Saturday, 29 December 2012

Year end fluff with the Premier

The Winnipeg Free Press has published a year-end interview (of sorts) with the Premier Greg Selinger.

It hasn't been a stellar year for the Premier. Among the more problematic developments of the year: serious systemic problems with Manitoba's child welfare safety net have come to light as a result of the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry, Hydro's multi-billion dollar expansion plans have come under increasing scrutiny, and the government was forced to admit that it lied to Manitobans before the last election about balancing it's books by 2014-15 (although they don't take any responsibility for it, but rather blame the "fitful and uncertain" global economy).

With all these serious problems, the year-end conversation ought to be an interesting and provocative one. Unfortunately it was the exact opposite. Free Press reporter Larry Kusch doesn't even lead off with any of these issues, but rather allows the Premier to throw Winnipeg Jets pixie dust in our faces to obscure everything else.

He's beginning to beat the drum for a hockey extravaganza that would see the Winnipeg Jets suit up for a regular-season contest against the Minnesota Wild -- at the 33,422-seat Investors Group Field. 

Selinger said the prospect of an outdoor Winter Classic-style event would generate a lot of excitement for local hockey fans who have been down in the dumps because of the lockout.

"I think it would be a lot of fun," said Selinger
This fantasy of Greg's is the headliner for this interview, which proclaims in bold 40-point font in the Saturday paper that "Selinger's GOT GAME".

Really?

I don't even know where to go with this. Selinger has no control over whether this game ever happens. It has nothing to do with 2012 and certainly will not happen in 2013, if ever. It has no relevance to anything. Let me make this clear by pressing my Caps Lock key: THE ONLY PURPOSE OF THIS WINNIPEG JETS NON-SEQUITUR IS TO DIVERT ATTENTION FROM THE IMPORTANT ISSUES.

Nothing is more popular than the Winnipeg Jets, and everybody is pumped about the new stadium. Put those two things together and you've got magic! With that combination, maybe you can even turn a negative story about a province where everything is going wrong into a warm and fuzzy feel good piece!

When Larry gets around to covering the actual issues, he does not pose direct questions to challenge the Premier, but instead sets up topics and allows the Premier to deliver the message that he wants to deliver. For example -- and I didn't know this until today -- but one of the main reasons for the hundreds of millions of dollars of deficit spending is to save children. "If a child needs to be protected, that has to be done." Ergo, if we were to balance the budget children would die.

The story also includes a sidebar with frivolous little questions about Taylor Swift and stuff like that. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact this is exactly where Greg Selinger's idea about the Winnipeg Jets winter classic belongs -- in the side bar, not the head line.

Friday, 21 December 2012

#IdleNoMore


It's tricky: mobilizing masses of people while presenting a consistent message and without causing disruption that could hurt your cause.

The growing Idle No More movement, a product of building frustration among First Nations peoples, is attempting to navigate those conundrums as it executes something resembling a controlled explosion on the national scene. The match that ignited this movement was Bill C 45, the Federal Government's omnibus budget bill that alters parts of the Indian Act and reduces protections for many Canadian waterways. This, along with other recent government legislation, didn't sit well with some native Canadians:

"These colonial forms of legislation that the government expects to unilaterally impose on us has brought us together, to stand together" - Jessica Gordon

They decided that enough was enough and it was time to mobilize.

But how? Just the term "omnibus budget bill" is enough to make people fall asleep. By writing that in this blog post I instantly lost 35 readers. How do you draw people's attention to something like that?

After the initial National Day of Action failed to garner much press; Rallies, flash mobs, hunger strikes and blockades continued to spring up across the nation and the media is taking notice.

With the spot light comes the challenges:

1) a cohesive message: As the Occupy movement grew, different factions in different cities had different objectives, and the message got watered down until most people saw the occupiers as nothing more than a bunch of illegal campers with too much time on their hands.

Idle No More has to maintain a consistent message. Is it a protest against bill C 45, is it about Attawapiskat, or is it a more general thing about indigenous sovereignty and an equal partnership with the Government of Canada, or is it something else? We can see on the news that there are protests, but we don't get a lot of insight into what it's about. They have to keep hammering home their intended message so that it filters through the 120 second news segments on TV and into the skulls of nimrods like me who wait to get fed what they need to know by the mainstream media.

The danger is that different aboriginal leaders will say different things, thus confusing the public and muddling the message. Worse, some may decide to capatalize on the "Idle No More" name recognition to promote their own causes. This will lead Idle down the Occupy path to oblivion, leaving the honest protesters as nothing more than angry Indians marching against who-knows-what in the eyes of many. This is to be avoided.

Already, though, it's happening: today in Winnipeg the Sagkeeng First Nation organized a rally at the Manitoba Hydro building to draw attention to the continued displacement of people in their community by last year's flooding. This is counter-productive. It may be a worthy topic, but it comes at the expense of the Idle movement.

2) keeping the public on your side: It may be tempting to cause disruption because a blockade or other such thing is very effective at getting people's attention, but this too should be avoided. Not all attention is good attention. Sympathy and support for your cause will quickly vanish if you piss people off.

There was a separate event at the Winnipeg airport today that partially blocked traffic. As somebody who recently missed a flight, I can tell you that people who are rushing to catch a plane are not going to be very receptive to anything that gets in their way. Apparently this was not an *official* Idle event, but only in support of it. Most people will not make that distinction. If you want to show support for Idle No More, why don't you show up at an actual Idle No More event instead?

3) supress the lunatics: All public statements by a corporation are tightly controlled by a dedicated PR department. The First Nations do not have such a luxury. There is a Grand Chief, and there are provincial representatives that have a voice, and there are also hundreds of band Chiefs across the country, as well as many other activists and voices. Naturally some are more intelligent than others.

While we have heard some very thoughtful statements from people like Pamela Palmater and Winnipg's own youthful activist phenom Michael Redhead Champage, we also have this guy in the car: http://winnipeg.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=832466

“ We ARE the representative! We ARE the example for the world!”

For this to be successful, people need to hear the reasonable and rational voices, and not that guy in the car or, God forbid, a grand standing buffoon like Terry Nelson.

*****
Alas, I fear these challenges may be too great. The Canadian First Nations are too diverse and loosely knit. It is unlikely that the message can be controlled in the way that it needs to be, and the movement may be undermined by the selfish or misguided acts of those who try to grab the spot light with their own independent protests in the name of Idle No More.


Recommended reading: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/wab-kinew/idle-no-more-canada_b_2316098.html

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Auction Mart: Internet clearance bin

Every year Global Winnipeg holds an internet auction through Auction Mart. You can bid on goods and services and hopefully get something you want at less than what you would normally pay for it.


Last April I bought an electric fireplace from a local furniture store. It came packed in re-used bubblewrap and copious amounts of packing tape. I know the wrap was re-used because it had labels on it for living room furniture.

When I finally got around to unwrapping it I found some damage to the finish on the top. Not great, but oh well ... I guess we got a good deal on it, as long as it heats up the rec room ...

So I plugged it in and ... okay ... now what? I presume there is some way to turn this thing on but there's no remote control. After a short search I found three toggle switches tucked away in a corner of the unit, but after trying them in every combination at least 3 times nothing happened. Well, okay, maybe I should check the manual.

There is no manual.

So I copied down some numbers from the back of the fireplace and looked up the fireplace on the internet and eventually found a pdf version of the manual on the manufacturer's website. "The unit is operated with the ON and OFF buttons on the remote control." Yes, well ... I don't have a remote.

So I emailed the manufacturer with the model number and explained my problem..
The fireplace that we purchased will not start up. There is power going to the unit, but the unit shows no signs of life when turned on. I have tried all combinations of the control buttons. Does this model come with a remote control?

"The manual switch needs to be in the II position in order to use the supplied remote and in the I position if you use the manual switches on the insert.."

The fireplace did not come with a remote, and the switch on the right does not have a 'II' Position. It has only 'I' and 'O'. Is this model supposed to have a remote?

"Yes this model should come with an on/off functioning remote only. Where did you purchase this model and what is the serial number off the sticker on the rear that tells me when it was manufactured."

I provided the info but heard nothing back. So, I contacted the furniture store in an ornery mood and threatened to return it, but apparently because I bought it through Auction Mart it could not be returned. When you buy through the auction you buy it as is, except you can't see how it is when you buy it.

To the store's credit, they did send away for a remote control for me. I drove down and picked up the remote, which also came with a different power adapter. Alright ... well maybe I can get this thing running now.

I plugged the new adapter in and pressed ON and ... we have a humming sound! We have heat! But ... there is no light. Isn't there supposed to be some kind of flame effect or something?

So the next step is to check the light bulbs. After reading how to change the light bulbs in my pdf manual on the computer, I pulled the thing apart and found this:
Nice.

These aren't ordinary burnt out light bulbs, but like .. exploded bulbs or something. What the hell happened to this thing. Did it get hit by lightning?

Anyhow, I replaced the bulbs and FINALLY it's fully functional. For how long who knows, but for now it's working, and doesn't even look that bad as long as you don't look too closely.
Still, this cost me far too much time and effort, and wasn't much of a deal all things considered. My advice to you is to beware: you can get good deals on on-line auctions like Auction Mart, but some retailers simply use them as a clearance bin for crap they can't otherwise sell.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Great Canadian Lawsuit

There once was a humble man in a humble city who had a humble radio show called THE GREAT CANADIAN TALK SHOW. The man's name was Marty.


One day Marty walked into the studio and found that his show was gone. Marty was sad.

And angry.

Mostly angry.

You see, Marty worked very hard on his show. He was very happy with the show, and he had big plans for the show. And then one day, some bad people took it away.

****

6 years ago, Marty Gold came to an agreement with 92.9 Kick FM station manager Rick Baverstock to host a radio show on Kick FM. The campus radio station needed to fill it's CRTC-mandated quota of talk content. Marty agreed to do that and to provide training for Red River College students, and in exchange he would be allowed to sell advertising to earn a living. It would also give Marty an outlet to speak out on community issues. This being a community radio station, it seemed like a perfect fit.

In the 3 1/2 years that the show ran, Marty built up enough of an advertising base to not only earn a living, but to contribute funds back to the station. Over those 3 1/2 years he also ruffled many feathers with his blunt and direct criticisms of the civic and provincial governments, and mainstream media outlets, most specifically the Winnipeg Free Press.

There were also several people on the Kick FM board who were not happy with Marty because he was actually selling advertising.You see, while the CRTC mandates that campus radio stations maintain community-run boards, Kick FM had industry execs on it's board. Some of the people controlling the station had an interest in the station not selling advertising because in theory that meant fewer potential advertisers for their own stations. This reluctance to sell advertising resulted in a $180,000 debt that resulted in (or was used as an excuse for -- depending who you talk to) the ultimate demise of the radio station.

Moreover, because Red River College depended on other media outlets to hire it's Creative Communications (Creecom) program grads to ensure it's success, the executives of the college had a vested interest in not pissing them off by competing with them for advertising. It's even been suggested that the power to the radio transmitter was deliberately dialed down to prevent the station from reaching across the city so that potential advertisers would be deterred.

Anyhooooo...

The hammer finally came down and on November 8, 2010 Marty lost his show. Two years later he's fighting back with a law suit.


Who's being sued and why?

The defendants are
Red River College
Crecomm Radio Inc.
FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership (The Winnipeg Free Press)
Margo Goodhand - former editor of the Winnipeg Free Press
Stephanie Forsyth - President of Red River College
Cathy Rushton - Vice-President of Red River College
Graham Thomson - Dean of Business at Red River College
Robert Buisson - Legal Council for Red River College
David Wiebe - Kick FM board member & VP of Golden West Radio
Chris Stevens - Kick FM board member & former VP/GM of CHUM radio

Red River College, along with employees Stephanie Forsyth, Cathy Rushton, Graham Thomson, and Robert Buisson, are being sued for wrongfully terminating his agreement with RRC.

David Wiebe and Chris Stevens are also being sued for helping to orchestrate the termination of the contract as directors of Creecom and Kick FM board members. The statement of claim asserts that both were motivated by personal gain, as executives of competing stations.

The Free Press and Margo Goodhand are being sued because emails that Margo sent to Stephanie Forsyth "maliciously induced" Forsyth to "wrongfully and maliciously" conspire with her RRC co-defendants to terminate the agreement with Marty. It should be noted that the termination occurred immediately after said emails. Emails like this and this.


According to the statement of claim, the "wrongful" and "malicious" acts include:
  • falsifying complaints about the defendant (Marty)
  • failing to follow the established and known complaint process
  • failing to consult with the board of directors, and lying about doing so
  • other various falsifications and lies.
The document also suggests that getting rid of The Great Canadian Talk Show opened the door for Chris Stevens, Margo Goodhand and the Winnipeg Free Press to start their own talk show in the same time slot. It also points out that shortly afterwards Margo Goodhand, the Winnipeg Free Press and Stephanie Forsyth partnered to create a program at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café to train community journalists, not unlike what TGCTS did, leading to a $400,000 grant.

How much is Marty suing for?

Marty will not tell me, but it's safe to assume it's in the six-figure range because Marty potentially lost $100,000 or more in advertising revenue in the ensuing two years, plus he's also asking for punitive damages and costs.

In suing for damages, Marty can argue that advertising revenues were on an upward trajectory. But there is more: Marty had intended to leverage his show's relative success locally to build a nationally syndicated radio show at college stations across the country. He had it planned out, but the untimely demise of his show scuttled those plans. This represents a loss of opportunity that Marty will present in his argument for damages. I do not know how successful this angle will be because it's hard to prove loss for something that you never had, but I'm not a lawyer so who knows...

Does he have a chance of winning?

One thing you should know about Marty: he's tenacious. If Margo and Stephanie thought he would cause a fuss and then go away they were mistaken. I doubt that a day has gone by since the termination that Marty hasn't vowed revenge for the wrong that was committed against him, and he may never let it go until he finds justice. Hello. My name is Marty Gold. You killed my talk show. Prepare to die.

Marty is also diligent. Some people with his passion might have launched a lawsuit immediately after getting terminated, but Mr. Boroditsky has taken his time. He's spent the last two years compiling evidence, filing FIPPAs, snooping for emails, building his case. He has accumulated a mountain of paperwork and thought through every angle. That is why the defendants have cause to worry. He is prepared.

He also has a decent lawyer. Gene Zazelenchuk is probably best known for representing Crystal Taman's husband Robert and her family in a law suit following a botched investigation into the accident that lead to Crystal's death. That law suit, which also involved multiple defendants, resulting in a $300,000 settlement for the family of Crystal Taman.

What will the Defense argue?

Well we can't say for sure, but you know they will argue that Marty Gold was exposing the Creecom students to poor journalistic practices.

"As far as we know he has no journalism training"
"If they're learning anything from Mr.Gold's show, it's that they can be relentlessly hostile and accusatory without evidence."

They'll say his defamatory rants escalated to the point where they had to take him off the air. What Gold calls "libel chill" -- Margo's references to consulting her lawyer about defamatory statements in her letters to Forsyth -- could be considered fair warning that the show has crossed the line. This may come down to a debate about whether Marty's show actually did cross the line. The defense may try to show that Marty did in fact defame the Free Press or its journalists.

****

What's next? The defendants have been contacted. Marty and his lawyer are now waiting for their responses.The time frame in which this may get resolved is uncertain but I expect most of this to play out over the course of 2013.

Marty mentioned that he may set up a dedicated web site related to the law suit and to help raise money for associated expenses. He already accepts donations on his regular TGCTS blog.

Whether you were a fan of Marty or not, this may be worth paying attention to. As this lawsuit proceeds some dirt involving some big names could get kicked up, and it may raise serious concerns about the leadership of Manitoba's premier community college. The Great Canadian Talk Show is gone, but this show is just beginning.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Inside the new Winnipeg IKEA

I heard there was a media night for the new IKEA here in Winnipeg, so I put on my trench coat, stuck a card that says "PRESS" in the band of my fedora, and snuck in for a preview.

I was amazed by what I found: a DJ, free champagne, appetizers from MISE Bistro, a killer gift bag filled to the top with awesome stuff, 15% off everything in the store... I could certainly get used to being a member of the media. If a young person ever comes to me and asks for advice, I'm going to tell them to go into journalism. Best job ever!
I should start by saying that I like IKEA. The office I am currently sitting in features two IKEA book shelves, an IKEA desk, an IKEA wall-mounted cabinet, an IKEA garbage can, and probably a couple of other miscellaneous items from the Swedish megastore. Not all of our rooms are like this mind you, but we do enjoy shopping there.

You would think, therefore, that I would be enthusiastic about IKEA coming to town. Well I am, but only moderately so. We have probably already bought all of the home furnishings that we ever would buy from there, at least for a while.

If I go to IKEA now, it's mostly for small things: little boxes for organizing, tea lights, lunch .... I have never actually had the famous IKEA meatballs. I thought tonight might be the perfect night to try them out. I just have to find the meatball station hidden somewhere in Canada's second largest IKEA.


The bamboo IKEA USB stick that they gave us says that the store is 395,671 square feet. That is a mere 3,000 square feet smaller that the Ottawa store, although both will be eclipsed next year by the expanded Montreal store at an astounding 500,000 sq ft.

The size of the Winnipeg store is a little bit misleading. The warehouse portion is larger than most other stores because, as one IKEA employee put it, our store is an "island" with no other distribution centres around. I expect this means that catalog orders to Regina will come from here now instead of Calgary.
With the larger warehouse, the actual shopping area probably isn't that much larger than most other IKEAs. If you been in one elsewhere, you know what to expect including tidy little "inspirational room settings" that showcase the products, and a 1.3 km labyrinth-style layout that will take you past lots of clean lines, geometric shapes, and bright colours.
What's different about our IKEA? Mostly improvements in the building itself: geothermal heating, skylights, a rainwater collection system and other similar things. They did not paint the building green in case you were wondering. There will be bicycle parking too, for you hardcore bike nuts.

The insanity starts for real on Wednesday, November 28. And just because it wouldn't be crazy enough as it is, IKEA is giving the first 1000 people free "mystery boxes" with a $75 gift card and a chance to win up to $5000 of IKEA stuff. Good luck peeps. I'm glad I got to go to this shindig, because I'm staying the heck away from there at least until the madness subsides ... which will probably be sometime next spring.
... but I will be back because I still haven't had any meatballs!!  Would you believe I completely missed the meatball station? I don't know how that happened.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Around This Town: Slurpees, Surefoot, Speed limits and Stumbling

This is big news. HUGE news. 7-11 is now at the airport!!!!

See? Right there. 7-Eleven number 25.

I haven't seen it and I don't think it's actually in the airport terminal, but nevertheless it's conveniently located such that when you come back to Winnipeg from some inferior place that does not love Slurpees as much as us, the first thing you can do is buy a Slurpee!

Also, because of the strategic location, 7-11 has introduced a new 100 ml Super Small Gulp that you can take on the airplane.

Okay, I just made that last part up.

*****

This is big news. HUGE news. Especially if you're a frail old lady. That's right: www.surefoot.org is up and running again!

A full two weeks into November and a week after our first big snowfall of the year, the website had absolutely nothing to report.

Now, thanks to a team of IT professionals working around the clock to restore surefoot functionality, the online sidewalk safety tool now informs you that you should take precautions when using sidewalks.

This is tremendously important for those older folks and people with disabilities who would otherwise have danced down the sidewalk wearing rollerblades.

Now that surefoot.org is back up and running, we can rest easy knowing that Councillor Harvey Smith will not fall down this winter.

(Really, I like Harvey. He cares about the city and he's a very engaged person. I sent him an email one evening and he called me within half an hour and we had a good long chat. Usually the most you get is a one word reply.)

*****

This is big news! Speed limits are being reviewed, and this time we're not talking about making them lower, but actually increasing some of the ridiculously low limits that you see around town. I give a tip of the hat to Winnipeg Girl for pointing out the CJOB web site with the details.
That's a great summary by CJOB, with Google maps and a description of the proposed increase.

I've written about this before, but increasing speed limits has been proposed in the past only to be shot down by a city hall committee with little consideration. Hopefully the Manitoba Traffic Board's consultative approach this time will have more success.

You know people will come out and oppose this, saying things like "a person has a 30% better chance of surviving an accident with a car going 50 km/h than 60 km/h" and so on. That's a false argument though, because if you take that to it's logical conclusion all speed limits should be set to 0 km/h.

In reality, the safest speed to drive is the "natural" speed of the road ... the speed that people tend to drive. The "85th percentile" that traffic experts recommend speed limits be set at. If you set speed limits too low then there is more lane changing and shuffling of traffic, and more people will take short cuts down side roads endangering kids.

I'm usually not a big fan of obscure provincial boards, but GO Manitoba Traffic Board!

*****

In blog news, the blog Stumbling (A)Bordeaux is gone. Like a puff of smoke, it has vanished into the ether, posts and all. Patrick Oystryk went out with a strong final post "Winnipeg: a Recycled City" -- a sobre evaluation of Winnipeg's shortcomings from somebody who just spent a few years living in Europe. He has hinted at starting up something new now that's he's returned to the 'Peg, so stay tuned.

It's a personal decision, whether to delete it all when you hang up the blogging gloves, or keep things on-line for posterity. I selfishly prefer the latter, because there was a lot of good content that has disappeared from the likes of Patrick, David Watson of Waverly West and Beyond, Walk Krawec of One Man Committee, and others.

Speaking of One Man Committee, it popped up on my blog roll again today. There is only one post with nothing in it, and the author is now Kindra Cahya. What's up with that?

*****

Lastly, this Friday is the 16th annual LITE (local investment toward employment) Wild Blueberry Pancake Breakfast at the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre. 

I will be there flipping pancakes or washing dishes or, given the time of day, slumped in a chair drinking coffee. Maybe see you there!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Scrutinization of Manitoba Hydro

It's agonizing, it is. The glacially slow creep towards sanity in how Manitoba develops it's hydro resources. As the government confidently powers ahead with its plan to spend billions on misguided dams and power lines, it is being slowed by occasional bumps of scrutiny as people increasingly question the wisdom of what the government and Hydro are doing.

Reluctantly, Manitoba Hydro agreed to file a supplemental environmental assessment because of changes to the controversial west-side Bipole III route, after the Manitoba Metis Federation and others complained.

Days later, the province has begrudgingly ordered a "Needs For and Alternatives To" review of it's northern hydro projects, the Keeyask and Conawapa generating stations. Even as the NDP government announced the review, they repeated their lines about how these projects are critical to the economic success of the province -- as though the review is nothing more than a silly formality.

The government's backwards thinking on this issue is striking. For example, take everything Minister Dave Chomiak says in the following quote ...

"The estimated $13.3-billion investment in Manitoba's north that would result from Keeyask and Conawapa would propel the province's economy for decades to come and provide clean, low-cost and reliable power for future generations of Manitobans," Chomiak said. "Moving forward with these projects is an important decision and Manitobans need to be assured that they are in the best long-term interest of the province." -fp-

... and reverse everything, and see how much more sense it makes:
"The estimated $13.3-billion debt that would result from Keeyask and Conawapa would cripple the province's economy for decades to come and drive up the cost of power for future generations of Manitobans," Chomiak said. "Moving forward with these projects is a terrible decision and Manitobans need to be worried that they are not in the best long-term interest of the province." 
Wouldn't it have been a refreshing change of pace if Chomiak had a sudden surge of integrity and actually made that second quote instead of the first?


The province has so far neglected to request a similar review of Bipole III, but Bipole III is directly related to the NFAT for the generating stations.

Here's how: The existing HVDC power lines are sufficient to carry the existing generating capacity to the south. If the review determines that there are better alternatives to the proposed generating stations, then Bipole III is not necessary either -- at least not strictly necessary. It would still provide redundancy in power delivery to the south. However the value of that redundancy will need to be weighed against the $4 billion cost of Bipole III.

Here's something else you should know: even if it's decided that a Bipole III line is required without new power dams up north, there is a huge cost impact. The original shorter east-side route for Bipole III would only require costly converters if the additional generating capacity is added. Otherwise they are not needed. This is stated in Hydro's own documents including the routing study and this leaked 2005 report. However, converters are required for the longer west side route just to function.

This means that if the NFAT finds that the additional generating capacity up north is not needed, and the government continues to insist on building the Bipole III route down the west side of the province instead of the east side, then Manitobans are not just getting pooched out of an additional $871 million (according to my calculations) but also an additional $2+ billion for converters. This makes the west-side Bipole III route a head-shaking $3 billion mistake.

But all is not grim. What once appeared to be fait accompli is now somewhat less so as more questions are raised and scrutiny is applied. For example in the past two weeks there have been 10 or more articles and editorials in the Winnipeg Free Press about reviews of Manitoba Hydro plans or concerns about those plans, including this one from a former Manitoba Hydro Vice-President.

And of course there is the needs for alternatives review. There is a good chance that it will find that the proposed new generating stations are not a good investment at this point in time in spite of the government's insistence to the contrary, especially considering the week export market alluded to in Hydro's quarterly report and the likelihood that final projects costs will be much higher than the current $13.3 billion estimate.

So you see, even as the government continues to commit to it's ill-advised plans, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Keeyask and Conawapa are not a sure thing anymore, and therefore Bipole III may not be a sure thing anymore either. Sanity may yet prevail.

Probably not.

But maybe.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Shindico sanity check

It's always good to get all sides of the story, and until now we didn't have Shindico's perspective on the Winnipeg Fire Hall Debacle. Finally, belatedly, we have heard from the company behind this mess in Bartley Kives' Freep article No closed-door deal: Shindico.


According to Shindico's Bob Downs, everything that happened was just a natural evolution of a perfectly legitimate deal. It was all very straight-forward and nobody did anything wrong. However I believe this view requires a bit of a sanity check:

Re. building fire hall no. 12 on Shindico-owned land:
Shindico suggested its own land on Taylor Avenue as the home for the new Station No. 12. "You build a building on land that doesn't belong to the city, because if you don't, it doesn't get built," said Downs
There may be some truth to this. The city may not own any suitable land in the area, but does it have to be built on Shindico land? Well Shindico certainly did own a crap-load of land in the area


... but this area south of River Heights is far from being fully developed. There certainly must be other suitable property available. What about, for instance, the still-vacant site at the south-west corner of Taylor and Waverly? A very accessible location assessed at only $378,000. Who owns that??



But let's assume for a moment that the most appropriate parcel of land was in fact owned by Shindico:
"Now we have land that we own, and we don't sell land."
To resolve this issue, the land swap was born.
 "We don't sell land " he says. "We" being Shindico Realty, a realty company. Maybe they more commonly develop land, but they certainly can and do sell land. At the end of the day they will end up selling this land to the city anyhow because if they don't it will get expropriated.

Re. the 3-for-1 land swap:
The original land swap involved only two properties -- Shindico's Taylor plot and a vacant parcel of city land at Mulvey Avenue East in Fort Rouge.
...
Douglas, however, came back and informed Shindico the police still required part of the Mulvey land for its river-patrol unit. So a chunk of this land was carved off. "I said, 'What do we do about the balance?' (Douglas) said, 'The only thing we have is the two stations that are being replaced,' ".
...
The eventual plan to trade Taylor for the Mulvey, Grosvenor and Berry properties was a compromise solution.
So we are told that originally it was going to be a straight swap between the Mulvey site, assessed at over $1 million, and the Taylor site assessed at less than half that amount*, but because the police required "a chunk" of the 4.2 acre Mulvey site, it evolved into a swap between the Mulvey site and the Berry fire hall site and the Grosvenor Ave site. Some kind of compromise that is.

In other words, "a chunk" of the Mulvey Avenue location -- perhaps 20% -- is equivalent to the infill properties on Berry St and Grosvenor Ave combined.  That math doesn't add up in my mind.


Why not just take Mulvey off the table and propose a swap of one or both of the other locations? Why add them on to Mulvey? Better yet, why not just propose to buy the land off Shindico to begin with?
"You have to understand the reason we wanted to swap the land is then we can make something out of the land. It benefits both the city and us," Downs said.
This itself is a preposterous statement. Swapping with Shindico isn't the only possible channel the city has for adding value to land. The Mulvey property had interested buyers. The city could sell the land and see the property tax roll go up as a result, and in a much more transparent way as well. It is very condescending of Downs to suggest, indirectly, that the city can't "make something out of the land" without handing over the land to Shindico.

Re. the Station 11 budget explosion
An initial 10,500-square-foot figure did not account for doors and corridors for personnel to move around ... The configuration had to be amended to satisfy concerns about traffic flow.
If this is true, then that adds a whole new layer of incompetence. Who's designing a fire hall without doors and hallways? Or if it was designed with doors and hallways, then who is estimating the cost of construction without them? His explanation still implies that somebody screwed up in a big way, and since Shindico was in charge of designing and building this thing that person is probably somebody within Shindico.

How do you account for the increase in square footage? Downs makes no reference to the proposed museum that Chief Douglas suggested was behind the size increase. Instead, the 3,500 sq ft. expansion is due to doors and corridors and dorm rooms. That's not believable.
"It was always our understanding, that whatever we agreed to was subject to council," he said. "So it wasn't being done behind closed doors."

Actually it was being done behind closed doors, but you were just leaving council to deal with the aftermath when the doors opened up and it was too late to change. Build first, check with council later.

Conclusion: I give this story by Shindico's Bob Downs two thumbs down. I find it to be unrealistic and contrived. A carefully crafted pile of crap. But that's just my opinion.


* Bart had reported that the Taylor land is assessed at $461,000. The city's assessment tool shows the plot of land at 1780 Taylor Ave assessed at $602,000 but the fire hall only takes up part of that parcel of land.

*****
Still waiting for that special pot?:
Why yes I am, actually.... Is this where I get it?

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

I was recently doing some business with Larsen's Memorials in Winnipeg when I noticed in the back of their shop a stack of brand new grave markers for WWII casualties. I inquired about them, and that's when I found out about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a remarkable organization, headquartered in the UK, that looks after the memory of all Commonwealth men and women who served and died in world wars I and II. They do this by maintaining the memorials of all the war dead, and in some cases the cemeteries in which they are buried.

The Commission abides by the following principles:

  • Each of the dead should be commemorated by name on the headstone or memorial
  • Headstones and memorials should be permanent
  • Headstones should be uniform
  • There should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed
The organization has a very good web site where you can search for war dead or cemeteries. The history is also relatively fascinating. Did you know Rudyard Kipling was recruited to consult on the inscriptions on the memorials? All the work is funded by 6 Commonwealth nations, of which the UK is by far the largest contributor. Canada contributes the second largest amount.

Source: http://www.cwgc.org

The uniformity required in the memorials must dictate that the granite is sourced from a specific location, but the work done to engrave the markers is done locally. The grave markers that I saw at Larsen's were part of a routine 10 year replacement program. That's what surprised me the most...

Imagine: every 10 years, every memorial for every Commonwealth casualty of the two great wars is replaced. That's 1.7 million memorials in 23,000 locations in 153 countries around the world. I find that to be absolutely astonishing. It's not something I had ever really thought about, but I guess I just assumed they were replaced on an as-needed basis.

It may even seem a little bit excessive, but on Remembrance Day as you're thinking back to all those who died for our country, you can rest assured that their names will live on ad infinitum on well maintained memorials.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Glen Murray's web page

Glen Murray, Toronto Centre MPP and former mayor of Winnipeg, announced today that he's running for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party in the wake of Dalton McGuinty's resignation.

We at the Peanut wish him luck in this new endeavor. He may very well make a decent Premier. I believe that had he stayed on longer as Winnipeg's mayor, we would be in a better place today than we currently are. He seemed like a credible guy and he had some vision, but unfortunately he didn't stick around to follow it through. Perhaps the higher office of leader of a provincial party / Premier will satisfy his ambitions.

Winning an election is about connecting with people, and to that end Murray is off to a bad start with his new web site: http://www.renewliberal.ca/.

The web site is terrible. His picture is blurry because it's a low-res photo blown up to a larger size; the logo looks like it was ripped off from Target; the website emphatically blinks every 10 seconds as it refreshes; but most of all the layout is awful.

The most common screen resolution of visitors to this blog, anybody-want-a-peanut.blogspot.ca, is 1280 x 800. This is what his web page looks like on that size of monitor:

Not only is the right side of the page cut off, even with a 1280 pixel wide screen, but all of the actual content of the web page is not visible. Even worse, on a traditional 1024 x 768 display you can't even see the DONATE and GET INVOLVED buttons. Literally all you see is the home page stamp in the top left corner and part of the giant banner.

That banner ... that banner is massive. Glen Murray's face alone consumes over 10% of the visible area on a 1024 x 768 display. If you've ever seen Glen in person you'll know that he does indeed have a big head. Physically. It's quite a large melon. However on a web site these are things you have control over.

Compounding the inefficiency of the web site is a vast amount of wasted space. A good web site will have a clean look and appear uncluttered, but this web site has gone to the extreme of making the welcome page almost entirely devoid of content.
To reiterate: the major problem here is that there is little to no actual content visible when a visitor arrives at the web page. The useful stuff -- Twitter feed, discussion links, news items, upcoming events, etc -- all occur 770 pixels down the page. When you add on the menu bar for the browser, the content starts at about 900 pixels. Perhaps as Premier, Glen will implement a government program to provide every computer user in Ontario with a giant monitor, but we can assume that today many people will be visiting this web site from laptops or desktops with modest monitors. If his visitors mirror those of this blog, 65% of them will not see a single link to any of the content mentioned above without scrolling down.

As for the content itself, I have to assume it will improve, but some initial thoughts are:

Twitter: this is NOT a Twitter feed from Glen Murray. It is a feed of tweets from Glen's RenewLiberal campaign twitter account, ensuring that nothing of interest will ever show up here. This ought to be a real-time feed of Glen's own tweets, and Glen should ensure that his tweets are not the usual boring drivel that most politicians are prone to. (More on my thoughts about this here.)

News: Here you will only find undescriptive links to policy statements by Glenn himself. These are not news items at all, and there is no information to grab the reader. Why not at least add a brief synopsis of the item? "Smart Government" is nothing more than a catch phrase. I'm not going to click on that. Sorry.

Upcoming Events: as of right now, the only event posted has already passed. Perhaps this should be renamed "Past Events" if they don't plan on being proactive with this.

Discussions: I'll cut him some slack on not having anything here yet, but it would have been a great idea to get a discussion ready for the launch of the web page. How likely am I to return if I see nothing there?

To summarize: I don't understand what they were thinking when they set this thing up. Premier hopeful Glen Murray will have a difficult time engaging voters if his web site is not the least bit engaging.

***
Glen's head actual web-site size:
warning: do not make this the last thing you see before you go to bed.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

A Halloween Story

"Nice shot."

"Thanks Sandy. Probably the longest putt I sank all day. Oh hey ... I've been meaning to tell you ... thanks for hooking me up with that ranch in Glendale. We're staying there this weekend. It's exactly what we were looking for."

"Anytime buddy. It's the least I could do. Hey you've got something on your neck there..."

"Do I? Where .. OUCH! SHIT! What the hell was that?"

"I don't know. It looked like a shiny red beetle of some kind. Never seen anything like it before."

"Ya, well the damn thing bit me. Hurt like hell."

*****

"Yes Carla?"

"Mr. Sheegl is here to see you Sir."

"Oh right. Yes, let him in."

"Sammmy! How have you been?"

"Fine, Sheegs. Well you know, this crap isn't going away. I can't believe this fire hall shit has so much traction. Maybe if I keep giving out keys to the city people will get distracted and forget about this mess before the next election."

"I can take the fall for you Sam. You know .. GAAAAAK. KAACK. Uhmm. Ah, sorry about that. Ya, anyhow, I was saying ... Sandy just hooked me up with a sweet ranch in Phoenix. I should be spending more time down there anyhow. You know, maybe it's time .. GAAAAAK."

"Don't even think about it, Sheegs. I got a sneak peak at the report. Douglas will take 90% of the hit, or at least we can spin it that way. You're fine buddy. I can't do this without you. You know that."

"When does the report come out?"

"It goes to the PCS and then council in two weeks."

"Alright well keep me posted. GAAAAAAAAAAK. GAAAAK. Uhh.

"Christ, dude. That's a nasty cough."

"Ya, I think I'm getting pneumonia or something. This climate up here doesn't agree with me. I'm telling ya Sammy, I need to move to the ranch. GAAAK.

*****

"Hi, I'm Maralee Caruso and the top story tonight continues to be the as yet unidentified illness that is sweeping across the nation. Experts from the GAAAAK. Excuse me. Experts from the Canadian Centre for Disease Control are focusing on Winnipeg as the epicenter of the outbreak, where the disease has killed dozens of people including CAO for the City of Winnipeg, Phil Sheegl. It gets worse for city hall: CTV has now learned that the mayor Sam Katz and every councillor except Harvey Smith has been hospitalized with the illness, leaving Smith in charge of the day to day administration of the city.

People are being advised to stay at home if at all possible, and avoid air travel. Health agencies in Europe and Asia are on high alert and have issued travel warnings for all parts of Canada; and South Korea has once again banned beef exports from Canada."

*****

As Harvey Smith sat and pondered the turn of fate that left him as the last person alive on earth, the emotions ran through him like prune juice: guilt, grief, anger, frustration. Why did it spare him, of all people? Why did it happen at all? The silence of the city around him drove daggers into his heart.

It was a beautiful early-summer day by appearances, as a pungent breeze tussled the curtains of Harvey's apartment, conducting an elaborate dance of sunshine across the hardwood floors. A shiny red beetle flew in with the breeze and landed on his side table.

"Odd looking bug." He thought to himself, before killing it with his cane.



=====================================================
Tune into 101.5 FM Wednesday October 31 at 5:30 pm for a spooktacular Winnipeg Internet Pundits.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Leaves. Damned leaves.

 
There is this giant maple tree behind my yard that always loses it's leaves after all the others. It's quite annoying. Some years it drops all it's leaves after it snows so I never do get a chance to rake them up, and I end up with a big mess in the spring including henna-like imprints of maple leaves on the patio for months afterwards.

That big maple is only a fraction of my lawn care woes. There is also a smaller maple, three ornamental maples, an apple tree and a birch tree, all either in my yard or directly adjacent to it.



There are plenty of leaves to rake up, but few bags to put them in. This is because we can't use plastic bags anymore with Winnipeg's new yard waste program, the Leaf It With Us depots are closed, and stores are largely sold out of the paper leaf bags because retailers were caught off guard by the new system. The city kindly provided free bags to home owners, but only two. That big maple -- my share of it -- would probably fill three times that many on its own. People around the city were left with piles of leaves and nowhere to put them. Some cleverly blew them onto the road with leaf blowers. There. Problem solved.

Fortunately for me I installed a new compost bin. Compost bins are awesome. You can pack the equivalent of THIS MANY bags into a composter. Throw all those leaves in, pack 'em down, throw more in, and more, and pack it down and throw more in. Just when you think you can't put more in, grab a shovel or snow pick and jab those suckers down and suddenly you can pack in another three bag's worth of leaves. The end result for me is that I was able to get by with only my two free paper leaf bags this fall, and I still have room in my bin for whatever leaves that big maple still has to drop.

It wasn't until I was live on the air last Wednesday on Winnipeg Internet Pundits that I came up with this belated idea: why didn't the city have a sale of compost bins prior to the fall? Every spring the city has a sale on compost bins and water barrels, but its only for one day and only in a handful of locations around the city. Accordingly it's a painful experience with excruciating line-ups. I've never understood these one day events. If you want people to have these things, why don't you make them available all the time so that people don't have to rearrange their schedules and waste hours of their time?

The folks at city hall knew well in advance that this new yard waste program was coming and that the old leaf depots were closing. Why not encourage people to buy compost bins? They could have provided subsidies for retailers or a rebate of some kind, or they could have set up special bin sales like the do in the spring, but for 4 or 5 weekends in a row. They don't have to be fancy-ass bins either. They could be something simple like this one.

It's too late now of course, but what do you want from me? Proactive solutions? Pfft. Much funner to criticize after the fact.

************* IMPORTANT MESSAGE *************

UMFM is raising money to keep the station on the air so that they can continue to provide unique radio shows, alternative music programs, and of course Winnipeg Internet Pundits. There are incentives for different levels of donations. See the UMFM Pledge-O-Rama page for more info, and call 204-474-6610 to donate.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Around this town - October 2012

 The Big Man Bob Cox has put figurative pen to paper in a recent blog post on the Free Press web site. He doesn't write half bad (aside from the one sentence per paragraph thing -- did somebody draw a period on the enter key of his key board?) Maybe he can pick up some of the slack from the laid off journalists and put out some concert reviews and web content.

Half a million Winnipeggers read newspapers

Half a million people read newspapers regularly in Winnipeg.Two out of every three Winnipeggers read the Winnipeg Free Press at least once a week.
...
The real numbers, complete with full-colour graphs, are in a survey made public this week by the National Audience Databank better known as NADbank. When you consider all newspapers, four out of five Canadians read a newspaper at least once a week either in print or online. In Winnipeg, 78 per cent read a printed paper weekly, making us the most prolific newspaper readers in the country.
"Dang .. if only we had known that before we laid off all those people. Oh well ... what's done is done..."

So what's up? Is the Free Press okay or not? Go to the quarterly report and scroll down to page 5 and look at the revenues. Add up 2010 and 2011. Revenues actually increased year over year! But .. look at the first two quarters of 2012 -- not so rosy. What's changed? The Metro. That's my bet. The humble little free daily paper has put a big bite in the Free Press ad revenue.

So what does this have to do with the"alt weekly" Uptown magazine getting axed and replaced by an existing paper insert? That, I'm not entirely sure. However, say goodbye to local content and hello to CD reviews from the Associated Press and entertainment pieces yanked from Slate.com.

******

Prior to the last provincial election I followed most of the major candidates on Twitter and regretted it immediately. If it wasn't required for my lucrative career as a blogger I would have instantly unfollowed them.

"Great day of campaigning in St.Boniface. #GoJetsGo"
"I'm in the front row of the Ukrainian pavilion at Folklorama! Mmmmm perogies!"
"I'm at the fall supper in Glenboro. Boy are the perogies ever good!"

Oh God, shoot me before I read any more of this drivel.

Remarkably I neglected to unfollow them after the election, probably because most of them stopped tweeting. However I need to give a shout out to Hugh McFadyen who, now that he's no longer a politician, re-emerged in the Twitterverse in August with a photo of Ron Swanson as his avatar and some actual substance in his tweets..
He's since ditched the Swanson picture, but might be worth a follow if you don't already.

Here's the thing though: why not actually share your thoughts on social media when you're a politician??  Yes, there is some risk, but I would argue that the bigger risk is leaving voters detached and bored. Put it out there. Give people a reason to relate to you or at least see that you're human!

Just watch the swearing...

******

We have a few returning Winnipeg-related blogs and/or bloggers.

David Jacks has revived what used to be the Banana Peel as the new Jacks of Diamonds. He's only a couple posts into the new project so we'll keep on eye on this one and see how it goes.

Arthur Mira (@H0PP on the twitter) has returned with the WpgNewsReview, minimalist in design but not in length of post. If I have a word of advice for Arthur it's to cut those posts down a wee bit. Trust me. A picture or two helps also.

Shaun Wheeler has recently returned from a three month self-imposed exile from the internet and produced a five-part blog super-post for blog action day (start with part 1 here). This seems to me a little like trying to bench press 200 lbs after not going to the gym all summer, but good on him for doing it.

I just couldn't get into blog action day this year. Theme: "The Power of We." What the hell? "We"??? We WHAT? Great, ya, we can get more stuff done if we work together, but I need more of a framework in my subject matter. Something with a little less holistic nebulosity. Something like: Blog Action Day: how to make a good omelette.
 ******

Finally, there is a new upstart Winnipeg internet forum out there: the uniquely name Winnipeg Forums.com. With only 8 total members they have a ways to go, but everybody has to start somewhere, right? Winnipeg Zoom is doing well as it approaches it's 1 year anniversary (and the Sandbox ... well ... it's still out there too.)

******

Ah heck, one last thing: Binders Full Of Women.

Oh Mitt ...

Monday, 15 October 2012

The countdown to Sammy o'clock

I'm surprised how little I've written about the trials and tribulations of Winnipeg's embattled mayor Sam Katz up to this point. I've been negligent in my duties.

I feel we've reached a tipping point in Mayor Sam's tenure. It used to be that little controversies would spring up, then fade away, and Sam's mayorship would continue no worse for wear. For example:

  • There was this thing about a tax break on a parking lot used by his baseball team, but that didn't seem important enough at the time to waste neurotransmitters on. 
  • There was a scandal about his baseball club not paying back shareholders of the Crocus investment fund after it went belly up because his wildly successful baseball club had apparently never made a profit. That seemed like a much more significant controversy, but was perhaps too complicated to capture the public's attention. 
  • There was a sale of a downtown parkade that seemed a little crooked, but not quite crooked enough to make a big deal out of.
  • There was a thing about Sam spending city money at his own restaurant. Terrible optics, but again not really big enough potatoes to make a scandal out of. 
There were little things here or there, but Sam with his Teflon sport coat managed to slip away from any major fallout each time.

Those days are over. The past month or so for Sam Katz has officially become a gong show.

The fire hall scandal that by now everybody in Winnipeg is familiar with has done nothing but gain steam, and with an external review of the whole deal yet to be conducted, we can be guaranteed to hear a lot more about it, some of which is likely to reflect very poorly on the mayor. Now, like any entertaining show, a spin off has developed. It seems that one of the new fire halls has gone way over budget as a result of a change order that nobody can explain.

Let's talk about that for a second. The original 10,500 square foot fire hall was expanded by 3,500 square feet at a cost of $2.3 million apparently to house a firefighting museum. This fire hall, in case you're not aware, is in a bit of green space encircled by a cloverleaf for the Route 90/Portage Avenue intersection. If somebody were to visit this museum, they would have to jay-walk across an off-ramp from one of the busiest streets in the city to another of the busiest streets in the city. (Best field trip evar!) Who came up with this idea? We don't even know! Somebody somewhere in City Hall (or maybe the fire chief for all we know) thought this was such a great idea that they signed off on the change order and said MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Now that the museum has proven to be a dumb idea, they're desperately looking for other things to stick in there to justify the expense. Haz mat unit? Decontamination unit? How about a wave pool? We can sell vouchers for the pool at $10 a person to make back some of the $2.3 million we wasted, except that we should give free vouchers to low income people to use, but not on weekends or holidays because those are high volume days for paying customers, plus we should build an overhead walkway to allow people to get to the wave pool safely, but that might cost another $1 million, or possibly $1.5 million if we put in a change order after the fact to add a heated and sheltered gallery of firetruck-related art work along the walkway.


So anyhow, as all this fire hall drama is happening, we find out that Sam bought a corporation from the CAO for the City of Winnipeg, raising a few more eyebrows, and then we find out that he bought a $1.5 million house in Arizona off the sister of a Shindico exec for TEN DOLLARS ... plus "other valuable consideration". If you're thinking that "other valuable consideration" entails millions of dollars in real estate business being funneled to Shindico, then you and I are on the same wavelength.

To make matters worse, old controversies are springing to life: The restaurant owner who was suing Sam for spending city money at his own restaurant is chirping again, Crocus fund stakeholders are smelling blood and starting to raise their voices against the weakened mayor, and previous real estate transactions will go under the microscope in the wake of this fire hall clusterfuck.

I don't see this blowing over. I am prepared to go on record and say that Sam Katz will not be mayor of Winnipeg in two years. Even the Jewish Post and News is calling for Katz to resign because he is an "embarrassment to us, as Jews".

He's back-pedaling as fast as he can, and will probably throw Sheegl and others under the bus to save himself, but it won't work. Last election people had a notion that Sam wasn't completely above board, but now people are certain that he's not. There is no bloody knife or smoking gun, but the circumstantial evidence is mounting. The only way he can survive this in my opinion is if the fire hall audit exonerates him, if murder rate drops dramatically next year and if a major head office moves to Winnipeg.

If you ask me, the mayor's luck has run out.



Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Boomtown Reston

Whaddya know .. CTV had a story about Reston Manitoba on the news today, about selling plots of land for $10. As chance would have it, I happened to be in that very same hamlet this past weekend.

CTV is certainly correct that Reston is experiencing a boom. A "boom" in Reston terms involves two duplexes being built as we speak, in addition to several other houses that were recently constructed or moved in as pre-fab units. This may not sound like much, but in relative terms, Reston's recent growth would be equivalent to 45,000 people moving into Winnipeg in one year.

With growth comes opportunity.

$10 in Reston might not get you as much as it does in Maricopa County Arizona, but it's still a pretty good deal. There may be potential for some big real estate gains there for an enterprising real estate speculator if the oil keeps flowing in that corner of the province. Be sure to read the fine print before pulling the trigger. You will need to actually build a house, and you might even have to live in it too.

If building a new house doesn't appeal to you, there are some other potential opportunities:

The Panda: Reston's requisite Chinese food restaurant The Panda is up for sale. If you want a captive market and don't mind a little cooking, this is for you. Your only competition is the Dennis County restaurant up the street. By the way, if you eat at Dennis County I recommend the hamburger steak. Avoid the chicken filet.

Beverage Room: Reston did have a bar, much like every other small town bar, but it burned down. The owner has not yet begun to rebuild due to an insurance dispute, and this leaves a wide opening for YOU. Oil workers pulling in 200 Gs need places to drink too, and right now Reston is not providing that. If you blow into town and build a new bar, you can capture some of that small town binge down magic.

Hotel: Since you're building a bar, you might as well build a decent place to stay while you're at it. There were a few rooms at what used to be the bar, but even if they're technically still open (and I'm not sure they are), you probably don't want to actually sleep there unless the spot under the bridge on the golf course is already occupied. Neighboring Pipestone doesn't have a hotel anymore. For visitors to the area, there's not much choice but to stay in Virden half an hour away.

Tim Hortons: Reston lies on highway 2 at that magical three hour mark from Winnipeg -- the point at which everybody in the car needs to take a whiz and refuel on coffee -- yet there is no coffee to be had along the highway. In fact from the Perimeter highway to the Saskatchewan border and beyond, you will not find a Timmy's anywhere. True, this highway is nowhere near as busy as the TransCanada, but there is also nowhere near as many places to stop. Thanks to a new card lock Co-op gas station, many more truckers are pulling off the highway at Reston than ever before. This, combined with passenger cars filled with under-caffeinated people filled pee, combined with locals who want a change of scenery, spells success!

****** UPDATE ******

The message is spreading. Yahoo! is now covering the story, so you had better hurry! I should also warn you that I'm getting quite a few google hits about this story.

See also Slurpees and Murder.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Kabul Orphanage Fundraiser

On Saturday, October 20, there is a Winnipeg fundraiser for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. 

The Kabul Orphanage Fundraiser hopes to raise awareness about human rights, the plight of Afghan women and children, and funds to support an orphanage. 100% of of the proceeds will support the cause.

 Anybody Want A Peanut has been proud to support Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan with their previous fundraising efforts, including the 1st and 2nd annual film festivals. This year they're going in a slightly different direction with an Afghan buffet, followed by a short play by Talia Pura, and only one film. This is probably a good change. While some of the movies or documentaries in the past have been very enjoyable or enlightening, a few were depressing and it made for a somewhat long evening. This year's event should be a little more like a Folklorama event.

Here is their web site and Facebook page. Tickets are available at McNally Robinson in Grant Park Mall. See you there?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Another independant coffee shop gone

The Gourmet Cup coffee shop in Portage Place mall is closing down this Friday. The coffee shop, located near the Edmonton Street entrance, used to have that corner of the mall to itself. Now, with Timmies to the left of it and Starbucks to the right, The Gourmet Cup is stuck in the middle of a corporate coffee juggernaut.

Although the competition certainly can't be helpful, the owner does not blame the competitors. His lease is coming up, and if he were to renew the lease he would be required to invest in capital improvements to the store, and it would simply take too long to make that money back. The customer base in the area is dwindling, and the mall isn't getting any busier. He is aware that IBM, which is attached to the mall via skywalk, is moving away, and apparently Manitoba Health workers are leaving the area as well. Regardless of what investments he makes in his store, "that doesn't change Portage Place" and it's grim future.

The owner is a friendly guy who jokes with the customers and adds a personal touch to the coffee buying experience. He thanked me for my support over the years, although I feel partly to blame. I used to go to his shop regularly prior to getting booted from my previous job, and though I am still a short walk away I find myself going to Starbucks far more often because that is where my new colleagues go. I guess that's my confession for the day. I kill small businesses.

The owner, being the nice guy that he is, doesn't blame me either. He just seems tired of grinding out a living in a declining market in a mall that has seen better days. He plans on taking a break for a while, but expects to start something up again somewhere else. "I have too much debt to retire", he joked.

Friday, September 28 will be his last day open. I encourage you readers to go down there and buy a coffee and a muffin or a bag of beans, and make his last day a good one.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Southside Golf Course Vandalized.

If you read the post title to mean that Dan Vandal had a killer round of golf, then I'm sorry to mislead you. What I mean is that the Southside Golf Course has been damaged by vandals.

Late Thursday night, fools in a GMC Sierra pickup truck drove on to the golf course and spun circles on four of the greens doing substantial damage. Holes 1, 7 and 8 all have damage on large portions of the greens, but they remain playable in parts. The green for hole number 3 is in very bad shape and cannot be used at all. A temporary green has been set up for players.




A GMC Sierra was seen on the golf course, and later was found burned out a few miles away. The torched truck turned out to be stolen, but the culprits have not yet been caught. I suppose joy riding a stolen vehicle on a golf course is safer than joy riding it on Portage Avenue, but the completely senseless destruction of private property is still very aggravating.

In some ways it's fortunate that this occurred late in the season. The man I spoke to at the club house ... I can't remember his name ... (I would suck so bad as a reporter) said that three of the four greens could be brought back to reasonable shape by next season. The green for hole 3, however, is more problematic. "We're looking at our options" he said.

The rest of the golf course is still in good condition, and green fees have been discounted by $6 to compensate for the damage.

Cherenkov reporting for Anybody Want A Peanut.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Free Press & unions

There are many things to say about the layoffs at the Winnipeg Free Press yesterday. I recommend you read Melissa Martin's personal thoughts on the matter (stay tuned for more from her) as well as Adam Wazny's. Also read John Dobbin. I have a few things to say of my own.

I understand the realities of the business, at least from a high level. It's no secret that the newspaper industry is struggling both to retain it's traditional readership, as well as in finding ways to capture revenue from the growing on-line readership. This challenge is illustrated in a now-ironic tweet last week from John White:



John White of course being one of those let go yesterday.

If the future of the industry is on-line, then the Free Press shot itself in the foot yesterday when it got rid of John as well as Lindsey Wiebe, their social media guru, and a web developer. They also let go of some of their younger and more promising journalists and writers including the aforementioned Melissa, a talented writer whose expressive writing sometimes seemed more appropriate for a glossy magazine than a black and white paper.


Why would the Free Press choose these people of all people? Well, they didn't. That's the short answer. They chose to lay off people from certain job classifications, but at that point the victims were defined by the union agreement that stipulates that the least senior must go first. I would say that seniority is an out-dated concept, but that implies that there was a time when it made sense. I'm not sure there was.

I give Aldo Santin, local president of the jouranlists' union (Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada), cudos for spending half an hour on Winnipeg Internet Pundits today to talk about the layoffs. He was questioned on the aspect of seniority, and he was adamant in his support of it. It's so ingrained in the union psyche that it's simply not up for debate. It should be.

Seniority provides a simple and unequivocal method of choosing winners and losers in a union environment. Some may perceive this as fairness because it's black and white. There is no personal judgement involved. It values longevity above all else.

This is terribly misguided, especially for a business that is in transition, but really for any business. Seniority is a poor proxy for quality of work. Years of service do not necessarily correspond to talent. Fair is not laying off those who are newest, but retaining those who add most to the organization, and have the greatest potential to lead the organization into the future.

From the business' point of view, the Free Press in this case, their potential for future success has been harmed as a result of this policy. This could have been an opportunity for renewal, in a way. They could have shed some high-paid old-timers, and retained the lower paid (presumably .. I don't know their salaries) staff with the fresh approaches to journalism. This cycle is good for a business. Instead the Freep got older and more stale, and has a higher average labour cost than before.

I'm not clear on why journalists and associated media workers need to be unionized to begin with. Santin spoke about how the union protects the workers, but tell that to the workers who got laid off yesterday. Unions don't prevent people from losing their jobs; they just ensure that job loses are not based on merit. They also add a burden to companies that need to be flexible in order to survive in an environment of dropping revenues.

I don't want to speak for the employees of the Free Press -- perhaps some or most of them appreciate being in the CEP -- but I feel it's damaging to the business; and I personally, as a reader of the Free Press, am not pleased with what transpired yesterday.

 
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