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Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

  • Kissing your sister, NDP style

    Larry and I talk a lot. Sometimes it feels that we talk more to one another than we do our own families.

    Lately we talk a lot about the NDP leadership race and who will be the province's next premier.

    We already have a pretty good idea, based on the early delegate counts in each of the province's 57 electoral districts, that Steve Ashton appears at this early stage as the man to beat based on the number of delegates in Ashton-friendly constituencies. You can read which ones HERE.

    Rough math suggests at this stage Ashton has the edge in delegate support over Premier Greg Selinger and challenger Theresa Oswald.

    What we don't know is exactly how many delegates the unions will send to vote at the March 8 leadership contest. About 300 or more will attend, joining the approximate 1,300 constituency delegates, but we don't really know how they will vote. The unions are playing this game with their cards close to their chest, if not under the table.

    There were be another 200 automatic delegates, including party officials and MLAs. We can kind of guess how some of them will vote, depending on in which of the three camps they've pitched their tents, but at the same time it's a secret ballot, which obviously means all delegates can vote any which way they want to.

    It's this kind of stuff Larry and I talk about all day and sometimes in emails when we're at home:

    Larry: "There's a lot of anger within the NDP against the Rebel Five, and that anger could mean a lot of delegates won't support Oswald. She could drop off the first ballot. That means it's a fight between Ashton and Selinger."

    Bruce: "But then history could repeat itself and the anyone-but-Ashton jockeying takes over like it did it 2009. That means Selinger stays on as premier. Is that where this is headed?"

    Larry: "He is the man who delivered the party 37 seats in the last election, but the problem for him going into the next election is that pretty much all the people who ran the last election for him are now working for Oswald."

    Bruce: "My reading is that the best scenario for her is to place second on the first ballot. My understanding is that she's the second choice among delegates who support either Selinger or Ashton. I guess that means delegates who support Ashton don't support Selinger as second choice and those who support Selinger don't support Ashton as second choice."

    Larry: "So Oswald is second-best, then?"

    Bruce: "At the moment, I guess, although it's tough to imagine Selinger backers jumping to her side if the premier loses on the first ballot. Unless it becomes 2009 all over again.

    Larry: "There's all that anger against her and the others who rebelled against Selinger. I'm not sure the party can get past that."

    Bruce: "If you believe Oswald, they're going to have to if they want a shot at staying in government. Could they win with Ashton? Selinger?"

    Larry: "The only person Pallister has singled out is Oswald. That tells me he sees her as the biggest threat."

    Bruce: "Do you think party members recognize that, or has that anger blinded them?"

    Larry: "That anger is real. It could be a deciding factor. Then again it could come down to electability if there's a second ballot. Who's the best choice to lead the party into the election? And the unions. The union delegates could decide the outcome. The have as big a stake as anyone in the NDP. They don't want to see Pallister come in and bring in anti-labour legislation."

    Bruce: "So it could come down a vote that to end this they have to bury the hatchet, sing Solidarity Forever and pucker up, sort of like kissing your sister."

    Larry: "I wish it was March 8 already."

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  • How does the NDP fix itself?

    If you believe some people out there, the short answer is that it doesn't, at least not in the immediate future.

    They say they the only way for the ruling party to fix itself is to sit in opposition for a few years.

    They say that by sitting opposite to Premier Brian Pallister and his Progressive Conservative government, the NDP will finally be cleansed of the deep animosity that has built up within its ranks over the past few months.

    If things don't change within the NDP soon, many NDP MLAs will lose their seats in the next election. Or they may choose to retire before we go to the polls. Should the Tories win, scores of political staff would also move on to new careers.

    This would open the door for a new generation of Dippers to take over, a generation unsullied by the goings on at the Manitoba Legislative Building since late October. This new generation would be focused only on forming the next government, not passing the knife back and forth to stab themselves over who should lead them.

    The thinking is that the new leader under this scenario would be Point Douglas NDP MLA Kevin Chief, who has so far taken the high road in the almost-daily self-flagellation that now defines Today's NDP.

    What we're witnessing now is just how damaged the party really is, just how deep that anger is not only over the resignations by five cabinet ministers over the continued leadership of the party by Premier Greg Selinger, but also over Selinger deciding to stay on as premier and leading the party into a fractious leadership campaign to be decided March 8.

    Some say Selinger could have gone gently into that good night and no one would've been the wiser at just how poisoned things are with the Manitoba government.

    Others say if Theresa Oswald and the four other ministers had kept their mouths shut, no one would have wiser, either.

    We've already seen that anger in the barbs lobbed in the early days of the leadership campaign by NDP backbenchers Dave Gaudreau, Rob Altemeyer and Jim Rondeau against Oswald and her crew.

    Whatever, to think that this animosity within the party will magically vaporize March 9, and that the various factions will join hands with the new leader on the convention stage, is frankly laughable. The wound is just too severe.

    Whoever wins the leadership -- it really doesn't matter who -- will only guide a limping NDP into next election in April 2016. Selinger, Oswald and Steve Ashton do not have the power to reverse things. 

    They say there are five stages of grief, and we're already seeing them despite the body still being warm: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. 

    The NDP is in the anger stage now. If things don't change before the leadership vote, the party won't get past it.

    Until, perhaps, Kevin Chief becomes NDP leader after the next election.

    If he wants it.

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  • Gary Doer's exit and old wounds

    When former premier Gary Doer resigned in August 2009 to become Canada's ambassador to the United States, it set in motion issues that have festered ever since within the NDP.

    Before Doer headed to Washington D.C. he wanted someone to take over for him that he felt comfortable with, someone who would be seen to be a new, credible face for all that he had started in 1999 when his government came to power.

    But then-health minister Theresa Oswald wasn't available. Personal issues and the H1N1 flu scare took her out of the running for the top job.

    So Doer, or more specifically those around him, went to their second choice--then-training and trade minister Andrew Swan.

    Swan was the first of three candidates to declare his intention to replace Doer. 

    A day later Steve Ashton jumped in the race. 

    About four days later Greg Selinger threw his hat in the ring. 

    The three contenders each trotted out whom in caucus, the party and the unions supported them over the coming days.

    Swan had Oswald, Gord Mackintosh, Stan Struthers, Nancy Allan, Dave Chomiak, Ron Lemieux and Peter Bjornson in his corner. He also picked up the support of several unions, including the United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 832, the Winnipeg Police Association, the Manitoba head of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the then-president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, Darlene Dziewit. Swan's campaign manager was Becky Barrett, a former Doer cabinet minister.

    Ashton had the support of caucus colleagues Daryl Reid, Bidhu Jha and Tom Nevakshonoff . Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg; Peerless Garments owner Albert Eltassi; and his daughter Niki Ashton, the MP for Churchill, also publicly supported him. Transcona City Councillor Russ Wyatt was his campaign manager.

    Selinger had Rosann Wowchuk, Kerri Irvin-Ross, Eric Robinson, Diane McGifford, Bill Blaikie, Christine Melnick and then Winnipeg MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. He also had the support of Canadian Union of Public Employees national president Paul Moist and 14 member unions of the Manitoba Building and Construction Trades Council. His campaign manager was Lynda Geary.

    Selinger got his biggest boost when Swan withdrew from the race. 

    Swan's decision to quit was seen by some at the time seen as an orchestrated move by the NDP establishment to keep Ashton out of the premier's office. Ashton had surprised many by his strong showing in the north and in Winnipeg, and the fear was that if something wasn't done to put a stop to his momentum, Ashton could cruise to an easy victory simply because he had the delegate support.

    Ashton as premier was seen as too far a swing away from Doer's centrist government, and not representative of a party trying to renew itself in advance of the October 2011 general election.

    Swan and his supporters jumped on the Selinger bandwagon, and largely because of that support, Selinger easily defeated Ashton.

    Five years later, it's clear the wounds of that 2009 leadership campaign never healed.

    How events unfold in coming of days will in some respects be a rematch of 2009. Especially if Ashton runs.

    Except this time Theresa Oswald might be a contender.

    Might.

    "I do not anticipate an announcement this week," she said in an email Monday. "I am faithfully doing what I said I would, and that's talking to people.

    "It's time consuming, but critical. Am having wonderful, supportive responses and some notsomuch. Need to weigh carefully."

    Given everything that's happened over this past six weeks, it would a shame if Oswald did not run.

    It would mean her and Swan's resignations from cabinet, along with Stan Struthers, Erin Selby and Jennifer Howard, were a waste. 

    An absolute and tragic waste.

    I wonder what Gary Doer thinks about what's going on? He's not talking, but we're told he's not impressed.

    No kidding.

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  • Case dismissed: Manitoba Hydro's whistleblower

    Given everything else with Manitoba Hydro, is it any wonder we've forgotten about the "whistleblower"?

    The memory of the fallout of the whistleblower's allegations against Hydro came back to me when I recently skimmed the 2013-14 annual report for the Public Utilities Board.

    Deep in the report I read this:

    A Star Group LLC (Limited Liability Company) {the whistleblower's company} a New York company (A Star) filed a complaint (claim) against the PUB and other parties on June 29, 2013 in the Southern District Court of New York that made various allegations and sought numerous remedies, including damages from the PUB. A Star had provided risk consulting services under a series of contracts with Manitoba Hydro from 2004-2008. In carrying out its mandate respecting Manitoba Hydro's risks and rate impacts, the PUB agreed to receive, subject to confidentiality conditions, reports from A Star that had been prepared for Manitoba Hydro. The PUB retained counsel to represent it before the Court. The PUB sought dismissal of the claim for a number of reasons. Various matters were addressed by the Court in relation to the complaint during the reporting period. (On June 30, 2014 the Southern District Court of New York granted the motions by PUB and the other parties and dismissed the A Star law suit, with prejudice.)

    The judge's full decision is here.

    The A Star Group has filed a notice appeal in the case.

    The whistleblower alleged six years ago that the Crown corporation would go bankrupt or suffer blackouts because of its export-sales practices.

    Manitoba Hydro has said it subsequently paid out $4.3 million to deal with the fallout of the allegations, essentially to debunk them.

    The energy consultant -- her name has not been publicly revealed in Manitoba as it's protected under the province's Public Interest Disclosure Act -- started working for Hydro in April 2004 to help it process the sale of surplus power to the American Midwest market.

    That evolved to a larger consulting role in 2006 to review Hydro's risk and to recommend policies and procedures for a future risk-management system. Hydro said her contract was ended after she refused to take direction, ignored the original assignment and wouldn't offer details on her methods.

    She later launched the New York claiming breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, copyright infringement, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference with contract, or wrongful interference with her contractual or business relationships.

    The court dismissed her allegations. 

    Curiously, despite everything, the whistleblower's LinkedIn profile still lists Manitoba Hydro under her work experience as does the website for her New York-based risk advisory and consultancy firm.

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