The Sausage Factory http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/blogs/lett/ Fri, 19 Oct 2012 17:44:00 GMT Justin Trudeau's premature priministerial posture http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/blogs/lett/?plckController=Blog&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&UID=4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601b&plckPostId=Blog%3a4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost%3a6b7e2ad4-e3f5-4ed9-88d9-f330f8e05c4e&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest Fri, 19 Oct 2012 17:44:00 GMT <p> He’s not leader of anything right now, and even if he does win the Liberal crown, it’s a long shot that he will ever get the chance to lead a government. Still, that hasn’t stopped Quebec MP and presumptive leadership front-runner Justin Trudeau from acting like he’s already prime minister.</p> <p> Trudeau is scheduled to appear at a Liberal rally in Winnipeg on Saturday October 20. This is the first time he is visiting Winnipeg since he announced his intention to run for the leadership of the federal Liberals earlier this month. Once he declared, and even before he confirmed his appearance this weekend, a cadre of <em>Free Press</em> journalists began rousting their contacts in the party to secure a sit-down interview with him whilst in our fair city. In particular, we attempted to get him to do a live webcast interview at the <em>Free Press News Café </em>on McDermot Avenue, where we have interviewed federal politicians such as Finance Minister <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Jim-Flaherty-to-speak-in-person-at-News-Cafe-150065695.html">Jim Flaherty</a>, Immigration Minister <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Immigration-Minister-at-News-Cafe-Monday-147370195.html">Jason Kenney</a> and Heritage Minister <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Heritage-Minister-James-Moore-dropping-into-News-Cafe-Wednesday--169332836.html">James Moore</a>, among others. Heck, we even had then-interim Grit leader <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Rae-to-speak-at-News-Cafe-141942123.html">Bob Rae</a> in for a chat.</p> <p> After nearly two weeks of back-and-forth with local Liberals working on his campaign, and his federal handlers, we were told Trudeau “isn’t doing one-on-one interviews” at the moment. We were free to scrum him after his Saturday gig, the Grit handlers said, but that was the extent of his availability.</p> <p> The fact is Trudeau is doing one-on-one interviews. He did an “exclusive” <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/justin-trudeau-grapples-with-his-authenticity-as-the-race-begins/article4593776/" rel="nofollow">interview</a> with the <em>Globe and Mail’s </em>Jane Taber, a veteran ‘inside the ropes’ journalist, for a story that appeared October 6. He also did a <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/10/11/on-his-terms" rel="nofollow">sit-down</a> with <em>Maclean’s Magazine</em> for their October 11th issue.</p> <p> I’m sure what Trudeau’s handlers meant to say is, ‘we’re not doing many one-on-one interviews right now, preferring to work with selected journalists to control access and message.’ Don’t get me wrong, from time to time I’ve been lucky enough to be one of those selected journalists, and appreciate that those who did get interviews with Trudeau did it by making good use of the gravitas of their news organizations and their own relationships with key people in his campaign. Good on them. That doesn’t mean that it’s a good political strategy for this politician, at this delicate stage in the history of the Liberal party.</p> <p> The frustration is that Trudeau’s handlers are already handling him like he is the prime minister. They are engaging in the same rigid, suffocating, hyper-controlled media strategy that the federal Tories apply when Prime Minister Stephen Harper travels the country. However, while it may seem silly to have to point this out, Trudeau is not Stephen Harper. Not only has he not won anything, he hasn’t even demonstrated he has enough support to win the leadership of his party. This is a time when Trudeau should be out barnstorming the country, meeting as many people as possible and making himself available to the media in an unfettered manner.</p> <p> This is especially true in a province like Manitoba, where the Grits have been reduced to a single federal seat. Although Manitoba has only a handful of seats (14) in the House of Commons, it serves as a microcosm of the challenge facing the Liberals. At one time, when Liberals commanded enormous majority governments, they held 12 of 14 seats here. Now, it’s down to MP Kevin Lamoureux. Manitoba doesn’t offer a huge trove of seats for the Liberals, but they could be competitive in a half-dozen ridings here with the right leader and campaign. It’s hard to imagine the Liberals, running a distant third in the federal legislature, would turn their noses up at the prospect of adding six seats. As it stands now, Trudeau has virtually no campaign organization in Manitoba. Maybe that's why he's blowing through town so quickly.</p> <p> It is instructive that when the federal NDP were selecting a leader to replace the late Jack Layton, the majority of candidates in a very large field were readily available for one-on-one interviews. This included the then front-runner and eventually winner, <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/NDP-would-recreate-CWB-Mulcair-135178133.html">Thomas Mulcair</a>. There seemed to be an overriding belief among NDP hopefuls, that campaigning to lead a federal opposition party was a valuable tool that would help introduce the eventual successor to the country. After all, while only party members get to choose a leader, all voters get the responsibility of choosing a prime minister.</p> <p> Trudeau certainly doesn’t need the exposure. With his iconic last name, his movie-star good looks, and his willingness to appear bare-chested in charity boxing matches, this is a politician who has already established tremendous brand power. That still does not excuse his campaign’s decision to put him under a bell jar at this early stage of the leadership race.</p> <p> The <em>Free Press </em>will dutifully cover his appearance Saturday. We will file stories and video for the newspaper and our website. Like clutch of seals at feeding time, we will strain our necks and choke down whatever content Mr. Trudeau is willing to toss our way. Even as we curse the suffocating control exerted by his handlers over the entire event.</p> <p> One of the biggest problems the Liberals have in rebuilding their once great party is that they still haven’t started thinking like an opposition party. Once dubbed Canada’s “natural governing party,” far too many Liberals are walking around in a state of stunned disbelief that they were tossed from office in 2006. They don’t understand why voters have disowned them in former hotbeds of support. And they haven’t figured out that in these days of rampant cynicism and declining voter turnout, their chances of ever regaining past glory will rest in efforts to engage voters who long ago stopped caring about them or politics.</p> <p> A highly restrictive, intensely selective media management policy may a necessary evil as a tool of governing. It might even be a great strategy to win the Liberal leadership. But as a strategy to rebuild the Liberal party and return it to government, it’s misguided and small-minded.</p> Blog:4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost:6b7e2ad4-e3f5-4ed9-88d9-f330f8e05c4e What did you think was going to happen http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/blogs/lett/?plckController=Blog&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&UID=4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601b&plckPostId=Blog%3a4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost%3acfdcf46d-6e7d-4721-b646-a3d28bc7b497&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest Sat, 22 Sep 2012 18:37:00 GMT <p> It has been a challenging, even shocking week. Seven colleagues from the Winnipeg Free Press were laid off. Tears, hugs and chronic, numbing uncertainty about the future of this profession we all love so much.</p> <p> The send-off party the night before had been attended by FP journalists, but also people I would consider "friends" of the FP: freelancers, bloggers, media industry junkies, and some empathetic colleagues from other media organizations who either have, or will, experience the same trauma we experienced last week. It was not a time to discuss the macro forces of the industry, although some of us engaged in some pessimistic analysis. I went home with a buzz and an aching sensation through my entire frame that had nothing to do with the Guinness I absorbed.</p> <p> The morning after the layoffs, I made the mistake of spending just a bit too much time on Twitter. Some of the folks who had been at the party the night before, the "friends" of the FP and the journalists who were laid off, were pouring some salt into our wounds. Someone, not sure who exactly, created a Twitter hash tag: #newfreepressslogans. The idea was to make fun of the paper for laying off some of its youngest writers and editors. The responses were HI-larious. The one that cut deepest for me: "Finally - a paper for you. Not for your grandchildren." The author is a sometimes freelancer for the FP, and a good friend to some of those laid off. I'll admit I saw red.</p> <p> First off, while two of the layoffs affected our youngest colleagues, three were employees a bit older. How old is not important, although I'm sure the author of the Tweet was not thinking about them when he delivered his shot. These were layoffs of professional journalists. All of them brought something to the table, made us better by doing what they do best. This wasn't a surgical strike to eliminate all of the younger employees of the FP. This was an old-fashioned, not-so-thoughtful elimination of the people who were last on the union seniority list. It caught some younger employees, and a few young-at-heart employees.</p> <p> More importantly was the utter ignorance of those who piled on afterwards to castigate the FP for its labour strategy. I won't offer an opinion about whether this is, in the long run, the right or the wrong approach to managing costs at this delicate point in the history of traditional media. I will say that it is a sign of the times, a condition brought on by a sudden and profound decline in profitability. This was a point that clearly went right over the heads of many in Twitterdom.</p> <p> Traditional media is caught in between several rocks and one very hard place. We are pushed by reader demand to put more and more content on the Internet. At the same time, we know that on-line content does not produce nearly enough revenue to support content generation. The audience for the ink-on-paper version of the newspaper, which still generates solid revenue when we can find advertisers, is getting older and smaller. The on-line audience, which is younger, gets bigger and bigger but still can't generate revenue to support content. We have a product growing in popularity that nobody will pay for. That's not exactly a winning business model.</p> <p> My big question, and the reason for writing this is to ask anyone reading this one simple question: how can you not know this?</p> <p> Traditional media business models involved advertisers (from big companies to individuals who have old stoves to sell) paying the majority of the cost of producing content. Paid subscribers kicked in, of course, but their biggest contribution was not the subscription fees, but rather the impact they had on advertising rates. The larger the audience, the more we could charge for ads. As audiences shrink, so does the rate.</p> <p> Many bystanders believe the Internet, now by far and away the more popular way for most people to get their news content, would be our savior. Lamentably, the Web discourages people from paying for content. Most hardcore online news junkies believe somehow it's their right to have it for free. Many of these people seem to think that online advertising will pay for the costs of posting news online, just the same way that print ads paid for the cost of producing print content. These people are idiots.</p> <p> Online advertising is an incomplete thought. It's a perfect case of the technology racing ahead of the business model. Online ads are considered by most online news junkies to be awful inconveniences. There are even concerns that bothersome pop up ads, bouncing animated images and obnoxious auto-loaded video commercials hurt advertisers by pissing off consumers. As a result, we make pennies on the dollar for online ads when compared to stodgy old ink-on-paper ads. That's a fact.</p> <p> Internet commerce is still a rapidly evolving business, but the one thing we know is that despite the web's magical capacity for putting products within the grasp of consumers, the people producing the products make much less off an online transaction than they do from an old-fashioned, face-to-face transaction. The people making the money - the middlemen.</p> <p> I used to think that the Apple iTunes model was, at some level, evidence that someone could crack the code on assigning an online value to a product previously only available at a bricks-and-mortar store. Certainly, thanks to Apple, we all know that a song costs 99 cents, an album about $9.99 and we no longer need to go to record stores. I had thought that it was a perfect solution, with artists, record companies and Apple all making off like bandits. However, after talking with some very smart people at Manitoba Music, I learned that's not really the case.</p> <p> Musicians used to make money selling records, and then toured to support those records. Now, they make squat on record sales and have to tour to make money. This has been a problem for years, with musicians trying to desperately to explain to the digital generation that the on-line revolution was killing them. " "We make 9.1 cents off a song sale and that means a whole lot of pennies have to add up before it becomes a bunch of money," said Rick Carnes, president of the <a href="http://www.songwritersguild.com/history.htm" rel="nofollow">Songwriters' Guild of America</a>. "Yesterday, I received a check for two cents. I'm not kidding. People think we're making a fortune off the Web, but it's a tiny amount. We need multiple revenue streams or this isn't going to work."</p> <p> Funny thing, but if you took the words "song" out of this quote and put in "online news content" you'd have captured the dilemma facing the news industry.</p> <p> Back to Twitter. It was probably ill-advised, but I got deep into the #newfreepressslogans debate. I was pleased that a lot of people got involved. I was very disappointed that no one seemed to understand the fundamental flaw in the move to online, that we can't make enough money at it to generate content.</p> <p> I got lots of stock slogans and glib new-age, Dale Carnegie quips about how newspapers needed had failed to "get out in front of the technology" and "evolve and grow with the times," and how we needed to "adapt or die." Others suggested that hiring younger reporters and improving our overall capacity in social media was the way to go. Still others argued unless we moved completely to online and social media, we would lose relevance and die.</p> <p> Okay, I'll try one more time to make the fundamental point that everyone is missing: YOU CAN'T EARN ENOUGH MONEY RIGHT NOW OFF ONLINE CONTENT TO PAY FOR THE PRODUCTION OF ONLINE CONTENT.</p> <p> It wouldn't matter if we only employed devastatingly attractive, wickedly intelligent, early 20-something male and female runway models. They would be writing great stuff, and people would still be refusing to pay for it.</p> <p> As for adapting, with all due respect, traditional media were among the first organizations to populate the web with content. Long before Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times and others were moving their content into the digital realm. All newspapers followed, despite the fact we didn't see a business model that could support it. It's not about adapting. It's about getting some value from the content.</p> <p> A larger audience used to mean better ad rates, more revenue and bigger newspapers and staffs. Now, according to recent studies by the Pew Research Centre in the United States, for every $10 lost in print revenue newspapers earn only $1 in online ads. Some will suggest that has to do with poor content, but that's bullshit. Our audience has never been larger. The problem is we can't charge for the content, and advertisers won't pay much for the ads. And that's a dilemma for everyone trying to do business on the web except for the mega-intermediaries, the companies that don't create any content per se but do make money off other people's content.</p> <p> And that leads to the final point about the evolution of news content and the internet: a huge proportion of the Internet-only news organizations don't employ that many journalists. They purchase their content from on-line news services provided by traditional news organizations (CBC, CNN), wire services (CP, AP) and newly created content "factories" like CP Online which do employ journalists and sell all of their work product to publications like The Huffington Post, who do not think producing its own content is that big a deal.</p> <p> If the content factory model continues, we'll have a multitude of online news sources all running the same content. Some may not think that's a big deal, but it is. When I went to journalism school in the early 1980s, it was just after the release of the Kent Royal Commission on the newspaper industry. The RC was sparked by the sale and swap of newspapers between two of Canada's largest newspaper chains which resulted in the closure of the <i>Winnipeg Tribune  </i>and the <i>Ottawa Journal. </i>Lawmakers were concerned that these transactions would, ultimately, cripple the diversity of news voices. In other words, that in the future there would be only one or two large companies that owned all of the newspapers and thus control all of the content.</p> <p> Back then, we saw less diversity as an attack on one of the pillars of democracy. Ironically, it was not a concentration of ownership that has created the greatest threat to diversity; it is the bloody Internet. Today, most online news consumers have no idea where their content comes from and even when you tell them, they don't care. Immediacy, brevity, mind-numbing variety and nothing longer than 140 characters are the only demands we seem to make now on our content providers. We don't read news in depth, don't debate issues of public concern, don't vote and generally don't give a shit. Say what you will about newspapers, but when people read newspapers, they voted more often and got involved in public debates. I guess those are outdated sensibilities as well.</p> <p> Here's the worst part of my pathetic attempt to raise awareness about the dilemma facing traditional media: most of the people who want their news online couldn't get to the end of this incredibly verbose treatise because they got bored and went to Facebook to see which one of their friends puked on the patio at Whisky Dix last night. The self-described digital communications specialists, online marketing gurus and social media junkies won't pay for it, don't care where it comes from, and have no idea how they're contributing to the death of original, diverse content.</p> <p> I'll continue to fight what I believe is a good fight, even as my newsroom gets smaller and I get further and further into what one of the Twitter assassins called the "dead wood" generation. I'll always subscribe to an ink-on-paper copy of a paper, listen to talk-radio  and watch local television news because I need these institutions to thrive and keep me involved in the debate over the future of my country and community.</p> <p> And last, but not least, I'm cancelling my iTunes account and getting a turntable.</p> Blog:4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost:cfdcf46d-6e7d-4721-b646-a3d28bc7b497 Gimme some tough love http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/blogs/lett/?plckController=Blog&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&UID=4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601b&plckPostId=Blog%3a4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost%3a82eed631-bcae-403c-91ac-b40e04643d56&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest Thu, 15 Mar 2012 17:56:00 GMT <p> There is, understandably, quite a bit of anxiety building over the federal budget, to be tabled in Ottawa March 29. Tens of thousands of federal public servants face layoffs, while almost every program offered or cost-shared by the federal government is under threat of reduction. By some estimates, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty could trim $4 billion from federal expenditures.</p> <p> That's not a particularly good news budget. But rather than sweating over the fact he will become the bearer of bad tidings, there is some evidence Flaherty could be giving the public exactly what it wants. Some recent poll results suggest many Canadians are not just prepared for government austerity, they PREFER it.</p> <p> No government is under more pressure than Ontario, where a struggling economy has left Canada's largest province with an uncertain future. In preparation for a budget sure to be full of drastic cuts to spending and services, Premier Dalton McGuinty released a detailed <a href="http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/reformcommission/" rel="nofollow">study </a>of public services authored by former TD Bank economist Don Drummond. The report called for drastic cuts to spending, a cap on health care funding, and a roll back of benefits and transfers to people. It's a pretty dire picture, but then again, Ontario is facing a dire future.</p> <p> You might think that kind of report would erode McGuinty's support. On the contrary, according to a <a href="http://www.nanosresearch.com/main.asp" rel="nofollow">Nanos poll</a> released this week, McGuinty's Liberal government is growing in support, and distancing itself from Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives. How could McGuinty's support grow while he's getting ready to drop the axe on government services? Pollster Nick Nanos <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/mcguintys-advantage-over-hudak-increases-amid-talk-of-cuts-poll-finds/article2369910/" rel="nofollow">told</a> <em>The Globe and Mail </em>that he thinks the public is so worried about growing government debt, they are ready for thoughtful spending cuts. “The Liberals are benefiting from the tough talk, but also the default position that if there are cuts, they will be done in a compassionate way,” Nanos said.</p> <p> Nanos theorized that the public thinks a Liberal government is better suited to make compassionate cuts than, say, a Tory government. If that's the case, then you'd expect the federal Conservative government, which has been talking tough about an austerity budget for months, to be dropping faster than the moribund Toronto Maple Leafs in their futile quest to make the playoffs. Poll results on that point are mixed.</p> <p> In the midst of the robo-call scandal, and following an awkward suggestion there might be cutbacks to government support for seniors, Tory support is solid in at least one poll. The aforementioned Nanos Research has the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper holding firm at about 37 per cent of respondents. <a href="http://www.nanosresearch.com/main.asp" rel="nofollow">This poll</a> was taken in the first week in March. Not all pollsters agreed with Nanos.</p> <p> Ekos guru Frank Graves, a good friend of the Sausage Factory, finds that a plethora of scandals, along with general anxiety about fiscal management, has eroded Tory support. In a March 1 <a href="http://www.ipolitics.ca/2012/03/02/frank-graves-poll-so-where-are-we-in-the-midst-of-scandal-a-measure-of-sway/" rel="nofollow">poll</a>, the Tory government stood at 31 per cent, just ahead of the NDP at 29 per cent. That is within the margin of error and as such, a statistical tie.</p> <p> Of course, two more full weeks of robo-call hyperbole, and pre-budget speculation about the depth of cuts to come in the federal budget, could have those numbers moving quite a bit. And against the backdrop of robo-calls, Vikileaks and the CPP scare, it may be difficult to tell if the Tories are getting a boost, or a bust, from their tough-love budget talk.</p> Blog:4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost:82eed631-bcae-403c-91ac-b40e04643d56 Your scandal is bigger than my scandal http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/blogs/lett/?plckController=Blog&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&UID=4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601b&plckPostId=Blog%3a4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost%3a45499465-7196-43b3-9649-3967e66c82a3&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest Thu, 01 Mar 2012 22:36:00 GMT <p> Allegations of misconduct abound in federal politics right now. We've got the "<a href="http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/denies+Tory+link+fraudulent+election+robocalls/6201448/story.html" rel="nofollow">robo call</a>" scandal, where opposition parties believe the ruling Conservatives sent out fraudulent and misleading automated phone messages to NDP and Liberal voters to discourage them from voting.</p> <p> On the other side of the House of Commons, it's "<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/tories-accuse-liberals-of-deeper-involvement-in-vikileaks-attack/article2355255/" rel="nofollow">@Vikileaks</a>," where Tories are howling for more information about the Liberal political staffer who has taken responsibility for revealing intimate details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toew's divorce file via Twitter.</p> <p> Do we dare suggest they both doth protest too much? It's a marvellous, hideous convergence of technology, politics and partisanism the likes of which we have never seen. But what's it all about, Viki? Is it really fair to compare the two scandals?</p> <p> It's safe to say, as many commentators have already, that both the opposition and government sides are trying to use their own protests about what the other party has done to divert attention away from what they may have done. Get uppity about fraudulent robo calls, and you're likely to hear a chorus of "shame" from the government benches asking for more Liberals to fess up to being involved in @Vikileaks. Harp on @Vikileaks, and you're going to get a face wash of robo calls. As certain as Liberals are that Tories deliberately tried to suppress Grit and NDP voter turnout, so too are Conservatives confident that the staffer was used as a fall guy, and the decision to publish Toews' divorce file was made by people higher up the Liberal hierarchy.</p> <p> Is it fair to compare the two? At first blush, (if substantiated)  robo call certainly seems to be a much bigger deal than @Vikileaks. The former describes a deliberate attempt to undermine an election. In that regard, robo calls would be no different in magnitude than say the 1995 vote-splitting <a href="http://archives.cbc.ca/politics/elections/clips/13680/" rel="nofollow">scandal</a> in Manitoba. @Vikileaks, on the other hand, is pretty salacious stuff but it's hardly an affront to democracy. An ethically questionable act but if you look at the kind of full disclosure on the private lives of politicians that occurs in the United States, this was pretty tame stuff. The fact that a Liberal employee was the agent of dissemination is more of an embarrassment than fodder for a public inquiry.</p> <p> Supporters of Toews, along with Toews himself, will howl that anyone would make any kind of distinction between the two. The fact that many Tories cannot see any distinction  is essentially the kind of all-or-nothing attitude that led to a Liberal staffer to make the poor decision to release Toews' divorce file.</p> <p> Let's be clear about one thing - the Liberals did not dig into Toews divorce AFTER he made his infamous allegations that anyone that opposed C-30, the bill that would give police greater powers to identify internet users without warrants, was aiding pedophiles. They had the information already, having snooped through the file like many other politicos and journalists. The <em>Free Press </em>did it's own snooping, and even produced a decent <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/oversight-keeps-mps-pension-pay-from-public-98658139.html">story</a> out of what we found. In this case, it was correspondence between Toews and his lawyer confirming that he had not declared to the Ethics Commissioner's Office the fact he is receiving a pension from the Manitoba government. Toews office claimed the omission was an oversight, but the omission was only remedied AFTER our story appeared.</p> <p> Other than that, there was a lot of dirty stuff in the divorce file that was consistent with the kind of things you would find in any divorce file that was as drawn out and bitter as this one was. The documents were all on the public record. Did the public have a right to know all these details? No, but if there is a lesson to be learned from this story, it this: if you're a famous person with something to lose, it would be better to settle divorces quickly. As a corollary, don't act as your own lawyer in the proceedings. I'm just saying.</p> <p> In the final analysis, as ethically challenged as the @Vikileaks campaign was, it just doesn't compare with the magnitude of the robo call allegations. Should those allegations turn out to be fallacious, then we'll have fodder for a future comparative analysis. For now, it's not really a fair fight.</p> <p> One last point. @Vikileaks claimed it was doing what it was doing because of Toews' inflammatory and partisan allegations that anyone who opposes Tory crime legislation sides with the criminals. Specifically, that anyone that opposes his internet snooping bill supports pedophiles. Toews, and other Tories, have consistently denied the opposition any chance to oppose any one part of any Tory bill. If you're against any part of our crime legislation, then you're clearly in favor of criminals. It's an immature tack to take in a political debate and although it would be wrong to say that Vic brought @Vikileaks on himself, it would have been nice to see that he learned a lesson from that whole humiliating experience.</p> <p> Not a chance.</p> <p> On February 29, Toews Tweeted the following observation about Grit and NDP opposition to the federal government's omnibus crime bill:</p> <p> "Unbelievably, NDP and Liberals oppose tougher sentences for those who kidnap children."</p> <p> Clearly, Toews must think that there's nothing embarrassing left in that divorce file. For his sake, let's hope he's right.</p> Blog:4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost:45499465-7196-43b3-9649-3967e66c82a3 Flush the Water Park http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/blogs/lett/?plckController=Blog&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&UID=4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601b&plckPostId=Blog%3a4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost%3a671c4fd3-a37b-4732-8f74-05d594c43183&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest Thu, 23 Feb 2012 16:27:00 GMT <p> One of the <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/katz-gives-water-park-scheme-a-deadline-140118363.html" target="_blank">best stories</a> out of our City Hall bureau today explains that Mayor Sam Katz is getting very close to withdrawing a $7-million offer to a private developer – any private developer – to build a water park. If he withdraws the offer of funding, it would put to an end almost eight years of lamentable management of the recreational facilities file at city hall.</p> <p> As detailed today by my city hall colleague Bartley Kives, the money for the water park was taken from a $43-million pot of multi-lateral money destined to fund the first stage of Bus Rapid Transit. However, once Katz was elected in a 2004 mayoral by-election, he mothballed the BRT scheme and asked the money be used instead for recreational facilities. Out of that fund, Katz set aside $7 million in 2008 for a world-class water park.</p> <p> The problem was that nobody has seen fit to take the money. Canad Inns was thought to be a willing partner, but even they withdrew a project that would have involved a water park. No other private developer has stepped up with a plan that meets the city’s standards. Katz has now set a deadline of March 31 for another developer to take up the challenge. We should all hope that nobody steps up.</p> <p> With all of the needs this city has in terms of recreational facilities, the mayor’s decision to earmark $7 million for a waterpark has always stood as one of the most curious of his administration. It was just two years ago that a <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/arena-neglect-no-longer-a-spectator-sport-91449539.html" target="_blank">city report</a> detailed more than $50 million in repairs needed at Winnipeg arenas. This season, the city had to close one rink for a year, and temporarily close three others, because of chronic mould problems. Hockey, ringette and figure skating families can attest to the despicable state of our arenas and the deplorable response to the problem by the city. Struggling ice plants, heaving and sagging rink boards, inadequate dressing rooms and showers - it’s a sorry state of rink affairs.</p> <p> How did things get this bad? In its pursuit of lower taxes, the city has never set aside a reserve fund to pay for arena repair and replacement. Perhaps assuming that the private sector would step in to build and operate new arenas, the city has stood by and watched its facilities slowly decay. Now, there are warnings that some of the oldest rinks will have to be closed. Katz and council have not enunciated a plan to save them.</p> <p> Now $7 million is hardly enough to solve this problem, but it’s a start. And it wouldn’t have to be spent solely on arenas; community clubs would also love to see some additional money made available to help with repairs and refurbishments. As the city sets a deadline for use of the water-park funds, and contemplates the sale of public golf courses, it would be nice to see a focused, comprehensive plan for repairing, replacing and expanding the facilities that just about every family in this city is using right now.</p> <p> Using public money to lure a developer into building a water park was a silly idea. And arguing, as Katz has, that a waterpark would represent a tangible boost to Winnipeg’s quality of life is even sillier. For those of us who have spent hours shivering in line to enjoy a seven-second whoosh down a fiberglass tube, water parks have always struck me as one of the least enjoyable family recreational activities. The admission is usually ridiculously high, and the experience typically disappointing. I’ve had some good experiences (spent a half day at a Bloomington, MN, waterpark on Easter weekend when all of the pious tourists were laying low and we had unfettered access to the tubes) but they are few and far between.</p> <p> As long as the mayor remains focused on squandering public money on something that should be built (if it needs to be built at all) by the private sector, Winnipeg will continue to suffer a profound net loss of recreational activities.</p> <p> Flush the water park and fix the arenas. A radical but practical policy.</p> Blog:4f8012b8-2e71-4f97-8e97-1ceeaa5a601bPost:671c4fd3-a37b-4732-8f74-05d594c43183