Monday, May 26, 2008

Sask. Party government refuses to disclose contract and correspondence with MacPherson Leslie Tyerman lawyer Kevin Wilson; Norris dodges questions

The Saskatchewan Party government is hiding behind The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to deny access to records concerning its involvement with MacPherson Leslie Tyerman (MLT) lawyer Kevin Wilson.

On Mar. 20 an access to information request was submitted to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour for “a copy of the contract or agreement between the Ministry and lawyer Kevin Wilson and copies of all correspondence between the Ministry and Kevin Wilson that occurred from November 8, 2007, to February 29, 2008.”

The ministry received the request on Mar. 25.

The Apr. 21 response from Deputy Minister Wynne Young stated that “the 30 day response period has been extended an additional 30 days…as your application involves searching a large number of records and completing the work within the original period would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the Ministry.”

Young’s letter did not suggest there was a problem with releasing the information that was being requested.

Then came a letter from the deputy minister dated May 13 with a completely different tone indicating that “Your access to these records is being denied pursuant to clauses 22 (a) and (b) of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as outlined below because it:

“(a) contains information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege; and

“(b) was prepared by or for an agent of the Attorney General for Saskatchewan or legal counsel for a government institution in relation to a matter involving the provision of advice or other services by the agent or legal counsel.”

The clause cited by the ministry is a discretionary exemption meaning the government is not required to withhold the information. Rather than disclose some or all of the records the government has instead chosen secrecy over openness and transparency.

It should be noted that during the 2007 provincial election the Saskatchewan Party promised “more transparency and accountability than any previous government.”

On Mar. 17 Advanced Education, Employment and Labour Minister Rob Norris said his ministry had hired Wilson on retainer at a rate of $305 an hour -- since bumped to $325 -- in late November or early December.

According to the article Calvert questions role of lawyer in crafting Sask. Party labour laws (StarPhoenix, Mar. 18, 2008) Wilson had “been hired to provide legal advice to the minister responsible for the government’s labour agenda.”

The article went on to note:
Internal government e-mails obtained by the Canadian Union of Public Employees show the involvement of Wilson in discussions of the government’s essential services legislation and amendments to The Trade Union Act before they were tabled in December.

NDP Leader Lorne Calvert said that raises questions about Norris’ comments the Ministry of Justice had drafted the bills without outside consultation.

The Opposition leader said it was highly unusual for the government to use outside lawyers in that way and questioned Wilson’s impartiality.

“If we’ve reached the circumstance now where we have to contract that work to be done, why would you go to an individual who is clearly biased?” he said to reporters after question period.

But Norris said Wilson was acting in the employ of the government in his activities so there was no contradiction in his statements. He said the lawyer for MacPherson, Leslie, Tyerman did not take part in consultations.

“We didn’t consult him. What I needed was extra legal advice as we moved forward,” Norris told reporters.

“(The legislation) was drafted by Justice officials with input from executive council and my ministry and Kevin Wilson offers legal advice to me.”

The government was unable to immediately say how much Wilson has been paid to date, but Norris said he would continue on retainer indefinitely. Late Monday, government communications staff said Wilson is the only outside lawyer they could find put on retainer by a minister.

When asked whether Wilson provided advice to him on the firing of the chair and two vice-chairs of the labour relations board, Norris said “not to my knowledge.”
Interestingly, the Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘consult’ as to “seek information or advice from.”

It should also be noted that Wilson’s involvement with Norris’ ministry only came to light after CUPE disclosed the e-mails.

This led Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk to ask, “Shouldn’t we have known this earlier?”

Mandryk described Wilson as “a labour management lawyer who has long advocated labour legislation changes.” This would seem to justify the concerns Calvert raised.

Mandryk said the Saskatchewan Party’s “handling” of the essential services legislation and the amendments to the Trade Union Act and the changes to the LRB “has not only been a huge distraction, but also something that has done serious damage to this young government’s credibility.”[Making hard work of labour changes (Leader-Post, Mar. 18, 2008)]

On Apr. 8 the government’s executive director of communications said that to the end of January, the government had paid $50,140 to Wilson. [Opposition curious about payouts (Leader-Post, Apr. 9, 2008) ]

Wilson is a Saskatchewan Party supporter since he appears to have contributed $800 to the party over the past two years. Party financial statements filed with Elections Saskatchewan also show that from 1999 to 2007 MLT donated over $56,000.

Wilson’s ties to the business community are significant. He was co-chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s human resources committee when the NDP government introduced proposed amendments to The Labour Standards Act and The Trade Union Act as Bills 86 and 87.

According to the Chamber’s website the committee “assembles information and express viewpoints of Saskatchewan business with respect to labour relations and labour legislation, lobbying for balanced regulation in the activities of management and labour.”

The Chamber said it was “very concerned” and immediately went on the offensive attacking the government and organized labour.

“These changes represent a significant departure from the norms in other jurisdictions, and as such, will have a detrimental impact on economic development in Saskatchewan. They come at a time when Saskatchewan enterprise is already struggling to grow and survive, and do nothing to encourage investment in the Province. At best, they serve the very narrow interests of organized labour and do not, in any way, reflect the concerns of the business community.” said Chamber president Warren Michelson in a Nov. 19, 2004, news release.

Michelson directed the co-chairs of the human resources committee, Kevin Wilson and Mike Carr, to conduct a full review of the proposed legislation. Wilson’s MLT office was listed as a contact.

Michelson is now the Saskatchewan Party MLA for Moose Jaw North while Carr, a former vice-president for IPSCO Saskatchewan Inc., is conveniently ensconced as associate deputy minister in the labour, employee, and employer services division of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour.

It seems that through these three gentlemen the Chamber has a direct line to government.

During the 2003 provincial election Wilson was a member of the Saskatoon and District Chamber of Commerce labour laws subcommittee.

The committee held discussions with Chamber members over the summer regarding labour relations issues in the province and compiled a report on the findings. [Business View, July-Aug. 2003]

The Chamber’s Sept. 2003 newsletter Business View indicated that Wilson “circulated his report on provincial labour issues and received a positive response from the committee. The report documents disenchantment with the current labour laws and regulations.”

The Chamber’s government affairs committee planned to meet the Saskatoon candidates in the upcoming provincial election to discuss the issues raised in the report.

During the week of Oct. 20 Dan Anderson, President of the Saskatoon and District Chamber of Commerce, and Coni Evans, representing the Government Affairs Committee, led meetings with provincial election candidates to present information on election topics that the Committee had been working on. Kevin Wilson presented a report on the current Labour Laws of Saskatchewan and the changes the Chamber would like to see while Blair Knippel presented on education property taxes and government competition with private business. [Business View, Nov. 2003]

In Jan. 2004 Wilson worked with the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce to arrange a meeting with Premier Calvert to inform him that in the view of the Saskatoon and District Chamber of Commerce and the Saskatchewan Chamber the government should not amend provincial labour laws to make them any more restrictive on employers. A meeting with the Deputy Minister of Labour on this issue was scheduled for the end of January. [Business View, Jan. 2004]

Just exactly when the Wall government hired Wilson seems to be a bit of a moving target.

In the Saskatchewan legislature on Mar. 17 Labour Minister Rob Norris said Wilson “was retained by this government very early on in our mandate.”

Yet at the Apr. 30 meeting of the legislature’s human services committee Norris said that “The service that Mr. Wilson offered to our ministry only began long after I was sworn in.”

Norris was sworn in on Nov. 21, 2007.

Wilson’s work with the government was discussed by the human services committee on at least four occasions: April 16, 17, 24 & 30. Wilson’s former colleague at the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, Mike Carr, was present at the meetings.

At the committee Norris provided little in the way of meaningful substance as to why Wilson was hired, what his role was within the ministry or whether he had any input in developing the government’s two pieces of labour legislation. Norris seemed to spend a considerable amount of his time avoiding giving direct answers to questions or providing answers that bared little resemblance to some of the questions that were asked.

At the Apr. 16 committee meeting Norris stated: “Kevin Wilson from time to time offers me advice and insight that his expertise affords him, and so I certainly in those early days, as all governments — we don’t need to get into specific examples, although there are examples — all governments utilize legal advice and expertise. So the drafting was done by the Ministry of Justice, and Kevin Wilson again from time to time offers advice and insight based on his experience.”

On Apr. 17 Norris said: “[T]he drafting occurred within the Ministry of Justice…There were, I believe, 10 individuals within the Ministry of Justice. Obviously there were also officials from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour involved. There were individuals from Executive Council involved.

“Regarding specifically Mr. Wilson — again a very respected lawyer within not just his profession but within the community of Saskatchewan — Mr. Wilson offered myself and other officials within the ministry advice and provided some research. But just for the record, I mean, he did not draft the legislation. That was drafted within Justice.”

But was the draft – or any draft for that matter – based in part on “advice” made by Wilson?

At the meeting Norris also noted that Wilson “offered advice and research on issues pertinent to Bills 5 and 6 as well as a number of other issues.”

What the “other issues” are Norris has not said.

Furthermore, Norris’ response seems to differ from what the StarPhoenix reported on Mar. 18, that Wilson was hired to provide advice to Norris. Nothing was said about to “other officials within the ministry” as well. How many people was Wilson in regular contact with and who were they?

On Apr. 30 Norris said: “[T]he Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour retained Mr. Wilson to provide research and advice on matters concerning, especially, labour legislation. That occurred…only after I was sworn in.”

Still unknown is what that research consisted of or what specific advice he gave.

On several occasions opposition members asked that Wilson appear before the committee as a witness to answer questions that Norris either couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Norris appeared to want no part of this and on Apr. 30 said “Mr. Wilson began his work with the ministry only after I was sworn in, so he would have little to offer as far as the question.”

As best can be determined Wilson did not appear before the committee and the ministry has provided no further details or updates on his employment with the government.

One of the more ridiculous claims put forward by Norris at the Apr. 30 meeting was that by introducing essential services legislation his party was simply following its mandate.

“Page 20 of our campaign document that we campaigned on said that we would ensure essential services,” said Norris.

What the Saskatchewan Party 2007 election platform actually states is that: “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.”

There was absolutely no mention that the heavy hand of legislation would be the tool used to achieve that end.

On Oct. 26, 2007, during the election campaign leader Brad Wall promised that a Saskatchewan Party government would “reach out” to labour. [Wall claims momentum with Sask. Party (StarPhoenix, Oct. 27, 2007) ]

What happened following the election, however, was a different story. Within days of being sworn in the Saskatchewan Party government announced sweeping changes to labour legislation. No prior public consultation had taken place. [New labour laws called 'worst' in the country (Leader-Post, Dec. 20, 2007) ]

With the denial of access to records concerning lawyer Kevin Wilson, it seems clear that the Wall government has no intention of providing the public with any meaningful information on the subject. It would rather hide behind The Freedom of Information and Protection to Privacy Act to keep it secret.


At 4:10 PM, Blogger the regina mom said...

Wow! Norris is a bit of a liar, eh?

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Francis Walsingham said...

If Regina Mom thinks something, the opposite is true. She's a terrible person


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