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, August 18, 2015

Is Tina Fontaine's mother among the Missing or Murdered?

One year after teenager Tina Fontaine's body was discovered  in the Red River, two memorial events were held.  One was on the Sagkeeng Reserve where she was raised by a great- aunt from the age of three;  another, much smaller, was at the Alexander Docks near where her body was located accidentally by a search party looking for someone else.

The news media was out in force, feeding on the grief. 

But none of the "professional journalists" seemed to notice that one important person wasn't at either of these gatherings.

Tina's mother.

At first glance, maybe it came as no surprise that Valentina Duck wasn't there. She's persona non grata on the reserve, where the responsible side of the family blames her for leading her departed 15-year-old daughter deep into the dark side where the seeds of her death are thought to lie.

But her absence at the Alexander Docks is more troubling. The inner city is her turf. There's more than one connection with the docks, the mother, and the discovery of Tina's body.  The senior Tina is no shrinking violet, having been interviewed by reporters on several previous occasions less important than the one-year anniversary of her daughter's confirmed death.

It's hard to call Valentina the black sheep of the family, a family top-heavy with prostitutes, drug addicts and fall-down drunks.  But her irresponsibility is being blamed, even by her own son, for dragging Tina down into a world of hard drug use and casual sex-for-money, either of which could have led to her death.

However it's these very situations that casts a sinister shadow over her non-appearance.

Has Tina Fontaine's mother become one of the missing?

The last recorded appearance of Valentina was ten months ago in a sappy Gordon Sinclair column in the Winnipeg Free Press.  APTN tried to locate her in advance of the anniversary of the finding of Tina's body without success, sparking the question.

In the biggest irony, among the mourners at Sagkeeng was media hog Nahanni Fontaine, Manitoba's official "adviser" on missing and murdered indigenous women.  She spends much of her time hectoring others for failing the native community. 
Has Tina's mother indeed disappeared, right under the nose of Nahanni Fontaine, who, in the words of the Winnipeg Free Press, "has devoted years to supporting the relatives of the missing and murdered?"

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Tina Fontaine: pregnant, tortured and drowned. Her brother spills what he knows.

Fifteen-year-old Tina Fontaine was pregnant at the time she was killed.

That's just a smidgen of what her older brother Charles revealed during an interview last week with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) in which he delivered a carpet bombing of details about Tina's sad life, horrific death, dysfunctional family and possibly murderous associates.

He blamed his and Tina's mother for getting Tina hooked on the hard drug crystal meth and into prostitution.  He said his mother told him she was disowning him and "that if she ever sees me she's going to beat the shit out of me just like she did to Tina."

This provides confirmation of a statement made a year ago when the Winnipeg Free Press interviewed Thelma Favel, who raised Tina Fontaine, on the Sagkeeng Reserve from when she was a child. 

 "... Fontaine claimed she had been beaten up by her mother and even texted pictures of her face, (Favel) said." (Winnipeg Free Press, Aug. 29, 2014)

Brother Charles Fontaine said he believes that someone in "the meth scene" is responsible for her death. 

What he then said cannot be verified, but if true, it shines a light on where the police investigation into the girl's unsolved killing is going.

Tina's brother said he has heard that she was tortured before her death. "Her hair was ripped out, she was burned, stabbed, beaten, raped, put in a body bag still alive.  And drowned."

Charles, now 20, matter-of-factly spoke about the incredibly dysfunctional life that embraced Tina Fontaine.  

  • He was separated from her and her sister as a baby and put into foster care. Like Tina, he became a meth user.  
  • His father, Eugene, was beaten to death by "friends" with whom his father had been drinking and using drugs. 
  • His mother has admitted smoking marijuana with Tina in the weeks before the girl's body was discovered in the Red River. 
  • One aunt is a known prostitute. 
  • He himself is a male prostitute.  
  • A cousin has been charged with forcing a teenaged girl into prostitution at a residence on Furby Street which is rented under another aunt's name and where Tina spent a weekend before her death.
The brother said what worries him now is that his youngest sister is "pregnant and she's 15."
The family tradition lives on.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

The Party line trumps free speech, privacy and democracy: NDP education apparatchik

Like most in Winnipeg, we were first shocked, then titillated by the news stories about the damning report into the Winnipeg School Division by John Wiens, "dean emeritus and professor, faculty of education, University of Manitoba," that was  released last week.

Then we read the report.

We can't recall ever reading a more alarming political document in recent Manitoba history.

Instead of what we had been lead to believe from the news accounts --- that Wiens found the school board so dysfunctional that the province may have to seize control -- we found a biased attack by an NDP insider with a major personal conflict of interest whose intention was to discredit the school board to set up a hostile takeover by the NDP government.

But that's not even the unnerving part.

A careful reading of  the 106-page report revealed a chilling mindset of authoritarian governance that would be perfectly normal in North Korea or Soviet Russia---but never, ever in a free and democratic society like Canada.

What left us shocked was that a poisonous report like this ever came out; that the government of the day accepted it, adopted it and circulated it; and that, knowing that Wiens was (and may still be) an NDP policy analyst and was appointed by the NDP to produce this report, it likely reflects the dark heart of the New Democratic Party.

That - and the fact that Wiens can't spell.

At the core of Wiens' report is that (cue The Internationale) the "common good"-- in this case, education--supercedes everything---human rights, privacy, democracy, even conscience.  These exist only to further the common good, and if they don't, they must be suppressed or guided by education commissars onto the proper path.

Oh, you exaggerate Black Rod. Oh yeah?  Here are some excerpts:

On human rights:

Wiens scoffs at the idea that humans have inalienable rights, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights be damned.
"When it comes to schools, our society says that the public, or common, good supersedes private goods and our young must learn this in order to live together well."
"Rights are not an unalienable right, the optimum goodThey exist to permit, encourage and promote the good which, in the case of School Boards, is education. In other words, rights exist for the good of education, not education for the rights to political participation."
"In a slightly different vein, some political theorists including me worry that the right, or “rights,” have overwhelmed the good. For example, in the past, rights like the freedom of expression and association have been misused by trustees insisting on their right to make public their personal disagreements and grievances in whatever way is available to them; and to form alliances within Boards which, in effect, take the decision-making power away from the Board..."    
"What is clear is that rights are not necessarily goods in themselves, and certainly not by themselves; they are intended to promote and protect the greater good, not supplant it. In short, the Board imperative of making the right or good, educational decisions overrides the right to make decisions."
On Democracy:

In his most jaw-dropping declaration, Wiens says school trustees are only elected to represent geographical areas, not the residents in those areas.  Can you find one other person in the entire province with that bizarre interpretation of school board elections?

"Part of the confusion...comes from misunderstanding the corporate nature of School Boards...The ward system, however, allows trustees to confuse their rights and responsibilities – are they representatives as in a parliamentary system or are they members of a corporate unity?"

"They are clearly the latter
 in both the literal and spirit sense of The Public Schools Act. In other words, while the wards are there to ensure that someone from a geographical area is present on the Board, trustees clearly are representatives “at large,” representing a priori all citizens in the Division and the idea and ideal of education rather than the constituents of a particular electoral district."
"In regards to public stewardship, it has become common for politicians of all stripes to promote and pursue those individual platforms which they claim “got them elected.” While it is not at all clear whether voters elect people for their platforms, their personalities, their perceived moral character or past associations and experience, it is clear that most people voting for school trustees expect their elected representatives to place the interests (in other words, the education) of children, young people and schools above their own. It is exactly what trustees pledge to do when they take office by signing an Oath of Office and declaring all conflicts of interest. While it is not necessarily easy to choose between keeping ostensible political promises one thinks one made, it is abundantly clear what the duties and tasks are when one assumes the office of trustee and Board member. It is an ethical and political imperative to promote and pursue educational excellence in all its forms, including by example as a democratic role model to the young."
On Democracy in Action:
Wiens hates it. He provides a textbook description of how democracy works, then condemns it as dysfunctional. 
The lines of division are complex and continuously shifting but, in general terms, they
consist of layers of mistrust and seemingly irreconcilable differences:
• between individual trustees
• between small, sometimes temporary, alliances of some trustees and other trustees;
• between the Board, trustees and senior administration; and,
• between, and among, senior administration.

But he loves imposing central mind control.

"It is hard to determine what a remedy might be for this particular situation but it would
certainly include the use of ruling some motions out of order
 or suppressing motions in the
general interest
 of the educational enterprise..."

On Privacy:

Board members must respect the limitations of their personal privacy regarding matters of interest or importance to the Board – any behaviour or actions which exclude or publicly impugn the Superintendent/CEO have the potential to undermine the necessary trust relationship.  p.14
In a page straight out of the Stasi handbook, Wiens and the NDP want total control of everybody Trustees meet and a report on why.
That the Board require trustees to file a written monthly report of activities undertaken by each trustee as a member of the Board, including who they met with, for what purposes they met and, if they chose to meet outside the usual meeting structure, why they chose to do so; and,
Similarly, that each trustee file a written monthly report of activities undertaken on behalf of the Board, like school visitations, community events and parent council meeting attendance.

That the Board immediately review its roles and responsibilities under The Public Schools Act, and discuss how its individual and collective practices must change in order to align them with the Act, particularly those regarding acting and speaking on behalf of the Board.
Wiens was particularly upset at trustee Mike Babinsky.
"As for the formal reporting relationship it is continuously being violated. One trustee regularly engages with parents..."
Gasp.  And nobody knows what he says or who he meets with. That will soon be outlawed by the NDP.
.1.3 Other Matters of Concern
In addition to the above concerns, Trustee Babinsky:
1) Maintains, or has been allowed to maintain, his own personal Hotmail account with
which he continues to conduct all trustee-related activity, but on which he declares
himself a school trustee of Winnipeg School Division – his justification is that the email account he has been issued is not private and confidential, 
That all trustees be required to use the Winnipeg School Division email system for their email

Wiens fails to discuss whether division emails are private and confidential or not. Obviously, not, which is why he wants school Superintendants to be able to access the communications of all trustees.

"In my view, the By-laws and practices can be brought into alignment with the letter and spirit of The Public Schools Act, The Education Administration Act and the new political reality and ought to be. Failing to do so will result in a continued fractured and dysfunctional Board...Nevertheless this will require a considerable effort and vigilance in change of both inclination and practice. And, I suspect that, until it becomes a new culture in the Division, it will require frequent minders by trustee colleagues and the Superintendent/CEO."
Translation: trustees will be expected to rat each other out for stepping outside the control zone.
Wiens peppers his report with references to the Public Schools Act to bolster his viewpoint. 

The only thing wrong is that his references are often only fantasy or worse.

"The Public Schools Act addresses this dissonance by insisting that individual trustees have no power as individuals and that the school board, as a corporate body, acts as an individual, placing the duties of the trustees and school boards over and above their individual prerogative and, even, conscience."
The Public Schools Act makes no reference whatsoever to trustees having to abandon their conscience to the collective.

"On quite a different but related matter, who speaks for the Board, when and under what conditions, is a particularly vexing problem... Several of the Board members act as if they enjoy parliamentary-like privilege which entails four related matters: first, they can act like ministers of the Crown for the committees they chair, speaking as if they represent the Board views and interests, and they do so without prior Board knowledge or approval; second, they believe they can act as representatives and advocates of one ward at the expense of another with impunity; third, that they can speak out as ward representatives on any matter whatsoever, claiming rights as individual trustees as opposed to members of a corporate Board; and fourth, that they can shed their trustee identity in favour of identities like community member and/or parent, and speak in that role against Board actions and decisions. The latter is particularly pernicious but, together, they form a lethal cocktail, leaving the public wondering what the Board will do next or where the “Board” truth lies. The consequence is a kind of assumed parliamentary prerogative without checks and balances like caucus solidarity and codes of ethics. The result is that the Board can be undermined, or made to look foolish by anyone of their number wishing to create a scene or pursue personal grievances and goals. And that is exactly what happens."
The Public Schools Act contains this section specifically addressing the right of trustees to speak on any matter:

Right to appear  

39.5(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Act but subject to subsection (3), a trustee has the same right as any other resident of the school division or school district to appear before a meeting of the school board thereof for the purpose of representing the trustee's personal interests in any matter within the jurisdiction of the school board. 
"Meeting" defined 
39.5(2) In subsection (1), "meeting" includes 
(a) a school board meeting; 
(b) a meeting of any committee or subcommittee of a school board or any subcommittee of a committee; and 
(c) a meeting of any commission, board or agency that has jurisdiction in the matter.
The common law of representative democracy, which Wiens and the NDP want to quash, addresses the rest.
Wiens is big on the suppression of opposition.
"Similarly, any actions which override or bypass the responsibility and authority of the Superintendent/CEO in regard to management of the Division, and/or carrying out the wishes of the Board as opposed to the wishes of an individual trustee, undermine not only the trust relationship but also the ability to effectively and efficiently carry out managerial responsibilities. The inability to “do her/his job,” whether because of micro-management, interference or insufficient oversight, reverberates throughout a system and can amount to unreasonable, inappropriate or arbitrary demands placed on other employees as well. It is what Larry Cuban, a renowned educational leadership and change theorist, calls “accountability by bullying,” whereby rights, predetermined and unwarranted outcomes, and procedural demands are used to “beat people up.”
We never heard of Larry Cuban, but, as they say, 'Google is your friend.' 

Thank you Google. 

We were able to learn exactly what Larry Cuban means when he says "accountability by bullying", the slogan adopted by John Wiens.

"Accountability can also be documented by concentrating on outcomes such as test scores, dropout rates, and similar markers."

"By examining such numbers, educators and noneducators can supposedly  determine whether teachers and administrators have met their responsibilities." 

"Focusing upon outcomes has decided benefits for policymakers with fewer benefits less apparent for those who work in classrooms."

"Some policymakers have wedded this concentration upon results to the sharing of these outcomes with the public through publishing school by school test scores and other performance comparisons using varied measures." 

"The premise is that teachers and administrators will become more responsible if results are available to the community." 

"Undesirable outcomes would trigger community pressure for improvement." 

"This is accountability by bullying."

"The substantial negatives linked to concentrating upon outcome measures and having them become public signs of success have already begun to emerge."
Larry Cuban means public pressure for results! 

In a province with the lowest performance in the country in reading, science, and math, accountability from educators is anathema. 

No wonder the NDP rushed to adopt the report.

Something obviously happened between the time Wiens was appointed to do his report by then-Education Minister Peter Bjornson and the release of the report by current Education Minister James Allum.  

The report as submitted not only fails to address issues specified by Bjornson (such as the validity of in-camera meetings) but Wiens is openly dismissive to other directives.
Does the school board follow best practices in ensuring, to the greatest extent possible,
board business is conducted openly with in-camera sessions held only as necessary (for
example, to deal with legal and personnel issues, student discipline, and labour relations)?
Are the reasons for in-camera sessions sufficiently understood and defensible? Are board
meetings conducted professionally and with appropriate decorum?

Best practices get a single mention by Wiens before being relegated to the trash bin.

"The much overused term “best practices” assumes that if certain predetermined procedures are followed reasonable, defensible ends will be achieved. What this presumes is a kind of technical-rational resolution of human concerns. While there are certainly better, more promising and more responsible practices, no prescription or formula will ever supplant the need for sound judgment when it comes to the affairs of human beings. As education is both a political and ethical enterprise, best practices essentially defines minimum expectations and standards about how people will organize themselves, how they will interact with each other and the public, and what educational aims are legitimate and essential.

Most of these so-called best practices for trustees are laid out in the aforementioned provincial legislation and Board policies and By-laws, and no duly elected trustee has a legitimate reason for not knowing about them and following them to the best of her/his ability. The real lesson here is that the political ends do not justify unethical means."
Wiens is even less responsive to the question of whether in-camera meetings of the Winnipeg School Board are all necessary. Skipping any details he says he has no evidence that in-camera meetings are inappropriate.  He said in-camera meetings should be held before regular board meetings. 

Why? So that decisions made behind closed doors could be "dealt with" in open session? Does that makes any sense?
Finally, a bus is a transit vehicle.

buss is a kiss.

Busing is the act of providing transit service.

Bussing is the act of kissing.

John Wiens, "dean emeritus and professor, faculty of education, University of Manitoba," earns an F in spelling.

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Friday, July 03, 2015

Lawbreaking Councillor Janice Lukes must be turfed off EPC.

Janice Lukes has to be fired from Winnipeg council's executive policy committee immediately.

She was hand-picked by Mayor Brian Bowman to sit on EPC and to chair the city's influential public works committee.  We'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn't know what a mistake he was making.

Winnipeg cannot have someone who openly breaks the law sit on the city's most powerful committee. 

Especially now that we see how much of a Trojan Horse she is for the bike lobby, promoting, priorizing and spearheading major projects that benefit a tiny special interest group at the expense of the rest of taxpaying Winnipeggers.

It was that allegiance to the bike lobby that caught her up.

The Winnipeg Free Press recently published a story about a stretch of Pembina Highway leading to the University of Manitoba that bicyclists feel is unsafe.

Stretch of Pembina has already proved deadly for cyclists
By: Kristin Annable 

It’s a no man’s land for cyclists.
A 500-metre stretch of Pembina Highway where the bicycle lane ends plunges cyclists into six lanes of traffic and makes it almost impossible to safely turn left while heading south
This well-travelled overpass at Bishop Grandin Boulevard between Plaza Drive and University Crescent is the cyclist’s gateway to Investors Group Field and the University of Manitoba.
Free Press readers say it’s a death trap that has killed before — and will kill again.

The story included a comment from Lukes, as well as this set-up paragraph.

"St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes, the chairwoman of public works and a cycling advocate, admits the overpass can be daunting for cyclists and said she breaks the rules, risking a $113 ticket, and takes the sidewalk when she has to cycle on the Bishop Grandin overpass."

Did Lukes says she "breaks the rules", or was that wording the work of the reporter? Either way, it's not accurate.  

Lukes doesn't break the rules, she breaks the law.  

That's right. It's a law, the Highway Traffic Act, duly passed by the Legislature and supposed to be enforced by the police. 

Lukes publicly said she breaks the law because it suits her.

That is simply unacceptable. 

No city councillor is allowed to break the law because they choose to. The Mayor cannot allow anyone who boasts about breaking the law to sit on EPC. Its an insult to the citizens of Winnipeg.

And it's too late to say, 'Oh, I won't do it any more.' 

Lukes confessed she routinely broke the law because she wanted to, and she felt it was worth the risk. That's an attitude that permeates the bike lobby.

The Winnipeg Free Press back in 2012 published an opinion piece by Sarah Whiteford, a policy manager for the provincial government, in which she concluded "So, until this infrastructure improves, I am afraid I will likely continue my life of crime by cycling on the sidewalk." 

Ha ha. 

Mocking the laws of Manitoba, while collecting a paycheque from the provincial government, par for the course. Janice Lukes probably had a big laugh when she read that.

The article that outed Janice Lukes, contained this paragraph:

"In the interim, the advocacy group Bike Winnipeg has called for the city to allow cyclists to share the sidewalk with pedestrians."

See, the solution to the problem is simple. Let cyclists break the law with impunity, pedestrians be damned.

On Tuesday a special community committee meeting was called by Councillors Russ Wyatt, Jeff Browaty and Jason Schreyer to challenge the report being spearheaded by Janice Lukes for a $334 million, 20-year program of new and expanded cycling and pedestrian paths across the city. And who should show up? Mark Cohoe, executive director of Bike Winnipeg.

Cohoe  proceeded to insult the elected officials by claiming they hadn't read the report and didn't know what they were talking about. Lukes refused to listen to any changes to the report, which will be presented to council July 15, or to correct errors in it that were pointed out by the other councillors.

She insisted the report be passed first by council, then amended if need be.

It's just the latest tactic of the bike lobby to ram changes in city policy through under the pretense that nothing has been decided officially.  

Remember the Disraeli Bridge replacement trickery. 

The city held phony public "consultations" which even included asking attendees to chose which of three designs for a new bridge they preferred. Then city officials scrapped the public's advice and announced that after secret meetings with the bike lobby they were building two bridges -- one for cars and one for bicycles-- at a cost of $40 million more than taxpayers wanted to spend.

Lukes,with Bowman's help, is following the playbook perfectly.

Apart from objecting to any changes to a report committing Winnipeg to a 20-year plan to expand bicycle paths, she's endorsed reducing speed limits within Winnipeg to 30 kmh, and she also promoted forcing homeowners to be forced to shovel city sidewalks in front of their houses (eliminating city snowclearing would provide the money for clearing snow off bike routes).

But each time there was pushback, she's feigned innocence. Bowman, with a cheap lawyer's weasel words, has rushed to her defence.

Snowclearing? Don't get excited said Bowman.

"Winnipeggers should know it’s a recommendation – it’s not something that will be adopted with the pedestrian and cycling strategy," Bowman said. "There hasn’t been any discussion (by councillors) on it." he told the Free Press.

But when councillors wanted to discuss it this week, Janice Lukes walked out of the meeting refusing to listen to their concerns.

And she's on the record promising she wants the idea studies by city administrators and a cost-benefit analysis brought to city hall. 

That sure sounds like she's made up her mind.
City speed limits?  Lukes, on Tuesday again, published a blog post putting as much distance as she could between her and the idea.  She called it "setting the record straight."

It seems she was unfairly quoted. Blame the media. She was just tossing around ideas, not pushing an agenda, she wrote.

Except that reporters take notes. These days they usually tape their interviews. And the comments Lukes made to the reporter are anything but neutral.
"That solves all of our problems with cycling, walking, to have a limited speeding amount for vehicles," she said of the 30 kmh speed limit.

"I’d love to go back and spearhead this, even if we just pilot it and see what is does in a community," she said, putting the lie to the idea she was only brainstorming and not promoting.

"... Lukes said she would be open to investigating reducing the speeds on weekends or at certain times of the day. (...) It is absolutely something in my tenure I will be looking at," she said.

It sure sounds like she has an agenda that she's not sharing with the public.
As an elected official, it's up to the people who voted for her to decide her future.
But as a lawbreaker and an appointed councillor, it's up to the Mayor to dismiss her and restore integrity to city hall as he promised in his election campaign.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

MSM Ignores Historical Revisionism CMHR-style

Aided and abetted by the laziest and worst reporting in the mainstream media,  the long con known as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights made the news again this week.

A "jovial" Gail Asper crowed that the fundraising arm of the museum, which she heads, had surpassed its goal of $150 million in private donations thanks to four million dollars pledged by two foundations and a labour union.  The total raised was $1.5 million over the goal, the news media gushed.

The only problem with that announcement -- a problem which went unreported by a single news outlet --- is that it's a lie.

The only way the 'Friends of the CMHR' could reach its fundraising goal was to ignore almost $80 million in advances, loans, and unpaid obligations that still have to be covered. 

You read that right---Gail Asper's pet project, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights still owes almost $80 million!

Asper, with the collusion of the MSM, has to rewrite history to, as they say, put lipstick on the pig.  
The CMHR is proving to be the white elephant that every critic said it would be.  

With the urgent need to suck tens of millions of dollars more from taxpayers to keep the poisonous project afloat, Asper has to spin, spin and spin a story of good news out of dreck.

Take the so-called fundraising goal of $150 million.  Then take this story in the Globe and Mail three years ago:

"The fundraising arm of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is setting an ambitious new dollar target to ensure that the museum, now under construction in Winnipeg, opens in 2014"

"...on Tuesday evening, after a presentation in Toronto to supporters of the project, Gail Asper, national campaign chair of the Friends of the CMHR, indicated in an interview that the goal is now almost $200-million from private and corporate donors."

Even the Winnipeg Free Press, the propaganda arm of the rights museum, reported in 2012:

"Private fundraising requirements have gone from $150 million to $200 million."

Gail Asper is counting on the fact that nobody will remember that when, in 2011, she started a hate-campaign against the Ukrainian community in Canada by calling them anti-semites, private donations to the CMHR stopped cold. 

Costs, meanwhile, had risen by leaps and bounds and the museum was $60 million short of what was needed to finish the project.  A disaster of epic proportions loomed.

The federal and provincial governments had to step in with the needed cash to prevent a face plant heard around the world.  First, the feds secretly gave the rights museum $10 million with no publicity, no news releases, nothing to even hint at how the money was spent. It was done by "reconfiguring" maintenance funds to construction funds, a trick we still think was illegal and worthy of investigation by the federal auditor general.

Then they "advanced" $35 million to the museum so that it could be built.  The "advance" is supposed to start being repaid in three years (2018) by having the federal government reduce its annual $21.7 million in operating funds.

Yeah, that's going to happen.  Anyone who has read the museum's annual reports knows that they have already said they can't operate on $21.7 million a year and they will be asking for millions more from the federal government when its time to renew their annual funding,  which is sometime this year. 

When that happens, their only option is to ask the feds to forgive the advance and screw the taxpayers.

But $35 million in federal money still wasn't enough to save the museum.  The province of Manitoba had to guarantee a loan of $25 million to $30 million.  A loan from whom we still haven't learned because it, too, is a secret kept by the CMHR.

Nonetheless, they have to repay the loan, somehow.  Except they don't have any money. A million or two a year is peanuts when you're talking about paying back $60 million.  The answer?  You know. Default on the loan and let the province pay it.  And "province" is spelled Y-O-U.

Then there's the matter of taxes. The CMHR isn't paying.  They owe, by our estimate, at least $15 million in back taxes.  They've budgeted $600,000 for taxes this year when their bill is more like $7 million.  Essentially they've been paying the frontage fee, but not the property tax.

The federal government is arguing that Winnipeg has over-assessed the museum, that the building is almost worthless for any other use than a federal museum and so should pay only a bare minimum.

They tried the same gambit with a project in Halifax.  That city fought them all the way to the Supreme Court.  The federal government lost.  We've read the court decision. The feds don't have a leg to stand on.  They're just stalling the inevitable.

The taxes are supposed to be paid out of the $21.7 million in funding that the museum gets from the federal government each year. Only, as you see, they're already crying 'poor', planning to ask for more, and wondering how to wiggle out of a reduction in annual funding when it comes time to repay the $35 million "advance."

You know what's going to happen just as we do.  The CMHR is going to go to City Hall, cap in hand, and beg for taxes to be waived. 

But  there's a twist in the story.  Winnipeg needs the money to repay a secret $10 million loan from the province which made up the city's alleged contribution to the museum.  That was the deal.  No taxes, no repayment and the province has to eat that $10 million, too.

Gail Asper's fundraising group is supposed to be raising the money to pay all these expenses above and beyond what the three levels of government agreed to contribute when the project got the go-ahead.   

Instead, she's claiming she's raised more money than promised.  

The reimagined history of the CMHR is built on a litany of false and bent facts.

When announcing its triumphant fundraising, Gail Asper thanked the 8200 donors who made it possible.  That would be the same 8200 donors who were thanked when the museum officially opened its doors nine months ago.  In other words, in nine months they haven't attracted any more individual donors. How pathetic is that?

The CMHR brags that it's beating its own revenue targets, having raised $1.5 million since it opened to the end of March, 2015.  But in its financial report ending Dec. 31, 2014 there's this note:
13. Contingent Liabilities:
A statement of claim related to the base building construction has been filed by a sub-trade against the Construction Manager for an amount higher than has been accrued in the financial statements. A reasonable estimate of any additional liability cannot be made at this time.

We tracked down the lawsuit. Its for $2 million. If the museum loses, all of its earned revenue, and more, will be swallowed up in one gulp.

And about that revenue.  The financial report contains this breakdown.

Nine months ended Dec 31, 2014  

Admissions and Programs    
General Admission –                  $ 430          
Memberships -                               108  -    
Public Programs -                            18  -    
Retail Boutique Sales                     262  -    
Facility Rental                                 221  -    
Restaurant and catering -                111  -    
Total                                                $ 1,150   
In short, they only raised $350,000 in the first three months of 2015. Of that, $240,000 (16 percent) came from school tours.

CBC reported that museum spokeswoman Rhea Yates applauded the CMHR's "tremendously successful first year."

"Overall visitation and overall revenue are the key measuring sticks and the museum is doing well on both. Our 12-month visitation goal is 250,000 — we nearly reached that in seven months," she said.

That comment raised an immediate red flag.  Did she imply that the CMHR is going to claim credit here on in for attracting 250,000 visitors a year?  Because that would be the biggest rewrite of history yet.

The museum boosters have since Day One insisted that the CMHR would attract 250,000 additional tourists a year to Winnipeg to see the museum.  There was no misunderstanding about that.  The rights museum was going to be such an "iconic" attraction that a quarter of a million people from around the world were going to come to Winnipeg just to see it.

To reconfigure those 250,000 tourists into 250,000 visitors is the biggest con of all and a confession that we've just wasted $351 million.

How much of a waste?  To answer that we must credit a dedicated reader who did more research than all the professional journalists in town combined.

He spotted this statement in the Winnipeg Free Press:
" As expected the Womens' World Cup has resulted in thousands of soccer fans taking in the museum."

Having learned not to believe a word from the CMHR, he followed up with a question of the reporter.  Were these paid admissions?

The reporter, to his credit, asked the question of museum staff. 

What he got was a Page One story. Instead, you'll read it in The Black Rod.  He replied to our correspondent:

Here's the response from a spokesperson from CMHR.

"Yes. They were paid. Athletes and delegates had passes for local attractions but the uptake on that was low. Don't have the exact count for that but the last I heard, it was less than 25."

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Details of Manitoba Hydro's super-sweetheart deal with Minnesota

We appreciate the emails from concerned readers who have asked, where have we been? 
Working diligently on Project X. Thank you for your tips.

It took the train wreck known as Manitoba Hydro to get us to set things aside and get back into the arena.

Manitoba Hydro has applied to the Public Utilities Board for another hike in rates.

This year they're asking for a rates to go up 3.95 percent.

Something about that number seemed odd. But what?

It didn't take long to answer the question with a clipping from a Canadian Press story posted two-and-a-half years ago.

"Manitoba Hydro's CEO says customers can expect rate increases of about 3.5 per cent a year for the foreseeable future as the Crown-owned utility builds new generating stations while export prices are soft."  (CP, Sept. 19, 2012)

So Hydro's minimum rate hike has climbed by almost half a percent a year. 
And that's  after the plan to build Manitoba's biggest generating station, Conawapa, which was to cost billions upon billions, was scrapped. 
That means only one thing --- Manitoba Hydro's finances are deteriorating faster than ever.  Hydro is on the fast track to insolvency and hopes to hide it as long as possible.

The CP story stated:

"The Public Utilities Board, the provincial regulator, warned last year that low prices could force Manitoba consumers to subsidize exports and see domestic prices jump by 140 per cent over the next 20 years."
      Even without Conawapa, it appears the price Hydro will be charging its Manitoba customers will triple within 20 years.   
People are confused. Why does Hydro suddenly need so much more money?

They used to say it was because of the three new dams they intended to build in the coming decade, dams that would earn huge profits from sales to the United States in the years before their power was needed here at home.

But the smallest (Wuskwatim) is built and the largest (Conawapa) is on ice. And the last thing they want is to draw attention to the one remaining, which is why they've started claiming they need the extra cash to rebuild Manitoba Hydro's existing infrastructure, not the additions to it.

By now everybody knows that the first project, called Wuskwatim, was an unmitigated disaster. It cost almost twice as much to build as projected and by the time Wuskwatim went into service export electricity prices had collapsed thanks to a boom in shale gas production.  Manitoba Hydro now sells electricity to Minnesota at a third of what it costs to produce that electricity.  
We're paying higher and higher rates at home to subsidize users of our power in the U.S.

The next Hydro mega-project is called the Keeyask generating station, and it's three and a half times as big as Wuskwatim (695 megawatts compared to 200 MW). Now imagine a boondoggle ten times worse than the new Blue Bombers football stadium, and you know where this is going.

They say the devil is in the details, and we found the paved road to Hell in Keeyask.

This month regulatory authorities in Minnesota gave the go-ahead to Minnesota Power to build a 220 mile transmission line from Manitoba to carry power from the Keeyask project.

The line is estimated to cost anywhere from $558 million to $710 million, depending on the route.  In American dollars. Excluding construction inflation and financing costs. 

That estimate is already more than 150 million dollars higher on the low end than Minnesota Power projected two years ago. That should be a warning of how high construction inflation will be.

When its all said and done, Manitoba Hydro is going to pay 72 percent of the cost of the transmission line to Minnesota.  That's because they want to build it bigger than necessary to carry just the 250 megawatts of power that we're going to sell to Minnesota Power starting in 2020. Manitoba Hydro wants the bigger line so it can sell more electricity to other customers in the future.

Hydro's bill works out to between $401 million and $511 million. U.S.  Add between $80 million and $100 million for exchange. Plus financing costs. And inflation. Oh, and add the $350 million Manitoba Hydro will pay for the transmission line from Keeyask to the Manitoba-Minnesota border, and you have a bottom line of nearly $1 billion just to send the power from us to them.

Manitoba Hydro will end up owning 49 percent of the line. Which it doesn't want to own. So, Hydro intends to sell its share of the line to another power company in 2016. Or else "assign" its share to Minnesota Power.
According to regulatory filings in the U.S.:

"Regarding operations and maintenance expenses, the record  demonstrates that whether Sub (the Manitoba Hydro subsidiary that will officially pay for the power line...ed)  transfers its shares to Minnesota Power or assigns its shares to a third party, Minnesota Power will continue to be responsible for only 33.3 percent of the operations and maintenance costs associated with the Project. (Ex. 40, p. 8.)"

Given that there's going to be all that extra capacity, the Americans decided to double down on their amazing opportunity.  The original deal between Manitoba Hydro and Minnesota Power contained a unique provision that let Minnesota "store" off-peak excess power from its wind farms with Manitoba.  
 Manitoba Hydro would, in effect, serve as a giant battery for Minnesota. Wind power is often produced at times when there's no demand for electricity. Under the deal, that power would be credited to Manitoba for delivery to its customers, while Manitoba would store water behind its dams instead of using that water to create power. When Minnesota needed power, it could tap into the "stored" energy and reclaim it from Manitoba.

“With expansion, the Manitoba Hydro system is like a 4,500 MW battery that you can draw on in the day during the day and recharge at night,” says Manitoba Hydro Division Manager of Power Sales and Operations David Cormie. “With the new line, the potential is there to purchase up to 1,500 MW at night and return 3,000 MW during the day, so there’s a huge potential to move energy in and out of the MISO footprint .
And that’s just with what is planned now. Cormie estimates Manitoba's ultimate potential is another 50 per cent.

Over the next decades we intend to invest about $20bn in new hydro and transmission,” says Cormie. "Key to these investments is inter-utility co-operation to get the right transmission built. Without willing partners like Minnesota Power, Manitoba's storage potential would be under utilized. Together, greater things are accomplished." Manitoba Hydro Division Manager of Power Sales and Operations David Cormie. “
It sounded so good, that Minnesota signed a side-deal with Hydro known as the 133 MW Power Purchase Agreement.  This let Minnesota use the extra capacity on the Manitoba Hydro powerline to store an additional 133 megawatts of wind energy.  All told, Minnesota can now use all the power created by wind farms that its bought in North Dakota.

But here's the fun part. It's now understood that Manitoba Hydro will buy Minnesota Power's wind power (which they call 'pumped energy'). If the wind power is part of the 133 MW Power Purchase, Minnesota will charge Manitoba a "must take fee" to cover the transmission delivery costs. Then, when Minnesota wants, it can reclaim its wind power energy to either use or resell on the open market. 

The price Manitoba pays for Minnesota's wind energy is a "trade secret." The price Manitoba Hydro gets for "selling" this power back to Minnesota Power is a "trade secret. 
What isn't a trade secret is logic. 
Power created when nobody wants it is worth nothing
How do you buy and sell something worth nothing, unless you're paying something for nothing.

Let us clarify this gobbeldy-gook.

* We're paying the lion's share of a powerline so that we can eventually use the extra capacity to sell hydro-electric power to American customers.

* Minnesota will use that over-capacity to send wind power to Manitoba --- while charging us "transmission delivery costs" for the privilege of using the line we're paying for to buy power they can't sell anywhere else. 
*Manitoba will then buy power it doesn't need. At a price that's a secret. And when that power is worthless on the open market.

* And we'll sell that power back, also at a secret price, to Minnesota whenever they want it, so they don't have to buy more power from Manitoba. Or, so they can sell that power in competition with power from Manitoba Hydro.

Still not sweet enough?

The agreements between Minnesota and Manitoba include an annual "wind storage credit", all of which will go to Minnesota Power regardless of whether the wind energy is coming or going.

Regulatory filings stated: "... the total wind storage credit benefit between the
 250 MW agreements and the Renewable Optimization agreement is 1 million
 MWh each year, equivalent to approximately the anticipated annual off-peak
 production of our Bison wind generating facilities. Minnesota Power projects the
economic benefits for customers of the wind storage provision from the 133 MW
 Renewable Optimization Agreement to be approximately $1.7 million annually
 and could rise to $4 million annually should certain market conditions develop
 under terms of the agreement."

In  other words, they would get no green credits for producing power in the night when its not needed, but if they sell it to Manitoba, they do. So we're buying power we don't need and they're scarfing up enviro credits.  
This is a deal that covers 15 years. At $1.7 million a year, Manitoba Hydro gave up $25 million.

We'll give the final word to Dave McMillan, executive vice-president of Minnesota Power. 
Actually, he spoke to the Pioneer Press in January, 2012, when the Minnesota Power agreement was first announced with great fanfare, which paraphrased him revealing vital information that's never been reported in Manitoba:
The agreement has no cost estimate yet because the hydroelectric purchase is tied to the price of natural gas in 2020, McMillan said.

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