Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PSC blasts Sask. Party gov’t over Walker firing; Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz oblivious, StarPhoenix & Leader-Post let Premier Brad Wall off the hook

“We have conducted this transition…professionally and with respect to the taxpayers for whom we work.”
– Premier Brad Wall, Saskatchewan Legislature, Apr. 1, 2008

“[C]hanges to the senior levels of the civil service…should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.”
Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall, Leader-Post, Aug. 30, 2007
The first thing that came to mind while reading the Public Service Commissioners ruling in the Allan Walker wrongful dismissal case was, are the Saskatchewan Party government now going to try and fire some or all of the commissioners?

The Public Service Commissioners are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and are responsible to effectively carry out the provisions of The Public Service Act. At this juncture it’s hard to imagine that they enjoy the right-wing government’s confidence or satisfy deputy premier Ken Krawetz’s criteria for employment, which is “tow the party line” and “follow the objectives and philosophy of the Saskatchewan Party and Premier Wall.” [Civil Servants Fired By New Saskatchewan Government (, Jan. 25, 2008)]

The second thing that comes to mind is how completely oblivious and unrepentant Krawetz seems to be. The man shows absolutely no sign of being able to comprehend how dangerous and destructive his party’s blind ideology have become. He seems to believe that what he and Premier Brad Wall did was OK. Krawetz argued it did nothing differently than past governments and should have the right to fire employees without cause if they are deemed philosophically incompatible.

“I think that has to be there to ensure government can make changes,” Krawetz said. [Walker placed on ‘re-employment’ list (Leader-Post, Aug. 22, 2008)]

Thank goodness the commissioners don’t see it that way.

Another disturbing aspect of the story is that the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post have let Premier Brad Wall off the hook. Wall was part of the transition team that led to Walker’s firing along with approximately 70 other government workers. While Krawetz chaired the team it was Wall who, by his own admission, led the process. It’s interesting to note that at no time has Wall issued a press release condemning Krawetz’s comments. That should tell you something.

The commissioner’s 19-page decision contains a wealth of information not reported in the media.

The hearing into Walker’s case was held June 24 and 25, 2008, in the Cossack Room at the Ramada Hotel in Regina. The members of the commission hearing the case were: Ray Purdie, Chair of the Appeal, Lynn Archdekin and Roberta Burns.

Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk seemed to be the only person covering the story producing three articles:

Commission hears ex-employee’s case (Leader-Post, June 26, 2008)
Krawetz testifies, hearing concludes (Leader-Post, June 27, 2008)
An issue that can’t easily be dismissed (Leader-Post, July 2, 2008)

As background the commissioners noted in their report that “Allan Walker was a long service member of the public service of Saskatchewan (34 years), commencing his employment in September 1973 and progressing through the classified public service on the basis of merit to his final position as Executive Director/Assistant Deputy Minister Occupational Health and Safety Division, Ministry of AEEL, as shown in exhibit A1 16(a). On May 13, 2007 he was granted a definite leave of absence for a one-year fellowship at the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy (SIPP). It was during this leave that his employment was terminated by Deputy Minister Wynne Young on January 24, 2008 pursuant to section 28 of the PSA (see exhibit A1 1).”

At the hearing, the commission received documentary and verbal evidence.

On June 24 justice ministry lawyer Ross Macnab called deputy minister Young to testify. Her employment history was stated as 23 years in the public service, which included seven years as Chair of the Public Service Commission.

She confirmed that Walker was on secondment to SIPP and “stated that in the new organization he would have reported to the Associate Deputy Minister of the Ministry of AEEL.” That person is Mike Carr.

According to the cabinet secretariat Carr was appointed [without competition] by an order in council dated Mar. 6, 2008. It was effective Mar. 24, 2008. His salary is $155,000 per annum.

Carr is the former vice-president and director of personnel for IPSCO Saskatchewan Inc. (now Evraz Inc. NA). He was co-chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce human resources committee and a member of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board representing employers. He does not appear to have any previous experience working in government.

The Moose Jaw Times Herald once described Carr as “an advocate of the hard line” in the business community. [Proposed indexing of minimum wage is betrayal, provincial chamber votes (Moose Jaw Times Herald, May 12, 2007)]

Saskatchewan Party financial statements filed with Elections Saskatchewan appear to show that Carr has contributed $1,200 to the party since 2003.

Young told the hearing that Glennis Bihun, who was initially acting in Walker’s position during his leave of absence, was now permanently appointed to that position.

Walker later testified that to his knowledge Ms. Bihun “was appointed to his position in AEEL without competition as he saw no advertisement for it (that would normally be required for an appointment in the classified service).”

Young indicated she had received a phone call from Doug Emsley of the new government transition team indicating the names of individuals in which the government did not have confidence. Walker’s name was not on the list. “As Mr. Walker was a senior staff member too, she asked about his status and Mr. Emsley indicated Mr. Walker did not have the confidence of government either but was not on the list at that time. Ms. Young told Mr. Emsley that she had concerns about the timing with regard to all the dismissals in the ministry and the need to proceed with building the new management team. So Mr. Emsley added Mr. Walker to the list.”

Young said “it is only the Deputy Minister who can terminate the employment of individuals holding positions in the classified service. However, she stated that those on the list were very senior employees whose work required a great deal of contact with politicians and executive government, so she felt she could not proceed with the changes required in her management team in the new ministry with staff in which the government had no confidence. She then made her decision to terminate the employment of all the names of individuals given to her by Mr. Emsley.”

Young went on to say that “she considered the possibility of transfer for Mr. Walker, but ruled it out as, in her mind, any other senior position would also require the confidence of the government.”

Not mentioned in the media is the fact that Young discussed Walker’s case with someone other than Emsley.

During cross examination by Walker’s lawyer, Ron Gates, the deputy minister said “she met with Mr. Garnet Garven, Deputy Minister to the Premier, to discuss the implications of terminating the employment of an individual on secondment and it was agreed between them that termination of employment also ended the secondment.”

In his closing submission justice lawyer Macnab noted that Young’s “short conversation” with Garven happened after she spoke with Emsley.

Garven had been subpoenaed but not called to testify.

Still under cross examination Young stated “she understood the purposes of the PSA [Public Services Act] but considered that the government’s agenda could not go ahead effectively with individuals who did not have the government’s confidence.”

So in Young’s mind it would appear that the Saskatchewan Party’s agenda and its implementation take precedence over the Act.

Young “confirmed that the termination of Mr. Walker had nothing to do with his performance; and that in doing so, she did not review his personnel file nor interview him prior to his termination, nor did she engage in a “Planning for Success” performance review process due to the fact Mr. Walker was on secondment for the entire time she was DM of AEEL. Neither did she offer Mr. Walker the chance to respond to the decision to terminate his employment.”

The hearing heard that Young “had being doing a review of the management make-up of the ministry going forward and it was in this context that she received the call from Mr. Emsley and decided to terminate the employees named who lacked the confidence of the government. In her mind, without government confidence, they could not be effective in the new organization of the combined ministry.”

“She did not know or inquire as to the reasons the government did not have confidence in Mr. Walker,” the ruling states.

“She confirmed, as a former Chair of the PSC, she still feels bound by the Oath of Office of a Public Service Commissioner and agrees with it and the merit system.”

If that is the case then why did Young participate in an exercise that clearly smacked of political interference, one that the commissioners viewed as wrong?

At least two individuals in her ministry, Carr and Bihun, were appointed to positions without competition. At any point did Young protest this?

“In our opinion the termination of Mr. Walker’s employment fails the test of fair and just human resource management practices as envisaged for the classified service in the PSA and constitutes a fundamental violation of the principle of merit in appointments in that division,” the commissioners said in their decision.

“The public interest is best served by establishing and maintaining a classified service based on the “merit principle”. That is to say appointments to and promotions within the classified division of the service are to be made on a competitive basis, open to the public, free from any political interference or direction and based on demonstrable competence for the position being filled.”

In his concluding reply submission justice lawyer Macnab said “Ms. Young did her due diligence and considered the options available to her and acted, in her opinion, in the interest of the public service.”

The commissioners wouldn’t have any of that nonsense.

“There was no evidence offered as to why the government lacked confidence in or could not trust Mr. Walker nor was any opportunity provided for him to demonstrate loyalty and effective implementation of new government policies and programs,” the ruling states.

“Having carefully reviewed the evidence, both verbal and documentary, we find that the decision to terminate Mr. Walker’s employment was without sufficient cause. No evidence was offered as to why the government, as employer, would lack confidence in Mr. Walker and therefore, in our view his dismissal was arbitrary and was not in the interest of the public service.”

The commissioners noted that “Mr. Macnab and Ms. Young asserted that the government, as employer, has an unfettered right to terminate the employment of individuals in the classified division of the public service if it is deemed by the Deputy Minister to be in the interest of the public service. No reasons need be provided as long as proper notice in lieu and severance is provided.”

The commissioners disagreed with this interpretation.

“In consideration of the application of the PSA, there are two seemingly contradictory sections, 28(1) and 30(5). On the one hand section 28 provides discretion to the Deputy Minister to dismiss an employee from the classified service if deemed to be in the interest of the public service. On the other hand, section 30(5) provides the Commissioners with the authority to reinstate a dismissed employee to his/her former position if it is deemed appropriate to do so. Clearly, section 28 is not an unfettered and unlimited authority and we, as Commissioners, must always consider possible reinstatement as a remedy under section 30(5) when there has been a dismissal.”

Wynne Young was Chair of the Public Service Commission for seven years. She worked with the three commissioners hearing Walker’s case. How could she not know these things?

The commissioners continued to blast away at Young’s story.

“While specific dismissals may be thought to be in the short-term interests of a particular government, this cannot be in the broader long-term public service interest. Unlike Deputy Minister Young, the Commissioners do not hesitate to conclude that arbitrary dismissals of the kind in this case have long-term negative impacts on the service and are, therefore, neither in the specific interest of the public service nor in the public interest generally.

“We also find that the timing argument of the dismissal, in this instance, was weak. In our opinion, and in recognition of Mr. Walker’s record of service, it would have been appropriate and certainly more gracious for Deputy Minister Young to delay any consideration of Mr. Walker’s status at least until he had completed his secondment in May, 2008. A short delay of three months in his dismissal would not have had significant impact on her proceeding with plans for the new management structure. Moreover, upon returning to the ministry, Mr. Walker should have been given the opportunity to prove himself to the DM and then the new government would have had the opportunity to reconsider its confidence in him.”

The testimony later given by deputy premier Ken Krawetz would show that the transition process put in place by the new Saskatchewan Party government would not allow for this to happen. It placed the deputy minister in a no win situation where it appears she was essentially forced to sell out her beliefs and put politics ahead of the public interest.

By all accounts the testimony given by Rob Norris, the Minister of AEEL, was short and unspectacular.

Norris testified that he had no involvement in the Walker dismissal and did not know him. He had no opinion as to Mr. Walker’s suitability for the position. He acknowledged that he saw a list of names but it was not in his possession. He had no conversations with Mr. Emsley about the names on the list. He said he did not have the authority to dismiss employees in the classified service and had no opinion of the performance of Mr. Walker and whether he could work effectively with him. He would leave to others to determine if re-instatement of Mr. Walker was appropriate. He couldn’t say so himself.

For someone that was in charge of a ministry Norris seemed strangely detached from what was going on around him during the transition. It was as if he would rather avoid becoming involved in any way. It’s reminiscent of the bumbling Sgt. Schultz from the 60s television series Hogan’s Heroes. “I see NOTHING! I know NOTHING!” Such a strategy conveniently offered Norris deniability, but it also put him at odds with Krawetz’s testimony on the role ministers had during the transition.

It should be noted that page six of AEEL’s 2007-08 Annual Report outlines Norris’s mandate as the Minister Responsible for the Public Service Commission. Part of his job includes “Ensuring promotion in the public service is based on merit, not patronage.” He has failed to deliver this.

Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz testified on June 25.

Krawetz was the chair of the transition team of the new government. He told the commissioners he did not know Walker or his specific position in the Ministry of AEEL.

Krawetz claimed he “became aware of Mr. Walker only when he received the subpoena to testify at this hearing.”

This is difficult to accept given that Walker had appeared before Krawetz at committee meetings.

One such meeting was the Standing Committee on the Economy on May 11, 2005, when Krawetz substituted for Brenda Bakken-Lackey for consideration of the Estimates of the Department of Labour. Krawetz singled out Walker’s department for being the only one that showed an anticipated decline in salary.

Another meeting was the Oct. 22, 2002, Standing Committee on Public Accounts when Krawetz, as the chairperson, asked Walker questions about the number of high-risk workplaces in Saskatchewan. Walker had been introduced as executive director of occupational health and safety.

Krawetz testified that he “did not know if the government had no confidence in Mr. Walker. He said that would be left to the Minister and senior officials of the ministry in which he worked.”

He indicated that “in the process, the Minister of the ministry concerned would have had input and the DM of that ministry would have been tasked with a human resources review.”

Krawetz “reiterated he did not know Mr. Walker and therefore had no reason to object to his reinstatement nor did he know of anyone with whom Mr. Walker could not work effectively. He would have to rely on the Minister and DM to make that assessment.”

This is strange because the minister in charge of AEEL, Rob Norris, told commissioners the day before that he had nothing to do with Walker’s case and had no conversations with Emsley about the names on the list. Whether this was by design or not only Norris can answer. Perhaps Krawetz should ask him.

The deputy premier told the hearing “he expected that, at the ministry, there would have been a process of analysis of human resources based on the criteria provided by the transition team. He expected that the DM would provide a series of relevant criteria to assess individuals.”

He acknowledged “that the Deputy Ministers were responsible for human resource evaluations and for doing due diligence in this regard.”

With his testimony Krawetz essentially left Young to twist in the wind. There had been no due diligence to speak of and Young had testified the day before that she did not evaluate Walker.

Krawetz provided the hearing with one key piece of information that no one seemed to follow-up on, which was “the criteria provided by the transition team” that was used to assess individuals. What were those criteria and who specifically was involved in drafting them? Furthermore, were deputy ministers directed to follow it?

In the Legislature on Mar. 18, 2008, and May 6, 2008, NDP Leader Lorne Calvert asked Premier Wall to explain the criteria, but Wall refused to give a direct answer.

As transition team chair Krawetz said he “determined that it was necessary to have “our people” in particular positions that can deliver goals and objectives in keeping with the philosophy of the Government and the Premier.”

This comment more than any other seems to be the one that has caused the most outrage. The commissioners took a very dim of it stating they “do not agree that this is an appropriate criteria to be applied to the classified division of the public service. If it were allowed to stand as a policy, then anyone may be dismissed for similar reasons. To arbitrarily end the careers of competent leaders without cause based on political direction sends a message to the remaining and prospective employees that a public service career is at best a matter of who you know more that what you know or what you are capable of accomplishing.”

Another key piece of information Krawetz told the hearing is that Emsley was a contracted member of the transition team “with special responsibilities for assessment of human resources. Mr. Emsley had authority from the transition team to provide direction to the ministries in this area.”

During cross examination by justice lawyer Macnab, Krawetz confirmed that Emsley “had the authority to advise ministries of the lack of the new government’s confidence in certain individuals.”

Having the authority to provide direction implies that the ministries were expected to follow it – that there was no choice. This would certainly explain why deputy minister Young felt compelled to act the way she did even if it meant compromising her understanding of “the purposes” of the Public Services Act or betray her belief that as the former chair of the public service commission she still felt “bound by the Oath of Office of a Public Service Commissioner and agrees with it and the merit system.”

Only she could fire classified workers. Having a temporary hired gun from the private sector like Emsley come in and give direction gave politicians the deniability, but it left deputy ministers holding the bag.

According to Mr. Macnab’s closing submission Young took the government’s “lack of confidence” in Walker as told to her by Emsley “as a fact on which she had to act.” In other words, she really had no option other to fire him or otherwise she too would likely not enjoy the confidence of the government.

Macnab said that Young “felt that Mr. Walker was unsuitable to return to his position and could not function effectively in an area in which the government had a particular focus.”

What particular focus? Krawetz had told commissioners that “there were no changes planned for Occupational Health and Safety legislation.” Was this false?

One of Krawetz’s most absurd statements was that he “did not impose any processes on the Deputy Ministers in regard to the employee terminations.”

Krawetz may not have personally imposed a process, but the transition team as a collective certainly did. This came in the form of the criteria it gave to ministries that was in turn used to evaluate individuals. It also came in the form of the incredible authority given to Emsley to provide “direction” to ministries in personnel matters.

Lastly, Krawetz “explained that the transition team was comprised of two elected officials: Premier Brad Wall and himself, plus some volunteers and contracted members of the private sector.”

“The role of the transition team was to evaluate structures, determine how to govern and provide advice to Premier Wall on all aspects of the transition.”

By his own admission in the Legislature on Mar. 18, 2008, Wall said he led the transition process. It was this team that provided the criteria to ministries that was used to assess individuals. It was this team that gave Emsley his enormous powers.

Emsley’s title, according to a Nov. 9, 2007, Saskatchewan Party news release, was Chief of Transition and Special Advisor to the Premier. What is truly mystifying is how someone as central to Walker’s case as Emsley was not subpoenaed and called to testify.

Before the last provincial election, in an Aug. 30, 2007, letter to the Leader-Post, Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said “Maintaining a professional and nonpartisan public service is in the best interest of all Saskatchewan people.”

“All governments, whether new or old, make changes to the senior levels of the civil service as a normal course of activity…These decisions should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.” [How SaskParty views civil service (Leader-Post, Aug. 30, 2007)]

With the firings of the 70 civil servants on Jan. 24, 2007, Wall betrayed not only himself, but the people of Saskatchewan.

In the Legislature on Mar. 18, 2008, under intense questioning by opposition NDP MLA Pat Atkinson regarding appointments to senior positions of the public service, Premier Wall admitted that “Of the new appointments to date, none have gone to a competition process. That may well be the case in the future, Mr. Chairman.” With this statement Wall showed that his word is meaningless and that he can’t be trusted.

Immediately following the January purge, Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk nailed Wall personally for the dismissals saying he’d “gone over the line” and that it’s up to him as the premier “to stop partisanship in the civil service, not make it worse.” But this time around his name isn’t being mentioned. The focus has been on Krawetz. Premier Brad Wall is the leader of party. It’s him that should ultimately be held responsible for his party’s actions.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Equalization: Saskatchewan Party gov’t denies access to legal opinions on court challenge; on June 13, 2007, Brad Wall demanded they be released

“[T]he legal opinions must be available to members of the public who are following this important issue so there can be an open and informed public debate.”
Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall, June 13, 2007, New Release

Saskatchewan people expect their government to be open, honest and accountable. A Saskatchewan Party Government will provide Saskatchewan people with more… transparency in Government.”
Securing the Future, Saskatchewan Party 2007 Election Platform

“I’m not sure it would serve the province’s interest to disclose the opinions on either side of the issue, in the event that something similar is needed in the future to protect Saskatchewan’s interests.”
Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall, Regina Leader-Post, July 16, 2008
The Saskatchewan Party has flip-flopped again. This time the subject is legal opinions.

In a June 13, 2007, news release Opposition Leader Brad Wall said he supported in principle the NDP government’s decision to launch a legal challenge against the federal government on the basis that it is violating the constitution by failing to deliver a fair equalization deal to for the people of Saskatchewan.

Wall called on Premier Lorne Calvert to release copies of any legal opinions obtained by the government regarding a possible court challenge.

“The people of Saskatchewan must be assured that any challenge based on the Constitution Act has a reasonable expectation of success,” Wall said.

“To that end, the legal opinions must be available to members of the public who are following this important issue so there can be an open and informed public debate.”

Now that they’re in power the Wall government is refusing to release them.

An access to information request dated July 14, 2008, was submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General for “copies of any legal opinions prepared or obtained by the government since June 1, 2007 regarding the province’s equalization court challenge.”

In the ministry’s Aug. 12, 2008, response the deputy minister of justice, Doug Moen, said “Access to the records that meet the above description is declined pursuant to Section 22 of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Section 22 provides:

“A head may refuse to give access to a record that:
(a) contains information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege;
(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; or
(c) contains correspondence between an agent of the Attorney General for Saskatchewan or legal counsel for a government institution and any other person in relation to a matter involving the provision of advice or other services by the agent or legal counsel.

“These records contain information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, were prepared in the manner referred to in clause (b) or contain correspondence of the type mentioned in clause (c).”

The ministry provided no other justification for denying the request.

The section of the Act cited by the government is a discretionary exemption meaning that the ministry is not required to withhold the information being requested. It could, if it so chose, disclose the information. The Wall government has instead opted for secrecy.

In the article Wall defends lawsuit decision (Leader-Post, July 16, 2008) Wall said the province hasn’t decided if it will make public the legal opinions on the province’s court challenge of equalization, in case the Sask. Party government decides to challenge other programs that federal governments may launch.

“I’m not sure it would serve the province’s interest to disclose the opinions on either side of the issue, in the event that something similar is needed in the future to protect Saskatchewan’s interests,” Wall said.

The Aug. 12 letter from Moen appears to suggest that the government has finally decided that it will not release the legal opinions.

On Aug. 19 the Leader-Post was made aware that a request for the legal opinions made under the Act was denied, but did not report it. It is interesting to note that at the time of the July 16 news story the Leader-Post had knowledge of the Saskatchewan Party’s June 13, 2007, news release, yet did not mention it in the article.

The following op-ed concerning equalization was published in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix on Aug. 22, 2008:

Wall betrays Sask. on equalization

Joe Kuchta
The StarPhoenix

Friday, August 22, 2008

Following is the personal viewpoint of the writer, a resident of Saskatoon.

With the withdrawal of a reference case to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal on the equalization issue, Premier Brad Wall has set a new standard for hypocrisy and betrayal.

Justice Minister Don Morgan said the challenge had been hampering federal-provincial negotiations.

“The litigation is always the elephant in the room when you’re trying to negotiate something. So we’d just as soon try and not have that there at all,” Morgan said.

On the contrary, the real elephant in the room has been Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who asked Wall in January to drop the case. Morgan now would have people believe there’s no connection.

The minister fails to mention that on June 13, 2007, Wall expressed support in principle for the legal challenge, “on the basis that it is violating the constitution by failing to deliver a fair equalization deal to the people of Saskatchewan.”

Wall called on then-premier Lorne Calvert to release copies of any legal opinions regarding a possible court challenge.

“The people of Saskatchewan must be assured that any challenge based on the Constitution Act has a reasonable expectation of success,” Wall said.

“To that end, the legal opinions must be available to members of the public who are following this important issue so there can be an open and informed public debate.”

That debate never happened and, in a letter dated Aug. 12, the deputy minister of justice, Doug Moen, advised that access to the legal opinions through a request made under The Freedom of Information Act was denied. The reason: solicitor-client privilege.

On Oct. 4, 2007, Wall said: “If there’s a chance to win this case, we ought to pursue it.” Now he has arrogantly declared the equalization issue dead and said he’s not going to talk about it anymore.

In a Jan. 24, 2006, news release Wall said, “The importance of a fair equalization deal for Saskatchewan transcends provincial and federal politics and it needs to get done quickly.

“And I am committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure that happens.

“Regardless of who forms the federal government, the Saskatchewan Party will always fight for Saskatchewan interests. The commitments on equalization and agriculture must be kept by the new Parliament.”

On Oct. 10, 2007, the day the provincial election was called, Wall said he was extremely disappointed that the federal government had reached a deal to allow Nova Scotia to exempt all of that province’s oil revenues from equalization payments, while there is no similar deal for Saskatchewan.

“This is just plain wrong,” Wall said. “In order for Confederation to work properly, all provinces must be treated equally, and that’s not happening.”

Wall said if oil revenues are exempted for Atlantic provinces, the same deal must be extended to Saskatchewan.

“Over the next four weeks, I will be asking voters for a mandate to demand and negotiate a fair deal for the people of Saskatchewan,” he said.

After winning the election Wall’s promise to fight vanished.

He says Calvert was too confrontational in dealings with the Harper government on equalization, but told reporters on Nov. 28, 2005, that Calvert should be more aggressive with his tactics.

“Meet with them after a (media) scrum where the cameras are rolling or in a private room, whatever it takes to make the case,” Wall said.

“We gotta make the case a little more loudly than we have, and if that means getting in the face of federal politicians regardless of their party, then let’s do that.” When was the last time Wall got in Harper’s face? The answer is likely never.

The next day Wall told the CBC that he was voting for the Harper Conservatives in the Jan. 23, 2006, national election because it was the best way to advance Saskatchewan’s interests.

“You know, there are two parties that are interested in an energy accord, support an energy accord for Saskatchewan,” he said. “One of them has a chance to form the government and the other doesn’t.”

So, as it stands now, not only has the Harper government betrayed Saskatchewan but so has its premier. How much uglier can this get?

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sask. WCB Chair David Eberle sidesteps call for tougher enforcement of safety legislation; OHS Division inspections lagging behind workforce growth

On May 7, 2008, Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) Chair David Eberle announced the new Mission: Zero campaign, a series of safety and prevention programs and an advertising campaign intended to reach the WCB’s goal of eliminating work injuries.

The Mission: Zero campaign includes two television ads, four print ads, and Mission: Zero buses in Regina and Saskatoon.

Mission: Zero will be delivered as part of WorkSafe Saskatchewan, the WCB’s injury prevention partnership with the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour.

Eberle said the new, edgier campaign is designed to shock Saskatchewan people out of their complacency about workplace injuries.

Eberle said the WCB wants to dispel the notion that workplace accidents are the cost of doing business in Saskatchewan. In fact, the WCB wants to banish the term “workplace accidents” from our vocabulary.

“We believe that every workplace injury is predictable and preventable -- that even one work injury is one too many.” [Board plans aggressive campaign (Leader-Post, May 7, 2008)]

In a letter to the editor of the Regina Leader-Post, Eberle said “The Mission: Zero initiative is not about taking sides or blaming either workers or employers. It is about changing our attitudes. Very clearly, to be successful we need everyone’s attention. Employers and workers need to work together to help achieve our goal. Employers have clear responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act; workers have both rights and responsibilities.”

“In addition to the Mission: Zero public awareness campaign, we need to examine every component of injury prevention, including the enforcement of safety legislation and the effectiveness of safety training. We also need to be sure we educate young people entering the workplace about their rights and the importance of adopting safe work practices,” Eberle said. [Making workplaces safer (Leader-Post, Aug. 2, 2008)]

Eberle was responding to a letter by Regina resident Robert Pitzel who took issue with the WCB’s new campaign saying it “delivers a terrible disservice to workplace safety. Through various return-to-work programs and smaller injuries that workers suck up, time-loss accidents are being reduced, but not the accident rate itself.”

Pitzel said “it is past time our governments became more responsible for protecting workers by better enforcement of worker’s rights and safety legislation” and that “organizations responsible for safety enforcement and compensation are shirking their responsibilities or plodding down the wrong path to prevent such tragedies.”

“Saskatchewan’s Occupational Health and Safety division should be strictly enforcing safety legislation, not handing out warnings and letting unsafe work continue because the employer is “working on it” which is often the case.” [We need to work on safety (Leader-Post, July 31, 2008)]

Pitzel’s claim that time-loss accidents are being reduced while the accident rate itself is not appears to be accurate. The WCB’s Report to Stakeholders 07 shows that from 2003 to 2007 time loss claims decreased from 14,876 to 13,483, but the total reported accidents during that time increased from 38,919 to 41,301.

Eberle’s response seems to have sidestepped some of Pitzel’s concerns.

Saying we need to “examine” the enforcement of safety legislation, as Eberle does, isn’t the same thing as saying there should be tougher enforcement, which is something Eberle doesn’t come close to doing.

The WCB has no interest in being in the enforcement business and does not appear to support tougher enforcement of legislation.

“OH&S infractions are not reported to the Workers’ Compensation Board, nor should they be. And it is not our contention that we will become the regulator that we are going to set regulation to force people,” WCB Chief Executive Office Peter Federko said during a question and answer session at the WCB’s annual general meeting on May 7 in Saskatoon.

“[O]ne of the things that the Board has charged us with in terms of moving Mission Zero ahead quickly is to work with our partners at Advanced Education, Employment and Labour to develop a more coordinated, integrated provincial prevention strategy.”

However, Federko made his position clear stating that he was “not prepared to step into the shoes of any employer in this province and direct them to make injury prevention a priority in their workplaces. We will incent them, encourage them, facilitate in whatever way we can, but it’s the responsibility of the leadership and the organizations to make it a priority. In my opinion, it’s not going to help by strong public policy or regulatory requirements forcing them to do it.”

Increased enforcement of safety legislation does not appear to be a part of the WCB’s vision for the future. The WCB’s Strategic and Operational Plan 2008-2010 does not mention it. On the issue of safety and prevention the organization’s operational objective is “To eliminate workplace injuries and illnesses, as measured through a continuous reduction to the provincial workplace injury rate.”

The WCB’s focus is on prevention: “We will promote workplace safety and injury prevention. We will support workers and employers in the development and implementation of injury prevention programs that eliminate workplace injuries.”

At any rate, enforcement isn’t up to the WCB, that responsibility lies with the government and there doesn’t appear to be any meaningful appetite for it on that front either.

The labour section of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) website states that “The legal responsibility for identifying and correcting health and safety hazards rests on the shoulders of the workplace parties (employers, contractors, owners, workers, supervisors, self-employers persons, owners and suppliers). The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993, and Regulations require everyone in the workplace to work together to identify and control health and safety hazards.”

Although workers must take reasonable precautions to protect their own health and safety, as well as the health and safety of others, the ministry is clear that “Employers have the most control over the conditions of work and how it is to be done. They therefore have the greatest legal and moral responsibility for health and safety in the workplace.”

The role of the AEEL’s Occupational Health and Safety Division is to help promote safe and healthy workplaces through education, training, inspections, accident investigations and enforcement of workplace safety standards.

The OHS Division has three major enforcement tools: Officer Reports of inspections; notices of Contravention; and the ability to stop work and prosecution.

Despite having these tools the ministry feels that “Finding and controlling occupational health and safety hazards should not be left to occupational health officers. It is not the OHO’s job to find the hazards for the workplace parties. When OHO’s do come across hazards, it means the workplace parties are not fulfilling their legal health and safety responsibilities.”

“Regular, on-going monitoring of the workplace by effective occupational health committees, worker representatives, workers and managers is a much better way of dealing with health and safety concerns than relying solely on inspections and enforcement by government officials,” the website states.

The OHS Division considers prosecution when: a contravention of health and safety requirements results in a death or serious injury; a person repeatedly refuses to comply with a Notice of Contravention; or a person consistently and flagrantly contravenes health and safety requirements.

So unless a death or serious injury occurs it appears that it takes a lot of effort to get prosecuted. In order to do that one must “repeatedly” or “consistently and flagrantly” break the rules.

What kind of message is being sent to workers and employers when provincial officials and the WCB waffle on the use of enforcement measures to ensure that safety legislation is being adhered to?

On the political front the business friendly Saskatchewan Party government does not appear to be interested in increasing the enforcement of safety legislation.

At the Apr. 28 meeting of the legislature’s human services committee, during debate of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour 2008-09 budget, Minister Rob Norris said the Saskatchewan Party government “realizes the importance of protecting the health and safety of Saskatchewan workers, and we fully support the work of the occupational health and safety division.”

“Our workers are extremely important to the well-being of Saskatchewan, and ensuring their health and safety is necessary to a secure and prosperous future,” Norris said.

Norris went on to boast that the 2008-09 budget includes an 11.6 per cent increase for occupational health and safety.

(The 2008-09 Estimates for occupational health and safety (Sub Vote AE09) show a budget of $7,653,000 for the division, an increase of $796,000 (11.6%) from 2007-08.)

“Of this increase, $300,000 will go directly to funding programs that prevent work-related illness, injury, and death. Part of sustaining our economic momentum is ensuring that we have a talented, skilled, and experienced workforce within Saskatchewan. We cannot afford to take the health and safety of our citizens for granted,” Norris told the committee.

“Some of the increase will also go to the recently developed harassment prevention unit which focuses on educating workplaces and enforcing anti-harassment legislation. Harassment is clearly not acceptable, and our new government has designated $350,000 for the operation of the harassment prevention unit this year.”

Norris did not mention increasing workplace inspections or stricter enforcement of health and safety legislation.

Responding to a question from NDP MLA Pat Atkinson, Norris told the committee that preliminary records show that 3,658 workplace inspections were conducted in 2007-08. This is 37 more than in 2006-07, but considerably less than the high-water mark of 4,477 that were conducted in 2004-05.

In 2004-05 the Labour department initiated a new targeted inspection program that focused 2,200 inspections on higher-risk workplaces, including 261 workplaces with the highest number of injuries and illnesses.

The number of targeted inspections has fallen dramatically since then. In 2007-08 the OHS Division conducted 1,073 inspections targeted at workplaces with the highest number of injuries. Approximately 10 per cent of these inspections were focused on the health sector. The inspections resulted in 4,550 orders for improvement. The ministry’s latest annual report, the first with Norris as minister, does not indicate how many cessations of work were issued last year.

It appears that the number of workplace inspections has not been keeping pace with the increase in workers that are covered by the WCB.

The number of workers covered has risen from 305,103 in 1999 to 354,918 in 2007. The number of inspections during that time has gone from 2,900 to 3,658.

The year in which the most workplace inspections were conducted was 2004-05 when 4,477 were done. At the time the number of workers covered was 325,565. The number of workers covered has since increased 29,353 but the number of inspections has fallen by 819. Meanwhile the number of injuries reported each year continues to climb. It stands to reason there should be more inspections not less.

On September 19, 2003, the Government of Saskatchewan implemented the Action Plan for Healthy and Safe Workplaces to tackle the high number of workplace injuries and illness. The plan emphasized education and enforcement of workplace standards and included increasing inspections by 50%, from 3,000 to 4,500 per year and issuing more notices of contravention to ensure standards are met.

The government nearly achieved its goal conducting 4,477 workplace inspections in 2004-05 and issuing 4,808 contraventions, but in subsequent years has never come close to equaling or surpassing those numbers again.

Interestingly, the total number of injuries reported in 2004 decreased from the previous year going from 38,919 to 37,715, the lowest in quite a while.

In 2004 there was one inspection for every 72.7 workers covered by the WCB. In 2007 that ratio fell to 1:97. In order to get back to the earlier level the government would have to conduct approximately 4,880 inspections – or 1,222 more than what was accomplished in 2007.

Exactly how the WCB and OHS expect to eliminate workplace injuries without significantly increasing the number of inspections remains a mystery.

Unfortunately, 2008 already appears to be a lost cause. Quarterly statistics released by the WCB indicate that as of June 30 approximately 21,335 injuries have been reported. At this rate the year end total could surpass 42,000.

If Eberle wants to rid the province of its complacency and Norris really does care about workers’ health then they might start by getting serious about enforcing safety legislation and substantially increasing the number of inspections to help put a dent in the number of injuries reported each year.

There is little reason to believe, however, that the Saskatchewan Party government will act on these initiatives. Premier Brad Wall, as the MLA for Swift Current, once blamed “red tape and regulations” through the WCB, occupational health and safety and various pieces of labour legislation for driving “businesses and the jobs they create and the taxes they pay out of the province of Saskatchewan.” [Saskatchewan Hansard, June 20, 2000]

It’s unlikely that Wall’s views have changed much since then.

The Saskatchewan Party government named Eberle, a Humboldt lawyer and business owner, the new chair of the Workers’ Compensation Board on Mar. 7, 2008, replacing John Solomon who was fired without cause. Solomon was a former NDP MLA and MP before being appointed by the then-NDP government in 2001 in an open competition, which was not the case with Eberle.

Eberle has a long involvement with the Saskatchewan Party, having served as a member of the party’s management committee. Since 2003 he has donated approximately $4,890 to the party.

The minister (of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour Rob Norris) and the premier (Brad Wall) saw fit to appoint me to this position. Im humbled and honoured and Ill give it 120 per cent, Eberle told Leader-Post financial editor Bruce Johnstone. [New chairman of the WCB gets to work (Leader-Post, Mar. 10, 2008)]

Following Eberle
s appointment concerns were raised that an open competition for his position had not taken place. Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz seemed to brush those aside saying there is an urgency for the government to get new people in place to move forward with its agenda. [More changes coming to provincial agencies: Krawetz (Leader-Post, Mar. 14, 2008)]

What is the Saskatchewan Party
s agenda for the WCB? The partys 2007 election platform merely states that the agency will be reviewed to ensure that it is responsive to the needs of both workers and employers. What marching orders, if any, did Eberle receive from Norris and Wall? These questions remain unanswered.


The table below shows the number of workers covered by the WCB, the number of workplace inspections conducted by the province and the total number of injuries reported each year. The information is drawn from WCB and Saskatchewan Labour annual reports. The figures reported by the WCB are for the calendar year while the province is for the fiscal year ending Mar. 31. This makes year to year comparisons difficult.

# of workers covered

Workplace inspections

# of injuries reported

354,918 (2007)

3,658 (2007-08)

41,301 (2007)

338,898 (2006)

3,621 (2006-07)

40,922 (2006)

327,064 (2005)

4,079 (2005-06)

39,904 (2005)

325,565 (2004)

4,477 (2004-05)

37,715 (2004)

309,362 (2003)

3,242 (2003-04)

38,919 (2003)

306,518 (2002)

2,998 (2002-03)

39,821 (2002)

308,719 (2001)

2,837 (2001-02)

38,240 (2001)

306,469 (2000)

3,069 (2000-01)

37,717 (2000)

305,103 (1999)

2,900 (1999-00)

36,346 (1999)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

StarPhoenix shortchanges readers on oilsands report; WWF & CFS expose danger of shale extraction and questions viability of carbon capture and storage

It appears to be business as usual at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix – backing the interests of big business, slamming organizations and non-profit agencies that dare question or criticize their actions, and shortchanging readers by suppressing information.

On July 29 British-based Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) and WWF, the global conservation organization, released a joint report entitled Unconventional Oil: Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel.

The 52-page report outlines potential risks to investors from the high capital costs of sand and shale to oil projects, looming regulatory restrictions, the likelihood of litigation, environmental liabilities from tailing ponds and restoration requirements and reliance on unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage. Investors could end up with stranded assets.

The authors of the report themselves call for tighter regulations such as the Emissions Standards in place in California that, by prohibiting sales of fuels with high lifecycle emissions, would effectively outlaw fuel extracted from tar sands and oil shale.

Canada’s indigenous communities are also concerned with water quality in former wetlands now featuring tailings ponds up to 50 square kilometres in size which can be seen from outer space. Only 5-10% of waste water is judged sufficiently non-toxic to be returned to waterways,” the WWF news release said.

WWF, founded in 1961, is one of the world’s most experienced conservation organizations.

WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity; ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable; and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

The Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) is part of The Co-operative Group, the UK’s largest consumer co-operative. CFS is the group of businesses that includes The Co-operative Bank, The Co-operative Insurance and The Co-operative Investments. CFS puts the social concerns of its 6.5 million customers at the heart of the way it does business.

The editorial Strict regulation key to developing oilsands resource (StarPhoenix, Aug. 5, 2008) negatively portrays the two organizations as “naysayers.” It implies that its report is a “well-orchestrated and multi-organizational assault” against the oil industry and is merely “the latest hyper-active attack from the same kind of activists and organizations that have opposed everything from genetically modified foods to nanotechnology to uranium development.”

Interestingly, the editorial board does not say that the organizations are wrong. What it did instead was attack the groups, extract a miniscule amount of information from their report and bury it between comments supportive of companies Oilsands Quest and Shell Oil.

The SP reduced the 52-page report to approximately 126 words and avoided discussing some of the more contentious issues, things that Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall supports without hesitation, but which may dangerously contribute to climate change and cause local ecological disaster.

The SP paints Oilsands Quest, an American company, as eager and willing to liberate “a rich stream of oilsands” from “inside the western borders of Saskatchewan.”

“If its estimates prove correct, there could be as much as 6.6 billion barrels of oil trapped in those ancient sand beds. At an average world price for regular oil of $120 a barrel, it isn’t hard to do the math what that could mean to this province,” the editorial said.

Oh, but there’s “another dark shadow” that could threaten all these riches and it’s those evil activist “naysayers” shining a light on Alberta’s “questionable environmental legacy” with respect to the development of its oilsands.

What the SP doesn’t tell readers, though, is how Oilsands Quest intends to get the oil out of the ground and what the consequences of that might be.

In Sask. oilsands could hold 6.5 billion barrels, company says (CBC News, Aug. 5, 2008) the CBC reported that instead of open pit mining, Oilsands Quest is planning an in situ project, where steam would be injected deep into the ground to make the oilsands material, bitumen, soft enough to transport via pipeline.

According to the WWF/CFS report “In situ oil sands production is similar to that of conventional oil production in that oil is recovered through wells. However, the heavy, viscous nature of the bitumen means that it will not flow under normal conditions. The large areas required for steam generation plants, well pads, roads, 3-D seismic lines and pipelines for these processes means they disturb significant areas of land. Even more water and energy is required for in situ than mined oil sands.”

The report references a June 2007 joint report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Resource Advocates and Pembina Institute that explores the full scale of the damage done by attempts to extract oil from liquid coal, oil shale, and tar sands and states “In situ processing requires the groundwater to be pumped out of the frozen extraction area. Water is used for steam and for cooling. Process waters are likely to have high concentrations of soluble organic materials, along with very high concentrations of ammonia nitrogen, alkalinity, chlorides and sulphates. The extraction of groundwater will also increase salinity concentrations and destroy habitat for native and endangered fish in the Lower Colorado and Green rivers.”

“Open pit mines are much more obviously destructive in terms of excavation, but the surface activities of in situ extraction can also have significant impacts on land cover. Some of the huge mines can be seen from space,” the report states.

“The boreal forest is the single largest terrestrial carbon storehouse in the world, and deforestation has been identified by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] as a major contributor to climate change.”

The report goes on to describe the impact of these activities stating “The forest is home to many species such as caribou, which require connected areas of intact forest that have sufficient buffers from such disturbance. At present there is no maximum density of activity that is applied to prevent cumulative impacts that destroy habitat. Studies have shown that forests within 1 km of roads and well sites tend to be avoided by caribou and that roads further fragment caribou habitat by acting as barriers to movement. Up to 80% of the surface area of current in situ developments provides less than a 250 metre buffer distance from industry disturbance. Studies by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and other studies indicate caribou populations have declined in recent decades due to a range of anthropogenic factors, including unsustainable logging and oil sands exploration.”

Over half of Saskatchewan is boreal forest ecosystem. All that seems to matter to the SP though is the mountain of money that the Oilsands Quest project will generate.

Rather than discussing the WWF/CFS report the SP appeared to be more concerned with how the oil industry was reacting to it saying it seemed “ill prepared” to deal with its critics.

“It took Shell Oil, a major investor in the Alberta oilsands, the rest of the week to respond by saying that the failure to exploit the tarsands would have an even worse environmental impact,” the SP complained.

“Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer said the world needs every kind of energy source it can find at a time of soaring demand, and if it isn't the tarsands -- which he insists only put out 15 per cent more carbon than conventional sources -- the world will turn to coal.”

The source of the SPs information appears to be an Aug. 1 story in the UK newspaper The Guardian entitled Oil: Tar sands less damaging than coal, insists Shell.

The SP neglected to mention that the story also said “Greenpeace questioned the carbon figures and expressed further concern at Shell’s growing use of tar sands. “Oil companies are increasingly dependent on these unconventionals as they get squeezed out of countries such as Nigeria and Russia. We fear tar sands are just the entrance ramp to oil shale, gas-to-liquids and other non-conventionals, which will just press the red button for climate change disaster,” said Charlie Kronick, a climate change campaigner at Greenpeace.”

The SPs contention that it took Shell “the rest of the week” to respond to the report seems to be erroneous.

The Guardian published a story on July 29, the same day the report was released, quoting Shell and BP. [Oil: Campaigners seek an end to production of CO2-intensive ‘unconventional fuels’ (The Guardian, July 29, 2008)]

It’s interesting to note that Royal Dutch Shell had $355 billion in revenues in 2007 and Van der Veer received a total compensation package of $8,963,732 US.

The editorial closed by saying “Saskatchewan’s government should make sure it has in place regulations that ensure not only that the development of this resource doesn’t kill the planet, but that the rules are solid enough and transparent enough to take the wind out of the sails of the naysayers.”

Presumably this means that everything up to just short of “killing the planet” is fine as far as the SP is concerned.

With respect to regulations the SP might want to take another look at Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s Jan. 21 speech to the Calgary Petroleum Club and the promise he made to his friends in the energy industry who, since 1999, have donated more than $1 million to the Saskatchewan Party. (The SP, by the way, contributed $10,000 to Wall’s party in 2000, as did the Regina Leader-Post.)

On the matter of a royalty review Wall told the Calgary audience:

“We want Enterprise Saskatchewan’s sector team, which will involve industry by the way, to do this review for the purposes of trying to be more competitive.

“We need to move in that other direction and here’s why: we have all this undeveloped potential. We’re behind a little bit, frankly, in developing the hydrocarbon assets of the province of Saskatchewan and some of the other resource opportunities that exist.

“So, we’ve got to have a sharper pencil. We’ve got to make sure we are turning around permits. We’ve got to make sure that our regulatory structure is as conducive to non-conventional assets like shale gas and shale oil as it might be to more conventional assets. That will be our focus.

“That will be the direction that we give to Enterprise Saskatchewan.”

It seems clear that Wall wants less regulation not more.

Wall took the same message to the United States on Mar. 13 when he told the audience at the FirstEnergy East Coast Canadian Energy Conference that:

“In terms of other non-conventional assets, certainly there’s oil and gas shale in the province, which many of you will know about. It really expands from Hudson Bay down through the centre of the province and it’s generally spread throughout Saskatchewan.

“We want to make sure we have the right regulatory regime in order to have a quick turnaround and the right approach on conventional oil permitting.

“We also want to make sure our regulatory regime is right on the non-conventional side, because frankly, we haven't had a lot of experience with it.

“So we’re going to have big ears when it comes to industry input to make sure that we get it right. To make sure that we can have, and we do now, a royalty structure even on the oilsands side, that will be very competitive with next door, because we want to make it very flexible and sensitive to costs. And I think you'll find that it will be very competitive.”

Wall’s support for exploiting shale oil is disturbing.

The WWF/CFS report indicates that “Oil sands extraction produces three times the carbon emissions of conventional oil production, whilst oil shale extraction produces up to eight times as much.”

The report states further that oil shale production is “water intensive and ecologically damaging. Mining oil shale requires between two and five barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced. Extraction levels of three million barrels per day would therefore require six to 15 million barrels of water per day.”

With respect to investor risk the WWF/CFS report notes that “The financial sustainability of unconventional oil is dependent on a scenario with limited regulation, a high oil price and a low carbon price. Policy makers, and energy and utility companies agree that limited regulation and a low carbon price will not last long. Oil sands are the most carbon intensive fuel currently being exploited and therefore the least efficient in a carbon constrained economy. Oil shales present an even more carbon intensive option.”

On climate change the authors cite a 2005 study by the RAND Corporation that “estimates it would require a 1,200-megawatt power plant to unlock just 100,000 barrels of shale oil a day. Large enough to serve half a million people, the power plant alone would burn five million tons of coal each year and release 10 million tons of GHG emissions.133 A plant of 1,200 MW is enough topower 300,000 homes in the US – more than enough for the whole of Denver, the largest city in Colorado. Shell alone is looking for production five times this level. The plant would also place further stress on water resources to provide cooling water.”

Ecological impacts of shale development in Colorado show that “waste material from mined oil shale would also need to be disposed of, and due to its greater volume than the shale extracted, would probably require some surface facilities on top of infilling mined areas.

“Airborne emissions are expected to include sulphur dioxides, nitrogen dioxides, particulates, ozone precursors and carbon monoxide.”

Among the report’s conclusions is that “Oil shale is far more energy intensive to extract and produce than conventional oil or even oil sands, and is therefore more carbon intensive. Oil shale represents the extreme efforts the oil industry continues to pursue in spite of climate change concerns.”

For months Wall has been tub thumping carbon capture and storage (CCS). So desperate is the premier to get his message out that he’s now resorting to letters to the editor to plead his case.

In Don’t discount Saskatchewan’s approach to fighting climate change (Globe and Mail, Aug. 5, 2008) Wall said “Saskatchewan is committing significant public and private investments to carbon capture and storage technology. Our commitment to a large-scale clean-coal facility near Estevan by itself represents an investment of more than $1,200 for every man, woman and child.”

“This technology is real and viable,” Wall said.

The folks at WWF and CFS have a different view. In their report the organizations say that “CCS is still up to a decade away from being tested on a commercial scale and realistically will not be a viable solution for decades to come. Additionally, operators insist they require heavy subsidies to develop CCS and ensure profit margins remain worthwhile. They also do not want to be held responsible for legacy issues, such as what the stored carbon might do in the future. It is not acceptable to use a promise of CCS as a licence to significantly expand the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels when its viability remains in the balance and its availability on a sufficient scale is decades from being achieved.”

When the Saskatchewan Party government scrapped the memorandum of understanding between the province and Prince Albert pulp mill owner Domtar because the plan required public money, Wall said “We’re not going to be in the grant or subsidy game.” [Mill open: yes Subsidies: no (Prince Albert Daily Herald, Dec. 15, 2007)]

So, when it comes to subsidies and CCS how is Wall going to square that circle?

The WWF/CFS report goes on to say “The Tyndall Centre has conducted an analysis showing that the costs of recovering carbon emissions are marginal per barrel of oil, even at today’s least optimistic estimated costs. However, oil companies are still seeking a subsidy for carbon capture rather than taking responsibility for their own emissions. The industry has acknowledged that CCS will not come on stream for another decade.

“In a speech in April 2008, Nobuo Tanaka, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency gave an indication of the timescales required for CCS when he said: “In carbon capture and storage, we would need to build at least 20 demonstration plants by 2020, at a cost of US$1.5bn each. Such a construction program should be viewed as a litmus test of our seriousness towards combating climate change.” This indicates CCS is still far from being a viable commercial scale solution and realistically will not be viable for decades to come. In 2007, the World Energy Council predicted CCS could reach its full potential within the next 30 to 40 years, the IPCC believes full potential to be 20-40% of global fossil fuel emissions, and due to technical limitations does not believe it to be achievable until 2050. According to the United Nations Development Programme, “CCS technology is projected to come on-stream very slowly in the years ahead…At this rate, one of the key technologies in the battle against global warming will arrive on the battlefield far too late to help the world avoid dangerous climate change”.”

Premier Brad Wall is 42 years old. If, and when, CCS ever reaches its full potential he’ll likely be long gone from the political scene and won’t be around to answer for the damage his government will have caused as a result of the reckless decisions it makes today.