It’s his money: Megadonor defies GOP leaders to back his own choice in Wisconsin Senate race

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent
Richard Uihlein, co-founder of Uline. (Photo: Stephen Serio/Crain’s Chicago Business)

Dick Uihlein, a Republican megadonor with a rising profile, has been a big factor in the Republican takeover of Wisconsin politics over the last decade and would have seemed a natural to support state Sen. Leah Vukmir, a long-time party stalwart, in her bid for a U.S. Senate seat. Instead, he’s backing, to the tune of some $8 million, a first-time candidate running as an insurgent in next month’s primary.

It’s a story of what happens when political donations no longer flow through political parties, and when the ultrawealthy individuals who can shape the politics of even a state as large as Wisconsin make decisions for themselves, sometimes on the basis of personal chemistry, image and biography, rather than experience — or the interests of the party.

Uihlein, who lives in Illinois, has been a loyal and significant donor to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was first elected in 2010 and overcame a recall referendum in 2012. Uihlein gave $2.5 million to Walker’s unsuccessful run for president in 2016. Walker is now running for a third term.

Uihlein is an ardent opponent of unions and has been a fan of Walker’s stance toward public-employee unions. He even moved parts of his business to Wisconsin after Walker got the legislature to pass sweeping changes to collective-bargaining laws. Uihlein had already moved his headquarters to Wisconsin from Illinois before the Walker era, in exchange for $6 million in financial assistance from Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker earlier this year, just before delivering the State of the State address. (Photo: Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

But for the past year, Uihlein has almost singlehandedly boosted a Senate candidate who has never run for office and is basing his campaign on an attack on the same political establishment that Walker represents in Wisconsin.

Uihlein has given around $7.5 million — through a constellation of eight different super-PACs — to support Republican Kevin Nicholson, a former Marine and former Democrat. Nicholson’s own campaign has raised $2.3 million, by comparison. Nicholson is facing off in the Republican primary on Aug. 14 against Vukmir, who has represented the Milwaukee suburbs since 2011 and has been a key ally of Walker’s through all of his biggest political battles. The winner will face Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin in November.

Surprisingly, Walker has remained officially neutral in the race, although he has many ties to Vukmir. She was elected to represent Walker’s state House district in 2002, and they have known each other since then. Walker’s wife, Tonette, has endorsed Vukmir; one of Walker’s sons is working on Vukmir’s campaign; and one of Walker’s former top advisers, Stephan Thompson, is running the super-PAC supporting Vukmir.

Nicholson says voters should hold Vukmir’s experience in elected office against her.

“This country will sink or swim because citizens stand up and say we’re sick of the political class flushing its future down the toilet. … That’s the political class that Tammy Baldwin is a part of. We will not solve our problems by sending more of the political class to Washington, D.C., to do more of the same,” Nicholson said in a recent debate with Vukmir.

But Wisconsin is in some ways ill-suited for the kind of antiestablishment rhetoric that often connects with modern voters. As in Virginia, where the state Democratic establishment is largely in sync with its base voters, Wisconsin Republicans have built a strong relationship with and loyalty to their party leaders and elected officials over the past decade.

Wisconsin senatorial hopeful Kevin Nicholson, the insurgent in the Republican primary, speaks with reporters in January 2018. (Photo: Scott Bauer/AP)

In Wisconsin, the “political class” is Walker and the Republican legislators who have moved the state decidedly to the right. It’s also House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is retiring. And as primary day approaches, Nicholson’s outsider message seems to be losing its appeal. Polls a few months ago showed him with a double-digit lead. But the latest Marquette survey showed Vukmir edging ahead, though her lead was within the margin of error.

“As somebody who’s been around for a long time it bothers me a bit that if you’re in elected office you’re somehow all of a sudden no longer qualified to be in elected office,” said Mark Graul, a former congressional chief of staff to Rep. Mark Green, who is now a political consultant working in several Midwestern states. “My favorite politicians in Wisconsin are Scott Walker and Paul Ryan, and they’re textbook career politicians. There’s a real disconnect when people are crapping all over career politicians and they go, ‘Oh yeah, Paul Ryan has been in politics since he was 28 and Scott Walker since he was 25.”

The Nicholson campaign says their focus is on an anti-Washington message, echoing Trump’s rhetoric of “draining the swamp.” And Nicholson has pledged himself to serve only two six-year terms if elected, and then resign.

But as one Wisconsin Republican said, “[Nicholson’s] message that [Vukmir] is an insider does not ring true to the people who have lived through Act 10,” the brutal legislative fight in 2011 over restricting collective bargaining rights for public-employee unions. “It’s shown a fundamental misunderstanding of Wisconsin politics.”

Many Republicans in Wisconsin are mystified not only by the fact of Uihlein’s support for Nicholson, but by the nearly obsessive level of it.

“I don’t think any of us who have been around for a while have ever seen anything like this before, where one donor has done this much for one candidate,” Graul said. “It is a humongous mystery.”

“I’m sure in [Uihlein’s] head there must be some sort of explanation,” Graul added. “I just don’t know what that explanation is, or know anybody who does, including people who work for Nicholson.”

Uihlein did not respond to requests for comment made by phone calls to his business or sent through surrogates. The Nicholson campaign also declined to make their candidate available for an interview. But interviews with several operatives in the state revealed that a unique set of circumstances led to this odd turn of events, where a businessman who cheered on the Republican party to reforms, and helped fund their efforts, is now aggressively funding a candidate who is launching attacks on those same people.

Uihlein’s support for Nicholson was first reported at the end of March a year ago, in the form of a $2 million donation to an outside group supporting the political newcomer. The announcement shocked many in the state.

Leah Vukmir, a Wisconsin state senator and the other Republican candidate in the primary for the U.S. Senate, in May 2018. (Photo: Scott Bauer/AP)

But one Wisconsin Republican operative who supports Vukmir said Uihlein is known to hand out political donations without deliberation.

“Most major donors, they have a more formal arrangement with operatives who guide their money that makes sense,” the operative said. “A lot of people have [Uihlein’s] phone number and he’s been prone to writing several-figure checks to people on the phone.”

Several sources said Nicholson’s financing coup was simply the result of his ability to secure a meeting with Uihlein before any other candidate. And because Nicholson presents himself impressively and tells a compelling story about his political evolution, Uihlein was smitten. Nicholson’s military background was of course helpful. But Nicholson’s tale of being a former president of the College Democrats and then realizing the error of his ways was a dramatic conversion story.

“I used to do nothing and know everything. But since then we’ve had three kids, I fought in two wars, and I worked in businesses around the world — and after you’ve been hit in the face with that much reality, you cannot help but become a strong conservative,” Nicholson said in a video officially announcing his candidacy a year ago.

Uihlein was not explicitly siding against Vukmir alone when he weighed in. At the time of Uihlein’s endorsement of Nicholson, Vukmir was not the only potential candidate in the primary. Two other Republicans, both wealthy and able to self-fund, were considering running.

As for Nicholson, there were a handful of recent precedents in the area, where Republicans had run successfully for federal office without any prior experience, that likely encouraged him to run. Sen. Ron Johnson defeated three-term Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold in 2010 with an outsider message. Then in 2016 Donald Trump won the state of Wisconsin, and the presidency, with a rabid antiestablishment message that at times even extended to denunciations of Ryan.

In that same year, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, who also was a Democrat before switching to the GOP, won the governorship in Missouri as a first-time political candidate. (Greitens, facing allegations of personal misconduct and campaign-finance violations, and with little support from his own party in the legislature, resigned earlier this year.) The comparisons between Greitens and Nicholson, who served combat tours as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, were not hard to miss.

President-elect Donald Trump at a Wisconsin rally in December 2016. Among the welcomers are House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., right, and Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., second from right. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

“I think [Uihlein] met Kevin early and was very impressed by him, and he got behind Kevin while there was still a lot of uncertainty in the race,” said one Republican operative with experience in Wisconsin and with knowledge of the Uihlein political universe.

This same operative said that despite Vukmir’s support from the state convention, where 75 percent of the GOP’s activists supported her, “I am of the opinion that Kevin is still the better candidate in the general election and that’s why she has not locked this up.”

“There’s more of a contrast between Kevin and Baldwin. Kevin can credibly run as the outsider and can paint Baldwin as the career politician,” the operative said.

Uihlein, however, has suffered his own embarrassments. He and his wife, Liz, who plays a more hands-on role in the family business, Uline, spent around $23.5 million on political candidates in the 2016 cycle. But a $2.5 million donation to support Illinois gubernatorial candidate Jeanne Ives this year drew negative attention after Ives ran a TV ad that was widely seen as making fun of transgender people. Ives lost the March primary, narrowly.

And last winter, Uihlein donated money to a super-PAC supporting Alabama Republican Roy Moore both before and after credible allegations surfaced that Moore had relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore lost a special election in December for a vacant U.S. Senate seat to Democrat Doug Jones, giving Democrats their first Senate win in Alabama in 26 years.

“Uihlein does need a win right now,” the out-of-state operative said. “So I think he’s putting a lot of energy and resources behind Kevin.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., who’s up for reelection this fall. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

But with support from the conservative grassroots at the state convention, and endorsements from Ryan and the National Rifle Association, Vukmir is likely to keep pulling ahead, observers say.

“The steady backing of those folks is going to make a big difference,” said another Republican operative with years of experience in Wisconsin politics. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up winning by 10 points.”


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  • 'I just love 'em': U.S. teen's Make-A-Wish lands her at Buffalo Airways

    'I just love 'em': U.S. teen's Make-A-Wish lands her at Buffalo Airways

    After beating Hodgkin's lymphoma, San Francisco teen Skyler Stoba got to wish for anything in the world. Naturally, it was a toss up between having lunch with Beyonce or seeing Buffalo Airways Second World War planes.Stoba, 15, disembarked from Buffalo Airways' Norseman 5 bush plane on Tuesday after a flight around Yellowknife Bay, organized by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Stoba had never been in a float plane before.Yellowknife-based Buffalo Airways, which operates World War II-era aircraft, was featured in History Television's Ice Pilots NWT for several seasons. Stoba and her father, Ian, are fans of the series."It means a lot," said Stoba. "It was so hard just sort of going through the repetitive cycle of doing nothing, being in the hospital, being home, doing nothing. It was fun to plan a wish and have something to look forward to." Stoba flew up to Yellowknife to see the DC-3 aircraft with her dad and sister. "It's not just the trip or the event," said Ian Stoba. "It's all the time before that, where it gave us something to think about, to talk about. It was really rough.""I brought my sister because she likes to dabble in some science. She's a physicist," said the teenager. Stoba proclaims she is "not a huge flier" but planes are her passion.Buffalo Airways president Joe McBryan, also known as "Buffalo Joe," took Stoba and her family for a spin in the bush plane, before touring the Buffalo hangar and the DC-3 aircraft this week."Any DC-3 is really great. I love really any piston-engine plane. There's a lot of history behind them," she said."They're big powerful planes and I just love 'em." Functional Second World War planes are also tough to find. "You can really only see them in a museum," Stoba said.When the Make-A-Wish Foundation announced the trip, it had Nobel Prize-winning bioengineer Frances Arnold deliver the news. Arnold battled cancer in 2005.Stoba wants to pursue her own career in science and promote renewable technology in the airline industry, she said. "I'm really interested in bringing renewable fuels into the plane community, specifically, working with hydrogen and bringing it into the commercial airlines," she said. Stoba's life after cancer is now more typical of a teenager: "finish high school, go to university … then I want to either work at Boeing or become some sort of engineer with planes."

  • Botox on wheels: Hay River woman launching mobile Botox clinic

    Botox on wheels: Hay River woman launching mobile Botox clinic

    A fifth-wheel trailer turned mobile Botox clinic will be making its rounds to communities in the N.W.T. this fall.The mobile service, called Best of You, will give residents of the South Slave region the option to get Botox injections, which are predominantly used to reduce wrinkles.Susan Balmer, a nurse practitioner from Hay River, says the new business venture is part of her retirement plan. It may not be a prevalent treatment in the North, but Balmer says there's a demand for this type of cosmetic service."I think it's sort of considered a city activity. You know, for professionals," she said. "But you know what, it's not. I think it just hasn't been provided as a really big service [here]."Botox works by blocking signals from the nerves to the muscles, which causes wrinkles to relax and soften.Balmer took a Botox and fillers course at the Atlantic Training Institute of Medical Aesthetics in Nova Scotia, which is certified by the Canadian Board of Aesthetic Medicine.She began offering services in May out of a space she rents in L'Eskal Spa in Hay River. Balmer says her clients range in age from people in their early 20s to their 60s. Some are professions, but others seniors and stay-at-home moms.There's been a lot of interest from the surrounding communities, Balmer says. People in Fort Resolution, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson have reached out to her."There's a lot of support and excitement about that kind of service coming to them."Botox treatments are available in Yellowknife. Balmer says the mobile clinic will be more convenient for people outside of the capital.She says the trailer is a perfect fit for her clinic because it has everything she needs — a bathroom, good lighting and running water. She dressed it up with a spa bed and new curtains.What are the risks?Judith Fletcher, a family doctor from Vancouver, practised aesthetic medicine for six years. Fletcher says the pharmaceutical company that produces the majority of Botox, Allergan Inc., is careful about who they sell it to.However, Fletcher says if someone isn't familiar with the anatomy of the face and muscle structure, they could inject a client incorrectly, causing paralysis or a droopy face."You could never get enough Botox into a needle to inject it to the point where it would cause anything more serious than that," Fletcher said.Unlike fillers, which are injected to provide fullness to areas like the cheeks and lips, Botox can't be reversed, Fletcher explained. She says if a patient isn't happy with the results they have to wait three to four months until the product wears off.Despite being a relatively low-risk procedure, Fletcher cautioned that while the product itself is well-regulated, rules surrounding who can administer the product are more loose and vary by jurisdiction.The Registered Nursing Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut confirmed to CBC that in the N.W.T., a nurse practitioner can inject Botox without the supervision of a physician.Hitting the roadThe motivation for starting this type of cosmetic work came from Balmer's love of being a nurse, she said."It is just my joy. So I didn't want to give it up totally and looked at opportunities to still be able to use those skills."Balmer says she chose the name Best of You because it speaks to the individuality of her clients.She said many leave not only looking better, but feeling better."What I wanted was something that people are really happy coming to me [for]."Balmer plans to start offering fillers after she completes a course. She expects to hit the road with the mobile clinic by late August or early September.

  • Food and travel in P.E.I.'s Bygone Days

    Food and travel in P.E.I.'s Bygone Days

    Reginald (Dutch) Thompson's column The Bygone Days brings you the voices of Island seniors, many of whom are now long-departed. These tales of the way things used to be offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. Every second weekend CBC P.E.I. will bring you one of Dutch's columns. These days folks on their vacation travel great distances just to sample various types of food and cuisine. And of course P.E.I. has a proud history as a food destination. We have a deserved reputation among foodies. We have great chefs cooking fresh seafood and vegetables served up with succulent new potatoes, especially this time of year.About 100 years ago the foodies came to P.E.I. by steamer and by the railway.They would spend the summer in resorts like the North Shore Inn in Malpeque. It's gone now but it was famous for its food, they had great chefs and people came from all over North America to eat roasted golden plover. The tourists would shoot the plovers and bring them back to the resort where the chef would cook it for them. Around 100 years ago P.E.I. had huge flocks of golden plover — thousands of them would come through P.E.I. every year in spring and fall. They must have tasted pretty good because they were hunted to near extinction right across North America. In fact, it's now on the endangered species list.The Pleasant View Hotel, in Hampton on P.E.I.'s South Shore next to Victoria-by-the-Sea, was also famous for its fine accommodations and its tasty home cooking. Now it is a huge wooden three-storey hotel overlooking the Northumberland Strait. Grandmother prepared meals"They had as many as 60 guests in the summer come in there," said Mac Dixon, 84, the grandson of the Smiths who ran the Pleasant View."My grandmother prepared all the meals, prepared them. She didn't wait on tables or anything of course she had help for that and had help to peel potatoes and stuff like that. But she prepared all the meals and she'd be up at three in the morning with two home comforts stoves, wood stoves going, preparing the meals for them for the day."Dixon said the reason she got up early was so she'd be able to put the fire out earlier, in the heat of the day. Dixon said the guests, many from Boston, Toronto and as far as Calgary, would arrive hungry when they got off the train at the Breadalbane station. His grandfather would pick them up in a three-seated coach and take them back to the Pleasant View."And my mother would come behind with the express wagon — she was only a little girl then  — and take in the luggage, the trunks, they'd be trunks. They wouldn't just be suitcases. They'd be trunks because they'd had to stay through the entire vacation, they had their families, they'd come with their families and they'd stay, well, until school opened again. It was a full summer's vacation."A 1912 railway timetable/tourism brochure extols the pleasures of P.E.I. and some of the recommended attractions at that time. The brand new 1911 jail was listed as a "must-see" for tourists."The charms of P.E.I. include bright skies, bracing air and pastoral scenery. There is an engaging restfulness about the place and its people and the ocean is always within sight," it said.There were 21 boarding houses and 49 hotels listed, including the Pleasant View Hotel. It cost $1.50 a day or $7 a week — all meals included.The trains, of course, are long gone from P.E.I. as are the steamers — coal-fired steamboats running regular schedules that came to ports such as Summerside, Cape Tormentine, Cape Mount Stewart and Georgetown.The S.S. Harland ran twice a week between Charlottetown and Victoria. If they had passengers on board to come to the Pleasant View Hotel they'd give a blast of the whistle out front of Hampton. Then they'd hitch up a horse and probably go with that three-seated coach, head for Victoria down to the wharf to take the passengers in.Harold Dunphy was born in Millview in 1910. He farmed all his life and he was noted for his wit and wisdom. He was a great talker and storyteller. He'd start off the story by saying "now maybe you know or maybe you don't" and then he'd tell a great story. Back in the 1920s, Dunphy and folks as far away as Flat River, down by Wood Islands, herded their cattle and sheep all the way into Charlottetown. This would be a procession of men and boys kicking up a dust storm on the clay roads, all on foot of course, driving their cattle and sheep with poles and sticks heading for the butcher shops and meat markets in Charlottetown."Everything went live then," Dunphy said. "It was a hell of a job to get them into town."Dunphy said it would cost a quarter to get a meal in town, or $2.50 for 10 people to eat at a restaurant.Huge lunch pailsThere's lots of stories about the prodigious appetites of the railway workers. The late Harold Gaudet was a railway man born into a railroading family. In fact, he wrote a book about his years on the railway.The railway men were constantly away from home, so if a boarding house served up good food, and lots of it, word soon got around. One example was Maggie Lappen. She ran a boarding house on Hillsborough Street in Charlottetown that was a favourite. The railway men carried huge lunch pails and the biggest of all was Paddy Smith's. Smith was the grandfather of Gaudet's wife. When he left the railroad, he ran a grocery store on the corner of Prince and King streets. That's how Gaudet had the good fortune to get Smith's large, red lunch box."It was bigger than these tool boxes you used to get because they carried everything. They carried salt and pepper, tea, coffee, whatever —eggs, everything like this. Some of the men had pannikins … they were a flat thing you could put your meat and potatoes and stuff in that."Gaudet's father and uncle were railway men out West in Manitoba and there's a funny story he tells about them.They first went out West on the harvest excursion train to work in the wheat fields. One day they spotted some ducks on a pond on the farm where they were working so they borrowed a shotgun. They snuck up on the ducks and they shot four of them. They proudly took them back to the farmer's wife to cook up for supper. She let out a curse and threw them out of her house. Turns out they shot her tame ducks.More P.E.I. news

  • News

    P.E.I. film a purr-fect fit for New York festival

    An Island-made short film called Furball about a self-centred cat has been accepted to be part of a unique film festival in New York City.It's called the Cat Film Festival and features movies about — you guessed it, cats.Jason Rogerson wrote and directed the film and before starting production knew nothing about the Cat Film Festival, he said."I didn't know it until I made this film or started to plan to make this film," he said.After the film screens at the festival in November it will travel to over 50 cities across North America."The protagonist of the film is an actual live cat, which was daunting to begin with to attempt to start writing that," Rogerson said.Script changeThe film follows Furball and his roommate Norman, Rogerson said."They have their patterns, but Furball wants all of Norman's attention. And when Norman has an opportunity for potentially a new relationship, Furball is reluctant to encourage that," he said.Initially the script was designed to talk about some of the "bad things" going on in the world today. "I just wanted to have this positive outlook, a cat who notices things like 'Hey, don't miss out on the good things in the world,'" Rogerson said.Unfortunately, that story didn't have a lot of "dramatic tension," he said.Casting a catTo cast the cat he was originally looking for something unique, but as the script changed he said he wanted to cast a "normal looking cat."He put posters up around town asking people to submit pictures of their feline friends."Some people sent me some really interesting pictures, thank you for that, sorry I didn't cast your cat. In the end I just ended up going with my girlfriend's cat," he said.It was a cat he had regular access to and could start to train it. He said he got the cat to focus on the camera by ringing bells."It went pretty well."He said the cat speaks through voice over, but not in the style of the film Babe."I didn't have the budget for the moving mouth," Rogerson said.Screens on P.E.I.The short film is just over six minutes long.Rogerson said he's happy his film was accepted to the Cat Film Festival and is excited for it to travel across North America."It just gives me a lot of pride in the P.E.I. film industry and the team to be able to showcase this in front of so many people," he said. "It's going to get a lot of play across the states when it plays in all these cites next year — that's very exciting."Furball will also open the Charlottetown Film Festival on Oct. 25.More P.E.I. news

  • Air quality a concern after fire engulfs St. Catharines flower farm

    Air quality a concern after fire engulfs St. Catharines flower farm

    A "significant" fire at a flower farm in St. Catharines, Ont., has been contained, but residents in a large area northwest of the massive greenhouse operation are being asked to stay inside, an official says.No one was injured in the blaze at Pioneer Flower Farms that began late on Friday night, although flames spread to and destroyed about four or five residential buildings that housed migrant workers, according to Jeff McCormick, acting fire chief for St. Catharines Fire and Emergency Management Services.Smoke, however, remained a concern. Officials from Ontario's ministry of the environment were on the scene Saturday, and a spokesperson said they have been collecting air samples for analysis."Preliminary downwind air monitoring results are below emergency screening values," Andrew Buttigieg said in an email. "Local watersheds have been sampled and monitored. Early results show dissolved oxygen and pH readings being good."Buttigieg said the city is collecting douse water which is being trucked to Port Dalhousie sewage treatment plant as a precaution.'Like a bomb went off'The fire was in a structure that is a series of greenhouses and outbuildings and about 650,000 to 700,000 square feet in total."It's a significant-sized fire," McCormick said. "Probably, this would be the most significant fire that I have had of my 33-year career."The fire also spread across the grass and caused a "significant" bush fire, the city of St. Catharines said in a release.Firefighters were called to the farm shortly after 11 p.m., and crews from five departments were able to contain the blaze after several hours of effort.As many as 125 firefighters were battling the blaze at its peak, McCormick said."It was like a bomb went off," said Bill Van Vliet, a neighbour who saw the blaze around 2 a.m.There were flames shooting in the air and "fire tornados," he said."I've never seen anything like it," said Van Vliet. "The whole area was just lit. It was really eerie."Many people from the area, including neighbours, went to the farm to help. At one point, they set up an irrigation pipeline to bring water to one part of the fire.Pioneer Flower Farms is a family business that started in 1971, according to its website.From celebration to disasterJohn Van Geest, a longtime neighbour and friend, said the farm owners had been celebrating another business's 40th anniversary Friday night when they saw black smoke — and ran from a celebration to a disaster."It's devastating to see them lose what they've worked the last 48 years to build up," said Van Geest, who co-owns a greenhouse across the road. The farm offered jobs for many people in the community, as well as several migrant workers, he said.Van Geest said he's spoken to the owners, who kept talking about how they felt for their employees.Residents in the area northwest of the fire were asked to close doors and windows and turn off air conditioning.Van Vliet said the smoke was strong and choking early Saturday and there were plastics burning — they had to leave because the air quality was so poor.Structure collapsed before crews arrivedWhen firefighters arrived on the scene one structure had already collapsed and fallen, making it immediately difficult for trucks to reach the fire.McCormick said there are no municipal fire hydrants in the area, which he described as the rural end of St. Catharines, and tanker tanks were called from neighbouring departments to set up a water supply.Thick black smoke billowed from buildings as fire crews on ladders tried to douse the flames. Ontario's Office of the Marshal was on scene Saturday to investigate.Firefighters from St. Catharines, Thorold, Pelham, Lincoln and Niagara-on-the-Lake were involved in efforts to bring the blaze under control. Early Saturday, firefighters from Fort Erie relieved crews that worked through the night.As for residents sheltering in place, McCormick could not say how many are affected.Residents told to stay put until further noticeStephanie Sabourin, spokesperson for the Niagara police, said the shelter-in-place warning applies to a "large area" south of Queen Elizabeth Way, near Seventh Street South.The wind shifted early Saturday and Sabourin said the shelter-in-place order was adjusted accordingly."We are asking residents to stay inside, close their windows, close their doors, turn off their air conditioning and just stay put and to wait for further instruction," said Sabourin, who  could not say when the shelter-in-place would be lifted."There is some concern with the smoke. It's a pretty dynamic situation. We do have resources on the scene examining and monitoring the scene."Cause of fire still unknownVan Geest said he knows how devastating fire can be, having suffered a much smaller blaze a few years ago. He helped unload items from the house and prevent the spread of the fire last night."We all know each other, we all work together in the industry. We look out for each other," he said. "There's ... so little anyone can do to mitigate this disaster."The fire's cause is not yet known.People are being asked to stay away from the area.Pioneer Flower Farms, according to its website, is one of the largest "bulb forcing" farms in North America. It works with bulb stock growers in the Netherlands to produce cut flowers and potted plants.

  • How did we get here? Failed public policy and Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

    How did we get here? Failed public policy and Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

    Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has been the epicentre of homelessness and drug addiction in the province for decades. It has also been the focus of public policy to address these problems for almost as many years.Yet for a neighbourhood in the public spotlight, a walk along East Hastings Street these days looks like policymakers have turned a blind eye. Mayor Kennedy Stewart recently acknowledged to Stepehn Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition, that the notorious neighbourhood is in the worst shape he has ever seen. Homelessness and open drug use are hard to miss on area streets. and people who have been on the front lines of housing, addiction and mental health programming say years of inadequate services are partly to blame.Donald MacPherson, the former drug-policy coordinator for the City of Vancouver and current director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, has seen a lot of policies introduced into the Downtown Eastside, including the highly-lauded Vancouver Agreement in 2000.Signed by all three levels of government, the agreement was a 10-year plan to improve housing and social welfare in the area. According MacPherson, many of the agreement's initiatives "came to a crashing end when the Harper Government was elected and did not participate.""A well thought-out strategy to provide supportive housing, mental health and addiction treatments city-wide, to provide harm reduction services city-wide, never really actualized," said MacPherson.Today, the concentration of homeless people on the streets and in Oppenheimer Park's tent city shows the problems the Vancouver Agreement intended to fix are far from solved. Retired politician Libby Davies, a former city councillor and NDP member of Parliament for Vancouver East who was the federal housing critic, has seen a lot of housing ideas come and go. "If you can't have a sustainable program — and that's critical for housing —  and if you don't have the partnership of the federal government ... it creates a dire, serious situation."After the Vancouver Agreement, Davies said the federal government was notably absent from housing initiatives. "We had this huge gap where nothing was happening, because the federal government had opted out of and completely abandoned building new social housing," said Davies. "We're still recovering from that."In 2017, the federal government announced a 10-year multibillion-dollar national housing strategy. Davies hopes it is more than lip service."Big announcements are one thing, but getting the money, shovels in the ground ... this is what's urgently needed right now," said Davies.Dr. John Miller, former B.C. provincial health officer, said modular housing is one step in helping the homeless and precariously housed, but without "wrap-around' support services for mental health and addiction, chaos will continue.He said when Riverview Hospital closed in the 1970s many patients from the  mental health facility gravitated to the DTES and policymakers planned to put mental health services in the community."The second step never happened and still hasn't happened," said Miller. "Mental health services, addiction services, physical disability services, all of these things need to be there, and we haven't really put them in place thoroughly yet."MacPherson, author of the city's Four Pillars Drug Strategy, which is based on the principals of harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement, said the strategy was "never really implemented" and addicts are not getting the help they need."We keep propping up this failed drug policy that we have in Canada that continues to criminalize vulnerable people, push them into the shadows and make them the target of the problem," said MacPherson.

  • Elvis impersonator shares A Big Hunk O'Love at nursing homes in Saint John

    Elvis impersonator shares A Big Hunk O'Love at nursing homes in Saint John

    The King is back — only this time he's traded the concert stage for nursing homes in Saint John. Alan England has been a volunteer Elvis Presley impersonator for seven years.And he only performs for seniors. "Seniors are the best Elvis fans," said the Saint John singer whose day job is in the printer business.The 53-year-old performs about a dozen shows a year, with some performances attracting up to 200 seniors."I have a soft spot for seniors," he said. "They're the real heroes in my books."England grew up listening to Elvis Presley but didn't develop a passion for the king of rock 'n' roll until about 15 years ago, when he started watching Elvis tribute artists.Don't be cruel And that, he decided, was something he wanted to try. So he bought an outfit and started practising his singing and dance moves at home. He also spent countless hours watching Elvis tribute artists on YouTube."You have to watch. You have to get a feeling for it if you want to do that for people," he said. "It makes it more believable."England's 19-year-old daughter, Danielle, follows him to all of his shows. Although his wife, Lison, is supportive, she's not the biggest Elvis fan."You won't find an Elvis CD in her car," he said. A special performanceEngland landed his first gig about seven years ago. It was a small performance for a man living at a hospice in Saint John. "He was always an Elvis artist fanatic but had never seen one," he said. The man died about a week later and England gave the family his Elvis cape."Just to give them that little performance was quite something for them," England said. "And it was special for me to do something like that."Bringing back memoriesMany of the seniors England performs for saw seen Elvis in concert before he died in 1977.England's shows bring a little bit of entertainment and allow seniors to share their stories from years ago.And he's happy to listen."They say music stimulates the memory in seniors, and I can tell that it does because they're always singing along with me ... you know it's making them feel good."England's performances also draw from Johnny Cash, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck."I'm an old soul," he said.England said Elvis appealed to a large group of people, and England is hoping he can too. "He's hard to forget."

  • News
    The Canadian Press

    For recent immigrant youngsters, nascent soccer club provides continuity

    OTTAWA — Omran Alahmad has played soccer every week since his arrival in Ottawa almost four years ago, much the way he did as a boy growing up in Syria.Alahmad, 18, travelled through Jordan to come to Canada in 2015 with his parents and five siblings, but he was determined that it wouldn't mean giving up on the sport he's played since he was just three years old."I've been playing since I was three years old," he said. "We started playing on the street."Before long, Alahmad soon found himself a member of Eagles FC — a soccer club comprising nearly 60 newcomers to Canada, including immigrants and refugees, that established itself as a full-blown club last September."I used to see kids playing soccer in the park … some of them were really talented," said team manager Noor Sakhniya, who helped the players in establishing their own club. "They couldn't play with a club because they couldn't afford it."The registration fees at Ottawa soccer clubs vary between $600 and $2,000, he said: "That's a lot of money for an immigrant family that has two or more kids who want to play soccer."Immigrant kids risk ending up spending a lot of time on the street if they aren't occupied by a sport they like, said Sakhniya. "When we make them commit with the team at least for two or three days a week, we save them from troubles."The number of soccer players in Canada is growing every year. According to the Canada Soccer Association, there were more than 810,000 registered players, coaches and referees involved in soccer in the country in 2018.Much of that popularity has been driven by immigration. Nearly 7.6 million foreign-born individuals who took part in the 2016 census said they came to Canada through the immigration process, representing 21.9 per cent of Canada's total population — a proportion that continues to overtake the 22.3 per cent recorded during the 1921 census, the highest level since Confederation.Some of the immigrant players have pursued soccer in different countries. Abbas Ali, 20, is a computer engineering student. He's played soccer in Syria, Turkey and Canada since he fled war-torn Iraq 16 years ago."I'm going to carry on (playing soccer), for sure," Ali said.The time he spends playing the game is an opportunity to make friends and to engage in other social activities with his teammates. "These guys are all my friends," he said, gesturing towards his teammates.Sport is a social institution that brings people together and it's a part of the culture, said Karen Foster, a sociologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax. "It can help people get out of isolation."Foster said familiar social activities are vital in helping immigrants integrate into Canadian society, and are especially important for teenagers who are likely feeling displaced and don't have as many opportunities to get involved in activities without their families.The men's team is now competing in Ottawa Carleton Soccer League — "our goal is to qualify to Ontario Soccer League," said Sakhniya — and the club has already established three other teams for kids under 12. "We are going to start a team for girls as well."The club is a not-for-profit organization, so the players are only charged for the cost of the activities including the league participation fees. The next thing is to find a sponsor, he added."I want to help immigrant kids to showcase their talents, so Canada's soccer can benefit from their talents," Sakhniya said."It's the most growing sport (in Canada), and immigrants need to tap into this sport to help their new country. We have some excellent players, who are 14 to 16 years old. They could go play for university teams, famous clubs and even the national team when Canada co-hosts the 2026 World Cup."Maan Alhmidi , The Canadian Press

  • Man found dead in underpass after Istanbul floods
    BBC News

    Man found dead in underpass after Istanbul floods

    A heavy rainstorm hit Istanbul causing travel disruption and flash flooding. Several neighbourhoods including Fatih, home to the historic Grand Bazaar, were affected. Authorities said a homeless man was found in the Unkapani district, apparently drowned. They warned the public to take care in the severe weather conditions.

  • Traditional Chinese clothing inspires a budding fashion in Saint John

    Traditional Chinese clothing inspires a budding fashion in Saint John

    It's a strange contrast.An elegant figure straight from an ancient Chinese painting — walking down the street in suburban Saint John.Shui Tang, 21, wears sheer, layered robes in the style of the Song dynasty, which lasted from 960 to 1279. The wide, delicately embroidered sleeves trail past her elbows. Her waist-length hair is twisted into a complicated style with the aid of a delicate hair comb. It's a modern take on the traditional clothing of China's Han ethnic majority, to which Tang belongs.Traditional Han clothing — or Hanfu, as the style is called by devotees — "gives me a lot of confidence," said Tang, 21, who moved to New Brunswick in 2017 to take e-commerce at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Hanfu is a growing trend among young Han Chinese seeking to recapture their traditional culture lost during centuries of foreign domination. 'Wow, that is amazing!'Hanfu tends to turn heads in Saint John.  "When you walk down the street, many people will look at you and say, 'Oh, you are pretty!' and they say good things to you."Recently, photographer Nelson Cloud took pictures of Shui Tang at Saint John landmarks, including Rockwood Park, the Martello Tower, Market Square, and the New Brunswick Museum building on Douglas Avenue. Tang was introduced to the style as a middle school student in Shanghai."I saw a picture," she said, "and I thought, 'Wow, that is amazing!' So I did a little bit of research about it."The trend has been popularized in recent years through the video app TikTok and Chinese micro-blogging service Weibo."There are people who share all the information on the same page," she said. "People are wearing Hanfu and getting to know it."Historical accuracyHistorical accuracy is the first goal of Hanfu. "If you imagine something, that becomes cosplay, not Hanfu," Tang said. The custom-made dresses can take months or even years to ship to Canada from Chinese suppliers and range in price from a few hundred dollars, to more than $3,000 for top-quality reproduction Ming dynasty robes. Tang wears Hanfu mainly for special occasions, she said, although sometimes she pairs a historical skirt or hair accessory with everyday Western clothes.  It's a passion Tang wants to share with other Han Chinese in New Brunswick. "A lot of my friends come to my place and I will show them and let them try it on," she said. National pride Clothing is one way for people to express pride in their unique national identity, Tang. "I really like to see more people wearing their own traditional clothes — not just our Han people, but also Koreans, Japanese, Indian," Tang said."I hope they can express themselves in wearing all these traditional things and let other people know about their culture. "If we all have our own styles, it will make the world more beautiful."

  • Washed away Northern Sask. highway causes cancellations for resort

    Washed away Northern Sask. highway causes cancellations for resort

    A resort in Northern Saskatchewan is dealing with visitors cancelling their stays due to a washed out highway.A large part of Highway 903 was washed out due to heavy rainfall on July 31.Marianne Breault, the owner of Canoe Lake West Resort, said the washout has cost her business."We've had a lot of cancellations because the people don't want to go that extra mileage through bad roads," Breault said.The highway is North of Meadow Lake and is the main route to Canoe Lake and the surrounding areas, including many Indigenous communities.Breault said people were able to travel right from Meadow Lake to her resort, but now people have to travel to Green Lake first, then to Beauval and then to Canoe Lake. Doing this adds about an hour and a half of travel time.Plans to fix the road will take time"I want to see a bypass built. It's been two weeks now but nothing has happened. Even a bypass built would get us through," Breault said. "I just want it to get fixed."Doug Wakabayashi, the executive director of communications for the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure, said there are plans to fix the road but it doesn't involve a bridge."We do understand the importance of this road to residents in the area and the inconvenience it causes when it's not open to traffic," Wakabayashi said. "We will be replacing the old culvert with four very large diameter culverts."Construction is expected to start in mid-September but repair will take some time, he said. "We have some environmental concerns that we have to accommodate, as well. For example, protecting fish habitats," Wakabayashi said, "As a part of protecting the fish habitats, we have to maintain a rather low flow rate."Breault said something very similar happened to Highway 965 last spring, but she says the province's response time was much quicker."In two days they had a construction group and an engineer there and they built a bypass," Breault said.

  • Honouring Acadians in Riverside-Albert small gesture, but 'profound statement'

    Honouring Acadians in Riverside-Albert small gesture, but 'profound statement'

    The village of Riverside-Albert is mostly anglophone, so its Acadian origins might come as a bit of a surprise to most New Brunswickers. In fact, news that the first European settler in the region was a French farmer named Pierre Thibodeau came as a surprise even to residents of the village itself. "I was not aware of the French connection to Riverside-Albert. I was born here!" said John McCarron. Even New Brunswick's former premier admitted that until a year or two ago, he didn't know the area was once a thriving Acadian community."As the premier of the province, I'd like to think I was fairly in touch with the history of our province and I had no idea," said Frank McKenna, who was a special guest at a ceremony Friday to unveil a monument dedicated to Acadian families who settled in the area. By 1755 — just before the Great Deportation — the settlement known as Chipoudie, on the banks of the Bay of Fundy, was made up of 425 Acadians, all descendants of Pierre Thibodeau.After the deportation, many Acadians from the area ended up in the United States. One of their descendants, Don Thibodeaux, now lives in Baton Rouge, La. "Our families got deported, so when we come here, we are their lost cousins, are we are home," said Thibodeaux. "It's quite emotional."He believes there are 4,000 Thibodeaus in the U.S., all descendants of the man who crossed the Atlantic in search of land for a farm.He travelled to New Brunswick for the World Acadian Congress with a group of people who share his last name."That man brought us all together, we previously did not know each other — from Louisiana, Massachussets, California, Maine."'Profound statement'The plaque honouring the Acadian families may be a small gesture, but placing it in Riverside-Albert is significant. "It represents such a profound statement about our province," said McKenna."Raising the Acadian flag in a totally anglophone village, it's a big step forward," said Riverside-Albert Mayor Jim Campbell, who was part of a committee that has worked on the monument for the past three years. For many Acadians who came to the ceremony from across New Brunswick and beyond, having it in a place like Riverside-Albert was touching."A reminder that we have courage, perseverance and reconciliation with the English," said Louise Comeau Pooler."This is one of a kind," said McCarron. "I would like to learn more about the people who were here before the Irish, before the Scottish and so on."

  • Letters to premier shed light on public sentiment toward stadium for Halifax

    Letters to premier shed light on public sentiment toward stadium for Halifax

    Depending on whom you believe, taxpayer support for a CFL stadium in the Halifax area is either "ridiculous" and "irresponsible," or it would result in an economic "boom" and "more positivity and happiness around the province."Those are some of the messages contained in correspondence to Premier Stephen McNeil that was revealed through a recent access-to-information request made by a member of the public and posted to the province's website. The request asked for correspondence dating back to Sept. 1, 2018.The 131-page package includes about 50 documents from the public that are either emails, letters or messages directed toward the premier regarding their thoughts on whether the provincial government should contribute toward a football stadium that would be used to house a CFL team.The majority of correspondence, 40 letters, is against the idea, while only seven letters are in favour. The remaining letters are either duplicates or the writer's position is unclear.Maritime Football Limited wants to build a 24,000-seat stadium in Dartmouth's Shannon Park that would also be used for high school and university sports, concerts, music festivals and community events. The stadium would be part of a development that would also feature housing, office and retail space.The proponents have said they will need taxpayer assistance to make the stadium a go."Is the purpose of government not to provide services that the private sector won't provide?" wrote a Gmail user in a Nov. 22, 2018, email to McNeil. "What about the homeless, what about low-income housing needs, what about mental-health services, what about our doctor shortage? Aren't these things way, way more important than a friggin' football stadium?"The names of the letter writers are redacted in the package for privacy reasons.The need for making health care a top priority was a common theme among the writers who opposed providing provincial taxpayer support for a CFL stadium.One writer, who said he or she was a registered nurse, called the idea of spending money on a stadium "ridiculous" given the "crisis" state of the health-care system."People are sleeping in hallways in the hospitals because there is no beds on the units in the Halifax Infirmary ... Put that money into the health-care system," wrote the Outlook user on Nov. 7, 2018.Other writers focused on the fact that a CFL team would be a for-profit business, so taxpayers shouldn't provide support.Boondoggle fears"Our province and city is in need of so many services and programs, which we can currently not afford and diverting more tax dollars and generating more public debt seems irresponsible ... If this project is such a great investment and will generate steady profitable income, then private business should be willing to step up and fund the project," wrote a Gmail user on Oct. 30, 2018.Others warned the cost to taxpayers would be significant over the long term and cited projects such as the Halifax Convention Centre and the Yarmouth ferry as templates for what could be expected with a stadium."If all three are considered "viable" commercial enterprises, why are we paying for them?" wrote an Eastlink user on Nov. 23, 2018.Proposal expected by Labour DayHalifax spokesperson Brendan Elliott said the city was recently told by the proponents that it would be submitting a proposal by Labour Day, Sept. 2. Once the proposal is received, city staff will review it and make recommendations to regional council.More than a year ago, Premier Stephen McNeil ruled out the possibility of taxpayer assistance for a stadium."I'm not reaching into general revenue to build a football stadium," he said at the time.What those in support of a stadium saidAmong those supporting taxpayer money for a stadium, perceived economic benefits was the most cited reason.In a Nov. 22, 2018, letter, a writer wrote that in his or her class, students thought the stadium would be great for the economy."It would make a lot of money and it would make money at other places like Walmart, gas stations, restaurants and hotels. It would bring people from near and far. It would bring action from all over the world," the person wrote.A Nov. 23, 2018, letter said the stadium would create jobs "and there will be .... fewer people in poverty."'Bring patriotism to all the people'A Nov. 22, 2018, letter writer focused on similar themes."I think that by bringing a CFL stadium to Halifax our economy would "boom" by the stadium supplying more jobs and attracting more tourism," the person wrote. "It would also bring patriotism to all the people and more excitement to the city."On that same day, another person wrote that a stadium would result in "more positivity and happiness around the province."MORE TOP STORIES