Monday, December 31, 2007

Sask. Party hiring decisions smell of patronage, nepotism and cronyism; department review resembles Hermanson plan and BC Gov't Core Services Review

“[Changes to the civil service] should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.”
Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall in an Aug. 30, 2007, letter to the editor of the Regina Leader-Post.

“One initiative that I believe holds tremendous value for Saskatchewan is a project launched by (B.C.) Premier (Gord) Campbell called the Core Services Review. The B.C. government is reviewing every government program, service, board, commission, agency and Crown corporation. Premier Campbell expects to save millions of taxpayers’ dollars through this review -- money that will be used to finance his aggressive agenda of personal and business tax cuts and balance the budget.

A Saskatchewan Party government will launch a similar Core Services Review in this province within 30 days of taking office.”
– Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson on Oct. 2, 2001, unveiling his party’s “Grow Saskatchewan” to the North Saskatoon Business Association.
[Pledge may haunt Hermanson (StarPhoenix, Mar. 1, 2002)]

In an Aug. 30 letter the editor of the Regina Leader-Post on the issue of a possible change in government and the impact it would have on the public service Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said his government “would continue to foster a professional civil service that delivers efficient and effective programs within a culture of excellence and innovation.”

Wall said he was “very aware of the Saskatchewan civil service’s proud history and strong reputation for innovation and public policy leadership” and that in the case of a Saskatchewan Party government, there will be no “wholesale purge” of the civil service.

Wall’s comments, however, dealt primarily with the senior levels of the public service. As for the mid and lower levels he didn’t say.

Wall said changes to the civil service “should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.”

That sentiment quickly went out the window after the Saskatchewan Party won the Nov. 7 provincial election.

In Wall adviser has ties to federal Tories (StarPhoenix, Nov. 27, 2007) the SP reported that Iain Harry, a close friend of Wall, was appointed to serve as a special adviser to the Premier.

According to the article “Harry served in a variety of staff positions with the Sask. Party from its founding in 1997 before leaving for Ottawa in 2006. He worked in communications and research for the Conservative government and most recently headed an infrastructure group under Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon that reported to the Prime Minister’s Office on how to spend infrastructure money strategically.”

The story went on to note: “Much of the Opposition caucus staff has already been slated for new jobs within Executive Council. Among those appointments made official were Reg Downs as Wall’s chief of staff at a salary of $13,693 a month, Terri Harris as deputy chief of staff at $10,900 per month, Ian Hanna as the premier’s communications adviser at $9,600 per month, Kathy Young as executive director of communications at $9,900 per month, Terri Gudmundson as executive director of house business at $9,600 per month and James Saunders as senior policy adviser at $8,155 per month.

“Joe Donlevy, who was chair of the Saskatchewan Party election campaign, was also named special adviser to Wall at a salary of $12,500 per month.”

In Major changes to civil service (Leader-Post, Nov. 28, 2007) the LP’s Angela Hall reported on the return of Ron Dedman, who worked for Tory premier Grant Devine in the 1980s. Dedman was a former chief of staff to Progressive Conservative economic development minister Eric Berntson. In 1999, Bernston was convicted of illegally diverting government allowances between 1987 and 1991 when he was Saskatchewan’s deputy premier. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

Dedman was appointed associate deputy minister of executive resourcing in the Ministry of Executive Council.

The Wall government also hired Denise Batters, a lawyer and wife of Tory MP Dave Batters, as chief of staff for the minister of justice. NDP MLA Kevin Yates said the move suggests a “direct connection to the federal Conservatives.”

On Nov. 16, Wall named Rick Mantey as the deputy cabinet secretary and clerk of Executive Council at a salary of $175,000 a year.

Mantey was an adviser to former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon and has served in other positions with the former Progressive Conservative governments of Manitoba and Ontario. [Sask. Party goes outside province for senior staff (StarPhoenix, Nov. 17, 2007)]

On Nov. 9, Wall named Garnet Garven, dean of the University of Regina’s School of Business, as his deputy minister. Garven was chair and chief executive officer of the Worker’s Compensation Board under Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservative government. [Wall names deputy minister (Leader-Post, Nov. 10, 2007)]

Fired from the civil service was John Wright, a former SaskPower president who most recently held the role of deputy minister of health. Other deputy ministers leaving include Bonnie Durnford (Learning), Bill Craik (Labour), Harvey Brooks (Agriculture), Barbara McLean (Department of Culture, Youth and Recreation), Lily Stonehouse (Government Relations), Richard Gladue (First Nations and Metis Relations) and Deb McDonald (Saskatchewan Property Management).

The eight represented about half of the deputy ministers in the provincial civil service.

Particularly disturbing in Wright’s case is that he was replaced by Gren Smith-Windsor who was appointed Associate Deputy Minister of Health and will serve as Acting Deputy while a national executive search is undertaken. Smith-Windsor was fired without cause as head of the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region in 2005. The health region’s chair said the reasons for the termination were “internal.”

There is concern that Smith-Windsor’s appointment was politically motivated in that he had served as clerk of Executive Council in Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservative government of the 1980s. [McMorris defends selection of fired health bureaucrat (StarPhoenix, Dec. 14, 2007)]

In Artful hiring blunts criticism (Leader-Post, Nov. 28, 2007) LP political columnist Murray Mandryk said that a “few of Premier Brad Wall’s new appointments will raise some eyebrows.” These include:

– the appointment of Alanna Koch -- a former PC ministerial assistant and one-time director of Agricore United and executive director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers -- as agriculture deputy minister.

– the appointments of partisan chiefs of staff like former Saskatchewan Party President Clay Reich, former Crown corporation executive in the PC government Al Nicholson and especially Denise Batters (wife of Palliser Conservative MP Dave Batters) as a combination of patronage and ties to the federal Conservatives.

“Admittedly…some of Wall’s hiring decisions smell of patronage, nepotism and cronyism. (And given Wall’s penchant for surrounding himself with friends who go back to his university days, the latter issue is one we should watch carefully.),” Mandryk said.

SP business editor Murray Lyons devoted his column Enterprise Sask. gets a face (StarPhoenix, Nov. 28, 2007) to the hiring of one-time lobbyist for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) Dale Botting as the deputy minister of the new Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation. Botting will lead the “design-build” phase of Enterprise Saskatchewan. The CFIB and Saskatchewan Party have had a very close working relationship over the years and it appears that it will continue.

With changes to the senior civil service out of the way it seems the Saskatchewan Party has now turned its attention to the remainder of the public service.

In More changes to civil service coming soon: Krawetz (StarPhoenix, Dec. 19, 2007) Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz said more changes to the civil service are coming early in the new year.

“There will be transfers, there will be lateral movement and there may be people that will leave the employ of a Saskatchewan Party government,” he said in question period in response to NDP deputy leader Pat Atkinson.

Krawetz told reporters the process of transition will likely be completed by mid-February.

“Deputy ministers are doing human resource assessments of the people within their ministry that are responsible to them and they will be determining whether or not the level of personnel that is there is what is needed,” said Krawetz.

The Saskatchewan Party’s election promise to review all government programs and services sounds eerily similar to what former party leader Elwin Hermanson proposed in 2001.

The party’s 2007 platform Securing the Future (Oct. 2007) states that as part of The Growth and Financial Security Act “government departments and agencies will be required to review all programs and services as part of the annual reporting process, to determine and document whether they are:

– Serving the public interest;
– Being provided efficiently and effectively;
– Accountable to the taxpayer; and
– Achieving the goals of a healthy, safe, innovative and prosperous province.”

On Oct. 2, 2001, in a speech delivered at a North Saskatoon Business Association luncheon, former Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson announced “Grow Saskatchewan” a plan to increase the province’s population by 100,000 people over 10 years by cutting taxes, shrinking the size of government and selling off non-utility Crown corporations.

Hermanson told reporters the government can downsize “a big, stagnant government” and cut taxes without plunging the province back into deficit financing, even while maintaining education and health spending at current levels.

In Sask. Party lays out economic plan: Tax cuts, boosting province’s sagging population are main priorities, Hermanson says (StarPhoenix, Oct 3, 2001) Hermanson said “his party’s proposal – modelled on the British Columbia’s government core services review – won’t necessarily result in major layoffs in the public service. He wouldn’t say which departments have too many employees or where his government would rationalize services.

When asked where the government would save money to pay for tax cuts, he pointed to proposed Social Services reforms aimed at getting people back into the workforce.”

A day earlier in Tax cuts top Sask. Party wish list (Leader-Post, Oct 2, 2001) LP business reporter Colleen Silverthorn noted the cost of Hermanson’s plan to “trim off spending by changing the welfare system” was $25 million to $50 million.

(It is interesting to note that new social services minister, Donna Harpauer, is mandated to hold a summit of community based organizations within the first six months of the Sask. Party government “to develop a new social policy direction for Saskatchewan.” No details on this ominous initiative have been released.)

Hermanson’s plan backfired when it was later learned just how devastating the British Columbia model was.

According to Sask. Party would follow B.C. lead: NDP, Grits: Say axe would fall (StarPhoenix, Jan. 19, 2002) the SP’s James Parker reported that on Jan. 17, B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell announced his government would cut 11,700 government jobs – one-third of the civil service – in three years. Government spending would be slashed by $1.9 billion, with health and education the only areas spared the axe.

B.C would close eight jails and 24 courthouses, eliminate many programs and services and introduce new fees for some services that remain.

NDP Economic Development Minister Eldon Lautermilch said if Hermanson used the B.C template “it will mean 4,000 people gone (from the public service) in Saskatchewan.”

“That means jobs gone, not only in Regina, but in Swift Current, Estevan, Yorkton, Moose Jaw, North Battleford, all over the province. There are going to be thousands of families hurt if he is premier in this province.”

Parker also noted that:
Sask. Party finance critic Ken Krawetz said his party will not run a deficit and will not cut taxes before it completes a core services review.

He said if the party is elected, it will reduce the size of the public service, sell non-utility Crown corporations and privatize some government services. But he said the extent of the cuts won’t be known until the review is complete.

Krawetz said a downsizing similar to the one announced in British Columbia isn’t likely. At the very least, he said, the province could do without the 570 government jobs added in last year’s budget.

“There will be some changes. There will be restructuring. There will be delivery of services in a different fashion. There may be a reduction in the number of employees at the Crown level and government level.”
Parker’s article revealed some additional information regarding Hermanson’s October 2001 speech to the North Saskatoon Business Association.

Hermanson apparently said Saskatchewan’s “big stagnant” government was a major barrier to growth and pledged to announce a similar initiative to BC’s core services review within 30 days of taking office.

Hermanson said the review would be based on five questions:

– Does a service serve a compelling public interest?
– Is it affordable within the fiscal environment of the province?
– Is it being delivered or offered in the most efficient way?
– Is it accountable to the taxpayer?
– Does it contribute to growing Saskatchewan by 100,000 people in 10 years?

Sound familiar? It should because it’s very similar to what the party promised to do in its 2007 election platform.

Hermanson carried his controversial plan into the November 2003 provincial election but under a different name.

In an October 15, 2003, pre-election letter to CFIB Saskatchewan director Marilyn Braun-Pollon, Hermanson promised his government would “launch a comprehensive Government Efficiency Review of every program, department, board, agency, commission and Crown Corporation” based on the five questions above.

It should be noted that Brad Wall’s 2007 corresponds with resolution EC05-8 – Performing a Service-Based Review of Government Operations of the Saskatchewan Party Policy Book (Feb. 2007) that states:
“Be it resolved that a Saskatchewan Party government will perform a service-based review of government operations to ensure all parts of government are:

a) Serving a compelling public interest;

b) Affordable within the fiscal environment of the province;

c) Providing services in the most efficient way possible;

d) Accountable to the taxpayer; and

e) Removing barriers to the development of an entrepreneurial and enterprising economy.”
Furthermore, the Saskatchewan Party’s plan is eerily similar to what BC Premier Gordon Campbell initiated.

On July 31, 2001, Premier Campbell provided all ministers with a letter outlining guidelines for the review.

“The Core Services Review is a comprehensive and rigorous examination of all provincial programs and activities. Its overarching objective is to identify and to confirm our Government’s core roles and responsibilities and to identify ways to improve the delivery of government services in the interests of taxpayers,” Campbell’s letter said.

The premier went on to describe the scope of the initiative:
“Core Services Review requires us to ask fundamental questions about:

-What we are doing;
-Why we are doing it;
-How are we doing it; and,
-How we will measure our progress.

Within that broad framework we need to find answers to specific questions:

1. Public Interest Test: Does the mandate, program, activity or business unit continue to serve a compelling public interest?

2. Affordability Test: Is the package of programs, activities or business units affordable within the fiscal environment?

3. Effectiveness & Role of Government Test: Are we doing the right thing? Is there a legitimate and essential role for the provincial government in this program, activity or business unit?

4. Efficiency Test: Are the current organizational and service delivery models the most efficient way to manage and deliver the program, activity or business unit?

5. Accountability Test: Are the current measures and reporting mechanisms the most effective way to account for program, activity or business unit performance (relevancy, effectiveness, service)?”
Sound familiar?

To date Premier Brad Wall has not provided any meaningful details on the government’s review of programs and services. However, there have been at least two attempts by the government to scare the public about the future.

The first came on Nov. 29 with the release of the province’s Mid-Year Financial Report that revealed an almost $1.24 billion improvement for 2007-08 but Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer threw cold water on the good news claiming “the spending legacy of the previous administration had Saskatchewan headed back down the road to deficit budgets if we don’t change course.”

According to the news release: “Premier Brad Wall said his government is committed to balanced budgets and that he has asked the Finance Minister to take a number of steps to ensure balanced budgets and continued economic growth in the future. These include…seeking efficiencies and cost-saving measures and reducing the rate of spending growth in government departments as part of the 2008-09 budget development process and legislating an annual review of government spending practices within the new Saskatchewan Growth and Financial Security Act.”

Wall was blasted in the media a week earlier for attempting to portray the province’s financial situation as “serious” and “stark.”

The second scare tactic came on Dec. 13 with the introduction of The Growth and Financial Security Act. Once again Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer used the Mid-Year Financial Report to say that it “identified some serious financial challenges left behind by the previous administration.”

“With this Act, we are reducing the risk of those challenges in the future…by finding efficiencies,” Gantefoer said in the news release.

Job losses and cuts to programs and services are likely but the government isn’t saying where. It has to pay for its $1.7 billion in election promises somehow, which doesn’t include the as many as 29 of the promises that remain “uncosted.”

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Enterprise Saskatchewan Act: Sector teams lack transparency; labour laws not identified as barriers in Premier Brad Wall’s ‘economic vision’

One of the most important aspects of the Saskatchewan Party government’s Enterprise Saskatchewan Act is the creation of “sector teams” that will identify barriers to growth in 14 sectors of the province’s economy. It seems not much work can begin until these mysterious bodies are up and running. Yet it’s an area where little information is being provided.

The Act’s preamble sets out the government’s goals and principles for Enterprise Saskatchewan, which include policies to ensure that taxes are competitive with other jurisdictions; barriers to economic growth are reduced and removed; and labour laws are balanced and fair to both employers and unions.

In keeping with the principles set out in the preamble, among the stated purposes of Enterprise Saskatchewan in Section 4(a) of the Act are: “to establish sector teams to survey and identify barriers to growth in the following sectors of Saskatchewan’s economy:

(i) energy production;
(ii) agriculture;
(iii) tourism;
(iv) forestry;
(v) advanced education, research and development;
(vi) life sciences, synchrotron science and information technology;
(vii) environment;
(viii) construction;
(ix) trucking and transportation;
(x) financial services;
(xi) manufacturing;
(xii) mining;
(xiii) co-operatives;
(xiv) arts and culture;
(xv) any other prescribed sector.”

(In the Act “prescribed” means prescribed in the regulations, which have not yet been made public. Regulations are usually made by Cabinet, ministers or agency boards and, once filed with the Registrar of Regulations, are legal instruments with the force of law. Copies of specific regulations are available from the Queen’s Printer.)

Beyond this there is no other information contained in the Act about the sector teams. Not known is which individuals or organizations will be represented or who will choose them. Not known is how they will be selected or what qualifications are required. How many people will be on each team? Will team members be paid, if so how much? Will the names of team members be made public? Will sector meetings be open to the public? Will any reports or correspondence considered by the teams be available to the public? What are the terms of reference and what powers, if any, will the sector teams have? Will they be a permanent fixture within Enterprise Saskatchewan?

It’s bad enough that the Enterprise Saskatchewan board of directors will be comprised primarily of unelected individuals but the sector teams appear to be one step further removed from the public in terms of accountability.

No word yet either on whether Enterprise Saskatchewan board meetings will be open to the public or how much members will be paid.

Details about the Enterprise Saskatchewan sector teams may be scarce in the Act but some can be found in various Saskatchewan Party documents and in speeches made by party leader Brad Wall.

In a speech to the North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA) on Dec. 8, 2005, Wall said:
“At the outset, we will direct Enterprise Saskatchewan to establish sector teams for the economic sectors that business has told me can drive true job creating economic growth in Saskatchewan.

“Each team will have one month to prepare its first inventory of the barriers to growth holding that sector back from reaching its full potential. (resource surcharges, infrastructure, etc.)

“We won’t need to appoint a forestry task force as the Premier did in the wake of the recent Weyerhaeuser announcement – one will already exist.

“These sector teams will report publicly and the new government will respond publicly with its plans to deal with those barriers to growth within two weeks. That is one to two months for the first action on barriers to growth.”
Right away two things are apparent. First, it was business that told Brad Wall which sectors Enterprise Saskatchewan should focus on. Second, it appears each sector team will prepare more than one “inventory” of barriers. This appears to suggest that the influence of sector teams within Enterprise Saskatchewan could be long term.

In his speech to the NSBA Wall also said:
“Well, last year I released my economic vision for our province’s future called the Promise of Saskatchewan. One of the first places I came to talk about it was right here to all of you.

“I told you then that it was a living document and that I wanted your ideas and views. I sent it out around the province asking groups and individuals the same thing.

“And you responded. Soon I will release an updated version of that blueprint for a new economy.”
So one of the first stops Wall made on his promotional tour was to business lobby group the NSBA. He asked for their feedback and they responded. As best can be determined Wall has not publicly identified which “groups and individuals” he consulted. It would be interesting to know if he reached out to labour for its input or any other non-business groups for that matter.

It should also be noted that in Enterprise Saskatchewan would privatize department: SFL (StarPhoenix, Nov. 1, 2007) party leader Brad Wall named the NSBA and his good friends the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) as the business groups that could be asked to be involved in Enterprise Saskatchewan.

(Incidentally, the Honourable Rob Norris, Minister of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour was the guest speaker at an NSBA luncheon held Friday, December 21, 2007, at the Park Town Hotel. The topic: A Fair and Balanced Labour Environment in Saskatchewan. Norris seems to have ample time in his busy schedule to hobnob with business leaders but apparently it’s been like pulling teeth to get the good minister to scare up some time to meet with labour representatives.)

Furthermore, Page 9 of Wall’s economic paper The Promise of Saskatchewan notes that the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce will be “part of the strategic planning, implementation, governance and monitoring of the Enterprise Saskatchewan Plan.”

And Page 83 of the Saskatchewan Party Policy Book states that “the board of Enterprise Saskatchewan will contain representation from…regional economic development authorities.”

The Enterprise Saskatchewan Act states in Section 6(1) that “one member selected from persons nominated by the prescribed organization or organizations representing business in Saskatchewan” will sit as a director of the agency. The same section of the Act also allows for “one other person” to be selected. For the business groups that don’t make it onto the board they could very well end up on one of the sector teams.

The CFIB already have one thing going for them and that is its former Saskatchewan director Dale Botting, who Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk described as a “red-meat, free-enterpriser,” is the deputy minister responsible for the “design/build” phase of Enterprise Saskatchewan. In the end the CFIB could have someone in their corner both within government and on the board or sector team making recommendations and decisions.

The Saskatchewan Party Tourism Plan (Sept. 2007) offers a bit more insight into the role that sector teams will play:

Enterprise Saskatchewan will establish sector teams in fourteen key sectors of the economy, including tourism, to identify barriers to economic growth and propose strategies to realize the full economic potential of Saskatchewan’s economy.”

This information was made available in a Saskatchewan Party pre-election news release on September 24, 2007.

Interestingly, The Enterprise Saskatchewan Act is silent on the fact that sector teams will be proposing strategies.

Section 4(b) of the Act says only that the agency itself (Enterprise Saskatchewan) will “provide recommendations and advice for the removal and reduction of barriers to economic growth in the sectors of the economy mentioned in clause (a) and report publicly on the Government of Saskatchewan’s progress in these activities.”

Section 4(d) of the Act notes that Enterprise Saskatchewan will “establish, measure, monitor and report on goals and targets for Saskatchewan’s economy.” If these actions are to be based on the barriers identified and strategies proposed by the sector teams then it seems the influence of these particular bodies could be substantial.

The Enterprise Saskatchewan Act contains at least one significant change from what Wall proposed in his 2004 vision paper. Section 8(1) of the Act states that: “The minister is the chairperson of the board.”

Meanwhile, Page 11 of Wall’s The Promise of Saskatchewan had something else in mind noting that the Enterprise Saskatchewan chairperson will be “coming from the non-government members of the board.”

Page 79 of the Saskatchewan Party Policy Book expands this further stating: “The fact that Enterprise Saskatchewan will be structured as a central agency of government, and that its board will be chaired by a non-government representative, demonstrates the commitment of a Saskatchewan Party government to return control of the economy back to the economic stakeholders of the province.”

It should be noted the new Act also points out that the government “may appoint another member of the board as vice-chairperson of the board.”

These changes appear to thwart what Brad Wall told the audience during a speech he gave at the 2007 Regina Saskatchewan Party Leader’s Dinner on April 24, 2007, at the Queensbury Convention Centre that Enterprise Saskatchewan will be “free of the temporal influence of politics.”

The Saskatchewan Party government will be picking which organizations sit on the Enterprise Saskatchewan board of directors, it will chair the board meetings and it will be pulling the strings via the Act and through the fine print contained in the regulations.


It is interesting that The Enterprise Saskatchewan Act would include labour laws as one of the targets the government intends to attack.

With the recent introduction of the Trade Union Amendment Act, 2007 and Public Service Essential Services Act organized labour is getting hammered on two fronts.

With the identification and removal of barriers to economic growth being one of the key purposes of The Enterprise Saskatchewan Act it could very well be that the true intention of the Act is to go above and beyond what is cited in the other two pieces of legislation concerning labour. Surely the sector teams, which will no doubt be comprised of business friendly individuals, will find other barriers that it feels should be eliminated.

A Dec. 20, 2007, open letter to Premier Brad Wall and Labour Minister Rob Norris from Saskatchewan Business Council (SBC) representatives Lanny McInnes, the director of Government Relations and Member Services (Manitoba and Saskatchewan) with the Retail Council of Canada, Shirley Ryan, the executive director with the North Saskatoon Business Association and Marilyn Braun-Pollon, the vice-president of Saskatchewan and Agribusiness with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, applauding the government’s new labour legislation appears to suggest as much.

“The SBC applauds these first steps and looks forward to working with your government to further introduce other policies that help create a more competitive Saskatchewan,” the SBC said.

The letter was copied to the Hon. Lyle Stewart, Minister of Enterprise and Innovation and Dale Botting, Deputy Minister, Minister of Enterprise and Innovation, who are mandated to create Enterprise Saskatchewan which will provide recommendations and advice for the removal and reduction of barriers to economic growth.

The interesting thing is labour laws were never identified as being barriers to economic growth in Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall’s economic paper.

Enterprise Saskatchewan was first announced on September 21, 2004, as part of Wall’s “new economic vision” for the province outlined in the document The Promise of Saskatchewan: A New Vision for Saskatchewan’s Economy.

In an address to more than 200 students at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Commerce, Wall said Saskatchewan must shed its dependence on public sector intervention and begin to build a larger private sector as the primary economic driver.

“The goal of our Enterprise Saskatchewan plan is to create an aggressive, agile and entrepreneurial economy within a stable and positive business environment that removes the politics from economic development and can survive Saskatchewan’s volatile election cycle.”

Wall said Enterprise Saskatchewan will focus on Saskatchewan’s key economic sectors and implement a broad plan consisting of, but not limited to fifteen elements, one of which “will develop a systematic and ongoing process to identify and remove barriers to growth in each of our key economic sectors.”

According to Wall, “Saskatchewan Party MLAs have spent a great deal of time meeting with various industry groups and economic development organizations to identify barriers to growth in key economic sectors.”

Wall’s economic paper pre-determined the following as barriers:

– Direct competition to business from various government agencies
– Crown corporations attempting to diversify from core functions
– Crown corporation policies
– Inadequate access to bandwidth
– Lack of high-speed internet access in parts of the province
– Corporate tax
– Income tax
– Capital tax
– Property tax (Education portion)
– Provincial Sales Tax
– Fuel tax
– Resource surcharge
– Shortage of skilled workers
– Poor infrastructure (i.e. high quality roads)
– Red tape (i.e. regulations)
– Permitting processes
– Financial institutions taxed at a higher rate than manufacturing firms
– Tendering processes in construction industry
– Property taxes on rail lines

Conspicuously absent from the list is any reference to the very things the business lobby constantly complain about: labour laws, minimum wage, employment insurance, Workers’ Compensation, social assistance, Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board or essential services legislation. There is absolutely nothing in Brad Wall’s economic plan to suggest that labour laws are barriers to economic growth in Saskatchewan. Yet it is a big part of the new Enterprise Saskatchewan Act.

News articles covering the release of Wall’s economic paper at the time include: Sask Party launches plan for the province (CBC News, Sept. 21, 2004), Sask. Party wants input from public (Leader-Post, Sept. 22, 2004), Wall makes economic pitch (Leader-Post, Editorial, Sept. 22, 2004), Wall’s vision gives province new mindset (StarPhoenix, Editorial, Sept. 22, 2004), Aiming at palatable alternative (StarPhoenix, Sept. 23, 2004), What's the big idea? Sask. Party has a few (StarPhoenix, Sept. 24, 2004), New organization draws on private sector (StarPhoenix, Sept. 25, 2004) and Wall wants less gov’t involvement (Leader-Post, Oct. 5, 2004). These featured editorials in The StarPhoenix and Leader-Post as well as columns by anti-NDP stalwarts Dwight Percy, Murray Lyons, Bruce Johnstone and Randy Burton. None though mention labour laws.

In February 2005, delegates at the Saskatchewan Party annual convention in Regina passed the following resolution:

EC05-1. Building Enterprise Saskatchewan – Be it resolved that the Saskatchewan Party endorses “The Promise of Saskatchewan: A New Vision for Saskatchewan’s Economy” as presented by Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall as the foundation for the economic development plan of a Saskatchewan Party government.”

Again, there is nothing in the Promise of Saskatchewan with respect to labour laws and yet in his speech to the NSBA ten months later Wall said: “Non-negotiable and foundational to the terms of reference given to Enterprise Saskatchewan will be changes to labour legislation.”

Go figure.

This is the same Brad Wall that in a December 10, 2004, letter to the Saskatchewan Business Council, said the province has a “reputation as a business-friendly environment.”

In an April 3, 2007, news release Wall said Saskatchewan was “the lowest cost jurisdiction…with fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta.”

Perhaps Wall’s change in tune came about after receiving unfavourable responses from the business lobby who weren’t too pleased that his vision overlooked their deep-seated dislike of labour laws and organized labour in general.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sask. Party: Growth and Financial Security Act breaks election promise; Treasury Board to have power to pursue any initiative it considers appropriate

With the introduction of Bill No. 1 – An Act respecting Saskatchewan.s Growth and Financial Security and repealing certain Acts on Dec. 13, 2007, the Saskatchewan Party is on the verge of breaking one of its main election promises.

“We are committed to balanced budgets and economic growth, and The Saskatchewan Growth and Financial Security Act takes a number of steps to ensure this happens,” Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer said in a government news release.

However, the Bill that Gantefoer introduced in the legislature does not appear to deliver what his party promised during the 2007 provincial election.

Rather than tough legislation requiring balanced budgets every year the proposed Act will still allow for deficit budgets. The Act also reneges on Premier Brad Wall’s promise that the Growth and Financial Security Fund will be wound down. Furthermore, the Act appears to provide the Treasury Board with the ability to undertake any initiative it considers appropriate.

The Act also seems to fall short for the time being on the party’s promise to limit increases in the size of Saskatchewan’s civil service to the rate of population growth. The details of this particular promise won’t be known until the regulations are released.

By all accounts the Saskatchewan Party has broken its first major election promise.

In Sask. Party government creating own rainy-day fund (CBC News, Dec. 14, 2007) the CBC said the Saskatchewan Party “has flip-flopped on the need for a “rainy day” fund to avoid falling into deficit.”

Prior to the Nov. 7 election “the party criticized the former government for dipping into its Fiscal Stabilization Fund to balance its books.” Now it intends to do the very same thing and “set up a new contingency fund, called the Growth and Financial Security Fund, that will be used to balance the budget.”

In Balanced budgets could come with deficits: minister (StarPhoenix, Dec. 14, 2007) SP reporter James Woods noted “the government could still spend more than it takes in during a year and use money from the new fund to balance the budget, Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer said.”

Woods said “Gantefoer initially told reporters at the legislature he would call such a document a “balanced budget,” but then said the government would acknowledge it as a deficit.”

“I would think we would point clearly to the fact that it’s a deficit budget and the shortfall is made up from the Growth (and Financial Security) Fund,” he said.

Gantefoer admitted that “fundamentally, there is very little difference” in what the new government is now doing with the Growth and Financial Security Fund, which is also to be used for “economic growth initiatives.”

In Campaign platform released (Leader-Post, Oct. 20, 2007) Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall promised the “fund will be drawn down and we’ll be back to transparency.”

Gantefoer now calls it a “goal.”

According to the CBC “the new legislation will make this fund a permanent fixture in the new government.”

In Sask. Party budget bill doesn't add up (Leader-Post, Dec. 14, 2007) political columnist Murray Mandryk wondered does the new legislation “really require balanced budgets every year” and “honestly reflect the spirit of the Saskatchewan Party's election promise?”

“Simply put; No, it doesn’t,” Mandryk said.

“[T]his first Saskatchewan Party government bill not only belies what the party promised in the election campaign, but isn’t even all that much different from what the former NDP government was doing.”

Mandryk states that “Wall told reporters last October during his platform launch that yearly deficits “would be impossible” under his government’s legislation and that it wasn’t good enough to balance the budget every four years because “municipalities are expected to balance it every year -- certainly, that’s the case in your home.””

“The Saskatchewan Party clearly implied it would introduce tough legislation requiring balanced budgets every year. Its first bill is anything but tough balanced budget legislation. It isn’t even what the Saskatchewan Party said it would do,” Mandryk said.

The StarPhoenix editorial board called the Saskatchewan Party’s first piece of legislation “discouraging for those who cast a ballot for Wall’s party expecting substantive changes to provincial governing policy after 16 years of NDP rule.”

In Rainy day fund another blast from the past (StarPhoenix, Dec. 15, 2007) the board also said the Act presented by Gantefoer “not only falls far short of his party’s (decidedly ill-advised) commitment to adopt a tough new law to require a balanced budget each year, but it’s substantively no different from what the New Democrats had done in government during recent years.”

“It’s certainly not enacting “stronger guiding financial principles to increase accountability and better secure the financial future for Saskatchewan people,” as he insists,” said the board.

Gantefoer’s mandate letter signed by Premier Brad Wall merely directs the finance minister to “Ensure the budget is balanced every year.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t say how.

The new legislation also appears to differ from what is recorded in the Saskatchewan Party Policy Book. Resolution DM05-3 Balancing the Budget states: “Be it resolved that a Saskatchewan Party government will pass strong Balanced Budget legislation that requires a balanced budget over each four year election cycle.”

The policy book also states that among the party’s guiding principles is “a firm commitment to balanced budgets.”

Sections 8 & 12 of the Constitution of the Saskatchewan Party (Feb. 2006) make it clear that “resolutions and motions passed by the Convention of the Party shall be binding on the Leader and members of the caucus of The Saskatchewan Party” and that it “shall be the duty of the Leader and the Party President to uphold and enforce the provisions of this Constitution.” It would seem that this is not happening.


Page 41 of the Saskatchewan Party 2007 election platform Securing the Future promises that under the new Act “government departments and agencies will be required to review all programs and services as part of the annual reporting process, to determine and document whether they are: Serving the public interest; Being provided efficiently and effectively; Accountable to the taxpayer; and Achieving the goals of a healthy, safe, innovative and prosperous province.”

Gantefoer’s mandate letter simply requires his Ministry to: “Ensure government departments and agencies review all programs and services as part of the annual reporting process.”

Part VI of the new legislation omits without explanation the reference to “serving the public interest” and does not specifically instruct government departments and agencies to undertake a review of all programs and services. The task instead appears to have been left solely up to the powerful Treasury Board.

Section 32(1) of the new Act reads: “In preparing the estimates for a fiscal year, Treasury Board shall review the existing and proposed programs and expenditures of ministries for the following purposes:

(a) to determine the adequacy of those programs and expenditures;

(b) to evaluate those programs and expenditures as to economy, efficiency and effectiveness and to determine the priorities amongst them;

(c) to ensure that there is accountability by the ministries to the Legislative Assembly respecting those expenditures and programs;

(d) to achieve any other purposes that Treasury Board considers appropriate.”

According to the Cabinet Secretariat the following persons constitute the current membership of Treasury Board as per Order in Council #974/2007:

Honourable Rod Gantefoer (Chairperson)
Honourable Lyle Stewart (Vice-Chairperson)
Honourable Wayne Elhard
Honourable Donna Harpauer
Honourable Darryl Hickie

Doug Matthies, Deputy Minister of Finance, is the committee Secretary.

In its election platform the Saskatchewan Party promised to place “all orders-in-council on-line, so the public can easily review government appointments.” However, the above information is not available on-line.

The Executive Government Processes and Procedures in Saskatchewan: A Procedures Manual (April 2004, Rev. March 2007), indicates that the Premier is responsible for deciding what committees are needed, what functions they will perform, and who their members will be. The Treasury Board is a statutory Cabinet committee.

The Saskatchewan Finance 2006-2007 Annual Report notes the powers and duties of Treasury Board are contained in sections 4 and 5 of The Financial Administration Act, 1993 which state:
Duties of Treasury Board
4 The board is responsible to the Lieutenant Governor in Council for all matters relating to:

(a) the finances, including revenues, expenses, assets and liabilities of the Government of Saskatchewan;

(b) the evaluation of programs of the Government of Saskatchewan;

(c) administrative policy and management practices and systems in the Government of Saskatchewan;

(d) the accounting policies and practices of the Government of Saskatchewan;

(e) the organization of all or any part of the Government of Saskatchewan; and

(f) any matters, in addition to those described in clauses (a) to (e), that the Lieutenant Governor in Council may assign to it.

Powers of Treasury Board
5 The board may:

(a) make orders and issue directives with respect to any matter set out in section 4;

(b) prescribe the form and content of the public accounts and the estimates that are presented to the Legislative Assembly;

(c) prescribe the form and manner of financial records and accounting systems of the Government of Saskatchewan;

(d) notwithstanding any other Act, designate a public agency that is to be subject to its orders and directives;

(e) direct any person receiving, managing or disbursing public money to keep any books, records or accounts that it considers necessary; and

(f) determine its rules and methods of procedure.
Comparing the duties of the Treasury Board as outlined in the proposed Saskatchewan Growth and Financial Security Act with those in The Financial Administration Act seems to reveal at least one interesting difference. Whereas in the latter the Lieutenant Governor in Council is responsible for assigning other duties to the board the new legislation leaves it up to the committee to decide on its own whether to add “any other purposes” it “considers appropriate.”

This could come in handy for a committee member like Lyle Stewart, the Minister of Enterprise and Innovation, who is mandated to create the controversial Enterprise Saskatchewan as the central economic development agency which will be governed by an unelected board dominated by business interests. Dale Botting, the former Saskatchewan director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), is the deputy minister in charge of developing and implementing the plan which, according to Stewart’s mandate letter, includes “Reviewing key sector’s of Saskatchewan’s economy, to identify barriers to growth and make recommendations to government for their removal” and “Measuring and reporting on Saskatchewan’s tax and regulatory environment to ensure that Saskatchewan’s economy remains competitive within the New West.” Groups like the CFIB have over the years conveniently compiled a laundry list of demands in these areas it would like to see implemented.

Furthermore, the Act is not clear as to the criteria and process the government intends to use to “evaluate” the “economy, efficiency and effectiveness” and “determine the adequacy” of programs and expenditures and to “determine the priorities amongst them.”

It is likely to be at Treasury Board where any cuts to programs and services or changes in tax and regulatory environment will be determined.

It is interesting to also note that resolution EC05-8 Performing a Service-Based Review of Government Operations in the Saskatchewan Party Policy Book references the removal of barriers which is something the new Act does not. The resolution states: “Be it resolved that a Saskatchewan Party government will perform a service-based review of government operations to ensure all parts of government are:

a) Serving a compelling public interest;

b) Affordable within the fiscal environment of the province;

c) Providing services in the most efficient way possible;

d) Accountable to the taxpayer; and

e) Removing barriers to the development of an entrepreneurial and enterprising economy.”

It’s assumed Treasury Board could invoke Section 32(1)(d) of the new Act “to achieve any other purposes that Treasury Board considers appropriate” to take care of this oversight.


On the matter of ensuring that the size of government does not grow faster than the rate of population growth the Saskatchewan Party’s election platform states that the Actwill limit increases in the size of Saskatchewan’s civil service to the rate of population growth” and “In years when the population does not grow, the provincial government would ensure that there was no net increase in the number of civil servants employed by the provincial government. Population decreases would not necessitate a decrease in the size of the civil service under the Saskatchewan Growth and Financial Security Act.”

This task is left to the Treasury Board as well but the details won’t be available until the regulations have been made public.

Section 33(2) of the proposed Act states: “Treasury Board shall monitor the size of the public service on a continual basis and determine whether or not the size of the public service, as determined by the method prescribed in the regulations, is growing or diminishing as a percentage of the population of Saskatchewan, as determined by the method prescribed in the regulations.”

Once again the Act affords the Treasury Board the power to “undertake any initiatives respecting the size of the public service that Treasury Board considers appropriate.”

It will be interesting to see how many times the committee exercises this part of the Act to further its conservative agenda.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sask. Party betrayal of P.A. continues; Premier Wall denies promise made; Hickie: “a vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open and people working”

The Brad Wall-led Saskatchewan Party government spent most of the first question period in the legislature since the Nov. 7 provincial election denying and back-peddling on a promise made by one of its candidate’s regarding the Prince Albert Pulp Mill.

During the election Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie told residents that “a vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open and people working.”

This sounds pretty straight forward but apparently it’s not.

According to Sask. Party grilled over cancellation (Leader-Post, Dec. 12, 2007) Premier Brad Wall “told reporters it was not a campaign promise or a guarantee the mill would reopen during the four-year term of government.”

However, he acknowledged the new government will be judged if the mill stays shut.

“If the mill is not re-opened in four years, if we were unable to help facilitate a deal, there are going to be a number of factors in play, the markets primarily because again it can’t be an artificial or fictional arrangement, are going to be part of it. People can choose to hold us accountable for that, that’s fair,” said Wall.

“In this case, if they do not believe that we worked hard enough, that we did everything we could do to get the mill open, I expect we'll hear about it on election day.”

In Mill deal dominates Wall’s first question period as premier (CBC News, Dec. 11, 2007) Wall said what Hickie meant to say was that he’d try hard to do that.

The problem is Hickie’s election signs didn’t say that and it’s not what voters were led to believe on the doorstep.

The 2007 provincial election period lasted 28-days (29 if you count the day the writ was dropped).

The official results available at the Elections Saskatchewan website indicate there were 9,602 eligible electors in Prince Albert Carlton of which 80.86% (7,771) voted.

So Premier Wall would have people believe that of the thousands of residents that Hickie likely met during the course of a campaign that was months in the planning, in some miraculous display of absentmindedness, he just plain forgot to say what he really meant. All those elections signs and handouts bearing the slogan were simply an unfortunate oversight. It seems doubtful that the good people of Prince Albert Carlton will be buying this nonsense any time soon.

In Adding millstones to Wall’s knapsack (Leader-Post, Dec. 12, 2007) Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk added: “Whether or not the vast majority of the people of the province agree with the government that P.A. pulp mill MOU should be scrapped may be of less consequence, politically speaking, than what the people of Prince Albert and area think. After all, only P.A. residents will see this issue as a vote determiner.”

“Certainly, the Saskatchewan Party’s eagerness to scrap this deal (even before it could be debated in the assembly) has already raised doubts with some in Prince Albert over whether the new government did its due diligence.

“But even more problematic for Wall is justifying how scrapping the MOU squares with those little cards Prince Albert Carlton Saskatchewan Party MLA Darryl Hickie was handing out on election doorsteps proclaiming: “A vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open (sic) & people working.”

“On Tuesday, Wall was eventually forced to acknowledge to reporters outsider the chamber that, if the mill isn’t reopened, P.A. voters will be well within their rights to decide that Hickie misled them on this commitment. This isn’t good news in a seat that the Saskatchewan Party won by a mere 61 votes.”

Wall has continually called the memorandum of understanding between the former NDP government and Domtar “fiction”.

Wall said he spoke with Domtar officials this week and that the government has made a commitment to “work very hard on this issue.” It appears though that Wall has done a masterful job in burning this particular bridge.

In P.A. pulp mill dominates first question period (StarPhoenix, Dec. 12, 2007) the StarPhoenix reported that a “Domtar official would not comment on the premier’s characterization of the MOU beyond noting it was the product of a 14-month period of negotiations.”

“While Wall’s contact with the company was appreciated, nothing has changed since the agreement was scrapped and Domtar characterized the chances of the mill reopening as severely diminished, said company vice-president Michel Rathier in an interview from Montreal.

“What was expressed to Premier Wall was that we put in over the last 15 months a lot of effort over this and we looked at many options and examined many approaches and strategies. . . . I guess now what we’d like to do is leave the government time and let the new government time to assess their own room to manoeuver. Then down the road we’ll evaluate together if there’s a chance to restart this or not. But for now nothing has progressed.””

It seems the ball is in Wall’s court. In fact, it never really left and it now seems there’s good chance he might get left holding it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sask. Party Premier Brad Wall, MLA’s McMorris, Hickie & Norris breach party’s code of ethics; stand on Crowns may contravene constitution

Wall, McMorris, Hickie & Norris (from left)

The recent conduct of Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall and three of his cabinet ministers – Don McMorris, Darryl Hickie and Rob Norris – appears to breach the party’s Code of Ethics.

At issue are comments attributed to them relating to the Prince Albert Pulp Mill and essential services legislation.

Regina Leader-Post political affairs columnist Murray Mandryk laid out the facts in Basic honesty minimum expectation (StarPhoenix, Dec. 7, 2007).

On Tuesday, Dec. 4, the day 37 of the 38 Saskatchewan Party MLA’s swore their oath of honour the media “caught the government in its first two blatant incongruities.”

Mandryk’s column notes:

– Contrary to the Saskatchewan Party’s Prince Albert Carlton candidate’s election commitment that “a vote for a Darryl Hickie is a vote to keep the mill open,” we listened Tuesday to Hickie rationalizing how cancellation of the $100-million MOU with Domtar has virtually no relationship to his pledge. [The Prince Albert Daily Herald had plenty to say on this issue.]

– And we heard from none other than Premier Brad Wall that his government would impose some form of essential services legislation. This despite repeated assurances from Elwin Hermanson, Don McMorris (his, a mere 10 days before the election call) and Wall himself that the Saskatchewan Party sees no reason to legislate essential services and that the unions and government could work this out at contract time.

The simple and basic principle in politics is, “You have to be honest and forthright with the voters,” Mandryk said.

Mandryk goes on the say:
Wall, McMorris, Hickie and now, Advanced Education and Labour Minister Rob Norris, simply aren’t being honest with the voters on these two issues.

At best, they were deliberately unclear in the lead-up to the election as they sought the support of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, voters in Prince Albert and others. At worst, Wall and Norris are choosing to be downright duplicitous with their revisionism that the Saskatchewan Party made it clear all along that it might legislate essential services (even if it didn't bother to mention it on its platform).

To hear Wall explain it today, it was just McMorris who misrepresented the party’s position by telling CBC reporter Geoff Leo on Oct. 1 that legislating essential services was “not on.”

This is simply not the case.

In fact, McMorris told the Regina Leader-Post in a June 28 story, after the Health Science Association of Saskatchewan strike, that an agreement around essential services should be forged between the parties without having to legislate the matter. Hermanson, too, stressed in a July 12 Leader-Post story that essential services agreements could be negotiated at contract time and didn't require legislation.

Wall himself in a Sept. 22 story said the same thing.

“There’s some common sense at play here that simply says before collective bargaining begins, before the expiration of a contract, both sides (should) sit down and agree to providing essential services.” Wall told LP reporter Angela Hall, even going so far as to say legislation wouldn’t necessarily be required to set out essential services.

How is this a clear message from the Saskatchewan Party that it really was contemplating essential services legislation all along?

“A vote for Darryl Hickie is a vote to keep the mill open.” How is that not a clear commitment?
“The end doesn’t justify the means,” Mandryk said.

“The minimum expectation voters should have is for their politicians to be honest and forthright. The oath that MLAs…swore…should mean something.”

Apparently it means little to Premier Brad Wall.

The Saskatchewan Party Code of Ethics, which have been removed from the party’s website, states:
“The Party and its Members should pursue their activities with a commitment to basic values and principles of ethical behaviour central to which are integrity, honesty, respect, humility, responsibility, fairness and compassion.” Sec. III

“Members shall be faithful to the letter and spirit of this Code, the principles of the Saskatchewan Party and its constitution and to the laws of Canada and Saskatchewan.” Sec. IV(4)

“Members shall use care to avoid disseminating false information and shall not knowingly do so.” Sec. IV(6)
The Party’s Ethics Panel investigates possible breaches of the Code. The panel consists of five party members two of which are appointed by the Leader. The panel reports its decision to the respondent in writing, with a copy to the Executive Council and the Leader of the Party. The Code is silent on what happens when it’s the Leader that is under investigation.

Wall’s apparent violation of his party’s code of ethics extends beyond the current incident. Throughout the 2007 election he and his party attempted to rewrite history telling the public it supported maintaining all of Saskatchewan’s Crown corporations as publicly owned entities. This is despite the fact that the party’s policy book shows its interest lies only in the four major utilities: SaskTel, SaskEnergy, SaskPower and SGI.

The Saskatchewan Party Policy Book states:
CC05-1. Keeping the Major Crowns Public
Be it resolved that a Saskatchewan Party government supports The Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act and will retain public ownership of our major Crown corporations as important tools in the provision of utility services to Saskatchewan families and businesses and important partners in the economic development of Saskatchewan.

CC05-2. Focusing the Major Crowns on Serving Saskatchewan
Be it resolved that a Saskatchewan Party government will mandate the major Crown corporations to provide high quality utility and insurance services and customer satisfaction to Saskatchewan people and businesses at the lowest possible cost.

EC05-3. Establishing the Right Economic Development Priorities
Be it resolved that the economic development priorities of a Saskatchewan Party government will be to: d) Maintain public ownership of Saskatchewan’s major crown utilities focused on the provision of power, telecommunications services, natural gas transmission and distribution and insurance services to Saskatchewan families and businesses at the lowest possible cost.
Page 30 of the Saskatchewan Party’s 2007 election platform Securing the Future states: “A Saskatchewan Party government will keep our Crowns publicly owned and ensure that Saskatchewan people continue to enjoy high quality utility services at the lowest cost.”

The platform mentions only SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy and SGI.

The new Minister of Crown Corporations is Ken Cheveldayoff, the MLA of Saskatoon Silver Springs. Among his Ministry’s priorities outlined in the Nov. 21 mandate letter signed by Premier Wall is: “Ensure that Saskatchewan Crown Corporations remain publicly owned and provide high quality services at the lowest cost.”

The word ‘utility’ is conspicuously absent.

The irony is that if Wall and Cheveldayoff were to actually honour the mandate they’d be violating the party’s policy book and related resolutions as passed by party members at its Feb. 2005 convention in Regina. This in turn would seem to be contravening the Constitution of the Saskatchewan Party (Feb. 2006) which states:
“The Membership of the Party shall be the highest authority and supreme governing body of The Saskatchewan Party.” Sec. 7(a)

“The resolutions and motions passed by the Convention of the Party shall be binding on the Leader and members of the caucus of The Saskatchewan Party.” Sec. 8(c)

“It shall be the duty of the Leader and the Party President to uphold and enforce the provisions of this Constitution.” Sec. 12
It should be noted that the constitution has been removed from the party’s website without explanation as well. Its little wonder since it and the party’s code of ethics don’t seem to be worth the paper they’re written on.

Furthermore, there is no mention of essential services legislation in the Saskatchewan Party’s election platform. Page 20 simply reads: “A Saskatchewan Party government will establish a fair and balanced labour environment in Saskatchewan that respects the rights of workers and employers by…Protecting public safety by working together with the province’s public sector unions to ensure essential services are in place in the event of a strike or labour action.”

The Saskatchewan Party Policy Book does not appear to contain any resolutions specific to essential services legislation.

Wall’s mandate letter to Norris does not mention legislation either. It merely says: “In your capacity as Minister of Labour, establish a fair and balanced labour environment in Saskatchewan that respects the rights of workers and employers by…Working with the province’s public sector unions to ensure essential services are in place in the event of a strike or labour action.”

The move by Wall to ensure essential services through legislation appears to be illegitimate at best.

Just one month into its mandate and the Brad Wall-led Saskatchewan Party government already seems to be bankrupt of honesty, integrity and credibility.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sask. Party Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie back-peddles on pulp mill election promise; issue referred to flawed Enterprise Saskatchewan

“A vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open.”
– Darryl Hickie 2007 campaign sign
Darryl Hickie was sworn in as the Saskatchewan Party MLA for Prince Albert Carlton on Dec. 4, 2007, and is the new Minister of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing. With the ink barely dry on his appointment a sense of betrayal among some in the community appears to be setting in.

During the 2007 provincial election Hickie allegedly made promises concerning the Prince Albert Pulp Mill.

According to Wall says ‘spirit’ in deal to reopen Sask mill stands even after money pulled (Canadian Press, Dec. 4, 2007) Hickie’s campaign signs read “a vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open.”

In Hickie vows to work for mill deal (StarPhoenix, Dec. 5, 2007) StarPhoenix reporter James Wood said Hickie told voters on the doorstep that “a vote for Darryl Hickie is a vote to open the mill.”

Hickie now appears to be back-peddling on his promise.

On November 30, 2007, the provincial government announced that it “notified Domtar that it wants to continue discussions about the reopening of Domtar’s mills in northern Saskatchewan, but it will not proceed with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in September by the former government.”

The news release said the Government will not offer any grants, loans or equity investments to Domtar, but is prepared to discuss other options.

Following the announcement Domtar issued its own press release saying “the Government’s decision to withdraw its support narrows down Domtar’s options regarding the Prince Albert facilities.”

In New Saskatchewan gov’t pulls out of Domtar deal to reopen Prince Albert pulp mill (Canadian Press, Nov. 30, 2007) Domtar said the chances of the mill reopening now are “really diminished.”

“We had worked in good faith over the last 14 months on a very complex project and now we see this project being canned,” said Michel Rathier, a spokesman with the Montreal-based company.

“We’re disappointed by this, but was it a shock? It was not a shock.”

Saskatchewan Party Resources Minister Bill Boyd said he “did not know how much it would cost taxpayers to walk away from the deal, but said it won't be significant.”

Prince Albert Mayor Jim Scarrow said he hopes the government realizes that opening the mill in the city is about helping a whole industry, not just one facility.

“People often look at a pulp mill as a stand-alone, but it is the key to an entire forestry industry,” Scarrow said.

“This is a matter of serious consequence to our province and it need not be taken lightly.”

In Pulp mill deal killed (P.A. Daily Herald, Dec. 1, 2007) Prince Albert Carlton Sask. Party MLA Darryl Hickie called the decision “the best deal for the people of Saskatchewan”, and added the government is willing to sit down with Domtar “any time to continue the avenue of negotiations.”

Darcy Furber, the MLA for Prince Albert Northcote and NDP member questioned how the mill could be reopened without government involvement.

“What elements of the business climate are the Saskatchewan Party going to bring to the table (in discussions)?” he asked, adding he also wonders if the hands-off policy will apply in every similar situation.

Mayor Jim Scarrow said the government also needs to be proactive and not just wait for Domtar to make its own proposals for the mill.

“I want to set the table as being the past is past and let's deal with the future. ‘What can your government do that will allow you to maintain your principles and yet maintain an industry?’”

The Prince Albert Daily Herald editorial board pulled no punches in its assessment of the situation.

In the editorial Was it just lies, Brad Wall? (P.A. Daily Herald, Dec. 3, 2007) the board said “Scrapping outright the memorandum of understanding between the government and Domtar aimed at re-opening the dormant Prince Albert pulp mill pushes the newly formed government perilously close to breaking a campaign promise.

“In the middle of the recent election campaign, Brad Wall - then the leader of the Opposition and now premier - told this paper that if the Saskatchewan Party formed government that the work that went into creating the memorandum of understanding would not be lost.

“Darryl Hickie, the eventually successful Saskatchewan Party candidate for Prince Albert Carlton, repeatedly outlined an operating pulp mill as a key part of his platform.”

The editorial board said the government’s “move, timing and methodology, combined with Hickie’s comments that killing the MOU is in the best interests of Saskatchewan, are exceedingly difficult to reconcile with Saskatchewan Party campaign statements.

“It certainly seems at this moment that all the energy devoted to forging the MOU is now lost, contrary to Wall's campaign assurances otherwise.”

It went on to say “if the government does not succeed in opening the mill in a timely fashion as would have been the plan under an NDP government, opposition forces will have their first fuel for the “we-warned-you” mill.

“Hence, the government - and Hickie in particular - must prove in relatively concrete terms and in fairly short order that they are intent on finding alternate solutions with Domtar.”

On the following day in Provincial government says NDP gave P.A. ‘false hope’ (P.A. Daily Herald, Dec. 4, 2007) MLA Darryl Hickie said “I'm disappointed the NDP gave false hope to the workers at the mill.”

“It was an election ploy,” said Hickie.

Apparently Hickie’s campaign signs and promises made to residents on their doorstep during the election weren’t ploys.

In Hickie vows to work for mill deal (StarPhoenix, Dec. 5, 2007) Hickie said that voters shouldn’t necessarily turf him if the mill isn’t up and running by the time of the next election in 2011.

“It will mean that I’ve done everything possible to get the mill open. A vote for me is a vote to open the mill; however, I'm only part of one entity like I said. There is the industry, there is the union and there is the government. We’ll do the best we can from the government side to make this work.”

Too bad Hickie’s campaign signs didn’t say that.

The StarPhoenix article notes that both “Hickie and [Sask. Party Premier Brad] Wall spoke Tuesday about the possibility of new incentives for Domtar to reopen the shuttered mill based around infrastructure money and power co-generation, the latter of which was part of the memorandum of understanding.

“Domtar vice-president Michel Rathier said last week that the Sask. Party’s decision had “diminished any chances of successfully getting this pulp mill up and operating again.””

Hickie seemed to slough it off saying that it was a negotiating stance by Domtar.

According to the article Wall said the Prince Albert pulp mill issue would be referred to the Sask. Party government’s new, public-private Enterprise Saskatchewan economic development body, which is currently under construction.

Unfortunately, Enterprise Saskatchewan will have little to no credibility once it’s launched. In past speeches and in his “economic vision” The Promise of Saskatchewan, Wall made it clear that Enterprise Saskatchewan will be hostile to labour and the Crowns and will come with pre-determined outcomes built into its terms of reference.

The scheme is to be designed and implemented by former Canadian Federation of Independent Business director for Saskatchewan Dale Botting. The CFIB and Sask. Party have demonstrated that they have quite a close relationship.

Prior to the election Brad Wall said reopening of the pulp mill “will be among the top priorities” of a Saskatchewan Party government.

In Mill reopening a priority: Wall (P.A. Daily Herald, Oct. 19, 2007) Wall said with pulp prices going up, “there’s hope” for the forest industry, and he would like to sit down with mill stakeholders to get the facility open.

However, said Wall, it should not be done with funds from the public purse, but via other means such as tax incentives and private monies.

He said the memorandum of understanding signed between the province and Domtar, the mill owner, on Sept. 12 was “straight politics” on the part of the NDP.

“I can’t think of anything more cynical for a government ... to play with the hopes and dreams of the people in this community,” said Wall.

“We are not going to continue with the MOU.”

In Learn more about candidates running in the Prince Albert area (P.A. Daily Herald, Nov. 3, 2007) Hickie was asked, ‘What is your greatest hope for the PA Carlton riding and for the province?’

He responded saying, “I can assure you that reopening the Mill is a top priority for me and our Party. As Brad Wall said, when he spoke at the opening of my Committee Rooms two weeks ago, “we will move heaven and earth to open the Mill”.”

It seems both Hickie and Wall know a thing or two about cynically playing with the hopes and dreams of the people in Prince Albert too.