The Rowat SmearI can't recall a dirtier bit of political character assasination than the one perpetrated on Minnedosa MLA Leanne Rowat this week. In my years as a political reporter, it was the first time I've sat in the gallery and thought to myself that politics has become so petty and small and perverse that it's probably unsalvageable. And I covered Winnipeg city hall for four years, so that's saying something.I didn't hear Rowat's heckle, but I heard about the YouTube video almost as soon as it was posted just hours after QP. I got calls about it. I didn't bite because it all seemed so clearly bogus and trumped up. But then Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Oscar Lathlin raised it on the floor of the House and it became impossible to ignore.No right thinking person who follows the Manitoba Legislature would ever think Rowat intended anything other than a knee-jerk heckle of the NDP's Spirited Energy campaign. Speaker of the House George Hicks agreed, telling the Winnipeg Sun the other day that he never for a moment thought Rowat was making a racist slur. Rowat is among the brightest and most progressive Tory MLAs elected, and I can think of two other occasions when she has made the same heckle, part of the stupid and childish daily shouting matches that MLA's from both sides of the House engage in.The NDP tried to argue that they were really going after McFadyen, not Rowat. She apologized and he didn't. But half of Lathlin's speech - which was a rare show of passion for him on the floor of the House - was about "the member from Minnedosa." And he gave a rare interview to the Brandon Sun, read by many people in Rowat's Westman riding. Keep in mind, Rowat won her seat the first time around by just 14 votes, earning her the nickname Landslide Leanne.As Lathlin delivered his indictment, many reporters noted how uncomfortable Premier Gary Doer looked. And he didn't much want to talk about the allegations of racism during an unrelated press conference later that afternoon. But he just couldn't resist Thursday. When he got up to withdraw an unparliamentary remark, he looked pointedly across the aisle at McFadyen and said "And, I apologize." It was pretty much the only reference to an episode I think most MLAs would just as soon forget.Not yet, though. Today, Rupertsland MLA Eric Robinson had another go at Rowat during a meeting in Hollow Water. He called her a big mouth and said her remarks were cheap and stupid. Which is odd because just moments before she uttered the infamous "wine and beer" heckle, Robinson and Rowat had one of the most respectful exchanges in the house I have heard for a long time. Rowat called Robinson an honourable man, which he is. And Robinson acknowledged that Rowat cares just as much about Aboriginal poverty as he does.There might be rednecks in the Tory caucus but Leanne Rowat isn't one of them. And there are certainly racists comments made every day in this country and in the halls of the provincial Legislature, but Rowat's just weren't among them.Empty SeatsI've been trying to keep track of MLA attendance because the Legislature itself has no accurate way of doing it. MLAs are supposed to report their absences but most don't.I gave up keeping track, though, when I was sick for a couple days and my system went to pot. But for the last three weeks or so it looks like Russell MLA Len Derkach and The Pas MLA Oscar Lathlin have been the most absent. But there was a rare day a couple weeks ago when all 57 MLAs were in the house for Question Period.It's hard to make a cogent argument as to WHY MLA's shouldn't miss Question Period. It's become a waste of time.What happened to Sam's Clean-n-Green pledge?An NDP flack was telling me recently about a German journalist who stopped in Winnipeg on his way to Churchill and commented on how dirty the city looked.I couldn't agree more. Is it just me or is this year particularly schmutzy? There's layers of litter caught in bushes and fences just about everywhere I go, even in front of the Free Press building. The dust is disgusting and every window in the city needs to be washed.Why can't we get Winnipeg cleaned up a little faster in the spring? And why can't we ban those white plastic bags that are a huge part of the litter that makes the city look so shoddy and sad?Um, so if Hugh is Neville Chamberlain, that makes Toews....Earlier this week, McFadyen quizzed Doer about the hold-up on the deal with Federal Treasury Board President Vic Toews on federal infrastructure money. McFadyen said Doer was standing in the way of a deal with Ottawa. Here's Doer's reply:"Well, Mr. Speaker, there's a difference between standing in the way and standing up. I've never seen a Leader of the Opposition act like Neville Chamberlain in this Chamber. It's the first time I've seen that happen."How come no one got cheesed off at THAT?
Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first as a general assignment reporter and then covering city hall and the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter.
Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.
Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school, has won several Western Ontario Newspaper Awards and has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.
She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.