Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Patient First Review: Saskatchewan Health refusing to release consultant Tony Dagnone’s Scoping and Planning Project document

Dagnone's services in May 2008 agreement

Dagnone's services in October 2008 agreement

Patient First Review Terms of Reference

The Saskatchewan Party government is refusing to release a report submitted by the consultant it hired to review the province’s health care system that contains information on the study’s framework and methodology.

On Nov. 5, 2008, the Brad Wall government announced that the former head of Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital, Tony Dagnone, was appointed as the commissioner to lead the “Patient First Review” of the health system.

The review will have two parts. The first part of the review will focus on issues and challenges in the health care system from the perspective of patients. The second part of the review will examine administration in health care and identify efficiencies, constraints and opportunities for improvement in the regional health authorities, their affiliates and the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations.

Dagnone was initially retained by the government in the spring to assist in setting the terms of reference and make recommendations on the study’s framework to Health Minister Don McMorris.

An access to information request dated Nov. 7, 2008, was submitted to the health ministry for copies of the government’s contracts with Dagnone, the framework report he delivered to health officials and the terms of reference for the Patient First Review.

The ministry’s Dec. 10, 2008, response disclosed the contracts and the terms of reference but not the report. According to the ministry “the information contained in the Scoping and Planning Project document is exempt” because it “contains advice and recommendations to the Ministry of Health’s Executive Government; and… information pertaining to the deliberations of Executive Government and Senior Government employees within the Ministry of Health.”

There are two agreements between the government and Dagnone for his services: May 14, 2008 to June 30, 2008; and October 21, 2008 to September 20, 2009.

Under the first agreement Dagnone’s services included, but were not limited to, the following:

1. Engage in discussions with Ministry of Health officials, direct Deloitte project staff and others as may be necessary to ensure: a) The preparation of Terms of Reference for a Patient First Review; b) The development of a scoping framework and methodology for the Ministry, reporting to the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Health.

2. Participate in meetings and other consultations associated with the proposed mandate identified above.

3. Prepare documentation and written reports which contain options and recommendations for consideration of the Ministry.

4. Complete other related assignments that may arise as a result of activities detailed in #1 and/or #2 above.

Under the second (and current) agreement Dagnone’s services include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. Act as a Commissioner for the Patient First Review of the Saskatchewan health care system that includes two components: the Patient Experience Component and the Administrative Review Component.

2. The mandate of the Commissioner is: a) To undertake consultations with patients that are focused on the patient experience with health care. Using a range of mechanisms, the consultations will solicit information on what is and isn’t working well in the health care system;

b) To undertake consultations with health care providers and stakeholders, which examine the feedback from the patient consultations and identify opportunities to improve patient experiences across the continuum of care;

c) To provide a report to the Minister that includes findings from the consultations with patients, providers and stakeholders, and makes recommendations on changes needed; and

d) To complete an administrative review of the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs), affiliate organizations, and the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) to assist in determining the overall effectiveness of resource use in the health sector, by identifying the current base of administrative, operating efficiencies, constraints and opportunities for improvement, and to provide a report on findings and recommendations to the Minister of Health.

3. Provide oversight and management for both components of the review which includes:

– Participate in selection of suppliers to conduct the review;

– Engage in discussions with Ministry of Health officials, direct supplier project staff and others as may be necessary to ensure the administrative review and patient experience component of the Patient First Review is completed in accordance with the approved methodology and within defined time frames;

– Participate in meetings and other consultations associated with the mandate of the Patient First Review.

4. Engage in the preparation of documentation and written reports, which contain identified issues in health care, options and recommendations for consideration of the Ministry.

5. Complete other related assignments that may arise as a result of activities detailed in #1 and/or #2 above.

The agreement indicates that Dagnone’s progress will be reviewed on December 15, 2008, January 30, 2009 and March 15, 2009.

The Patient First Review is being sold to the public as an “independent” review, which should mean freedom from political and administrative interference.

If this is the case then why does Dagnone’s framework and methodology report contain “information pertaining to the deliberations of Executive Government and Senior Government employees within the Ministry of Health”? Why would this be relevant? Did the government impose conditions upon or give Dagnone direction that it does not want the public to know about?

Who specifically did Dagnone meet and consult with while developing the framework and setting the terms of reference?

What is so sensitive about Dagnone’s advice and recommendations that they must be kept secret from the public?

Dagnone is to consult with health ministry officials “to ensure the administrative review and patient experience component of the Patient First Review is completed in accordance with the approved methodology.” But, again, the public is forbidden to know what that is.

The one-page terms of reference notes that the review process will be transparent and “open to public scrutiny, and the results of the review will be available to all Saskatchewan residents.” Unfortunately, the Wall government had decided that the very document that lays the foundation for the review is not open to the same level of scrutiny. This does not instill confidence in the review process.

In the article Unions seek assurance there is no hidden agenda (Leader-Post, Nov. 13, 2008) Dagnone appeared to dismiss labour union concerns with the possible privatization of the health-care system and public sector jobs as a result of his work.

“The unions are getting ahead of themselves,” Dagnone said, explaining the review was only announced last week and over the coming weeks the commission will release details on how it will be conducting the review.

However, it’s now been more than seven weeks since the review was launched and there has been no word from the commission on how the review will be conducted – even though it’s well underway.

In the same article Dagnone said, “What is really critically important in this methodology is that we really want to harness the knowledge and imagination of the patients who experienced health care and then turn to our health-care givers and leaders to identify what I would hope would be made-in-Saskatchewan solutions.”

“I just don’t want to be distracted by a lot of rhetoric that might be out there right now.”

The concern is that the public is being denied access to his report that explains the review’s framework and methodology, not to mention the mysterious “deliberations” of executive government and senior health ministry officials. As long as this kind of secrecy continues Dagnone’s work will likely be met with skepticism.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Brad Wall government lowers minimum age of employment to 15 without public debate or discussion; CFIB and Sask. Chamber applaud move


Christmas arrived early this year for Saskatchewan business lobby groups. On Dec. 23, 2008, the Saskatchewan Party government announced that in mid-January the minimum age of employment will be lowered to 15 in hotels, restaurants, educational institutions, hospitals and nursing homes. Prior to this change, the minimum age for working in those five sectors was 16.

The change was made without public debate or discussion.

In a news release, the government said fifteen-year-olds will not be allowed to work more than 16 hours per week to ensure they have sufficient time to dedicate to their school work. The change will be reviewed in May 2009, following a consultation process starting in January. The government will also look at an absolute minimum age of employment in Saskatchewan and other employment standards to protect the well-being of young people entering the workforce.

There is currently no absolute minimum age of employment outside of the five sectors - hotels, restaurants, educational institutions, hospitals and nursing homes. Current legislation continues to restrict the employment of young people during school hours, in the sale, handling or service of alcohol, and in certain high-risk occupations.

“Lowering the minimum age of employment gives Saskatchewan young people valuable opportunities to obtain work experience, while filling gaps in our labour market,” said Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) Minister Rob Norris.

In the article Age drops for teen workers (Leader-Post, Dec. 24, 2008) Norris said the change is the first “practical, common-sense” step in a larger reform of minimum working-age laws.

According to story, Marilyn Braun-Pollon of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) applauded the move as beneficial to both the business sector and young workers.

“When we surveyed them, 64 per cent of our members believed the minimum age of employment should be set at 15 for all workplaces. So it’s going to be good news for business owners. It will help them deal with labour shortages in those sectors,”' she said.

“It’s also good news for young people. It will provide them with valuable work experience and also an opportunity to earn some extra spending money.”

Dale Lemke, president of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, agreed the move to lower the minimum working age will help alleviate the labour shortage and provide needed work experience and income for young people.

“We certainly don’t condone kids quitting school,” Lemke said. “But on the other hand, I think when they’re 15, they’re ready for some responsibility and ready to learn some job techniques and get some experience in the job market.”

What goes unsaid is that these jobs will be part-time with low wages and little or no benefits. Also in businesses’ favour is that young workers likely won’t understand occupational health and safety issues, overtime pay and minimum wage, or know their rights well enough to challenge abusive or unsafe working conditions.

Norris’s comment exposes the fact that, regardless of any consultation, other changes are coming.

The CFIB believes the minimum age should be the same for “all workplaces.” Given the lobby group’s close working relationship with the Saskatchewan Party it’s a safe bet they will get their wish.

Left unexplained is why the urgency? The issue seemed to have come out of nowhere. It was not mentioned in the Saskatchewan Party’s 2007 election platform or in the party’s policy book. Nor is it included in Norris’s Nov. 21, 2007, mandate letter from Premier Brad Wall.

Then at the Saskatchewan Party convention held in Saskatoon from November 14 to 16, delegates passed a resolution brought forward by the party’s youth wing calling for the government to lower to 15 the current minimum age of 16 required to work in hotels, educational institutions, hospitals and nursing homes.

“That’s obviously one we’ll want to deal with very, very quickly,” Wall told reporters. [Gov’t keeping promises: Wall (StarPhoenix, Nov. 17, 2008)]

On Sept. 25, 2008, the Leader-Post reported that thirteen 15-year-old employees at Rochdale Dairy Queen, and seven more from Normanview Dairy Queen, were let go after an investigation by labour standard officers determined the 20 employees were underage as defined by Saskatchewan labour legislation.

Mike Carr, AEEL’s associate deputy minister, explained that the legislation initially came in as a public policy initiative intended to keep kids in school. The legislation is still in place to ensure the safety of youth.

“It’s really all about the safety of youth who are entering the workforce and their readiness to enter the world of work. That they understand rights, duties, responsibilities and entitlements under our various pieces of legislation,” Carr said.

Because Saskatchewan has a short supply of available workers, there may well be other fast food restaraunts in the city with underage employees. These businesses may get away with it because, as Carr explains, it’s a complaint-driven process.

“We don’t have the resources to go out and check workplaces on an audit basis. That’s not the role or function that our labour standards officers fulfill. They would simply respond to a complaint or inquiry ... and apply the law,” he said.

Carr said the ministry was reviewing the legislation.

“We’re looking at (legislation) in the context of what’s reasonable and what’s practical. Government is going to have to ... determine what they view is in the public interest.” [Underage DQ employees forced out of work (Leader-Post, Sept. 25, 2008)]

In the article Gov’t may change rules for underage workers (StarPhoenix, Sept. 27, 2008) Premier Brad Wall said the government was already looking at the legislation before the layoffs happened, but the labour standards officer had no choice but to follow the law.

Curiously, any reaction by the CFIB or Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce to the story wasn’t reported, but now that the law has been changed they have plenty to say.

The articles raise some interesting questions:

1) What triggered the investigation of the Dairy Queen? If it was a complaint who filed it and what were the circumstances surrounding it?

2) When exactly did the Wall government begin looking at the legislation and why?

3) If it’s all about the safety of youth why must the process remain complaint driven?

4) If it’s all about the safety of youth will the government commit more resources to go out and inspect workplaces? If not, why?

Furthermore, the Leader-Post failed to let readers know that, prior to his appointment without competition in Mar. 2008, AEEL’s Mike Carr was co-chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s human resources committee and has contributed to the Saskatchewan Party.

It appears the main justification given by the government and business lobby for the change is twofold. First, it provides young teenagers with work experience, and second, it fills job vacancies.

The former fails even the most basic level of scrutiny. If thrusting 15 year-olds into the grim, free market rat race to get “valuable work experience” is so urgent and necessary why then are we only hearing about it now? Where have the Saskatchewan Party, the CFIB and Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce been the last few years to champion the cause?

In looking at various documents posted on the CFIB and Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce websites there doesn’t appear to be any documents calling for the minimum age of employment to be lowered – no letters, reports, presentations or surveys. It seems to have been a non-issue, until now.

(It should be noted that when contacted on Dec. 24 about the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post stories on the change in the minimum age for employment, staff at the CFIB office in Regina said the survey of members quoted by Braun-Pollon was conducted in Sept. 2008. One would think that if this is such a pressing issue its members would have been surveyed long before the Dairy Queen incident.)

Braun-Pollon sent a letter dated Feb. 15, 20008, to AEEL deputy minister Wynne Young praising the government’s anti-union legislation (Bills 5 and 6) that was introduced in the legislature on Dec. 19, 2007.

“We applaud your government for taking these first steps and look forward to working with your government to further introduce other policies that help create a more competitive Saskatchewan,” Braun-Pollon said.

Braun-Pollon’s letter concludes by listing seven areas where the “CFIB believes there are additional changes that your government must consider in the future.” None, however, include lowering the minimum age of employment.

In Jan. 2008, Braun-Pollon submitted a report called Saskatchewan – Poised to Lead the Nation: Small business 2008-09 pre-budget priorities to Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer in advance of the provincial budget. Of the recommendations listed and priorities expressed by small business in the areas of labour laws and labour shortage none include lowering the minimum age of employment.

In Sept. 2007, the CFIB released The Future of Saskatchewan Survey: Small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) pre-election priorities. The results were based on an on-line survey of 2,300 CFIB members in Saskatchewan from August 8 to 28, 2007. In total, 330 business owners from all industries completed the survey. The report outlines small business development priorities for the next five years. Among the numerous recommendations concerning labour laws and strategies to address shortage of qualified labour none include lowering the minimum age of employment.

In Oct. 2007, just before the provincial election, the CFIB sent the leaders of the three main political parties the Saskatchewan 2007 Leaders’ Survey on Small Business Issues.

The survey posed four questions on balancing labour laws, with none mentioning the minimum age of employment, and one that asked leaders to answer, ‘What concrete initiatives will you undertake to address the growing shortage of skilled labour?’

The Saskatchewan Party’s response to the CFIB did not include lowering the minimum age of employment.

The story is similar at the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce website.

In December 2008, the Chamber circulated its annual economic outlook survey to its membership. There was a 14.8% respondent rate.

The results show that the business issues in order of priority for 2009 are:

1. Building Market Share- Sales Development
2. Workforce – Training, Retaining, and Locating Staff
3. Taxation – Corporate and/ or Personal
4. Capital Expansion
5. Paper Burden – Regulatory Compliance, Permits, etc.
6. Other:
– Economy – Global Financial Issues- Economic Crisis – International Markets

– Aggressive Union demands with little interest for the well being of the employer entity

– Research & Development activities

– Environmental concerns

– Availability of financing – Credit issues

– Government investment

Aside from the usual union bashing and complaints about regulations and taxes, there is nothing to indicate that lowering the minimum age of employment is a priority or concern for Chamber members.

Additionally, none of the resolutions passed at the Chamber’s 2007 or 2008 Annual General Meeting include the subject.

If the CFIB and Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce were worried about 15 year-olds not getting work experience it doesn’t appear to have been something that was communicated publicly.

That brings up the second reason why the change was made – to fill job vacancies.

On Mar. 13, 2007, the CFIB issued a news release with the headline: Thousands of Canadian jobs in small business continue to go unfilled: CFIB estimates 15,000 positions vacant in Sask for more than four months in 2006.

According to the lobby group’s latest research it estimated that nationally there were 251,000 full- and part-time positions in small- and medium-sized businesses unfilled for at least four months in 2006, with 15,000 jobs open in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan had the second highest long-term vacancy rate at 5.7 per cent, compared to 4.3 per cent in 2005.

“While the level of concern over the shortage of labour has been alarmingly high for the past few years, in 2006 it reached an all-time high in many provinces,” said CFIB’s Saskatchewan director Marilyn Braun-Pollon. “Roughly one in four Canadian businesses experienced at least one long-term vacancy at their firm last year. That is a lot of lost productivity for our economy.”

The news release noted that long-term vacancies were common in businesses in all sectors, but smaller firms in the construction, agriculture and hospitality sectors were particularly hard hit. Firms in the hospitality industry experienced the highest jump in the vacancy rate since 2005, going from 2.7 per cent to 4.3 in 2006.

The CFIB said it found that firms are increasingly short of entry-level workers, with 17 per cent reporting they most needed workers to fill positions requiring no formal education.

“Knowing where the shortages are being felt most keenly is an important step in making sure our education and training programs, as well as the immigration system, is attuned to the actual opportunities in the work-force,” Braun-Pollon said in the news release.

The accompanying nine-page report Help Wanted: Long-term vacancies grow for Canada’s entrepreneurs (Mar. 2007) concluded “There is no single solution for solving the problem of the shortage of labour. Governments, educational institutions, and the business community need to work together in order to find long-term solutions. Tapping into traditionally under-represented groups in the labour market such as new immigrants, seniors, people with disabilities, and aboriginals is part of the solution.”

Oddly, there is no mention of targeting young teenagers to fill some of the gaps, especially the entry-level ones.

Nineteen months later the news had apparently gotten worse. In the article What makes a province confident (Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 21, 2008) Braun-Pollon said that Saskatchewan currently has about 18,000 job vacancies, an increase of 3,000 from what was reported in Mar. 2007.

This figure was first announced in a CFIB news release on Mar. 7, 2008, which noted that the organization’s latest Help Wanted report showed that the national long-term vacancy rate rose to 4.4 per cent in 2007 from 3.6 per cent in 2006. Saskatchewan reported the highest rate in 2007 at 6.6 per cent, taking the lead from Alberta, where the rate of 6.3 per cent was unchanged from 2006.

“While there is no single solution to the shortage of labour issue, CFIB has recommended measures such as tapping into under-represented groups, including immigrants, aboriginals and seniors, as well as better recognizing and encouraging informal training at smaller workplaces,” the news release states.

No reference is made to “tapping” into the youth market. So what gives?

Perhaps the real truth of the matter is that Saskatchewan’s business lobby groups simply don’t want the negative publicly that would come with openly trying to recruit young teenagers to fill the low paying jobs that are sitting vacant. To do so might make them look predatory, exploiting the inexperience of youth to boost profits and alleviate severe labour shortages in low paying sectors. Naturally, the next best thing to do would be to work quietly with their friends in the new Wall government who would be only too happy to help. And that they did, pushing through the change without public discussion or consultation in an announcement two days before Christmas when most everyone was too busy to notice or respond.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Economic Advisory Council: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s new group dominated by members of business lobby group Canadian Council of Chief Executives


“We appreciate the strong leadership being provided at home and abroad by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney.”
– Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Oct. 31, 2008, a few weeks before Flaherty’s disastrous economic statement.
After months of dithering and an economic statement that triggered a Parliamentary meltdown, Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he now needs help in deciding on how to stimulate Canada’s economy amidst a global financial crisis that will lead to a deficit of up to $30-billion for the 2009-10 fiscal year. Who better to turn to for advice than the country’s wealthy business elite? Surely they will know where the public’s money should be spent.

In a finance department news release on Dec. 18, Flaherty announced the establishment of an Economic Advisory Council. The council will include Canadian business and academic leaders who will provide advice to the government as part of the minister’s national consultation on the 2009 budget, and on an ongoing basis afterward.

The group of 11 members from across Canada will meet with the minister in advance of the January 27 budget, with an expected first meeting prior to Christmas. The group will also continue to provide advice periodically on economic matters after the budget, the news release said.

The Council members are:

– Carole Taylor (chair), former BC Minister of Finance.

– W. Geoffrey Beattie, President, The Woodbridge Company Limited and Deputy Chairman, The Thomson Reuters Corporation.

– Paul Desmarais, Jr., Chairman and CEO, Power Corporation of Canada.

– George F.J. Gosbee, Chairman, President and CEO, Tristone Capital Inc.

– Isabelle Hudon, President, Marketel.

– James D. Irving, President, J.D. Irving, Limited.

– Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO, Research In Motion Limited (RIM).

– Jack Mintz, former President and CEO of the C. D. Howe Institute.

– James A. Pattison, Chairman, President and CEO, Jim Pattison Group.

– Ajit Someshwar, CEO, CSI Consulting Inc.

– Annette Verschuren, Division President, The Home Depot Canada.

Flaherty said the council members have agreed to a salary of $1, with their expenses being reimbursed by the Government.

The news release, however, provided no information on how these millionaires and billionaires were selected, whose idea it was to create the council or who was involved in discussions to establish it.

The council is pro-business. Absent are representation from municipalities, labour, environmental, social justice and community organizations.

At a news conference in Saskatoon on Dec. 18, Flaherty told reporters the government was listening to the advice of ordinary Canadians as well and would hold town hall meetings.

But the minister said he wants the new council to give him advice on areas such as taxation, spending, economic stimulus and credit in preparation of the budget.

The Conservative government is considering further tax cuts in that document to help boost an economy in recession, Flaherty said.

“It is an option,” he said. “There are two basic ways of stimulating the economy further. One is tax reductions; the other is additional spending in areas like infrastructure. They’re both on the table.” [Flaherty turns to private sector for advice (StarPhoenix, Dec. 19, 2008)]

As part of his national consultation in advance of the upcoming budget, Flaherty met with provincial and territorial ministers of finance and treasurers in Saskatoon on Dec. 17 at the Delta Bessborough Hotel.

The meeting focused on infrastructure spending and provided ministers an opportunity to discuss the current economic situation and budget priorities.

Having said there are only two ways to stimulate the economy it’s unclear what additional advice Flaherty could receive that he and his officials haven’t already heard from the lobby groups that parade through government offices each week – including his.

Four of Flaherty’s new council members belong to the powerful Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE): Beattie, Desmarais, Gosbee and Verschuren, with Desmarais and Vershuren serving on the organization’s executive committee.

A fifth, Mike Lazaridis, is not a member of the CCCE but his business partner, RIM’s Chairman and Co-CEO, James L. Balsillie, is.

The CCCE includes the chief executive officers of some 150 leading Canadian corporations and Canada’s pre-eminent entrepreneurs. These companies administer $3.5 trillion in assets, have annual revenues in excess of $800 billion and account for a significant majority of Canada’s private sector investment, exports, research and development, and training.

The CCCE, according to its website, is “Strongly committed to effecting economic, social and political change, the Council has repeatedly broken new ground with its ideas and has played an influential role in most of the major policy developments in Canada over the past three decades.”

Canada needs a comprehensive economic strategy that will restore confidence and position our country for sustainable growth in the years ahead,” the organization said in an Oct. 31 statement on the global crisis.

But what it doesn’t include say the CCCE is “borrowing money to meet the increased demands for public spending that arise during any economic downturn. Deficits are simply a recipe for higher taxes and lower growth in future. Governments therefore should do their utmost to maintain fiscal discipline. This requires in particular that they keep a lid on overall spending growth. There will be a need for new spending initiatives, but now more than ever it is vital to make careful choices about spending priorities. Spending should be concentrated on those areas which will have maximum impact on improving the potential of our economy: in infrastructure, in education, and to support research and development and innovation. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday, Canadians deserve “the highest standards of competence, prudence and accountability.”

“Similarly, while Canada has taken advantage of strong growth to reduce both personal and corporate tax rates significantly, we do not favour using deficits to fund new tax cuts.”

Other priorities advocated by the CCCE include the usual list of business friendly demands: more public-private partnerships, slashing regulations, reducing internal trade barriers, open markets and free trade.

The CCCE is registered with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada and seems to have its fingers in every sector of the federal government’s operations.

A search of the website’s register of lobbyists shows that the CCCE communicates with nearly every major federal government institution on policies, programs, Bills and resolutions.

Records indicate that from July 10 to Nov. 29 CCCE president and CEO Thomas d’Aquino met with various government officials a total of 38 times.

Some of the visits include two to the Prime Minister’s Office, four with the Privy Council Office, three to Finance Canada, two with the Bank of Canada, three with Industry Canada, and a whopping 22 with officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

On Oct. 28, d’Aquino met with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney to discuss issues surrounding taxation and finance, financial institutions, industry and international relations.

Flaherty and Carney attended the CCCE Autumn Members’ Meeting in Montreal on October 27-28 and joined members to discuss the impact of the global financial crisis on the Canadian economy, business strategies and public policy priorities. [Canadian Council of Chief Executives Statement, Oct. 31, 2008]

D’Aquino’s other trips to the finance department included one on Nov. 17 to see deputy minister Robert Wright, and another to meet with assistant deputy minister Graham Flack and associate deputy minister Tiff Macklem on Nov. 18.

Most interesting are two meetings that took place shortly after Flaherty’s botched economic statement on Nov. 27 that led to an embarrassing Parliamentary crisis.

On Nov. 28, d’Aquino met with Kevin Lynch, the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss industry and constitutional issues.

The Clerk of the Privy Council is the most senior non-political official in the Government of Canada, and supposedly provides professional, non-partisan support to the Prime Minister on all policy and operational issues that may affect the government.

Lynch is also the Prime Minister’s Deputy Minister. He provides advice and support to the Prime Minister in his or her role as head of government. This includes advice on appointing senior office holders in the public service and organizing the government, on the Cabinet decision-making system, overall policy directions, intergovernmental relations, and the management of specific issues.

As Secretary to the Cabinet, Lynch assists the Prime Minister in maintaining the cohesion of the Ministry and giving direction to it. In this role, the Clerk of the Privy Council provides support and advice to the Ministry as a whole to ensure that the Cabinet decision-making system operates according to the Prime Minister's design.

On Nov. 29, d’Aquino met with Mark Cameron, the prime minister’s director of priorities, planning and research. The subject of the meeting was taxation and finance, infrastructure, industry and constitutional issues.

During the 1997 federal election campaign, Cameron, a native of Vancouver, B.C., worked for the Liberal Party of Canada’s British Columbia headquarters where he handled media and communications. He switched to the Alliance Party when Stockwell Day sought the party’s leadership in 2000. He worked as a speech-writer and policy adviser during the campaign. [The Hill Times, Feb. 20, 2006]

Other business lobby groups trolling Parliament Hill are the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Bankers Association (CBA).

Chamber president and CEO Perrin Beatty met with Industry Minister Jim Prentice on Oct. 4 to discuss election commitments to business.

On Dec. 11, Beatty sent a letter to Flaherty requesting the best of both worlds. It seems the Chamber would like an economic stimulus package that includes infrastructure projects, permanent personal income tax cuts, abolishing tariffs on imported machinery and equipment, tax credits, eliminating internal trade barriers (but, like the CCCE, failing to list them), a phase out of provincial/territorial capital taxes, harmonize the remaining provincial and territorial retail sales taxes with the GST, and, oh yes, the “previously-announced corporate tax reductions… must be allowed to proceed.”

Yet, incredibly, the Chamber insists that any stimulus package must ensure “that we do not return to the process of continuous deficit financing.”

Meanwhile, from July 3 to Nov. 21, CBA president and CEO Nancy Hughes Anthony met with federal finance officials 13 times to talk about things like taxation and finance, small business, constitutional and consumer issues.

On Oct. 28, Hughes-Anthony met with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to discuss financial institutions and international trade. Coincidently, this happened to be the same day d’Aquino met with Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney.

Prior to joining the CBA, Hughes-Anthony was the president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce from 1998 to 2007.

It’s obvious that ordinary Canadians will never be able to compete with the kind of influence and access to power that the business lobby commands. The town hall meetings promised by Flaherty will likely be dominated by these groups and, for most people, may amount to little more than window dressing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

StarPhoenix says no to letter critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada; think tanks receive special treatment

Think tank presidents Peter Holle, Roger Gibbins and Preston Manning

“Democracy cannot be maintained without its foundation: free public opinion and free discussion throughout the nation of all matters affecting the state within the limits set by the criminal code and the common law.”
– The Supreme Court of Canada, 1938.
On Dec. 6 a viewpoint critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, was submitted to The StarPhoenix for consideration of publication.

The letter was in response to the Dec. 5 anti-coalition editorial Gov. Gen. Jean made best choice from ugly options and focuses on comments that Harper, then the Opposition leader, made in Sept. 2004, when he floated the idea of defeating the Liberal minority government with the help of the Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party of Canada.

At the time, the Liberals held 135 seats, the Conservatives 99, the Bloc 54 and the NDP 19, with one Independent member.

The piece also discusses an inflammatory email that was sent by the Conservative’s on Dec. 3.

On Dec. 12, an editor with The StarPhoenix advised that the viewpoint would not be published. The reason:

“Most of the points you are making in this proposed viewpoint have been made by other commentators and letter writers since this mess began to unfold. While it’s your style to carefully document dates and times of certain speeches or opinion pieces presented by someone over the years and then to use that person’s latest utterances as a demonstration of their perfidy, it does happen that people change their minds or are, especially in politics, forced to back track on earlier positions simply to survive - to wit, Harper and the Senate appointments.

“While you have every right to comment on contradictory positions taken by public figures, I don’t have the space to devote to this minute examinations and parsing of positions while people deluge us with letters pertaining to the same thing during breaking news events.

“By all means, send in your comments in a 250 word letter and I’ll be happy to consider it. As for the last viewpoint, sorry. It’s a no go.”

A search of The StarPhoenix archives from Nov. 28 to Dec. 12 shows that approximately 76 letters to the editor were published. Only one mentioned the 2004 agreement between the Harper Conservatives, the Bloc and NDP, but then only briefly. During the same time period 13 editorials were published, but none raised the issue. Just two articles, Harper on the attack (Dec. 3) and PM buys time (Dec. 4) seem to broach the subject, but only in passing, providing no meaningful details. None of the articles talked about the nasty email and its contents. The excuse that the points made have already been covered by others appears to be weak at best.

Viewpoints from average, everyday Saskatoon residents seem to be few and far between in The StarPhoenix.

The newspaper generally publishes viewpoints on Thursday and Friday. A search of The StarPhoenix archives for those two days from Nov. 13 to Dec. 12 shows there were approximately 61 editorials, columns and viewpoints published. Of those, how many do you think were from run-of-the-mill Saskatonians? Try none. The closest appears to have been a Nov. 28 piece by a retired economist for the provincial government.

The breakdown of the 61 items is as follows:

13 – Editorials from other CanWest newspapers
10 – Editorials
5 – Murray Mandryk, Leader-Post political columnist
5 – Doug Cuthand, StarPhoenix columnist
5 – Gerry Klein, StarPhoenix columnist
4 – Canada West Foundation
3 – Manning Centre for Building Democracy
3 – Frontier Centre for Public Policy
1 – Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
1 – Don Martin, National Post columnist
1 – Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun columnist
1 – Lee Harding, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
1 – Larry Hill, Canadian Wheat Board Chair
1 – David Orchard, federal Liberal candidate in Saskatchewan
1 – Kent Smith-Windsor, Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce
1 – Dr. Alan Casson, Saskatoon Health Region
1 – Dave Pettigrew, IBM Canada Ltd. (Saskatchewan)
1 – Marvin M. Bernstein, Saskatchewan Children’s Advocate Office
1 – Kashif Ahmed, Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations
1 – Will Bauer, Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 8443
1 – Joe Jeerakathil, retired economist for the provincial government

The StarPhoenix policy for viewpoints is that they must be no more than 750 words and, as is the case with letters, people are discouraged from writing more than one a month. The rules are supposed to apply to everyone including think tanks and academics.

However, in the 30-day period from Nov. 13 to Dec. 12 the newspaper published a total of 10 viewpoints from three right-wing, free market think tanks headquartered in other provinces: Canada West Foundation (Calgary), Manning Centre for Democracy (Calgary) and Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Winnipeg). Seven of these (two from the Manning Centre, two from the Frontier Centre and three from the Canada West Foundation, one of which was published twice by accident) exceeded the 750 word maximum, with four of them topping 800.

The word count for viewpoints by the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, IBM Canada Ltd. (Saskatchewan), Canadian Wheat Board and Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations exceeded 750 as well.

This isn’t a recent phenomenon. When it comes to think tanks The StarPhoenix appears to have been ignoring its viewpoint policy for nearly two years.

In 2007, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy had approximately 19 viewpoints published. That number has risen to 23 so far in 2008.

The Canada West Foundation had approximately 27 viewpoints published in 2007, and has about 24 so far in 2008.

By rights both organizations should be allowed only 12 viewpoints per year, but instead The StarPhoenix seems to be granting them twice that.

Relatively new is the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, founded in 2005, that has had eight viewpoints published in 2008. Five of these exceeded the 750 word limit, with two surpassing 900.

All three think tanks are run by people with conservative political roots.

Peter Holle, the president of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, was a senior policy analyst in Grant Devine’s Tory government where he was closely involved with regulatory reform and the privatization of government services and assets. [Saskatchewan Legislative Hansard, Aug. 13, 1987; FCPP]

Holle is currently a director of Civitas, a secretive organization that brings together people with an interest in conservative, classical liberal and libertarian ideas. He also serves as a member of the council of advisors to the Manning Centre, which includes former Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson, Conservative Industry Minister Tony Clement and former Ontario Progressive Conservative Party president Tom Long.

Roger Gibbins is the president & CEO of the Canada West Foundation. Previous to that he was a professor of political science at the University of Calgary and part of a group known as the Calgary School, which included Barry Cooper, Tom Flanagan, Rainer Knopff, David Bercuson, Robert Mansell and Ted Morton. Stephen Harper is their friend and their colleague. At one time, they were his mentors. [Educating Stephen (The Globe and Mail, June 26, 2004)]

In 1991, Gibbins was an adviser to Constitutional Affairs Minister Joe Clark in Brian Mulroney’s Tory government. [Canada could be more vibrant without Quebec, adviser says (The Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 6, 1991)]

Preston Manning needs no introduction. He was the only leader of the Reform Party of Canada, which evolved into the Canadian Alliance.

The StarPhoenix claims to receive more letters and viewpoints from local residents than it can publish, but seems to have more than enough space available to satisfy the needs of lobby groups and out-of-province conservative think tanks.

As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

It should be noted that The StarPhoenix is owned by CanWest Publishing Inc., a subsidiary of CanWest Global Communications Inc. The private company’s flagship daily, The National Post, has endorsed Conservative Leader Stephen Harper for prime minister in three straight elections. It also supported Tories Mike Harris and John Tory for premier in Ontario; and Republican warmonger George W. Bush for president of the United States.

The following is the viewpoint (686-words) that was submitted to The StarPhoenix on Dec. 6, 2008:

The editorial Gov. Gen. Jean made best choice from ugly options (SP, Dec. 5) failed to mention the hypocrisy of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appalling decision to shut down Parliament to avoid certain defeat in a confidence vote.

On Sept. 9, 2004, Harper, then the Opposition leader, held a joint news conference with NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois chief Gilles Duceppe to outline plans they said would make Parliament more democratic and give the combined opposition far more clout that has been traditional.

Harper warned the Conservatives could vote against the Liberal minority government if its throne speech didn’t serve Canadians well.

“It is the Parliament that’s supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party,” Harper said in a National Post story the following day.

The trio had sent a letter to then-governor-general Adrienne Clarkson requesting that she turn to them if Paul Martin’s newly elected government were defeated in the Commons.

“We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority,” the letter stated.

In the Globe and Mail on Sept. 14, 2004, Harper is quoted as saying “We’re acting as the majority… We do represent the majority of the population both in Canada and Quebec in number of seats and also the percentage of votes.”

Later, in an interview with Montreal Le Devoir, Harper said he was under no obligation to co-operate with Mr. Martin’s minority government and would bring it down if it’s in the interests of the country.

“I will give my caucus a mandate to vote in the interests of the country,” Harper said in a Sept. 30, 2004, Canadian Press Newswire story.

“If that means defeating the government, then that’s what will happen.”

Harper said that he wanted the Parliament to work, “but our constitutional role as the official opposition is to be ready to replace this government.”

“The reality is that [Mr. Martin] is in a minority situation, and his government has to create a functional majority (in Parliament).”

Referring to the letter sent to Clarkson, Harper said “The Governor General does not have to follow the prime minister’s wishes… She must ensure that [Mr. Martin] has the House’s confidence, that’s all.”

Harper met with Clarkson on Sept. 28, 2004. Now, four years later, he is hypocritically railing against the very system he once touted and was prepared to take advantage of.

On Dec. 3 the Conservative Party of Canada sent an inflammatory email across the country with the subject line ‘Stand Up for Canada.’ In it the party called the Liberals, NDP and Bloc “a socialist-separatist driven coalition” that was “undemocratic” “unelected” and “illegitimate.”

The Conservatives said the coalition was “an attack on Canada’s democracy” and “an attack on Canada’s economy.” It demonized Quebecers as “Separatists… who want to destroy Canada” and called the NDP “risky” and “discredited socialists.”

The Conservatives are trying to sell the public a false view of how our system of government works. They did not “win” the recent election. What the Conservatives in fact won was a minority of seats in the House of Commons, 143 out of 308.

Our system of government, known as “responsible government”, means that for a minority to hold office it must enjoy the confidence of the majority of the House. The Harper government does not have this.

Saskatchewan Conservative politicians aren’t helping the situation either.

Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar MP Kelly Block, who avoided all debates during the election, said the “separatist coalition” are “attempting to overturn the results of the last election” while Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who was in hiding for much of it, said they are trying to “steal” them.

In reality, what has been inexplicably stolen from Canadians is its Parliamentary system, and for that we have Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada to thank.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crown external investments review: KPMG delivered two reports, only one made public; Crowns ordered not to provide information or talk to the media




Earlier this year the Saskatchewan Party government hired accounting firm KPMG to review Crown investments made outside the province by SaskPower, SaskEnergy SaskTel and SGI Canada (collectively, the “Subsidiaries”).

KPMG reviewed a total of twenty-six investments into which aggregate capital of approximately $465 million had or has been invested by the Subsidiaries.

On Oct. 28, 2008, Crown Corporations Minister Ken Cheveldayoff released the results of the $250,000 study and announced the province’s Crown corporations are moving to a Saskatchewan First investment policy.

KPMG’s 12-page report shows the overall performance of the Crowns in achieving financial goals:

– Approximately half of the Investments have performed materially below initial financial targets, driven primarily by the high proportion of total invested capital by SaskTel. Over sixty percent of the Investments have been below or materially below initial targets;

– Approximately twenty-one percent of the Investments have performed above or materially above initial financial targets; and,

– Approximately seventeen percent of the Investments have performed in line with initial financial targets.

The key findings by Subsidiary:

– Overall financial rate of return performance on the Investments of three of the four Subsidiaries, comprising thirty-two percent of total out-of-province invested capital, has been in line with initial targets; and,

– Overall financial rate of return on the Investments of SaskTel weighted by invested capital, which comprises sixty-eight percent of total out-of-province invested capital of all of the Subsidiaries, has been materially below initial targets while SaskTel exited investments have yielded a 41.6% return due to the proceeds realized on the Leicester Cable Ltd. (“LCL”) investment.

“Based upon our scope of review we concluded that strategic objectives were substantially or partially achieved on over eighty percent of the Investments,” KPMG said.

KPMG warned “that its analyses must be considered as a whole and that selecting portions of the analyses or the factors considered by it, without considering all facts and analyses together, could create a misleading view of the process underlying our findings. The preparation of our findings was a complex process and is not necessarily susceptible to partial analysis or summary description. Any attempt to do so could lead to undue emphasis on any particular factor or analysis.”

Cheveldayoff’s ministry ignored KPMG’s advice and included six examples “of the previous government’s problem investments” in its news release.

Through the selective use of KPMG’s findings the Brad Wall government justified its decision to impose an ideological straightjacket on the Crowns in the form of a new policy framework:

– The government supports a Saskatchewan First investment policy, which will focus the Crowns on investing within Saskatchewan;

– The Crowns will not invest out-of-province;

– Where feasible, existing out-of-province investments will be divested in a thoughtful manner with a goal to maximize returns; and

– There may be limited circumstances where an exception to this policy will be permitted if the Government determines the investment supports in-province operations.

Observers were quick to point out the folly and deceitfulness of the government’s new policy.

Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk suggested the NDP-Opposition were right to view the Saskatchewan First investment policy as “an attack on Crown corporations that fits perfectly with the Saskatchewan Party’s long-term privatization view and may very well be the first step toward privatization.” [Using old excuses to mess with Crowns (Leader-Post, Oct. 29, 2008)]

In an op-ed, Heather Heavin, an assistant professor of law, and a member of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy University of Saskatchewan, asked “If investing outside the province is not an option and investing inside the province will only be allowed if there are no other private investors interested in a particular project or business venture, what left for the Crowns? High risk, low return projects?”

Heavin noted that “Investing in Saskatchewan can be a good strategy, especially at a time when Saskatchewan's economy is one of the strongest in Canada.”

“However, there may be opportunities outside the province that fit well within the business activities, skill-set and expertise contained within the Crowns. If the time is right to hold on to investments or invest in other opportunities, either outside or inside the province, those decisions should be made without unnecessary political interference.” [Restricting Crowns short-sighted (StarPhoenix, Oct. 30, 2008)]

Leader-Post financial editor Bruce Johnstone said the Saskatchewan First policy “is as clear as mud” and will leave the government with “little room to manoeuvre.”

The policy “attempts to reconcile the Sask. Party’s free enterprise ideology with Saskatchewan’s long and checkered history of public sector investment in the economy.

“Like putting lipstick on a pig, or trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, the result isn’t pretty and promises to get messy.” [Sask. First policy is clear as mud (Leader-Post, Nov. 1, 2008)]

In an editorial The StarPhoenix said “As long as Saskatchewan citizens continue to own this province’s major utilities… it’s counterproductive for politicians to adopt policies that prevent them from operating freely as commercial enterprises.”

The newspaper said the new government’s policy is “ideologically driven and harmful to the interests of citizens.” It will “hamstring the companies to the point that their long-term viability is put at risk.”

“What Mr. Cheveldayoff ordered this week seemed more like ordering Crown executives to employ meat tenderizer mallets on the companies until they are soft enough to be sold, instead of measures that ensure the long-term well-being of the utilities.” [Sask. First policy will hurt viability of public utilities (StarPhoenix, Oct. 30, 2008)]

In the Saskatchewan legislature on Oct. 28, 2008, Cheveldayoff referred to the KPMG report as “an audit” and said the reason they were “engaged” was to keep an election campaign commitment. He appears to be wrong on both counts.

Page three of the KPMG study states that “The procedures we performed did not constitute an audit, examination or review in accordance with standards established by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (“CICA”) and we have not otherwise audited or attempted to verify the accuracy of the information we obtained and relied upon in preparing this report.”

As for the campaign promise there is nothing in the Saskatchewan Party’s 2007 election platform stating that a review of the Crowns external investments would be done and assets divested. Furthermore, the Nov. 21, 2007, mandate letter Cheveldayoff received from Premier Brad Wall doesn’t mention them either.

More disturbing is the recent revelation that KPMG delivered not one, but two reports; and that the Crowns were under a gag order not to talk to the media.

An Oct. 3, 2008, document called External Investment Audit Status Update, which was obtained from the Crown Investments Corporation (CIC) under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, states that “KPMG’s final reports, both a Detailed Confidential Report and a summarized Public Report, will be provided to CIC by October 9, 2008 and presented to the CIC Board of Directors on October 16, 2008.”

The government did not disclose in its Oct. 28 news release that there was a second report. Why? It was not reported in The StarPhoenix or Leader-Post so it would appear that the minister failed to mention it at the news conference as well.

It seems the CIC is concerned that the detailed report could end up in the wrong hands. The update states that “CIC’s Legal Unit is investigating whether KPMG’s Detailed Report can be requested under Freedom of Information legislation. Legal opinions from the Crown corporations and external counsel are being considered by CIC’s Legal Counsel and a position on this matter is expected next week.”

The update also states “The review findings indicate that a significant number of out-of-province investments have not been financial or strategically successful.”

This is inconsistent with KPMG’s final report which says the “Overall financial rate of return performance on the Investments of three of the four Subsidiaries has been in line with initial targets” and that “strategic objectives were substantially or partially achieved on over eighty percent of the Investments.”

It seems the Wall government was determined to charge ahead with its Saskatchewan First policy no matter what KPMG said.

The update states that “A Backgrounder will be developed to accompany KPMG’s Public Report. It will provide the public with additional and more non-technical information about out-of-province investments.”

The only additional information that was made available to the public was a lousy half page containing two tables identifying investments to potentially be divested and investments that support in-province operations. So for $250,000 all the public was allowed to see is 13-pages of material.

An Oct. 23, 2008, CIC memorandum regarding the release of the KPMG report indicates that a gag order was placed on the Crowns.

“The Minister will be the lead for all interviews. Crowns are requested to not participate in interviews or provide background material directly to the media,” the memo said, whose author’s name the CIC blacked out.

Where necessary a go-between would “contact the appropriate Crown Communication head to obtain the information and relay it to the media.”

Political meddling seems to be a hallmark of the Brad Wall government. In this case it’s not surprising given the embarrassing incident that took place in the spring between Cheveldayoff and former SGI CEO Jon Schubert.

At a news conference on Apr. 14, 2008, SGI announced that it posted a profit of $35.1 million in 2007, down from $52.1 million in 2006, largely due to summer storms that increased damage claims.

Fortunately, SGI Canada’s out-of-province investments helped cushion the blow, with profits of $9 million in 2007 and $13 million in 2005.

Schubert said the corporation planned to increase its out-of-province operations to 26 per cent of revenues by 2010 from 18.5 per cent at present.

“We’ll continue on with the existing markets that we operate in to diversify risk where it makes sense to do that,” Schubert said.

“What diversification allows is the spreading out of risk that provides for financial stability to the Saskatchewan operations. I think that it makes sense to continue doing that.”

But Cheveldayoff quickly shot down the idea saying expanding SGI Canada’s operations outside the province would “not be a priority” of the new Saskatchewan Party government, which opposed Crown corporations investing outside the province when in opposition.

“We’ll not be seeking out any expansions outside the province,” Cheveldayoff told reporters. “There’s lots of room to expand, especially in Saskatchewan.” [Storms dampened SGI's profits (Leader-Post, Apr. 15, 2008)]

In an interview with StarPhoenix reporter James Wood, Cheveldayoff said later that the Saskatchewan Party government’s aversion to new out-of-province investments extends to all of the province’s Crown corporations.

Cheveldayoff said existing out-of-province operations would be able to expand but it’s highly unlikely cabinet will allow new acquisitions.

In cases such as SGI Canada, he wants to keep the existing ratios of in-province to out-of-province operations.

When asked about criticism the government is not letting the Crowns operate in a business-like fashion, Cheveldayoff responded that “we see the government as the facilitator of growth, not necessarily as the engine of growth.

“We’re going to be putting the emphasis on facilitating growth in the private sector and the public sector but not an emphasis on the government as the growth initiative within the Crowns.” [Crowns should focus on Sask. operations: Cheveldayoff (StarPhoenix, Apr. 19, 2008)]

The StarPhoenix blasted Cheveldayoff saying the “government is now making decisions that put at risk the public’s money.

“The claptrap heard [on Apr. 14] from Crown Corporations Minister Ken Cheveldayoff regarding SGI Canada’s investments outside Saskatchewan is a prime example of the government abandoning rational business practices at the altar of a political philosophy that eschews the concept of Crown-run utilities,” the editorial said.

“It’s perfectly reasonable if the Saskatchewan Party and Cheveldayoff think the government shouldn’t be in the insurance business or if they think the public’s money shouldn’t be put at risk by investing in companies. If that’s the case, they should be clear with the voting public about their philosophy and accept the verdict at the voting booth.

“But it’s another thing for them to pay lip service to the notion of public ownership of utility companies and to then prevent the companies from operating in a manner that protects the taxpayers’ investment and creates long-term viability or for the minister to embarrass the CEO of a Crown corporation at a press conference by publicly cutting him off at the knees, as Cheveldayoff did to Schubert on Monday.” [Remove politics from the business of gov’t insurance (StarPhoenix, Apr. 16, 2008)]

Then, on Oct. 9, 2008, SGI issued a news release saying that Minister Cheveldayoff “today accepted the resignation of SGI President and CEO Jon Schubert effective October 31, 2008.

“Schubert has accepted a position as President and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). ICBC is a provincial Crown corporation established in 1973 to provide universal auto insurance, driver licensing, vehicle registration and licensing to B.C. motorists.”

In the article Gov’t to hire new SGI president (StarPhoenix, Oct. 10, 2008) James Wood reported that both men said what happened in the spring “played no role in Schubert’s departure, citing instead the opportunity presented at ICBC.”

It’s interesting to note that Schubert’s resignation came on the same day KPMG delivered its final report to CIC officials. And this is just a coincidence?

An Oct. 9, 2008, ICBC news release indicates that Schubert’s appointment as the corporation’s new president and CEO came “after an extensive four-month national search that involved a number of interviews to find the right candidate,” according to T. Richard Turner, chair of the ICBC board of directors.

The position had become vacant on Apr. 4, 2008, when Turner announced that the then CEO Paul Taylor was moving to a new position in the private sector.

On May 2, 2008, Turner announced that the ICBC’s board of directors had engaged Ray & Berndtson, an executive recruitment firm, to conduct a search for a permanent president and CEO.

Thanks to CIC Minister Ken Cheveldayoff, Saskatchewan’s loss would soon become British Columbia’s gain.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Note: The Oct. 29, 2008, access to information request submitted to the Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan asked for copies of any briefing notes and memorandums regarding the Saskatchewan First investment policy and the KPMG examination of Crown Sector External Investments for the time period of Aug. 1, 2008 to Oct. 29, 2008. The CIC’s Dec. 2, 2008, response provided just seven pages of information all dated in Oct. 2008. The cover letter advised that some records have been withheld from release in their entirety citing the following sections of the Act as the reason:

– Section 17(1)(a)(b): Advice from officials
– Section 22(a): Solicitor-client privilege

The CIC’s letter does not say how many records and pages are involved. The decision will be appealed to Saskatchewan’s Information and Privacy Commissioner in Regina.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Pro-Harper rally in Saskatoon harkens back fifty years to the dark days of the Red Scare; protest really about Canada’s Parliamentary system

Discarded Pro-Harper protest sign

Saskatoon City Hall Square, Dec. 6, 2008, at 2 p.m. after the rally

A protest against the Liberal-NDP coalition took place in Saskatoon on Dec. 6, 2008, from noon to 2 p.m. in front of City Hall. According to The StarPhoenix the event was part of a nation-wide series of demonstrations held under the banner of Rally for Canada, a website created by prominent Conservative blogger Stephen Taylor. Apparently about fifty people showed up.

By 2 p.m. the square surrounding city hall was deserted. All that was left to mark the occasion was a discarded sign that read “Let Us Make The Choice” and “Better Dead Than Red”, a reference to the popular slogan used in the United States in the 1950s by anti-Communists to express their opposition to Communism and left-wing politics. It would appear that some of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s supporters would like to see Canada dragged back fifty years to that dark period of human history when fear and panic ran rampant and witch hunts destroyed the reputations and careers of thousands of innocent people. But then again we’re talking about a political party that had progressive removed from its name in 2003 when the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada merged with the Canadian Alliance (in full, the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance).

Looking at Taylor’s website it seems that what anti-coalition forces are really protesting against is Canada’s 141 year-old Parliamentary system that allows for minority governments to be defeated when a majority of the House of Commons has lost confidence in the government. There is absolutely nothing illegal about this, but Harper’s army of followers would like Canadians to believe that what is happening is a “threat” by “people committed to destroying our Confederation” to “seize power” and “overturn the results of the last election.”

Regina Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk notes in his latest column that it was Harper “who manufactured this mess and then played a game of political brinkmanship in his [Dec. 3] address to the nation. And it was Harper who shut down democracy by proroguing Parliament, then wilfully misled the public on his reasons for doing so.

“Parliament isn’t being high-jacked. For Harper to claim so is both false and hypocritical.” [BQ poses national conundrum (StarPhoenix, Dec. 6, 2008)]

Some might argue, however, that Parliament has indeed been high-jacked – by the Harper Conservatives.

The following op-ed was submitted to the StarPhoenix on Dec. 6, 2008:

The editorial Gov. Gen. Jean made best choice from ugly options (SP, Dec. 5) failed to mention the hypocrisy of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appalling decision to shut down Parliament to avoid certain defeat in a confidence vote.

On Sept. 9, 2004, Harper, then the Opposition leader, held a joint news conference with NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois chief Gilles Duceppe to outline plans they said would make Parliament more democratic and give the combined opposition far more clout that has been traditional.

Harper warned the Conservatives could vote against the Liberal minority government if its throne speech didn’t serve Canadians well.

“It is the Parliament that’s supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party,” Harper said in a National Post story the following day.

The trio had sent a letter to then-governor-general Adrienne Clarkson requesting that she turn to them if Paul Martin’s newly elected government were defeated in the Commons.

“We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority,” the letter stated.

In the Globe and Mail on Sept. 14, 2004, Harper is quoted as saying “We’re acting as the majority… We do represent the majority of the population both in Canada and Quebec in number of seats and also the percentage of votes.”

Later, in an interview with Montreal Le Devoir, Harper said he was under no obligation to co-operate with Mr. Martin’s minority government and would bring it down if it’s in the interests of the country.

“I will give my caucus a mandate to vote in the interests of the country,” Harper said in a Sept. 30, 2004, Canadian Press Newswire story.

“If that means defeating the government, then that’s what will happen.”

Harper said that he wanted the Parliament to work, “but our constitutional role as the official opposition is to be ready to replace this government.”

“The reality is that [Mr. Martin] is in a minority situation, and his government has to create a functional majority (in Parliament).”

Referring to the letter sent to Clarkson, Harper said “The Governor General does not have to follow the prime minister’s wishes… She must ensure that [Mr. Martin] has the House’s confidence, that’s all.”

Harper met with Clarkson on Sept. 28, 2004. Now, four years later, he is hypocritically railing against the very system he once touted and was prepared to take advantage of.

On Dec. 3 the Conservative Party of Canada sent an inflammatory email across the country with the subject line ‘Stand Up for Canada.’ In it the party called the Liberals, NDP and Bloc “a socialist-separatist driven coalition” that was “undemocratic” “unelected” and “illegitimate.”

The Conservatives said the coalition was “an attack on Canada’s democracy” and “an attack on Canada’s economy.” It demonized Quebecers as “Separatists… who want to destroy Canada” and called the NDP “risky” and “discredited socialists.”

The Conservatives are trying to sell the public a false view of how our system of government works. They did not “win” the recent election. What the Conservatives in fact won was a minority of seats in the House of Commons, 143 out of 308.

Our system of government, known as “responsible government”, means that for a minority to hold office it must enjoy the confidence of the majority of the House. The Harper government does not have this.

Saskatchewan Conservative politicians aren’t helping the situation either.

Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar MP Kelly Block, who avoided all debates during the election, said the “separatist coalition” are “attempting to overturn the results of the last election” while Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who was in hiding for much of it, said they are trying to “steal” them.

In reality, what has been inexplicably stolen from Canadians is its Parliamentary system, and for that we have Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada to thank.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hypocrisy breathtaking; party sends bile-filled email across Canada

The above photo is from an email sent by the Conservative Party of Canada

“I will give my caucus a mandate to vote in the interests of the country… If that means defeating the government, then that’s what will happen.”

“I want this Parliament to work, but our constitutional role as the official opposition is to be ready to replace this government.”

“The reality is that [Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin] is in a minority situation, and his government has to create a functional majority (in Parliament).”

“The Governor General does not have to follow the prime minister’s wishes… She must ensure that [Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin] has the House’s confidence, that’s all.”

– Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, Conservative leader says he won’t rule out toppling minority government (Canadian Press NewsWire, Sept. 30, 2004)

“It is the Parliament that’s supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party.”

– Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, Opposition warns of showdown: Letter to Clarkson says parties will challenge Throne Speech (National Post, Toronto / Late Edition, Sept. 10, 2004)
In an act of breathtaking hypocrisy the Harper Conservatives have sent out a bile-filled email across Canada attacking and condemning “a socialist-separatist driven coalition” of trying “to overturn the results of the election and seize power.”

“The new socialist-separatist driven coalition is an attack on Canada’s democracy as the proposed leader of this unelected, illegitimate, coalition remains Stéphane Dion, whom Canadians would still reject as Prime Minister were another election held today,” the disturbing Dec. 2, 2008, email states.

“It is time for Canadians to stand up against backroom deals that would usurp the elected government without the people’s consent.”

On Sept. 9, 2004, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper held a joint news conference with NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois chief Gilles Duceppe to outline plans they said would make Parliament more democratic and give the combined opposition far more clout that has been traditional.

Among other things, they want to narrowly define what votes constitute confidence measures which might lead to the defeat of a government. They would have the Commons vote on issues such as treaties and overseas troop deployments and would give MPs more say in choosing committee leaders and vetting patronage appointments.

“This is not a coalition, but this is a co-operative effort,” said Harper. [Opposition leaders serve notice to Martin (Kingston Whig-Standard, Sept. 10, 2004)]

The Dec. 1, 2008, Accord between the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party of Canada defines the relationship of the two parties as a “cooperative government.” This appears to be no different than the arrangement Harper described in 2004 when his party teamed up with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois.

It should be noted that the Bloc Quebecois is not a signatory to the Accord on a Cooperative Government to Address the Present Economic Crisis, but has signed the Policy Accord to Address the Present Economic Crisis.

According to the National Post, in a letter dated Sept. 9, 2004, to Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton raise the possibility that Parliament could be dissolved, suggesting she should consult them if that were to happen.

The letter to Mme. Clarkson advises her that only a limited number of votes in the Commons should be considered matters of confidence worthy of triggering an election. One of those votes, however, will be on the government’s Throne Speech, and the opposition leaders say they intend to propose amendments to the speech, which outlines the government's priorities.

The letter to Mme. Clarkson, which was signed by all three opposition party leaders, states that in a minority Parliament “you could be asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons fail to support some part of the government’s program.

“We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise, this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority,” it states.

Further, the leaders said they intend to introduce a narrow definition of confidence votes into the Commons rules as part of a larger parliamentary reform package to be implemented jointly by the three parties.

“What we want to make sure is that the patronage factory that has been the Liberal party for the past 11 years is put out of operation,” Mr. Harper said. “It is the Parliament that’s supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party. That’s a criticism I’ve had and that we’ve had and that most Canadians have had for a long, long time now so this is an opportunity to start to change that.”

In spite of the request that the Governor-General consult them if the Liberals are defeated in the House, the three leaders denied they are preparing to operate as a coalition government or usurp the government’s main powers.

“This is not a coalition,” Mr. Harper said. “My staff asked me what we should call this arrangement, and I said it’s the opposition parties co-operating. Maybe it’s a ‘co-opposition.’ ” [Opposition warns of showdown: Letter to Clarkson says parties will challenge Throne Speech (National Post, Toronto / Late Edition, Sept. 10, 2004)]

In an interview with Montreal Le Devoir a week or so later, Harper said he was under no obligation to co-operate with Paul Martin’s minority government and would bring it down if it’s in the interests of the country.

“I will give my caucus a mandate to vote in the interests of the country,” Harper told Le Devoir from his office on Parliament Hill.

“If that means defeating the government, then that’s what will happen.”

While Harper acknowledged Canadians don’t want to go to the polls for a second time in less than a year, he also added: “The government cannot expect our support.

“I want this Parliament to work, but our constitutional role as the official opposition is to be ready to replace this government.”

Harper went on to say “The reality is that [Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin] is in a minority situation, and his government has to create a functional majority (in Parliament).”

Referring to the letter the parties sent to Clarkson, Harper said “The Governor General does not have to follow the prime minister’s wishes,” said Harper, who met with Clarkson on [Sept. 28, 2004].

“She must ensure that [Martin] has the House’s confidence, that’s all.” [Conservative leader says he won't rule out toppling minority government (Canadian Press NewsWire, Sept. 30, 2004.)]

Now, four years later, Harper is railing against the very system he once touted.

James Laxer, the Professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto and a prominent author, columnist and commentator, recently posted to his blog an informative explanation of Canada’s Parliamentary democracy.

In The Harperites Are Misrepresenting Our System of Government, Laxer says “Harper and his operatives are trying to sell the public a false view of how our system of government works.”

“It begins with the bogus proposition that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives “won” the recent election and have a mandate to govern.

“In fact, in the recent election, the Conservatives won a minority of seats in the House of Commons, 143 out of 308.

“Our system of government, known as “responsible government”, holds that for a ministry to hold office it must enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons, i.e. the support of the majority of the members of the House,” Laxer said.

“The Canadian prime minister is not a quasi-king in the manner of the American president. He or she rises or falls depending on the votes of the majority in the House of Commons. That is what is going on here. What is coming to an end is the rule of a prime minister who thought he was a king. What is coming is a government that actually represents the views of the majority of the members of the House, and for that matter the majority of voters in the recent election.”

Stephen Harper is the architect of this crisis. If it leads to his downfall he has no one else to blame but himself.

--------------------------------------------------------------

The following message was sent via email from the Conservative Party of Canada:

December 02, 2008

Two months ago Canadians voted in a general election. They made a clear choice.

Stephen Harper was given a strengthened governing mandate to address the global economic crisis.

Canadians did not give Stéphane Dion a mandate to lead Canada. He was personally rejected by voters just as he was subsequently personally rejected by his party.

Nor did Canadians give the Liberals a mandate to form a coalition with the NDP. In fact, the Liberals explicitly promised there would be no coalition with the NDP.

And they certainly did not give either the Liberals or the NDP a mandate to govern with the Separatists, the very people who want to destroy Canada.

Yet, yesterday, in a shocking display of undemocratic arrogance, a socialist-separatist driven coalition announced that they will try to overturn the results of the election and seize power without first going back to the voters.

The new socialist-separatist driven coalition is an attack on Canada’s democracy as the proposed leader of this unelected, illegitimate, coalition remains Stéphane Dion, whom Canadians would still reject as Prime Minister were another election held today.

The new socialist-separatist coalition is an attack on Canada’s economy – as it would empower NDP – whose discredited left-wing ideology is so risky that even the Liberals call it “economically damaging”.

And the new socialist-separatist driven coalition is an attack on Canada itself. For no responsible national leader would ever give power to a group that wants to destroy one of the most peaceful and prosperous nations ever to have existed.

It is time for Canadians to stand up against backroom deals that would usurp the elected government without the people’s consent.

It is time for Canadians to stand up against coalitions with discredited socialists that would put our economy at risk.

It is time for Canadians stand up against alliances that would provide a veto to the separatists who would destroy our country.

It’s time to Stand up for Canada.

It’s time to Let the people speak.

Take action NOW:

Write a letter to the editor
Attend a rally
Tell a friend
Call talk radio
Sign a petition
Join a Facebook group

The following is the letter sent by Harper, Duceppe and Layton to the Governor General four years ago:

September 9, 2004

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson,
C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D.
Governor General
Rideau Hall
1 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A1

Excellency,

As leaders of the opposition parties, we are well aware that, given the Liberal minority government, you could be asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons fail to support some part of the government's program.

We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.

Your attention to this matter is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Hon. Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Leader of the Opposition
Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

Gilles Duceppe, M.P.
Leader of the Bloc Quebecois

Jack Layton, M.P.
Leader of the New Democratic Party


Below is a posting from James Laxer’s blog:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Harperites Are Misrepresenting Our System of Government

In a bid to save their government from defeat and prevent its replacement by a Liberal-NDP coalition with the support of the Bloc, Stephen Harper and his operatives are trying to sell the public a false view of how our system of government works.

It begins with the bogus proposition that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives “won” the recent election and have a mandate to govern.

In fact, in the recent election, the Conservatives won a minority of seats in the House of Commons, 143 out of 308.

Our system of government, known as “responsible government”, holds that for a ministry to hold office it must enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons, i.e. the support of the majority of the members of the House.

In Canada, we do not directly elect our prime minister. The prime minister is an elected member of the House of Commons (in theory, he or she could be a Senator, but this has happened only twice, the last time under Mackenzie Bowell from 1894 to 1896.) The Governor General asks the leader of the political party that commands the support of the majority in the House to form a government. In the case of a minority parliament, the critical issue is which party or combination of parties can command the support of the majority in the House.

Yesterday, when the leaders of the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc, whose parties hold the majority of seats in the House announced their intention to defeat the Harper government and replace it with a Liberal-NDP coalition government with the support of the Bloc, they were playing out their roles within the system of responsible government. And since this move comes early in the new parliament and holds out the promise of stable government for at least the next eighteen months, it is almost certain that the Governor General will call on the coalition to form a government once the Conservatives have been defeated. (The Governor General does have some discretion here, under the rubric of royal prerogative, but considering how recent the election was, it is highly unlikely that she would accede to a request by Stephen Harper to dissolve parliament to call another election.)

The Conservatives are appearing on news shows, talk shows and are organizing rallies putting out the word that what is happening in Ottawa is an attempted “coup”. At the centre of this inane claim is the proposition that Canadians just re-elected Stephen Harper as prime minister and that he has a mandate to govern.

It is true that the Americans directly elect their president and therein lies much of the confusion that is being stirred up by furious Conservatives over their punch bowls. The American Constitution (in my view grounded on a poor understanding of Montesquieu and the British Constitution following the Glorious Revolution of 1688) rests on the notion of “separation of powers”. The Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch (Congress) and the Judicial Branch each occupy their own hermetically sealed space and are protected from undue interference with each other much the way Vestal Virgins were protected in Ancient Rome. To their credit, the Americans have managed to make this ungainly system work with only one Civil War marring its record to date.

The Canadian prime minister is not a quasi-king in the manner of the American president. He or she rises or falls depending on the votes of the majority in the House of Commons. That is what is going on here. What is coming to an end is the rule of a prime minister who thought he was a king. What is coming is a government that actually represents the views of the majority of the members of the House, and for that matter the majority of voters in the recent election.