Archive for May, 2011

In the aftermath

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

With all the flooding problems that have come upon us this year in Manitoba, there will undoubtedly be some hand wringing about what to do. Much of the flooding can be blamed on illegal on-farm drainage. Now before farmers get too upset with that statement, just relax a bit and look at what’s really happening.
Land prices are going up as they have almost always done. As land becomes more expensive, there is more incentive to drain land and get it into production. There’s a business principle at work here. More land equals more grain equals more dollars per owned acre. If a farmer drains his wet land, he gets more acres for the same  taxes and capital investment in land. Nobody can blame a farmer for draining land.
Now some get way too aggressive with draining land and with clearing trees for that matter
So what needs to be done?
Farmers need to keep more water for longer on their land, plain and simple. But who is going to compensate them for retaining tens, hundreds or even thousands of acres of water. If the public benefits from water storage and retention in ponds, lakes and marshes then the public needs to pay some compensation to farmer to do just that.
Now getting back to the illegal drainage part. Draining of land is not supposed to be done unless a farmer has  a permit. Getting a permit can take years. There aren’t enough inspectors, nor will there ever be enough, so the whole permit system is a farce. Instead farmers should be paid compensation on an application basis to store water. Approving water retention works would be a lot easier than trying to regulate drainage
Now for some local history on water retention structures. In 1971, I came to Neepawa to work as an assistant ag-rep under Allen Nebbs. Nebbs, as well as his predecessor, Wallace Lee, was a big push behind the formation of the Whitemud Watershed Conservation District, the first in Manitoba. On the municipal side, and also instrumental in that push, were Dori Bjarnarson, reeve of the RM of Westbourne, Doug Forman, reeve of the RM of Lansdowne and Lloyd Briese, reeve of the RM of Langford. Stu Briese, our local Ste. Rose area MLA is Lloyd Briese’s son
Nebbs in the late 60s or early 70s compiled a list of potential stock watering dams from Eden and Glenella to Woodside and Westbourne in response to the PFRA Stock Watering Dam program. There were over 60 sites, if my memory serves me correctly, and every one was turned down as unsuitable. Why? I’m not sure but I suspect it was a combination of  a lack of money and a sense of bureaucratic territorialism as Nebbs was a Manitoba civil servant and of course, PFRA is federal.
Had the whole of western Canada followed Nebb’s visionary move, we would have a lot less flooding.
One could ask how a province, as broke as Manitoba is by being in an annual $500 million deficit, could afford this.
There’s simple connection. Water retention is at least in part done in Manitoba to stabilize and extend the flow of water to feed our Hydro dams. The province could step back from the incredibly stupid plan to build a west side Bi-Pole III  hydro line at a cost of an extra billion and a half dollars and use that money to set up the best possible flood protection and water retention system known to mankind.
That would be too simple. It would never do to go back to the vision of an ag-rep and three municipal reeves from the 1970s. That just make too much sense.
And another bit of Manitoba history. The Whitemud River Watershed Conservation District, being the first in Manitoba, had its roots in the work of the government of Liberal premier D.L Campbell and Progressive Conservative premiers, Duff Roblin and Walter Weir (of Minnedosa). The WWCD was launched in 1972 under new NDP government of Ed Schreyer. Four premiers and three parties all had a hand in it. Although years too long in the making, WWCD was, and is, still a good idea no matter what party is involved. It was perhaps a bad omen for rural Manitoba when the WWCD inaugural celebration banquet was held in Neepawa’s Yellowhead Centre. Guest speaker was NDP cabinet minister Len Evans, Minister of Mines and Natural Resources. Evans arrived late, spoke quickly, almost impatiently, from a short, civil service prepared, text and took off for Winnipeg as fast as he could. Didn’t even stay for supper. I remember him saying he “had to leave early for another commitment”. It was just like he didn’t seem to get the significance of what was happening.
It’s always been tough for rural Manitoba to get the sustained attention of provincial politicians.

Hypocrisy reigns in Manitoba

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Hockey fans in and around Winnipeg are getting lathered up about the prospect of yet another version of the Winnipeg Jets coming back. It’s been 15 years since NHL hockey was played in Winnipeg and hockey fans have become somewhat content with the Manitoba Moose, an AHL team.
But recent murmuring about bringing the former Jets team, the Phoenix Coyotes, back to Winnipeg had hockey fans getting their hopes up. Those hopes were  no sooner dashed than talk of the Atlanta Thrashers coming to Winnipeg emerged.

This topic is near and dear to my heart, not because I particularly want the Jets back in Winnipeg, but because of some political history that I, in a small way participated in. Having the Jets back would be nice. I think so now and I thought so back in 2007 when during the provincial election, PC Manitoba leader Hugh McFadyen came out in favour of bringing back the Jets. I, and my wife Christine, were both candidates in that election and attended the announcement by McFadyen. Many people thought the campaign took a decided downturn after that announcement even though polling showed that things weren’t going all that well for our party, especially in the City of Winnipeg, even before the announcement. 

One can argue all they want about how the announcement was handled and how the media dumped on McFadyen, and on Tories in general, but the idea is still a pretty good idea. I remember gathering for the announcement and riding the bus down to the MTS Centre. Just as we entered the arena, we were told by the PC election media type people what the announcement would be. I remember stopping right in my tracks and asking the media lady, “How much public money is involved in this?” I was assured there would be none. Well and good, I could go along with that and still could today.

So the recent news that Atlanta might be coming to Winnipeg is still an okay idea but it had better not involve public money. On Wednesday, the news leaked out that millionaire businessmen Mark Chipman and David Thomson may be applying for some help from the province. If that turns out to be true, I can’t go along with it and will fight it tooth and nail.

Here’s some basic reasons public support should not be going to a hockey team.

Manitoba is in debt, deeply in debt.

Manitoba is going deeper into debt to the tune of half a billion a year.

The 2011 flood repair and compensation costs are going to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, money the province didn’t budget for and couldn’t really have budgeted for.

There are probably 50 communities in Manitoba that don’t have clean drinking water.

Every community has a huge infrastructure problem.

There’s five basic reasons that the Province of Manitoba should never back a hockey team or arena.

There’s a whole list of other things that shouldn’t have been backed when the above reasons against them are still looming large in our province. The list includes a stadium and a human rights museum but what is done is done and we can’t go back now.

But we can avoid future mistakes.

I personally would find it hard to blame aboriginal people if they responded with blockades or even violence if we don’t get off our butt and do something about clean drinking water and adequate housing.

There’s a whole range of things that can and should be done to help communities, but financing an arena or a hockey team isn’t one of them. We could send in the army and set up water purification units. The army does it overseas in times of disaster, why not do it here for our own people and keep our military teams practiced up. We could teach people how to run water treatment facilities and create a bit of employment. We could do more in housing.

We could axe the Indian Act. It’s the one good thing Trudeau and Chretien wanted to do but didn’t get it done. Aboriginals could actually have self government like the rest of us do if we axed the Indian Act.
If in fact the province actually puts money into the MTS Centre to finance a hockey team, I will be very, very angry. Angry because it’s not right and angry because the NDP and much of their media flunkies ridiculed McFadyen’s Jets plan.

Some say there’s hypocrisy in the Christian church. I say there’s a lot more in government. The NDP are lying through their teeth when they say they want to help poor people and aboriginal people and then they pour money into rich white guys’ schemes, toys and hobbies. Hypocrisy indeed!

Learning from history

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Manitobans are still here after centuries of setbacks. Aboriginal and archeological history tells us that their lifestyle was pretty much nomadic. Not too many stories of large villages and longhouses and permanent settlements. One of the reasons that Manitoba’s aboriginals moved around so much is the climate and the geography were both pretty much unpredictable. If floods didn’t come, droughts did and sometimes in the same year. If the buffalo came wandering by where they did last year, all was well and good but there was no guarantee the buffalo or caribou or anythng else would, so mankind of centuries ago had to be pretty mobile.
By 1812, a few Scottish people thought they should put down roots at the Forks at Red River. Not a really good plan as in the early 1820s, they were wiped out by a flood. By then, some had survived very cold winters, very dry summers, grasshopper plagues and a number of other annoyances. As I have said before in this space, the largest flood in recorded history left the Red River Valley covered with water. Only the hill at Stony Mountain was left sticking out of the lake.
Manitobans still have to be somewhat mobile and that fact is being proven this year as thousands of people are having to evacuate their homes, farms, livestock and possessions in the face of huge flooding. The 1950 flood spurred the building of the Red River Floodway, Duff’s Ditch, named after premier Duff Roblin whose government built it. Then followed flood control structures like the Shellmouth Dam and the Portage Diversion, two major examples of engineering. Along with that came the smaller man-made lakes like Lake Irwin at Neepawa, Lake Watohpanah at Rivers and Lake Minnewasta at Morden.
There’s a recurring theme with all these structures. They were supposed to solve a big problem and in many instances they did. The praises of these works were sung and, based on the information they had at the time, it was good to do so. But the Red River Floodway didn’t solve the problem forever as the upgrades needed a few years ago proved. The Shellmouth Dam, instead of becoming a revolving storage basin, hasn’t always worked that way. The Lake Irwin basin was supposed to take two to three years to fill up. Engineers were so confident of that, they left brush and debris in the basin thinking they’d have a summer or two to clean it up. The lake filled up in well under a year.
The recurring theme is that no matter how good the “engineered works” were, it didn’t totally solve the problem especially when conditions changed for the worse.
And that brings us to 2011. Manitobans are still having to be resilient and mobile as flood waters are surprising everyone as to volume and depth. The engineering works and data have fallen short.
When all the flood waters have passed and all the damages totalled up and hopefully everyone safe and compensated, there will need to be a time of serious reflection. We will all need to review this epic flood and figure out what must be done to avoid the problems and mistakes of this year’s disaster. 
In the meantime, we all need to hope, pray and help where we can. 

A clear question and a clear decision

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Last week, The Banner called for a majority Conservative government. Later in the week, that same call came out from the Winnipeg Free Press, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Sun. Newspapers should take a political stand, but unlike the larger papers mentioned above, it’s the Banner publisher personally who takes the stand. The other papers hide the editorial writer behind an anonymous mask and, if necessary, individuals can wiggle away from the stand. In The Banner’s case, it’s my stand and mine alone, all staff are welcome to have their own opinion and they certainly do.
In his victory speech on Monday night, Prime Minister Harper said it one more time, “A strong, stable majority government.”
For the first time in over 60 years, the Canadian political field is clearly divided. It’s about time. The Liberal Party of Canada has muddied the water for so long that it’s refreshing to see two parties lined up and having a debate about the real issues. A debate about what they believe in and how they plan to accomplish it. Two generations of Canadians haven’t had that privilege, as the less than principled Liberal party has danced back and forth across the imaginary centre line of Canadian politics. Deciding what a Liberal stands for, except to get re-elected, has been a  ongoing puzzle.
In the book Laurier by Joseph Schull  published in 1965, Wilfred Laurier is reported to have said, “To my mind….the only way to defend our ideas and our principles is to make them known.” Wise words Sir Wilfred. It’s wisdom that should be adopted by every politician and to NDP leader Jack Layton’s credit, he told people what he believed in. A large number of voters believed him and accompanied by those who were simply sick of the Bloc Quebecois and who couldn’t follow the Conservatives, the voters gave him over 100 seats. The best total ever for the NDP by over double the previous records.
Clearly defined policies will win elections if given a chance. In Canada, we have been wagged around by the mainstream media tail for a long time. The media will say, “You can’t say this or you can’t say that, that’s not politically correct, or that’s not a wise thing to say.” The media doesn’t and shouldn’t run the country. Just go through the list of candidates. Media should report what is said and let the voter decide (each reporter really has only one vote). Guess what, the electors looked after that. Some got wiped out, but some won by huge majorities. How dare the media tell a candidate, “You can’t say that,” when the electorate turns around and elects or re-elects a candidate by huge majorities. The voters, given clear choices, will make clear choices.
And they have in the 2011 election. Harper will theoretically have four years of majority government. He can do whatever he wants, but he will be tempered by two clear restraints. One, Harper will be surrounded by people who want to get re-elected even if he doesn’t want to run in another election. Second, Harper will want to leave a legacy of something more than a burned bridges policy that any majority leader could leave. Harper’s majority government will be somewhat tempered by those two restraints.
There’s a lesson to be learned from the 2011 federal election for other levels of government. Both municipal and provincial governments should accept the advice of Sir Wilfred, advice that was so amply emphasized on Monday night. Tell people what you believe in and by doing so you can defend what you believe in. Time will serve you well, as time has served Laurier well.
An imperfect analogy is that, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything”. Another one is, “If you spend too much time in the middle of the road, you get run down by traffic going both ways”. Another, even more imperfect analogy is, “God hates a coward”. Well, God doesn’t hate anyone, but He does honour those who honour Him. When people elect God-honouring governments, He honours the people. As Prime Minster Harper has said many times as he quotes from our anthem, “God keep our land, glorious and free.”


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