Saturday, June 21, 2008

Conservative love fest in Saskatoon: city councillors and MLAs snubbed at photo op with PM Stephen Harper, Premier Brad Wall and Mayor Don Atchison

The Reuters photo says it all. The June 20, 2008 funding announcement for a new bridge in Saskatoon was strictly a conservatives-only affair.

Three levels of government, including the City of Saskatoon, are joining together to build the South River Crossing, a bridge crossing the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon. The bridge is part of the Building Canada Plan, the federal government’s infrastructure development program. The budget for the bridge is $300 million.

On hand for the ceremony was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right-wing Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall, Saskatoon’s equally conservative mayor, Don Atchison, and two of Harper’s Saskatoon MPs, Carol Skelton and Lynne Yelich.

City councillors and MLAs whose constituencies will be affected by the future bridge weren’t invited.

According to the StarPhoenix story Councillors feel snubbed by PM's lack of invitation (StarPhoenix, June 21, 2008) : “Early this week, city administration notified councillors to keep their schedules clear for a major, though unspecified, announcement Friday. On Thursday, the 10 councillors got a memo from administration saying due to security reasons, the Prime Minister’s Office only wanted Mayor Don Atchison at the press conference.

“Even the councillors whose wards are at either ends of the new south bridge site -- Pat Lorje and Bob Pringle -- were left off the list. The guest list included several provincial cabinet ministers, the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce and Conservative supporters who broke into applause several times during Harper’s statement and answers to questions.”

Lorje and Pringle are former NDP MLAs.

In the editorial Strict secrecy mars good news over new bridge (StarPhoenix, June 21, 2008) the StarPhoenix called the press conference “inappropriately partisan and controlled.” It described Harper’s conduct as “over-controlling and churlish.”

“While it’s usual that senior governments would want to occupy the limelight in making such an announcement, it’s going too far when the PMO acts to limit civic representation to only the mayor, with the 10 councillors excluded for “security reasons,” the editorial said.

“The six-lane south bridge is the costliest public works project in Saskatoon and local politicians, especially those in the wards that will be directly affected by the construction, have good reason to be kept informed about what is happening and when.”

The same could be said for provincial politicians whose constituencies will be affected as well.

Saskatoon Riversdale NDP MLA Lorne Calvert and Saskatoon Nutana NDP MLA Pat Atkinson were not invited, but the StarPhoenix doesn’t mention that.

Conservative bias in the media is nothing new, though. In 2000 the StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post each donated $10,000 to the Saskatchewan Party.

In 2007, Canwest Global Communications Corp. president and CEO Leonard Asper and subsidiary CanWest Media Works Inc. each contributed $5,000 to the Brad Wall-led party.

CanWest’s flagship newspaper the National Post has twice endorsed Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper for Prime Minister. It also endorsed Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory for premier in that province’s Oct. 10, 2007, election and was quite pleased when the Saskatchewan Party was elected on November 7, 2007.

On the political front Conservative MPs Carol Skelton and Lynne Yelich are contributors to the Saskatchewan Party – which is rife with connections to the Harper government.

Mayor Don Atchison seems to be right in there as well. During the 2003 provincial election he endorsed Roger Parent the Saskatchewan Party candidate for Saskatoon Centre. A testimonial from Atchison, as a local businessperson, appeared in one of Parent’s campaign brochures along with that of Don Morgan and Shelley Hengen.

On June 20 while in Regina Harper met with Premier Wall for an hour-long closed-door meeting.

In Harper and Wall get cozy in closed-door meeting (Leader-Post, June 21, 2008) Wall said they talked about uranium “value-added” opportunities his Saskatchewan Party government is exploring, including research and development that could take place in the province.

Wall wasted the opportunity, however, by apparently failing to remind Harper of his promise made when in Opposition to reduce the application of the GST on fuel, when retail fuel prices exceed 85 cents a litre. Regular unleaded gas in Saskatoon is currently pushing $1.39 a litre.

Wall also neglected to push the equalization dispute, a battle that Lorne Calvert’s NDP government had taken all the way to the courts with a constitutional challenge. The Conservative election promise was to pull non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization formula, and at issue was their subsequent decision after forming government to put a cap on payments.

It seems Wall has no intention of sticking up for Saskatchewan if it might mean upsetting his political master in Ottawa. Instead he appears content to be seen as Harper’s toady, which was the case during the press conference when he joined the PM in attacking the federal Liberals plan of a national carbon tax. [PM: Dion carbon tax will ‘screw everybody’ (Toronto Star, June 20, 2008)]

Sunday, June 08, 2008

River Landing: Embarrassment continues as city makes mockery of Parcel Y process; Lake Placid asks for amendments, still no “destination attraction”

River Landing Parcel Y

River Landing Parcel Y EOI (May 2007)

Excerpt from Sec. Development Plan Bylaw No. 7799

The following letter to the editor was submitted to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix on June 8, 2008.

Dear Editor:

When will city council be taken to task for making a complete mockery of its planning and development process on Parcel Y at River Landing?

Mayor Don Atchison said recently that the direct control district guidelines for the area are just guidelines, and not laws, suggesting they don’t really mean anything.

The DCD1 are contained within the city’s Development Plan Bylaw and Zoning Bylaw. Aren’t these laws? While they can be amended a legal process must be followed to do that.

Atchison sees no problem in giving Lake Placid Investments owner Michael Lobsinger the amendments he wants so his company can build a hotel-office-residential complex.

This is despite the fact that Lobsinger knew what the restrictions were when he submitted his expressions of interest last year.

Nowhere in the EOI does it say that the DCD1 are just guidelines and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

When the city revised the DCD1 in 2004 city administration said this was done so developers would have clarity and certainty.

The only certainty council has shown in the south downtown since then is that the rules can and will be changed at any time and that it will play favourites by making special deals with some people while ignoring others.

Still unresolved is the fact that Lake Placid’s proposal does not appear to include the mandatory “destination attraction” defined in the EOI as a cultural facility. Furthermore, the developer’s proposal does not appear to comply with the DCD1. The proposed skating rink/reflecting pool and waterfall are not listed as permitted uses.

The city administrative committee that evaluated the EOI on June 18, 2007 did not take minutes nor kept a record of the point scoring. The city has provided no legitimate evidence to support its claim that the proposal satisfies all requirements.

Joe Kuchta

Previous River Landing Parcel Y posts:

Mar. 14, 2008

Jan. 25, 2008

Jan. 15, 2008

Sept. 27, 2007

Sept. 18, 2007

Sept. 17, 2007

Sept. 10, 2007

July 20, 2006

Friday, June 06, 2008

Saskatchewan Party government refuses to disclose Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) records; public shut out as industry meets with group

“[PNWER] has had a profound impact on policymaking.”
– Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day, PNWER 16th Annual Summit, July 18, 2006

“We did have something to do with the B.C.-Alberta agreement, which I think is a great model that needs to be expanded…You should really push that as a model.”
– PNWER executive director Matt Morrison commenting on the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) at the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce Meeting of Oct. 18, 2006

“Should we be joining groups like PNWER to advance the Asia-Pacific Gateway and trade opportunities for our residents? The answer is yes.”
Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall in the Saskatchewan Legislature, Apr. 16, 2008

The Saskatchewan Party government is refusing to release records relating to its involvement with the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER), an organization Premier Brad Wall wants the province to join.

On Apr. 25 an access to information request was submitted to the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs for “copies of all correspondence, paper and electronic, between the Province of Saskatchewan and the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) for the time period of Jan. 1, 2008 to Apr. 20, 2008.”

The ministry received the request on Apr. 29.

In the government’s May 23 response Intergovernmental Affairs Deputy Minister Al Hilton denied the request stating that the information “cannot be released because they contain information that is exempt from release in accordance with the following sections of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act:

“14 A head may refuse to give access to a record, the release of which could reasonably be expected to prejudice, interfere with or adversely affect: (a) relations between the Government of Saskatchewan and another government.

“17(1) Subject to subsection (2), a head may refuse to give access to a record that could reasonably be expected to disclose: (g) information, including the proposed plans, policies or projects of a government institution, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to result in disclosure of a pending policy or budgetary decision.”

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

During the 2007 provincial election the Saskatchewan Party promised “more transparency and accountability than any previous government.”

Although various governments participate in PNWER it is not a government and has no legislative capacity.

According to its website PNWER was founded in 1991 and “is the only statutory, non-partisan, non-profit, bi-national, public/private partnership in North America.”

PNWER is “a regional U.S.-Canadian forum” that provides “the public and private sectors a cross-border forum for unfiltered dialogue that capitalizes upon the synergies between business leaders and elected officials who work to advance the region’s global competitiveness.”

Currently, PNWER consists of five U.S. states and three Canadian provinces or territories (British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon).

PNWER’s board is made up of elected state and provincial legislators, the Governors and Premiers of all jurisdictions, and Industry leaders in the major industries in the bi-national region.

When you get right down to it PNWER is a lobby group financed in part by Big Oil and other energy and industry concerns.

“We function as a lobby group when we are bringing issues of mutual concern to the attention of our federal governments,” said Rob Renner, Alberta’s municipal affairs minister and PNWER’s immediate past-president prior to the organization’s 2006 annual convention in Edmonton. [Energy, agriculture on agenda -- but not water: Edmonton to host international convention (Edmonton Journal, Dec 17, 2005)]

The organization’s 2006 annual budget was U.S. $913,000, with approximately $400,000 (43.8%) coming from private sector sponsorship and dues. State and provincial dues accounted for $265,000 (26.1%) and $275,000 (30.1%) from the US and Canadian federal governments making up the balance.

Private sector support has steadily increased since 2000 when approximately $25,000 came from private sources. By 2006 that figure had grown to $400,000.

The energy sector appears to command considerable attention with approximately $200,000 of PNWER’s $825,000 annual expenses targeted to energy policy meetings. Of the 17 working groups listed on the PNWER website two are devoted solely to energy issues.

The influence of the private sector has not gone unnoticed.

Jim Mann of The Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana, reported that the PNWER annual summit held in Anchorage, Alaska last year had caught the attention of Montanans concerned about coal development in British Columbia’s Flathead drainage.

The latest proposal for coal-bed methane development in the Canadian Flathead comes from British Petroleum, a company that is one of the leading sponsors of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region Council, said Mann.

Montana Public Service Commissioner Ken Toole is concerned about the influence that BP has over the council and particularly British Columbia provincial officials.

“Any time we see big corporations contributing $50,000 and up to any organization we know they are only doing it to promote their bottom line,” Toole said in a press release.

Toole said his remarks were prompted by recent correspondence from constituents in the Flathead Valley who are concerned about the downstream effects of industrial development in the headwaters of Montana’s North Fork Flathead River.

Toole said coal-bed methane development in the Canadian Flathead “will jeopardize water quality in the entire Flathead Basin — including Flathead Lake.”

BP and TransCanada, a company that builds and operates gas transmission lines, are top “Diamond Sponsors” of the regional council, with their corporate logos on the organization’s Web site.

“This so-called public private partnership is clearly heavily sponsored by special interest corporations trying to influence public policy that is not in the interest of Montanans,” Toole said.

In response, a spokesman for the council told the BC Daily News Magazine that most of the council’s budget comes from the U.S. and Canadian federal government, along with dues from member states and provinces.

“So having the private sector involved is part of the mix,” he said. “But, by no means, an undue influence.” [Council questioned about coal-bed plans (The Daily Inter Lake, July 27, 2007)]

What goes unsaid is that private sector contributions to PNWER has increased substantially over the years and may soon surpass that of the public sector, if it hasn’t already.

One area where PNWER appears to fall short on is transparency. The organization does not seem to provide a list of its members nor does it offer annual reports or financial statements to the public on its website. The composition of the 17 working groups does not appear to be available.

Agendas and minutes for meetings by the PNWER delegate council, private sector council, executive committee, board of directors and working groups conducted outside of conferences and the annual summit do not seem to be readily available to the public either.

(A request made to the PNWER office in Seattle on June 2 for a copy of its most recent annual report has gone unanswered.)

Among the major sponsors of the PNWER 18th Annual Summit 2008 in Vancouver (July 20-24) are BP and Teck Cominco Limited, a diversified mining company headquartered in Vancouver with interests in several oil sands development assets. Each appears to have paid $25,000 to be a gold sponsor for the event.

TransCanada and BC Transmission Corporation each forked over $15,000 to be silver sponsors.

Sponsors at $10,000 and less include: Terasen Gas, Spectra Energy, NaiKun Wind Energy Group Inc., Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, Merck Frosst Canada Ltd., TransAlta, Puget Sound Energy, Plutonic Power Corporation, Association of Washington Business (AWB), Fasken Martineau, Sea Breeze Power Corp., and Business Council of British Columbia.

Membership does have its privileges. Sponsors of the event get “the opportunity to participate directly in the development of the Summit and be at the table with key officials and business leaders.”

Out of reach for the average citizen is the public sector registration fee which is a whopping $550.

For the PNWER 17th Annual Summit (July 22-26, 2007) in Alaska petroleum giants BP and ExxonMobil each shelled out $35,000 for the privilege of being named platinum sponsors.

TransCanada ponied up $25,000 to be a gold sponsor while Alaska Railroad Corporation, AltaLink, ATCO Power, Enbridge, Holland America Line, Royal Celebrity Tours and Shell were named bronze sponsors for $10,000 each.

Patron sponsors at $5,000 included: Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, AT&T, British Columbia Transmission Corporation, Canadian Centre for Energy Information, Hewlett-Packard, Puget Sound Energy, Spectra Energy and Vancouver Port Authority.

The Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta, the Association of Washington Business and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers each paid $2,500 to be named supporter sponsors.

Public sector registration for the event was $475 ($425 in advance).

Ongoing PNWER Partnership/Membership opportunities in addition to the Annual Summit and Economic Leadership Forum sponsorships require a commitment of $25,000 and entitle potential members to:

– Leadership role in the program area of their choice

– Invitation to participate in select events during the PNWER Officer Trips to Ottawa and Washington DC

– Invitation to participate in select meetings during annual state/provincial capital visits

– Leadership role in PNWER private sector council

– Logo displayed on program webpage of your choice

Opportunity to use PNWER logo on your marketing materials

– Name listed as a PNWER Partner on website, and

– Receive discounted meeting registrations throughout the year.

PNWER is classified as a 501(C)(6) non-profit organization with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Donations to organizations with this designation are conveniently not required to be disclosed.

In a fascinating draft research paper from 2002 called Forms and Functions of Cross Border Urban Regions, Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, an associate professor with the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, discussed the PNWER working groups stating that “Each group has three co-chairs one from the legislature, one from the public sector and one from the private sector. It is important to note here that it is the private sector representative that is expected to identify issues for and set the direction of the Working Groups. In other words the private sector controls the agenda of the Working Groups. The role and preeminence of the private sector, however, is noticeable.” Today the PNWER is an operating public/private sector partnership designed for the public sector to open door so that the private sector can make the sale.”

Interestingly, the sources Brunet-Jailly cited for this very telling information appear to have been removed from the PNWER website.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall recently made his opinion on PNWER crystal clear.

“Should we be joining groups like PNWER to advance the Asia-Pacific Gateway and trade opportunities for our residents? The answer is yes,” Wall said in the Saskatchewan legislature on Apr. 16, 2008.

It’s interesting to note that at the time a delegation of PNWER officers were in Regina for meetings with the Wall government and on Apr. 15 in the Legislature were introduced as guests by Sask. Party Cutknife-Turtleford MLA Michael Chisholm. In attendance were Matt Morrison, executive director; Lisa Wilkinson, ministerial assistant to the Hon. John van Dongen from British Columbia; Joan McIntyre, MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi; and PNWER president, representative George Eskridge from the state of Idaho.

The government news release for the visit provided little meaningful information other than to say “While in Saskatchewan, the PNWER delegation will meet with a number of cabinet ministers and senior government officials to discuss a variety of topics.”

As it turned out the meetings included more than just cabinet ministers and senior government officials.

In the article Wall won’t join TILMA, but he likes co-operation (Leader-Post, Apr. 17, 2008) Chisholm is quoted as saying “the PNWER delegation met with various Crown officials, representatives from industry, senior government officials and others, as the province considers membership in the organization.”

Just exactly who the industry representatives and ‘others’ were has not been revealed. All that is known for sure is that the public was completely shut out and its government is refusing to release any records relating to its correspondence with the West Coast lobby group.

PNWER officers made similar appearances in the BC Legislative Assembly on May 13 and Alberta Legislative Assembly on May 21.

A lobbying junket earlier this year saw PNWER officers meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and eight cabinet ministers on Jan. 28-29 in Ottawa. Following their Saskatchewan visit PNWER officials were in Washington, D.C. where they met with 18 members of Congress and six administration officials on April 23-25.

The PNWER visit to Saskatchewan could very well be setting the stage for the eventual ceremony announcing the province’s admission a member.

Following the Nov. 2007 Saskatchewan provincial election, Wall mandated the new Minister Responsible for Energy and Resources, Bill Boyd, with ensuring that “Saskatchewan is a member of North American and international energy and economic organizations.”

As the Minister Responsible for Intergovernmental Affairs Boyd is also mandated to implement the Government’s commitment to “Reduce inter-provincial trade barriers to encourage economic growth, while protecting public ownership of Saskatchewan’s Crown Corporations and the ability of municipalities and the Government of Saskatchewan to utilize new growth tax incentives.”

This is despite the fact that the legitimacy of internal trade barriers as a major concern was exposed as false on April 3, 2007, when the Edmonton Journal said there is “little in the way of genuine trade barriers remaining between the two westernmost provinces,” and Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said in a news release that Saskatchewan was “the lowest cost jurisdiction…with fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta.”

PNWER is a supporter of the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA).

At one point, however, Premier Wall attempted to lead people to believe that PNWER had little to do with the trade agreement saying it was simply a regional economic group just “discussing reducing barriers to trade” and that “it doesn’t have anything to do with TILMA.” [Calvert wary of ‘back door’ (Leader-Post, Aug. 4, 2007)]

This appears to be untrue.

At its annual summit in Edmonton on July 18, 2006, PNWER’s trade and economic development work group resolved to “embrace the opportunity to educate and explore the possibility of expanding the B.C.-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) concept throughout the PNWER region.”

On Oct. 18, 2006, PNWER executive director Matt Morrison, an American, told the standing Senate committee on banking, trade and commerce: “We did have something to do with the B.C.-Alberta agreement, which I think is a great model that needs to be expanded.”

Morrison said the committee “should really push that as a model” and “Developing that was a great process…Anything we can do to help put pressure on provinces, at least in our region, will be a help.”

10 Alberta MLAs attended last year’s PNWER summit in Anchorage and later reported that the trade and economic development group “discussed the harmonization of rules allowing workers to move around the PNWER region. This would be beneficial, but needs coordination between the two national governments. TILMA was profiled and held up as an excellent example of what can be done between jurisdictions.”

(Seven Saskatchewan Party MLAs attended the summit as well.)

TILMA was hatched as the Internal Trade Internal Framework Agreement that was signed at the second B.C. – Alberta Joint Cabinet meeting on May 26, 2004, in Prince Rupert, B.C.

There were five agreements signed that day including the Memorandum of Understanding on Oil and Gas “to harmonize regulations for the oil and gas sector, and electricity transmission sector, to reduce industry costs, increase available investment, and advance economic development.”

Another was The Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Harmonization that “will result in similar rules in both provinces governing ozone depleting substances and halocarbons, deep well injection, special waste, waste paint stewardship, and electronic product stewardship.”

In the article Wall would like to lead ‘new west’ (Leader-Post, May 21, 2008) Premier Wall said joint cabinet meetings with the Alberta and Manitoba cabinets are on track for the fall.

Wall said Alberta and British Columbia already have more than 30 memorandums of understanding suggesting that Saskatchewan could take part in these and in areas “such as enhanced oil recovery and sustainable oilsands development.”

“There are opportunities for both western economic co-operation and co-operating on policies,” said Wall.

So is it Wall’s intention that Saskatchewan enter into oil and gas and environmental agreements with B.C. and Alberta that will harmonize regulations?

On the issue of TILMA, Wall said in a June 28, 2007, news release that a Saskatchewan Party government would not sign the agreement “in its present form” because of its potential impact on Saskatchewan’s Crown Corporations and the ability of local jurisdictions to provide tax incentives to attract growth.

Now, however, according to Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk, “Wall has spoken a lot lately about a new era and new approach to interprovincial co-operation on issues such as easing labour mobility” and that “He also stressed that several trade and investment issues need to be discussed.”

But cannot that be perceived as TILMA, only in a different form? “Kinda. Probably,” Wall said. [Wall given chance to seize day (StarPhoenix, May 28, 2008)]

Stay tuned, coming soon to Saskatchewan: TILMA Part II.

Proponents of TILMA received a devastating blow on June 4 when PNWER member, the Yukon government, issued a news release saying it would not join the destructive trade agreement because of “possible difficulties implementing the recommendations of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board and the large costs associated with dispute resolution.”

Despite the setback there seems to be little doubt that PNWER – along with B.C., Alberta and now Saskatchewan – will simply carry on with their private meetings, withhold information from the public and continue to make decisions behind closed doors.