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'Liars, liars, liars'

Brandon Sun managing editor James O'Connor takes a

JAMES O'CONNOR Enlarge Image

Brandon Sun managing editor James O'Connor takes a "selfie" while in the narrow press gallery overlooking the floor of inside the at the Manitoba legislature this week.

Under pressure from @PCMBCaucus in QP #NDP Ed. Min. @jamesallummla said @BrandonMBSD "had no reason" to cut 11 positions. #bdnmb #mbpoli

— James O’Connor @Monstereditor tweet from the legislature’s press gallery

The Brandon Sun has been a member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly Press Gallery off and on for some time.

I’ve tried to remember to get our dues in each year as I believe it’s important to support such a body and also to ensure any Sun staff who are sent to the Leg on assignment have all the necessary access he or she would need.

The physical press gallery is in a couple of offices on the second floor’s southeast wing, and also have a row of chairs above the Speaker’s chair in the house.

Male reporters sitting in those chairs — and it is a great view of the historic chamber — must wear a shirt and tie, with "similarly appropriate attire" for females. Camera operators can’t wear hats (I imagine they aren’t referring to fedoras, but baseball caps).

Media in press gallery row must rise for the entrance of the Speaker’s parade and also for the reading of the Daily Prayer.

No flash photography is allowed and camera operators should position themselves near the doorways and not rest their cameras on railings or point down to take images of materials on the Speaker’s desk.

Lately, there have also been some issues with the multi-tasking type of journalist who is essentially a reporter or columnist steadying iPhones on the aforementioned railings.

You can see how I used my iPhone for a "selfie" during a recent visit to the seat of provincial government. But I digress.

The press gallery association’s membership has vacillated throughout the years, and the number of media you might see in the post-question period scrums in the hallways doesn’t always reflect on the number of media outlets or personnel with press gallery membership.

As the media makeup has evolved in the provincial capital, the actual number of full-time reporters based in the Leg and covering the work of government full-time is in decline.

With staff levels at many mainstream outlets being "right-sized" — that usually means being cut as revenues dictate — generally speaking full-time beats in any category are the first to go.

Many of the electronic media simply send down a general assignment reporter if they are interested in a particular topic or a government or opposition press release catches their attention.

As the provincial government impacts so much of our daily lives, I think it’s terribly important for major media outlets to have staff devoted full-time to that beat. While it’s tough to justify having staff full-time at the Leg while other general interest stories get untold, my position is the public’s right to know must be respected and that doesn’t mean simply rewriting the press release of the day. As a former press secretary to cabinet, I have seen both sides of the issues at the Leg. And I know that the best stories often came from the beat reporters who cultivated the trust of sources and paid little heed to my attempts at spinning or deflecting bad news about my government.

Even at the Brandon Sun, we manage to have a chief political reporter — Jillian Austin — and at last one or two backup writers who have some good insight into the working of government and the slippery double-speak of many politicians. Mainstream newspapers have traditionally been expected to have a lot of political news coverage and comment and opinion on the various levels of government — from Parliament to the local school board and even the area student unions.

So when found myself in Winnipeg on Tuesday on personal business in the morning, I decided to pay what has become my annual visit to the legislature to catch question period live.

And I’m glad I did.

For as I was readying a tweet out about all the extreme catcalls and misbehaviour of MLAs — my favourite heckle that day: "You’re doing a good job ... liars, liars, liars!" bellowed Emerson Progresive Conservative MLA Cliff Graydon — over the din I heard a strange comment from a minister of the Crown.

"Let me be categorical in saying that the Brandon School Division had no reason to eliminate teaching positions at their meeting last night," Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum said in response to a question from Lac du Bonnet Tory Wayne Ewasko. "Since this government was elected, we have increased funding to schools by the rate of economic growth or better every single year. This year alone, the Brandon School Division received $2.3 million more. Over the last three years, the Brandon School Division has received from this government $9 million in total, and since we were elected, $44.5 million.

"Mr. Speaker, Brandon is growing. The Brandon School Division is growing. The last thing you’ll want to do —"

And his speaking time ran out.

Allow me to finish his statement for him:

"(The last thing you’ll want to do) ... is not raise taxes."

Of course I tweeted out that statement, as you see above.

Later that day, the minister’s spinner sent an unsolicited statement to the Sun’s education reporter, Lindsey Enns, repeating his numbers and re-emphasizing his statement. Press secretary Naline Rampersad prefaced the minister’s statement as being "a response to your article" about BSD trustees passing Monday night the 2014-15 budget that includes cuts to 11 full-time positions and a 2.9 per cent tax increase.

The BSD was under extreme public pressure to keep the tax hike relatively low, not to mention it is an election year for the trustees.

The elimination of the teaching positions — which will have more of an impact at the high school level — will come into effect in September and results in $880,000 in reductions to the division’s nearly $90-million budget.

Supt. Donna Michaels told trustees that principals have been informed of these teaching cuts. Since they have been approved, part of the process will include principals re-examining classes with less than 15 students.

BSD board chair Mark Sefton told The Sun he took issue with the suggestion that cutting teachers wasn’t a necessary decision.

"We believe our job is to strike the balance between the needs of the students, and concerns of the community over taxation," he said.

I could simply not shoulder — or stomach — any major tax increases from the school board. I think it did indeed find a good balance between spending and taxation.

I also take issue with the minister speaking so harshly against the decision of the BSD, a lower level of government and one that his government funds.

I could care less if the funding levels has increased year to year. So has the province’s requirements placed on all divisions due to some questionable policy decisions, such as a maximum class size for K to Grade 3.

And it’s fine for the minister — or his boss, Premier Greg Selinger, who on Thursday backed his minister’s actions when I spoke with him in Brandon — to suggest the division could look for other ways to reduce costs.

But since the NDP is against cuts to public servants and teachers what they are both really saying is the foundation of all NDP policy — hike taxes more.

And I was sure glad I was in the press gallery to hear those words come directly from the minister’s mouth and send out a tweet. Otherwise, his spinners might not have been prompted to send the unsolicited email — at suppertime — with his spin on funding in full detail.

And geez, when I heard the minister essentially saying I should be taxed more for his stupid government’s bad decisions, I felt like heckling a bit myself from my roost above the floor of the house.

But I’ll just now second the Tory member for Emerson’s versatile, sarcastic heckle: "You’re doing a good job ... liars, liars, liars!"

•••

My number came up recently when I went to check some old lottery tickets.

Nope, I won’t now be sleeping "on top of a pile of money with many beautiful ladies" (with thanks for that line to The Simpsons’ Rainer Wolfcastle), but I was one of the few people each day in Canada who are faced with a crooked lottery clerk.

I didn’t realize it until I was halfway home from the retailer — whose location I won’t reveal — but the clerk’s actions had the complete modus operandi of a man playing a scam.

Here’s my complaint sent to Western Canada Lottery Corp.:

"I believe a retailer is running a lotto ticket scam. On Sunday, when checking tickets at noon, the attendant (at the location) said the self-check reader and ticket machine display weren’t working. He then gave me a pencil to sign about eight tickets I wanted to check. He scanned them and just tore a small piece off a corner. He never showed me the results printout, which he placed under the counter. He did pay me $22 in winnings, of which I paid back $1 for an Extra on a free play. As I drove off, realized seeing this type of scam on "W5." The attendant could have kept a winning ticket of mine, paid me a small amount for it — or nothing — erased my name and either cashed it in himself, or had someone else do it for him.

"I feel I’ve been a victim of a scam. And this retailer needs to be investigated. Thanks."

So if you think something like that will never happen to you, it happened to me. Stay aware and make a report if you suspect anything suspicious.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 14, 2014

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Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 1 Commentscomment icon

You can comment on most stories on brandonsun.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is register and/or login and you can join the conversation and give your feedback.

We also need to keep our RECEIPTS and make sure we receive RECEIPTS after we pay our cable, telephone and internet bills; ALL bills, actually.

There may have been a clerk stealing money from one of these institutions; taking our money, if we paid in cash, and then saying we didn't pay.

IF we pay in cash and then DON'T make sure that we receive a RECEIPT for this payment, the dishonest clerk can then say that we did NOT pay and then pocket our cash.

This may have happened to myself and others here in Brandon as I received TWO phone calls asking me to bring my receipt down to a certain business.

After paying my total bill in cash and my next month's bill, I realized that this clerk had NOT given me a receipt for this transaction.

Without a receipt, there is NO PROOF of payment, NO paper trail, nothing.

So, let's MAKE SURE that we are DEMANDING receipts after we pay our bills!

I told this business to check their CAMERAS and if they did not have cameras to purchase some.

Another individual told me that money for a bill paid disappeared from the table at a restaurant and a waitress was suspected of taking this money but WITHOUT any proof, they could not fire her.

As our economy WORSENS, there may be MORE of this & so we need to be on our GUARD, awake, aware & vigilant for fraud, deceit, theft, etc.

Your honesty about your experience may serve to help and prevent others from being scammed as well.

Bravo for reporting this and sharing your experience with us, Mr. O'Connor

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Under pressure from @PCMBCaucus in QP #NDP Ed. Min. @jamesallummla said @BrandonMBSD "had no reason" to cut 11 positions. #bdnmb #mbpoli

— James O’Connor @Monstereditor tweet from the legislature’s press gallery

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Under pressure from @PCMBCaucus in QP #NDP Ed. Min. @jamesallummla said @BrandonMBSD "had no reason" to cut 11 positions. #bdnmb #mbpoli

— James O’Connor @Monstereditor tweet from the legislature’s press gallery

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