Tuesday, January 29, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Crocus CEO got sneek peek at prescient negative letter to Free Press editor

The editor of the Winnipeg Free Press provided at least one (unpublished) letter from readers critical of the Crocus Fund, directly to Crocus CEO Sherman Kreiner in Feb. 2003.

Then-editor Nicholas Hirst warned Kreiner “This letter become insidious if followed by others. It suggests there really is something wrong.”

The letter specifically alleged that the $10 Million cash infusion from the Solidarity Fund of Quebec (Fond) was “a short term loan with high interest rates (20%)” and questioned why Crocus called it an “investment” when it could be cashed in on demand.

Hirst explained his emailing the 'Letter to the Editor' to Kreiner, “as an example of one of the many letters we are receiving about your fund.” Saying he had already found it "difficult to keep such letters out of the newspaper”, Hirst admonished Kreiner “I was not being light”.

“Part of our job is to provide balance,” reminded Hirst, concluding “the only way to combat it is to continuously reply with facts.”

At the same time, the same letter writer wrote a similar email to opposition leaders in the Manitoba Legislature that was acquired by CBC.

When reporter Krista Erickson asked Crocus about the reasons for the deal with the Fond , Kreiner wrote back , “As for the inference to liquidity raised by ...., it is simply false.”

However documents before the court include the letter to the Fond requesting the money, dated August 1, 2002. The first reason Kreiner listed was “We presently face a short term liquidity challenge”.

Kreiner then listed “several causes for this problem”, and first cited lower net sales in 2002 than projected. He blamed this shortfall on “a malicious and false attack on our fund by the Finance Critic for the Conservative Party opposition just two weeks before the end of RRSP season. This became a front page story."

"In the end we were vindicated.", Kreiner assured Fond president and CEO Pierre Genest. He detailed the apology and political repercussions suffered by the Opposition, but added “the damage had been done and our sales were affected”.

In that letter, Kreiner vowed to repay the $10 million plus 7 % interest after 18 months, "even if the consequences of the redemption would place us offside our regulatory requirements regarding Reserve Funds" - in other words even if the Crocus Fund broke the law to do so.(In fact, Crocus eventually committed to pay 10% interest, not 7%, to get the "investment".)

After Kreiner misled Erickson, the next week Crocus Vice President Bob Jones emailed her, demanding to know which opposition member gave her the email critical of the Fond loan.

Jones never answered any of her questions about the financial details of the Fond deal, choosing instead to launch a personal attack on the complainant, reminded Erickson how Crocus silenced critics the year before, and changed the subject to whether Erickson was planning a similar investigation of rival labour fund Ensis.

The Great Canadian Talk Show will continue to go through the documents and report the behind-the-scenes-details the mainstream media has not.



Sunday, January 27, 2008

City's Huge New Bylaw Not So Super

There is nothing wrong with the Super By-Law; in fact it’s a great idea. Consolidate some smaller bylaws into a big by-law; it’s a fantastic idea. Also hiring people to enforce the by-laws are great too. I have no problems with the concept.

What I do have a problem with is the fanfare about this by-law enforcement team, and the Neighborhood Livability by-law. Now if anyone had the patience to read the EPC report about the by-law, they would have found they are consolidating some 17 by-laws, but also changing some of them. This should have been a major part of the story that I should have focused upon, but I didn’t catch it right away.

"A slight change has been made to building address provisions to address the reality that big-box retail complexes cannot realistically post street addresses on their buildings that are large enough to be seen from the street. In these situations, the new provision requires street addresses to be posted both on the building and on signs that are visible from the street."

Now, why are we changing our laws to better serve big-box stores?
I thought we were trying to bring small business back to downtown Winnipeg. Changing this law, however minor, plays against this whole downtown re-vitalization. In fact, this helps promote suburban sprawl, and that kills downtown. This also spits in the faces of all those small business that have been playing by the rules, and goes to show you that if you have money, some laws can be avoided. Now I have asked the city of Winnipeg if any big box stores have been fined the hefty $5000.00 fine for not complying with the existing law. I have not received a response yet, but when I do you will know.

"Previously, the Winnipeg Heating By-law required that workspaces in commercial and industrial buildings must be maintained at 68.0 F until 11:00 p.m. but only to 60.0 F during the night. It did not address the situation where a workspace is occupied all night long. The new By-law requires heating to 68.0 F whenever employees are required to be in the workspace but permits a lower temperature when workers are not in the space"

This change caught me as odd. Not only do I think this would fall under some Human Resource Canada thing or Provincial Employment Standards thing, but I find it odd that they don’t state the temperature in Celsius. I know this is nit-picking but I did find it interesting.

"The definition of fence has been amended to require that a fence must be embedded. This will prevent property owners and occupants from seeking to evade the property standards by claiming that their junk is really a "fence"."

I think at least 3 of the by-laws before consolidation dealt with the standard of fences. Three. Let’s hope this time they finally got it right. It would have been funny to see when this was first pulled on some inspector: "Ohhh noo. That pile of Lucky cans is a fencepost."

Now as for the bylaw enforcement team itself, it’s great that we are getting one, spot on. But again when you start looking, and I mean really looking into the details, that’s when you notice something is off. Like the $375,000 one-time payment that every time the EPC report brings up this sum of money, it states right behind it that it is a one-time payment. (Winnipeg Free Press, I’m looking at you when I say this).
And then there’s this statement:

"Community By-law Enforcement Services Unit will be implemented in two phases. In the first Phase, the Community By-law Enforcement Services Unit will become operational by November 1, 2008 and will enforce the new Neighbourhood Liveability By-law, subject to Council approval, in addition to thirteen other existing by-laws (see Appendix 2).
A 10-month implementation phase is required to harmonize the staff, review issues relating to human resources, develop work flow methods, develop new forms, develop policy on enforcement methods, train staff, determine, modify and acquire technology / communication systems.
Phase 2 will be implemented by March 31, 2009 and involves the integration of resources, development of by-law support programs, cross-training of staff, and development of performance reporting measurements."

So not only do we have the enforcement team not coming together until November of this year, but they aren’t going to be doing anything until March 31 of 2009. April Fools, Winnipeg !

So as the political gears slowly crank out a new bureaucracy, your asshole neighbor can continue to use his old burned out flat bed truck that his son stole and lit on fire in a botched insurance scam as his own personal dump. Not only that but he can continue let his grass grow as much as he wants letting it turn into the perfect breeding ground for ticks, and mosquitoes.

My suggestion to you is grab a Half Pints and go inside and watch as many CFL games as you can this summer, because you won’t be able to enjoy your back yard living next to that mess, and still not having anyone who will do anything about it. Just think of all your tax dollars that are going into this, and the lack of service you get for a one-time payment of $375,000.

You can find all the quotes here.

Just go to the "Consolidation of Existing Neighbourhood Liveability By-laws" and the "Consolidation of Responsibility for By-law Enforcement" sections.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Five Arrested In Radocaj Murder

On Wednesday Jan. 23, RCMP announced the arrest of 3 men in the killing of Ivan / John Radocaj in his home in Inwood in September. They are:

Donald Richard 31, Daniel Richard, 22, and Timothy Richard, 20, charged with first degree murder.

On Friday 2 more arrests were made.

Melody Lynn Sanford, 43, the estranged wife of Radocaj, has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Rita Louise Cushnie, 53, is charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Cushnie is the mother of Donald Richard, and is a friend of Sanford, Sgt. Line Karpish said Friday.

John Radocaj, as Ivan "The Croation Giant", was a Winnipeg pro wrestler for New Brand Wrestling from 1982-84, wrestled briefly in the Maritimes, and as "Big John" was the first MMA champion in Manitoba in 1985 winning the North American Sumo-Style Championships.



Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How To Contact Your City Councillor and Mayor Katz

On The Great Canadian Talk Show, we reflect upon accountability at City Hall. Mostly, we talk about how our votes hold city councillors accountable for their actions. But you can help hold your councillors accountable more than once every four years.

By calling and e-mailing your councillor directly, you can make sure they hear your concerns, and answer your questions.

Below, we’ve posted the office phone number and e-mail address of each city councillor by their wards, as well as those of Mayor Sam Katz.

Call and e-mail your councillors. It’s their job to listen to you.


Mayor's Office
Sam Katz

North Kildonan
Jeff Browaty

Bill Clement

Scott Fielding

Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry
Jenny Gerbasi

Harry Lazarenko

River Heights-Fort Garry
Brenda Leipsic

St. Charles
Grant Nordman

Old Kildonan
Mike O'Shaughnessy

Point Douglas
Mike Pagtakhan

Daniel McIntyre
Harvey Smith

St. Vital
Gord Steeves

St. Norbert
Justin Swandel

Elmwood-East Kildonan
Lillian Thomas

St. Boniface
Dan Vandal

Russ Wyatt

Monday, January 21, 2008

Week In Review: CTV picked up our Maloway spending story

When Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin called for the move of the CP Rail yards, we saw the Free Press get three days’ worth of stories out of one (not to mention the CBC and their single-source offering). Martin's idea came out of nowhere but got him the headlines he thrives on. Another good question is why some columnists say Martin has 'vision' and other leaders don't, conveniently ignoring the dumpfest Hugh McFadyen had to endure from the media when he floated his South Point Douglas redevelopment ideas in the provincial election. Maybe it all depends if the ideas come from the political left or the right...

City Hall’s call for a downtown water park continues to get considerable coverage, although nobody but TGCTS is asking: Why did the city pull $7 million out of a Kildonan Park redevelopment to fund a water park outside the North End?

We had morning host Broose sit in with us on Thursday for a 30-minute interview with Marc Emery of Cannibus Culture. Marc has sold marijuana seeds in Canada and the US for over ten years, with tacit government approval, and yet the US Government wanted him extradited for drug trafficking. Marc is going on a 60-day tour before he turns himself in after a plea bargain, and we’ll be sure to have him on the show when he comes into Winnipeg in March.

James O’Connor, managing editor for the Brandon Sun, was our co-host for a blockbuster of a show on Friday. He jumped into the fray when CTV’s Kevin Armstrong followed up on a lead from TGCTS, and laid out MLA Jim Maloway’s misadventures with constituency allowance money! Not easy to spend $45,000 plus without an actual office or phone number for the people of Elmwood to visit or call, but the real trick was to file $500 of "Campaign" expenses and get away with it. Still silent on the scandal - the Free Press and every other media outlet. Kudos to CTV.

Coming up next week, Scott Taylor on Monday to talk about Manitoba Score Magazine, Kelly Dehn of CTV on Wednesday, and Councillor Gord Steeves will join us on Friday!

We’ll catch up on CANALERT with Spirited Kenny, I'll be tracking down information on Scott Fielding’s quest for security cameras for high-crime areas, and much, much more!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Our Five-Point Plan for the Vacant and Derelict Buildings Bylaw

It's no secret that Winnipeg has a lot of vacant and derelict buildings. It's no secret to the families living next to these places that they're common targets for arson and vandalism, when they're not already home to organized criminals.

And thanks to our grandstanding council members, it's no secret that Winnipeg's Vacant and Derelict Buildings Bylaw (no. 35/2004 if you want to look it up) is supposed to be one of the most cutting-edge property laws on the continent, designed specifically to get rid of vacant and derelict buildings.

But it can hardly be cutting-edge if the city doesn't have the guts to use it correctly, now can it?

I'm Young Josh, and I've spent the past three months looking into the Vacant and Derelict Buildings Bylaw; what it does, how well it works, and how the city uses it. You've heard me talking about the Bylaw with Marty on The Great Canadian Talk Show, and if you've tuned in over the last two weeks, you've heard me lay out a Five-Point Plan for city councilors and administration to get more use out of this "cutting-edge property law", and help make sure our city isn't home to more arson, more vandals, more criminals, and more danger.

I'll be laying out that Five-Point Plan below, but first, I'd like to comment on precisely how disheartening this has been.

I vote in civic elections with the expectation that people in the running will put some real effort into making Winnipeg a better place. After a little digging into one bylaw, I have officially been
"given the run-around", as Marty puts it. I've spoken to three departments and over a dozen people, I've had one contact receive a memo specifically telling them not to answer my questions, I've had two requests for information outright ignored, and I've had PR themselves tell me they've sent information when I haven't received a thing. I did not vote for these people in order to have information hid from me when I, and TGCTS listeners, needed it.


So: here, posted on the Internet for posterity, is our
Five-Point Plan for the Vacant and Derelict Buildings Bylaw, as presented on The Great Canadian Talk Show.

5. Increase the penalties for not complying.

As it stands, the minimum penalty for a first offense is $500. It's $1,000 for the second offense, and $2,000 for a third.
This is absolute pocket change for many property owners, and it would be no problem for them -- or for members of the criminal element -- to pay off the penalty and keep right on going. In order for the Bylaw to work, it has to deter property owners from letting their properties become derelict. If another zero is added to each penalty, making it $5,000, $10,000, and $20,000, we might have something that does what it's supposed to.

4. Expedite the process.

It takes three months for the city to identify a property as vacant or derelict and take title to it. Once the city has the title for a property,
it takes another fifteen months -- that's 450 days -- for them to put it to use. This is ridiculous. Expedite the process by cutting down the periods for appeal, and this can easily be brought down to six months at the most.

3. Attract investors and developers.

There are 12 properties that the city can take title to
right now, under the Bylaw, and start the 15-month process of doing something with it. If we had business investors and property developers interested in making use of these properties, that process would fly by quickly, and the crackhouses and fire-traps could start to vanish from our streets. The councilors need to use the bylaw to sensationalize property development, instead of sensationalizing themselves (more on that later), in order to do something with it.

2. Add more inspectors.

Right now, the city has two inspectors, each with their crews, working to enforce this Bylaw.

Marty and I did the math for this on the show: each crew, if they inspected two houses every business day, could clear out 500 houses a year. Instead, the city takes care of 260 at the most, and we're left with a waiting list of 880 houses --
some of which have been there since 1999 -- clogging up Winnipeg streets.

1. Use the bylaw to get rid of vacant and derelict buildings, instead of using it to look like you're accomplishing something.

The 2007 amendment to this Bylaw had some major media coverage, mostly of councilors patting themselves on the back. Most of this amendment involves fixing spelling mistakes and adding minor penalties. Not exactly a major accomplishment.

But that's not all. One employee of the city told me, on the record, that the administration's actual goal with the Vacant and Derelict Buildings Bylaw is not to get rid of vacant and derelict buildings. Instead,
they just want to make sure that these buildings are kept clean and up to standards. You'll never hear the city tell you a fact like that in a press release! This "goal" is what I'm referring to when I say the city doesn't have the guts to use the Bylaw correctly.


That's our Five-Point Plan. I look forward to seeing some progress with the Vacant and Derelict Buildings Bylaw in 2008, and maybe seeing a few more houses drop off that waiting list. Send feedback to talk@kick.fm!

In the meantime, I've got a few other stories in the works with Marty for January, including one that could have me taking a walk down Magnus Avenue and seeing just what the community's doing to rescue their streets. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

CanAlert, 10 years later: Governments dawdle while Canadians left in peril

The CanAlert low down
by Spirited Kenny
(A Great Canadian Talk Show Exclusive News Story; original published at http://spiritedkenny.blogspot.com/2008/01/canalert-low-down.html

Why is CanAlert a big deal, and why do I keep beating it like a long dead horse?

For one beating a dead horse is so much fun and two because it is common senses to have a public warning system to alert every one of incoming dangers. We keep bringing it up and giving everyone bits and pieces about it. So I figured I would give a 2007-year end fact sheet about the program, the concept, the strategy, and the debacle that is CanAlert.

* Industry Canada was given the CanAlert project in 1995, but was then made into a joint project with Public safety taking the lead in 2002. It was finally made a priority in 2005 between the federal and provincial governments, then again in 2007. No budget has ever been given for CanAlert.

When I tried to contract the (federal) public safety critic about CanAlert the critic didn’t even know the project was a public safety project.

When we first looked into CanAlert (Ed. note: in conjunction with our coverage of the anniversary of the Gull Lake killer tornado) Manitoba wasn’t planning on implementing any warning system until the federal government acted.

That’s when alarm bells sounded because the federal government planned to do nothing until 2009 while it wait for broadcasters to voluntarily change their licenses with the CRTC so that they could legally interrupt their broadcasts to alert the public, another two year of inactivate were the people of Manitoba are nothing more then sitting geese with blindfolds on.

After that the Feds would only act as a leader and not to dictate what the provinces and territories did, it was also brought up that the provinces and territories have the final say.

* Currently there is no standardized message,
- no set of rules of if and when the system would be activated,
- who it would be activated by,
- how these people would be trained,
- who would trained these people,
- how many people will needed,

This is all still being discussed.

CanAlert has been described to me as
- a "project",
- a "concept", and recently as
- a "national strategy".

* There seems to be confusion between the differently levels and regions of government about the status of CanAlert.

I have been told that it

- has been cancelled,
- (is) still being pursued, and that
- the "CanAlert Strategy" was never adopted and other strategies are being looked at.

When all the provinces and territories (except for Nunavut) was asked about their current warning system and what they had planned for in the future, only BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories replied.

It is refreshing to hear that Manitoba is no longer waiting for the feds the get it in gear anymore and has formed a group co-chaired by Manitoba EMO and association of Manitoba Municipalities that should have sent recommendations to improve emergency preparedness to Minister Ashton in December.

* SO where do we stand now?

Well, we have seen more movement on emergency warning systems in the past six months since I started working on this story than in the past ten years.

1) It my opinion that CanAlert is a huge project and shouldn’t be handled by elected officials.

The elections of new provincial, territorial, and federal governments are staggered in such a way that there is at least a new person coming to the table every year. This person or people need to play catch up and may have a whole new set of issues to bring up that need to be dealt with first, before movement can happen.

2) If the provinces and territories have the final say, why is the federal government so entrenched ? At the very most they should just encourage and help fund provincial and territorial approved warning systems, help with some cross border issues within Canada and internationally, and ensure there is a consistent minimum level of warning across Canada.

3) It pretty obvious that *** if it's taken more then ten years for nothing to happen, something needs to change ***.

That change may have occurred already, some provincial governments are now setting out on their own to build a warning systems, playing catch up to Alberta that has had a weather warning system in place for years.

4) One of the things Manitoba is looking in to is something called a reverse 911 system, the theory is a official would be able to phone everyone in a certain region at the same time and relay to them the warning, hopefully it would be landlines and cell phone based.

But words and reviews and committees don’t save lives.

5) Right now in Manitoba we have a couple of different warning systems, Pinawa’s community access channel broadcasts emergency information, and Manitoba broadcasters have an agreement to relay unedited emergency information provided by EMO. There is also Environment Canada and weatheradio.

Is this enough? The simple answer is no.

6) It’s the 3 AM questions that I’m stuck on.

Its 3 AM, you're asleep in your bed and there is a freak hail and lightening storm with gale force winds heading in from the south. How are you warned.

The systems we have now are based on you pulling, or actively looking for the warnings.

Warning systems should be a push information system, something that wakes you up, or makes you stop what you are doing and lets you know what is currently happening, where it is coming from, where experts predict it will be going, along with updating you it should also inform you what you can do to be safe.

There is also a certain level of personally responsible to, have emergency preparedness kits with lots of clean water and food that won’t turn on you, a radio and batteries, winter clothing, flash lights, a cell phone and a way to charge it wouldn’t hurt, and of course most , a family plan of what do to when you hear an alarm.


This is one of several news stories researched and delivered by student and volunteer interns who handle technical production and newsgathering for The Great Canadian Talk Show every weekday. Many are Red River College students or listeners of the show. Their storeis on other issues have also covered public safety concerns borne of regulatory inaction or failure.

No other news outlet or reporter in Canada has examined the slightest detail of the Canalert failure. Our exclusive November on-air interview with Stephen Fletcher MP, about CanAlert and his reaction to the scientific study that indicated his own riding was most at risk from an F-5 disaster, will be posted shortly.

Congratulations to Kenny who has scored his first 'scoop', and will continue his investigation in 2008.