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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.

  • Melnick's path to redemption

    It's not the easiest story to tell, but it could have a simple ending.

    Christine Melnick could be welcomed back into the fold.

    It's been almost a year since Premier Greg Selinger dropped her from cabinet.

    Selinger later said that was due in part because the former immigration and multiculturalism minister lied about her involvement in a decision to invite immigrants and immigrant service groups to a debate in the legislature April 19, 2012.  

    Selinger next expelled her from caucus, to sit as an independent, after the two locked horns in the media that his senior political staff had directed her and her department to issue the invitations to immigrant groups to attend the 2012 legislative debate. 

    Like I said, this is not an easy story to tell let alone follow every twist and turn.

    Certainly, in the big picture it as to do with credibility and the use of civil servants in political events.

    In the bigger picture, Selinger needs Melnick at his side again. And soon.

    Like an NDP insider tells me, her path to redemption means holding onto her Riel seat for the New Democrats in the next provincial election, likely in April 2016.

    The popular Melnick, first elected in 2003, won it easily in the 2011 provincial election over PC challenger Rochelle Squires. Squires was nominated in June to carry the PC flag again.

    Melnick has said she plans to run in the next election, and the thinking goes if Selinger lets her languish as an independent, it could split the NDP vote, giving Squires the edge and the PCs a shot at stealing an important south Winnipeg seat.

    It's a possibility the NDP can't allow. They will have a tough enough challenge against Brian Pallister without giving him a freebie.


  • Ripped from headlines: School zone speed traps?

    It seems there's not a lot of difference to what's going on in 2014 and what happened in 1965 with the debate over lower speed limits in school zones.

    In police parlance, the particulars are somewhat different, but overall you could describe us as being caught in a bit of a time warp.

    Back in the mid-60s, Winnipeggers were debating the safety value of a 15 mile an hour speed limit (24 km/h) in school and playground zones.

    Now the focus is on whether the signage for the new 30-kilometre speed limit in school zones is properly recognized under the city bylaw authorizing enforcement.

    The folks in the legislative library tell me the old 15-mile an hour limit was brought in by the province April 17, 1937 and put in force for the 1938 school year. It assessed a $5 fine for drivers caught speeding in a school zone when children were going to or leaving school during opening and closing hours, out for recess, or when the school grounds were in use by children. 

    The Highway Traffic Act section reads:

    Notwithstanding anything contained in the preceding subsections hereof any person driving a motor vehicle upon a highway at a greater rate of speed than fifteen miles per hour when passing a school building, or the grounds thereof indicated by road signs, contiguous to the highway during school recess or while children are going to or leaving the school during the opening or closing hours, or while the playgrounds of the school are in use by school children, shall be deemed to be driving the motor vehicle in other than a careful and prident manner. 

    Drivers got this reminder in the Sept. 1, 1938 Winnipeg Free Press of the new law:

    Speed Warning

     Winnipeg motorists were warned by Traffic Inspector W.G. Capelle Wednesday that the 15-miles-per-hour speed limit in school zones will be rigidly enforced after school
    opens Thursday.
     He asked that all drivers obey the law when driving past schools while children are around and that they drive with caution in the vincity of schools before nine o'clock, at noon and after four o'clock.

    In 1948, electric trolley buses, introduced a decade earlier, were legally considered to be a motor vehicle and also required to travel at 15 miles an hour through school and playground zones.

    By the early 1950s, with more cars on the road in a growing city, the 15-mile an hour speed limit wasn't as clear cut as when it was first imposed.

    Confusion over when the limit was enforced by police--during school hours or not--and what signage with could actually posted under the province's Highway Traffic Act about the speed limit became a concern.

    From the May 7, 1953 Free Press: (Click on headline for full story)

    Use Head And Brakes When Passing Schools 

     How do the enforcement officers, both provincial and city, interpret the act?
    Inspector Robert Still, chief traffic enforcement officer in Winnipeg, says his force watches particularly during the 15 minutes before after school opens and closes, and during recess.
     However, he adds that if the school ground is in heavy use at other times "it will pay you to watch your speed."
     The RCMP regard the school zones in the same way and watch the same times at country points.
    Both departments say, "Use common courtesy and your head, and you won't get in trouble."

    That seemed to be the general interpretation of the speed limit for the next decade, signs or not.

    By the mid-60s, it was revisited again when the province launched a review of the Highway Traffic Act to bring it up to modern standards.

    On Nov. 21, 1966 the 15-mile an hour speed limit was abolished and replaced by signs urging drivers to drive with "reasonable prudence."

    Winnipeg School Board Trustees and the Winnipeg Free Press opposed the change saying it placed kids at unnecessary risk.

     "The area of dissension appears to be centred on the hours during which the speed limit applies, the Free Press said in an Aug. 19, 1965 editorial. "Perhaps it would be foolish to expect a motorist to slow down to 15 miles an hour when he is passing a school at 4 o'clock in the morning.

    "The solution would seem to be to have the times during which the limit applies clearly stated in the law and made plain to the motorists by signs. If there is no agreement on the hours, then the limit should be enforced at all times. Better to have to slow down for a few seconds in the middle of the night than to risk injuring a child in the middle of the day."

    Winnipeg police supported abolition of the limit, saying the vast majority of drivers drive prudently around schools when kids are present, speed limit or not.

    From an earlier Dec. 29, 1965 front page story in the Freep, one senior city police office described the school zone speed limit as "almost a trap."

    Traffic Head Hits 15 m.p.h. Speed Limits

    Inspector Clarke Calls School Zones 'Almost A Trap' 


     Inspector Neil Clarke, urging abandonment of the speed limits before a meeting of the civic parks and recreation committee, said tests have shown that a 15-m.p.h. restriction is "not realistic." Insp. Clarke, who served recently on a special committee of the Manitoba legislature inquiring into traffic safety, said, "Tests prove 85 per cent of motorists will do what is reasonable. . . and the 85 per cent are travelling from 20 to 23 m.p.h. in the zones."
     He told the committee the regulations were not essential to safety because drivers will slow, down during critical periods even when they are not legally bound to do so.
    Radar checks had shown the average speed of motorists on Kenaston Boulevard near Carpathia School, a 40-m.p.h. zone,had been clocked at 22 m.p.h. when children were coming and going to school.
     "I feel strongly that by changing the regulation the same situation occuring on Kenaston Boulevard will prevail."
    The only measure that could prevent the unreasonable 15 per cent of drivers from exceeding the limit was to "barricade the streets,'' be said in reply too a question by Alderman Lloyd Stinson. "These people are not going to obey any law."
    Clarke continued:
    Insp. Clarke said the 15-m.p.h.speed limit was the most misunderstood section of the Highway Traffic Act. It only protects those on the street when the playgrounds or schoolyards are occupied.
    "If children are on the street and not in the yard and if time regulations are not in effect, the children are not protected by the law."
    "Thoughts are changing." he said. "It is no longer felt an arbitrary speed limit is necessarily a safe limit.


    Any of this sound familar? Anyone?

    In a follow up story, Nov. 28, 1966, Winnipeg Traffic Insp. D.A. Hicks said the elimination of the 15-mile-an-hour speed limit was sensible as it meant drivers would be more likely to obey the law even when there were no police officers around.

    "Motorists will voluntarily comply with a sensible regulation," he said. "It will make for better motoring."




    P.S. Thanks Rocky 


  • Manitoba's jails: By the numbers

    Earlier this year the province's auditor general released a report on overcrowding in Manitoba's jails. 

    The report found that the province's planning for future jail capacity is inadequate, and while many measures have been put in place to address overcrowding, it is still inadequate. It also found that the supervision of offenders in the community was also weak.

    Last week, the legislative standing committee on public accounts met to discuss the report. 

    Attorney General Andrew Swan and his deputies highlighted some of the efforts they're taking to address the auditor general's concerns and its 29 recommendations. Efforts include more preventative measures to keep young people out of jail. 

    To in part address overcrowding, the province has said it will build a new 180-bed jail in Dauphin. The new centre is currently in the design process with no specific date when construction will start or when it will be open. 

    I've pulled some numbers out of the meeting's transcript as a way to give you a glimpse of the province's correctional centres:

    - 10,000--the estimated number of adult offenders on any given day: about 24 per cent are in jail and another 76 per cent are supervised in the community;

    - 64 per cent--percentage of offenders in pre-trial custody or on remand status in 2010-11;

    - 66 per cent--percentage of adult offenders on remand status as of Aug. 27, 2014;

    - 52 per cent--the increase in overall capacity since 2008;

    - 126 per cent--the overall occupancy rate of correctional centres above rated capacity as on May last year;

    - 2,369--average number of adult offenders in custody in 2014, with daily counts ranging from 2,268 offenders to 2,441 offenders;

    - 62 days--average length of time an adult offender spends in jail serving a sentence;

    - 2,262--number of serious incidents, such as assaults, in the province's jails in 2013, down 11 per cent from 2,552 incidents in 2012;

    - 582--number of adult offenders identified as gang members, representing 20 per cent of the adult offenders in correctional institutions;

    - 113--number of youth offenders identified as gang members, representing 47 per cent of the youth offender population in custody;

    - 166 per cent--increase in contracted services for psychological and psychiatric services for offenders from 2007-08 to 2013-14;

    - 30 per cent--recidivism rate for released adult offenders as of last June. (It was 31 per cent in June 2010).


  • MPI's counter attack

    What's the real reason why Manitoba Public Insurance has picked a fight with the Public Utilities Board?

    My guess is that they see an opening and have the political blessing to take advantage of it.

    It's difficult to believe that newly-minted MPI boss Dan Guimond is doing this in isolation, and would not have briefed Attorney General Andrew Swan, the minister in charge of MPI, before letting loose the Crown corporation's lawyers on the PUB.

    Guimond says in a recent letter to the PUB that its process, to evaluate MPI's request for a 3.4 per cent rate increase for next year, has strayed too far from its legislative mandate. He also says the PUB and various intervener lobby groups are asking too many extraneous questions that have nothing to do with the rate request.

    Guimond says the PUB and the intervenors can ask all the questions they want about compulsory driver and vehicle or basic insurance, but nothing else. Some 400 submitted questions have gone answered by MPI.

    Does he have a point?

    The PUB is supposed to be an independent body, set up by the province, that acts in the best interests of Manitobans, not only in how much we pay for car insurance, but also in electricity and natural gas.

    Until now, it's been generally thought that it can poke its nose as far as it wants to do its job.

    In doing so the PUB has created a little bit of an industry, a nit-picking industry. It's created a rate-hearing process where the applicant, be it MPI or Manitoba Hydro, has to vigorously defend itself from the PUB and the phalanx of interveners on the sidelines, which have been approved by the PUB to ask questions.

    The stage is set that upcoming rate-request hearing will be adversarial. MPI is the monopoly evil-doer and the PUB and the intervenors are white knights on horseback riding to the rescue. No matter what MPI says or does in this process, it's doomed to fail.

    The interveners in this particular case are the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Consumers' Association, the Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups, CAA Manitoba, the Automotive Recyclers Association of Manitoba, Bike Winnipeg and the Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba.

    MPI has made it no secret that because it's their rate hearing that they pay the freight for the entire hearing, meaning they get to pay for the PUB and the interveners to ask them all sorts of questions. MPI's ballpark estimate for the hearing is about $2 million.

    Guimond says MPI has had enough of all those "confrontational" questions. He says he wants a more defined process rather than the scattergun approach now. Examples of intervener questions in this rate application include how it calculates the value of its assets, hires contractors to upgrade its IT, trains young drivers and buys used auto parts to fix damaged cars.

    The PUB has its own questions on these subjects:

    - the Dynamic Capital Adequacy Test, or what should be the target rate stabilization reserve level; and total equity level;
    - Road safety, or what MPI is doing to reduce crashes and a review of related expenditures, including efforts regarding vulnerable road users; the cost of operations; benchmarking, including with respect to other provinces;
    - Interest-rate forecasting methodology;
    - The disposition of excess reserves in the extension and special risk extension lines of business;
    - the value proposition for drivers for the rate increase being requested;
    - new or enhanced services being developed or examined by MPI;
    - alternate rate indications based on accepted actuarial practice;
    - unfavourable run-off of prior year claims during 2013-14; IT projects, including the physical damage re-engineering project;
    - the performance of the investment portfolio and the content of the portfolio and the investment policy statement.

    "The board will also consider a variety of other issues as they may arise," PUB hearing chairwoman Karen Botting said at an earlier hearing. "As always, MPI bears the onus in this proceeding of satisfying the board that its application should be granted on the whole of the evidence that it provides."

    Reading this it appears the PUB believes it has carte blanche when it comes to MPI, or any other applicant, and that effectively, the buck stops with them. Reading this it appears the PUB believes it, a government-appointed tribunal, can ask whatever it decides appropriate above anyone else who oversees MPI's operations; MPI's executives, its board of directors, Swan's office, cabinet, Crown Corporations Council, the auditor general and legislative standing committees.

    In response, MPI basically says the PUB become the chamber of second-guessing.

    PUB chairman Régis Gosselin has said that the board does not tell MPI how to run its operations.

    "The board's function is not only to protect consumers from unreasonable charges, or changes rather, but also to ensure the fiscal health of the corporation in fairness," he added.

    "It seems pretty clear to me that there's a responsibility on this board, based on this precedent, there's a responsibility on this board to scrutinize the costs of the corporation."

    Gosselin also took umbrage to MPI's claim, that's its basic line of Autopac insurance and its rate stabilization fund are unhealthy, because the PUB didn't grant them their full rate increase last year.

    "So to assign the responsibility to PUB for having failed to grant you what you wanted, I think is disingenuous," he said. "I'm really perplexed by your statement that would be made to that effect."

    Which leads me back to my first question: What does MPI really want?

    It goes back to a 2011 court case which saw MPI and the PUB fight it out over the disclosure of information by MPI to the PUB.

    The appeal court said while the fight between the two was interesting, it lacked the specific evidence of what the two were actually fighting about.

    "The court will not entertain or answer a stated case where the question is abstract, hypothetical, speculative, or overly broad," the appeal court said.

    Guimond and MPI are now giving the court something meatier to chew on.

    Guimond and MPI are going to get the province's highest court to lay down the ground rules for how it and the PUB are supposed to play.

    Not the Selinger government. Whatever the court decides, it won't stick to the NDP. In theory, anyway.


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