Under the Dome

with Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Email Larry Kusch & Bruce Owen

  • How does the NDP fix itself?

    01/22/2015 3:30 AM

    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.


  • Gary Doer's exit and old wounds

    12/8/2014 12:20 AM

    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.


    "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.


  • Case dismissed: Manitoba Hydro's whistleblower

    12/2/2014 11:40 AM

    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.


  • UPDATED: Liquor & Lotteries and the move downtown

    11/27/2014 7:19 PM

    We'll know in the new year where Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is going to set up shop downtown.

    Requests for proposals for the merged Manitoba Lotteries and the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, to lease or rent office space downtown, closed recently with recommendations to soon be presented to the board.

    Under pressure from the government, MLL must look nowhere else in the city but downtown, much like Manitoba Hydro in building its Portage Avenue headquarters several years ago. 

    The question is, where could MLL go? Is there already existing space to accommodate about 400 people, and to allow MLL consolidate its operations under one roof? The plan is to put the majority of Lotteries administrative employees who work in the former Crown's four locations, and the former MLCC office at Buffalo Place in Fort Garry, all in one place. The Fort Garry liquor distribution centre would stay.

    Is there already existing space for these people -- many of them, at least -- to park their vehicles without cracking into their RRSPs?

    For instance, is this space on Osborne Street kitty-corner to the legislative building suitable? It's the former blood transfusion centre operated by the Canadian Red Cross. 

    And how about the former Canadian Wheat Board headquarters on Main Street? Would that fit the bill? 

    Joe Banfield of Banfield Office Properties Group says three other options are the "beautifully finished office space located at the corner of Ellice Avenue and Edmonton Street" and this office tower smack dab in the middle of things. Then there's 136 Market Ave. in the Exchange District.

    One place we know MLL is not going is 266 Graham Ave., the office tower attached to the new city police HQ in the former Canada Post Building.  The city was forced to withdraw a bid to renovate the tower to house new headquarters for MLL due to the Crown corporation's demand for a proposal with no conditions attached to it.

    Or is there somewhere else in the works?

    Anyone of us familiar with the downtown knows about the downtown Bay department store at Memorial Boulevard and Portage Avenue. It currently only operates on three floors of the six-storey building, built in the mid-1920s.

    Is this in the cards for MLL?

    For MLL to move in, the building would need to be extensively renovated to today's standards, a cost that would make it prohibitive for MLL to move in and be the only tenant. The idea of the merger of the two Crowns was to save taxpayers money, not spend it on saving a Winnipeg landmark.

    Is there anyone else out there who'd piggyback with MLL without dipping into the provincial treasury to save The Bay?

    Any idea who?


    Could this work?

    Could the University of Manitoba be a possible cotenant in a rejuvenated downtown Bay department store?

    It wasn't that long ago in the scheme of things that the U of M had a downtown campus across from the Manitoba Legislative Building, in what is now Memorial Park.

    It was originally the site of the U of M's  Faculty of Science. When the U of M amalgamated its campus in the Fort Garry location in the 1950s, this site was to become the home of the new city hall for Winnipeg.

    However, because of the World War I cenotaph on Memorial Boulevard, a number of Legion branches petitioned for the site to instead become a memorial park.

    The plan was that with the WWI cenotaph, the park would recognize the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War.

    In 1961 the province, which already owned an adjacent parcel of land, acquired the site from the city.

    The park was dedicated on September 28, 1962 by Lt- Gov. Errick Willis and Premier Duff Roblin. 

    A reader suggests the U of M could move some of its students back downtown, just a block north of Memorial Park.

    For example, the Faculty of Law could set up home in the Bay. The faculty at one time was in the Law Courts Building at Kennedy and Broadway. In 1970 the faculty left the Law Courts and joined the Fort Garry campus, moving into the new Robson Hall.

    Would it make sense for the faculty to move back downtown to give students more regular contact with the courts?

    The Faculty of Architecture could also move downtown to the Bay. The faculty was originally located in downtown before being moved out to Fort Garry in 1929.





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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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