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Good, bad and downright ugly

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A quick perusal of the morning headlines will produce a wide range of ideas – good ones, bad ones and ideas that should be shot, buried and never talked about again.

Good – although a little late

The Canadian Auto Workers has been hoping against hope that it wouldn’t have to face concessions in the magnitude of those absorbed by their brothers and sisters to the south. This has caused a lot of concern because, if you believe automakers like Chrysler and legislators penning bailout packages, the end is nigh for some if not all the Big Three. However, over the weekend, the CAW made a move that seems shrewd, if a tad late.

The CAW agreed to have its remaining members toiling at Chrysler make, for the first time ever, pension contributions to help shore up the company’s pension plan. After watching some U.S. autoworkers lose their pension plan altogether, it was a shrewd move. Given that many Canadians either don’t have a pension plan, or belong to a plan where they have always been required to pay into their plans, this move may not only help the company restructure and save the pension plan, but it also helps politicians justify the bail out. The failure to make real concessions is making it increasingly difficult for the federal government to justify the multibillion-dollar bail outs. This will help.

Bad idea – dinner at Ruth’s Chris while travelling on city business

Politicians often get a bad, even unfair rap for the way they use their expense accounts. Sometimes, however, the numbers speak for themselves. A recent expose by our city hall honcho Bartley Kives exposes a fine-dining addiction that afflicts veteran city councillor Mike O’Shaughnessy (Old Kildonan).

Mike got to travel to NYC for a meeting with bond raters, and managed to sneak into Ruth’s Chris for some red meat and, we will assume, a glass of wine or two. It’s not clear how many people were with Mike during that meal – a party of four would have been quite a frugal feed in Manhattan. If it was Mike alone, or one other person, then it’s a bit over the top. According to documents obtained by the Free Press, Mike has a habit of running up tabs at fine dining establishments.

It’s okay to have a nice meal once in a while. But it’s also okay to eat the oatmeal at Starbucks, or a sub at Subway, just to balance things out. And besides, Ruth’s Chris is overpriced for what you get, IMHO. If you’re going to try and demonstrate your good taste, aim for discerning good taste. There are tons of great restaurants in Manhattan that won’t ding you $12 for a baked potato.

And the downright ugly…..

There was a tie in this category. The first really ugly idea that caught the attention of the Sausage Factory research department was the decision by the Liberal Party of Canada to hire Mick Gzowski to help prepare a farewell video for former Liberal Leader Stephane Dion. Gzowski was the official videographer for Dion when he was still leader, and thus was the man behind the camera for the infamous fuzzy face video that all but sunk Dion’s leadership.

The video was a response to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s desperate television plea to Canadians last fall to reject the prospect of a Liberal-led coalition government. Dion’s out-of-focus image has become a metaphor for his aimless leadership, and a symbol of political incompetence.

So, when you need to hire someone to put a positive spin on an otherwise negative performance, why not hire the guy who handed you the anvil while you were balancing on a high wire? That’s ugly.

Just as ugly was last week’s decision by Canada Post to back off a deal to swap land to build a new downtown letter sorting depot. The Crown letter carrier owns a piece of land on Portage Avenue at Broadway that is also coveted by the staff and students of neighbouring Gordon Bell HS, who want to make it a playing field. Canada Post was offered land at Higgins and Main Street but declined on the basis that it did not meet the company’s "needs."

Going through with the land swap was a great idea. And, in fact, it was seen as the likely solution right up until last Thursday. On Friday, CP drove a mail truck through the deal. Its explanation, that the location was problematic, seems to be a bit fishy. NDP MP Pat Martin, who has been following the negotiations closely, pointed out that CP did in fact make counter proposals on the Higgins/Main property. In particular, they wanted multi-year compensation for making the move. That seems like a lot of wasted breath if the location was that bad.

It seems more like CP thought there was a windfall out there to be had, and is now trying to drive a hard bargain. The image of a federal Crown corporation bleeding the city and province for a sweeter deal seems to betray the notion of "only one taxpayer." It also prevents CP from being a good corporate citizen that recognizes in this case, the case for green space for core-area kids should have trumped other concerns.

Ugly, but there is still a chance to dress this one up a bit.

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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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