this day coming. Various law enforcement and government programs have cut down on the sheer number of auto thefts and auto thieves, but in a stroke of tragic irony we have been left with a smaller number of more dedicated car thieves creating as much or more carnage. In the early days of the debate over MPI's forced immobilizer program, there were quiet voices warning us about what would happen when the less dedicated car thieves were frustrated enough to give up joy riding - we'd be left with the real hard cases.But how do we defuse these ticking time bombs? I'm still sceptical about longer sentences, but I'll acknowledge we have few other tools to directly combat this problem. It's important to note that Turner's story confirmed that MYC inmates get absolutely no access to counselling or programs to convince them there are other options in life. Crime and punishment types will sneer at "programming" as a solution but doing absolutely nothing seems to be a recipe for disaster.I know quite a few people in corrections and they often tell me about how few people are "reformed" by a stint in jail. There is a small percentage who get a taste of the big-house life and decide they never want to experience that again. There are many more, however, who thrive inside prison because of the rigid order, relatively low-maintenance lifestyle (you don't have to make many decisions, and have no real responsibilities to deal with) and three square meals a day. And then, there are those who see a few years here and there in a prison as at worst the cost of doing business, and at best it's a badge of honour.The rantings of these hard-core car thieves are beginning to sound more and more like the twisted rationalizations of those revelling in a life of organized crime. It's a certainty that gang activities motivate some of the remorseless auto thieves but others are likely aimless youth who have found an exciting identity as a fearless, gangsta car jacker. And it has clearly become a culture in and of itself - which really puts them in a similar context with real gansters.I agree these thugs are unlikely to be persuaded to give up this identity/culture when confronted by the current array of tools in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The CJA is predicated on the belief that most youth offenders do not require hard jail time to turn their lives around. The problem is these hard cases no longer live in a world that is even remotely connected to the CJA. Would minimum (longer) sentences or dangerous offender classifications change their outlook? That is the gazillion-dollar question. However, even those of us who like to piss on longer sentences have to admit that faced with the current situation, the issue of longer sentences has nothing to do with rehabilitiation and more to do with doing something, anything, to get as many of these hard cases off the streets and away from car ignitions.Classic bleeding-heart liberal analysis (and I'll admit I'm guilty 100 per cent on that charge) would say this only defers the problem, and doesn't solve it. But all sides of the debate realize we've reached a new risk level when the criminals get their kicks by engineering increasingly dangerous high-speed chases with police. I have less trouble understanding why people steal to make money, or to increase a sphere or power/influence. But criminals who offend simply for the thrill of the offense is frightening to everyone, regardless of politics or ideology.More importantly, there are certain types of criminals for whom incarceration is a matter of public safety, not reformation. Nobody thinks Clifford Olson or Paul Bernardo will be reformed by a stint in prison. We lock them up forever because it's the only option we have (short of the death penalty, but we won't get into that here.) I'm not sure if it's fair to compare these chronic car thieves with Bernardo, but you have to wonder if the psychology is similar.Those who long for longer sentences for all young offenders should take comfort. Given the increasingly violent nature of the criminals and their crimes, I can't see how you're not going to get your wish.-30-
  • A clash of visions

    Throughout my time in Winnipeg, I have watched the painful, emotional debate over how best to restore the glory to Winnipeg's core. I find it fascinating that each time a new proposal arrives - whether it was the Forks/North Portage Development, the MTS Centre or now the debate over a football stadium for Point Douglas - there is such an intense disagreement about how to proceed. And this clash of visions is quite evident in the blogging community.The blogging reactions have varied from the reasonably balanced approach of our friends at Policy Frog who seem to engage on all sides of the issue with a somewhat positive although cautious analysis.The reaction at Rise and Sprawl challenges the very underpinnings of the Asper proposal for Point Douglas and suggests strongly that the community that exists there now is evolved enough and successful enough to be left as is. R&S is joined in this view, albeit in less elegant form, by the young Turks at Progressive Winnipeg who seem to have sipped from the Black-Rod-conspiracies-R-us kool-aid once too often.I personally like the Point Douglas plan, but like many of the above commentators, I have my concerns and a small list of prerequisites I'd like to see respected. Mostly, I'd like to see a decision that tries to accomplish as much good as humanly possible while remembering that someone (can you say Jordan Van Sewall?) is going to be upset about what you do.As was the case in the debate over the demolition of the Eaton's building to erect the MTS Centre, and the battle over Upper Fort Garry, there is a profound difference of opinion about whether downtown should be left to its own evolutionary pace, or whether progress should be allowed to run rampant. Rise and Sprawl makes the case that Point Douglas is already a community that has evolved into its final form, one that doesn't require a "fix." On that point, I will humbly disagree.I spent a fair bit of time in Point Douglas recently to pen a piece for the dead-tree paper, and think this is an interesting but somewhat inaccurate portrayal of the area. Yes, it has its charming areas, and colourful residents. There are many artists and reclusive older urban professionals who dig the unpolished beauty of the area. But the artist’s enclaves that R&S celebrates do not outnumber the crack and flop houses.Yes, Point Douglas features artists and those who wish to escape the pressures of urban, suburban, and ex-urban sprawl. But it is also a community without a deep foundation. One of the driving demographic forces that created the blight and crime in North Point Douglas was the slow expiration of the older immigrant families that helped to build the once grand Point Douglas. As these older families left, or died off, the dilapidated housing stock fell into the hands of slum landlords, who rented to mostly transient tenants who have no interest in maintaining the properties but a keen taste for illegal drugs. While there are small pockets of stability in both North and South Point Douglas, this overarching trend needs to be addressed. The North Point Douglas residents committee has done good work clawing back their part of the community from the undesirables but what of the future?I am unsure whether the Asper plan "fixes" the community, or simply eradicates it once and for all. I am more convinced that in its current form, and without any new development in the area, Point Douglas will likely one day end up in the hands of slum landlords, transients and crack dealers.As for the historic or architectural importance of the buildings in the area, I will defer to the more knowledgeable analysis at R&S, a site that has become a definitive source on such matters. (Ooops, I'm kissing up again!) My list of prerequisites includes a mix of old and new, with special effort made to save any building of character or historical importance. I have been told by David Asper that he intends to do just that. The proof will be in the final land-use details.The debate here seems will focus on two main options.First, leave Point Douglas as is and hope that the good work down by people like NPDRC honcho Sel Burrows will continue to hold the slum lords and crack dealers at bay. Or, turn this historically significant neighbourhood over to a commercial developer, albeit one that comes from a family that has, I believe, put its money where its mouth is in terms of improving Winnipeg.I know there are some out there in the blogosphere who live and breathe conspiracy theories about who will ultimately profit from this grand development. I'm focusing on an entirely different question: Can something be good even if it's not altruistic? Or, more accurately, does it matter that someone makes money developing Point Douglas if it brings people to visit or even live downtown?Stay tuned all, this is going to be a dandy.-30-
  • As a drawing-board idea, this is pretty neat

    If you've ever wanted someone to do something bold for this city, then you'll love David Asper's plan for Point Douglas. Whether you are in favor of a football stadium or not, this is a pretty cool idea. And so completely un-Winnipeg-like. That's probably what I like about it the most.So, let's see how many holes we can poke in this over the next few days. Isn't that what Winnipeggers do?-30-
  • That explains it....

    Found the news this morning that a federal court had quashed certain findings of the Gomery Commission quite fascinating. There were a few heads shaking when former Prime Minister Jean Chretien filed suit against John Gomery to protest bias and a lack of fairness in his report. The decision handed down yesterday completely upheld those claims, and the court ordered findings in the Gomery report - those that concluded Chretien and his staff were partly responsible for the Adscam scandal - quashed.I found it interesting because that is essentially what former Crocus CEO Sherman Kreiner is trying to do here in Winnipeg. The embattled Kreiner filed suit in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench alleging bias and a lack of fairness and due process in the work of former Manitoba Auditor General Jon Singleton. (I include below a copy of the most recent story on this suit - I could not find a live link to the story so it's the best I could do.)Crocus stopped trading in December 2004. Singleton's investigation of Crocus in April 2005 painted a damning picture of an investment fund out of control and desperate to cover its mistakes. Singleton concluded valuations of certain Crocus investments had been deliberately overstated to protect the share price. He also took issue with expenses and benefits enjoyed by former Crocus chief investment officer James Umlah. Among the biggest impacts of the report is the RCMP criminal investigation, which continues to simmer somewhere on the backburner.Like Chretien, Kreiner's decision to file suit had a lot of heads shaking. How can you quash a finding in a report that's already been released to the public? In truth, you cannot erase the past but if you are one of the people named in a report like this, you can certainly make your point that you were not treated fairly.In Chretien, the federal judge determined Gomery had reached his conclusions without hearing all the evidence. This is one of the most fundamental issues in both the Chretien and Kreiner suits. Kreiner claims that by the time he was interviewed by OAG investigators, Singleton had already reached his conclusions about who was responsible for the Crocus collapse. On this point, there appears to be little disagreement; a draft copy of the voluminous report was delivered to the Crocus board just a few days after Kreiner was interviewed. Kreiner has, in his documents, shown quite clearly that material facts in his statements to the OAG were not included in the report. Regardless of whether Kreiner's version of events is believable or not, the principle upheld by the Chretien decision is that you cannot slam someone without giving them a chance to defend themselves.Kreiner's suit is still working its way through the courts, but he has won an important pre-trial decision that upheld his right to challenge the manner in which Singleton ran his investigation. Lawyers from the province had argued the OAG is beyond such claims because it is protected by parliamentary privilege - a broad legal concept that protects otherwise defamatory statements and findings from legal action.Regardless of the outcome of the Kreiner suit, there are those who will be resolute in their belief that the former Crocus executive is the bad guy. Just as many people still believe Chretien had a hand in Adscam. And yet, it's important that the tools we use to ferret out wrongdoing - criminal investigation, judicial inquiry, and investigation by an office like the OAG - be done in strict accordance with the principles of fairness and due process. The court decisions may not repair the reputations of those defamed in the original investigations, but it keeps the investigators on their toes.*****Crocus ex-CEO wins legal victoryWinnipeg Free PressThursday, December 6, 2007Page: B3Section: CityByline: Dan LettFORMER Crocus Investment Fund CEO Sherman Kreiner is one step closer to his day in court.The Manitoba Court of Appeal decided unanimously Wednesday that Kreiner is free to challenge former auditor general Jon Singleton's landmark investigation and report into the collapse of Crocus.Ken Dolinsky, the lawyer representing Kreiner, said the court was persuaded there is merit to Kreiner's case and that issues raised about the manner and scope of Singleton's investigation, and the conclusions reached in his report, should be heard by a court."What I took from the court's decision was that it saw the issues raised by Sherman as issues of broader interest that can go forward on their merits and be decided by a court," Dolinsky said.In the fall of 2006, Kreiner filed an application to have the court review the method used and conclusions in his investigation of the Crocus Investment Fund. Singleton launched the investigation shortly after the fund stopped trading in December 2004. Kreiner has asked that certain parts of the report be quashed.Kreiner argued in court documents that the report, released in June 2005, irreparably damaged his career and paralyzed Manitoba's venture capital markets. Kreiner has claimed Singleton overstepped his powers and failed to consider conflicting accounts of what happened to the doomed fund.A Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench judge determined that Kreiner's suit had the merit to proceed to trial. The office of the auditor general appealed that decision, setting the stage for Wednesday's judgment.Bill Haight, the lawyer representing the office of the auditor general, said he's not in a position to comment.In previous pleadings, Haight has said Kreiner's suit is "frivolous." Haight has also argued that Singleton cannot be sued because his work is protected by legislation granting the auditor general privilege.Despite Wednesday's decision, Dolinsky acknowledged it's too early to schedule a trial date.The office of the auditor general could make application to have this appellate decision reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada, he added.-30-
  • Why are gas prices so high? (2)

    In today's Financial Post there is a fascinating story describing testimony by senior oil industry analysts at Congressional hearings into spiking oil prices. The four fellows highlighted in the FP story all encouraged Congress to curb crude oil speculators to bring down oil prices. If done quickly, the analysts believe oil would come down to the US$65 a barrel range. "I believe, based on supply and demand fundamentals, crude oil should not be abbove US$60 per barrel," said Fadel Gheit of Oppenheimer and Company. "There is no reason to think that tighter regulation would do any harm to anyone but the speculators."The only dissenting opinion in this story comes from one of those specualtors, Phil Flynn, vice president of energies at Alaron Trading, who said any curb on speculation would only have a temporary impact. Flynn also said government intervention was unwise because "the fundamentals are sound" in the oil market.So, we have experts in the oil industry crossing swords with each claiming that market principles or fundamentals back up their positions. There is probably room for disagreement here, given the complexity of commodity markets and the tenuous nature of global political events. However, regardless of which position is the more genuinely fundamental, it's hard not to conclude that the harm being done to the world right now outweighs the good done for market speculators.Read and hear more on the congressional testimony here.-30-
  • News Flash! Blogger turns to dead-tree medium to get message out!

    I am so excited about Jim Cotton's newsletter project, I just had to try and do what I could to promote it.The best bloggers in the city are, legitimately, approaching the quality and frequency to be called good media, whether you choose to attach an "alternative" tag to it or not. Cotton's work on Pitt certainly ranks right up there with the best current affairs commentary in the province.Go get'em Jim.-30-
  • And now for something completely different....

    I have always been one of those people who sees the art in high-concept advertising. This fantastic ad from the people at Sony falls into that category, IMHO.What really makes the spot, however, is the haunting soundtrack by Swedish folk sensation Jose Gonzalez. His version of Heartbeats, a pop hit in Sweden, is absolutely wonderful. I have since become a huge fan of Gonzalez. (You must check out his cover of Massive Attack's Teardrop - it is a wonderful interpretation of a wonderful song.)So you can imagine how thrilled I was to see he is appearing July 1 and 2 at the Park Theatre on Osborne Street. Given that I live within walking distance of the Park, I snapped up a couple of tickets pronto. For the non-cottage set, I can't imagine better entertainment on Canada Day.-30-
  • Why are gas prices so high?

    This has been a question nagging at me for some time. Last week, I woke up to a CBC world report story on this very subject. I wiped the sleep from my eyes, rolled over to get a better angle to listen to the radio, and waited to be enlightened.When the report was over, I was left just as confused as I was before. Prices at the pumps are breaking new barriers, it seems, every two weeks. We get used to seeing $1.20 per litre, and then I see we've risen above $1.30. I read as much as I can on line and in national dead-tree publications to try and understand how this can be. And still, I get no satisfcation.Is it market speculation? Are we running out of crude oil? Is OPEC pulling back on production? Are increased taxes and royalties being charged by countries around the world driving oil companies to increase the price of a barrel of oil? Or, are the oil companies just ratcheting up the prices to see how far they can push us until we grab torches and pitchforks and head to the local gas bar?And then in last week's Financial Post I read a story generated by the Reuters news agency that pulled together some interesting facts. Reporter Jane Merriman explains that total world oil output fell in 2007 for the first time in five years. Quoting Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP Plc, it appears that a variety of global factors led to the overall decline in production. Hayward notes, however, that this is less about the total amount of crude under the ground than it is about the various hurdles to getting it out and refined."We are not running out of hydrocarbons," Hayward noted, "but bringing them into production is a different matter. When it comes to producing more oil, the problems are above ground not below ground, and human not geological."The story notes that contributing above-ground, human problems include increased taxes and royalties by oil-producing nations on the private companies that develop the oil reserves, and decreases in production among OPEC nations and other non-OPEC countries like Venezuela and Russia, which is the second-largest producer of crude. The result is that there are hundreds of thousands of fewer barrels of oil being produced now from just two years ago.When you look at these trends, obviously there is little motivation for oil producing countries to ratchet up production. They are making more money selling less product, which appears to be a classic winning strategy in the old supply and demand equation. The only counterveiling force is, quite frankly, the increasingly frantic consumers of petroleum products who are putting pressure on their governments to do something to ease gasoline prices. Will oil producing nations respond?Well, at least one has. Saudi Arabia has agreed to increase production to ease the energy crunch, and is asking that oil producing and consuming nations attend an international summit to figure out what should happen with oil prices. And now it gets really interesting.Will market speculators respond if the supply increases, or will greed eclipse natural market forces? I'm not convinced that the decisions oil-producing nations are making is not partially based on concerns about exhausting supply. There seems to be a sense that oil producers like what's going on, and they're managing their business to ensure the good stuff lasts a good long time.I'm leaving the car in the garage today - it's my only hedge option.*****In other energy related news, colleague Mary Agnes Welch has a solid story in today's FP confirming that Manitoba Hydro will charge its residential customers more if they use more electricity. Although some homeowners would be surprised to know this isn't already happening, Hydro is only now getting in on the "inverted rate" model to curb domestic consumption. You get one rate for the first 900 kw/hs and then the rate goes up once you've crossed that threshold.Among the alarming facts in the story, Saskatchewan's annual domestic consumption goes down about three per cent every year on the strength of inverted rate pricing. In Manitoba, where we have award-winning demand-side management programs, our consumption goes up about seven per cent annually.Nuff said.-30-
  • My HNIC theme song contribution, with some help from Stephen Colbert

    I didn't accurately predict that CTV/TSN would snap up the HNIC theme song. I thought the big foreheads at CBC Sports would get their act together and pay the composer. But even though I thought it was possible the theme could go elsewhere, I never thought this would happen.ENJOY!-30-
  • When the going gets tough, the tough don't show up to vote.

    So, the federal budget passes and 80 Liberal MPs fail to show up to vote on it, primarily because it contained contentious amendments to immigration law opposed by the Grits. Is this capitulation, cowardice or clever politics?Early handicappers argued the immigration bill - which gives the federal immigration minister robust powers to limit the number of immigrants coming to Canada - was going to snooker the Liberals. The Tories cynically buried it within the budget bill, making it a matter of confidence. Vote for it, the Grits avoid an election but they are condemned by immigrants who have always been a core constituency of support. Vote against it and trigger an election, something the Stephane Dion-led Liberals desperately do not want right now. Those early predictions failed to account for option three - just don't show up.As hard as it may seem to comprehend, it was not showing up was probably the best strategy available to the Liberals. Some Liberal MPs did show up for the vote and were recorded as opposed, in keeping with the party's position. And by not showing up, Liberals were saved from the absurdity of abstaining. That is not to say the Liberals will get off without some collateral damage.Both the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP flung criticism at the Grits, accusing them of abandoning their democratic responsibilities and aiding and abetting the Conservatives in eviscerating the immigration system. This is fair comment, even if they are delivered with a bit too much venom. However, this really is more about positioning for an election than it is an abandonment of solemn democratic responsibilities.Quebec politics is chaotic right now, with neither the Liberals nor Conservatives providing much of an alternative to the Bloc. The BQ has the luxury of voting against the budget bill because it is the only party that does not fear an election, primarily because it would likely benefit from a vote sooner rather than later.The NDP, on the other hand, see this as a keen opportunity to leap frog both the Tories and Liberals in key battlegrounds like Toronto and Vancouver, where large immigrant communities are keenly aware and concerned about the immigration bill. Condemn the Tories for introducing the law, and the Liberals for not defeating it, and hope that when the smoke clears, there's another 20 NDP MPs in the House of Commons.Perhaps, in a more perfect world, the Liberals would have selected a leader that would have them ready for an election now, and they could have trounced the budget bill with abandon. That didn't happen. By not showing up for the vote, the Liberals have generally kept their position intact and have ensured for the most part that the Conservative government will have to bear the responsibility for the immigration bill.The NDP and Bloc should remember that immigrant voters are not rubes and they know which party is the author of the changes to the immigration act. And when it comes time to vote in the next election, immigrants and their advocates will likely focus on the party that introduced the bill, not the party that gave an opportunity to defeat it. The fact is that by allowing the immigration bill to pass, the Liberals have all but ensured the Tories own the immigration bill, and as a result will continue to have difficulty getting traction in the key urban battlegrounds across the country they desperately need to form a majority government. Will voters in Toronto, for example, jump to the NDP out of disappointment the Liberals didn't defeat the bill? Perhaps, but not likely.It's ugly but within the context of the black art of parliamentary democracy, it's effective. The real question now is, will it help the Liberals get back in the game? Unless the Liberals can find an antidote to the pathetic profile of their leader, it's just a stay of execution. With a spring election now out of the question, it will be interesting to see what the Liberals do this summer to change their fortunes.-30-
  • Hee-hee

    This is fantastic. Enjoy.-30-
  • A riddle wrapped in a mystery

    So the NDP has decided to drop some of the more contentious, and quite frankly more curious, aspects of Bill 37, the overhaul of election and electoral financing introduced this spring by the NDP. No longer will the NDP government put a cap on non-election advertising by opposition parties, and the content of said advertising will no longer be vetted by a legislative committee dominated by the government of the day. All that leaves only one question.What the heck was the NDP thinking?Bill 37 arrived, for the most part, out of nowhere. It was sweeping - fixed election dates, new per-vote rebates, controls on political advertising - and seemed to imply there had been a lot of work done on it. But it was also clumsy and inexplicable in places. And it stirred such a hornet's nest of anger from the core critics of the NDP that it was hard to tell what Premier Gary Doer's end game was.Now we have the spectre of a majority government being forced to drop parts of a hallmark bill after opposition parties and lobby groups threatened to gridlock the legislature with filibusters and delegations to committee hearings. (As an aside, parliamentary democracy rocks and the Tories should be congratulated for using the tools at their disposal to put a stamp on Bill 37.)Other questions now linger. Why was Bill 37 introduced in the spring with a plan to have it passed before the summer break? Did the NDP not anticipate the blowback on this one? And why in the world would Doer introduce the per-vote allowances when he above all would know that kind of largesse would galvanize his opponents.As is the case with Bill 38 - the amendments to the balanced budget law - Doer seems to be buying more trouble than he needs to. Dropping the requirement to balance the operating budget on an annual basis was silly unless you're going to repeal the whole law. Tweaking it only angers and unites your opponents.The premier's instincts have always been the NDP's strongest asset. One can only wonder now if those instincts are a bit off the mark right now.-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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