Wednesday, October 29, 2008

TILMA: Saskatchewan Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs denies access to briefing notes regarding controversial BC-Alberta trade agreement

BC Premier Gordon Campbell and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein sign
TILMA behind closed-doors on Apr. 28, 2006, in Edmonton. Is Saskatchewan next?

In what has become an all too common occurrence the Saskatchewan Party government has turned down yet another request for information.

An access to information request dated Sept. 22, 2008, was submitted to the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs asking for copies of any briefing notes between May 1, 2008, and Sept. 22, 2008, regarding the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA).

The Oct. 23, 2008, response from Alan Hilton, the deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, advised that access to the records requested “cannot be released because they contain information that is exempt from release in accordance with…The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.” Hilton cited the following sections of the Act as the reason for denial:

14(a) – Information injurious to intergovernmental relations
16(1)(a) – Cabinet documents
17(1)(a)(c) – Advice from officials
18(1)(d)(e)(f) – Economic and other interests

Sections 14, 17 and 18 are discretionary exemptions meaning government institutions are not required to withhold the information. It most cases, however, they do simply because they can.

The ministry’s decision appears to contravene Section 8 of the Act which states: “Where a record contains information to which an applicant is refused access, the head shall give access to as much of the record as can reasonably be severed without disclosing the information to which the applicant is refused access.”

The ministry’s letter gave no indication that this was considered. The ministry’s decision will be appealed to the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner.

This represents the second time in five months that Intergovernmental Affairs has refused access to records. In May 2008, Hilton denied access to all correspondence between the Province of Saskatchewan and the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) for the time period of Jan. 1, 2008 to Apr. 20, 2008.

On Sept. 9, 2008, at the inaugural joint Saskatchewan-Alberta cabinet meeting in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach signed a protocol of co-operation committing their governments to working more closely together.

This is despite the fact that on Sept. 3, 2008, Wall said “there would likely be no concrete agreements out of the meeting.” [Alta., Sask. government committees to meet in Lloydminster (StarPhoenix, Sept. 4, 2008)]

A protocol is a formal agreement about areas of policy co-operation. Contrary to what Wall might think it is something concrete.

According to the Saskatchewan Government news release the protocol is broken down into three distinct sections: better services for citizens, building more competitive economies, and delivering greater efficiency and value. Under those sections the provinces will work for greater co-operation on a variety of topics including energy, health, education, transportation and trade.

A Saskatchewan-Alberta steering committee, co-chaired by the provinces’ Cabinet Secretaries, will ensure the intent of the Protocol is fulfilled and will recommend future agreements to the Premiers.

At their first joint cabinet meeting on Oct. 8, 2003, in Calgary, BC and Alberta signed a Protocol of Cooperation, which led directly to the creation of TILMA.

On April 28, 2006, TILMA was signed without public consultation or legislative debate.

The Saskatchewan-Alberta protocol is very similar to the one signed by BC-Alberta.

In the article Sask. pursues TILMA-like agreement (StarPhoenix, Sept. 11, 2008) StarPhoenix reporter James Wood all but confirmed that the Saskatchewan Party government is pursuing bilateral agreements with Alberta that could be similar to the controversial TILMA.

“Wall downplayed the possibility of an agreement including B.C., although he did not categorically rule out having TILMA on the table if all Saskatchewan’s concerns are dealt with,” Wood said.

“TILMA is intended to eliminate trade and investment barriers between Alberta and B.C. while also bringing about the harmonization of rules, regulations and professional standards.

“It has become a flashpoint, however, because it is sweeping in its scope, enables private interests to challenge government measures and gives significant enforcement measures to trade panels, which can levy fines up to $5 million.”

The Wall government’s secretiveness and refusal to release TILMA-related documents suggests that the Saskatchewan-Alberta negotiations are following the same trajectory as those conducted by BC-Alberta a few years ago. The end result will be an agreement that is negotiated and signed behind closed doors without any public consultation or legislative debate, which is exactly what Wall wanted former NDP Premier Lorne Calvert to do in the spring of 2006 when he demanded that Saskatchewan join TILMA.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

StarPhoenix and Leader-Post attack labour; CanWest reportedly recruiting Concordia University journalism students as scabs in the event of a strike

Anti-labour sentiments at the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post hit new levels of absurdity recently when the two newspapers combined for eight stories, including two nasty editorials, totaling nearly 4,500 words regarding the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour’s (SFL) 2008 convention.

The newspapers took issue with the chilly reception Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) Minister Rob Norris received when he addressed delegates on Oct. 23, 2008, at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina.

The Leader-Post’s Neil Scott reported that it was during Norris’s speech, when the minister defended controversial changes in labour legislation as being justifiable in order to create “a fair and balanced” labour relations climate in the province, that he was nearly drowned out as most members stood and moved to the back of the hall shouting comments and singing “Solidarity Forever.”

SFL president Larry Hubich “offered at one point to bring order to the session but Norris waved him off and indicated he could deal with the situation.”

Hubich said it was clear Norris wasn’t listening to what the delegates had to say and has also failed to properly consult with labour over the past year.

Hubich said he does not consider the Saskatchewan Party government to be a friend of labour.

“I think they hate unions,” Hubich said. [Norris gets unfriendly reception (Leader-Post, Oct. 24, 2008)]

In the editorial Sask. workers disgraced by SFL antics (StarPhoenix, Oct. 25, 2008) and in columnist Randy Burton’s SFL charm school dropout (StarPhoenix, Oct. 25, 2008), the StarPhoenix accuse Hubich of not trying to intervene even though Scott’s story seems to suggest otherwise.

Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk was somewhat fairer with his comments saying both sides were to blame.

Mandryk noted that “labour delegates actually had legitimate reasons to be annoyed by Norris’s speech. The speech… offered no olive branch to labour and even went as far as to call the legislation labour is suing the government over as “fair and balanced.””

“Even if Norris was truly not trying to incite labour, he or his speech writer were being exceedingly obtuse in language and approach. This was Norris’s missed opportunity to extend an olive branch -- to offer some concrete commitment to continue to work together to address grievances associated with Bill 5 to find common ground.

“It likely doesn’t help that the Brad Wall government is being cheered on by some friends in the Chamber of Commerce or its right-wing conduits,” Mandryk said. [Labour, Sask. Party equally to blame (Leader-Post, Oct. 25, 2008)]

In a column last fall Mandryk questioned the new government’s honesty after Premier Brad Wall had announced (on Dec. 4, 2007) that the government intended to impose essential services legislation.

Mandryk said that Wall and MLAs Don McMorris, Elwin Hermanson and Rob Norris weren’t being honest with voters.

Prior to the Nov. 2007 provincial election the Saskatchewan Party gave “repeated assurances” that it “saw no reason to legislate essential services and that the unions and governments could work this out at contract time.”

“At best, these Saskatchewan Party MLAs were deliberately unclear leading up to the election when they were seeking the support of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses… At worst, Wall and Norris are still choosing to be duplicitous in their revisionism that the Saskatchewan Party made it clear all along that it might legislate essential services (even if it didn’t bother mentioning it was doing so in its platform),” Mandryk said.

“McMorris told the Leader-Post in a June 28 story, after the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan (HSAS) strike, that an agreement around essential services should be forged between the parties without having to legislate the matter. Former leader Elwin Hermanson, in a July 12 Leader-Post story in the aftermath of HSAS, also stressed that essential service services agreements could be negotiated at contract time and didn't require legislation.

“Wall himself even said the same thing in a Sept. 22 story: “There’s some common sense at play here that simply says, before collective bargaining begins, before the expiration of a contract, both sides (should) sit down and agree to providing essential services,” Wall said.

“He, too, went so far as to say legislation wouldn’t necessarily be required to set out essential services.” [Sask. Party rewrites election script (Leader-Post, Dec. 7, 2007)]

Two weeks later, in his Dec. 21, 2007, column, Mandryk admitted that the government’s proposed labour legislation wasn’t designed or “aimed at creating a “fair and balanced work environment.””

“Especially when it comes to the amendments to the Trade Union Act, it really seems this so-called “fair and balanced” legislation really benefits private-sector employers more than anyone. Make no mistake that this is a right-wing government throwing a bone to the only people demanding the change -- its friends and political donors in the business community who have patiently waited for the past 16 years for the labour pendulum to swing back in their favour,” Mandryk wrote.

“There’s a simple adage that a business gets the union it deserves and that workers don’t unionize unless they have reason to do so.

“There’s no doubt the changes will make it harder to unionize, potentially hurting workers who need protection the most. While the government and the right-wing have slyly framed the issue around the notion that certification votes are more “democratic”, there may now be little that can be done to prevent employers from subtly bullying and intimidating their workers during certifications.

“No, they aren’t the worst labour laws in the country.

“But don’t kid yourself – they’re not really about being fair and balanced, either.” [Not the worst -- nor the best (Leader-Post, Dec. 21, 2007)]

It would have been nice had the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post reminded readers of this in its recent labour-bashing stories.

It should be noted as well that the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post each donated $10,000 to the Saskatchewan Party in 2000.

The two newspapers are owned by Canwest Publishing Inc., a subsidiary of Canwest Global Communications Corp.

The Saskatchewan Party’s 2007 financial statements filed with Elections Saskatchewan show that last year CanWest Global Communications Corp. president and CEO Leonard Asper contributed $5,000 to the party as did CanWest MediaWorks Inc., also a subsidiary of CanWest Global.

It’s interesting that the SFL incident should warrant so much attention by the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post, yet on July 10, 2008, when Premier Brad Wall bowed to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pressure and withdrew the province’s legal challenge on equalization there were no editorials of outrage or shame. In fact, there was no editorials period. This is despite the fact that Wall had broken a promise he made to the people of Saskatchewan that a Saskatchewan Party government would fight the federal government on the issue. Wall’s betrayal will cost the province hundreds of millions of dollars in lost resource revenue each year. Which is worse, this or booing a cabinet minister during a speech? And people wonder why labour is upset.

The pro-business bias of the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post was evident earlier this year with its coverage of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting in Humboldt on May 8 & 9, 2008.

The newspapers published three non-hysterical and generally positive stories totaling less than 1,700 words by StarPhoenix business editor Murray Lyons.

The Chamber passed resolutions supporting increased uranium development, foreign ownership of farmland, cutting and simplifying the resource based capital tax and royalty rate regime, rolling back property taxes by transferring the cost of K-12 schools to the provincial level, participation in an interprovincial trade agreement (i.e. TILMA), and congratulating the government for tabling labour Bills 5 and 6, and requesting that the government undertake “comprehensive reviews as soon as possible of the Trade Union Act and the Labour Standards Act to ensure a fair, competitive and balanced labour relations environment in Saskatchewan.”

The Chamber said that while the labour Bills are important “there are many other provisions of the Trade Union Act, as well as the Labour Standards Act, which are anomalous, outdated or create a lack of balance in the workplace.”

On hand for event were Premier Brad Wall and seven of his cabinet ministers.

The premier gave a noon hour speech on May 9 and received a standing ovation, which may have “set the tone for a warm reception with few real criticisms” said Lyons. Naturally, there was no mention of the labour resolution that was passed. [Premier tells Chamber of Commerce property tax is No. 1 priority (Leader-Post, May 10, 2008)]

In a four-page letter dated June 18, 2008, to Chamber president Dale Lemke, AEEL Minister Rob Norris responded to Lemke’s May 15, 2008, letters regarding Chamber resolutions on several matters including a review of current labour legislation.

“I am pleased to have your support for The Trade Union Amendment Act and The Public Service Essential Services Act. This is an exciting time for Saskatchewan and a new era of fairness. The Bills, passed during the spring legislative session, create a path for assured security, economic growth and increased prosperity in our province. Part of our continued plan for ensuring a fair and balanced labour environment that is competitive with other Canadian jurisdictions will include and examination of our labour legislation.

“You can be assured that as we move forward the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s concerns will receive thoughtful consideration. Your thorough work on these matters will be fully considered as we proceed with our mandate. Input from stakeholders such as your organization is vital to ensuring that the best possible legislation can be developed. I look forward to your continued feedback on these important issues,” Norris wrote.

Included in the letter is a handwritten note to Lemke from Norris stating: “P.S. Dale I look forward to our next meeting where we can explore some of these points – and others – in more detail. Sincerely, R.”

And once again, people wonder why labour is so upset.

The folks at CanWest Global appear to dislike unions as much as the Chamber and its friends in the Saskatchewan Party do.

The media giant is embroiled in a contract dispute with its Montreal newspaper The Gazette.

CBC News reported that members of the Montreal Newspaper Guild who work at The Gazette voted in favour of a strike mandate on Sept. 28, 2008.

The mandate was supported by three units, representing about 190 employees in reader sales and service, editorial, and advertising departments.

Workers in reader sales voted 100 per cent in favour of a strike mandate, while editorial employees were 98 per cent in favour, and 59 per cent of advertising employees were in favour.

Unionized employees have been without a contract since June 1. [Gazette workers give union strike mandate (CBC News, Sept. 29, 2008)]

On Oct. 2, 2008, a byline strike and work-to-rule campaign went into effect at The Gazette as staff protested management’s stonewalling in contract negotiations.

According to a Communications Workers of America (Canada) news release CanWest is attempting to eliminate union jurisdiction over work performed by its employees and wants to merge job functions in some departments. [Montreal Newspaper Guild/CWA Canada Local 30111, Oct. 2, 2008)]

Things deteriorated further on Oct. 9, 2008, when blogger Martin Patriquin reported that CanWest News Service Editor-In-Chief Gerry Nott had “called up the local university and offered to make scabs out of several journalism students.”

“Mr. Nott called Concordia journalism student Dominique Jarry-Shore, a freelancer at the Gazette and Maclean’s, to ask if she would like to file stories to the paper in the event of a strike. Nott, according to Shore, offered her $250 a story. “He told me that if I was concerned about what the striking reporters would think I could get published without a byline,” Jarry-Shore told me today. Jarry-Shore said several of her fellow classmates were also contacted. “He said that if we’re worried about being seen as ’scabs’ we don’t have to get a byline.”

If $250 seems a touch on the low side, well… it’s because it is. “Not only was he asking me to be a scab, he was lowballing me,” Jarry-Shore said. “The irony is, if I were to freelance the same article at the Gazette right now, I would probably be paid double.”

“He also said that stories might end up running in the National Post and other CanWest newspapers,” Jarry-Shore said.

Concordia Department of Journalism Director Mike Gasher, meanwhile, is none too pleased with the soliciting of his young charges.

“It’s come to my attention that some Concordia journalism students have been approached by CanWest to replace regular newsroom staff should there be a strike or lock-out at The Gazette,” Gasher wrote in an email to students. “While that decision is ultimately up to you, I would caution you to think very carefully about accepting such an offer as it is a form of scab labour. Not only could it harm your reputation and the reputation of our department within the journalistic community, it interferes with the ongoing collective bargaining process between Gazette journalists and their employer.” [CanWest gets scabby with it (, Oct. 9, 2008)]

It makes one wonder just how low CanWest will stoop to get its product out.

Meanwhile, at The Ottawa Citizen, on Sept. 21, 2008, members of the Ottawa Newspaper Guild (ONG) voted to accept a five year collective agreement that provides annual salary increases of 2.5 per cent in the first and last years, and two per cent in the middle three years. With national inflation running at 3.4 per cent, it actually amounts to a wage decrease, a CWA Canada news release said.

The release noted that a CanWest scare tactic appeared to have the desired effect:
The workplace was rife with rumours that the company was preparing to lock out Guild members. Publisher Jim Orban did nothing to dispel that notion.

In a letter addressed to ONG members but circulated to all staff on Friday, Orban said that a labour dispute “could last a long time” because “some 400 of us who do not belong to the Guild will continue to publish and distribute the Citizen, both in print and online, and to serve our readers, our advertisers and our community.”

Orban’s letter said the Sunday vote “could be one of the most important decisions in the history of this newspaper, with serious consequences for you and everyone else who works at the Citizen. As such, I want you to understand clearly what rejection of the final offer will mean, not only for you, but for all of us.

“For you, a rejection of the final offer will not give your bargaining committee a stronger mandate to take to the bargaining table. Bargaining is over. This is a final offer. If you reject the offer, not only will you have given the Guild a strike mandate, you will have given it the authority to move forward with an actual strike, on 48-hours notice, without further consultation with you.” [Ottawa Newspaper Guild/CWA Canada Local 30205, Sept. 22, 2008)]
Here in Saskatchewan a few years ago CanWest seemed to be busy playing the Grinch that tried to steal Christmas.

On Apr. 26, 2002, The Newspaper Guild, a Washington, D.C.-based media union with more than 34,000 members in the United States, Canada and in Puerto Rico, reported that newsroom staffers at the Regina Leader-Post gained a major victory over their employer on the issue of Christmas bonuses.

The Guild news release states: “The Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board ruled in late March that the newspaper had committed an unfair labor practice in December, 2000, when it denied Christmas bonuses to approximately 40 members of the editorial bargaining unit. The newspaper’s non-unionized employees, meanwhile, received bonuses equivalent to seven days pay.

“In its ruling, the SLRB ordered owner CanWest Global to pay employees represented by the Saskatchewan Media Guild the same bonus as had been paid to the non-union employees netting, on average, a bit more than $1,300 per newsroom staffer.

“This wasn’t the first time the company attempted to deny Christmas bonuses to unionized staff, trying to do the same thing in 1998 and 1999, with the same outcome. As a result of these and similar successes, the Guild has succeeded over the past two years in wringing more than $400,000 out of the company in Christmas bonuses, retroactive pay, pension enhancements and interest payments.”

The Leader-Post did not report the story.

You can be darn sure, though, that CanWest president and CEO Leonard Asper isn’t struggling to make ends meet – no matter what time of the year it is. Since 1997 Asper’s salary and bonus has increased tenfold.

According to CanWest Global financial statements Leonard Asper, in fiscal 1997, received a salary of $150,000, a bonus of $56,250 and was granted options to acquire 4,695 Subordinate Voting Shares under the company’s Executive Stock Option Plan.

Asper was appointed CanWest president and CEO effective September 1, 1999.

In fiscal 2007, Asper was paid a base salary of $900,000, a bonus of $1,163,745 and was granted options to acquire 175,000 Subordinate Voting Shares under the company’s Executive Stock Option Plan.

CanWest Global’s revenue in fiscal 1997 was $835,118 million. In fiscal 2007, the company’s revenue was $2,865,282 billion – more than three times what it was ten years ago.

Just think at $250 a pop Concordia journalism student Dominique Jarry-Shore would have to deliver 11,461,128 stories as a scab freelancer with The Gazette in Montreal to make that kind of money.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lake Placid River Landing Village: City of Saskatoon and Meewasin Valley Authority ignore accessibility concerns; AODBT called for ramps to plaza

According to records obtained through a freedom of information request the city hired AODBT Architecture Interior Design at a cost of $6,110.44 to review the Lake Placid River Landing Village proposal for overall compliance with the South Downtown Local Area Design Plan which forms the basis for the Architectural Control overlay within the DCD1 Zoning District.

AODBT’s Aug. 5, 2008, report notes that the developer’s proposal does not meet the guideline for accessibility and states: “The accessibility for the public into the plaza does not appear to exist. AODBT strongly feels that the plaza should be accessible at both the 19th Street/2nd Avenue entrance as well as the Spadina Crescent/3rd Avenue entrance. This way, a connection between the 2nd Avenue corridor and the accessible pathway to River Landing through the public plaza of this development can be achieved.”

AODBT, a credible and well-respected firm, said “The proposal is not clear as to how the plaza is accessible to those in wheelchairs, with strollers, or on bicycles. AODBT believes that access would be enhanced by introducing ramps at the corner of 19th Street and 2nd Avenue along with the access point by the traffic circle at Spadina Crescent and 3rd Avenue. This way, those people using wheels to travel can not only get into the plaza, but move through to the ramped area developed in River Landing Phase One leading to the Meewasin Valley Trail or Traffic Bridge.”

City council and the Meewasin Valley Authority board never received the report. It seems city administration tossed the expert advice and let the developer off the hook by allowing the lowest standard to prevail, one that will force persons with mobility problems to use elevators to get to the public plaza. Apparently aesthetics and retail opportunities take priority.

The raised plaza appears to be designed to keep out certain elements i.e. skateboarders, cyclists, panhandlers etc. The fallout from this is that persons with disabilities might be less inclined to visit the area, which is not fair.

AODBT’s report seems to also confirm a concern that was voiced early on, which is the plaza feeling more like a private courtyard than a public gathering place.

“The width and height of the Spadina Office tower is not obtrusive or offensive, but it does block any chance of the public space having a direct connection to the river. Without this connection, the fear is that the areas described as public space may become a private space for the tenants and guests of the buildings surrounding it,” the report notes.

“To remedy this, AODBT suggests that the 2nd floor of the Spadina Office tower be revamped to allow public to access portions of the south edges of the property more freely, allowing movement from the central plaza to an area with views overlooking the river.”

The consultant’s report noted a concern that was raised shortly after Lake Placid’s original plan was released in Sept. 2007: “The introduction of a water feature in both the waterfalls and fountain is a good tie-in to the River. However, the use of the pool as a skating rink may be a duplication of the popular rink currently run to the north of the Bessborough Hotel. With that in mind, AODBT realizes that it is not easy to develop winter amenity spaces in a limited urban space.” The rink in question is the Meewasin Skating Rink, rated by the Reader’s Digest as the best outdoor skating rink in Canada.

Despite the concerns the consultant generally likes the proposal saying “the project concept of buildings with mixed-uses tied together with a public amenity space is a good approach for the property.”

“AODBT hopes that the changes suggested in this document are considered as the project moves forward into the next stage of design,” the closing paragraph states.

The AODBT report was considered at the city’s design review committee meeting on Aug. 14, 2008. The committee members present were: Ann March, SAA, FRAIC; Campbell Patterson, FCSLA; and Denton Yeo, PPS, MCIP.

Representing the applicants were Stephen Purdy of S2 Architecture and Rob Crosby of Crosby Hanna and Associates.

The City of Saskatoon was represented by Tim Steuart, the manger of development review.

The committee’s report does not mention AODBT’s advice that ramps be installed to enhance accessibility. The committee merely recommended that “Accessibility to the plaza being provided through the elevators at all times when the plaza is open to the public.”

With respect to the Spadina Office tower the committee did not recommend anything, but only “encourages the applicant to give consideration to… The massing of the office building adjacent to Spadina crescent should be reconsidered to create more variety in its design and to improve visibility form the plaza to the river. Consideration should be given to terracing the building to enhance linkages to the street and plaza.”

There is no mention about allowing the “public to access portions of the south edges of the property more freely” as AODBT had suggested.

“The Committee noted that certain elements of the design of this project are not in strict compliance with each individual provision of the South Downtown Local Area Design Plan. In the opinion of this Committee these individual provisions are intended to serve as design guidelines in order to achieve an overall design vision for this area,” the committee’s report states.

Unfortunately, it appears that accessibility for persons with disabilities was a casualty of neandertholic thinking.

When the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) reviewed the River Landing Village proposal the outcome was just as bad.

According to records obtained through a freedom of information request the MVA’s development review committee met on Aug. 21, 2008, at 11:30 AM in the Meewasin Valley Centre Boardroom.

The committee members present were: R. Picklyk, H. Klypak, A. Wallace, G. Grismer, A. Otterbein, T. Werbovetski, M. Velonas and D. Tastad.

The Meewasin staff present was: B. Wallace, D. Lowes and A. Burke.

The minutes for the River Landing Village portion of the meeting are skimpy taking up less than one-page. With regard to accessibility is this disturbing comment: “access issues (separate barrier-free access & some staircases to upper-level courtyard appear unwelcoming).”

What did the committee do about this problem? Not a thing. It made no recommendations concerning accessibility and approved the plan with only a few conditions.

Meewasin’s version of the DCD1 Guidelines is called the South Downtown District Development Policy. When applied to the River Landing Village proposal the lack of accessibility seems apparent with Meewasin stating: “Public linkages into and through the site are not strong. Accessibility for persons with a mobility challenge is separate from other citizen access (requires an indoor elevator).”

When Meewasin applied the policy objectives of the city’s South Downtown Concept Plan 2004 to the developer’s proposal the following was noted: “A strategy for barrier-free access into public spaces within the development has been articulated. Barrier-free access in separate from other pedestrian access points to the site.”

With respect to the key principle of strengthening connections and access Meewasin said: “Four (4) points of access into and out of the site are provided. Visual and perceived connection and public accessibility may be questioned – especially for stairs at either end of 3rd Ave. Barrier-free access is also a challenge.”

Meewasin also reviewed the Lake Placid proposal for compliance with the city’s South Downtown Local Area Design Plan, which the MVA has adopted for its purposes. When it came to accessibility and the requirements of the National Building Code the MVA noted: “Building accessibility meets with National Building Code. Persons with mobility challenges must use separate means to access the public courtyard than other citizens.”

The fact that persons with mobility difficulties are seen as being “separate” from everyone else is reprehensible. Meewasin appears to be completely oblivious to how unacceptable and hurtful this kind of thinking is in this day and age.

And what did Meewasin do about the lack of respectful and dignified accessibility for persons with disabilities? It did absolutely nothing.

The Sept. 5, 2008, memorandum from Meewasin resource planning manager Brenda Wallace to CEO Susan Lamb regarding Lake Placid’s development review application states: “I recommend the application to construct River Landing Village be approved with the following administrative conditions:

– Submission of a wind study
– Provision of landscaping details (including exterior lighting) as they are available
– Provision of information regarding the environmental considerations incorporated into the project
– Provision of greater detail on how the heritage features (i.e. elms and James Clinkskill house foundation) will be handled
– Provision of final drawings for the project

The approval shall remain in effect for 36 months.”

The Meewasin Valley Authority Board of Directors approved the application by Lake Placid River Landing Inc. to construct a mixed use development comprised of four buildings connected through public amenities and architectural features at its Sept. 5, 2008, meeting.

Saskatoon city council approved the application at its Sept. 15, 2008, meeting.

Unlike city council, the design review committee, the municipal planning commission, Lake Placid, S2 Architecture and the Meewasin Valley Authority, AODBT seem to be the only ones in this whole sorry mess that care about and understand the importance of universal design.

Uranium Development Partnership: Enterprise Saskatchewan behind push for new group; board given presentation on potential nuclear opportunities

In another one of those news releases that seem to pop up out of nowhere the Saskatchewan Party government on Oct. 20, 2008, announced the creation of something called the Uranium Development Partnership.

Making the announcement was Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart and Crown Corporations Minister Ken Cheveldayoff.

According to the news release the 12 member panel will “advise the Government of Saskatchewan on further development of Saskatchewan’s vast uranium resources.”

“Led by Dr. Richard Florizone, a nuclear physicist and Vice President of Finance at the University of Saskatchewan, the mandate of the Uranium Development Partnership is to identify, evaluate and make recommendations on Saskatchewan-based, value added opportunities in the uranium industry.

“The partnership includes representatives from the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan, urban and rural municipalities, business, labour, First Nations, the environmental community and Canada’s nuclear industry.

“The partnership will also identify challenges to development; investment requirements and timelines; legislative and/or regulatory conditions required to move forward. The partnership will also identify research and development opportunities; labour force requirements; and education and training capacity.”

“The partnership will provide a final report to the government by March 31, 2009. The report will include specific recommendations on value added opportunities best suited to the development of the uranium industry,” the government release states.

The Canadian Press’s John Cotter reported that “The partnership’s work will not include getting input from the public about uranium or nuclear power. The government pledged it will consult with the public after the final report is released.” [Saskatchewan names Bruce Power president to nuclear industry advisory panel (The Canadian Press, Oct. 20, 2008)]

The Enterprise and Innovation website notes that “Saskatchewan is the world’s largest uranium producer and is recognized as a long-term, stable source of uranium” and that the province “is interested in attracting value-added activities in the nuclear fuel cycle including refining, conversion, enrichment, fuel manufacturing, electricity generation and waste management.”

Other members named to the partnership include: Duncan Hawthorne, president of Bruce Power Inc., Armand Laferrere, president of Areva Canada, a France-based international nuclear power corporation, Jerry Grandey, president and CEO of Cameco and Alex Pourbaix, president of energy at TransCanada Corp.

Bruce Power, which is currently conducting a feasibility study into building a nuclear power plant in Saskatchewan, is owned by Cameco Corporation, TransCanada Corporation, BPC Generation Infrastructure Trust, a trust established by the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, the Power Workers’ Union and The Society of Energy Professionals.

If the announcement sounds strangely familiar it might be because on Sept. 17, 2008, the government issued a news release saying that it had created a Regulatory Modernization Council (RMC), a scheme that will give business lobby groups like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the North Saskatoon Business Association “direct input in the province’s regulatory reform process and business services improvements.” The RMC “will recommend regulatory reform and business services priorities and forward them to the Enterprise Saskatchewan (ES) Board. It will also assist ES in monitoring the progress toward meeting regulatory and service enhancement goals.”

What the government’s Oct. 20 news release doesn’t say is that, like the RMC, the Uranium Development Partnership is a creature of Enterprise Saskatchewan.

Quietly posted to the Enterprise and Innovation website recently was the Enterprise Saskatchewan Progress Report, Sept. 30, 2008.

The 20-page report indicates that the board was given a presentation on potential value-added nuclear opportunities for further assessment:

– nuclear power;
– uranium conversion;
– enrichment;
– medical isotopes; and
– other research.

The Board recommended that a full evaluation of the economic potential for value-added expansion of the nuclear industry and environmental considerations for Saskatchewan be conducted, and that:

– the evaluation should be carried out by a partnership including representatives from all phases of the nuclear fuel cycle, as well as Saskatchewan business, labour, universities, First Nations, and local governments;

– the work of the partnership be supported with funding from industry and government; and

– the partnership be mandated to report back to Cabinet with its evaluation and recommendations for next steps by January 31, 2009.

The report does not say who gave the presentation to the board or when it occurred. Nor does it say who initiated the discussion about forming a partnership. Whether the nuclear industry was involved in any way is unknown. Like the RMC, which apparently first met on Sept. 17, 2008, the Enterprise Saskatchewan board meetings are closed to the public.

The board met for the first time on March 31, 2008 with subsequent meetings on April 24, May 22, June 19, September 23, and by conference call on July 29, 2008. Board committees have also met.

In the article Environment group questions uranium panel objectivity (StarPhoenix, Oct. 21, 2008) Minister Cheveldayoff described the partnership “as at arm’s-length from the government.” Group members “were chosen through recommendations with the exception of two, Patrick Moore and Neil Collins, which the province recruited to the team.”

Just who recommended these specific individuals is a mystery. The news release and Enterprise Saskatchewan progress report does not say.

The backgrounder states that Collins is a business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2067. Moore is the chair and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, B.C. He is also a co-founder of Greenpeace, and former president of Greenpeace Canada and former director of Greenpeace International.

It’s interesting to note there are two different dates. The Oct. 20 news release says that the partnership will provide a final report to the government by Mar. 31, 2009, but the Enterprise Saskatchewan progress report suggests that Cabinet will receive the evaluations and recommendations by Jan. 31, 2009.

The progress report notes that polygeneration proponents, including TransCanada, gave a presentation to the board on its proposed alternative energy project located at Belle Plaine. Has Bruce Power and/or Cameco given a presentation to the board? If not, are they expected to?

As for being arms-length from government this must be taken with a grain of salt. During the oil royalty fiasco earlier this year, Premier Brad Wall told an audience of oil and gas executives at the Calgary Petroleum Club on Jan. 21, 2008, that the province would not be increasing royalties.

“We want to review both the royalty and the regulatory structures we have in place, not just by the way in oil and gas, but in regard to potash and other resources that we’re looking at,” Wall said.

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

Wall originally envisioned Enterprise Saskatchewan as being arms-length from government, but in his Calgary speech he demonstrated that his government is not above political meddling. In fact, it’s already begun.

According to the Enterprise Saskatchewan progress report Premier Wall addressed the board at its first meeting (Mar. 31, 2008) and “stressed the importance of its work to the province’s growth agenda.” Wall “asked the ES Board to oversee three priorities during the coming months.” One of those priorities just happened to be identifying uranium value-added opportunities.

Bruce Power’s future involvement in Saskatchewan’s uranium exploitation plans seems to be somewhat of a foregone conclusion.

On June 17, 2008, with Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart and Crown Corporations Minister Ken Cheveldayoff looking on, the Ontario-based nuclear power company announced it was undertaking a feasibility study for building a reactor in the province.

The Saskatchewan 2020 study would look at potential locations, the economic impact and how to integrate nuclear power into Saskatchewan’s other energy sources.

Earlier in 2008, the president of the Calgary-based pipeline company TransCanada, one of the owners of Bruce Power, said Saskatchewan might be a better bet than Alberta as the site of Western Canada’s first reactor.

The study is expected to wrap up by the end of the year. [Bruce Power to study building nuclear reactor in Saskatchewan (CBC News, June 17, 2008)]

In July 2008, Minister Stewart toured the Bruce Power reactor facilities as part of three-days of meetings with the nuclear industry in Ontario.

Stewart said the trip would help the Saskatchewan Party government make a decision if Bruce Power decides it wants to proceed when it completes the study by the end of the year. [Stewart to tour Bruce reactor (Leader-Post, July 29, 2008)]

And now with the announcement that Bruce Power president Duncan Hawthorne has joined the new Uranium Development Partnership, along with owners Cameco and TransCanada, it would seem odd that they’d invest this kind of time and energy in such a dog and pony show if they didn’t think there would be some kind of success at the end of it. This appears to be part and parcel of the softening up – the manufacturing of consent – of the province’s acceptance of a nuclear future. This could also help explain why the public won’t be part of the consultation process until after the studies have been completed.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Station 20 West: Sask. Health had four options, but won’t reveal them; access to Health Minister McMorris & Finance Minister Gantefoer memo denied

Health Minister Don McMorris and Premier Brad Wall

“[T]o cancel the entire project rather than deal directly with the situation is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
StarPhoenix editorial, March 29, 2008

“On the Station 20 West project, the government has provided several justifications for removing $8 million for the project, with its rationale seemingly getting more polished with each passing week.”
StarPhoenix editorial, April 24, 2008
The Saskatchewan Party government is denying access to Ministry of Health records that could be crucial to understanding the government’s decision to withdraw $8 million in funding from the Station 20 West development. The money had already been allocated by the former NDP government. Payment of the $8 million to the Saskatoon Regional Health Authority was entered by Ministry of Health, Finance and Administration Branch on Mar. 30, 2007 (from the unspent budget in the 2006-07 fiscal year) and was direct deposited to the health authority on Apr. 3, 2007.

Additionally the health region was to oversee financial management and be accountable for the $8 million contribution from the Ministry of Health to the Station 20 project.

Records obtained from the ministry under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act appear to suggest that the Wall government determined early on to cancel its involvement in the project. Flawed, short-sighted reasoning was then used to back up its case.

The fate of the project seemed pre-determined; this while the Station 20 West board was requesting to meet with Health Minister Don McMorris and was receiving letters from health officials saying the project was still under consideration.

In an email dated Dec. 22, 2007, former Station 20 West project manager Paul Wilkinson advised board members and provincial health officials that two items needed to be discussed at a steering committee meeting proposed for mid-January in Saskatoon. The items included: An agreement to proceed to tender as soon as the design for the foundation is complete, probably in late Feb. 2008; and the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Saskatoon Health Region and Station 20 West which with the financial guarantees being obtained by Station 20 West, will hopefully allow the health region to disperse the $8 million knowing that additional funds to finish the building are guaranteed.

The recipients of the email included assistant deputy health minister Max Hendricks and Donna Magnusson, the executive director of primary health services with Saskatchewan Health.

Shortly after receiving the email Hendricks sent a message to Magnusson asking her to “please craft a letter putting a freeze on this til further notice.”

The letter that Magnusson was asked to compose was not included in the package of information released by the ministry. Its contents, if it does indeed exist, remain unknown. It would be interesting to know who else, besides Hendricks, was asking for the freeze and why.

In an interview with the StarPhoenix on Mar. 27, 2008, Premier Brad Wall said the concept of the project was “problematic” for the Saskatchewan Party. Wall dismissed Station 20 West as essentially a “mall development.”

“We ought not to be in the mall business and it’s just, it’s a different approach. We don’t think that the government of Saskatchewan should be opening up basically a mall development, where we’d be competing with grocery stores, competing with others who are already renting (facility space) now to community clinics in the area.” [20th Street ‘mall’ not a priority: gov’t (StarPhoenix, Mar. 28, 2008)]

There are no full-service grocery stores in the area. The last one closed more than 10 years ago. How Wall could not know this is incredible.

Wall’s comments also contradict government health officials description of the project in two briefing notes both dated Jan. 9, 2008.

The first was prepared by Fay Schuster, the director of primary health services with Saskatchewan Health, and titled: The Station 20 West Community Enterprise Centre.

“The Station 20 West Project is fundamentally an urban renewal project aimed at strengthening the economic and social well being of Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods of Pleasant Hill, Westmount, King George, Riversdale and Caswell Hill, through a community-based economic development approach,” Schuster said.

The initiative combines “social, health, housing, library, community and educational services with a neighbourhood grocery store, and a public gathering place.”

The second briefing note was prepared by Donna Magnusson, the executive director of primary health services with Saskatchewan Health, and titled: Station 20 West Community Enterprise Centre – Options for the Future.

Magnusson, too, refers to the initiative as “an urban renewal project,” adding that the “Ministry of Health has committed $8.0M of the $12.6M budget with the remainder of the funding to be secured through a fundraising campaign.”

At the time of Wall’s comments Health Minister McMorris spun a different story saying broken hospital fire alarms and mould-infested care homes -- not political games -- were the motive for the government’s decision to pull $8 million in funding from Station 20 West.

Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer said when the new government took a look at the project, “there were a number of difficulties with it.”

Fundraising from private donors was supposed to contribute between $12 million and $14 million toward the total cost, but he was told only about $75,000 had been collected -- raising concerns about whether the province would end up on the hook for a shortfall, he added. [Core project in limbo (StarPhoenix, Mar. 27, 2008)]

Gantefoer was incorrect.

At a press conference on Mar. 27, 2008, Station 20 West project manager Paul Wilkinson said organizers needed to raise about $3.5 million on their own, and had already received commitments worth about $1 million. They knew they would be able to obtain a mortgage to cover a further $1 million, and felt confident a public fundraising campaign could net the remaining $1.5 million within the next few months, Wilkinson said.

“We have a large number of very significant partners in this project.” [20th Street ‘mall’ not a priority: gov’t (StarPhoenix, Mar. 28, 2008)]

The money collected up to that point was “all before an official, wide-spread public fund-raising campaign has even been kicked off.” [Hope Takes A Beating (Planet S Magazine, Apr. 10, 2008)]

Gantefoer’s office later confirmed he’d been mistaken about the numbers.

The Schuster and Magnusson briefing notes detail a handful of concerns with the project, but McMorris’s reason that the ministry needed the money for broken hospital fire alarms and mould-infested care homes is not among them.

As for fundraising this is nothing new in the non-profit sector. Organizations such as Persephone Theatre, Mendel Art Gallery, Meewasin Valley Authority, Saskatoon Zoo Foundation, Regina and District Food Bank and RCMP Heritage Centre have sought out donations to help fund capital projects. Station 20 West is no different.

The briefing notes mention rising construction costs, but this too is not uncommon and is something being experienced in projects throughout the province.

Magnusson’s briefing note states that Station 20 “has experienced difficulties in engaging committed stakeholders such as the Saskatoon Community Clinic and the aboriginal community. Further, they have set out to build a “green” building, which has driven up the costs of construction. They have been unwilling to compromise on the design to build within budget.”

In an Apr. 7, 2008, open letter to members, employees and friends former Saskatoon Community Clinic president Cheryl Loadman said “contrary to rumours, the Community Clinic remains fully supportive of the principles and vision of Station 20 West. Time and again, we have publicly stated our endorsement for the Station 20 West concept, and have said that we can see our future as part of this ‘community space’. We remain firm in our belief that the inner city community is best served by all of us, the Saskatoon Health Region, the University of Saskatchewan - Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry, local community organizations such as CHEP and QUINT, and the Good Food Junction Grocery Store, working together, creating a synergy focused on services for the inner city community. As a result, the Community Clinic made a commitment to become a tenant in Station 20 West; a commitment which we stand by today, and which we have stated publicly to the media.”

With respect to engaging the aboriginal community Saskatoon writer Meshon Cantrill noted in the May 8, 2008, edition of Planet S Magazine that “the problem may have been one of miscommunication – or, perhaps more appropriately, missed communication.

Former Station 20 project manager Paul Wilkinson says they were not made aware of the Saskatoon Tribal Council’s concerns – and indeed, had in fact received encouragement from the STC during the project’s development process.

“The Tribal Council’s urban manager met with Karen Archibald in 2006 and expressed support for the food store. The urban manager also met with the board in 2007. At that time she still seemed to be in support of the food store and of its potential for job creation for young people in the core area,” he says.

Moreover, Wilkinson says that, far from excluding the STC as a potential partner in Station 20 West, the board has long been trying to include them in the project.

“I can tell you that, in the last many months, I have made many attempts, personally, to meet both with the urban manager and with Chief [Joe ] Quewezance, but have never been able to get a meeting,” says Wilkinson.

Communication snafus aside, Wilkinson and the Station 20 West board are still very much interested in pursuing a positive partnership with the STC, as they move forward with a re-envisioning of the Station 20 West project, which is still very much alive in a scaled-down form.

“We’ve always wanted to have a positive relationship with the Saskatoon Tribal Council, and we still do. After Chief Quewezance was interviewed I actually wrote a letter to him basically saying that the project has changed, we’re going to concentrate on getting the food store, [and] we would like you to be a full partner. Please consider this and get back to us,” says Wilkinson.

Happily, it seems the STC is also entirely open to moving forward on meaningful dialogue with the Station 20 West board about the future of the reinvented project – and perhaps, to working closely as partners to bring those services to the inner city.

“Would the Tribal Chief consider that? Of course,” says Tournier. “Our Tribal Chief is a diplomat and a statesman, and as long as he’s our Tribal Chief I know that he would consider that very sincerely.” [Caught In The Rumour Mill (Planet S Magazine, May 8, 2008)]

In the same Planet S article Wilkinson said to suggest that the decision by Station 20 organizers to “go green” by building to LEED environmental standards was a poor one, because it would cause a large jump in construction costs, is not only incorrect, it’s also short-sighted reasoning.

“[O]ur architect had indicated that the cost was $208 per square foot, compared to $200 [being] the average cost, so it wasn’t exorbitantly more expensive than any other building,” he says.

“[Moreover], it’s very important for us to be building environmentally sustainable buildings. One, it’s better for the environment, which we all believe in, I think; and two, it results in lower maintenance costs and lower utility costs. We had actually calculated that we would pay that additional cost back over a seven year period.”

The Station 20 West Development Corporation has a steering committee to oversee the project. According to Magnusson’s briefing note the committee members at the time were:

Max Hendricks, assistant deputy health minister
Donna Magnusson, executive director of primary health services with Saskatchewan Health
Fay Schuster, director of primary health services with Saskatchewan Health
Murray Gross, manager with Ministry of Social Services
Shan Landry, vice-president Saskatoon Regional Health Authority
Mitch Strocen, coordinator capital and facilities planning with the Saskatoon RHA
Len Usiskin, manager of Quint Development Corporation
Karen Archibald, executive director of CHEP (the Child Hunger Education Project)
Paul Wilkinson, Station 20 West project manager

Schuster’s briefing note states that the steering committee “has agreed to a draft Terms of Reference and a number of working committees to deal with issues such as fundraising, community engagement, co-location, policy and evaluation, building design and construction, and engaging the Aboriginal community are planned.”

The question is why was the group not given the chance to work through these issues with the new government?

According to a letter to the editor that was published in the StarPhoenix on Apr. 10, 2007, the Station 20 West co-chairs, Sheila Pocha and Valerie Veillard, said that following the Nov. 2007 provincial election the new Saskatchewan Party government did not allow the steering committee to meet, despite numerous requests by the project manager for Station 20 West. The government has not explained who gave the order and why and the briefing notes released by the government don’t mention it.

In a Mar. 29, 2008, editorial the StarPhoenix said the reasons given by Gantefoer and McMorris for pulling the Station 20 funding were “a raft of juvenile excuses rather than part of a coherent plan” and called Wall’s excuse “weak.”

“But to cancel the entire project rather than deal directly with the situation is to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” the newspaper said. [Government’s actions signal trouble ahead (StarPhoenix, Mar. 29, 2008)]

Furthermore, three of the individuals on the steering committee – Hendricks, Magnusson and Schuster – appear in emails and briefing notes that, when viewed as a whole, seem to suggest the decision to reconsider funding the Station 20 West project was done early on and yet no one thought to warn the rest of the committee – or were staff advised not to say anything?

The most disturbing aspect of Donna Magnusson’s briefing note is that nearly two and a half pages have been severed. Magnusson states that “Given the difficulties this project has encountered and the potential escalation in construction costs, four options are presented for consideration with a recommendation.” The government, however, is refusing to release this information. The fact that it had developed four options to choose from was never made public. Why? What are the recommendation and the justification behind it?

Rather than being open and transparent Saskatchewan Health has chosen instead to hide behind Section 17(1)(a) of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a discretionary exemption, that states “a head may refuse to give access to a record that could reasonably be expected to disclose… advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for a government institution or a member of the Executive Council.”

The Station 20 West board sent a letter to Health Minister Don McMorris dated Jan. 18, 2008, congratulating him on the election and his appointment to cabinet.

“We look forward to a complementary and supportive working relationship with you and your department in our efforts to improve the health and well-being of community residents in the core communities of Saskatoon,” the letter stated.

“We would like to meet with you, and perhaps other caucus members you would advise be included, to provide more details of our plans and answer any other questions you have. We also look forward to continue working with Saskatchewan Health officials as they have provided us with invaluable guidance as part of the Station 20 West Steering Committee.”

Four days later on Jan. 22, 2008, Jeannette Lowe, the director of budget and financial planning with Saskatchewan Health, sent an email to John Billington, the director of budget review with Saskatchewan Finance, which states in the opening paragraph: “Cancel Station 20 Agreement – Page 15 – What is the status of local fundraising and the loan/mortgage documents? What are the implications (ie. is government going to be liable for any costs here)? Has Health contacted the Provincial Comptroller to inquire whether the funds already provided to Saskatoon RHA could be recovered? What was the Comptroller’s response?”

These appear to be questions that Billington posed to Lowe who, in response, identified the monies that Station 20 had collected thus far and states in the last sentence: “The Comptroller’s Division has not been contacted as they would be unable to determine the treatment in the absence of a specific agreement. If the direction were given to proceed with cancellation, we would begin work with the Comptroller’s to determine whether the agreement should be amended or cancelled and what wording and conditions were required.”

The email also indicates that “About $250,000 has been spent from the $8M primarily for legal and architect fees.”

Lowe’s email to Billington was shared with Donna Magnusson and also copied to Ted Warawa, the executive director of the financial services branch with Saskatchewan Health, Brenda Russell, the manager of budget and financial planning for Saskatchewan Health, and Garth Herbert, an internal auditor with Saskatchewan Health.

An access to information request dated June 25, 2008, was submitted to Saskatchewan Health for a copy of the document that contains the reference to “Cancel Station 20 Agreement – Page 15,” but the ministry’s July 22, 2008, response advised that the request was being denied because “the record discloses a confidence of the Executive Council.”

What is the Wall government hiding?

The acting deputy minister of health, Gren Smith-Windsor, sent a letter dated Jan. 25, 2008, to Station 20 West, but unfortunately Saskatchewan Health failed to include a copy of the letter in the package of information that was released under the freedom of information Act. However, Station 20 West’s Feb. 20, 2008, response to Smith-Windsor discloses the purpose of the government’s Jan. 25 letter.

Former Station 20 project manager Paul Wilkinson’s letter to Smith-Windsor notes that the government had “three areas of concern regarding the viability and sustainability of Station 20 West.” These included: Increasing construction costs and sustainability, Engagement of Stakeholders, and the Community Clinic’s commitment. Wilkinson answered Smith-Winder’s concerns in detail and said “We are pleased to be able to address your points of concern in this correspondence but would very much welcome an opportunity to meet with you.”

Smith-Windsor’s letter must have mentioned delaying the project because in his letter Wilkinson at one point states: “Based on your letter we have agreed to delay the tendering process but it is our desire to have the delay as short as possible.”

Wilkinson closes his letter saying “We are available to meet with you at your earliest convenience to respond to more specifics. If you want to discuss this further please contact Karen Archibald or Len Usiskin or myself.”

The meeting never took place and it appears that Station 20’s request for one was already too late.

Health Minister Don McMorris issued a memorandum dated Feb. 19, 2008, to Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer regarding the “Station 20 West Community Enterprise Centre – Saskatoon.” The contents of the four-page memo, however, are unknown because Saskatchewan Health has denied access to it on the basis that “the record discloses a confidence of Executive Council.” The memo is stamped as being received by primary health services on Feb. 25, 2008, and has Donna Magnusson’s name written on the front.

Subsequently, in an email dated Feb. 22, 2008, from Magnusson to Margaret Baker, the director of primary health services, and Fay Schuster, with the subject line “FW: Station 20 Memo needed for TB Finalization,” Magnusson states: “This is what finally went over – Bev please print a copy for the file with the attached e-mail. Thanks. Donna.”

At least two other individuals received this email: Beverly Fahlman, administrative support with the primary health services branch, and Marie Bogdane, the secretary to assistant deputy health minister Max Hendricks.

Aside from the single opening sentence Saskatchewan Health has denied access to the rest of the email’s contents because “it contains advice from officials to Executive Council.”

According to a copy of Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart’s daily calendar, which was obtained through an access to information request, Treasury Board Budget Finalization meetings took place on Feb. 19 & 20, 2008, at the Ministry of Finance office in the 11th floor boardroom located at 2350 Albert Street in Regina. It seems clear that some kind of decision regarding the Station 20 West funding was made at these meetings.

In a Feb. 26, 2008, letter Health Minister Don McMorris responded to Station 20 West’s Jan. 18, 2008, correspondence stating: “Ministry officials advise me that the Acting Deputy Minister of Health recently sent a letter to the Station 20 West Board. The letter outlined some of the concerns that have been raised regarding this project. The prospect of establishing a multi-service facility in the core area of Saskatoon to serve the residents’ health and social needs is a laudable goal, and I would concur with the concerns raised in that letter.”

McMorris’s letter does not mention Station 20’s request for a meeting nor does it disclose what happened at the Treasury Board Budget Finalization meetings regarding the project’s $8 million provincial funding.

Six days later in a letter dated Mar. 3, 2008, acting deputy minister of health, Gren Smith-Windsor, replied to Station 20 West’s Feb. 20, 2008, letter thanking them for taking the time to respond in detail to the letter he’d sent in late January 2008.

“The viability and sustainability of the proposed Station 20 West project is still under consideration. I understand that Ministry officials continue to be in regular contact with you regarding the project. They will contact you as soon as we are able to set up a meeting to discuss the future of the project.”

Smith-Windsor’s letter does not mention what was discussed and/or decided at the Treasury Board Budget Finalization meetings concerning Station 20 West provincial funding.

On Mar. 13, 2008, James Parker, the director of regional services in the communications branch with Saskatchewan Health, distributed Budget 2008-09 information regarding Station 20 West to senior staff in the department for approval.

The three-page document states “In the upcoming budget, funding will be revoked for a project announced in Saskatoon approximately one year ago – a Community Enterprise Centre called Station 20 West.”

The department’s communication strategy included assistant deputy minister Max Hendricks advising key partners in the Station 20 West of the funding decision after the budget is delivered and that messaging will be provided to the Minister of Health regarding the reasons for the decision.

The key messages of the strategy included just two reasons for the funding decision: “We carefully assessed the project before coming to this decision. Regrettably, it was clear that there were significant issues with costs, and that First Nations organizations were not adequately consulted or involved in the planning process.”

The document also contains a section devoted to “Considerations” but the ministry severed this information and is refusing to release it because it could disclose advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for a government institution or a member of the Executive Council.

It appears the document was approved by Marg Moran McQuinn, the executive director of the communications branch with Saskatchewan Health, and Fay Schuster, the director of primary health services with Saskatchewan Health, on Mar. 13, 2008. The assistant to the deputy minister of health, Lauren Black, and assistant deputy health minister Max Hendricks are also listed on the document.

On Mar. 14, 2008, James Parker forwarded the same budget document to Kathy Young, the executive director of communications with the Executive Council and Carolyn Hamilton, a communications consultant with Saskatchewan Health.

The 2008-09 provincial budget was delivered in the Legislature on Mar. 19, 2008. There was no public announcement about the Station 20 funding cut.

On Mar. 20, 2008, assistant deputy minister Max Hendricks called Station 20 West project manger Paul Wilkinson. This was followed by a letter faxed from acting deputy minister Gren Smith-Windsor to Station 20 representatives confirming “that the Government of Saskatchewan will not be proceeding further with the Station 20 West Development Project.”

In a letter to Smith-Windsor dated Mar. 24, 2008, Wilkinson said the Station 20 West Board was “very concerned” about the government’s decision not to proceed with the project.

“In your letter of March 3, 2008 you indicated your intention to arrange a meeting to discuss the project. This meeting had never taken place. We respectfully request an opportunity to meet with you immediately for this discussion.”

Smith-Windsor’s Mar. 28, 2008, response thanked Wilkinson for taking the time write and express his views, but arrogantly dismissed the request for a meeting saying, “I believe the information you require was communicated to you directly on March 20, 2008.”

It was at this point the government started adding excuses on why the funding was pulled.

A Mar. 28, 2008, briefing note prepared by Donna Magnusson titled “Station 20 West Community Enterprise Centre – Decision Not to Proceed” notes that “There are many financial pressures in the health system, particularly for infrastructure and equipment. Our provincial budget increased capital spending to help the health system meet huge infrastructure challenges it’s facing after years of neglect.”

“Funding originally set aside for Station 20 West is being redirected to meet urgent needs, including replacement of a CT scanner at City Hospital, a chiller at Royal University Hospital, and a fire alarm system at St. Paul’s Hospital,” Magnusson said.

“The Provincial Auditor expressed concern about the Station 20 West project, and we take those concerns seriously.”

On Saturday, Apr. 5, 2008, the future location of Station 20 West was home to Saskatoon’s largest demonstration in recent memory.

Between 2,000 and 2,500 people gathered on the lot at the corner of 20th Street West and Avenue L to protest the provincial government’s $8 million cut in funding for the development. No politicians spoke at the rally. [Thousands back Station 20 West (StarPhoenix, Apr. 7, 2008)]

It wasn’t until Apr. 9, 2008, that Station 20 West board members were finally able to meet with Health Minister Don McMorris and Premier Brad Wall. The government, however, denied the final plea for provincial funding. [The answer is still ‘no’: Wall (StarPhoenix, Apr. 10, 2008)]

The StarPhoenix took issue with the Saskatchewan Party, which was “appearing to go out of its way to project an image of poor-bashing.”

In an Apr. 24, 2008, editorial the newspaper said “On the Station 20 West project, the government has provided several justifications for removing $8 million for the project, with its rationale seemingly getting more polished with each passing week.

“It still doesn’t explain why it makes more sense for the government to dedicate $5 million to run programming through food banks. As to citing the provincial auditor’s concerns about accountability for spending as reason to withdraw Station 20 funding, it’s notable that the auditor said the same thing about capital funds given to boards of education, but without the same drastic impact. And McMorris’s rationale that the money was desperately needed to bring fire alarms up to standard at St. Paul’s Hospital simply is at odds with the Saskatoon Fire Service’s assessment of the situation.” [Poor-bashing begins to hurt gov’t image (StarPhoenix, Apr. 24, 2008)]

It’s clear that Saskatchewan Health officials knew very early on that the Station 20 West funding was in serious jeopardy, but said nothing. Requests for meetings were ignored and the project organizers were stalled and strung along until the budget was delivered. To add insult to injury the Wall government is now hiding crucial information from the public that could provide something closer to the real reasons for the government’s underhanded decision.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s mandate weaker today than it was after the 2006 election – only 22.2% of total registered electors

During a 30-minute interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge on Oct. 7, 2008, Stephen Harper was asked with opinion polls putting the Conservatives in a minority territory what could the party accomplish if it didn’t secure a majority?

Harper responded that two minorities in a row have a “stronger mandate than one minority” and seemed unconcerned by the possibility of another snap election since opposition parties would likely be scrambling to reorganize after a loss. [‘This prime minister isn’t going to panic’: Harper to Mansbridge (CBC News, Oct. 7, 2008)]

The current election results posted on the Elections Canada website, however, seem to tell a different story.

In the Oct. 14, 2008, general election the Conservative Party of Canada received 5,205,334 votes. With 23,401,064 registered electors in Canada this amounts to just 22.2 per cent support. This hardly constitutes a strong mandate and is in fact lower than what Harper’s party garnered in the last election.

In the Jan. 23, 2006, general election the Conservatives picked up 5,374,071 votes. With 23,054,615 electors on the lists this works out to 23.3 per cent support.

The Tories may have gained more seats in the 2008 election going from 124 to 143, but received 168,737 less votes than in 2006. There were 346,449 more eligible voters this time around. Achieving 22.2 per cent support is nothing to brag about and should not be considered a “stronger mandate.” The Conservatives today speak for less Canadians than they did two years and eight months ago.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

National Post endorses Stephen Harper; backed George W. Bush for U.S. president, Mike Harris as Ontario premier and illegal wars in Afghanistan & Iraq

Like clockwork the National Post has endorsed Stephen Harper for prime minister – for the third straight election. This is no surprise. Since the first issue on Oct. 27, 1998, the Post has been staunchly pro-conservative.

Former media magnate Conrad Black launched the National Post in Toronto to combat what he saw as an ‘over-liberalizing’ of editorial policy in Canadian newspapers. Black built the new paper around the existing Financial Post, an established business-oriented newspaper. [Conrad Black: The rise and fall of a media mogul (CTV News, Mar. 12, 2007)]

The Post’s earliest election endorsement appears to be June 3, 1999, when it said Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Mike Harris deserved a second term as premier; in fact, the newspaper said “in delivering unprecedented economic growth and in putting Toronto and Ontario back on the national stage, Mr. Harris has earned the right to return as premier.”

The Post applauded Harris for “his bold tax-cutting policies” and despite “outrage from the political left” he “peeled back red tape and ended corporate subsidies” and was “the first Ontario premier to embrace free trade.”

The Post was disappointed with Harris because he refused “to consider any form of school choice” and “his “guarantee” to increase health-care spending 20% over the next mandate… will impede further reform.”

“But while we may disagree with the scope of some of Mr. Harris’ policies, his legacy and future prospects remain overwhelmingly positive,” the Post said. [Harris deserves a second term (National Post, June 3, 1999)]

Harris’s Common Sense Revolution introduced the draconian forced labour “workfare” program and saw welfare rates brutally slashed by 21.5 per cent and the level of assets a welfare recipient could keep reduced. The province’s poor have never recovered. Harris’s finance minister was Jim Flaherty, who is now Stephen Harper’s.

The Harris government repealed the Employment Equity Act in its entirety and enacted Bill 7, a package of anti-union and anti-worker labour legislation, permitting the use of replacement workers during a strike and requiring a secret ballot be held in every certification application.

There was the Walkerton tainted water tragedy caused in part by government budget cuts and Environment Ministry ineptitude and the ugly Ipperwash standoff between natives and police.

Harris’s popularity plummeted to 33 per cent and on October 16, 2001 he announced his plan to resign.

On October 2, 2003, the Tories won just 24 of the 103 seats in the Ontario Legislature and according to a report by former Ontario Provincial Auditor Erik Peters left a $5.6 billion deficit behind.

In Nov. 2000, the National Post endorsed Republican presidential nominee Texas Gov. George W. Bush for president of the United States.

The Post liked Bush’s plan to “roll back taxes US$1.3-trillion over the next 10 years” because “Canada’s government would be put under that much more pressure to lower tax rates here.”

The Post also liked Bush’s plan to “divert a portion of existing social security taxes into individual accounts” because “the effect would be to put reform of the Canada Pension Plan… on the Canadian agenda.”

On the environment and the Kyoto accord the Post said “Mr. Bush, during one of the debates, offered the sound comment that it is still not clear what is the best way to combat global warming.”

On foreign policy the Post was against Vice-President Al Gore’s “human security” approach which implied support “for an activist United Nations and an eager willingness to deploy troops overseas in the name of human rights.” Bush’s pledge, on the other hand, “to restrict U.S. deployments to conflicts that must be fought in the United States’ national interest” is “one Canada would do well to adopt.”

“When the votes are counted [on Nov. 7, 2000], we expect -- and hope -- Mr. Bush’s vision of government prevails,” the Post said. [Their election, and ours (National Post, Nov. 7, 2000)]

In an editorial the following day the Post said “At 2:20 a.m. today, U.S. media announced that George W. Bush had been elected the country's 43rd President. Assuming that this result stands, and is not reversed by yet another swing following a night of extraordinary ups and downs, then this newspaper welcomes the Republican triumph.”

“Mr. Bush has a wondrous opportunity: to maintain America’s current level of prosperity while restoring a dignity to the executive branch that it has long been lacking. We congratulate him on his victory and wish him good luck.” [A fresh start (National Post, Nov. 8, 2000)]

In 2000, Bush’s last year as governor, Texas put to death 40 people, an all-time record for any state since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. In total, Bush has presided over more executions – 152 – than any governor. During his term Bush issued fewer pardons than any Texas Governor since the 1940s.

Bush was opposed to a national health care plan and in 2000 there were 1.4 million children in Texas who did not have health insurance, the most in the nation. The state also had the highest uninsured rate among low-income adults, with more than half – 51 percent – of those earning less than $28,300 a year going without medical insurance.

In the 2000 Canadian federal election the Post resigned itself to the fact that the Liberal’s were on their way to winning a possible third majority and weren’t happy.

“The Liberals under Jean Chretien have treated Parliament with casual, habitual contempt,” the Post said. It complained about the government’s lack of transparency and accountability on issues such as the HRDC $1 billion boondoggle.

“We find it difficult to understand why voters would support the Grits today, unless they are certain the party will soon have a new leader. But if that is the case, why not hurry the process along? Strong support for the Canadian Alliance today will produce a minority government and effectively end Mr. Chretien’s leadership,” the Post said.

“This is not an unequivocal endorsement of the Canadian Alliance under Stockwell Day. His party has not proven itself ready for government… But the Alliance under Mr. Day remains much the next best hope for Canada.”

The Post had little time for the opposition alternatives saying the Tories “have no sense of purpose, no fresh ideas -- they would do Canada a favour by getting out of the way. The NDP should lose their official party status tonight, and one hopes their will to survive might go with it.”

As for the Bloc Quebecois the Post hoped that “either the CA or the Liberals under new leadership can bury the separatists for good in the next federal election.”

“A Liberal minority with a strong Alliance party as the official opposition, and the decks cleared of the NDP and Tory nuisances, would be the best possible outcome tonight.” [Vote for Parliament (National Post, Nov. 27, 2000)]

In Oct. 2001, the Post endorsed the American and British invasion of Afghanistan, which was illegal under international law and had not received Security Council approval.

“[T]he battle must not stop until the terrorist enemy, wherever it may lurk, has been eliminated,” the Post said.

“The terrorist camps in Afghanistan must be destroyed and a new regime must be established - - one that can guarantee Afghanistan will not remain a rogue state and a haven for terrorists.”

The Post supported Canada’s participation in the war of aggression saying “our government must make it plain that we will offer everything in our power to the war effort. Even if all we can do is send a token force, then that is what we should send. It is important for the world to know that Canada stands squarely on the side of the United States in this, the conflict that now defines our world.”

“As Mr. Bush has made plain, it is Afghanistan’s Taleban regime that is our enemy, not the people of that country, who have been beaten into quiescence by decades of war.” [Doing our part (National Post, Oct. 8, 2001)]

As of early Oct. 2008, 98 Canadian soldiers have died in the war and a new report has revealed that Canada’s Afghan mission will have cost Canadians as much as $18.1 billion – $1,500 per household – by the time it ends in 2011. [Afghan mission cost: up to $18B (Toronto Star, Oct. 9, 2008)]

A recent draft report by American intelligence agencies concludes that Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” and Britain’s commander in Afghanistan and the UN special envoy to the country is saying that the war cannot be won militarily. [Afghanistan in a ‘downward spiral’ (Toronto Star, Oct. 9, 2008)]

Eric S. Margolis, an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist, summed things up in a way that most people aren’t willing to consider: “The current war in Afghanistan is not really about al-Qaida and ‘terrorism,’ but about opening a secure corridor through Pashtun tribal territory to export the oil and gas riches of the Caspian Basin of Central Asia to the West. The US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are essentially pipeline protection troops fighting off the hostile natives.” [Time To Face The Facts On Afghanistan (Oct. 6, 2008)]

In March 2003, the Post endorsed yet another illegal war of aggression – the invasion, overthrow and continued occupation of Iraq. It also complained bitterly about Canada’s non-participation.

“We are glad the inspections farce is over. The sight of a tinpot dictator like Saddam giving UN inspectors the run around while Old Europe’s foreign ministers composed high-flown paeans to their effort did more damage to the dignity of the United Nations than any act of alleged U.S. “unilateralism” ever could,” the Post said.

“[On Mar. 17, 2003] Jean Chretien announced Canada would not participate in the military campaign against Iraq unless the UN Security Council passes yet another resolution. The Security Council won’t. So the Prime Minister was effectively signalling that Canada will sit out the fighting along with the rest of the French-led Coalition of the Unwilling. That this should be so while similarly situated nations such as Australia and Britain fight shoulder to shoulder with the United States brings shame to this country.” [On to war (National Post, Mar. 18, 2003)]

Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper backed the war 100 per cent.

Under the ridiculous headline More of the leadership we wish we had the Post published an abridged transcript of Harper’s address delivered in Parliament on Mar. 20, 2003: “We in the Canadian Alliance support the American position because we share their worries about Iraq,” Harper said.

“We will not be neutral. We will be with our allies and our friends. We will not be with our government. For this government, in taking the position it has taken, has betrayed Canada’s history and its values.” [More of the leadership we wish we had (National Post, Mar 22, 2003)]

The case for war in Iraq was based on lies and deception. Since the war began there have been nearly 4,200 American military casualties and over 30,000 officially wounded. The cost of the war has surpassed $562 billion.

In his memoir The Age of Turbulence, Alan Greenspan, a Republican whose 18-year tenure as head of the US Federal Reserve was widely admired, noted “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” Enough said.

Next up for the Post was the Oct. 2003 Ontario election. The newspaper did not support Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty, but recognized that he was set to win the Oct. 2 vote by a commanding margin.

“Barring a sudden reversal of fortune, Mr. McGuinty will be Ontario’s next premier. The important task now is to ensure Mr. McGuinty’s reign is less dismal than… observers fear,” said the Post, which had little confidence in the Conservative alternative.

“[Mike] Harris’s successor, Tory incumbent Ernie Eves, gives the impression of being an indecisive leader with scant regard for truly conservative principles. An Eves defeat would at least have the virtue of forcing his party to retool.”

The Post was concerned that McGuinty’s “tax-and-spend agenda that could threaten the gains in prosperity made under former premier Mike Harris.” It was also worried that his plan called “for corporate taxes to be increased from 12.5% to 14%” and “would scrap Mr. Eves’ scheduled cuts to personal income taxes, and has pledged to repeal the Tories’ sensible tax credit for parents who choose to send their children to independent schools.”

The Post called on McGuinty to “resist the urge to kill the Conservatives’ fledgling efforts at health-care innovation.” These included outsourcing “diagnostic services to private clinics, which are reimbursed by the government under a single-payer scheme” and “steps toward a new financing model for hospitals called “public private partnerships” (PPP), according to which a for-profit company builds and operates a new hospital and then leases it back to a non-profit hospital board.”

Eliminating these “would be disastrous for Ontario, and might even discourage reform efforts in other provinces,” said the Post. It seems clear that when the Post says “innovation” and “reform” it really means privatize.

“Assuming the Tories lose, as expected, there might be an upside for Conservatives in Canada. Many Ontario Tory activists have stood on the sidelines throughout the war of attrition between the federal PCs and the Canadian Alliance; maybe an Eves defeat would lead them to get more involved federally and help push for a single conservative party. Best of all, perhaps some of the Tory MPPs who lose their seats Thursday will decide to run federally in the next election, helping to break the Liberal stranglehold in the province,” said the Post dreaming of Canada where only Conservatives ruled. [Making the best of McGuinty (National Post, Sept. 30, 2003)]

June 2004 marked the first National Post endorsement of Stephen Harper for prime minister.

“Unlike most career politicians, who file their ideological edges down to blunt stumps early in their careers, Mr. Harper is clearly a man grounded in conviction, and has rarely repented his more controversial views,” said the Post.

“Last month, when the federal election was called, we outlined the policy areas that we hoped to see addressed over the course of the campaign. In particular, we urged an agenda that would include giving the provinces more freedom in how they deliver universal health care, ending Ottawa’s various corporate and regional welfare programs, lowering taxes, empowering MPs, improving Canada-U.S. relations, strengthening our rusted-out military, dismantling the gun registry and rescinding the gag law. In all these areas, the Conservatives have staked out intelligent positions.”

The Post was especially pleased that the Conservatives “properly rejected intrusive, big-ticket items” like a “national child care program” and instead are seeking to improve “the business climate” with broad-based corporate tax cuts.

In Harper the Post seemed to have found its Holy Grail.

“We feel comfortable with the prospect of Mr. Harper as prime minister. That’s why we believe that, for voters seeking positive change, the Conservative party is the only sensible option.” [On June 28, vote Conservative (National Post, June 23, 2004)]

In Nov. 2004 the Post’s support for George W. Bush’s re-election as president of the United States was unmistakable.

“Four out of five Canadians told pollsters they preferred Democratic challenger John Kerry over incumbent Republican President George W. Bush. But Canadians should probably be thankful that Mr. Bush prevailed in Tuesday’s election, if only for our own selfish economic interests,” the Post said on Nov. 4.

The Post said Bush’s election will pay “tangible dividends” in the area of trade. “[B]efore he became President… the former Texas governor was a passionate free-trader. Now that Mr. Bush has been safely returned to the White House, there is some hope he will return to his free trade roots.”

“Mr. Bush may not be Canada’s best friend… But where our country’s export-dependent economy is concerned, he is far better than the alternative. In his second term, moreover, Mr. Bush will not be burdened with the task of winning re-election, and so will be able to eschew populist protectionism. For the sake of our cattle farmers and loggers, one hopes that he will instead act on the free trade principles he brought with him to the White House in 2001.”

As for Bush’s challenger, Senator John Kerry, the Post described him as a “multilateralism- minded Democrat” who “pandered to rust-belt industries during the campaign” and “likely would have steered his country down a protectionist road.”

On softwood “Mr. Kerry would have done Canada no favours. Being in the thrall of big labour, including the timbering unions, he likely would have done all he could to block Canadian lumber imports.”

On cattle shipment restrictions the Post said “we can only be glad that Mr. Kerry will not be the one managing this file come January. Last spring, he was one of 10 U.S. senators who signed a letter calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to maintain the existing restrictions.” [A second chance on free trade (National Post, Nov. 4, 2004)]

With friends like that who needs enemies?

According to the New Hampshire-based American Research Group, Bush’s overall job approval rating as of Sept. 22, 2008, was 19 per cent. When it comes to Bush’s handling of the economy 78 per cent disapprove.

On October 24, 2000, CNN reported that the federal government posted a record $237 billion surplus for the budget year that ended in September. It marked the third straight year of surpluses, something that hasn't happened since the late 1940s. [Administration announces record annual budget surplus (CNN News, Oct. 24, 2000)]

According to a new Bush administration estimate released in July 2008 the next president will inherit a record budget deficit of $482 billion. [U.S. Headed For Record Deficit In 2009 (CBS News, July 28, 2008)]

On Aug. 29, 2007, the Washington Post reported that according to annual census figures the number of Americans without health insurance rose to a record 47 million. [U.S. Poverty Rate Drops; Ranks of Uninsured Grow (Washington Post, Aug. 29, 2007)]

Bush leaves office with a legacy that could very well include being the worst president in history.

In January 2006, the Post again supported Stephen Harper for prime minister.

“On June 23, 2004, five days before the last federal election, we endorsed the Conservative Party of Canada,” the Post said.

“Having watched Mr. Harper mature in office as Leader of the Opposition over the last 18 months, we feel all the more comfortable repeating our endorsement. This country needs new leadership, and Mr. Harper is the man to provide it.”

“We should emphasize that, despite this newspaper’s generally conservative stance, our endorsement of Mr. Harper was not a foregone conclusion. We have sometimes been critical of Mr. Harper in this space. And when Mr. Martin first became prime minister, we positively gushed about his potential,” the Post said.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Martin failed to fulfill that potential. On so many issues, where a single gesture of true leadership might have made a real difference, he failed to act decisively,” the Post noted citing missile defence, marijuana decriminalization, democratic reform, health-care liberalization and gay marriage as examples.

“For the Conservatives to govern successfully, best that they not have to bargain for support either from the separatist Bloc or from New Democrats on the far-left of the country’s political spectrum. Neither party represents a natural ally for a government with an ambitious agenda of conservative reform. For that reason, we hope the Conservative Party of Canada receives a majority mandate.” [Stephen Harper for prime minister (National Post, Jan. 19, 2006)]

Upholding the “newspaper’s generally conservative stance” the Post endorsed Progressive Conservative leader John Tory for Ontario premier in October 2007.

The Post liked Tory because of his “superior positions” on things like being “open to contracting with private companies that serve patients within the single-payer public health system.”

On taxation Tory “has the better plan” because he “is pledging to eliminate” the health surtax.

The Post supported Tory’s pledge “to end what he calls Ontario’s “catch-and-release” system of justice, whereby high-risk offenders are arrested, then allowed back on the street under lenient bail conditions.” It also backed his plan “to appoint more justices of the peace, and to use special prosecutors to keep dangerous offenders behind bars.”

Tory’s proposal to provide public funding to faith-based schools “does not go far enough” the Post said. “We would like to see the current public-school funding model replaced root-and-branch with a universal voucher system that would cover all schools, religious and secular alike. But Mr. Tory is to be praised for at least attempting to remedy the unfair status quo in this area.”

According to the Post, Tory is “an accomplished businessman with a strong track record of corporate success and community engagement” and he’s also “a charismatic, engaging politician who projects a sense of honesty and integrity.” The Post knows this to be true because Tory apparently demonstrated it “at a recent editorial-board meeting.”

“[I]t is arguable that the entire country, not just Ontario, has a stake in the Oct. 10 election… Given the manner in which premiers’ meetings have descended into unsightly orgies of interprovincial money-grubbing in recent years, it would be nice to see Canada’s largest province put forward a leader who could draw these squabbling men into something like common purpose. It is hard to imagine anyone in this country better able to do that than John Tory.” [John Tory for Ontario premier (National Post, Oct. 5, 2007)]

This brings us to Oct. 8, 2008, and the Post’s third endorsement of Stephen Harper for prime minister.

“Next week’s vote will determine whether Canada’s tax system is overhauled through the imposition of a massive levy on carbon-based fuels; the nature of our continuing presence in Afghanistan; and how our government will respond to the historic meltdown unfolding in financial markets. Faced with these high stakes, we believe, Canada would be best served if Stephen Harper’s Conservative government were to receive a second mandate, this time in majority form,” the Post said clearly trying to scare voters with the alternative.

“Mr. Harper’s government has been perfect,” the Post said citing only a tiny handful of areas of concern. These include its decision to tax income trusts, failure to act on the gun registry, the gag law, Section 13 of the Human Rights Act, continual spending increases and flouting its own fixed date election law.

“But given the huge range of other activities undertaken in the course of leading Canada, it must be said that Mr. Harper has governed the country well overall. He has stuck by Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, provided sound stewardship for the economy… managed the Quebec file well, returned Canada-U. S. relations to their normal level of amity, lowered taxes, and implemented a number of welcome tweaks to our criminal justice system,” the Post said.

“Most importantly of all, Mr. Harper has avoided the temptation to impose any large-scale Trudeauvian social-engineering schemes on the country,” the Post saying “Canadians should be thankful” that the Conservative’s 2008 election platform does not contain a pharacare or national child care program.

“Like all elections, this one presents Canadians with a choice between imperfect options. But on balance, the Conservatives are clearly the best choice for this country. We urge our readers to vote accordingly on Oct. 14.” [A Conservative majority serves Canada’s needs (National Post, Oct. 8, 2008)]

Examples of Harper’s broken promises and questionable policies could fill a book. Oh, it did! It’s called The Harper Record and was released for free download by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on Sept. 23, 2008.

“Contrary to the general perception that this has been a moderate government, this book reveals that it, in fact, has taken significant steps to transform Canada in a very short time. Harper's very conservative vision has been advanced across a broad range of policies. It is a deeply troubling prelude of things to come,” says Teresa Healy, who edited the book, in a news release.

On Sept. 30, 2008, the Toronto Star reported that when Harper took power he inherited a $12 billion federal budget surplus. A couple of weeks earlier on Sept. 18, 2008, the CBC said the Tories are projecting a $2.3-billion surplus this fiscal year and only $1.3 billion for the next, down from the $10.2-billion surplus for the 2007-08 fiscal year. A deficit is not that far off.

Stephen Harper headed into Election Day with public opinion polls saying the Conservatives were sitting at 34.2 per cent, down from the 36.3 per cent it had going into the Jan. 2006 election. It seems clear that Canadians simply don’t trust this man as prime minister.