Under the Dome

with Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

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  • When bad news is good news for NDP

    02/24/2015 4:10 PM

    So how is the delegate system working for the NDP?

    It seems not too well, but it's better than the alternative.

    Heading into the March 8 leadership vote, the party's system for electing its leader, and Manitoba's premier, is anything but transparent.

    Those of us watching from the sidelines see a system where the big unions, particularly the mighty Canadian Union of Public Employees, are able send 691 delegates to the convention. That's where up to a total of 2,271 delegates with either confirm Premier Greg Selinger as NDP leader or go down a different route, electing either Steve Ashton or Theresa Oswald as the party's leader to guide it into the next election.

    What remains to be seen is if the unions will be able to fill all the delegate positions allotted to them, an allotment based on the size of their membership and affiliation with the party.

    We could see a repeat of what happened during the last NDP leadership contest in 2009 when the Manitoba Federation of Labour "redistributed" about 90 unfilled union delegate spots to party members who did not belong to a union.

    That hurt the NDP's credibility then and it could easily again if CUPE or the United Food and Commercial Workers can't find the bodies to fill out their delegate entitlements.

    More concerning, in the lead-up to the leadership vote, is that each side is puffing up their constituency delegate support numbers in the hope of convincing any soft or undecided delegates that their particular candidacy has the momentum.

    No one bets on a lame horse in a race, so the three candidates are doing their best to show delegates, even union and other special delegates like MLAs and party officials, that they are the horse to beat.

    "Back me. I have the momentum. I am not the horse headed to the glue factory."

    The problem is they each have different numbers.

    Each side swears their numbers are accurate and point fingers at the other for monkeying with the counts. One explanation is that some delegates have been counted twice, meaning two camps claim the support of a single delegate.

    This hurts the NDP's credibility, too. If the camps are counting people twice or worse, pulling numbers out of thin air, what else are they making up?

    None of this is lost on Selinger.

    He insists the current process, while complicated, is still democratic and the best way to involve members from across the party's spectrum in electing a leader.

    But in the next breath he says it could be fixed.

    "There's no question the process can be improved," Selinger says. "No question about it. Once we're through the process, it will be reviewed. People will have an ability to look at it. You will see resolutions at the convention, for example, that are asking people to look at the one-member, one-vote system as well. I think you're going to see some evolution on how these things are done based on the experiences we have."

    Considered to be more democratic, one-member, one- vote would give each party member the right to cast a ballot for leader.

    The provincial NDP, like other parties such as Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives, had a one-member, one-vote system to choose its leader until June 2007. That's when at convention it went back to a delegate system.

    The move back to a delegate system was supported by many in Premier Gary Doer's government and the Manitoba Federation of Labour. The one-member, one-vote system was put in place after Doer became leader in 1988, but it was never used.

    Supporters of a delegated leadership convention said it would give hardcore party activists the ability to choose the leader instead of last-minute members signed up by a candidate to sway the vote or hijack the party's agenda.

    So which is better? 

    Under the one-member, one-vote system we wouldn't be able to watch this current leadership fight with such a ringside view, including a month of delegate selection meetings across the province. Instead many isolated party members would cast their ballots by phone or computer with little direct contact with leadership candidates.

    Gone also would be that sense of urgency that we've seeing right now as each of the three candidates hustles for delegates. That hustling will continue right up until the last ballot is submitted.

    The bonus for the NDP is that the delegate system also takes on a life of its own. It gathers together everyone in one convention hall making for a big media spectacle, something that's been building over the past few weeks with almost daily newspaper stories, TV reports or social media commentary.

    It's not all good news, but it's still free advertising for the NDP. That has not been lost on Opposition Leader Brian Pallister.

    No one is talking about him much. 


  • Survey results: Better blame Paul

    02/18/2015 9:43 AM

    "We can't be afraid to take risks, to innovate, to experiment." - Free Press editor Paul Samyn Feb. 17, 2015

    Like many other things, I blame Paul.

    And that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

    On Tuesday I thought, with Larry Kusch's blessing, I would take Paul's words to heart. I would engage avid Free Press readers with an online poll asking who among the gleesome threesome they think should be the next leader of the NDP.

    I would put Samyn's words into action.

    So I crafted an online poll using Survey Monkey. Then I blogged the survey link. I also shared the survey link on social media, that new tool us MSM types are all over like nobody's business, polluting kabillions of feeds across the web with our erudite musings and photos of our cats.

    I also asked @mawwelch and @bkives to share it on Twitter, which they graciously did.

    I wanted a good response. What I didn't count on was it being so quickly hijacked.

    Now, as always, I stand to be corrected, but methinks the supporters and assorted underlings in two campaigns took to the survey like unionistas on a free box of doughnuts at a chapel meeting.

    When word of the survey hit the Selinger campaign HQ, I can just imagine the reaction. (Imagine is the key word in that last sentence. I highlighted it for emphasis.)

    Greg Selinger: "Dagnabbit, Owen's doing a survey. Quick, Paul, no not you McKie, the other Paul, help me out. Can you and your daughter click on me? Tell your members to do the same."

    Paul Moist: "I'm on it, partner."

    Steve Ashton: "Holy mackerel, Niki, help out your dad again. Call Alex and let's put this fire out. I can't stress this enough."

    Alex Forrest: "We are in your corner Steve!"

    Theresa Oswald: "Michael? Michael? Michael? What should we do?"

    Michael Balagus: "Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Let them fight it out on Owen's #&%!*&$ing survey. Our enemy is Brian Pallister."

    So, anyway, that's my interpretation of the survey's results. I'll leave it open and continue to gather results and comments, only because I haven't figured out how to turn it off.

    It appears your Web browser is not configured to display PDF files. No worries, just click here to download the PDF file.


  • UPDATED: Survey - Who should lead NDP?

    02/16/2015 10:28 AM

    Which of these three people should guide the NDP into the next election?

    Take the survey here: Who's the best choice?


    We'll update the results when we hit 100 responses, plus give you a slice of the comments that are coming in.

    You can only vote once, so make sure you're confident in your pick before you hit "done".

    We'll keep poll open to allow folks at home to play after work.

    The early results: 

    As of 1 p.m. we've had 235 responses:

    Selinger - 123

    Ashton - 49

    Oswald - 63 

    The mid-afternoon results:

    As of 2:30 p.m. we've had 629 responses:

    Selinger - 374

    Ashton - 171

    Oswald - 84

    Here's a sampling of some of  the comments: 

    1 His leadership as Min. of Finance and Premier has been solid. The sales tax hike of 1% has created a lot of jobs and necessary infrastructure. In this campaign he will prove that he is much better as Premier than Pallister ever can be.

    2 A generational change is needed. We've tried the old boys club...let's let a woman lead! 

    3 Why not, right? 

    4 One of the best economies and lowest unemployment rates in the country. Can't go wrong with Mr. Selinger. 

    5 You should never turn your back on your leader, then tell everyone vote for me. 

    6 We need fresh leadership which only Theresa can offer.

    7 They are all idiots! 

    8 Oswald can connect with the swing voters in ridings the NDP need to win. 

    9 They will get killed if Selinger or Ashton are elected. Their only hope is Oswald. Stunned that anyone would think otherwise. 

    10 It's a no-brainer since Oswald's only one who can stop Brian Pallister. 

    11 absolutely the best candidate, proven record of winning and strong leadership in difficult times 

    12 Much of the deficit he is being accused of creating has been the result of unprecedented flooding. We forget it was he as finance minister that got us out if the financial and social services mess the Tories left us in. I hate to think where this province would be currently if the Tories were leading us through the floods. Probably would be selling off MPI or MB Hydro to cover costs.

    13 I think Steve Ashton. The party will not be unified if the others win. In any event, I will be voting for PC. Enough of the NDP.

    14 The grey hairs do not differentiate enough from Pallister. A woman leader of the NDP and as Premier is definitely needed.

    15 A majority of insiders don't support Selinger, and loyalty matters in politics as in life. Those two facts alone make it a one person race

    16 he's the only one with brains and class enough to be our Premier, Oswald attacked her own party and leader, she's a traitor, Ashton doesn't have what it takes to be a Premier

    17 All my Tory friends say Oswald's their worst nightmare. 

    18 It doesn't really matter. The party is in tatters and the leadership race isn't going to repair it. There'll be another leadership contest after the election and whoever is leader will step down. Do I gear anyone mentioning Kevin Chief?

    19 Polling is a political tool or a political weapon depending (how) you hold it. 

    20 So they have a higher chance of losing. 

    21 (Oswald) One, because I'm a fan of hers, and two, she scares the whatsis outta Pallister. After March 8th I'll just sit back & watch Pallister blow it!

    22 Oswald offers the same moderate, more Big L Liberal face the worked so well for Gary Doer. Plus, the
    ineffectiveness and invisibility of the current Liberal leader has the votes parked with her as easy pickings for Oswald, should she win.

    23 Thanks so much for all the work going in covering this. Also very much enjoying the commentary coming along with it.

    24 Time for a breath of fresh air. 

    25 Anyone but osWalding. 

    26 Greg has been good for Manitoba, but the damage is done to his reputation and him and Theresa are like oil and water. Steve can bring people back together and clean up the mess.

    27 Oswald has been a huge disappointment. Wow, all this for nothing. Makes one wonder how petty the internal disagreements are. Would never want her leading this party or any party.

    28 She's the only one who gives the NDP a chance against the Tories.

    29 Greg is finished. Steve is yesterday's man. Theresa is the future, change and hope.

    30 Selinger clearly underestimates the level of discontent and Ashton is too representative of a tired government so Oswald is a default choice rather than a best choice.

    31 She has the best plan and a different kind of leader who has the best chance to stop Brian Pallister. 

    32 NDP needs to be kicked out, and Steve is the guy to guarantee that happening!

    33 (Selinger) You dance with the person who brung ya 

    34 Team reflects the diversity of the party and the province. 

    35 Theresa connects with the people the NDP needs to win another majority gov't. Selinger has lost the trust of Manitobans. Ashton has never given a straight answer to a question in his life.

    36 (Oswald) Only one that can win in 2016.

    37 (Oswald) One of these things is not like the other. 

    38 Ya dance with the one that brung ya! 

    39 Theresa is the only NDP candidate that has a chance in the next election. I hope that NDP members are wise enough to see this. Otherwise, start getting used to being in opposition.

    40 (Ashton) A true New Democrat. Plays by the rules. Didn't break solidarity. 

    41 Trust the woman to do the difficult things no-one else wants to do, and do them well. 

    42 Because he is already the Premier and Leader of the Party.

    43 For the NDP's sake, it should be Oswald, but overall it doesn't matter. Add a Gary Doer box for kicks. 

    44 A trained seal has more political savvy then these 3 morons.


    Elsewhere and beyond, Selinger and Oswald have been busy on Youtube. Each has their own YouTube channel.

    Selinger's is About Greg - Your Leader || Your Values and Oswald's is Theresa Oswald for Manitoba.

    Ashton has had a film crew following him around, so expect something soon. 

     P.S. Here's a handy map of the constituency delegate count as of today, Feb. 17: https://twitter.com/EarlWashburn/status/567741964741664768/photo/1

    It was made by @EarlWashburn, founder of the Canadian Election Atlas & senior analyst at Probit Inc. He updates it as results come in.




  • To find a better lake

    02/11/2015 10:50 AM

    To look at Lake Winnipeg right now, it's as frozen over as Pluto.

    In the lake's south basin at least, pressure ridges and scattered ice chunks dot the lake's surface to the horizon. On a cloudy winter day, it blurs into the sky.

    The lake at this time of year is mostly forgotten except for the odd snowmobiler and fisher's ice shack.

    And for the province's Clean Environment Commission.

    The CEC has been traveling the province over the past month holding public hearings into Manitoba Hydro's request for a final licence under the Water Power Act to continue to regulate the lake's level between 711 feet above sea level and 715 feet asl.

    Hydro has used the lake since the mid-70s as a reservoir to supply water to power its northern dams during the winter, and to keep the lake at a more steady level to avoid the flooding seen on the lake in the 20s, 50s and 60s.

    What the CEC is looking at is whether regulation has been good or bad for the lake, not exactly an easy question to answer. What's unique about this hearing is that this is the first time someone is taking a hard look at the problems on the lake, like its ugly algae blooms, shoreline erosion and future of its fishery.

    The lake's regulation has also coincided with climate change and this part of the globe finding itself in an extended wet period, resulting in several years of bad flooding, 2011 and last summer being the most recent.

    At the same time we know more about what nutrients are flowing into the lake, such as phosphorus from the Red River and its contribution to potentially harmful algae growth.

    Granted, there's lots of scientists and researchers already doing work into these areas, but the CEC is the first body to attempt to pull that all together and, perhaps most important, to go out and get the opinions of ordinary folks who live and work on the lake and downstream along the Nelson River.

    Over the past several years, the CEC has also conducted hearings into Hydro's Bipole III transmission line project and the new Keeyask generating station.

    Whatever the CEC eventually rules on Lake Winnipeg Regulation, it will be up to the provincial government to accept or shelve its recommendations. And as we all know, there's a pretty good chance we could have a change in government in the spring of 2016.

    CEC chairman Terry Sargeant has said at some public meetings to date that while the commission is bound to focus only on Hydro's regulation of the lake's level, it can make other recommendations that it believes can help the lake and province.

    An example is a possible recommendation to government for an environmental assessment on the whole Nelson River basin, specifically looking at the impact of hydro-electric development on First Nation communities downstream of the Jenpeg generating station.

    "I think it is something that, I can't tell you today that we will recommend that, but I can tell you today that we will seriously look at something along that nature," Sargeant said at a community meeting at Peguis First Nation. "We have heard that from other communities as well.

    "We, in our own internal discussions, have talked about something along those lines. So I think you may well see something along that line."

    "It will be what we call a non-licensing recommendation, because it is not directly attached to the licence at all. But in the past, or in the recent past the government has given serious consideration to a number of our non-licensing recommendations as well. I think that would be an extremely useful piece for future development in this province. Not only future development, but for looking at and hopefully finding ways to fix up a lot of the problems that we have with a lot of waterways in this province. I think it is an excellent recommendation."

    Sargeant has also said that by law, Hydro is required to come back to government by 2026 to have the licence to regulate Lake Winnipeg renewed. Under the act, it is only good for 50 years - Hydro got an interim licence in 1976.

    Which means that whatever recommendations government accepts, the CEC will be back repeating this licencing review process in about a decade.

    Let's hope it finds a better lake than it's finding now.

    The CEC's hearing in Winnipeg begins March 9 at the RBC Convention Centre.

    Transcripts of public meetings to date and background research material has been posted on the commission's website.


    From the commission:

    The Clean Environment Commission is currently developing the daily schedules for the hearings in Winnipeg on Lake Winnipeg Regulation.

    An open house will be held on March 9 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pan-Am Room at the RBC Convention Centre.

    Hydro staff will be on hand to discuss Lake Winnipeg Regulation, its history, operation and impacts and answer questions. The public are encouraged to attend to gain a better understanding of the project in an informal setting.

    Should anyone wish to sign up to make a presentation at the formal hearing, commission staff will be on hand to assist them and answer questions about the hearing process.

    The formal hearing will begin at 9:30 a.m. on March 10, also in the Pan Am Room. Evening sessions on March 11 and March 18 have been reserved for public presentations. Anyone wishing to make a presentation should contact the commission.

    The hearing will take place at the RBC Convention Centre on the first and third weeks, all other days will be at the Fort Garry Hotel, Spa and Conference Centre.

    The hearing has been extended seven days, into April, from its original schedule.

    The hearing will now run for approximately five weeks instead of three.

    The current schedule is available at www.cecmanitoba.ca.

    Daily schedules will be posted as they become available and are subject to change.



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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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