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The Home Front: my mom’s book on Hong Kong

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My mom has a book coming out Oct. 25 on her and her family’s experiences when my grandfather Victor Dennis was a POW following the fall of Hong Kong in 1941. (For some background click on the PDF for a May 1942 Free Press story).

The book launch for The Home Front is at McNally Robinson.

 My memories of my grandpa are scant; he died when I was eight.  I have his Winnipeg Grenadier’s beret, his lint brush, a floor lamp and radio.

I seem to remember that as a child I knew he had been in the war, but he never talked about it with us, his grandchildren.

I do know -- based on what my mom, uncle and aunt have told me over the years --  that he came home, after the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, a damaged man. It didn’t help that he chain-smoked. 

My mom’s book is based on her memories of what it was like growing up on Dorchester Avenue during the war, and my grandfather’s letters home to my grandmother, Lucy.

I am extremely proud of my mom for doing this. It took her years, and some anguish and frustration, to pull it all together.

The war and what it did to families -- all families -- is fading ever so quickly into history’s dustbin.

My mom put words to paper in part to remind people what war does. I know it sounds like a cliché, but war’s casualties just aren’t on the battlefield. 

She also wrote her book just to tell us the story of our own family, just so we don’t forget.

We live in a world where we get upset if the iPod doesn’t update fast enough. Most of us have no clue. No clue at all.

Manitoba’s Tories: a post-mortem

What follows is a column by Ken Waddell, with his permission, about the fall of Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives on election day.

"The more people who think this over, the better," he said in an email.

Waddell, a prominent Tory supporter and newspaper publisher, writes what happened Oct. 4 should not have come as a complete surprise:

Lacking clarity of purpose

Within two hours of the PC Manitoba defeat in Tuesday’s election and Hugh McFadyen’s resignation, Winnipeg Sun editor Tom Brodbeck posted a column. In part it said, "The truth is, I don’t know what Manitoba’s Tory brand has been for quite some time.  They used to have a brand in the 1980s and 1990s. You knew who they were and what they stood for. You didn’t have to tell Don Orchard, Clayton Manness, Eric Stefanson or Gary Filmon what being a conservative was. There was a clear distinction between them and their union-led, socialist, big-government opponents. But not anymore. The NDP’s agenda during this election — out-of-control spending, long-term deficits, record debt, weak justice policies — was the Tories’ agenda. They were one in the same."

Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press posted a column only minutes later saying in part, "Let’s be clear, this wasn’t just a win. It was a hands-down massacre of the Tories at the hand of the NDP machine."

As far back as 2003, I pondered why Manitobans would substitute one set of blue suits for another. The two parties had drawn themselves so close together that the average person can’t tell the difference between the two.

Coupled with the fact that half the people in Manitoba are employed directly by one of our levels of government, namely municipal, school divisions, provincial or federal governments, there is a huge built-in fear of, and reluctance to, in any way consider fiscal prudence. In simpler terms, people may favour some trimming of government expenditures as long as it doesn’t cut too close to their own back yard.

The PC Manitoba started off on the right foot in 2006. Newly elected leader, Hugh McFadyen established four policy sub-committees that reported to a provincial committee. My involvement with that was very direct as I served for two years on the main policy committee and co-chaired the economic opportunity policy group with Rick Borotsik. The effort expanded to five sub-committees by logically adding an agricultural and rural development group.

Each group was asked to present five policies. I can in fact show you on my computer to this day the findings of the five groups. However, somewhere in the bureaucratic rabbit warren that seems to overcome any group, those policies disappeared even though they were approved by grass roots committees. Dozens of people who poured their hearts into the policy process were basically set aside by party bureaucrats who of course knew much better than local members what was best for the party and for Manitobans.

Just for the record, here are the five economic opportunity policies that were developed and presented in the fall of 2009. They are sound, solid and yes, conservative.

A PC Manitoba government would:

    • establish a 10 year schedule to eliminate the payroll tax,
    • establish a 10 year schedule to eliminate education taxes on residential and commercial property,
    • remove land transfer taxes for first time home buyers,
    • reduce the province’s debt dependency by establishing a long term and legislated debt reduction schedule,
    • raise the basic personal income tax deduction to be competitive with other provinces with the aim of getting the exemption at least up to the poverty level.

It’s pretty hard to find those basic policies in among the announced nonsense about paving back lanes in Winnipeg and out-spending the NDP at every turn.

Perhaps if PC Manitoba had stuck to the basics, the simple policies, they could have defined themselves in a way that Manitobans would have embraced. As it was, nobody could understand what PC Manitoba stood for. That blame lies ultimately with the leader, but in fairness there always seems to be a gaggle of overly cautious handlers who never allow a leader to lead. You will, note it was Hugh McFadyen who resigned. There should have been a number of others who should have been out the door first.

By not allowing the leader to have a clear and principled policy, the party ended up always on the defensive. The PC Manitoba party allowed the NDP to define them in ever-increasing negative terms. It was as if the party was always walking on eggshells, walking so cautiously that nobody could hear them.

Ken Waddell (







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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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