The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sheegl and Shindico. Five Years of Deceit, says Audit.

The looting of Winnipeg started almost as soon as Phil Sheegl got on the city payroll.

And it lasted almost until the day he quit.

That's the cold truth you're left with after reading the latest audit presented to city hall, an audit of five years of real estate deals conducted by the city under Sheegl's watch.

Phil Sheegl, the best friend of Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, was hired in April, 2008, as the director of the city's department of planning, property and development. In  November, 2008, he was appointed deputy Chief Administrative Officer, and in 2011 he replaced Glen Laubenstein as CAO.

Three months after Sheegl got the planning job, the city announced it was looking for real estate advisors and brokers to "assist the city with real estate transactions".  They eventually qualified five.

"In the transactions where an external advisor was retained, there was no documentation explaining the rationale why an external advisor was required for that particular transaction." stated the audit.
"There was no documentation evidencing the selection process undertaken to determine which of the prequalified proponents to engage in all cases where an external advisor was retained."
Here, maybe, is why...
Of $1.2 million paid to advisors and brokers on four contracts, $1.1 million, or 95 percent, went to one of them -- Shindico, the company owned by Sam Katz's business partner, Sandy Shindleman and Shindleman's brother.
Two weeks before the official search for qualified advisors and brokers ended (July 31, 2008), Sheegl was busy tipping off Shindico to private city business. 
"Call me about Canada Post," Sheegl emailed Shindico on July 15, 2008.
*  In December, 2007, the post office announced it was closing its sorting operations at 266 Graham Avenue and moving elsewhere in the city. The news threatened to leave a giant, empty building in the heart of the heart of downtown. Rather than see a black hole in downtown Winnipeg for years, or forever, city officials decided to kill two birds with one stone -- buy the post office building and turn it into a new police headquarters. It would be cheaper, they said (ha ha), than fixing the structural problems with the old police headquarters on Princess.
While Sheegl and other city bureaucrats were twisting arms to get the exclusive right to buy the PO site, Shindico, all along, had the inside track on, ahem, "advising" the city on buying the facility.
*  The real estate audit, read in total, details like a pattern, like a paint-by-numbers game, of how the Sheegl-Shindico scam worked over the next four years, starting with the Post Office purchase.
-  First, Sheegl would tip off Shindico to some city business that hadn't been made public yet. 

- Then, Shindico would use the insider information to give itself the edge (on, for example, price, available land, or finding a buyer) by the time the city issued a public tender.  Sheegl would select Shindico as the best bidder and award them the contract. 

- Then, during the time of the contract, Shindico would wind up doing scads of extra work that wasn't in the tender but for which Sheegl would approve payment.
*  Once the City convinced the Post Office to deal only with it regarding the sale of the building at 266 Graham Avenue, Sheegl went into high gear. In July he had a meeting at Shindleman's home to prepare a proposal.
Twelve days later, the city signed an Exclusive Buyer Agency agreement with Shindico, backdated to January 1st.
The auditors wrote that the very next month, Deepak Joshi, the current CAO, was among the city bureaucrats warned that brokers in the city were "expressing concern over the decision making process" in hiring Shindico.
*  The audit doesn't say why, but it wasn't hard to suss out the truth.

-  In February, 2009, Shindico got caught red-handed trying to profit from another of Sheegl's inside tips. Shindico had listed on its website the Winnipeg Square Parkade for sale---except that the property hadn't been declared surplus by city council.
-  At the time, Sheegl, and Mayor Sam Katz, brushed off any hint of insider favoritism, claiming the listing by Shindico was just an error.  Only, it wasn't, as you'll soon see.
But it was this example of Sheegl's standard-operating-procedure that upset brokers and made its way to Joshi, who ignored the protests.
*  In November, 2009, the city bought the Post Office building for $29.25 million. A week earlier, Sheegl had made Shindico the manager of the property.  A formal management agreement was signed in June, 2010.
For the sale, Shindico was paid a commission of $804,000, roughly double what the Exclusive Buyer Agency agreement called for.  City officials told the auditors the extra money was for extra work performed by Shindico (see how the scam works, above). The auditors replied that if there was that much extra work, the city should have issued another tender.
The management agreement, said the auditors, was not reviewed by city lawyers, and contained a number of questionable clauses, including at least one that contravened the City of Winnipeg Charter.
When someone in middle management questioned why Shindico was made the facility managers when city staff could do the job, Sheegl sent an email declaring he wouldn't let the quibbler "meddle" in his decision. More on that, later.
Let's go back to the Parkade deal.

Shindico was the real estate broker on the sale of the parkade, starting way back in August, 2008, when Sheegl wrote them "I have informed that you will represent the city in any negotiations and/or listing."
-  The auditors discovered that in early February, 2009, Sheegl confirmed to an unidentified questioner that "Yes, they (Shindico) are representing our interests in negotiations."

-  That was on a Friday.  The next Monday, the Parkade was listed for sale on Shindico's website.  One day later, after the press spotted the listing, it was down--- and Katz was lying about how it got there.

First posted: Thursday, February 12, 2009
Katz downplays parkade-for-sale ad

Mayor Sam Katz downplayed the listing of a city-owned parkade on a commercial real estate company's website, saying it was nothing more than a simple mistake.
On Monday, Shindico had listed the Winnipeg Square Parkade for sale on its website. The three-level, 932-stall structure, worth anywhere from $20 million to $50 million, also includes the air rights to the structure. That space could be available for an office or hotel tower.
Problem is, it's not for sale.
The listing was removed from the website Tuesday. Shindico informed Winnipeg's chief administrative officer Glen Laubenstein of its error and that explanation was enough to satisfy Katz yesterday.
"It's my understanding from the CAO that the company made an honest mistake and they apologized," he told reporters. "That's the end of it. I don't know of anybody who hasn't made a mistake."
"The bottom line is the property is not listed for sale."
The city is still debating the idea of selling off the parkade.

*  On March 20, 2009, the city formally put the parkade up for sale.  The tender did not reference any brokers fees or commissions.
-  Then---surprise, surprise---who should pop up representing a potential BUYER?  You got it.  Shindico.
-  The auditors gently pointed out that Shindico never had to sign a confidentiality clause when it got the job as the city's broker on the deal. So they knew the city's bargaining position---and could freely spill it all to the buyer Shindico didn't collect anything from the city, but did get a hefty commission from the Parkade buyer.
*  Here's where you can insert the uber-scandal involving Sheegl and Shindico -- the firehalls scam. 

This was dissected in the first of the trifecta of audits involving Phil Sheegl's tenure at city hall, and you can read the details in The Black Rod.

Suffice to say here that it followed the pattern exactly:

-  a  tip off from Sheegl,
-  use of insider information to get the contract,
-  Shindico's involvement kept a secret from city council,
-  extension of one contract to other, lucrative, work,

and  "abracadabra", taxpayers pay Shindico millions.

Literally millions. 

Oh, and Shindico built a firehall on land they owned, and now they're taunting the City to expropriate them and pay vastly more than they themselves valued the land at when construction started.
They also noted with interest that Shindico's advisory role was never disclosed to city council or any of council's committees.
The next rung on the Sheegl scandal ladder is of particular interest because it involves The Black Rod.  Really, it does.
You see, way, way back on October 9, 2010, The Black Rod broke the story that a new stadium promised by David Asper was going to cost as much as $190 million, instead of the $115 million pricetag he started with.
The reverberations of that story were immediate. Despite Asper's denials, the story was true. The federal, provincial and city officials who were backing Asper's plan were shocked into action.  They booted Asper and cobbled together a deal of their own to fund a new football stadium.
Guess who sat on the board of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as the city's representative. 

Yep, Phil Sheegl. 

Guess who would have known that Asper was out before anyone

Yep, Phil Sheegl.
Guess who he would have told.
*  Dec. 8, 2010, Shindico, coincidentally, came asking for a site plan for the old stadium at Polo Park.  With Asper out, the site of Canad Inns stadium was in play.
Only the public wasn't told that Asper's company, Creswin, was out until five days later, Dec. 13, 2010.  
See how this works?
Not convinced? 

How about when you learn the auditors discovered that Shindico received an advance copy of the city's Expression of Interest in the stadium site.  It was 3 days later that the EOI was public knowledge.
For comic relief, the audit contains this response from city management:

 "PPD  (Property, Planning and Development), Legal Services and Materials Management were not aware that the EOI for the Polo Park Stadium site was provided in advance." 

Gee, now who could have leaked it then?
The Polo Park stadium site was eventually sold --- to a partnership between Cadillac Fairview and Shindico.
*  Remember the Post Office sale?
When we left it, Shindico had signed a management contract. It was June, 2010.
Almost two-and-a-half years later, a city committee voted to cancel the management contract with 90 days notice.
Guess what?  230 days later, Shindico was still being paid to manage the property.
City staff reported to council's property and development committee that public service management would save the city almost $350,000 over 3 years compared to what private companies that answered a public tender would charge.

"A city committee voted to cancel the property management contract within 90 days and the city's administration decided to keep it going to 230 days or so," Colin Craig, Manitoba director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said to the Winnipeg Sun. "If the city can do it for so little, why did they hire a private company in the first place?"
The answer came a month later. Phil Sheegl quit on the eve of the release of the firehalls audit.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sam Katz -- you have the right to remain silent ...

Like the guilty fugitive trying to outrun the law, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz can almost feel the hot breath of the bloodhounds on his neck.

With each passing day the pressure grows for a police investigation of the looting of the city under Katz's terms of office.

The public is seething with anger. Whether in private conversations, Internet comments, or twitter, the message is the same -- where are the cops?  Won't anybody stop this corruption?

Katz was feeling the heat in spades at Wednesday's special council meeting to chew on the EY (Ernst and Young) audit of five years of city real estate deals. His Sweet-Sam-smile was replaced with a face fixed in pure hate, teeth drawn back in a psychopathic grin that fooled no one.

Mayor Sam launched a condescending attack on the EY auditors who highlighted his pal Phil Sheegl's involvement in one shady deal after another.  He attacked city auditor Brian Whiteside, who, you'll remember, refused to join Sheegl's whitewash team way back in 2012. 

But it was the spectacle Katz made of himself when he lost all control and started spewing vitriol at the only person on council he's afraid of, Paula Havixbeck, that demonstrated how scared he is.

Havixbeck was telling how she ordered Sheegl, when he was city CAO, to appear before a city committee to answer questions about the bid-rigging he engaged in to channel millions of dollars worth of city business to Shindico, the company owned by Sam Katz's other pal and baseball business partner.

Katz had been furious and called her to tell her so, she said. At that Katz began screaming. "Absolute lie," he yelled. He continued trying  to intimidate her into silence.  Devi Sharma, chairman of the council meeting, sat there like a ventriloquist's dummy and said nothing as Katz ranted like a wildman.

The biggest liar in Winnipeg--- the man who lied to every taxpayer in the city to get re-elected in 2010-- was calling somebody else a liar!  The man with absolutely no credibility was expecting people to believe him over the woman who tried, right up until he fired her from executive policy committee, to expose the cover-up the mayor of the city was leading.

The irony couldn't be greater. 

No sooner did Havixbeck restart speaking, when Katz's henchman St. Norbert council Justin Swandel stood up and declared,"It's important we shut this down."  No, honestly, that's exactly what he said.

He declared "This person cannot be allowed to do this."  Pointing at Havixbeck, Swandel bellowed he wouldn't allow Sam Katz to be "tainted by the likes of that."

Sam Katz's ally reduced a woman on council to a thing.  The other female councillors sat dumbly and said nothing. Not a word from Jenny Gerbasi. Nor Devi Sharma.  They allowed Swandel, on Katz's behalf, to dehumanize another woman and they were silent.

But that sordid performance by Katz and Swandel, his loyal follower, epitomized the dysfunction of Winnipeg city council, where the embattled lame-duck mayor and a lame-duck councillor can intimidate, bully, belittle, insult, and browbeat an elected councillor while the rest of the council sits silent and cowed. Its no wonder nobody can get to the bottom of the scandals sweeping the city.

By the narrowest of margins, a motion to request Manitoba Justice to review the EY audit findings was approved. The vote was 8-7. The Mayor and six councillors--- Brian Mayes, Grant Nordman, Mike Pagtakhan, Harvey Smith, Thomas Steen, Devi Sharma---opposed even the most timid effort to examine suspicions of criminal wrongdoing. Swandel left the meeting early or else even this motion, the tiniest baby step possible towards a police investigation, would have been defeated in a tie vote.

But it means that city council has added its voice to a request for some form or other of an investigation into criminal wrongdoing. With that, Winnipeg city council this week joined former Manitoba deputy minister of Justice Bruce MacFarlane in suggesting, however mildly, that the province begin a preliminary investigation into whether there's enough evidence to launch a more formal forensic probe. Their voices join most of this year's crop of mayoral candidates, the Winnipeg police association, and the Taxpayers Federation.

There's no question how the public feels. Where there's smoke, there's fire, is what people are saying. And there's incontrovertible evidence in two audits now of favoritism shown by Phil Sheegl towards Shindico.

The missing element so far is evidence of any quid pro quo for those granting contracts.  A seat in Shindico's private box at Winnipeg Jets games for Phil Sheegl is not enough, apparently. 
And Sam Katz's purchase of a million-dollar house in Arizona from the Chief Financial Officer of Shindico for $10 and other considerations hasn't been linked to any favorable consideration on a city contract, not that the mayor could deliver such a benefit in any case.

But the firehall audit did show that Sheegl manipulated the rules so that he could deliver Shindico the multi-million job of building four new firehalls, one of which still stands on land the city doesn't own but Shindico does. The company has refused an offer for the land and expects to make a tidy sum under expropriation.
If the province ever does give the go-ahead for an investigation, it would likely be for the offence of fraud.

380. (1) Every one who, by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, whether or not it is a false pretence within the meaning of this Act, defrauds the public or any person, whether ascertained or not, of any property, money or valuable security or any service.

The law was recently amended to carry a minimum jail sentence of two years "if the total value of the subject-matter of the offences exceeds one million dollars."

Of special interest is the standard of proof to address "other fraudulent means."

"Other fraudulent means" is a "term that covers more ground than either deceit or falsehood. It includes any other means, which are not deceit or falsehood, properly regarded as dishonest according to the standards of reasonable people" but include all other means that are "stigmatized as dishonest". The question of whether conduct fits into "other fraudulent means" is a question of fact.
The issue of actus reus is determined objectively as to whether a reasonable person would consider the conduct to be "dishonest".

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Selinger NDP's bedrock support is eroding even as Trudeau dooms the Liberals

Justin Trudeau has delivered the kiss of death to the Manitoba Liberal Party.

With a new leader and a successful annual general meeting under their belts, the Party had surged up the polls to heights unheard of since 1995. At 23 percent of popular support in the March poll by Probe Research, the Liberals were barking at the ankles of the ruling NDP (28 percent), a far cry from their 7.5 percent showing in the last provincial election (2011).

Then Trudeau announced in May that the federal Liberals were henceforth the official pro-abortion party of Canada and anyone opposing abortion was an enemy of the state.

Poof.  Support for the Manitoba Liberals dropped seven percentage points by the June polling. (And even that was bolstered by the anomaly of 28 percent support in Southwest Winnipeg.)

The bright horizon predicted for Liberals under Leader Rana Bokhari suddenly became a pipe dream, with another trip to the sub-basement of political hell more likely.
The latest Probe poll shows the Progressive Conservatives remain the most popular party in Manitoba with the governing NDP 13 points behind.

While the Winnipeg Free Press tries to spin the poll results as a modest comeback for the NDP from their worst standing, the newspaper fails to point out that the undecided vote dropped from 20 percent to 13.  Voters' opinions have hardened.

The only movement hereon is in how many voters are chased away by Justin Trudeau and whether they'll find refuge in another party or sit on the sidelines.

The NDP cannot be heartened by the fine details of the election poll. The Progressive Conservatives are ahead in almost every category, showing that even the bedrock NDP support has begun to erode:
Male voters have totally rejected the NDP, with the Tories ahead by 24 percentage points. 
Female voters prefer the PC's by a nose, and 
* the Opposition Party leads in support from all age groups, all education levels (with the biggest lead among those with high school or less), and all income levels, including the poorest voters.

The NDP is competitive only with female voters under age 55, where the results are within the poll's margin of error in their favour.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Woman Who Made Sam Katz Quit. Hint: It's Not His Wife.

Sam Katz didn't decide not to run for another term as mayor because he wanted to spend more time with his family.  Puh-lease. Wasn't there another cliche he could use?

And he didn't decide because of some off-the-cuff comment four years ago, that nobody remembered,  to serve only two terms.

Hey, this was the guy who lied outright to get elected in 2010 by painting himself as  the defender of elderly and poor homeowners, only to stab them in the back as soon as he got re-elected by raising their property taxes and promising annual increases from here until forever.  Breaking his word was like breathing air. Effortless.

And he didn't decide not to run because he was afraid he might lose to a North End baba whose entire work life has been spent as an NDP hack. He trounced her once before and in an election over who was hated more by taxpayers, him or the NDP, he still held a slight edge over the NDP's candidate.

And he didn't walk away from a run at re-election because he was afraid of some lawyer (ptui) with the Joker's grin whose campaign is 'ignorance is a virtue. I know less than anyone. Vote for me.'

Sam Katz headed for the exit because he was afraid -- he was afraid of one, and only one, contender for his job -- Paula Havixbeck.

Sam knew that she would chew him up and spit him out in any campaign. 
She sat on Executive Policy Committee, and she could tell the public how he engineered his votes behind closed doors, how he lobbied, blustered and threatened to get his way. 

After he booted her out of EPC for showing too much independence, she stood up to him at council and wouldn't be bullied into silence.  She demanded information from Katz and his best friend, Phil Sheegl, who he had stickhandled into the job of Chief Administrative Officer, and she refused to be stonewalled by the scandal-tainted twins.

Phil Sheegl was the most powerful man at city hall, more powerful than the mayor in who he could hire and fire on his own and how much money he could spend without council approval--- until Paula Havixbeck stood up to him - and he realized she was the one councillor he couldn't intimidate.

Who can forget the day she ordered him to appear before a committee that she chaired. Like a naughty schoolboy in the principal's office, he squirmed, stonewalled, smirked and generally refused to answers her questions about his mismanagement of projects that were millions dollars over budget.  He sent the message: I am the boss, not you.

He found out the hard way that he was wrong.

But Sam Katz backed him 100 percent; he threw Havixbeck off EPC in retaliation for the way she treated his pal. When an audit, demanded by Havixbeck over Katz's objections, revealed Sheegl was behind bid-rigging to secretly award  multi-million contracts to build four new fire stations to Sam Katz's partner in the Winnipeg Goldeyes, Sheegl quit before he could be fired and, with Katz's blessing, walked away with a huge severance paycheque.

Most people don't watch telecasts of city council meetings; if they did they would see how scared Katz is of the councillor from Charleswood. 

Katz would never answer any of her questions; he would respond with some condescending lecture or a sneering putdown. Sam Katz demonstrated at every council meeting that he was either contemptuous of women in general or Paula Havixbeck, his nemesis, in particular, and the effect was always unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch. 

Once the electorate saw him repeat his performance during an election campaign, he would be sunk in an instant.

Sam Katz, doomed to tote the corpse of Phil Sheegl's scandal-filled career with him wherever he went, decided he would sooner be a lame duck mayor than a dead duck candidate.

"I've been the voice for citizens to try to restore trust and confidence at City Hall, and to bring honour back to City Hall, because right now it's not operating very honourably," said Havixbeck in a recent interview on City Circus, the Channel 9 community access weekly television show on local politics.
"2012 was a pivotal year," she told host Marty Gold, "because I saw so much mismanagement happening on the backs of taxpayers, and being a member of EPC... I could see that it was the lazy route to charge citizens more for this kind of mismanagement."

She was running for mayor, she said, because her experience on city council led her to conclude "I have to take a stand, and this is my stand."

As it turned out, it was also Sam Katz's Last Stand.

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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Too much of her own money, not enough of yours. Judy runs for Mayor.

When it comes to electing a mayor, nothing says a city is dynamic, bold, and thriving like a stara baba collecting an old-age pension.

This week Judy Wasylycia-Leis, 63 in August,  announced her second run at the mayor's job. She still has zero experience at City Hall, still marches to the orders of the NDP, collects two retirement pensions and would be getting a third, her old age security cheque, if Mayor. Do you feel the excitement, yet?

Despite getting trounced by Sam Katz in the mayoral election four years ago, JWL thinks her campaign the second time around needs only minor tinkering.  Most specifically, she doesn't have to pretend to be apologetic for promising higher taxes.

Katz handily defeated JWL by at least paying lip service to protecting seniors and low-income homeowners from her promised tax hikes. Of course, it turns out he was either lying or ..., well, lying, because the first thing he did after re-election was start raising property taxes.

JWL can now proudly make tax hikes front and centre to her campaign for Mayor because most of the other candidates for the job also call for higher taxes for -- wait for it -- infrastructure.  There. The magic word.  Say it and you can spend endlessly, without shame or regret.

And JWL is proof of that. On the very first day of her campaign she declared herself in favour of spending $4 billion on a citywide bus rapid transit system and against a referendum to ask the taxpaying public if BRT was their priority too.
On her second day she spelled out her formula for constant tax increases---inflation plus growth.  The Winnipeg Free Press worked out that this would have meant a tax increase of 3.5 percent in 2014 instead of Sam Katz's 2.95 percent.

Vote Judy for higher taxes and rampant spending.  And that's a promise.

Oh, and here's the joke. You won't find JWL taking a bus.  Like all the politicians who want to spend your money on a gold-plated public transit system, she's much too busy to take the bus. She brags she rides her bike when she's not driving.

On the day she announced her run for Mayor,  JWL told CJOB her 25 year-old son was biking home to Winnipeg from the University of Waterloo.  She wanted him to  eventually move here after graduation to work, and she said, she didn't want to leave him a second-class city without a modern transit system.  So ... what's going to keep an educated young man in his mid-20's in Winnipeg?  The ability to take a bus around town?

Don't laugh until you see his field of study:

(from the blog Jessica's Transit Talks
"... he’s at the University of Waterloo doing his masters in environmental studies. His whole research area is in community resilience and his thesis is going to be on linking culture and art, specifically linking festivals as a vehicle for helping build a transformative society that is sustainable in the face of peak oil and environmental deprivation and economic collapse.”

Okay, laugh now.

During the last election, we pointed out how completely out of touch with the voters 'Just Judy' was.  Her whole life had been spent as a soldier in the NDP army, towing the party line, voting the party line, living the party life.

Having never worked a day in her life in a real job, she had no clue what life was like for an ordinary working family.

It was only during this campaign when we realized how far off the mark we were.  Judy Wasylycia-Leis is even more out of touch with the average taxpayer than we ever imagined.

She's a white-wine socialist. A one-percenter slumming as a 'woman of the people.'  She pledged on radio to give her MP's pension to charity if elected mayor.  That means she's willing to give away at the least $68,000 a year without a thought.  And, she added proudly, she'll give away her MLA's pension from the Manitoba Legislature, as well.  In 2010 she actually said she didn't know how much her MLA pension was, that's how insignificant it was to her bottom line.
In a political riding that's one of the poorest in the country, Judy Wasylycia-Leis is ready to give away -- what do you say?-- at least $80,000 in total pension income because she will be so flush that she won't need the money. 

Yep, she really relates to her former constituents, the very people she intends to soak with higher property taxes if she gets the chance so that she can spend their money on her boutique projects - - white elephant museums, a BRT system they'll never use, interpretive centres nobody wanted, a spectacular exhibit for polar bears that they can't afford to attend or bring their children.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis has her priorities, only they're not the public's.
Listen to the so-called pundits and they'll tell you JWL is the front-runner in a field of right-wing candidates and her. 

They're wrong.

This election is not about political wings. It's about voting for unending tax increases or not. 

Since these pundits are all in well-paying jobs where annual tax increases are just a mosquito bite, they're in favour of spending on boutique projects. (Winnipeg Free Press columnists and editorialists earn $70,000 and up and have guaranteed jobs for life.) They'll be promoting the tax hikers over the tax resisters and, of course, the biggest spender-to-be will get the most favourable coverage.

Current Mayor Sam Katz is not going to run again.  You can call him many things, but stupid is not one of them.  To run for Mayor again, Katz would have to run against himself. In the 2010 election he either lied about not raising taxes or flip-flopped so quickly that there's no difference. In either case, he's proven he can't be trusted to keep his word.

He would be running with the stink of Phil Sheegl choking everyone around him. Sam Katz brought Sheegl into civic government, endorsed him, publicly insulted anyone who challenged Sheegl's competence as the city's Chief Administrative Officer, covered up as long as he could for the scandals sweeping Winnipeg that all lead right Sheegl's office. Katz would be carrying that dead albatross around his neck everywhere he went.

Katz would be running on a track record of his own incompetence
.  Remember his own declarations that the new football stadium wouldn't cost taxpayers a cent more because of a "guaranteed maxium price"?  Or his claim that he knew all along that the  "guaranteed maximum price" for the new police station was not guaranteed, nor a maximum. 

And, of course, there's that niggling question of how Sam Katz, the Mayor, managed to buy a million dollar house in Phoenix for $10 from a relative of an official of Shindo, the company that got the contract for four new firehalls from Phil Sheegl after a rigged bidding process that eliminated every other potential contender. When the sale was revealed, Katz said he paid cash for the house above the $10 on the books, but he offered no proof, which, of course is the purpose of an alleged cash transaction.

So there won't be a rematch between Sam and 'JustJudy'.  Not that it matters.

Because she's not really running for mayor.  Remember, she's a party hack and has always been a party hack.  She's running as a trial horse for the provincial NDP, which wants to see prior to the next provincial election just how much the NDP brand repels voters. They want to see if they can buy their way back into office, if taxpayers will forgive the increase in PST if the government can utter the magic word -- infrastructure -- and spend, spend, spend to victory.

In the Brave New World of the NDP, even a stara baba has her role to play.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Why does the CMHR need $2 million by May 30?

There's something fishy going on with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and we can't put our finger on what it is.

Let's start with the bogus "news" story in the Winnipeg Free Press, the propaganda arm of the CMHR, that Canadian realtors "have come up with a $2 million donation."

There's no byline so we don't know who wrote the story, but whoever it was,  he or she had to struggle mightily with the facts to devise a story that implies something false without lying outright.

Someone with only a cursory interest in the CMHR would read the story and come away thinking the Canadian Real Estate Association had raised $2 million and donated it to the still-unopened museum. 

That's what the Free Press wants you to think.

But reading a little closer you see that the realtors' fundraising campaign started in 2008. In truth, then, it took them six years to raise $2 million. And their donation is not new money. It's been on the books for years.  The FP wants you to believe Gail Asper just raised $2 million for the museum, when its not true.

Way back in the summer of 2012, the Friends of the CMHR newsletter carried this update:

"Individual REALTORS, brokerage firms, boards and associations across Canada have
joined forces to support the CMHR, contributing an impressive $1.69 million to the
FCMHR. The REALTORS campaign fundraising goal of $2 million is now within reach!"
The real story is that the 97,000 realtors and related groups raised only a pathetic $310,000 in the last two years.  That's a whopping $3.18 per person, or $1.59 each a year.  That penny-ante support is the true measure of public support for the CMHR.

So why would the Winnipeg Free Press trumpet a donation that's little more than pocket change?  

We've referred to Gail Asper as Winnipeg's biggest panhandler, but until now we didn't know how literal that description was.  Earlier this year, Gail Asper's  Friends of the CMHR was actually begging people for spare change in St.Vital Centre. 

Here's how they proudly described their panhandling efforts:

"In March, St. Vital Centre asked customers to demonstrate their support for the CMHR by turning their loose change into St. Vital Centre Giftcards using the centre’s coin counter machine. St. Vital Centre then matched the total amount and donated the proceeds from the campaign to Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. In total, they raised more than $10,000 for the Museum in just over one month!"

The CMHR has been reduced to competing with  bums for beer money.  Its obvious they're scrambling.  This year, for the fourth year in a row, the CMHR has failed to produce a financial report for the first quarter of the year (January to March), hiding its dire financial situation into the fall, at least.
The Friends of the CMHR have issued a desperate plea to Canada's Chinese community for $2 million by May 30, 2014.  This is the first time we've ever seen a request for money with a deadline attached.  What's the significance of May 30?

Is the phony claim that they've raised $2 million and the hope they can raise $2 million by June related to a loan application for which they have to prove they can make the payments?

Any financial institution dumb enough to loan the CMHR money should look at a calender. 

May 30 is one month before June 30, also known as the deadline to pay city taxes. 

The CMHR is already $4 million in arrears,  and, like you, has received its 2014 tax bill.  That should be for another $4 million to $5 million which they don't have.

At the end of last year, the CMHR received the last of the $145 million the federal government has paid into the project.  That means anything they've spent this year (2014) is paid by IOU's and whatever pennies they can pick up.

It's May 24, or what's known in our office as three months to come up with an excuse why they can't open the museum on time -- again.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pitching Hicksville in New York. Winnipeg Symphony supplies the soundtrack.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra headed for a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall with all the hype and hoopla of the Titanic leaving port on its maiden voyage.

Bon voyage!

The WSO was one of six North American orchestras invited to perform at this year's  Spring For Music festival.  Here's how the event pitches itself:

Spring For Music provides an idealized laboratory, free of the normal marketing and financial constraints, for an orchestra to be truly creative with programs that are interesting, provocative and stimulating, and that reflect its beliefs, its standards, and vision. Spring For Music believes that an orchestra’s fundamental obligation is to lead and not follow taste.

Okay. Whatever. We're in.

On Saturday, the Winnipeg Free Press devoted a full page and a bit to recap the WSO's May 8 appearance in The Big Apple.  As we peeled away layer after layer of hometown hooey, we thought can it get any sadder than this?

Reporter Mary Agnes Welch laid on the spin as gently as possible.  But that's like saying the food service on the Titanic was a once-in-a-lifetime experience---which it literally was because the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean right after supper.


This time the ship reached port with horns blaring, banners flying and fireworks lighting up the sky.

* "A night to remember at Carnegie Hall" was the headline in the next-day review in the Winnipeg Free Press  (The unfortunate headline is not ours.)

NEW YORK -- There could be no mistake: The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra took Manhattan by storm one explosive note at a time...

*  "... on their own terms, they may be the best orchestra to appear in the week’s worth of concerts." wrote reviewer George Grella for Classical Review ("Winnipeg Symphony brings surprising and spectacular music from the North" May 9, 2014.)

*  "Call me a fan of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid."  blogged Pittsburgh reviewer Elizabeth Bloom.

So, what's so sad?  This sounds great.

It does until you dig deeper into the Mary Agnes Welch story.

Nearly 1000 Winnipeggers came with the WSO to New York, she said. Great, except that the concert attendance was only 1,800, which means more than half the audience was from Winnipeg or ex-patriot Canadians.

 "...dominated by a hometown crowd."

"...a largely Winnipeg audience, made larger by their exuberance."

So you're showcasing the orchestra to yourselves? And acting like the worst homers in history?  "The crowd gave the musicians a standing ovation before they'd even played a note."  Not cool.

The orchestra was accompanied by Winnipeg pitchmen and promoters who just came across as the biggest rubes in the city.

Gary Doer, former premier and current ambassador to the U.S., recited the checklist: zzzzzzzz new human rights museum (to the city with museums up the yingyang), zzzzzzz history of tolerance and equality (to the city that hosts the United Nations), zzzzzzzz community spirit that helped rescue the WSO during some financial turmoil (you want financial turmoil, go to Wall Street and yell Lehman Brothers). 

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce pitched Manitoba`s cheap hydro (about to double in less than a decade), competitive tax structure (unless you pay income taxes), skilled workforce (negative job creation in the past year), and `commitment to major trade infrastructure (or in layman's terms, we build roads)."

Oh, and tourism hucksters touted 'our arts and culture' (bwahahaha. New York is the Centre of the Universe, like they care what`s happening in Winterpeg), polar bears and belugas (yeah, that`s how to say we`re a modern city, tell them about the wildlife just outside our doors), and, of course, the iconic CMHR (to a city with the Empire State Building, the new World Trade Centre, the Statue of Liberty, need we go on),.

`We`ve built enough assets here in Manitoba that you can stay for a few days and not get bored,`` Gary Doer told tour operators, according to the Free Press.

Really?  That's your best shot? Did we say you couldn't get sadder than this?

But the WSO walks away okay, right?   Uhhh....

The Spring For Music festival wants its participants to be provocative and stimulating.  Winnipeg was that.  It was a geek show straight out of Colonel Parker's back pocket.

The WSO presented pieces highlighting an Inuit throat singer and a deaf percussionist.  Er, that's different.  Different as in who the f--- gives a damn.  That's probably why tickets were only $25 and they still couldn't give them away to New Yorkers.

You want to know how the regular schmo classical music enthusiast reviewed the WSO? A commenter on the Pittsburgh blogger's site:

Bill Gapen
THE WSO Carnegie Hall performance was 'interesting'. . Yes - they are unique - yet I am not sure I will be playing their performance as I drive down the road. 
Music - it takes a unique ear to enjoy unique sound. I would not go as far as to call it music.. more sound and creativity. 
Orchestra - the strings were in very good shape. The horns section though were sometimes out of pitch and there were a few wrong notes here and there from some. 

Throat singing is very unique - although perhaps for a select audience 
Percussion with Dame Evelyn Glennie OUTSTANDING.
Audience - a very large contingent from Winnipeg who flew in for the concert. Base on the number of people waving their red kerchiefs and my discussion with attendees. I would hazard to guess the hall was about 70% composed of Winnipeggers. past or current. 
While the spirit is live and thriving - one needs to question whether it was a New York performance or a Winnipeg pep rally using a NY venue. For an orchestra to excel with global recognition - wouldn't one want to say that people from all over the world came to witness and enjoy an orchestra? Perhaps it goes back to that unique sound.. yes certainly unique but does it draw an international appreciation ?

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Running on Empty. The Brian Bowman campaign for Mayor.

Brian Bowman is a true son of his generation.

Without a lick of experience at City Hall, this Gen X-er believes he should start at the top, as Mayor. To compensate for knowing nothing about the job he wants, he says he will provide the city with "leadership."  
Now, ordinarily this would be greeted with oohs and ahhs from an electorate that's seen the city reel from one scandal to another under Mayor Sam Katz and those councillors who blindly support him on executive policy committee.

But seeing as how all the mayoral candidates will likely play the leadership card, how does Bowman stand out?

Tuesday morning, before filing his papers to run for mayor, 42-year-old Bowman, a lawyer, showed up on Charles Adler's morning talk show where he expanded on his idea of leadership. 
One word.

Yep, Bowman is running on the vision thing. 

 'Vision' is the code word among the Ivory Tower elite for the rich man's burden.

'Vision'  means the airy-fairy mega-million dollar projects that are, surely you understand, beyond the limited knowledge and imagination of the scrabbling masses.  But not their wallets.

Can you believe that city council has been debating a rapid transit line that runs barely 10 blocks, Bowman snorted to Adler. He, on the other hand, wants to look ahead, far ahead - to 2035 - when Winnipeg is predicted to have a million people. Bowman wants to build public transit for that city, not the grubby city we live in now. 

That, people, is vision.

That, people, is also delusional. 

It demonstrates that Brian Bowman has no understanding how city council works. Winnipeg, in a nutshell, is run by 16 monkeys---a mayor and 15 councillors.  Everyone has an equal vote. The mayor's only power is to appoint councillors to executive policy committee. Currently, the biggest toadie on EPC is another lawyer (ptui).

Intelligence and competence play no part in who gets elected and what role they play on council. But when people have a problem, they have their councillors' phone numbers and they're not shy about giving their councillors an earful. Those councillors then bring those problems to City Hall. 

City Hall is dealing with garbage pickup in back lanes, not designing where to put charging stations for hydrogen-powered hovercraft buses for the city-of-the-future. 
That is called representative democracy.  They used to teach it in school. 

Bowman's only experience with leadership is his time at the  Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce (one-term chairman) and the Art Gallery (a board member).  Make big plans, lobby politicians, go for a power lunch.  The press snapping at your kiester?  Call security.  Say, what's the theme of this year's fundraising gala going to be? Pink or powder blue?

As a privacy lawyer, Bowman couldn't be more removed from the day to day concerns of citizens.  How often have you consulted a privacy lawyer?  A criminal lawyer, a divorce lawyer, maybe. But a privacy lawyer?  How la-de-da can you get?

Bowman actually told Adler that one of his major election planks would be to improve transparency at city hall. 

Not snow clearing , potholes, mosquitoes, or gangs. 


Wow. Is this guy in touch with the issues or what? 

Bowman wants to talk about "moving forward."  Forget those niggling problems of the past, that firehall thing, the police station  thing, the stadium thing. It's hard to keep those things straight.

Gen Xers don't like hard.

Focus on infrastructure. Yeah, love that word. Infrastructure. Everything you build is infrastructure, so everything you build is good. Who can object to paying for the greater good?

Not you. That's why you're going to be happy to pay higher taxes, Bowman believes.  Yes, a tax increase each and every year to pay for his "vision."  At the rate of inflation.

He told Adler he's very proud of the big ideas that the Chamber under his watch brought forward to politicians under a campaign called Manitoba Bold.

Let's see how much he talks about the BOLD idea for a separate city sales tax.

Somebody might remember that Sam Katz used to talk about vision. Remember when he brought former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani to Winnipeg to pitch his broken windows theory on reducing crime?  Nobody else does.

Or Katz's excitement at the plans of hippie city entomologist Taz Stuart who was going to replace mosquito foggging with holistic eradication methods?  One morning Taz was gone but the fogging trucks weren't.

Bus Rapid Transit was out, then in, then on the shelf for Light Rail, then back in, then in limbo, and now in again, coincidentally with a slight detour that benefits Sam Katz's friends. 

That, also, is somebody's vision.

Brian Bowman has Sam Katz's smile (the one from the early days, not the forced one Katz slaps on today). But in this mayoral election he's Kaj Hasselriis, not Sam Katz

Nice guy if you were electing a class president in junior high, but being mayor of a city is not a starter position with benefits.

Postscript:  Judy Wasylycia-Leis also ran on 'Vision' in the last mayoral election. Here's what we had to say at the time.  It's still relevant, obviously:

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Monday, May 05, 2014

The climate change choir: Tunes from the past

We're baaaaaaack.

Where were we? 
We went where no reporters have gone before -- back in time.

And we returned with the scoop -- the truth behind the real causes of climate change and the cause of the climactic havoc that's engulfed the world.

"Freak storms, massive droughts, killer hurricanes..."

"What's causing this crazy weather?" we asked, and so did Maclean's magazine. 
In its New Year's '66  issue. 
The one with the cover story Naming the Outstanding Canadians of 1965.

Sixty-five had been bad. Real bad. Ten inches of snow on Sydney, Nova Scotia (when they still had inches). Rainmakers called in to help the parched Ottawa Valley. New York City banning the "unnecessary" flushing of toilets to preserve water. But so much rain on Quebec that housewives, (when they still had housewives) formed societies against artificial rainmaking.

Ontario set all-time low temperatures in August. California had twice the normal rainfall. Hurricane Betsy was the most destructive storm ever.

"Since implications are tremendous for birds, fish, animals and plants---and therefore for our whole economy---North Americans were posing a basic and vital question when they asked," Is our weather changing?" Meanwhile, scientists were asking a question that is even more ominous. "Is it something that man is doing that is altering weather patterns?"

Like we haven't heard that before.

Maclean's, the voice of Canada, stopped at nothing to get the answer to those burning questions.

"Chief Walking Eagle, an aged Indian who has predicted the weather accurately for the past five years is certain of it. At Rocky Mountain House, Alta., recently, he explained, "The white man is getting too big and rich. Manitou does not like this and he gives bad weather."

Uh, right. 

Maclean's went to climatologists for a second opinion. That's where we twigged to the cutting edge of scientific thought on climate change (1966-style). 
Atom Bombs.

Yes, there you have it.

"In 1961 and 1962, the U.S. and the USSR detonated a series of nuclear bombs, one of them (Russian) exceeding fifty megatons---the biggest man-made explosions in history. The following winter was Europe's worst ever. Snow even fell on the French Riviera."

Dr.Walter Mitschfeld, head of the Department of Meteorology at McGill expounded on his theory of how A-bombs are responsible for changing weather.  It had something to do with electrifying dust particles in the upper atmosphere, upsetting "the delicate balance" of ultra-violet reaching earth, and radiating the Equator where cyclones and hurricanes are born. The only thing missing is cosmic rays and the Fantastic Four.

"The possible effects are enormous," declared Maclean's.

"We just don't have enough statistical data to know whether this is freak weather or a new trend," said M.K. Thomas, department chief of climatology at the meteorological branch of the federal Department of Transport in Toronto. (Now there's a title) "But we're not as certain as we once were that human actions could not be causing changes," he said.

How to tell?  Robert M. White, head weatherman for the United States government (now that's a better title), said that "computers" might soon answer those questions.  Hooray, mid-Sixties computers to the rescue!

But already scientists had detected global warming. Kinda.

"Between 1900 and 1935, the mean January temperature of Dawson City, Yukon, rose a startling ten degrees. (Oddly, however, it is now almost back to the turn-of-century low.)" said Maclean's.  
Yeah, odd.
You want odd? Well, "two eminent U.S. scientists", William L. Donn, geologist, and Maurice Ewing, oceanographer, said the "melting of Arctic ice would, ironically, precipitate a new ice age over North America."

Thick ice at the Pole blocks northerly winds, or something. "Therefore," said Donn, "the rapidly thinning six feet of ice over the Arctic Ocean is all that's saving us from another ice age."

Obviously, there wasn't yet the "consensus" about global warming. But already it didn't look good.

" could mean the virtual end of civilization. For, as the late British climatologist, C.E.P. Brooks has calculated, a worldwide rise of only two degrees in the annual temperature would melt enough ice to flood most of the world's coastal cities." warned Maclean's.

"Some of the hottest arguments between weather experts have arisen over temperature changes. Experts begin by agreeing there is at least one non-nuclear human activity that could be affecting the weather: the burning of plant-remains such as coal and oil."

Gasp.  48 years ago.  They knew.

A concentration of carbon dioxide and ozone, gases that absorb solar radiation, "could certainly raise the temperature." explained the magazine.

"Some U.S. physical chemists insist that the quantity of carbon dioxide in the air has risen by thirteen percent in the last century. By 2000 A.D., they claim, there will be enough to raise much of North America's temperature by as much as six degrees."

Oh no.
If we don't stop this madness by the year 2000 we're all going to die.

 Heed our warning.

 If you can't trust scientists and computers, who can you trust?

Just ask Manitou.
Postscript What? 2000 was 14 years ago?  And the world hasn't come to an end? And last year was the coldest winter in over a hundred years?  And we missed it?  Well, damn.


Monday, March 10, 2014

The Black Rod State of the City Address

Every year the Mayor delivers a State of the City address to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.  And every year a transcript is published on the Internet.

So, of course, given that, as usual, our invitation to the event was lost in the mail,  we went looking for the Mayor's address on the Web. Imagine our shock.

This was the State of the City address? It was a measley five paragraphs long.  It read as if it was cribbed from a city travel brochure. It looked like the Mayor dashed it off at the last minute on a sheet of toilet paper while sitting on the crapper.

Winnipeg is great, it's got a zoo, and some American stores, and (a white elephant, aka) a human rights museum, said Mayor Sam Katz. And there's some theatres, and restaurants, and a convention centre and "optimistic spirit." Okay? Gotta run...

According to reporters, Katz padded his delivery with extemporaneous comments about frozen water pipes, a pledge by Kinsmen to pay up to $1 million towards reopening Sherbrook Pool, and some concert in Central Park in the spring. Whoopee.

Katz also " then assured the business audience on hand the City of Winnipeg would not build a fire station on land not owned by the city ever again. (CTV)"  

He somehow forgot to mention that the person directly responsible for the firehall scandal that's going to wind up costing us millions of wasted dollars was Phil Sheegl, his best friend, and the man he personally vouched for and got hired as the city's Chief Administrative Officer with no experience and, obviously, no competence. Sheegl's responsibility for the bid-rigging that botched the firehall replacement project is Katz's responsibility as well.

But what do you expect from someone who, according to his own story, can reach into his back pocket and come up with a million dollars cash for a house.

In another city.
That he visits on weekends.
On the same flights as Phil Sheegl.

He just doesn't live in the same city as you do, never mind have a clue about what state your city is in.

Compare Sam Katz's city with the city that the rest of us live in. Let's start with the murderous attack on Sam Nemis, 31, 6-3, 300 pounds. It was a Sunday night, not late, the sun had barely gone down. He was cross-country skiing on the Red River just under the Forks, downtown Winnipeg's biggest tourist attraction. 

The first time he knew there was trouble was when someone plunged a knife into his kidney.  This wasn't a mugging. This was a cold-blooded murder in the making. The wounded Nemis, trained in conflict resolution as a security guard at the Health Sciences Centre, tried to reason with his attackers, only to realize they weren't listening. 

"I realized they were going to kill me, just to go through my pockets to find nothing..."That they were going to kill me for nothing, because I had nothing." he told the Winnipeg Free Press.  Nobody knows better than he.

They stabbed him in the back with his ski pole before he managed to break away and scream for help.  Their intent was clear. They intended to kill him and leave his body on the river.

What did they want, we've been asked.  They first demanded his wallet (he didn't carry one), then his cellphone, but ultimately they wanted his life.

This Saturday the Free Press did a follow-up story. It was headlined "This was no isolated incident."  It told the story of the gunpoint robbery of a 55-year-old woman in broad daylight at the Forks only a week before Nemis was attacked.  A Forks spokesman downplayed the incidents. "Isolated," she said.

That's the Winnipeg we live in. Where packs of potential killers roam, picking off the easy prey. And the talking heads hired to pretend downtown is safe turn a blind eye.

C'mon, Black Rod, you're going too far. Oh?  

Tell that to the unnamed man jumped by a mob along Main Street near the Disraeli Freeway, you know, a hop, skip and a jump from City Hall and the Centenniel Concert Hall. His story was also in Saturday's newspaper. He wasn't interviewed. He's in critical condition. 

Five people were arrested, one has already been released on a promise-to-appear. Expect the rest to be back on the street in days.

Or tell that to the security guard at the downtown Millenium Library whose life was threatened by 15 youths when he asked them to leave for causing trouble. His story is in a report obtained by the Winnipeg Sun, dated a month ago, detailing staff concern about the open drug dealing and disorder in and around the library.

 Police, who always seem to be the last to know what's happening in the city, acknowledge they're now aware of the situation that's been obvious to the public for weeks.  You have to wonder if their refusal to act before the security guard was attacked is due to Chief Hug-a-Thug's don't arrest anyone policy.  

That, too, is the city we live in, where the police have become social workers instead of working to enforce public safety.

At least they're out there driving around town and not getting paid overtime to, get this, deliver water.  Yep, our highly-trained firemen and paramedics are getting $60 an hour to bring jugs of water to homeowners whose waterlines are frozen and really heavy sheets of paper to other homeowners at risk of losing their water supply.

Read that again. Sixty Dollars An Hour to carry water jugs and deliver notices. 

We're betting the unemployment office could round up a hundred big, strong men in an hour who would love to make half that, $30 an hour, to risk life and limb carrying those heavy water jugs and those bundles of paper from door to door.

Then we could use those highly-trained firemen and paramedics to sit at desks and make phone calls to find de-icing equipment somewhere in North America that we could beg, borrow or buy.  The number of homes without water is fast approaching 900,  with 5000 other homeowners being warned they might be next. 

Some cities might call this a crisis. In Sam Katz's state of the city, it's called getting emotional.

But don't think the Mayor isn't showing leadership and taking action on all city issues.  While a thousand homes may be without water within a week at this rate, Mayor Sam Katz has called a council seminar for today---on bike lanes.
And that's the State of the City.

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