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.

LABOUR AND ENTERPRISE SASKATCHEWAN

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.

4 Comments:

At 8:59 PM, Blogger berlynn said...

That "sector teams" bit comes right from the Council on Foreign Relations in the USA, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the North American Competitiveness Council through their work on the Security and Prosperity Partnership. "Sector teams" have been at work on many levels, identifying barriers to the big biz agenda. (See the December issue of Canadian Dimension or any number of bloggers such as Alison @ Creekside for additional info on that.)

Wall's Enterprise Saskatchewan will deepen Canada's integration into the already-failing US economy. And that will mean more belt-tightening aka the Devine era. But the media are blissfully -- or purposefully -- ignorant on this issue. They rarely follow the money. And *way* too many SK residents rely on the unreliable main stream media for their political information.

Thanks for a most excellent post!

 
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