Posts Tagged ‘manitoba’

I’m getting ever closer to accepting that I am not a politician by nature… part of that process is letting go of the self-censoring.  If I want to say something that’s controversial, I should just say it.  Life’s too short (at least it is now that I’m in my thirties) for continuous diplomacy.  Rather than playing it safe and listening to people yawn whenever I open my mouth, I’m going to give people a chance to truly hate me… I mean TRULY… like sick to their stomach, shaking with disgust… that’s the hate I’m talking about.  Or maybe people will like that I’m speaking my mind… it’s possible…

Winnipeg, MB

No real change in the city, even with large changes in council.

  1. Civic Election. I am pleased that Thomas Steen won Elmwood, because the NDP needs to learn that it doesn’t own a single piece of this city.
  2. Civic Election Redux. Wasn’t surprised to see Sam win again, since doing nothing while looking busy is one of the official passtimes of Winnipeg, His Worship being team captain.
  3. Bike Lobby. If I hear another mention of a project done “for the cyclists”, I will either vomit or simply descend into madness by perpetually paraphrasing Helen Lovejoy: “won’t somebody please think of the cyclists!”
  4. Roundabout/Traffic Circles/Turnamatrixes. Why did no one make any noise about the traffic circles?  Not “we need a story for the news” noise, but serious “WTF is wrong with the traffic department?!” noise.  “It’s just like Seattle”, I heard, but of course, Seattle does it based on citizen’s petitions and tends to actually install circles with dimensions that qualify as traffic circles.  Who asked for these circles?  Helen Lovejoy?
  5. North End shootings. What shootings?  It’s okay… we all forget about what happened to people who don’t live in the suburbs.
  6. University of Manitoba. Winnipeg used to be made fun of for comical reasons, like our creative drivers and big game mosquitoes.  But the U of M is trying its best to establish a new comedy routine.  It appears that some degrees are now being granted based on the same selection criteria as pinning the tail on the donkey.  I heard of someone who turned down a job at U of M to work in New Jersey!  There may be a punchline in there somewhere, but right now I feel like crying.
  7. University of Winnipeg. (Proud alumni of sorts.)  Not content to be the liberal arts college that time forgot, the U of W has decided to swallow up entire blocks in its urge to make gentrification and over-expansion a lifestyle choice.  I like shiny new buildings, especially when they block out superb examples of brutalist architecture (that’s sarcasm, friends), but wouldn’t it make sense to put some energy into improving the quality of the education?  Is U of W getting students because of academic excellence, or because for half the city the trip to U of M seems a little long?
  8. Rapid/Mass/Bus!Bus!Bus! Transit. I take the bus, but whenever I do, I feel like I’m kidding myself.  It’s not really saving me money, and I’m not sure I can justify the extra forty minutes it adds to my commute.  I saw someone I know taking the bus who is from all accounts wealthy and respected.  But do you know what my first thought was, deep in my Winnipeg psyche?  That guy must’ve gotten his license suspended; I didn’t realize he was such a drunk!  And that, my friends, is why Bus Rapid Transit is not the right choice for Winnipeg.  We’re just not bus people.  That’s probably why city council likes to increase the price of bus fare every two weeks.
  9. Canwest Global’s Big Screen. Yes, I know this is old news, and that Canwest has gone the way of my political ambitions, but seriously: who actually thought people would watch a screen that doesn’t face traffic?  It must be a big hit with the thirty people who work across the street, or the two guys who fish for cigarette butts in the garbage cans nearby.  Of course, that could be their target demographic.  I didn’t check how many commercials were for cigarette butt recycling operations.
  10. Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A museum about human rights in a city with what’s close to record-breaking levels of poverty, alcohol abuse, and untreated mental illness.  That’s like a Museum of Hockey Greatness at Maple Leaf Gardens.  Don’t worry, though… they’ve got most of their funding… by coercing government and crown corps (so more government) to hand over money.  I’m not usually a “don’t go to space, solve Earth’s problems first” kind of guy, but I feel like a hypocrite just living in a far-from-perfect city with a human rights museum.  I’m not saying that Winnipeg is a festering cesspool, but something about glass houses keeps popping into my head while I’m in the shower… which, by the way, interrupts my time thinking about hot pants.

Manitoba the Have-Not Province

This province and I have a love-hate relationship.  It’s hard to see so much potential and so much disappointment.

  1. Budget Deficits. If we change the law, they’re no longer deficits.  Next up: poverty now called “monkish asceticism”, adultery known as “creative fidelity”.
  2. Manitoba Hydro. Whistleblower says company is deluding itself; in fact, company is deluding itself, but by even bigger proportions.  Does Bob Brennan have an all-marble office at the top of the Hydro Building?  I don’t think I’ll ever be invited to find out.  None of it matters, though, since our government can just bail out Hydro if things go wrong.  And because we don’t actually admit to the existence of deficits…
  3. Drinking and Driving. People are dying at alarming rates, sometimes on their way to work, because some dumb f*** thought that sleeping on his friend’s couch was a fate worse than vehicular homicide.  Why is this not a bigger issue?  We’re madly in love with plug-in hybrids that may or may not work in our climate, but no one gives a crap about technologies that could prevent drunks from starting their cars.  But wait, you say… the drunk could just get someone else to start their car… but I have a theory… when idiots let idiots drive drunk, it’s usually an indication that those initial idiots are also drunk.  Would you stay up until five or six in the morning with a drunk a*** if you were sober?  I know you may have counterarguments, which I’d then have to counter… but this is supposed to be point form, so move it along, okay?
  4. The Bodies Exhibit. Unclaimed bodies, Falun Gong prisoners… either way, those people did not give their consent, so they are victims of an indecent act.  I read a comment about the exhibit: “Their bad luck is our good luck because this is something to be seen.”  I like that comment.  It’s like the Swiss banker who said “hey, look at all these thousands of gold teeth those nice Nazis just dropped off.  It’s too bad their previous owners had to get rid of them, but hey, we’re making money!” Godwin’s Law notwithstanding, I do think this analogy is not as much of an overstatement as you may think at first.  Because you don’t know where those bodies came from, and you do know that the Chinese government has been accused of harvesting organs from unwilling Falun Gong practioners.  But wait, David Matas‘ paws were all over that report, too; isn’t he the guy who wants those exhibit bodies buried simply because Manitoba law states that the bodies can’t leave the province?  What’s with that guy?
  5. Manitoba Slogans. I remember what happened the day that we became the land of Spirited Energy.  The influx of new investment, business, and immigrants was up 500% from the day before.  People felt like the slogan really captured what they were looking for, so they changed their life plans to be a part of the action.  That’s how all the great centres of innovation and industry were formed:
  • Rome, Italy – 1st Century BCE: “Roma, a dirty pit of disease and unemployment… but we do kill a lot of gladiators!”
  • Oxford, England – 14th Century CE: “Students: come for the deadly riots, stay for the plague.”
  • Silicon Valley, USA – 20th Century CE: “Only squares live in Boston.”

My point?  Slogans are silly.  They are either going to make us sound like the guy who is always last to be picked for intramural soccer, or they’re going to blatantly conflict with reality.  Do you know what brings success to a region?  Pre-existing success.  How do  you nurture and develop that initial success?  There are a lot of ways, like education, incentives, culture… but generally NOT SLOGANS.

Country formerly known as the Dominion of Canada

I love this country, not just because I live here, but because I honestly can’t think of another country that’s as close as we are to getting things right.

  1. Bashing the Monarchy. We have a Queen for a reason.  Her Royal Highness is detached and separate from normal society through wealth and privilege, FOR A REASON.  We do not elect presidents in our country; we believe that people elected through money- and media-skewed popularity contests tend to be narcissistic and ambitious to a dictatorial fault.  So we have a person who is outside of the “rat race” to be there to ensure that if things go very wrong in our political structure, that person (or a local representative of similar mindset) can step in and dissolve the whole bunch.  It may not be an ideal solution, but anyone who followed US politics from 2000-2009 may agree that being a republic has an even uglier side than the occasional Heir to the Throne’s mention that he’d like to be reincarnated as a tampon.
  2. The NDP-Liberal Merger. There is no idea that would be quicker to kill the Liberal party than merger with the NDP.  As Canadians base much of their identity on not being American, so do many Liberals base their political life as being different than the NDP.  I like left-leaning Liberals, just as I like right-leaning Liberals… but the notion that cherished liberal beliefs should be set aside for the views of a party that exists for union members first and everyone else maybe sometime later is enough to make me start wondering if there’s enough progressive left in those Conservatives to make me a Harperista.
  3. Chicanery in the House of Commons. I would love to vote for a party that disciplined its members for showing a lack of decorum in the House and beyond.  I’d like there to be a party that actually realized that this is an issue that is destroying any remaining respect that Canadians have for their politicians.  At times I’ve said and done things that may not be in keeping with what I believe; it’s part of being human.  But I don’t make a career out of it.
  4. Hatred of Quebec. What is this, 1995?  I still hear that joke about building a wall around La Belle Province and filling it with water.  Granted, it’s fun to make GOOD jokes about the Quebeckers when you’re among friends (like when you’re in Acadia; those people know some really good ones), but let’s be honest.  What would Canada be without Quebec?  Answer: North Dakota.  A surprisingly beautiful place and good people, but no one goes there for the cosmopolitan atmosphere.
  5. Hatred of Aboriginals. We are all treaty people… there is no way around that.  If you don’t like it, see if your distant relatives in Britain, Germany and/or the Ukraine will take you back.  Oh, they don’t want you, either?  Seriously, though… what would Canada be without Quebec and our aboriginal peoples?  Well… we’d no longer qualify as North Dakota.

Other Items

Miscellany.  Its inclusion here is only to allow for the use of the word “miscellany”.

  1. Being Unfriended on Facebook. Why does it hurt so much?  So VERY MUCH?  Well, not that much, but when I saw that someone had dropped me it was worse than losing ten Twitter followers (hell, I’d unfollow me if I could).  It’s like that person is saying that our friendship fifteen years ago didn’t mean a thing…  I guess it didn’t, but to just go and unfriend me…
  2. Red Lobster. Who actually knows a group of people who are all willing to eat seafood?  This is more a mystery than a complaint.
  3. Payday Loans. I hate that people profit from the poor financial decisions and situations of others, but I have trouble envisioning other ways for a person who needs two hundred bucks OR ELSE to get the cash.  Why can’t there be more easy answers?
  4. Self-absorbed Bloggers. Self-important windbags born with silver spoons in their mouths, who type their rants about traffic circles and Facebook without actually wondering if they are contributing to society in a meaningful way.  Couldn’t they be spending this time trying to cure cancer?  Or reading to old people?  Or cleaning up the fifteen garbage bags that they piled up next to their garage two weeks ago?  Truly disgusting.

Note to startled onlookers:  Not only was I not drunk when I wrote the above, but I even saved the draft and reviewed it later.  I really have no explanation or defense for having pressed the Publish button.

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“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”
– 19th century British statesman and Winnipeg freeway namesake Benjamin Disraeli.

A few bloggers (Graham the rabblerouser and the ever-mysterious Black Rod) have mentioned that some citizens, including myself, had brought plans forward regarding the Disraeli Bridges Project.  My plan, based on conversations with literally hundreds of Winnipeggers, was to twin the Louise Bridge with a temporary span before any Disraeli closure was to take place.

However, the plan was not perfect: it required leasing of private property (a shed and equipment yard) and would have increased traffic on Higgins Avenue, which did not please some Point Douglas residents.  But I did feel that it was the best option considering the limitations that had we had been told existed.

Of course, most of Winnipeg found out in January of 2010, after four years of talk, that the bridge did not need to be closed at all.  Is that good news?  Yes and no.

It’s good news because the closure of Disraeli was unthinkable without increasing the capacity of other bridges.

It’s bad news because it shows that the city was completely wrong about the limitations of the project, and misinformed the 100,000 affected Winnipeggers for FOUR YEARS.   Not only did this cause undue worry, it also caused several businesses on Henderson to move to another part of the city.  In addition, there is still no plan for the Louise Bridge.

The options the city presented were either a) $250-300 million six-lane bridge still using the old piers and adding some new ones, or b) $125 million bridge refurbishment with 16 months of closure.  Now, the city is saying that a brand new four-lane bridge can be built for $195 million without any closure.

How can a third option come out of nowhere when the city made it abundantly clear that there were only two options?  There are two possibilities for this:

1. The city did not research the project thoroughly before deciding on what they found to be the easiest solution (particularly because they didn’t rely on the bridge to get to work each day).

2. The current project estimates are far too low, meaning that the $195 million price tag will be inflated significantly once construction has begun.

As a public-private partnership, the second option may not be a bad thing, depending on the specifics of the contract.  The city is borrowing $75 million up front, while the private consortium, Plenary Roads Winnipeg, will finance the remaining $120 million.  It is not clear from the information I have seen if cost overruns will be the responsibility of the private group or of the city, or if both will share the extra expense.

At this point, all that is clear is that the city did not think the closure was a big issue until the provincial government finally woke up and decided that it was an issue during a by-election campaign.

So in the end, is the new Disraeli plan a triumph?  No.  It’s a solution that should have been inevitable, but one which the city spent four years decrying as impossible.  The city and province both showed a serious lack of leadership on this issue.  At a time when we are all watching with curious dismay as the US House and Senate whittle away any chance of health care reform due to shortsightedness, partisanship, and selfishness, we see our own governments spending four years avoiding an issue that should have been resolved in four months.

I’m not sad that the city didn’t choose my fancy Disraeli plan, or that the city didn’t bother to consider it on any level; that’s the way government works around here, so it’s like being sad that pigs don’t fly.  But what I am sad about is that the leadership in this city and province has not even considered the damage that this four-year stunt has caused to the Elmwood residents and businesses at the foot of the bridge.

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AP Photo / Hasan Sarbakhshian

Voting in Iran - AP Photo / Hasan Sarbakhshian


Gary Doer, Premier of Manitoba

I’ve been pretty timid about the election financing issue, and this is mostly because I myself have a return to submit to Elections Manitoba, and I understand how daunting the procedures are.  I certainly hope that I haven’t made any mistakes, since the personal and political repercussions can be huge.  But I decided that I should voice my opinion on the issue because it doesn’t feel right to be silent just because the issue is a sensitive one for those of us who have stood for election.

I can’t honestly say that the situation in Iran, where electoral fraud is suspected by supporters of the runner-up, is the same as the situation in Manitoba, where the opposition Tories and Liberals are publicly stating that they have lost confidence in the Chief Electoral Officer.  But what I can say is that there’s a slippery slope between having an independent elections office that does not need to answer questions from the opposition and a guardian council who refuses outside or independent observers and limits possible candidates to those they deem worthy.

There are many people with knowledge and experience of Iran on both sides of the electoral fraud argument.  There are convincing arguments that it’s highly unusual that voters who overwhelmingly chose reform in 2000 would have switched their allegiance to the hard-line Ahmadinejad, while there are also strong arguments that the official result was realistic and expected.

The problem with the Iranian election is that there is really no way to know if there was any vote-rigging because the process was not transparent.  Apparently some of the candidates’ representatives were not allowed to supervise the vote count as they are supposed to be able to do.  While there was an apparent leak of results that showed Mousavi having won with 19 million votes (from an Interior Ministry official who is reported now to have died in a mysterious car accident), no hard evidence has been presented so far.  It’s unlikely that any hard evidence will be found of wrongdoing, and it’s also unlikely that the Iranian government could ever convince the protestors that the election was fair.  This is the result of a closed and unaccountable electoral system, where outside observers are not allowed and where the Guardians Council (six clerics and six legislature-appointed legal experts) make all decisions on recounts and even which candidates are allowed to run in the first place.

Here in Manitoba we have an election financing debacle.  As a former candidate, I know that it’s hard to keep track of expenses, donations, and advertising during the campaign.  It was hard enough for me to even remember where I was supposed to be on a given day.  So I don’t want to presume that whenever there is an irregularity in a candidate’s return, that it’s a malicious attempt to commit elections fraud.  But there are some things that need to be explained by the NDP and Elections Manitoba:

1.    Finance Minister Greg Selinger felt that the false returns were dangerous enough for him to request a letter exonerating him of any wrongdoing.  This act seems to indicate that he felt that someone in the NDP was involved in wrongdoing.
2.    There are many unanswered questions involving the conduct of the NDP towards the auditor chosen by Elections Manitoba, as well as the conduct of Elections Manitoba itself towards that auditor.
3.    The Premier of Manitoba has refused to indicate who informed him of the false expenses in 2001, and will not indicate a more exact date for when he was told.
4.    The NDP has freely admitted that it has been filing the same type of false returns since the mid-1980s, yet Elections Manitoba and the NDP held private negotiations resulting in only the $76,000 from 1999 being paid back.

So why do questions need to be answered on these concerns?  Is it so that the Tories and Liberals can win more seats in the next election?  Or is it to force Gary Doer to resign?

The reason these questions need to be answered is because the integrity of Elections Manitoba is being questioned by both major opposition parties and many Manitoba voters.   There is a discussion on Curtis Brown’s blog about this issue, with several anonymous posters (2 or 3, from my count) who are disagreeing strongly with Curtis’ views.

I also disagree with Curtis’ opinion, as I believe this situation was not manufactured by the opposition.  While they obviously hope to gain advantage from the issue, that does not preclude other, less partisan, motivations.  The fact that Tories and Liberals are working together on this issue shows that they believe it to go beyond politics.  This situation was caused by the secretive behaviour of both the NDP and Elections Manitoba.  We do not know that there was a conspiracy, collusion, or any wrongdoing by Elections Manitoba; it’s the Chief Elections Officer’s refusal to answer questions that is leading a good number of Manitobans to assume that they are complicit.

It’s true that the opposition parties could gain support by pursuing this issue further; however, there is also the chance that there will be a backlash as voters decide that the opposition is dwelling on the past rather than confronting the issues that matter to Manitobans right now.  In the end, unless Premier Doer calls an inquiry (which is about as likely as the Premier actually committing funds to a better Disraeli/Louise plan, so not likely at all), the only thing that’s clear is that Elections Manitoba will lose its aura of independence and fairness.  The fact that the Premier and his NDP government are willing to sacrifice the reputation of Elections Manitoba is a clear sign of their lack of concern for our electoral system.

In Iran, the Guardian Council knows that the number one threat to its power is any public perception that the government is corrupt.  Voters may very well have forgiven Ahmadinejad’s failed economic policies because he is known as a strong leader who fights against corruption and who stands up to foreign governments.

In Manitoba, we seem to believe that the NDP’s corruption is just politics as usual.  It seems that we are able to withstand the various scandals, whether it’s Crocus, the WRHA, Photo Radar, or the To-Be-Announced Scandal of Fall 2009, as long as we still post modest economic growth.  We seem to believe that it’s okay for Manitoba’s murder rate to skyrocket as long as our cars aren’t getting stolen as often these days.  And we seem to believe that the death of an independent body for overseeing elections is not so bad since we do have that ban on union and corporate donations.

Will someone in the NDP stand up for Elections Manitoba?  Rather than spewing empty words about trust, this government needs to ensure that Elections Manitoba is cleared of any wrongdoing through a public inquiry.  This government needs to protect the integrity of Elections Manitoba and of free and fair elections in our province at all costs.

Again, it’s a slippery slope between an electoral process where no one can have their questions answered and an electoral process where no even knows for sure if the votes were counted properly.  We need to call a stop to this slide, and restore the public confidence in how elections are conducted in Manitoba.  If we can’t do that, there’s nothing to stop us from becoming a place where elections are more theatre than they are democracy.

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Kent Brockman: Hordes of panicky people seem to be evacuating the town for some unknown reason. Professor, without knowing precisely what the danger is, would you say it’s time for our viewers to crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside?
Professor: Mmm, yes I would, Kent.
(from The Simpsons)

According to the CDC, as of June 11th, 2009, the United States has lost 45 people to H1N1 (swine flu).  This is out of 17,855 confirmed or probable cases.  This is a higher number than the WHO numbers, and an even higher figure is being reported on Wikipedia.

We also heard from the province’s chief provincial public health office, Dr. Joel Kettner, that our chances of catching H1N1 in Manitoba is at least 50%.

We are hearing conflicting reports about the severity of H1N1, with some people calling it overblown and others saying that we should be worried.  So what is the truth?

The answer, from what I can determine, is that no one actually knows just yet.

This form of H1N1 has been in Manitoba for months, and it’s true that many people have already been exposed and have had only minor symptoms.  But there are a few Manitobans who are fighting for their lives, and four Canadians have died.  This means that this flu is causing serious illness in a small percentage of cases, which makes it appear very similar to regular seasonal influenza.

Influenza viruses return each year because they are always evolving; this prevents antibodies from consistently recognizing the flu when it comes back the next year for a return visit.  This doesn’t mean that our antibodies always fail to stop the flu; one hypothesis of why the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918 killed more adults aged 20-40 than senior citizens is that seniors had been exposed to an earlier Russian flu outbreak in 1889.

Because influenza viruses mutate, and because this H1N1 strain is considered highly unstable, it means that we may see a second wave of flu in the fall.  The 1918 epidemic started off similar to a seasonal flu, but in August of 1918 it became deadlier and started to kill healthy adults instead of infants, elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.  There are definite concerns that the current pandemic is running a similar course to the epidemic of 1918, which killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people worldwide.  So what are the chances that this will happen again?

There are several possibilities for this H1N1 strain:

  1. It could continue more or less as it has until it disappears.  There does not seem to be a full understanding of why influenza epidemics disappear after time, but it may be due to the fact that the best transmitters of the disease develop resistance, and stop spreading the disease to anyone who has yet to be infected.  This would be why almost half of Manitobans may end up not being infected.
  2. It could become even less harmful as time goes by.  A virus doesn’t want to kill its host if it doesn’t have to, so it’s possible that the virus will adapt to a point where it won’t be as deadly.  This is one theory on why the epidemic of 1918 stopped so suddenly.
  3. It could become more deadly by mutating.  Influenza viruses can exchange genetic material with each other, so it’s possible that H1N1 could mix with another flu strain; it’s not impossible that the H1N1 could mix with H5N1 (avian flu), which has a much higher mortality rate.  Even if this does happen, which is considered very unlikely, the genetic mix may not result in a more dangerous virus.  This type of mutation might have caused the second wave of the 1918 epidemic, but no one is sure due to a lack of samples of other influenza viruses from the time (only the Spanish flu virus was purposely preserved from that time, as opposed to any regular seasonal varieties).

I’m not a bookie, so I won’t come up with any odds on the outcome.  I don’t believe that a more deadly mutation is likely, but I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility.

The danger in this situation is that citizens, governments, and health care professionals may become complacent, thinking of this as a regular flu, and not preparing for the possibility of the virus becoming more deadly.  There are antiviral drugs and a possible vaccine that should be ready by fall, and governments need to be aware of what combination of drugs, vaccinations, and quarantines will be best to deal with the second wave.  For instance, Tamiflu will probably not work for all H1N1 cases, so it’s important to have other options like Relenza available for resistant cases or for use in an antiviral cocktail similar to those used against HIV.  Also, because of the 1976 swine flu vaccination having been worse than the actual epidemic or because of general distrust of government, many people will resist the vaccination; governments need to research the risks and rewards of vaccination to decide if it should be part of the solution.

In situations like this, where many lives could be at stake and where the situation changes rapidly, there are going to be some mistakes made.  The media might not always report things accurately, governments may not be as forthcoming as they should be on the current situation, and health care providers may misdiagnose.  But the biggest concern is that decision makers in our governments and health care systems won’t be worried or prepared enough.  That is the one mistake that could cost millions of lives.

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Dr. Gerrard, leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, has called for the resignations of WRHA CEO Dr. Brian Postl and chief medical officer Dr. Brock Wright.   Links: Winnipeg Free Press | Winnipeg Sun

Unlike politicians in other jurisdications who may be more quick to call for heads to roll, Dr. Gerrard does not like to make statements like this, especially as he knows and truly respects both men.  Contrary to what some may think, these events aren’t a “good thing” for any of the political parties.  This is an incredibly upsetting situation for all of us.

There have been many concerns of late with the conduct of the WRHA executive, and while I think the argument could be made that the Health Minister has given the appearance of being either unable or unwilling to correct the WRHA issues, I do believe that primary responsibility rests with the WRHA executive itself.

We need to send a message in this province that we are not willing to accept mediocrity when it comes to life-essential services.  What would we be saying if we allow the WRHA leadership to continue on its course when it has made so many errors?

As far as the Doer government’s charges of “politicizing the issue”, I have this to say: this issue becomes politicized when the government refuses to admit that it has reason to apologize.  The Minister of Health and the Premier of Manitoba do share some blame for what has happened.   The death of Brian Sinclair was a failure in policy and a personal error by front-line staff, and that deserves an apology from the Premier along with recognition that the recommendations made after the 2003 death of Dorothy Madden were not properly implemented.  The botched investigation by the WRHA is a step even beyond a tragedy caused by misguided practices; it makes the Minister of Health and the Premier responsible for the inaccurate statements they made, and leaves the WRHA with a serious credibility problem.

Rather than making this issue a divide between the NDP party and the rest of Manitoba, I’d like to see us all work together.  Let’s look at the good ideas being brought forward by the other parties and other provinces, and evaluate them openly.  Let’s have public hearings about our health care crisis, so that people can come forward and share their experiences, both good and bad (because there is some good, and we can build on that).

This isn’t a “throw the bums out” issue against the NDP; it’s a “fix the problem now” issue.  So let’s do just that.

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I read an interesting post at Endless Spin Cycle: Anatomy of a Manitoba “Scandal”

I think the big problem with the WRHA and the NDP government’s Health Care in general is that it’s been a long string of failures with few successes (most “successes” being the result of more money on equipment or health infrastructure without solving the real problems).

Continued hallway medicine, deaths at Concordia and HSC, medical contract payola, an ever-expanding bureaucracy, a Minister of Health who doesn’t seem to have a grasp of how to give even an appearance of concern…

Are any of these things enough to bring down the Doer government?  They haven’t been so far, despite continued press releases from the PC Party.

But the Manitoba Liberal Party is taking a different approach.  We have put forward legislation that would assure accountability in health care, and we’ll continue to pressure the Doer government to support it.  We are advocating for individuals who need health care and who are being marginalized by their government (and oftentimes ignored by their own local NDP MLA).  And we are working to come up with more improvements on our health care platform (which is already far ahead of the NDP and PC Party) that will continue to identify common sense solutions to our worsening health care crisis.

The time for the NDP to be able to throw money at health care without actually looking to solve the core issues is definitely coming to an end.  It’s time for the Doer government to start looking at the real problems, and all they need to do is start listening to the Manitoba Liberal Party and the concerns of Manitobans.

The Manitoba Liberal Party will continue to push for a truly accountable health care system, and I am very happy to be a part of the team.

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There are a large number of people who believe that Manitoba is weathering the “economic storm” better than other provinces because of Gary Doer.  I’m sure you can guess that I don’t agree with that idea.  While Federal transfer payments ($2.063 billion for 08/09) have certainly paid for government projects that are employing thousands of Manitobans, our current economic situation is lacklustre compared to what it could be.

Manitoba’s stability is based on having a diversified economy that includes a mix of agriculture, resources, manufacturing and services.  While a general economic downturn affects Manitoba, is doesn’t affect our province as quickly or as severely as other provinces because we don’t have an economy tied heavily to one sector.  This diversity has always been Manitoba’s strength, but it’s a strength that has been underused.

There are several important steps that need to be taken to strengthen our economy:

  1. Increase funding for Research and Development: with R&D spending that is among the lowest in Canada, our province’s high tech industries are not being properly nurtured.
  2. Phase out the Payroll Tax: not only is this a tax on growth, it also results in lower wages for Manitobans compared to other provinces.
  3. Invest more in Infrastructure: After forty years of underfunding, Manitoba’s infrastructure (including roads, bridges, water and waste) has been in crisis for years.  The talk nowadays is for improvements in infrastructure around CentrePort, but this plan fails to account for other serious shortfalls in infrastructure renewal.
  4. Reduce Personal Income Taxes: Personal income taxes have a bigger impact on regional growth differences than corporate income taxes.
  5. Organize a Small and Medium-Sized Business Fund: Sound businesses that create jobs and enhance our economic diversity should be given access to start-up, expansion, and research grants.
  6. Create a Culture of Energy Innovation at Manitoba Hydro: there is not enough work being done to use other renewables such as wind, geothermal, and biofuel from waste products.  Energy R&D in Alberta and British Columbia are preparing those provinces to lead energy sectors in the reconomy, while Manitoba’s alternative energy programs are faltering.

Manitoba should not be a have-not province.  British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan are all have provinces.  Out of all four Western provinces, Manitoba has the best energy prospects and economic diversification.  We also have a cultural dynamic that welcomes immigrants, and we have a hard-working and young population ready to continue our economic development.  With all of these assets, there is no excuse for Manitoba not moving towards becoming a have province.

We need a change in our legislature to move the good ideas forward.  We need more independent voices to offer opinions that aren’t part of the tired NDP and Tory playbooks.

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The Premier has stated that he prefers a Disraeli Freeway rehab plan that allows some of the bridge lanes to remain open.  Aside from the obvious fact that pretty much EVERYONE wants some of the lanes to remain open if possible, I think it’s clear that the Premier has no intention of showing leadership on this issue.

The best way to ensure that traffic flow is not severely impeded during construction is to include the twinning of the Louise Bridge as part of the Disraeli project, with a new Louise span built before any Disraeli closures take place.  This project enhancement would increase the capital costs starting in 2010 by approximately $5 million per year.

The city of Winnipeg cannot afford to combine the two bridge projects without significant cuts to its other capital commitments, and such cuts are unlikely.  The Doer government can add the Louise Bridge to the city’s Disraeli project by committing $4 million a year from 2010 until 2014, for a total contribution of $20 million*.

If the Premier is truly concerned for the economic and safety issues that will be created by a full Disraeli closure, he will agree to contribute funds for the Louise Bridge.  The 100,000 residents of Northeast Winnipeg deserve a guarantee from their Premier that we will have adequate transportation options during the Disraeli project.

* – The amount of $4 million is based on several possible plan alterations, including postponing the active transportation bridge and possibly delaying Disraeli construction until 2011 if safety permits.  There are quite a few options available to the city to increase its Disraeli expenditures by $1 million per year along with the provincial contribution.  This also assumes a Louise budget of $100 million for moving the bridge to the East, while a reconstruction at the current location would probably cost around $60 million.

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Health care needs to be fixed, and I don’t think there’s a single Manitoban who would say that the Doer government is anywhere close to fixing it.

Here are some things we need right now:

1.    A Manitoba Patients’ Bill of Rights that establishes a legally enforceable guarantee of timely access to quality care.

2.    A Medical Standards Quality Council to establish provincial standards for wait times based on the best medical and scientific evidence available.

3.    An Enforcement Office which will have the authority to send patients for immediate care if they have not been treated within the mandated time, whether they be sent somewhere within Manitoba, or to another province.

4.    Eliminate the rationing of health care for Manitobans.  Quotas and global budgets are not meeting the needs of patients, and far too much funding is flowing to the bureaucracy instead of to the frontline health care providers.

5.    Reduce medical errors in the health care system with a blame-free reporting system and a Medical Procedure Improvement Team to ensure that action is taken to prevent the errors from occurring again.

6.    Improve aboriginal health care, beginning with the often overlooked basics of access to care, milk, and clean drinking water.

7.    Improve mental health care by focusing on community mental health care.

8.    Build new long-term care spaces to move patients with chronic care needs out of hospital sooner.

9.    Implement an electronic health care system that standardizes patients’ records.  This is a critical component of amodern health care system, allowing proper reporting to be done on outcomes and wait times.

These items aren’t part of an idealistic wish list; the fact that these things aren’t in place are failures of the current government.

There has been quite a bit of window dressing regarding health care, but the NDP government has continued to get it wrong in that they aren’t willing to guarantee these nine items for our province.  There has been no leadership from the government on these issues.

Several people who have worked at Concordia hospital have told me that the only time they ever saw that facility free of hallway medicine was from an hour before to an hour after any of the Premier’s visits.  We have patients waiting for 18 months for rotator cuff (shoulder) surgery, and by far the highest ovarian cancer mortality rate in the country.

Cancer Mortality by Province/Territory

Cancer of the Ovary, Females, All Ages, 2004

To better illustrate the current sentiments of Doer’s goverment, here’s an example of the NDP government’s approach to Aboriginal health care:

Flor Marcelino, MLA for Wellington: … However, I noticed that if you can be creative and practical, there are other alternatives to milk if you just want calcium. I saw in Gods Lake Narrows this school where supplies are delivered. They have several boxes of Cheez Whiz which is also a derivative of milk product containing calcium. I saw lots of bread. I thought without even thinking about this bill that this is a good alternative for milk.
So these children and adults from remote communities who, with this product which could be stored for a long time, these people from the northern communities are not without calcium in their diet. They may not have the actual fresh, chilled milk in the morning, but they have Cheez Whiz and other milk-derivative products that could be stored.

(Hansard except posted at The Great Canadian Talk Show blog.)

I think it’s pretty clear that we have a serious problem with health care in Manitoba.  And it’s on this platform that Bill Blaikie wants to join government.  Our provincial government’s approach to health is an embarrassment, and The Honourable Mr. Blaikie had better stand up and admit the crisis if he expects to show any leadership on the issue.

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I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately focused on issues occurring in Winnipeg proper, and I’ll be doing more of that soon (more on Plan Winnipeg II, for instance).  But obviously as a candidate for the legislature, I am also engaged in the issues that affect or are due to our provincial government.

It’s harder to write about the problems of our province, mostly because the Doer government is quite adept at spin, whereas our mayor has often had problems with how he is perceived by the general public and the media.  (Translation: Mayor Katz is an easier target.)  But the disagreements that I’ve had with the mayor about Winnipeg’s future are minor compared to the problems I have with the Doer government.

There have been serious errors by the government that have resulted in the deaths of dozens of children under the eyes of Child and Family Services, in the embarrassing health care crisis that still exists a decade after the Premier promised to fix it, and in the still-smouldering wreckage of Crocus.

But what is the overall problem with the NDP government?  What is the bottom line here?  Is it a lack of accountability by ministers and the leaders of crown corporations and agencies such as Hydro, CFS and WCB?  Is it the fact that the Premier uses his leftist ideology for window dressing (i.e., anemic program funding without any results) while he frequently flirts not only with the centre but also with the centre-right?

To me, our nine years of NDP government can be described in one word: mediocrity.

It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us.

– Isaac D’israeli  (Father of Benjamin Disraeli, who was not only the Prime Minister of Britain but was also the namesake of Disraeli Street, which in turn became the namesake of the Freeway which the NDP government likes to ignore.)

Here’s a plaque that I keep on my desk:

Manitoba has so much potential, yet the Premier is content with the status quo. There is no aggressive strategy for the growth of green industry in Manitoba, as wind farms are chased out of the province and our noble Manitoba Hydro subsidizes parking for its employees while handing out “How green are we” calendars to everyone else. The rest of the country is looking to innovate and to experiment, while our government places blanket moratoriums on hog barns and school closures without offering any solutions or embracing any opportunities that are available.

To illustrate the mediocrity of the Doer government, I will post about several major provincial issues and explain why the current government is failing us. Up first will be health care, which I will be spending quite a bit of time on in the coming weeks.

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