As I See It
Thanks for the opportunity to share with you4 minute read Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016
This column has to be both the easiest and most difficult one I have had to hit the print button on.
For close to five years, it has been an honour to share so many thoughts with you on a weekly basis, but at this time I have decided to “hang ’em up” on As I See It.
I’m excited to be venturing off in a new career with Assiniboine Community College, a longtime Brandon institution. I will be joining the staff next week in a role that I considered to be a career goal of mine. With that said, and in fairness to doing that job to the utmost of my ability, I felt it best to step aside from my work as a political columnist.
I was first approached in the early spring of 2012 by the former managing editor of this paper to pen a column or two. It was meant to be a one-off type of opportunity, and at the time, that’s how I saw it all playing out. Write a couple of pieces, have my name in print as a keepsake and continue with life. Almost five years later, more than 220 Saturday columns, and with close to 175,000 words in print, I felt now was the right time for me to move on.
27°C, Partly cloudy
Holding out hope for a school in the south end4 minute read Preview Friday, Nov. 25, 2016
As Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon approached the lectern, undoubtedly trustees for the Brandon School Division gathered around a computer or two awaiting word on the Pallister government’s plan for the upcoming session. I don’t think they heard what they were hoping to hear.
A south end school has languished on the government radar for years; with the proposal being a political football of the highest order. Originally pitched by the now distant memory that was Greg Selinger’s NDP government, the promise of a new elementary school did not come to fruition until it was a long-shot hail mary by a party going through the throes of death before our very eyes.
Filmon shared during her speech this week that the government has “expedited the release” of strategic investments for 2017-18, “allowing the construction industry to plan for another season of building, grading, paving, repairing and improving our roads and highways,” as was shared in the Sun. Nowhere in the 19-page speech was educational infrastructure made a singular priority. There were, however, small tidbits of work the province plans to undertake with divisions to help attain higher standardized performance in our schools. Achieving this would happen through professional development and consultation with educators, but as a whole, there was little to create hope for the Brandon School Division.
To be fair to the province, the speech from the throne is direction only and does not usually identify unique projects of significant substance; those projects surface during the delivery of the budget.
Many challenges for Liberals after historic election4 minute read Preview Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016
Liberalism in North America took a bit of a beating last week.
Fresh off the finest example of demagoguery becoming the leader of the free world, the Canadian Liberal movement took a hit from a couple of different sources in the same passage of time.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and potential CPC leadership hopeful Kevin O’Leary both took the opportunity to use a Trump victory as a vehicle to score cheap points against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Ambrose was first to respond sharing that the Democratic loss south of the border was a warning sign for Liberals here, who she believes are “losing touch with working people.”
Trudeau must meet challenge of dealing with Trump4 minute read Preview Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016
What a week it has been south of the border.
Pollsters and politicians alike are in for years of reflection and study dissecting Donald Trump’s unlikely path to victory Tuesday night.
I have made a concerted effort throughout the campaign to avoid commenting on the U.S. election in my column. I chose to take this route for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, my colleague in the columnist camp at The Brandon Sun, Kerry Auriat, did a masterful job dissecting the American billionaire’s path to victory over the last few months. The collection exposed Trump as ultimately electable when stacked up against the boatload of problems facing Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The second reason was I do not care for most of things the now president-elect said about women and immigration, among a multitude of others. His decorum as a candidate was frankly quite deplorable, and I chose not to focus on his attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator currently boiling under the surface in the United States. His vitriolic message seemed to be swept aside though in the face of a nation clamouring to rid themselves of the so-called “elite nature” of Washington, D.C.
Pallister not pulling punches4 minute read Preview Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016
It may have taken a bit longer than the NDP soothsayers would have predicted, but the Pallister Tories are putting a firm stamp on this province.
The premier and company have pulled few punches as of late in their assessment of various projects and high-level government strategies. The Progressive Conservatives also appear unwilling to budge on their stance with wages in the province, using the University of Manitoba as their litmus test for wage freeze possibilities. Although the Tories have said they are neither bargaining for U of M management nor faculty, the very fact they floated a proposed wage freeze caused faculty to hit the picket lines earlier this week.
Seeking to keep public sector wages flat during a review of government services, the Pallister government rather effectively drew the ire of both the union representing faculty, as well as the management of the University of Manitoba. Finance Minister Cameron Friesen noted that the government was in a position to ask for some stability as a result of the “serious fiscal challenges” the province is experiencing.
The premier took it one step further as he was rumoured to have floated the idea of a wage freeze on the end of all expiring public sector contracts in a further attempt to get a handle on spending in the province. Pallister’s actions, although not popular, are what he promised during the election and clearly represent a new direction for Manitoba. We may feel the pinch from the Tories, but they are effectively doing what the voters elected them to do — clean up after the fiscal mess left by the previous NDP administration.
Liberals must steady the waters with youth4 minute read Preview Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016
It was far from a week to remember for Justin Trudeau.
His Liberal candidate, Stan Sakamoto, was trounced by Conservative rival Glen Motz in an Alberta byelection in the riding of Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner. Motz even took the opportunity to use his victory to take a jab at the prime minister for visiting the Gas City in support of Sakamoto.
“I would like to thank Justin Trudeau for visiting the region. The activity in our campaign absolutely spiked when he arrived,” Motz quipped during his somewhat smug victory speech.
The Conservatives have long held the Medicine Hat area and not since the early 1970s has another party come close to unseating a Tory. Sakamoto gave a valiant effort, but only garnered just over 25 per cent of the vote compared to just under 70 per cent for Motz.
Trudeau gov’t facing monumental challenge4 minute read Preview Friday, Oct. 21, 2016
Although marked up at times over the past year, most of the way has been sunny for the Justin Trudeau-led Liberal government.
With the Grits now officially one-quarter into their term, members of the media and political pundits alike took to composing a scorecard of sorts for the government, while the government took to celebrating their paper anniversary.
They have reason to celebrate as their first year consisted of many positive moments. Gender parity in the cabinet, a revamped child tax benefit, restoring old age security eligibility to 65, work on rebuilding the Canadian image internationally, and finally real government action on an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
The Trudeau government has taken some risks and upset the established principals many felt were the calling card of the previous administration. A recent Form Research poll asked Canadians about their faith in the Trudeau government, and the result was resoundingly positive. If an election were held today, the Grits would eclipse 220 seats in Parliament, proof that the Liberal brand of governance is working.
Council faces challenges with third budget4 minute read Preview Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016
Nobody said it would be easy to please everyone. In the world of municipal politics, that mantra could pretty much act as a credo for those who take up the yoke of leadership.
On the heels of two civic budgets that saw a less than one per cent combined increases the members of Brandon’s city council will be faced with some tough decisions in the third budget of their administration.
The finalized budget won’t be voted on until the new year, but members of council have already got out in front of the curve by hosting the first of several community engagement opportunities on Wednesday evening at city hall. Usually the hope for an event such as this is to better assess the needs in the community, and open the lines of dialogue among the various stakeholders that make up the city.
As vague as all those engagement forums can often seem, in reality council is in tough this time around. In jurisdictions where election cycles run in four-year increments, the third budget is the tricky one. It is often the one that defines a government as they are deep enough into their administration to have followed through on some, if not most of their election promises. It also leaves enough time still to potentially have voters sour on their time in office.
NDP desperately seeking suitor5 minute read Preview Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016
One can only imagine what the personal ad would sound like.
Wanted. One leader. Must enjoy long walks back to your balcony seat in the legislature. You must relish the thought of clamouring for someone, anyone to glance in your direction. Be prepared for plenty of long hours, for little pay and even less reward. And finally, you must embrace the fact it may be close to a decade before you can say you were successful in your post. Please apply within.
Not exactly what you would call a selling feature, even for a politician looking to take the next step in his or her career. Kevin Chief was one of those politicians who climbed that high ladder of success only to find that the view near the top was far too nauseating to stomach.
Chief, who for quite some time was considered the NDP’s brightest star, decided a couple of weeks back he would not seek the leadership of the beleaguered New Democrats in Manitoba. Originally, I had a column ready to go to print that weekend on his decision. I decided against running it in an attempt to better digest the news. Especially considering many Manitobans thought he would be a shoo-in for the leadership.
Pallister sings familiar tune with funding review4 minute read Preview Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016
When Manitobans elected Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservative government in April, they had to know that they were in for some major changes. After a half-decade too long in power, the outgoing NDP had lost its way.
Announcement after announcement categorized the “steady growth and good jobs” New Democrats were envisioning for the province, and with each successive delivery from the orange pulpit of Greg Selinger and company, another project made the list of the soon to be Pallister government’s “value for money review.”
Schools, roads, facilities, programs, services and the like received what was then a promissory note for barrels of cash should the NDP, by some unforeseen chance, hold on to power when the dust settled.
Obviously, it didn’t happen that way and very soon afterward, all those programs that once stood to benefit from a spend-happy NDP were prepared to tighten their belt under the austerity measures promised by PC MLAs destined for the Manitoba legislature. Brian Pallister was ready, as Frank Sinatra would say, to do it “his way” on the road to the premier’s office.
Grits should avoid extradition treaty4 minute read Preview Friday, Sep. 23, 2016
Fresh off a field trip of sorts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to be making all kinds of new friends on the playground, friends like Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Trudeau recently returned from a diplomatic trip to China, where he and his government attempted to mend fences with a Chinese government that had grown used to the icy reception often conveyed by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
As far as trading partners go, China could be vital for a country like Canada. The population base and buying ability alone makes China appealing, albeit somewhat one-sided in the balance offered in a trade agreement. Financially, over the long term it makes sense for Canada to look at increasing trade with China for many reasons. Where problems arise is when Canada enters into some form of an extradition treaty with a country like China, as part of that overall discussion.
The Chinese government has been condemned for some time for its deplorable human rights record. Under an extradition treaty, Canada would agree to hand over Chinese fugitives to be dealt with by the letter of China’s law. That law often includes behaviours such as torture and capital punishment, both practices which are thought to be considered barbaric in Canada.
Mulcair could save face in walking away4 minute read Preview Friday, Sep. 16, 2016
For Tom Mulcair, the next 13 months of his political career may very well be the most trying time of his years in public office.
Although garnering enough support from the NDP caucus to hold on to his waning leadership, party members maintain that their “top dog” will still be shown the door next October — a stance that leaves many to wonder why he would bother sticking around.
Prior to entering into politics, Mulcair maintained a successful law practice, and although 20-plus years removed from that part of his career he could — if he wanted to — re-enter private life with relative ease, mostly due to the public image he has upheld since that time.
With the New Democrats facing their lowest approval ratings in more than a decade, and with no clear-cut favourite to take on the top job, Mulcair clearly wears the burden of defeat. Although there were elements of the last election trouncing that were beyond his control, mainly the anti-Stephen Harper vote and the resurgence of the Liberal brand, Mulcair, much like a head coach, must bear the brunt of his team’s loss. When it came down to it, he was simply unable to get it done, never reversing the tide that swept the Liberals to their left-of-centre domination.
Casino debate our never-ending story4 minute read Preview Saturday, Sep. 3, 2016
Buckle up, Brandon — you are about to drive headlong into another casino debate.
The closure of the Askeneskak Casino operating on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in The Pas sent ripples through the water, and got tongues wagging online about the best home for the gaming centre, should the province OK its move.
The last time our city was on a casino’s radar was a few years back. The debate reignited when former mayor Shari Decter Hirst attended a Brandon Chamber of Commerce event flanked by members of the Tribal Council Investment Group. The scuttlebutt of the day was that our civic administration was in talks with TCIG about locating a casino in the city — something Decter Hirst herself reiterated when she took to the microphone.
Obviously, that centre did not come to fruition in Brandon as Sand Hills Casino found its new home on a desolate stretch of Highway 5 outside Carberry. The pro-casino crowd believed at the time that an opportunity had slipped through their fingers, and our former mayor felt the sting of that failed bid.
Pallister faces no-win scenario4 minute read Preview Friday, Aug. 26, 2016
It took less than a year but Brian Pallister may already be facing his Kobayashi Maru. Admittedly, this is likely to be the first time anyone of my craft has endeavoured to tie the Manitoba premier with the fictional world of “Star Trek,” but for a moment or two please humour me.
There is a plot line in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” starring Canadian William Shatner, in which trainees for command had to save a fictitious ship known as the Kobayashi Maru. The ship put the trainee against what was considered to be the unwinnable scenario. There were two choices given — save the other ship while almost certainly leading to the destruction of their own or leave the other ship and ensure their own safety, but move on in the knowledge the Kobayashi Maru would ultimately meet its demise.
All that science fiction aside, Premier Brian Pallister may have already met his unwinnable scenario in northern Manitoba.
News broke this week that Tolko Industries, a logging company operating out of The Pas would be closing its doors by the end of the year. The closure was the second major blow to areas north of the 53rd parallel and effectively put close to 10 per cent of the community’s workforce on notice they would be out of a job. Tolko was the big fish in The Pas, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone in the community who didn’t work for or know someone who worked for the mill. It was one of the top-paying employers in the region, and much like the “company store” of yesteryear had a tie to almost every aspect of business and life in the community.
Council misses point on Blue Dot Movement4 minute read Preview Friday, Aug. 19, 2016
As David Suzuki once said, he is in the twilight of his life — the “death zone” as he calls it — so he has little fear in challenging the establishment. The aged scientist and television host, in his never-ending quest to support a cleaner environment, launched a movement to integrate ecological and environmental change. That movement sought to drive governments to strive for cleaner water, improved air quality, safe food and a stable climate.
Founded out of that messaging was the Blue Dot Movement, a group of like-minded individuals who take their name from the thought our planet, when photographed from deep in space was a mere pale blue dot. Noted author and astronomer Carl Sagan said it best when he so poignantly shared that our responsibility to earth was to “deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot (Earth), the only home we’ve ever known.”
Sure Sagan may have sounded a tad utopian in his musings on our planet, but the essence of what he was hoping to accomplish speaks volumes to where we are at, when it comes to nation-building, our relationships, and most of all our connection with the environment. It should have been an easy sell to municipalities and governments nationwide, and for the most part it has been.
If we enshrine the need for environmental rights into our constitution, then Canada becomes one of more than 100 countries worldwide who have said they were positioned, by government decree, to do more for our environment. The problem is Brandon City Council voted down joining in the movement for global change.
Mayday cry from Green Party leader4 minute read Preview Friday, Aug. 12, 2016
Elizabeth May could be the most powerful leader ever to represent a party of one.
Since she was first elected in 2011, the 62-year-old American-born Green Party leader has carved a niche for herself, and the Green Party movement in the House of Commons. Although unable to secure some familiar faces within the ranks of the Green Party in the 2015 election, she continues to be one of the most respected members in the House.
May is whip-smart, an officer of the Order of Canada, has been recognized by the United Nations for her environmental work, was said to be one of the world’s most influential women as compiled by Newsweek magazine, and would be one of the most coveted free agents in history should recent events cause her to sour on the party she has headed up for more than a decade.
The Green Party made waves over the past week for its controversial stance on possible sanctions against Israel for its role in the battle for position in the Middle East. Known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the resolution was adopted at convention without a thorough round of debate, and puts the Green leader in a troubling spot by having to support a document some call anti-Semitic.
Grits finally moving on inquiry4 minute read Preview Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016
Blue Hills RCMP are investigating after the Harrow Community Centre in Riverdale municipality, roughly six kilometres northwest of Brandon, after a few windows were found with "bullet holes."
Port problem challenges prosperity on the Prairies4 minute read Preview Saturday, Jul. 30, 2016
American journalist Don Lemon once said “there is a degree of deception in silence.” Deception was front of mind for the residents of Churchill this week after learning American rail company Omnitrax was cutting the balance of their ties with the northern community.
The company’s response, or lack thereof, following the layoff of its workforce and scaling back of rail service speaks volumes for their time in the community, and has forced the region to come to grips with cutbacks that affect the very lifeblood of the far North in Manitoba.
Omnitrax has struggled for some time to meet the volumes conducive to turning major profits in the grain trade. And ferrying goods to the northern community did little to help cover the bills. Compound that with the timing of this announcement and it all proves highly problematic for farmers looking to ship high yields of grain through the port to other destinations.
In a somewhat bizarre twist of fate though, Omnitrax president (and former Conservative MP and MLA) Merv Tweed is in the hot seat for Omnitrax’s silence on the issue. A silence that is eerily similar to his reaction to local farmers who fought to keep a single desk marketing structure under the Canadian Wheat Board, an entity that eroded during the previous Harper government.
Brexit fallout: From Netherlands to Germany4 minute read Preview Friday, Jul. 15, 2016
This is the follow-up to a two-part column logged during my time touring through the United Kingdom and Europe.
NETHERLANDS — First of all, thanks to those who took the time to drop me a note after last week’s column. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the U.K. and Europe.
As our second week drew to a close, our crew took a hop across the channel to Holland, Germany, France and finally Belgium. Aside from a few language barriers (which were conveniently handled by an app on the iPhone) we were landed, through passport control and in business.
Once in the Netherlands, I quickly noticed that movement throughout EU countries was much easier than I had ever anticipated. The airport is chalk full of EU-specific stations, allowing for ease of travel among the countries of the union. Express lanes, quick scan passport services and EU fast pass depots were just a few of the options European travellers had to speed up their entrance into another country. I thought of taking a pic or two of the process, but Dutch airport police were quick to point out the fact that taking photos at that point is strictly forbidden. Needless to say we respected their wishes.
Hope, not intolerance, the lasting lesson4 minute read Preview Saturday, Jul. 2, 2016
“If you want to be a super right-wing conservative Christian, then go and do that, but don’t spread the hate. Just accept that everyone is going to do their thing and accept that if people want to host a big parade with a bunch of rainbows, then they are going to do that.”
—Brandon University Students’ Union president Nick Brown
“Super right-wing conservative Christian” may have not have been the best lead for his approach as there are some fairly right-wing conservatives in this province who still seem to be decent people,but you have to commend Brown’s plan to venture to Steinbach’s Pride celebrations on July 9 with his fellow BUSU membership.
Much has been shared in the last few weeks over the impending Pride celebrations in the community of Steinbach. Plenty have also weighed in regarding their views on this particular subject — views that included a couple of fairly vitriolic responses I received on my column last week supporting their efforts to move forward with the festivities.
Hanover School Division’s stance is troubling4 minute read Preview Monday, Jun. 27, 2016
“Ethics is the difference between knowing what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”— Potter Stewart
If Hanover School Division is any indication, the question of ethical choices falls well below the idea of doing what they feel is best for their community.
As many are already aware, the school division, located in southeastern Manitoba, is actively debating the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation dialogue in the classroom. The debate and subsequent process has prompted a same-sex couple in the community — Michelle McHale and Karen Phillips — to file a human rights complaint against the division for not allowing the discussion and teachings to take place.
To be clear, the division in question is a publicly funded school district, and members of the board of trustees are duly elected, exactly like they are in the Brandon School Division.
Time for gun control solutions4 minute read Preview Friday, Jun. 17, 2016
As local members of the LGBTQ community gather in our city for celebrations and events, many within that tight-knit group will also try to come to grips with one of the deadliest and most violent acts of terror in modern United States history.
One week after gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people in an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Fla., society is left to wonder whether this may finally be the watershed moment for our neighbours regarding their antiquated beliefs surrounding gun control.
Gone should be the days of wildly defending the Second Amendment as a birthright of Americans. The right to bear arms had its place, but in a modern, civilized society it should not equate to high-powered automatic and semi-automatic military-style weapons. Weapons that are easily obtained from a myriad of legal (and sometimes illegal) distributors throughout the United States.
Frankly, the idea of the Second Amendment being placed on a pedestal simply doesn’t wash anymore. The “well-regulated militia,” as the document states, does not equate to the current state of affairs where a mentally ill individual is able to purchase a high-capacity assault rifle using only a driver’s licence.
Parties jockey for position over electoral reform4 minute read Preview Friday, Jun. 10, 2016
Sometimes leaning on your majority is not the best way to do business.
Never was that more evident than this past week when the Liberals backed off on the gung-ho nature of their promise of electoral reform.
Less than a month before, the party announced it would soldier on with the election promise to reform the Canadian electoral system, and would effectively choose to stack the deck in their favour to ensure their mandate moved forward in the House of Commons.
The Grits’ original plan was to bring about recommendations through a working committee made up of six Liberals, three Conservatives and one NDP member. A Bloc Québécois member and a Green party representative would sit on the committee as well, but neither would have a vote.
Teflon Trudeau frustrates opposition4 minute read Preview Friday, Jun. 3, 2016
Much to the chagrin of dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives everywhere, it seems like Canadians just can’t quit Justin Trudeau. Either Trudeau is on a prolonged honeymoon or this truly is a relationship built to stand the test of time.
Close to seven months after the election where the Liberals rose to power, Trudeau and his party have inched 7.2 per cent higher in a recent opinion poll. The latest numbers have pushed the party to 46.7 per cent backing nationwide and positions Trudeau at 57.9 per cent popular support.
Looking closer, there are pockets like Atlantic Canada where the Liberal government is nearing 60 per cent popularity, but overall in each province the Liberals are doing quite well in polling numbers.
Support like this may be the norm for governments with a squeaky clean reputation, but to be clear this poll comes in the wake of the government debating a somewhat poorly drafted bill to address physician-assisted suicide, Trudeau being accused of elbowing a fellow member of Parliament while physically forcing another to his seat, facing scrutiny for costs associated with travel and his family’s childcare needs, and finally his somewhat public “day off” in Japan recently.
City on right track with cultural plan4 minute read Preview Saturday, May. 28, 2016
The City of Brandon has a plan.
It may sound optimistic, but there is some reason to believe this time will be different. Clearly over the past decade, city “plans” have made headlines in many editions of this fine publication for reasons both good and bad.
Undoubtedly those past plans followed sharing sessions with one of a myriad of consultation companies seeking to put their stamp on our community. Often they were also coupled with the thought that our city had failed to move forward on a previous document seeking to shape this region.
The city could, at times, be blamed for talking too much and not acting enough regarding recommendations housed within a consultant’s plan, and other times sheer economics came into play.