Mary Agnes Welch's Gripe Juice
with Mary Agnes Welch
01/21/2014 2:38 PM
A dozen Winnipeggers, nearly all Tories, are travelling with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his mission to Israel. This is quite inconvenient for us because many also happen to be in the centre of the latest round of political speculation. It's tough to ask someone whether he's running in River Heights when he's a little busy gladhanding in the Knesset. The Winnipeggers in Israel include:
- Michael Kowalson, the rambunctious River Heights Tory. Is he thinking about another run for city council now that John Orlikow is stepping down to run for mayor? Or, might Kowalson be interested in provincial or federal politics, perhaps doing the kind of backroom work he did in the area during the last provincial election?
- Ian Rabb, the property manager and addictions expert. His next political move is being watched closely. Will he challenge Jenny Gerbasi again for the Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry city council seat, or will he run provincially against Education Minister James Allum down the line?
- Joyce Bateman, the Winnipeg South Centre MP. What's her take on the rumours swirling about who the Liberals will run against her in 2015?
- Marty Morantz, the cerebral Tory candidate in River Heights in the 2011 provincial election. Will he run again in 2016? Kowalson was his campaign manager, which might make for some interesting chatter during the long flight home.
- Shindico's Robert and Sandy Shindleman. They've most recently been embroiled in city hall's land swap debacle.
- David Asper, chair of the Asper Foundation.
- Several Winnipeg lawyers, including David Kroft and Howard Morry.
11/4/2013 4:20 PM
I was part of last week's jury duty cattle call and spent two days with about 200 other Winnipeggers waiting to see if we'd get picked for one of four trials - three murders and a sexual assault.
The experience was an eye-opener. It's one part raffle as we all waited for our numbers to be drawn, one part nerves when we finally came before the judge, and five parts boredom. Here are a few observations:
Everyone had an excuse. Not long ago, Mike McIntyre wrote about the growing frustration among judges with the sometimes-dubious reasons people give to duck jury duty. That was on full display last week.
When called, at least three quarters of the people offered the judge an excuse - everything from epilepsy and anxiety to poor English skills to the loss of sales commissions. The judge offered some pushback, and occasionally rejected excuses, but mostly people were released.
Some of the medical excuses were so marginal that folks in the separate jury pool room watching on a video feed openly guffawed.
When my number was finally called, I expected the judge to raise concerns about a journalist serving on a jury. Instead, she told me she'd take what she could get.
The rules are silly and officious, and staff sometimes were, too. In this case, we spent two days cloistered in two large courtrooms with little to do but stare at the lovely neo-classical décor, snooze in between raffles or line up for the one bathroom before cranky court staff ordered us back to our seats, including an older gent.
Few, including me, realized this was a two-day affair, so it wasn't until Friday that people wised up and brought their Dean Koontz novels or their university textbooks with them. Those, like me, who brought work laptops had to turn off the wifi. There's only so much you can get done before you need your email or Google or your office network.
I got so bored the first day that I disabled the wifi and data on my iPhone so I could play Tetris. Bad move. No phones allowed either, the sheriff told me. (That rule seemed to relax a little on the second day, maybe after court staff realized people were too comatose to take any commemorative selfies).
At one point Friday morning, folks were chatting lightly with their now-familiar seat-mates when one staffer told us to pipe down. When she shushed us a second time, several people back-talked and grumbled. And, later, when the final jury was chosen, those of left over erupted in applause, which again earned a rebuke from court staff.
It was like being in high school again, except high school students aren't asked to judge murder cases.
The must be a more modern, efficient way of doing this. Jury duty struck me as very much like the rest of our court system - mired in the 19th century. Perhaps some elements of selection could be done electronically to speed things up? Perhaps it should be mandated that employers pay jury members their full salary during a trial so fewer people claim financial hardship? Perhaps the old gents could be allowed to use the bathroom?
For the record, there is no automatic exemption for journalists. And I can think of no good reason a journalist shouldn't serve on a jury if, as in my case, they haven't written about the crime and don't know any of the participants.
When my number was called, I was challenged out by defence counsel, as I knew I would be. But, my number was returned to mix, so I had to return Friday in case I was called for the remaining two trials. I wasn't.
10/28/2013 11:15 AM
The NDP has just launched what it's calling its Fairer Deal for Renters campaign. Flyers and emails (like the one below) are appearing in people's mailboxes directing them to a website where citizens can fill out a brief survey on how to fix the province's rental crisis.
How great is that!? Finally, the NDP is taking action on what's arguably the city's most pressing poverty problem -- our complete lack of decent, affordable rental units. Maybe the NDP is planning to tackle some of the recommendations smart people have made in recent years to fix this! Hallelujah!
Except the campaign is the most offensive kind of bogus. It's just a bait-and-switch push poll designed to pad the NDP's list of supporters. The website does nothing but promote the small tweaks the NDP already made to landlord-tenant rules, and then it asks which of the party's well-established and totally unrelated campaign promises you like best, including several meant as backhanded attempts to demonize the Conservatives.
It's one thing not to care much about poor renters. It's another thing entirely to use their issues as a marketing strategy to build up your pre-election warchest. At best, cheesy. At worst, shameful.
10/9/2013 4:11 PM
In the last few months, I've been dealing with some laughably outrageous fees levied by the city for access to information requests.
One is for $5,440 for some rec centre data my excellent former colleague Jen Skerrit originally asked for in January. You know what else the Free Press could get for $5,440? Almost an entire summer intern.
Anyway, Jen seriously scaled back her request, asking for data from just one year instead of three. The new fee came in at $1,960. Jen asked for a fee waiver. No dice. We finally, nine months later, got some data, but it was a fraction of our original request.
Then, as part of this project, I asked for the database of inspection orders issued against rooming houses since 2008. The city said it would cost $6,480. I tried negotiating but could only get it down to $2,210.40. Remember, this doesn't involve rifling through boxes of old papers and spending hours photocopying. This is a database, so it's clicks and maybe some coding. By this time, the stories on rooming houses had already run, and I gave up.
I could live with $910 if the city was actually giving us what we wanted - the names of each dog and the first three digits of its owner's postal code. (Given recent experience with FOI requests, we didn't overreach. Other cities with nearly word-for-word the same FOI legislation as Manitoba's, have released the full postal code associated with each licence. We asked for just half the postal code, hoping for a fulsome and quick response from the city. We are so naive.)
Instead, the city is refusing to release the information, essentially arguing that dogs come with privacy rights. We could pay $910 for information that is essentially meaningless. Or, we can add it to the pile of appeals we've got on the go with the Manitoba Ombudsman.
This, at a time when the city has a committee ostensibly studying the concept of open data, and after some councillors have called for proper, modern open data policies.
About Mary Agnes Welch
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.
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