Mary Agnes Welch

  • Tories muzzled good candidates

    When Winnipeg businessman François Catellier won the Conservative nomination, he struck many of us as a pretty impressive candidate. He had a notable business background here and worldwide and deep roots in the province's francophone community. He was open and accessible and answered questions with frankness and charm. He was clearly a person of substance.
  • Election machinery sputters toward E-day

    Elections Canada has one job. And, it's had more than four years to prepare for the country's first fixed election date, as well as a writ period twice as long as normal. That's why the rough start to voting -- the thousands of incorrect voter ID cards, the sudden changes to polling locations, the hour-long waits at advance polls -- has been such a surprise, especially for a country smug about its democracy. What's going to happen on election day, Oct. 19, especially with these new identification rules and hints voter turnout might be huge?
  • Door-knocking the last authentic thing in modern campaigns

    The first time Mohammad Almaleki went door-knocking on a political campaign, he did it in a suit in the North End. Everyone thought he was either a Jehovah’s Witness or a cop, even though he was only armed with a big stack of pamphlets and a poll map. Once, when former provincial Liberal candidate Paul Hesse was door-knocking, he found himself entangled in a conversation with a voter who used to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company until the FBI poisoned him and forced him into hiding. It was the only time Hesse has had to signal for a rescue from a nearby campaign volunteer. But Hesse has also been invited in for a wonderful chat with an Iranian man who’d never met a political candidate before.
  • Tory approach to media a self-fulfilling prophecy

    For me, the best part of political rallies is the stuff that happens before the speeches, before the stage-managed chants and the rah-rah rock music. It's the moments when you find yourself chatting with a lady in a wheelchair who is so dang excited to see her party leader she doesn't mind being boxed in behind the media pen, her view obscured by a wall of cameras and a tangle of cords. It's the chance to finally meet a candidate from rural Manitoba you've only ever spoken to on the phone. It's the non-specific fun of hanging around -- the gossiping, the finding out who's door-knocking for whom and who's running where, the gauging of hopes in each riding, the how-was-your-summer-what-about-that-latest-attack-ad banter with partisans you've covered for years.
  • A lack of principle

    If you're the fine folks of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, you've got bigger things to worry about than how 22 words became the most parsed, dissected and argued over words in your long, hard history. But, for the rest of us, here's the story of those 22 words and how they, in their tiny way, represent the worst of Canadian politics as it's now practised. Monday, Tory MP Joy Smith hosted a news conference announcing she was bucking her party and calling on the Harper government to fund Shoal Lake 40's long-wished-for highway connecting the island reserve to the Trans-Canada Highway. Moments later, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, facing a pitched battle to keep his Kenora-area seat, called Smith to cave. She said he told her Ottawa would build the road. The truth, as we would see, was trickier. But for a couple of hours, it looked like the isolated island reserve would finally see a century of gross injustice righted.
  • Has fringe been politically neutered?

    In the fall of 2011, a local indie theatre company staged a play called Generous by Michael Healey, one of the country's most controversial writers. In it, a Calgary oil exec gleefully scorns the environment then seduces a reporter while the heritage minister stabs an opposition MP to stave off a non-confidence vote. It was a riot, a hot mess of complicated morality and improbable politics and outrageous characters. It tapped into the moment, especially for a city just finished with a federal election and smack in the middle of a provincial one. It was, pretty nearly, the last overtly political play I've seen in Winnipeg.
  • History may repeat itself in a tight race in Winnipeg South Centre

    Until a few weeks ago, most local Conservatives had written off Winnipeg South Centre. It was seen as the most vulnerable Conservative riding outside of Atlantic Canada, a Liberal stronghold the Tories miraculously stole 2011 and have no hope to keep. Now, the Tory talk has been replaced by rumblings in Liberal and NDP circles that a vote split might deliver Conservative MP Joyce Bateman a squeaker victory this fall.
  • 'Freedom Road' is coming

    Last week, what should have been a celebration on Shoal Lake 40 First Nation ended in tears and frustration. Politicians of all stripes were on hand to begin construction of the permanent bridge that will help end the reserve's century-long island isolation.
  • Major shift just low expectations

    When it comes to the federal government and climate change, the creation of a working group counts as a really big victory. That was the "major shift" that occurred at this week's meeting of provincial environment ministers, yet another gathering in yet another hotel ballroom in yet another city, this time Winnipeg.
  • Gov't's 'major shift' on climate change just low expectations

    When it comes to the federal government and climate change, the creation of a working group counts as a really big victory. That was the “major shift” that occurred at this week’s meeting of provincial environment ministers, yet another gathering in yet another hotel ballroom in yet another city, this time Winnipeg. 
  • Building bridge to ivory tower

    A few years ago, imagining I was smarter than I am, I sat in on a PhD class in Canadian politics at the University of Toronto. It was a year of reading and debating all the greats in the Canadian political science canon. I understood about half of what I read. Of that half, about half again was practical enough to be of some use to a reporter covering the day-to-day dirty work of Canadian politics — the Senate scandals, the parliamentary prorogues, the endless polling, the debate over indigenous sovereignty. A smaller fraction still was of use to reporters like me, who cover provincial politics or their local MPs or even city hall.
  • Harper government blowing smoke on GHG stats

    Here's a fib federal Conservatives repeat so often it almost sounds true: Greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing. Tories casually slip that fiction into radio interviews, into question period retorts and into back-and-forths with journalists. Earlier this month, when Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced new climate change targets in Winnipeg, she told reporters since the Harper government took power in 2006 emissions have dropped by 130 megatonnes.
  • The poor and the rich both benefit when they share neighbourhoods

    The folks behind the latest trendy apartment building planned for Osborne Village are doing something crazy. They're earmarking 30 units in the co-op for the poor. That includes a handful of units for teenagers who got a rough start in life, survived the child-welfare system and are ready to live on their own, with the help of Macdonald Youth Services.
  • Tories short on tangible policies

    It's been six months since the NDP imploded, one since the party's bungled leadership race narrowly preserved the status quo. Inexperienced MLAs thought to be lifelong backbenchers have taken on the government's biggest cabinet posts. Premier Greg Selinger, his roster of talented staff depleted and his leadership tenuous, continues to be largely invisible. Much of the day-to-day work of government has stalled. There's been no better time for Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister to cast himself as the premier-in-waiting, as the veteran policy expert brimming with pragmatic ideas to set the province right, as the statesman-like remedy to Selinger's messy leadership.
  • No debate on Manitoba's secret love affair

    IT could be easy to be environmentally smug in Manitoba. There are kilometres of intact boreal forest and pristine waters, unsullied by smog or oilsands or coal-fired power plants. All the clean hydro power and UNESCO World Heritage sites and the moratorium on hog barns are certainly something to crow about. Algae in Lake Winnipeg? Please read these 78 press releases about how the government is working on it. In the meantime, let's talk about the new cosmetic-pesticide ban and how Manitoba has almost met the Kyoto targets.
  • Welcome to our cowardly new world order

    What’s worse than a racist Facebook page? One that’s been set up as part of an ongoing attempt to cyberbully and smear a young woman. That, with a few hours of hindsight and a bit of reporting, is essentially at the core of Wednesday morning’s media hubbub about the Facebook page called Aboriginals Need To Get A Job And Stop Using Our Tax Dollars. The page, which included a bunch of predictably racist vitriol, was set up in December but caught fire on social media Tuesday night.
  • Firefighters skilled at manipulating the political system

    They work cheek-to-jowl out of the same stations. They race to the same crash scenes and emergency calls. In Winnipeg, they have the same top bosses. One-on-one, they usually get along just fine. But the political rivalry between firefighters and paramedics, tense for years, is now back to Defcon One, thanks to some shenanigans by the firefighters at last weekend's NDP leadership convention.
  • Bafflegab or bureaucratese?

    Here is a typical blurb from a typically baffling government press release: "The Manitoba government recognizes the important role sustained investments in our schools plays in improving student engagement and achievement." Here's the English translation: Spending money on schools makes kids smarter.
  • Welcome to Winnipeg, Vince Li

    Several years ago, while standing in a long Christmas line at a gift shop in Portage Place, a lanky, unkempt man walked through the mall, shouting to invisible demons at the top of his lungs and madly flapping his dirty ski jacket. The women in line with me tut-tutted in alarm. The cashier said something disparaging about how mall security needed to kick the man out.
  • Better daycare works for us all

    Not long ago, in her small corner of Facebook, new mother Jamie Slight got a local taste of a national debate, one that gets at the heart of how we think about kids and families. In a discussion thread about day care policy, Slight said giving up a teaching job she loves is not an option, and more affordable, accessible daycare spaces are needed. A family member, a stay-at-home mom, gently took issue with that.
  • Facebook sits in as watchdog

    When Facebook reveals more about how doctors are policed than the College of Physicians and Surgeons does, it's fair to say the college has a secrecy problem. It's a secrecy problem the province has been unable to solve despite legislation passed nearly six years ago that's still not in force. It's a secrecy problem that cropped up again recently as part of a most bizarre and troubling health story -- the saga of "Dr. Doug" Broeska.
  • Watchdogs without teeth

    WHAT happens when the watchdogs won’t bite? For years, with some occasional exceptions, that’s been the state of affairs in Manitoba, where arms-length public advocates tend to be a little wimpy. We don’t have an André Marin, the wild and crazy ombudsman in Ontario who is as unpredictable as he is pugnacious. Nor have we had a child advocate as fearsome as B.C.’s Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. We’ve rarely had a homegrown Sheila Fraser, whose legendary tenure as auditor general saw her blow the whistle on everything from the Liberal sponsorship scandal to the on-reserve education gap.
  • Our inconvenience, their way of life

    We're a province whose essential culture is defined by water -- by all-hands-on-deck spring flooding, by plentiful and cheap hydro power, by summertime lake life, by hip restaurants on the frozen Red, by larviciding, by pickerel cheeks, by algae blooms. But it's only when the taps quit working or the drinking water's dodgy that we really think about how good we've got it or what daily life might be like without it.
  • Urban reserves offer a renaissance

    The Arboc smoke shop, gas station and nearby VLT lounge is a humble little cluster. Its trailer and pumps and low-slung lounge are easy to miss among the shiny new hotels and car dealerships that have popped up along the TransCanada Highway through Headingley. As small-time as it is, the tiny urban reserve helped spark Swan Lake First Nation’s renaissance, turning it into one of the best-run and most self-sufficient bands in the province. The small business ventures gave the band capital — cash-flow that helped fund everything from new playground equipment to a wind-farm proposal to the new casino near Carberry. The band was even able to fix up nearly every old house on the reserve. During a visit a couple of years ago, photographer Ruth Bonneville and I coveted one of the cool log cabins the band built for several young families, a kind of test project for a home-building business. It’s pretty rare to be jealous of a rez house.
  • Bylaw a fix for our stray-cat problem

    AFTER a summer trying to fatten him up on cans of Fancy Feast, we knew it was time to trap Sad Cat when an abscess on his forehead nearly girdled his eye. He was skinny and skittish, his head too big for his body. My neighbour, Wanda, and I fed him when no other cats were around because they’d bully him away from the bowl. When his patheticness finally forced us to take action, his abscess exploded in puss and blood on my porch as Wanda shoved his butt into my old dog cage. Then, unable to keep him ourselves, we deposited him at Craig Street Cats along with a big cheque for his vet bills.


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