Monday, March 31, 2008

Station 20 West: Sask. Party health critic Don McMorris raised no concerns with development at March 2007 committee meeting

Health Minister Don McMorris, Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer
and Premier Brad Wall

On Mar. 26, when he confirmed that the Saskatchewan Party government would not honour a previous funding commitment made by the former NDP government of $8 million for the Station 20 West mixed-use development in Saskatoon, Finance Minster Rod Gantefoer said when his new government took a look at the project, “there were a number of problems.”

He managed to cite only one, though, and it turned out to be completely wrong.

Gantefoer said 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. [Core project in limbo; Sask. Party pulls $8M from centre on 20th Street (StarPhoenix, Mar. 27, 2008)]

At a press conference on Mar. 27, 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.”

Gantefoer’s office confirmed he’d been mistaken about the numbers. [20th Street ‘mall’ not a priority: gov’t (StarPhoenix, Mar. 28, 2008)]

Gantefoer has not said what the other problems were.

In the same StarPhoenix article Premier Brad Wall gave a different explanation for his government’s despicable attack on Saskatoon’s poorest neighbourhood, one that appears to be closer to the real reason for the decision -- ideology.

Wall said the concept of the project was “problematic” for the Saskatchewan Party, that it was 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.”

Wall failed to mention, however, that there hasn’t been a full line grocery store in the area for over ten years and that there are no developers planning to build one any time soon. Many low income residents are forced to travel a considerable distance to get food and other necessities.

In the editorial Government’s actions signal trouble ahead (StarPhoenix, Mar. 29, 2008) the StarPhoenix lambasted Wall saying his “clear lack of understanding about the dire needs of core neighbourhoods and the history of Saskatoon demonstrates just how out of touch he remains with urban Saskatchewan. Considering the role the province’s largest city is playing in the economic revival of Saskatchewan, such ignorance could have dire consequences.”

“The proponents of Station 20 want a grocery store not because they want to compete with private industry but because many people in core neighbourhoods don’t have the wherewithal to keep hiring cabs to go shopping.”

Meanwhile, Health Minister Don McMorris had by far the lousiest excuse for his government’s decision.

“You know, the chillers at RUH, they need to be replaced, the fire alarm doesn’t work at St. Paul’s (Hospital), there’s a CT scan that needs to be added. There are a number of challenges, immediately -- safety challenges -- that we hold the liability on,” he said.

“For example, a fire alarm -- I mean, they’ve hired more people (and) it’s a human fire alarm now – that’s just not acceptable in today’s standards, so we have decided to move the money from Station 20 to make sure that our facilities are properly equipped. So that was a decision that was made by our government.”

McMorris’ concern with finding money to replace a fire alarm and remove mold is difficult to accept given the province’s current fiscal situation.

For the past few years Saskatchewan has been raking in revenues hand over fist with no apparent end in sight.

On budget day, Mar. 19, the government projected a C$250 million ($248 million) budget surplus for 2008-09 and also detailed plans for C$1 billion of capital investments.

The financial plan assumes annual revenue of C$9.4 billion, up 19 percent from last year’s budget document, but 0.3 percent under the most recent forecast for the 2007-08 budget year.

The budget assumes a benchmark U.S. oil price of $82.36 a barrel, compared with current levels above $100. [Saskatchewan projects surplus, boosts spending (Reuters, Mar. 19, 2008)]

Withdrawing financial support for Station 20 West was not a political decision, McMorris insists.

“I can tell you that we didn’t look at where it was being built, we looked at it as, what is the need of our infrastructure as far as health care is concerned. We have a lot of long-term care homes that the roofs are leaking and there’s mold growing in the rooms and they’re having to move patients out. Those are priorities.”

McMorris’ assertion that his government wasn’t looking at where Station 20 West was being built does not appear to be entirely accurate.

On Mar. 19, 2007, the Standing Committee on Human Services considered the Department of Health funding request for Station 20 West contained in the 2006-07 Supplementary Estimates — March (Vote 32, Subvote HE03).

The Hansard record shows that NDP Health Minister Len Taylor provided committee members with a comprehensive overview of the project: “The $8 million investment will help to improve access to primary health care and community-based services by supporting projects such as Station 20 West, a partnership for the development of community programs that promote health and well-being. Station 20 is fundamentally an urban renewal project involving a number of community organizations with a vision of developing a centre that would provide multiple services to the community.

“The proposal envisions a broad variety of services including everything within community-based services from child care, integrated primary health services, and including a grocery store. This concept includes a mix of cultural, social, educational, recreational, and health service delivery components. It provides a venue that will not only attract residents who want to participate in community life, but will also enhance access to needed resources. It becomes a centre for direct delivery of services.”

Taylor also noted that, “Station 20 West will see a number of programs and services co-located and more easily available to inner-city residents. Many of these residents do not have ready access to health care professionals or convenient transportation to access services in other areas of the city. As a result they will often use the nearest hospital for basic, everyday health care. If we can provide these residents with primary health care and community-based services that are close to their homes, it’s better for them and it’s better for the system as a whole.”

McMorris, the Sask. Party’s health critic, was at the meeting and asked several questions but raised no concern whatsoever with the grocery store or any other specific aspect of the development. He was, however, interested in knowing in whose constituency the development was going to be built:
Mr. McMorris: — Just so I can have a bit of an understanding, whereabouts is this Station 20 West located in Saskatoon?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — The actual location is expected to be in and around Avenue L and 20th Street in Saskatoon. The reason I say expected to be is the land is still being discussed with the city of Saskatoon. I think tonight — maybe it was last — tonight the city of Saskatoon council, city council will be dealing with this piece of land and whether or not they will provide that piece of land to the partnership for a very fine sum of money.

Mr. McMorris: — So there is no facility there at all. This money isn’t going into an existing facility, existing programs. This is being virtually started from scratch.

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — That is correct. The land has been cleared. It is anticipated and expected that a community facility of some sort will be provided. It would be built on that particular piece of land, which is why it’s under consideration, for all intents and purposes, granting from the city of Saskatoon.

This project, the business plan that’s been brought forward, is for a $12 million facility of which Sask Health is bringing forward this $8 million. This will facilitate Health’s interest in the facility, that interest being primarily the possible relocation of the Saskatoon community health clinic and offices supported by and sponsored by the College of Medicine and the College of Nursing to provide dental and other services to the community through that facility.

Mr. McMorris: — Not knowing Saskatoon real well but having an idea of the constituencies, what constituency would that be, would L and 20th be located in, do you know?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — I’m looking at my Saskatoon friends over here. I think it’s the riverside constituency.

Mr. Prebble: — L and 20th is in, sort of borders Pleasant Hill and Riversdale and will be in Pleasant Hill.

Mr. McMorris: — Well I guess that would mean . . . But it would be in the Riversdale constituency.

Mr. Prebble: — It would be in Minister Forbes’s constituency, right on the edge of the Premier’s and Minister Forbes’s.
McMorris admitted he knew little about the two organizations the government would be partnering with: CHEP and Quint Development. Taylor explained who they were and where their funding came from and said they were responsible for raising the remaining $4 million of the approximate twelve and a half million dollar project.

With respect to the province’s $8 million investment the only thing McMorris seemed interested in was who would own the facility.

“So $8 million and then four coming from the other organizations and it’s a building starting from scratch. At the end of the day, does the Saskatoon Health Authority own the facility?” asked McMorris.

“No, the Saskatoon Health Authority does not,” Taylor replied.

“So do these two other organizations own the facility?” asked McMorris.

“The partnership would own the facility,” said Taylor.

“The partnership of all three?” said McMorris.

“Yes plus others. AIDS Saskatoon is involved in the project as well the Westside clinic. Currently the Westside clinic in Saskatoon owns its own building and property and is simply funded by Saskatchewan Health. They would continue to have a partnership interest in this project,” Taylor replied.

In his final question McMorris asked what are the ongoing investments that the department will have? Will there be another line item next year, another $1 million going to Station 20 West?

Taylor replied that it was “a one-time allocation of dollars, one-time allocation that will find its way into capital same as the other item before us tonight in supplementary estimates.”

For someone with big concerns about Station 20 West today, Minister McMorris certainly had none on Mar. 19, 2007 – except wanting to know in which constituency it was going to be built and who would own it. The Sask. Party raised no concerns in the Legislature or through a news release so why all the fuss now?

It should be noted that on Aug. 13, 2007, Saskatoon city council approved the direct sale of land to the Station 20 West Development Corporation “for the development of a Community Enterprise Centre comprising of offices, retail space, and a public plaza.”

In its report to council the community services department said it had “thoroughly reviewed the Business Plan for the Station 20 West Community Enterprise Centre” and found that “Overall, the numbers appear good, with several committed tenants who are able to pay market rates for space and enter into multi-year leases. The Station 20 West development is expected to be at capacity from the outset of operation.”

“Station 20 West expects to raise $2.5 million from private donations by the fall of 2008, and will carry a residual $2 million dollar mortgage for a five year period. Without accounting for available incentives through the Enterprise Zone, Station 20 expects to operate with a small surplus beginning in year three. A modest reserve of $50 thousand will be established to cover unforeseen expenses,” the report notes.

It took several years of hard work but Station 20 West organizers had finally gained the support of all levels of government.

The Saskatchewan Party government’s decision to pull funding for Station 20 West at this late stage was clearly driven by politics and its conservative ideology.

“New investment in Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods is crucial to building a sustainable city,” said Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison in a Feb. 2, 2007, federal government news release. “With the support of all our partners, it is the City’s hope that…the recently announced Station 20 project, will demonstrate that the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood is leading the way in community renewal and revitalization.”

Not anymore.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Ministry still refusing to release names of selection committee members; agency to target “regulatory barriers”

The Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation is continuing to refuse to release the names of the selection committee members that evaluated the applications for positions on the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors.

On Mar. 1, 2008, an initial request was made to the ministry for the names of the committee members. That request was denied.

“The process was led by the Deputy Minister of Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Dale Botting. The names of any of the other individuals on the selection committee are not being made public,” a ministry official said in an email.

The official also forewarned that “should an application be made under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, access may very well be denied under the protection of clause 17(1)(a).”

According to the Act the clause 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.”

Simply releasing the names of the committee members, however, would not result in the disclosure of sensitive information. Furthermore, the clause cited by the ministry is a discretionary exemption. The government is not required to withhold the information. In light of this the ministry was asked to reconsider its decision.

On Mar. 18 the government again refused stating:
“Typically, names of Ministry staff are provided where there is a need for them to be a point of contact with an individual with respect to such things as providing programming assistance/advice or other customer-service related assistance with respect to the Ministry’s responsibilities. It is not a common practice to provide names of staff who have been tasked with providing advice and recommendations to senior officials who are responsible for decision-making. It is the names of those decision-makers that are given to the public in these kinds of circumstances. As pointed out to you, Dale Botting, our Deputy Minister led this process and the Minister made the selection and the appointments. As we wish to continue this practice, we would ask that you submit a formal request for information under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act which permits access to records, subject to the rules of the Act, outside of our normal policy.

“In our last email to you, we had indicated that a request for this information would likely be denied under the protection of clause 17(1)(a) of the Act because it is felt that any records which may contain the names of the individuals on the selection committee would quite likely be records that fall under that exemption.”
The ministry’s explanation is not the least bit convincing.

In saying that it is “not a common practice” the ministry is essentially admitting that the policy is not absolute.

The ministry said that a request for the information under the Act would likely be denied “because it is felt that any records which may contain the names of the individuals on the selection committee would quite likely be records that fall under that exemption.”

Again, the records themselves are not being requested only the names of the committee members. As mentioned earlier clause 17(1)(a) is a discretionary exemption. The government is not required to withhold the information.

The government also has the ability to grant partial access to a record meaning it could sever the surrounding information leaving only the names.

Furthermore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the names of the committee members were known prior to any records being created by the committee that contained advice or recommendations.

The closing date for nominations to the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors was Jan. 31, 2008.

In the news article Gov’t sends out RSVPs for board membership (Leader-Post, Jan. 5, 2008) Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart said “he and another minister and some deputy ministers will be part of the committee that selects the final board members, but those details are still being finalized.”

In a Feb. 6, 2008, news release the government announced that the selection process for the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board had begun and that “A committee of senior Ministry officials will score each of the applications based on a standard set of criteria.”

So at some point between Jan. 5 and Feb. 6 the ministry finalized the committee’s composition.

Stewart’s department has thus far failed to legitimately explain how releasing the names of the selection committee members would harm the process that is in place.

It is interesting to note that when it comes to committees other levels of government don’t seem to require such an archaic policy.

In 2007, the City of Saskatoon convened an administrative committee to evaluate the Expressions of Interest and subsequent Request for Proposals submissions for the development of Parcel “Y” in River Landing.

The report from the city manager (F1 – EOI Selection and RFP for River Landing Parcel “Y”) that was considered by city council at its June 25, 2007, meeting noted that the committee consisted of City Manager Phil Richards, Corporate Services General Manager Marlys Bilanski, Development Services Branch Manager Randy Grauer, Senior Planner Alan Wallace, Planning Branch Manager Lorne Sully, Land Branch Manager Rick Howse, and Special Projects Manager Chris Dekker. The City Solicitor’s Office served as consultants to the review.

In 2006, Western Economic Diversification Canada conducted an evaluation of the projects that were proposed under the Centennial Capital Initiative Request for Proposals. Nineteen proposals competed for a share of the $10 million available for Saskatoon through the Canada Celebrates Saskatchewan initiative.

The Proposal Evaluation Committee consisted of Rob Greer, Rajeev Ludu, Garry Sturgeon and Ulrike Veith.

In both cases the committees provided advice and recommendations to decision-makers. The release of their names did not compromise either process.

According to the government’s 2008-09 budget the cost of Enterprise Saskatchewan is $8.378 million. The 2008-09 Budget Summary notes on page 13 that: “$7.4 million is being transferred from existing budgets and $1.0 million in incremental funding is being provided in 2008-09 to create Enterprise Saskatchewan.”

Surely for this much money the public deserves a greater level of transparency from its public officials who, by the way, are paid by the taxpayer. In its 2007 election platform the Saskatchewan Party promised a more accountable and transparent government. So far it hasn’t delivered.

In a related story the 2008-09 Estimates (page 57) reveal a more focused strategy for Enterprise Saskatchewan: “Through Enterprise Saskatchewan, the Ministry will identify regulatory barriers that impede growth and coordinate programs and policies to encourage the growth and expansion of the Saskatchewan economy.”

The Saskatchewan Party 2007 election platform (page 19) cleverly separates these into two separate but related promises without actually saying in either that regulatory barriers would be the agency’s primary focus:
Enterprise Saskatchewan teams will review key sectors of Saskatchewan’s economy, to identify barriers to growth and make recommendations to government for their removal.”

Enterprise Saskatchewan will consistently act to measure and report on Saskatchewan’s tax and regulatory environment to ensure that Saskatchewan’s economy remains competitive within the New West.”
The legislation that was introduced on Dec. 17, 2007, does not define “barrier.” The proposed Enterprise Saskatchewan Act merely states that the purposes of the agency is to “identify barriers to growth” in Saskatchewan’s economy and to ensure that such “barriers to economic growth are reduced and removed.”

The question now becomes, which regulatory barriers is the Saskatchewan Party government going to instruct Enterprise Saskatchewan to go after?

As we’ve already seen with the issues of oil and gas royalties and Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board the Wall government is not above political meddling. Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz made it clear recently that provincial agencies, boards and commissions will reflect the Saskatchewan Party’s right-wing philosophy. [Provincial bodies to reflect Sask. Party philosophy: Krawetz (StarPhoenix, Mar. 14, 2008)]

Enterprise Saskatchewan will likely prove to be no different.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

TILMA: StarPhoenix flip-flops, supports findings in new Estey Centre report but last year dismissed critics with same concerns as “scaremongers”

The following letter was submitted to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix on March 19, 2008:

Dear Editor:

For the SP editorial board it’s as if time stopped on June 28, 2007, when Sask. Party leader Brad Wall announced that due to a few concerns a government under him would not sign the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) in its present form. Anything Wall or the SP might have said about the trade agreement before then seems to no longer exist.

In the editorial TILMA analysis wise approach by Sask. Cities (SP, Mar. 17) the SP completely ignores the fact that throughout 2006 Wall’s support for the trade deal was absolute and unequivocal. He repeatedly condemned NDP Premier Lorne Calvert for not signing it.

BC and Alberta signed the deal behind closed doors without public consultation or legislative debate. Wall wanted Saskatchewan at the table and had he been premier there’s little doubt he would have committed the province to the agreement.

Long forgotten is the SP’s endorsement of the trade deal without reservation. In TILMA gives clout to Sask. (SP, May 15, 2007) the SP said the province would have “the most to lose” if it were left out. It urged Premier Calvert “to push for Saskatchewan’s inclusion as soon as possible.”

“TILMA’s success is based on the notion of including everything unless there’s a darn good reason to leave out a sector,” the SP said.

Only now after the conservative think tank Estey Centre for Law and Economics in International Trade have released a report raising a number of serious concerns with the agreement, including the SP’s aforementioned “success,” does the editorial board reconsider its position.

When citizens, labour groups and respected individuals like economists Erin Weir and Marc Lee, or international trade lawyer Steven Shrybman and trade consultant Ellen Gould were raising the very same concerns as Estey more than a year ago the SP dismissed them as “scaremongers” and “the usual anti-trade and protectionist suspects.” The SP’s hypocrisy is incredible.

The SP feels that those BC and Alberta municipalities that are disgruntled with the trade deal should have raised their concerns at the outset instead of now after the fact. How could they when their respective governments neglected to consult with them? Proof of this fact can be found in the excellent report on TILMA that Saskatoon city solicitor Theresa Dust submitted to city council in Feb. 2007.

It appears the SP now supports a total exemption for municipalities from TILMA along with having a well-established court system to resolve disputes rather than rely on some newly created trade panel to do the job. That’s great but the scope of Estey’s report is confined primarily to TILMA’s effect on municipalities. The trade deal’s impact, however, goes well beyond that.

For example, Article 17 of the agreement ensures that things like water and measures relating to aboriginal peoples; regulated rates established for the public good or public interest; social policy that includes labour standards and codes, minimum wages, Employment Insurance, social assistance benefits and worker’s compensation; financial assistance for recreation, academic research or to non-profit organizations; measures adopted or maintained to provide compensation to persons for losses resulting from calamities such as diseases or disasters; measures adopted or maintained relating to the management or conservation of forests, fish and wildlife; or to the management and disposal of hazardous and waste materials will eventually be left unprotected and exposed to the full force of the agreement. How on earth can this be good for Saskatchewan?

Presumably Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party still support this nasty business because it’s not on their list of concerns with the agreement.

Business lobby groups such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Council of Chief Executives enthusiastically support TILMA and its regime of harmonization and deregulation. To them the interests of private investors and profiteers outweigh any negative impact the trade deal might have on municipalities or the public in general. The Wall government is cut from the same cloth.

TILMA was a bad deal in April 2006 and it’s still a bad deal today.

Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sask. Party: Labour Minister Rob Norris takes major hit at CUPE convention; Meadow Lake and Moose Jaw North MLA’s refuse to meet with unions

Labour Minister Rob Norris at the CUPE Saskatchewan
convention in Saskatoon on March 14, 2008

CUPE Saskatchewan held its 2008 annual convention in Saskatoon from March 11-14 at the Delta Bessborough Hotel.

On the convention’s final day Saskatchewan Labour Minister Rob Norris addressed delegates on his government’s initiatives since being elected in Nov. 2007. This included the introduction of two controversial labour Bill’s: Public Service Essential Services Act and Trade Union Amendment Act, 2007.

To his credit Norris showed up at the Adam Ballroom for his 9:15 a.m. speech and later took questions. To his misfortune Norris showed up at the Adam Ballroom for his 9:15 a.m. speech and later took questions. It was within that span of twenty or so minutes following his address that Norris and his government’s carefully controlled and scripted communication strategy imploded.

The first speaker from the floor asked Norris to provide specific examples of where essential services were not provided during labour disputes.

Norris mentioned the snow plow operators during the SGEU public service strike last winter, and the 400 patients per day that he claims were left without adequate medical care during the CUPE strike at Saskatchewan’s two universities.

CUPE Saskatchewan president Tom Graham took a turn at the microphones and proceeded set the record straight on Norris’ examples. Graham effectively debunked both.

With respect to Norris’ first example news reports at the time show that highway workers were temporarily off the job from midnight on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007, to Tuesday afternoon on Jan. 9, 2007.

In Blizzard blasts Saskatoon (Leader-Post, Jan. 11, 2007) the StarPhoenix’s Darren Bernhardt reported that the “blizzard began around midnight Jan. 10” and lasted 26 hours, so workers were indeed back on the job before it hit. Ironically, conditions that day forced provincial highways workers and snowplow drivers to shut down.

“It was a difficult day. The biggest problem was the visibility,” said Highways Department spokesperson Doug Wakabayashi.

Department policy states no plow is allowed to set out once visibility falls below 200 metres. At 100 m they are instructed to return.

“Given the stopping distances of our trucks, that’s effectively zero visibility,” said Wakabayashi. [Storm challenged emergency crews: Snowplow operators worked throughout night in Saskatoon (StarPhoenix, Jan. 12, 2007)]

Contrary to what the Saskatchewan Party has been saying it appears that leader Brad Wall did not call for essential services legislation during the strike by snowplow operators last January as forcefully as it would like people to believe.

A Jan. 9, 2007, Saskatchewan Party news release does not mention legislation at all. In it “Wall said there are a number of steps that should have been taken by the NDP that could have avoided the current situation. The ratio of in-scope to out-of-scope workers that stay on the job in the event of a strike could have been restored. In 2000, there were over 2,100 out-of-scope workers in the public sector (a ratio of 8 to 2). Today, the number is below 1,800 (a ratio of roughly 10 to 1).”

“A Saskatchewan Party government would also look at implementing final offer arbitration, where both sides present their best case and an independent third party makes the final decision,” Wall said.

“And, prior to the expiration of a contract, an agreement outlining the level of essential services to be provided could have been struck—something that happens routinely in the health care sector.”

In the article Province should have had deal before strike: Wall (Leader-Post, Jan. 10, 2007) Wall said there were “various options” the government could have pursued such as a mutual agreement or perhaps legislation. At least according to these sources Wall did not say essential services legislation must be implemented.

A column by the Leader-Post’s Murray Mandryk seemed to confirm this saying: “Opposition Leader Brad Wall only reluctantly talks about the prospect of back-to-work legislation and focuses instead on the government’s failure to come up with a proper contingency.” [SGEU strike changes complexion (StarPhoenix, Jan. 12, 2007)]

As for the CUPE 1975 strike in November 2007, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich provided an accurate assessment of the situation in a CBC-Radio Saskatchewan interview with Morning Edition host Ted Deller on Dec. 20, 2007:
“The suggestion that 400 people were being turned away every day from the University of Saskatchewan hospital as a result of the CUPE 1975 strike is absolutely false. They have not identified a single person who was turned away as a result of that strike. My discussions with the people who work in that location say the reason that people were being turned away was because the doctors weren’t getting paid and they had a cash flow problem. So it wasn’t about whether or not a clerk, someone who types up a letter, has the ability to deliver some sort of healthcare services. Doctors, the medical people were all still at work. It was the people were filling out the paperwork who weren’t there. So it’s kind of a stretch to suggest that this was in the interest of public safety. This is ideological.”
And yet the Wall government continues to cite this as one of the reasons for its heavy-handed legislation.

Furthermore, it was just a few months earlier during a different dispute when the StarPhoenix reported that a Sask. Party MLA said such legislation wasn’t needed.

“We would certainly take steps to have both parties put together essential service agreements,” said Elwin Hermanson, speaking for the Sask. Party at the legislature.

Hermanson said the deals would have to be negotiated and he doesn’t think legislation is required. [HSAS, SAHO reach tentative agreement (StarPhoenix, July 12, 2007)]

Norris didn’t mention any of this in his speech to CUPE delegates.

In another question from the floor, CUPE Local 1975 vice-president Wayne Foley asked Norris if he or anyone in his government consulted with the president of the University of Saskatchewan about the essential services legislation before it was tabled on Dec. 19, 2007.

Norris indicated that he did not consult with any stakeholders until after the legislation was presented. Foley then asked Norris whether anyone in his department had consulted with U of S president Peter MacKinnon.

Norris said all consultation took place after the Bill’s introduction in the Legislature.

It was at this point that Foley produced an email that was obtained through a freedom of information request, which seemed to suggest otherwise.

In the Dec. 14, 2007, correspondence from Bonny Braden, the government’s director of media relations, to the minister’s director of communications, Herman Hulshof, regarding essential services, Braden says, “I had no doubt, just wanted to be in the loop too so I can help, I have a particular fondness for this one now! Ha. Just spoke with President MacKinnon and he’ll support us on this publicly so that’s cool, can you just let me in on the paper prep work too if you wouldn’t mind, just want to help, not interfere, hope I’m not irritating you Herman, my intentions are good.”

Braden was responding to an earlier message sent by Hulshof concerning the legislation.

Norris told the audience that he’d have to “take some time to look at this”.

(It should be noted that prior to being elected Norris worked for MacKinnon at the U of S.)

In the article Norris answers for e-mail (StarPhoenix, Mar. 15, 2008), MacKinnon denied seeing the legislation before it was tabled but said his views on the subject are well-known. MacKinnon said he is supportive of the concept.

As for Braden she said, “It was a conversation about his take on essential services from where he was in the middle of a strike where the issue was front and centre,” she said. “We didn’t discuss legislation. We discussed essential services and how he felt about it.”

Braden’s explanation seems a little thin since she is named in three emails on the same page that immediately precede the one mentioning MacKinnon. In fact, it appears that it was Braden’s email to Elaine Smith, the minister’s chief of staff, that was sent at 12:18 p.m. that initiated the subsequent string of responses ending with hers mentioning MacKinnon at 12:58 p.m. These messages seem to concern the legislation and not merely the concept of essential services.

In her email to Hulshof, Braden says “I have a particular fondness for this one now…” This one, what? It seems reasonable to conclude she means the legislation because that was the subject of the previous three messages.

Braden then says that MacKinnon will “support us on this publicly…” Support what publicly, the legislation? This too seems reasonable to assume since it clearly was the subject of the earlier emails.

It is also interesting to note that some of the emails going back and forth appear to include MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman (MLT) partner Kevin Wilson. Wilson is an experienced labour lawyer and head of MLT’s Saskatoon Labour & Employment Law Group.

One document, a draft Q & A sheet for The Essential Services Act has the name ‘Kevin’ written at the top and includes a page of MLT letterhead attached to the last page with handwritten notes. Do these belong to Wilson?

It also appears that Wilson may have been present at a Dec. 12 briefing with Minister Norris where the labour Bills and communications plan were to be discussed.

According to a Dec. 11, 2007, email from deputy minister Wynne Young to John Boyd at Labour and Mary Ellen Wellsch, the minister’s director of legal policy and legislative services, Young said Wilson “will be present to offer his take on this too.”

MLT is also home to Robert Pletch, the firm’s chairman and a long time Saskatchewan Party supporter. Pletch was recently appointed by the government to serve as the board chair for SaskEnergy. It appears that from 2002 to 2006 Pletch contributed approximately $10,142.86 to the party.

Exactly what MLT’s role was during the drafting of the legislation remains unclear. It would be interesting to know whether they are involved with the amendments and regulations as well.

At the convention a CUPE delegate from Meadow Lake told Norris that several constituents had been trying to meet with MLA Jeremy Harrison but hadn’t been successful. They ultimately received a fax from his office saying he would not meet with the union.

Another delegate told Norris a similar story saying that Warren Michelson, the Sask. Party MLA for Moose Jaw North would not meet with union members there either.

Norris attempted to justify his fellow MLA’s unacceptable behaviour by saying that CUPE president Tom Graham had submitted a lengthy response regarding the labour legislation to his department. It appears the minister felt that this was good enough. Never mind the fact that Harrison and Michelson were elected to represent all their constituents and not just those that voted for them. Norris offered no apology for their lousy conduct.

Norris was asked to answer yes or no whether his government would hold full public consultations on the labour Bills. Norris replied that that had already been done.

The government’s consultation process was limited in scope and seemed to be late in getting organized.

In a Dec. 11, 2007, email deputy minister Wynne Young asked John Boyd: “Can you put together a communication/feedback plan for post-introduction of these two Bills? We want to be able to say we heard from a broad range of stakeholders but at this point do not want a ‘laid on’ communication strategy. I’m thinking letters our to [sic] major stakeholders with soft invitation to provide feedback and the Minister and I meeting with major stakeholders – I’m open to ideas.”

Also on Dec. 11, 2007, was an email from Shannon Dumba, a Labour ministry communications consultant, to executive director of communications Gladys Wasylenchuk regarding a draft of the essential services news release that said, “It’s important we either direct comments to the website or an email address or we will be getting public inquiry phone calls/emails in the Communications branch. Creating an email address specifically for this legislation as was done with the OHS Review email box may help to send the message that the government is serious about considering feedback.”

A Dec. 17, 2007, email from Dumba to Wasylenchuk shows that the government decided on two types of stakeholder consultation: a “request for feedback” and a “request for meeting.”

Minister Norris confirmed this in a Dec. 21, 2007, interview with Garth Materie on CBK-AM saying, “What we’re doing is we’re sending out letters of invitation to key stakeholders and then we’ve also invited a few back via email. I’m going to be meeting with some of those key stakeholders, some of my officials are going to be meeting with them as well.”

In the end it seems the government wasn’t keen on having the public call officials directly but instead wanted it to use the website, which is a one-way dialogue that offers nothing in the way of meaningful consultation.

As for groups and organizations the ministry seemed willing to meet and receive feedback only from those it invited.

What is truly disturbing is that in his speech to CUPE delegates Norris seemed to consider this approach appropriate and adequate.

The sense is that the government really doesn’t care, it simply wants to be able to say that it “consulted” with people then push its labour Bills through without any major changes.

Norris talked of amendments to the Bill but did not say what they were nor did he discuss the regulations that will be coming down the pike at some point. There will of course be no public consultation on these. Cabinet will development these behind closed doors and force them on the public later.

Again, one must give Norris some credit for at least showing up and taking the heat. But unfortunately, what he had to say did not inspire confidence or instill trust in his government.

Friday, March 14, 2008

River Landing: Parcel “Y” plan still missing mandatory ‘destination attraction’ outlined in EOI; historic Legion Building sacrificed for office space

Michael E. Lobsinger, the President and CEO of Lake Placid Group, was in Saskatoon on Mar. 12 as the guest speaker at the 14th Annual Traders Luncheon in Support of Junior Achievement.

The event took place at the Sheraton Cavalier and was presented by BMO Financial Group.

Lobsinger discussed the challenges and rewards in building in Canada’s hottest markets – Calgary and Saskatoon.

It was Lobsinger’s company, Lake Placid Investments, which submitted a request for proposals in Sept. 2007 for Parcel “Y” in River Landing. At the time the cost of the commonplace hotel-office-residential complex was estimated at $125 million.

In his column ‘I won’t let you down’ (StarPhoenix, Mar. 13, 2008) SP business editor Murray Lyons said “the current project estimate is anywhere from $175 million to $200 million.”

According to Lyons, Lobsinger said he could be ready to get the project underway in 60 days.

It also appears that the developer is keen on adding two storey’s to his company’s proposed hotel.

Lobsinger told reporters after his presentation that he “knew the restrictions” when he tendered on the request for proposal.

“When you start developing inside those restrictions, I can build a hotel with the eight floors that were mandatory under the RFP. That will be a low-end hotel.

“This project calls for a high-end hotel, a destination hotel. This is going to be a destination project so why wouldn’t you have a high-end hotel?”

In his presentation, Lobsinger said he may have misjudged the “passion” Saskatoon people feel for the parcel of land, but he argues his response to the city’s RFP more than meets the city’s interest in a pedestrian people.

In the central plaza with a reflecting pool/seasonal skating rink, Lobsinger said Lake Placid will create a New York City feel to the courtyard between the hotel, condos and offices.

The problem, however, is that Lake Placid’s proposal does not appear to meet the requirements that were set out in the city’s May 2007 Expressions of Interest (EOI).

The EOI called for a ‘destination attraction/gathering space.’ City council classified this as a Priority 1 Essential Element that must be in the proposal.

The EOI stated that the destination attraction’s purpose is “to build on the downtown’s role as the cultural heart of the city by the development of cultural facilities which can improve economic prospects and encourage tourism.”

The developer’s public component are not cultural facilities and do not seem to constitute the required destination attraction.

Furthermore, it also appears that the proposed uses are not permitted under the DCD1 zoning guidelines. The DCD1 clearly state that the “only permitted uses” are interpretive centres, theatres, heritage facilities, museums, art galleries, amphitheatres, display space, events programming, tour offices, box offices and public institutional offices.

The operative word here is “only.”

It seems clear that the Lake Placid proposal does not comply with either the DCD1 Guidelines or the EOI and subsequent RFP.

It appears that Saskatoon city council, Lake Placid, the Meewasin Valley Authority, and the media are operating as if none of this matter. No one has yet identified which specific element(s) of the Lake Placid proposal constitutes the ‘destination attraction’ that is outlined in the EOI. Why is that?

Equally depressing is Lobsinger’s plan for the former site of the historic Royal Canadian Legion, Branch #63, building adjacent to Parcel “Y”. Remai Ventures Inc., the previous owner of the property, inexplicably had the heritage worthy building demolished last year. Lobsinger purchased the land in Feb. 2008.

According to Lyons: “An additional office building on the Legion site will allow Lake Placid to push the total office space in two, five-storey buildings to 130,000 square feet, along with what Lobsinger promises will be “unique” retail at the main plaza level. He said there is considerable interest in the office space.”

So the Legion Building, which was constructed in 1929 by local veterans of the First World War, was ultimately sacrificed for lousy office space. This is truly disgraceful.

On Mar. 14 the SP published another column by Lyons on the same subject.

In Let’s get moving on Lake Placid’s downtown project (StarPhoenix, Mar. 14, 2008) Lyons said “Lobsinger seems to have done well with this Saskatoon project so far, jumping all the hoops to meet the city's request for proposals (RFP). This week he heaped praise on Mayor Don Atchison, city manager Phil Richards and special projects manager Chris Dekker. He also met with the Meewasin Valley Authority to kiss hands.”

Once again Lyons failed to mention that all those involved seem to be ignoring the fact that the Lake Placid proposal does not appear to deliver what the city requested in its EOI/RFP and that it may not comply with the DCD1. All one has to do to is read the documents to see that.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sask. Party fires Labour Relations Board chair and vice-chairs without cause; breaks election promise to provide more transparency in government

Labour Minister Rob Norris

News of the Saskatchewan Party government’s firing of the chair and vice-chairs of the Labour Relations Board (LRB) first broke on the afternoon of Thursday, Mar. 6. It came with little warning and less than 24-hours later Labour Minister Rob Norris had named the new chair. The replacements for vice-chair are pending.

The government’s actions broke a promise the party made during the 2007 provincial election to “provide Saskatchewan people with more transparency and accountability…in Government.” [Securing the Future (Oct. 2007)]

It also betrayed the party’s position that was put forward by former leader Elwin Hermanson during the 2003 election.

In his Oct. 15, 2003, response to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) 2003 Leaders’ Survey on Small Business Issues, Hermanson said “The Saskatchewan Party believes the Labour Relations Board must be completely balanced in its treatment of employees and employers in all matters before it and supports an open and accountable process in the selection of the board’s chair and vice-chair.”

The CFIB supported the same thing.

In its April 2003 pre-election platform: Fixing the Fundamentals: A Business Plan for Saskatchewan the business lobby group recommended the government “Create a more balanced climate at the Labour Relations Board” and “Ensure a more open and transparent process of selecting the Chair, Vice-Chair and members of the board.”

Minister Norris’s move delivered neither of these and the CFIB, an organization prone to outrage and hysteria at the drop of a hat, has remained silent.

Usually when someone is fired they’re given reasons why. In the case of LRB chair James Seibel and vice-chairs Angela Zborosky and Catherine Zuck there was nothing.

When the story broke Norris was apparently in transit and unavailable for comment.

Kathy Young, executive director of communications for the Sask. Party government, described the firings as routine for a new government and denied there was a political agenda.

“We don’t think it’s vindictive at all. In fact, the person that’s going to be replacing the chair is someone with a great reputation who has been around on both sides of the labour equation,” said Young, who declined to name the new chair. [Terminated; SFL president says gov’t fired chair, vice-chairs of labour board (StarPhoenix, March 6, 2008)]

In a news release the following day the government said Seibel, Zborosky and Zuck were “terminated without cause.”

In the news article Unions upset, but Saskatchewan minister defends firing of labour board officials (Canadian Press, March 7, 2008) Jennifer Graham reported that Norris spent Friday defending his move to fire the three LRB members.

“Well, you know new governments come in and make changes, and obviously that’s the case here,” Norris said.

Zuck received a letter of dismissal while in the midst of a hearing.

Norris didn’t answer questions about why it was felt the three were not qualified to continue in their posts.

In other words the government’s move was indeed purely political.

Norris announced that the new chair of the LRB will be Ken Love, Q.C. of Regina.

According to the news release “Love is a partner in the MacLean Keith law firm and has over 30 years of legal experience with the City of Regina, the provincial government and in private practice. He has represented both employees and the City of Regina before the LRB on numerous occasions.”

No sooner was the ink dry on his appointment when Love’s and Norris’s credibility were blown out of the water.

In Gov't continues LRB shuffle (StarPhoenix, Mar. 8, 2008) Norris said Love is “seasoned, he’s experienced and he brings the sense of balance that I think the people of Saskatchewan have come to expect.”

Norris said Love had gone before the board “on both sides of issues,” and a government press release touts Love as having represented both employees and employers before the labour board.

This quickly proved false when “A government spokesperson confirmed Friday Love had never represented a union before the board.”

In Regina lawyer named head of Sask. labour relations board (CBC News, Mar. 7, 2008) Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich said he would reserve criticism about Love until he see some of his decisions, although he had some concerns.

He said a quick search of a legal database showed that over the past 20 years Love had worked on seven cases that had come before the labour relations board.

In three, he represented workers who wanted to decertify their union, while in three more, he represented an employer against a union. In the seventh case, he was also opposed to union interests, according to Hubich.

“No one I’ve talked to has ever retained him as a union-side lawyer,” he said.

In his column Wall appointing too many friends (StarPhoenix, March 8, 2008) the Leader-Post’s Murray Mandryk said “the biggest problem with Premier Brad Wall’s government -- the one he may pay dearly for in years to come -- is the rampant cronyism we’re now seeing in his appointments.”

Mandryk called Norris’s claim that Love’s appointment was strictly merit-based “nonsense” and went on to confirm the concern that “he has almost exclusively been a management lawyer who hasn’t represented workers unless it was to decertify a union.”

Furthermore, Love is a long-time Saskatchewan Party supporter having contributed $469.23 to the party in 2004 and $949.50 in 2003. He also worked as vice-president of the Regina South constituency association.

In contrast it appears there were no protests when Seibel, Zborosky or Zuck were appointed. A search of StarPhoenix and Leader-Post articles back to 2000 show barely a mention has been made of the three individuals.

The Saskatchewan Party raised no objections or concerns over their appointments in the Legislature or at the committee level.

A search through the registered political party’s fiscal period returns filed with Elections Saskatchewan for 2004 to 2006 reveals that none of the three former board members appears to have contributed to the Saskatchewan NDP, which appointed them.

The last case of any significant notoriety involving the LRB was in 2006 when Wal-Mart, claiming bias, had applied for a court ruling that the board should be barred from hearing cases or making judgments on any cases involving the retail giant.

But that application was denied by both the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and a Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench justice, prior to the bid by Wal-Mart to gain leave to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court. Canada’s highest court declined to hear the case. [Court won’t hear Wal-Mart appeal (StarPhoenix, Apr 20, 2007)]

As it turned out the accusations of bias were unfounded.

What usually gets overlooked is the fact that the LRB has an extremely low reversal rate when its cases are reviewed by the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal.

At the time of the Wal-Mart controversy Hubich pointed out that in the last eight years, out of over 1,300 cases, only six labour board decisions have been overturned. Hubich noted that this kind of track record should confirm that the board isn’t biased. [Court ruling throws wrench into bleating over labour board bias (Planet S, Sept. 14, 2006)]

Even Leader-Post columnist Murray Mandryk doesn’t seem to buy the whole labour law bias argument.

In Labour law bias questionable (StarPhoenix, Sep 2, 2006) Mandryk said “there’s little evidence in the work-stoppage statistics that suggest Saskatchewan is any more or less pro-union than any other jurisdiction.

“There were 10 labour disruptions (strikes or lockouts) in Saskatchewan in 2005, involving 1,884 workers and accounting for 45,042 lost-person days, according to Department of Labour statistics.

“That’s relatively consistent with the province’s 10-year-average of 43,011 lost-person days each year from 1996 to 2005.

“It’s also consistent, on a per capita basis, with other western provinces. Consider the 10-year average lost-person days in: Manitoba (51,000); Alberta (104,000), and B.C. (328,000).

“If Saskatchewan laws are more labour friendly, it’s not reflected in the statistics on strikes and lockouts.”

Finally, it’s interesting to note that in his infamous Sept. 2004 economic paper The Promise of Saskatchewan, Premier Brad Wall spends considerable time citing what he believes are barriers to growth that exist in the province. In all, Wall identifies some twenty barriers but conspicuously absent from his list are many of the things the business lobby constantly complain about: labour laws, minimum wage, employment insurance, Workers’ Compensation, social assistance, Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board and essential services legislation. Why is that?

In a Dec. 10, 2004, letter to Saskatchewan Business Council member Marilyn Braun-Pollon of the CFIB, Wall said Saskatchewan has a “reputation as a business-friendly environment.”

Then in an Apr. 3, 2007, news release Wall said Saskatchewan was “the lowest cost jurisdiction…with fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta.”

This is not exactly the portrait of a province on the verge of collapse because of labour laws. Yet that’s what groups like the CFIB and Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce would like people to believe. The scary thing is that thanks to Premier Brad Wall’s “rampant cronyism” these people are now being allowed to infiltrate government.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sask. Party contributors appointed to Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation Board, Workers' Compensation Board and Labour Relations Board

The Saskatchewan Party government is continuing the parade of appointing its contributors to top posts.

In a series of March 7, 2008, news releases the government appointed Ken Love, Q.C. of Regina as the new Chair of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board, David Eberle of Humboldt as the new Workers’ Compensation Board Chair, Wes Becker of Regina as the new Chair of the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation Board of Directors and Warren Sproule as the new Chair of the Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) Board of Directors.

This follows the Feb. 29 announcement when contributors Gavin Semple and E. Craig Lothian were appointed to the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors.

According to the Saskatchewan Party’s fiscal period returns filed with Elections Saskatchewan, Ken Love contributed $469.23 to the party in 2004 and $949.50 in 2003.

Love is a partner in the MacLean Keith law firm which contributed $1,652.48 in 2003.

Lawyer David Eberle appears to have contributed $1,350.00 in 2006, $1,395.00 in 2005 and $675.00 in 2003.

Eberle was once a member of the Saskatchewan Party’s nine-person management committee. [Schmidt accused of seeking patronage (Leader-Post, Mar. 11, 2003)]

Wes Becker recently retired after a 41 year career with CIBC, of which the last 34 years were spent in Regina. It appears he contributed $575.10 in 2006, $480.00 in 2005 and $400.00 in 2004.

Warren Sproule has practiced law in Regina since 1982 and is currently a managing partner in the Regina law firm Kanuka Thuringer LLP, where he specializes in corporate-commercial law. While Sproule does not appear to have contributed to the Saskatchewan Party the law firm he works for did: $2,310.71 in 2006, $1,663.36 in 2005, $4,114.96 in 2004 and a whopping $12,606.88 in 2003 for a grand total of $20,695.91. (The firm contributed $1,000.00 and $1,848.00 to the NDP in 2004 and 2005 respectively.)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation refusing to release names of committee members

Minister of Enterprise and Innovation Lyle Stewart
& Deputy Minister Dale Botting

Saskatchewan people expect their government to be open, honest and accountable. A Saskatchewan Party Government will provide Saskatchewan people with more transparency and accountability than any previous government, by introducing legislation to pay down debt, taking the ‘guesswork’ out of election timing by introducing fixed election dates and providing more transparency in Government and Crown Corporations.”
Securing the Future, Saskatchewan Party 2007 Election Platform
On Jan. 4, 2008, the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation announced that over 300 invitations had been sent to Saskatchewan organizations inviting them to put forward nominees to the Board of Enterprise Saskatchewan. Invitations were sent to business, labour, aboriginal, agricultural, municipal government, post-secondary institutions and economic stakeholders.

“The establishment of Enterprise Saskatchewan represents a new model for economic development for the province,” Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart said. “We are looking for highly qualified, innovative, forward thinking people.”

“We also want to ensure stakeholders have an opportunity to nominate an individual to the Board, as well as ensure we have a transparent, open and accountable process in place,” Stewart said.

The closing date for nominations was Jan. 31, 2008.

In the news article Gov’t sends out RSVPs for board membership (Leader-Post, Jan. 5, 2008) Stewart said he and another minister and some deputy ministers will be part of the committee that selects the final board members, but those details are still being finalized.

In a Feb. 6, 2008, news release the government announced that the selection process for the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board had begun and that “A committee of senior Ministry officials will score each of the applications based on a standard set of criteria.” The names of the officials were not revealed.

On Feb. 29, 2008, the government announced the names of ten individuals who had agreed to accept positions on the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors.

On Mar. 1, 2008, a request was made to the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation for the names of the committee members that Stewart spoke of earlier.

In its response three days later a ministry official said:

“The process was led by the Deputy Minister of Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Dale Botting. The names of any of the other individuals on the selection committee are not being made public.

“The decision to appoint the individuals named in the announcement Friday was that of the Minister, a decision implemented through a Minister’s Order. At the end of the day – it was the Minister who was responsible for the decision – not the selection committee who did the analysis and made recommendations.

“I have consulted with the Ministry’s Information and Privacy Officer who has advised that, should an application be made under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, access may very well be denied under the protection of clause 17 (1) (a).”

According to The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act the clause in question states:
Advice from officials
17(1) Subject to subsection (2), a head may refuse to give access to a record that could reasonably be expected to disclose:
(a) advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for a government institution or a member of the Executive Council.
This particular section of the Act has been a problem for quite some time.

In Province receives record number of privacy complaints (Leader-Post, July 19, 2005) James Wood reported on the record number of complaints received by the province’s information and privacy commissioner in the fiscal year 2004-2005.

In several of the cases, access was denied through a discretionary exemption based on advice from officials.

“Advice from officials is one that our office watches very closely because that’s sometimes been described as the ‘Mack truck’ exemption because sometimes public bodies give that a very expansive meaning,” said Gary Dickson, who became Saskatchewan’s first full-time information and privacy commissioner in November of 2003.

Not much has changed since then.

Discretionary would mean that the government is not obliged to deny requested information in every case. It is free to disclose it if it so wished. It seems, however, that when given the choice most government departments opt to deny access simply because it can. Complaining to the information commissioner is a process that can take years to complete and the majority of government departments appear to know that.

Releasing the names of the committee members will not compromise records that might contain advice or recommendations from officials. The ministry has yet to explain how it would. The absurdity of the situation seems lost on the senior ministry officials calling the shots.

The ministry has since been asked to reconsider its decision but has so far not responded.

In a related matter, the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation has indicated that it will more than likely cite the same clause in the Act, along with several others, to deny access to a significant number of records pertaining to Enterprise Saskatchewan that were requested in Dec. 2007. That decision is still pending.

Minister Stewart talks about transparency but the actions of his senior staff seem to suggest otherwise.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Sask. Party contributors land coveted spots on agency’s Board of Directors

Gavin Semple and E. Craig Lothian

The Government of Saskatchewan has announced the names of ten individuals who have agreed to accept positions on the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors.

The Feb. 29, 2008, news release notes that the provincial government received over 300 nominations from across Saskatchewan. Selection of the Board members was based in part on a non-partisan scoring system, along with achieving a balance for gender, age and geographical location.

Two of the individuals named to the Board are contributors to the Saskatchewan Party.

Gavin Semple, the owner and president of Brandt Group of Companies, the largest privately held company in Saskatchewan, was named the Board’s Deputy Chair.

The Saskatchewan Party’s registered political party’s fiscal period returns show that Semple contributed $5,775.75 to the party in the four-year period from 2003-2006.

The Brandt Group of Companies consists of five businesses headquartered in Regina. The fiscal return records submitted to Elections Saskatchewan show that during the same four-year period the following Brandt companies contributed to the Saskatchewan Party:

Brandt Agricultural Products – $30,724.37
Brandt Industries – $14,838.59
Brandt Tractor – $37,106.64
Brandt Tractor (Saskatoon) – $1,744.12

Semple’s personal and Brandt’s corporate contributions to the Saskatchewan Party appear to total $90,189.47.

Semple’s connection to the Saskatchewan Party appears to go beyond making contributions.

In a column immediately following last fall’s provincial election the Leader-Post’s Murray Mandryk wrote that Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall “refused during the campaign to answer questions on who is on his transition team during the campaign” but it was “thought that Regina businessman Gavin Semple of Brandt Industries could play a key adviser role in the transition phase.” [Moving to a new government (Leader-Post, Nov. 7, 2007)]

It remains unclear whether Semple did indeed have a role in the Saskatchewan Party’s transition to office.

The second notable Saskatchewan Party contributor named to the Enterprise Saskatchewan inaugural Board of Directors is E. Craig Lothian.

Lothian is the Chairman of the Board of Bulldog Resources. He is also currently President and Chief Executive Officer of two private energy-based companies, Keystone Royalty Corp. (a land and royalty company) and Villanova Energy Corp. (an active exploration and development company). Previously, he was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Flatland Exploration Ltd. until it was acquired by Bulldog Energy in 2002; and Chief Executive Officer of Keystone Energy Inc. prior to it being acquired by StarPoint Energy Ltd. in 2004 and CEO of Keystone Energy Corp. prior to it being acquired by Tristar Oil and Gas Ltd. and Bulldog Resources in January 2007.

The Saskatchewan Party’s registered political party’s fiscal period returns for the four-year period from 2003-2006 show that Lothian contributed $1,450.00 to the party.

The same records show that Bulldog Energy Inc. contributed $2,260.04 and Keystone Energy Inc. donated $5,978.20. (It should be noted that in 2004 Keystone contributed $340.00 to the Saskatchewan NDP.)

The government’s Feb. 29 news release also notes that Enterprise Saskatchewan will soon be accepting applications from individuals to be members on Sector Teams and Strategic Issues Councils.

A Feb. 6 backgrounder states that the Strategic Councils, along with the Sector Teams, were “outlined in the Enterprise Saskatchewan legislation.” The proposed Bill that was tabled on Dec. 17, 2007, however, seems to suggest otherwise. While ‘Section 4 – Purposes of agency’ does say that sector teams will be established there is nothing in the legislation that refers specifically to “Strategic Issues Councils.” To date the government has not provided any details on the Strategic Issues Councils.

Furthermore, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart has not yet revealed who was on the committee that evaluated and selected the members of the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors.


The twelve members of the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors are:

Honourable Lyle Stewart (Chair)
Minister of Enterprise and Innovation

Gavin Semple (Deputy Chair), Owner and President of Brandt Group of Companies.

Honourable June Draude
Minister of First Nations and Métis Relations

Myrna Bentley, CEO and President, Concentra Financial Services Inc.

Bill Cooper, presently involved in the family farming enterprise. Resides in Saskatoon.

Michael Fougere, President, Saskatchewan Construction Association.

Mark Frison, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cypress Hills College in Swift Current.

E. Craig Lothian, President and Chief Executive Officer, Keystone Royalty Corp.

David Marit, President, Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM).

Crystal McLeod, a lawyer with Robertson Stromberg Pedersen in Saskatoon.

Gary Merasty, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, Cameco Corporation.

Hugh Wagner, General Secretary, Grain Services Union (ILWU • Canada).

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Cadman scandal: Transcript shows Stephen Harper knew Conservative party officials made financial offer to ailing MP; widow and daughter stand by story

Independent MP Chuck Cadman, House of Commons, May 19, 2005
(Photo by Tom Hanson/CP)

The Toronto Star has published the contents of an interview that was conducted by Vancouver journalist Tom Zytaruk with then Opposition leader Stephen Harper in September 2005.

The article Cadman 'bribe' furor grips Tories (Toronto Star, Feb. 29, 2008) explains that “Harper knew Conservative party officials were making a financial offer to independent MP Chuck Cadman in exchange for his vote to topple the minority Liberal government in May 2005.”

In his new book Like A Rock: The Chuck Cadman Story, Zytaruk said two Conservative party operatives offered Cadman, who had terminal cancer, a million-dollar life insurance policy.

According to the Star:
Two days before the vote, Zytaruk writes, Cadman was visited by two Conservative representatives and presented with a list of enticements to rejoin the party before the vote.

“They wanted him to vote against the government,” Zytaruk quotes Cadman's wife Dona.

A million-dollar life insurance policy was on the list, Zytaruk writes.

“That was on him, so that if he died I’d get the million dollars,” Dona Cadman said.

“There was a few other things thrown in there too, but it was the million-dollar policy that just pissed him right off.”

The book says that the MP responded to the proposed deal by “bouncing them out of his office.”

“He came home and was mad. He just said that he was insulted and that he was ashamed to have been a part of the Conservative party,” Cadman's wife recalled in the book.
In Cadman confided Tory offer, 'hurt' daughter says (Toronto Star, Feb. 29, 2008) Cadmnan’s daughter, Jodi, confirmed her mother’s story saying her father had confided on his deathbed that he had been offered an insurance policy for a million dollars by the Conservatives.

In a Feb. 28 statement, senior Conservative officials Tom Flanagan and Doug Finley confirmed that they met with Cadman on May 19, 2005, two days after the meeting described in the book.

According to the Star, the statement issued by Flanagan and Finley makes no mention of any earlier meeting with Cadman.

But in his own book, Harper’s Team, Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power, Flanagan hints that the May 19 meeting wasn’t the first time they had tried to persuade Cadman to come back to the Conservative benches.

Harper, now prime minister, denied that there was any financial offer made to Cadman.

During Question Period in the House of Commons on Feb. 28 Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff demanded to know if Mr. Harper, in denying the offer was ever made, was suggesting Mr. Cadman's widow was a liar.

“Is he saying that the widow of Chuck Cadman is lying? Is he saying that a Conservative candidate is lying?”

The Prime Minister did not respond to the question. ['No truth' to Cadman allegations: Harper (Globe and Mail, Feb. 28, 2008)]

Harper says there was no attempt to bribe to Cadman because Cadman himself said so on national TV on May 19, 2005, in an interview with CTV’s Mike Duffy. The Liberals claim the interview was “at best ambiguous.”

Adam Radwanski, a member of the Globe and Mail’s editorial board, provides a transcript of that interview on his blog.

In a separate blog entry Radwannski said, “It would be ironic, given his usual reluctance to talk to reporters, if Stephen Harper were undone by his willingness to talk to Tom Zytaruk in a driveway.”

“Unless I’m missing something, [the tape] would seem to contradict the current Conservative version of events in two different ways.

“One, the PMO claims that Harper only learned of the alleged bribe offer - of which he purportedly found no evidence - from Dona Cadman. But what he reportedly told Zytaruk directly implies that he knew in advance they were up to something, if not exactly what.

“Two, Tom Flanagan and Doug Finley - presumably the officials in question, unless there were two separate offers from two separate pairs of Tory operatives - claim they were there to offer “ways that we – as campaign officials – could help Mr. Cadman in the Conservative nomination process, and if successful, wage a competitive campaign in a general election.” But at the time, Harper reportedly suggested their theory was that Cadman was worried about “financial security” and that they offered to replace “financial considerations he might lose due to an election.”

“That actually makes a lot more sense, since Cadman wasn’t in any shape to run for re-election but might conceivably have worried about giving up his income for as long as he was alive. But it also sounds a lot more like a bribe, doesn’t it?”

The following is the transcript of the Zytaruk/Harper interview as published in the Toronto Star. After that is the transcript of the exchange between Cadman and CTV’s Mike Duffy as provided by Radwanski on his blog.

Zytaruk: “I mean, there was an insurance policy for a million dollars. Do you know anything about that?”

Harper: “I don't know the details. I know that there were discussions, uh, this is not for publication?”

Zytaruk: “This (inaudible) for the book. Not for the newspaper. This is for the book.”

Harper: “Um, I don’t know the details. I can tell you that I had told the individuals, I mean, they wanted to do it. But I told them they were wasting their time. I said Chuck had made up his mind, he was going to vote with the Liberals and I knew why and I respected the decision. But they were just, they were convinced there was, there were financial issues. There may or may not have been, but I said that's not, you know, I mean, I, that's not going to change.”

Zytaruk: “You said (inaudible) beforehand and stuff? It wasn't even a party guy, or maybe some friends, if it was people actually in the party?”

Harper: “No, no, they were legitimately representing the party. I said don’t press him. I mean, you have this theory that it’s, you know, financial insecurity and, you know, just, you know, if that’s what you’re saying, make that case but don’t press it. I don’t think, my view was, my view had been for two or three weeks preceding it, was that Chuck was not going to force an election. I just, we had all kinds of our guys were calling him, and trying to persuade him, I mean, but I just had concluded that’s where he stood and respected that.”

Zytaruk: “Thank you for that. And when (inaudible).”

Harper: “But the, uh, the offer to Chuck was that it was only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election.”

Zytaruk: “Oh, OK.”

Harper: “OK? That’s my understanding of what they were talking about.”

Zytaruk: “But, the thing is, though, you made it clear you weren’t big on the idea in the first place?”

Harper: “Well, I just thought Chuck had made up his mind, in my own view ...”

Zytaruk: “Oh, okay. So, it’s not like, he’s like, (inaudible).”

Harper: “I talked to Chuck myself. I talked to (inaudible). You know, I talked to him, oh, two or three weeks before that, and then several weeks before that. I mean, you know, I kind of had a sense of where he was going.”

Zytaruk: “Well, thank you very much.”


Duffy: “Chuck, earlier tonight Craig Oliver reported on our network special that the Conservatives were prepared do offer you an unopposed nomination if you would vote with them, and also help with campaign funding and so on. Was that offer actually made?”

Cadman: “Well there was some talk about that. As far as the unopposed nomination, you know, the discussions did come up. The talk did come up, yeah.”

Duffy: “So they were making an offer to you, and in the end you refused?”

Cadman: “Yes. Well, that was the only offer on anything that I had from anybody. So there was no offers on the table up till that point about anything from any party.”