Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Executive Council slams door on request for SK-AB Steering Committee and BC–Alberta–Saskatchewan economic partnership agreement records

The Brad Wall government is committing Saskatchewan to closer ties with Alberta and British Columbia by signing agreements with its Western neighbours but is refusing to release any information related to them other than what’s already been made available in official news releases.

On February 19 and March 17 access to information requests were submitted to Executive Council for the following records:

1) Copies of the agendas and minutes for any meetings of the Saskatchewan-Alberta Steering Committee held since September 9, 2008, and also copies of any briefing notes or memorandums, including attachments, from September 1, 2008, to February 19, 2009, regarding or relating to the Saskatchewan-Alberta Protocol of Cooperation.

2) Copies of any agendas, itineraries, reports, briefing notes, memorandums or letters, including attachments, regarding the trilateral provincial meeting that took on March 13, 2009, in Vancouver; and, also copies of any agreements or memorandums of understanding or cooperation that were signed at the meeting.

On April 21 Executive Council responded saying that access to all records requested was denied. Not one scrap of paper was released. In both cases the ministry cited the same sections of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as the reason for denial:

– S.13 Records from other governments
– S.14 Information injurious to intergovernmental relations or national defence
– S.16 Cabinet documents

Furthermore, Executive Council failed to apply section 8 of the Act pertaining to severability which is mandatory and states: “Where a record contains information to which an applicant is refused access, the head shall give access to as much of the record as can reasonably be severed without disclosing the information to which the applicant is refused access.”

In Lloydminster, on September 9, 2008, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach signed a protocol of co-operation committing their governments to working more closely together.

The news release said the signing of the protocol came at the conclusion the inaugural joint Saskatchewan-Alberta cabinet meeting. The provinces agreed to forge closer ties on energy, the environment, trade, education, health care and transportation.

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

Aside from the text of the protocol the only information released by the provincial government about the joint cabinet meeting was contained in the news release. Nothing further has been reported on the work of the steering committee. The public has no idea when and where the committee meets or with whom.

British Columbia and Alberta signed a similar agreement at the first joint cabinet meeting of those two provinces on October 8, 2003, in Calgary.

Section 3.1 of that protocol states: “An Alberta/British Columbia Steering Committee, chaired by the provinces’ Cabinet Secretaries, will be responsible for ensuring the intent of the Agreement is fulfilled, and for recommending any subsequent agreements to the Premiers.”

On September 4, 2008, the Edmonton Journal said that the BC-Alberta protocol “led directly to the signing of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement between the two provinces.” [Alberta and Saskatchewan’s first-ever cabinet meeting will focus on energy issues (Edmonton Journal, Sept. 4, 2008)]

On September 11, 2008, The StarPhoenix confirmed that the Saskatchewan Party government was pursuing a TILMA-like agreement with Alberta and maybe B.C.

“What we lacked before was clarity; there just wasn’t a clear answer about the impact of TILMA on those things. It’s becoming a little bit more clear and I think you’ll see . . . we have a couple of options: A broader agreement or file-by-file agreements with Alberta to reduce trade barriers and increase labour mobility,” Wall told reporters at a community-based organization funding announcement.

Wall downplayed the possibility of an agreement including B.C., although he did not categorically rule out having TILMA on the table if all Saskatchewan’s concerns are dealt with. [Sask. pursues TILMA-like agreement (StarPhoenix, Sept. 11, 2008)]

The assumption is that the newly formed Saskatchewan-Alberta Steering Committee played a key role in what would transpire six months later.

In Vancouver on March 13, 2009, the inaugural Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan joint cabinet meeting was held. It was believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.

According to The StarPhoenix Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart, Justice Minister Don Morgan and Corrections Minister Darryl Hickie accompanied the premier. [Provincial cabinets meet (StarPhoenix, Mar. 11, 2009)]

In a press release the Western premiers announced that the three provinces will begin discussions to create a new western economic partnership that will establish an open, efficient and stable domestic market encompassing Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, to be concluded by fall 2009.

“A new agreement would address the interests of all provinces, including our interests related to Crown corporations and municipalities,” said Wall. “As I indicated two years ago, we would be interested in pursuing a trade agreement with Alberta and British Columbia if our interests could be addressed.” The operative word here is ‘new.’

Wall was likely referring to his party’s June 28, 2007, announcement that it would not sign TILMA “in its present form.”

At the time, Wall said his party’s own research and the TILMA hearings conducted by the NDP government raised specific concerns about three areas which are not clearly addressed in the current TILMA agreement:

1. The protection of Crown Corporations;
2. The exemption of provincial new growth tax incentives; and,
3. The potential loss of new growth tax incentives at the municipal level.

“Our goal would be to negotiate trade agreements with BC, Alberta and other provinces that reduce trade barriers while protecting these three important areas,” Wall said. “We know that Alberta and BC officials have indicated that having Saskatchewan sign on without any revisiting of the agreement would not make sense for those two provinces either.”

It would appear that the governments found a way around the problem – sign a new agreement.

After the meeting the premiers talked about breaking down trade barriers but as usual failed to say what they were.

Neither the news release nor the premiers’ op-ed that appeared in The Vancouver Sun on March 14 said that an actual agreement was signed at the meeting, but Sun reporter Derrick Penner put that mystery to rest in the article 3 provinces to study joint remand centre for gangsters: “The premiers signed an economic partnership agreement in which they agreed to work cooperatively on a wide range of issues from labour mobility between provinces to infrastructure development, fostering technological innovation and boosting trade in the Asia Pacific region.”

The question is what is in the agreement that the three governments don’t want the public to know? Clearly there must be something otherwise why keep it a secret?

BC and Alberta signed TILMA on April 28, 2006. This was done behind closed doors with no public consultation or legislative debate beforehand. Premier Brad Wall appears to be dragging Saskatchewan down that very same road.


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