storyteller, broadcaster

Archive for July, 2012

lotsa crime news, and not many close-ups ..

Reporters and storytellers like me have a number of time-honoured rituals that are generally guaranteed to raise the anxiety level of all of us. It happens often when we report the latest figures on violent crime in Canada.

This month, the story took on even greater intensity, against the backdrop of senseless gun violence on the streets of Toronto, and the senseless killings inside that movie theatre in Colorado.

Here on the prairies, the picture has not changed a great deal. Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon are still at the top of the list when it comes to violent crime in Canada, although the rates are continuing to drop slowly.

Police and politicians are on the hot seat when the figures are released.

Winnipeg Police Chief Ken McKaskill is among those who say ” the glass is half full and we should not be unduly frightened”.

The politicians engage in endless photo ops, and some of them call for more legal restrictions on guns and knives.

One or two of the folks involved even say “it’s time to address the root causes of violent crime”. They’re usually in opposition and don’t have to sign any of the cheques.

What then are the root causes in our prairie cities? All three communities have neighbourhoods with a lot of poor people, including aboriginals who have moved to the city with few marketable skills. Affordable housing is getting harder and harder to find.

When we dare to dig a little deeper, we find that things are getting better in some of those core neighbourhoods in Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon. It’s a difficult struggle, but there are lots of stories of people working endless hours to make a difference, one street and one block at a time.

But every few months we have to endure the ritual of those crime stats, and the media asking us to answer that inevitable question yet again “Do you feel safe?”

Is there not a better way of telling the story? Just asking.

…………….. Page Two ……….

There was a time, not so long ago, that both Manitoba and Saskatchewan were hosting a lot of movie and TV companies. It provided lots of local jobs for creative people and many spinoffs for local suppliers.

Producers were attracted to the Canadian prairie by the weak Loonie and generous tax credits offered by provincial governments. But the cameras have just about stopped rolling in Saskatchewan since Brad Wall and company pulled the plug on the $8 million Employment Tax Credit.

That money will be used instead to help build the new stadium for the Roughriders. One by one the companies who had set up shop in Saskatchewan to work in film and TV started to pack up and leave.

Kevin DeWalt of Mind’s Eye Entertainment is just wrapping on a sci-fi thriller called Stranded starring Christian Slater. Coincidentally, the budget on that one is $8 million.

DeWalt says he will be leaving Saskatchewan at some point, after Stranded is put to bed. It was expected that more than a few producers would relocate to Winnipeg. But so far it hasn’t exactly been a rush of refugees that you would notice.

Production levels in Winnipeg this summer have been well below the peaks of a few years ago.

Still to shoot this summer are a biography of Jack Layton which will produced for CBC, and a cheapie horror flick called . It’s a far cry from Oscar winners like Capote which put Winnipeg on Hollywood’s map.

Back in Saskatchewan, it appears more and more as though Brad Wall knew he would take heat for killing the industry that was famous in many countries for Corner Gas, but he also knew that there were relatively few votes to be lost in the long run.

The victims most affected are the young creative people who were proud to be doing their thing in a place where it didn’t use to happen.

They will now have to live with those memories somewhere else, or find a new career path. Such is the world of political choices.

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Roger Currie is a writer, blogger and broadcaster.

He lives in Winnipeg, and can be reached at rogerc@mymts.net

Poor role models, and expensive playpens ..

Should we still be looking to professional athletes to serve as role models for our youth? Many would argue that such a time is long past, but if the Winnipeg Jets still place any value on the concept, this is not a great month for them.

Dustin Byfuglien, the giant from northern Minnesota, is finally answering charges of boating while impaired that were laid before he ever arrived in Winnipeg last year. Then came the bombshell about Ondrej Pavalec.

The 24 year old goaltending sensation from the Czech Republic was fined and suspended from driving for 20 months in his home country after registering a blood alcohol level of .20 following an accident in May.

It wasn’t until mid-July that the news broke, a couple of weeks after Pavalec had finalized a new contract worth almost $4 million a year. Oops !

The Jets say they were as surprised as anyone else when they heard. I find that a little hard to believe in this era when the world tweets every time a celebrity sneezes anywhere in the world.

The young goalie issued the predictable apologies, no doubt carefully scripted and lawyered by the team’s front office. But this is a public relations problem that may not go away very soon.

If Ondrej had been up front from the start, he might have done some good by starring in a media campaign about the dangers of drinking and driving. But it loses a lot of its impact is he also has to say “By the way, don’t keep secrets from your employer”.

There was a time when an athlete in such a predicament would have been dropped like a hot potato, as he would have violated the morals clause in his contract. But the unspoken closing message to this saga will be something like ‘If we ever want to become a playoff contender, we need this hot goaltender, even if he is a bit of a screw-up’

Some role model.

—————— page two —————-

What an interesting time for the man with two football teams. That would be me, the guy who grew up in Winnipeg in the glory days of Bud Grant and has now returned home. I can also declare proudly that my most enjoyable football moments have been spent at Taylor Field in Regina.

A deal has finally been struck to spend almost $280 million to build a new stadium for the Roughriders on the Exhibition Grounds, just west of the place where they have played for more than a century. There are many parallels to the stadium drama in Winnipeg.

The Blue Bombers were supposed to be strutting their stuff this season in a brand new playpen at the University of Manitoba. But the window to complete the project proved to be too small, and instead they are playing one more season in the House That Jack Built. Indian Jack Jacobs was the legendary quarterback who led the Bombers in the early 1950’s.

The new Investors Field in Winnipeg will be state-of-the-art in every way, but both it and the new Regina stadium will be built with relatively little private money. David Asper was the champion of a new Blue Bomber stadium, but he failed to realize his dream.

And despite the resource boom in Saskatchewan, none of the big multi-nationals like Potash Corp have been prepared to contribute major bucks for the Rider stadium.

The Green and White will not be playing their first game there until 2017, perhaps mindful of the Winnipeg experience. In both cases the community-owned teams and the football fans will be major funders of the projects.

On the field so far this year, the Bombers and Roughriders have gone in opposite directions, but it’s early yet. And from their skyboxes way up there, I’m sure that departed legends like Indian Jack and Ronnie the Little General will enjoy watching three down football where-ever it’s played.

Roger Currie is a writer, blogger and broadcaster. He lives in Winnipeg, and can be reached at rogerc@mymts.net

common sense about power bills and drunk driving ..

Author’s note .. Apologies for not adding fresh material here for more than a month. I’ve been busy on other fronts, but I am committed to being a more faithful blogger.
This post includes two separate commentaries which I do for a variety of media outlets, including CJNU ( Nostalgia Radio ) in Winnipeg. As always, I welcome comments and suggestions.

.. Roger Currie, July 12, 2012

.. Page One ..

Air conditioners have been humming steadily this month as the prairie region, along with the rest of North America, has been baking through a prolonged and very expensive heat wave.

Power utilities in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan are proposing rate increases, but they should be getting more serious about doing business with each other.

Rider Nation needs more electricity to service a growing population, but they are reluctant to cash in their uranium chips and go nuclear, Their number one solution continues to focus on the burning of coal.

To do more of that requires huge investments in very questionable technology like carbon capture and storage. Those hundreds of millions of dollars would be much better spent on buying renewable hydro power from Manitoba.

The NDP government of Greg Selinger is pressing ahead with massive hydro dams in the north on the premise that export sales of power to the U.S. will cover the cost and keep rates low for the folks at home.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the economic model is seriously flawed. For a variety of costly reasons that are becoming all too clear, Manitoba Hydro is basically giving the power away to U.S. customers, and it will get worse in the years to come.

A much better strategy for the future would be for Manitoba to improve its ability to transmit electricity both east and west, rather than to the south.

The Harper government in Ottawa could play much more of a leadership role in the process. Instead of investing millions in technology of questionable value like carbon capture, they should be helping all provinces develop an east-west power grid.

Power bills are certain to rise, but let’s ratchet them up for reasons that make more sense.

…. Page 2 ……..

Hardly a day has gone by this summer without news of a death on highways on the prairies. It only takes a second or two to snuff out the life of a careless driver, and the odds become a lot worse when alcohol is involved.

Ray Wyant is a veteran judge in Winnipeg.

He made national headlines by sentencing a 29 year old man to 15 days in jail for his first conviction for drunk driving.

It can only be regarded as a miracle that Jessie Friesen did not seriously injure or kill someone when he drove his vehicle with a blood alcohol level of .33.

That’s more than four times the legal limit, and it’s a level that would cause most people to pass out behind the wheel. In handing down his judgment, Ray Wyant opted to send a message.

He ignored the recommendation of both the crown and the defense that Jessie should not go to jail. His time behind bars will be served on weekends, and he will not be allowed to drive for more than a year.

Governments everywhere argue that we must crack down on drinking and driving, but when push comes to shove, far too many people continue to be killed every year in highway crashes involving alcohol.

Will someone please explain to me why we don’t make greater use of available technology that could eliminate most of those tragedies? Along with seatbelts and airbags, why not equip all new vehicles with a device that won’t allow the engine to start if the driver cannot blow a clean breath sample when the key goes in the ignition?

It’s a device that is mandated by the courts when dealing with chronic repeat offenders.

To make such a system mandatory in all vehicles would be costly to be sure, but it has far more potential for saving lives than simply urging everybody not to drink and drive.

– 30 –

Roger Currie is a writer, blogger and broadcaster, now based in Winnipeg.

He can be reached at rogerc@mymts.net

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