Under the Dome

with Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

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  • Dewar's 1st budget

    04/22/2015 11:57 AM

    If he hasn't been already I would expect rookie Finance Minister Greg Dewar to be burning the midnight oil over the next week.

    Next Thursday (April 30) is B Day for Dewar and the Selinger government.

    The relatively untested Dewar presents his first budget first to media in the budget lockup and then in the House in his budget speech.

    Dewar has been an MLA since 1990 and has had several responsibilities over the years, including being his party's whip. There was also an attempt to have him elected as the House speaker, but he lost out to Daryl Reid.

    The Selkirk MLA was only promoted (or thrust) to cabinet last Nov. 3 at the height of the NDP caucus rebellion.

    Earlier in the day five cabinet ministers resigned their posts in protest over Premier Greg Selinger's leadership.

    Included in that was then finance minister Jennifer Howard and her predecessor Stan Struthers, who was at the time the minister responsible for municipal government and Manitoba Hydro.

    In a blink of an eye Dewar became Selinger's fourth finance minister since he became premier in 2009 after former premier Gary Doer resigned to be Canada's ambassador to the United States. Former finance minister and Selinger ally Rosann Wowchuk resigned for personal reasons in 2011.

    Next Thursday all eyes will be on Dewar to see how he performs, and more importantly, thinks on his feet to not only to repeat NDP talking points, but to answer some expected tough questions on how the New Democrats are managing the province's economy and controlling the public purse.

    Dewar has already hinted that his first budget will have a plan to show Manitobans how the government will be out of deficit. The working deadline is by 2017, but it's expected Dewar will talk about how that will possible with continuing pressures on health care, education, family services and corrections.

    The NDP have run deficit budgets since 2009 in part in response to that year's recession.

    All eyes will also be on Dewar budget day because he will be the point person for the NDP to show us that the party has put its leadership feud behind it and is ready to govern again.

    It's no secret to those in the bureaucracy and for those who do regular business with government, like our Crown corporations, that precious little got done during the insurrection.

    Dewar also has to perform well in the days after during the budget debate in the house. And in estimates, the sometimes grueling process where the opposition gets to grill ministers on departmental spending and policy. Any slip and it quicky ends up on Twitter.

    Put it all together, Dewar's performance will be more important than his boss's in the coming days and weeks.

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  • Kids are alright, photo radar isn't

    04/8/2015 11:52 AM

    Right up front I admit kids are great. They're fantastic. They're super.

    I have two of my own and love them to bits. They are fun to have around when they're not draping their socks on the living room coffee table or leaving every light on in the house or taking a shower for an hour.

    I would be absolutely devastated if either of them was hit by a car. I'd be emotionally crushed if they were hurt on their way to or from school. I'd be outraged if they were injured by a speeding driver or someone too busy texting to pay attention to the road.

    I also confess that I am among the more than 21,000 people who've been dinged speeding through one of the city's 300 new 30 km/h speed limit school zones.

    A photo radar van tagged me on St. Matthews across from Greenway School about three months ago. I was going about 42 km/h an hour and had to pay a $207.75 fine. It was just before 10 a.m. on a weekday.

    It was the second of two photo radar tickets I've got since photo enforcement was introduced in Winnipeg in 2003.

    Yes, only two. Yay me.

    But in the words of our former mayor Glen Murray, I'm an idiot and a lawbreaker.

    "To get a ticket, you have to be a complete idiot. This is a tax on idiots," his worship said Oct. 15, 2001 before intersection photo enforcement and mobile photo radar was rolled out.

    "If you persist in breaking the law, you will be fined," Murray added. "You're almost asking for it."

    But I'm not the only idiot and lawbreaker in this city. I have lots of company. Fine revenue from photo enforcement was a record $14.6 million in 2014, up from $11.6 million in 2013.

    That's a lot of lawbreakers. That's a lot of idiots.

    You people should all be ashamed. Tsk, tsk.

    Now, I've followed the evolution of photo enforcement since its inception. According to the Freep's electronic story morgue, I've filed about 200 stories on the subject.

    Yay me.

    My most recent had to do with the more than 21,000 speeding tickets churned out by photo radar in our new 30 km/h speed school zones. 

    As soon as the story saw the light of day Len Eastoe and I were condemned for criticizing police and not caring about the protection of children.

    We were booed off the page for essentially supporting idiots and lawbreakers to speed through school zones.

    Heck, it became like if you don't support the 30 km/h speed limit in school zones you must support the child pornographers.

    Groan.

    Here's the deal: When photo enforcement was brought in the Doer government imposed some rules on where the mobile cameras could go. Simply, the NDP told police how to do their jobs.

    In their wisdom the government told police that the mobile cameras could only set up in school zones, construction zones and near playgrounds.

    The cops had wanted the ability to use the cameras where drivers really speed, like on Bishop Grandin and other busy routes, but that police discretion was yanked away by a gun-shy government in re-election mode.

    At the same time we were all fed the line that the cameras were all about safety and teaching drivers to just slow down.

    This was all back in 2002-03.

    What's happened since then is that we've all figured out where the intersection cameras are and until last fall where the 10 mobile photo radar units deployed each day. We all learned how to spot them and we all learned how to just slow down for cameras and then continue on our merry way until slowing down again for the next camera.

    Us lawbreakers and idiots got so smart that photo enforcement also just slowed down -- churning out less cash for city hall and the province. Yes, the province also gets a cut of the loot. Under the deal, the city splits fine revenue with the province based on a scale; the higher the ticket, the more the city gets.

    With less fine revenue city hall was in a pickle.

    What to do? What to do?

    Think, think, think.

    Police, the city and the province came up with some solutions to reverse that downward slide in revenue.

    Improve the technology to digital from wet film to be more productive and faster. Pursue more aggressive speed enforcement in construction zones, and. . .

    Yup, you guessed it! Yay you! Bring in a 30 km/h speed limit in school zones. But just elementary schools. To heck with those high-school kids! The zones were OK'd by the province last year at the city's request.

    Winnipeggers were sold on the 30 km/h speed limit because Winnipeg was the only city in Western Canada that didn't have a school-zone speed limit. If it's good enough for Saskatoon, it must be good enough for us.

    So the speed limit was imposed last fall with barely a whimper in protest. It was all about saving the children, right? Who'd have the temerity on city council or the legislative assembly to question it?

    To this day, there is no evidence to suggest these new reduced speed-limit school zones were danger zones for kids in the first place. The Winnipeg Police Service, Manitoba Public Insurance and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority do not keep track of child injuries or fatalities in school zones.

    There is nothing to show that walking home from school on a Tuesday is any more dangerous than crossing a street to play at a friend's house on a Tuesday night.  

    We do know based on common sense that a child will suffer less severe injuries when stuck by a slower moving vehicle than one traveling faster.

    We also have some knowledge that an unsupervised child is at greater risk of being hit by a car. 

    But we also know that the mobile photo radar cameras have spewed out more than 21,000 tickets since October in the new 30 km/h speed limit school zones. We also know that number is partly behind the record windfall of fine revenue in 2014. 

    The point is, police have not increased enforcement. They still have the 10 mobile photo radar units they've always had.

    They just moved them.

    They just moved them from where they used to be deployed, the places the province said they could only set up, to the 300 new 30 km/h speed limit school zones.

    Are any of those original locations decreed by the provincial government any safer now that photo radar has moved on? Are there any less speeders?

    Of course not. People still drive past these locations they same way they always have. It's just that now there's no camera to catch the odd speeder.

    The cameras have moved to where it's more lucrative, to pick off all of us idiots and lawbreakers in reduced-speed school zones. 

    Safety, schmafety.

    The cameras have become just money boxes for the city and province. 

     

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  • Goodbye Danielle

    03/30/2015 11:37 AM

    Is Saturday's defeat of Alberta's former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, for the Progressive Conservative nomination of Highwood, a sign of things to come in Manitoba?

    For Theresa Oswald in particular?

    Smith will go down in political history as leading eight of her Wildrose colleagues to join the rival PCs last December.

    Smith's surprise defection from being leader of Alberta's Official Opposition to sit with Premier Jim Prentice's governing PCs is seen as the moment that truly defined her ambition, and on Saturday her ultimate defeat.

    Her comeuppance, if you will. 

    In Manitoba, does the same fate face Oswald?

    She's the one seen as leading a cabinet revolt against Premier Greg Selinger late last year and challenging him in a losing bid to lead the ruling NDP into the next election.

    How can she now return to sit in the legislative assembly, as the NDP MLA for Seine River, with that stain against her, and expect everything to be hunky dory? 

    Does she even want to come back?

    The house resumes business on April 30 with the government's new budget. If Oswald takes a seat in the backbenches, her presence will only serve as a distraction.

    It's conceivable that she'll become, if she isn't already, the de facto leader of the opposition. Whatever happens during the sitting, folks like me will be trying to ask her what she thinks, at times even before Selinger or PC Leader Brian Pallister.

    The other thing is that if she decides to return to the assembly, she will not be embraced by many within her own party or welcomed with open arms to caucus. She'll be the outsider, constantly reminded that she was the one who supposedly created this mess, and the one who lost.

    Is this what Oswald really wants?

    We also already know that Selinger is no further ahead in reconciling his divided party than he was after winning the leadership vote on March 8.

    Realistically, given everything that's been said and done by both sides in the NDP over that last eight months, it's unlikely the party will heal itself anytime soon.

    One also wonders if there is something else going on within the NDP for that anger to still be so visceral. What else don't we know? What's been left unsaid?

    Yes, it's entirely possible Selinger will lead the NDP to another election victory next year. The Tories need to capture a minimum of 10 more seats to form the next government, and that won't be a slam dunk. NDP incumbency combined with voter apathy will not make Pallister's job easy.

    Does Oswald want to be a part of Selinger's re-election campaign?

    Do the NDP and voters of Seine River even want her to represent them?

    I've asked a bunch of questions, no doubt questions Oswald herself has been asking.

    She's been largely unavailable to the media since losing the NDP leadership race and is spending time with her family.

    With watching what happened to Smith in Alberta, perhaps Oswald is also asking what's the more noble way for her to deal with her political lot in life: To resign on her own terms or risk having someone do it for her at a future constituency nomination meeting.

    Not an easy decision, but one she needs to make, if she hasn't already.

     

     

     

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  • Dear Dr. Phil

    03/16/2015 12:24 PM

    Dr. Phil Show
    5482 Wilshire Boulevard #1902
    Los Angeles, CA 90036

     

    Dear Dr. Phil;

    Boy, have I got a doozy of a story for you.

    Should you accept it, you won't just be trying to heal a family, but an entire province.

    And if you're successful you could be immortalized forever in our province's history. I came up with a photo to show you just one possibility. Everything else appears for sale in my province. Why not the Golden Boy's head!

    Anyway, I do hope you like the picture I picked of you. I stole it off the Internet. It does show your winning smile, and you'll certainly need it if you venture north of the 49th.

    Here's the background in case you missed it on the news: Our government is in a mess. Nothing is getting done. Nobody is talking. It's kind of like one of those dysfunctional families you deal with almost every day on your show.

    Like this recent one: A woman says her father is an Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the KKK and refuses to accept her biracial child.

    And this one: Dr. Phil's guests say they want to lose weight - but their loved ones are making it more difficult.

    Now, I bet you're asking how come you have to come to Winnipeg, and why can't our government come to your studio in LA?

    You'll make the final call, Dr. Phil, but I reckon you coming here would be so much easier. That's because our government has 36 people in it, and I'm not sure shoving all these people on your stage at the same time is a good idea. First of all, they'd all want to talk at once - you wouldn't even hear yourself think - and second, a lot of them don't like one another. You'd have to bring in extra security to keep them from tearing each other apart.

    We have plenty of extra space here for you to tape your show. We could even do it on the floor of legislative chamber. It doesn't get used that much anyway, and the seating plan would let you separate these people so that they're at least more than spitting distance away from one another.

    I know, I know, keeping 36 politicians in line at the same time with the same laser-like focus is asking a lot. It's nobody's dream job. That's for sure.

    So, how would you keep decorum, you ask? I have two words for you:

    Brian Pallister.

    He's the leader of our opposition. He's become the voice of reason in this cacophony that's gripped our province. He's a lot like you, Dr. Phil.

    (Dr. Phil, every time I spell his first name, my spellchecker asks if I want to spell it 'Brain'. It's like my spellchecker knows something I don't).

    Anyway, Brian Pallister has personally said he wants to fix this problem that we have with our government. He's said everything about it is wrong and that there needs to be a thorough house cleaning top to bottom the sooner the better.

    Brain, I mean Brian, and you could do the show together, Dr. Phil.

    There's also a public gallery so you could charge admission to help pay for your trip. The gallery also doesn't get used much, but with this, it could be a full house!

    Sounds pretty good, eh?

    But I know, you're probably asking yourself about public safety. How do you keep so many people safe and healthy in such a powderkeg environment? Way ahead of you, Dr. Phil.

    We have the finest paramedics and firefighters on the continent right here in Winnipeg. Heck, the firefighters could even wear their gold and black T-shirts so they can be spotted in an instant. They can be across that floor to help someone with the blink of an eye!

    So Dr. Phil, what do you say?

    Interested?

    I know, it's tough to believe all this, that this really happening.

    We all think so, too.

    Your biggest fan, Bruce 

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

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.

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