Monday, May 25, 2009

Regulatory Modernization Council: Wall gov’t stonewalls FOI requests; doing the CFIB’s bidding for Regulatory Transparency and Accountability Act

Established by the Saskatchewan Party government on September 17, 2008, the Regulatory Modernization Council (RMC) is tasked with recommending regulatory reform and business services priorities and forwarding them to the Enterprise Saskatchewan (ES) Board. It also assists ES in monitoring the progress toward meeting regulatory and service enhancement goals.

“Recommendations, prescribed actions, and progress reports will be provided through the chairperson to the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board and its CEO [Dale Botting] for consideration, review, and public reporting. Policy recommendations endorsed by the Board will be submitted to Cabinet and the legislature for consideration and endorsement,” states a government backgrounder.

The council “is mandated by the Board of Enterprise Saskatchewan and will report back to that Board, at a minimum, every six months, on its activities and recommendations respecting regulatory reform and business service improvement.”

Council members determine meeting times, locations, and agendas, and are expected to meet at least four times annually.

The members of the RMC are:

- Ms. Marilyn Braun-Pollon, Vice President, Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Regina;

- Mr. Kerny Korchinski, President and CEO, Frontier Peterbilt Sales Ltd., Saskatoon;

- Ms. Bev Monea, Partner, G. Monea and Associates, Assiniboia;

- Mr. Richard Rumberger, CEO, Candle Lake Golf Resort, Candle Lake;

- Ms. Shirley Ryan, Executive Director, North Saskatoon Business Association, Saskatoon;

- Mr. Bob Schutzman, Director of Environmental Affairs Canada, Evraz Inc., Regina; and

- Mr. Ben W. Wiebe, Chairman and Partner, Stark & Marsh Chartered Accountants, Swift Current.

The council has been up and running for eight months but the public has heard next to nothing about its deliberations.

On April 7, 2009, during consideration of the budget estimates for Enterprise and Innovation Programs (Vote 43), Enterprise and Innovation (EI) Minister Lyle Stewart told the legislature’s standing committee on the economy that the RMC “had three conference calls and two in-person meetings” up to that point and have “established an inter-ministry committee to coordinate recommendations throughout government.”

Stewart said the council “is providing many recommendations to remove barriers in the province, and we are developing new service-level commitments and standards that ministries and agencies will need to adopt to ensure efficient and effective dealings with business. The new regulatory registry, which we will be rolling out in this fiscal year, will also make the regulatory process of government much more transparent to all stakeholders in the province.”

The provincial government has not disclosed what those “many recommendations” are. On the contrary, ES has been busy stonewalling requests for information on the RMC and its activities.

Three requests have been made thus far under the province’s freedom of information law for various council records. The first was on September 30, 2008, for copies of any records between May 1, 2008 and September 17, 2008 regarding the selection process for the members of the council; and also for copies of the agenda and minutes for any meetings that had taken place thus far. ES received the request on October 2, 2008, and completed it on April 30, 2009, 211 days later.

The second request, dated December 30, 2008, was for copies of the agenda and minutes for any meetings of the council that occurred from October 1, 2008, to December 30, 2008. ES received the request on January 2, 2009. As of May 25, 2009, the application is 144 days old and still pending.

The most recent request was made on March 20, 2009, for copies of the agenda and minutes for any council meetings that took place from January 1, 2009, to March 20, 2009. ES staff received the request on March 24, 2009. As of May 25, 2009, the file is 63 days old and counting.

In each case ES exceeded the statutory limitations as established under section 7 of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Government institutions have a maximum of 60 days to finalize an application. In other words, ES is in gross violation of the law. EI Minister Lyle Stewart was advised of the situation by email on April 28, 2009, but has not replied.

The one request that was completed resulted in the disclosure of 46 pages of information, most of which pertain to the RMC’s September 17, 2008, meeting. The material consists of PowerPoint presentations by ES officials reviewing the agency’s operations and the council’s mandate. A lunchtime presentation by Saskatchewan Environment staff on environmental performance-based regulations is also included.

Council members received a presentation by ES vice president of competitiveness and strategy, Angela Schmidt, called “Regulatory Modernization Key Issues and Operations.” Unfortunately, six of the seven pages released were completely censored and isn’t the only information being withheld.

In the agency’s April 30 cover letter ES information and privacy officer, Verna Mogk, advised that “nine records totalling 75 pages are being denied in their entirety” because they contain advice from officials or disclose a confidence of the Executive Council.

In short, this means there is a lot of information about the RMC that the Saskatchewan Party government does not want the public to see, including any records about the process that was used in selecting council members.

The only useful piece of information that was disclosed is a one-page agenda for a council meeting that never took place. It seems the government originally planned for the RMC to be in operation by June 2008 but for some reason this was delayed by several months.

Tucked away at the bottom of the page under the heading “Near Future Meeting Agenda Items” is the following:

– Regulatory Transparency and Accountability Act
– Regulatory Registry
– Regulatory and Legislative Processes (Ian Brown)
– Regulatory Reviews/Impact Assessments
– Federal Provincial Regulatory Coordination

The reference to a Regulatory Transparency and Accountability Act is important because it’s a solid link back to an April 7, 2008, letter from CFIB vice president, and future RMC member, Marilyn Braun-Pollon to Premier Brad Wall requesting that such an Act be established.

Saskatchewan could be the first province to pass legislation that would make it a world leader in regulatory accountability and ensure the initiatives by Enterprise Saskatchewan last well into the future,” Braun-Pollon said.

“While reducing red tape has always been important for small business, existing and looming labour shortages guarantee the ongoing importance of saving time for both those in the public and private sectors. Passing a Regulatory Transparency and Accountability Act along the lines we are suggesting would prove to be a very effective tool to help address this challenge.

“We hope Saskatchewan will adopt CFIB’s plan to institute regulatory transparency and accountability and make some much needed reductions in red tape in order for its citizens to unleash their entrepreneurship and look forward to limitless opportunities for years to come.”

Wall responded on May 8, 2008, stating: “Your correspondence is timely as our Government has recently committed to minimizing excessive business red tape by modernizing and stream-lining our province’s regulatory system. Enterprise Saskatchewan will be the lead agency for this initiative, and they will certainly be seeking your organization’s input in both the initiative’s detailed planning and delivery activities.”

According to records obtained from EI last year, Braun-Pollon met with Wall, EI Minister Lyle Stewart and ES CEO Dale Botting on February 11, 2008, at the Legislature Building. The meeting is referenced in her subsequent letter to the premier.

A few months later Braun-Pollon was been named to the RMC.

This isn’t the only evidence of the Wall government doing the CFIB’s bidding. On February 12, 2009, the government announced that it had developed and adopted a code of standards to strengthen its working relationship and communication practices with the taxpayers and businesses of Saskatchewan.

The Taxpayer Service Commitments and Standards Code provides a window on the service levels Finance pledges to the public, including tax information, collection and enforcement, and audit services, a government news release said.

The new Code was drafted following encouragement from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), whose members have been calling for more formal standards of performance. Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice-president of Saskatchewan and Agri-business of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, calls the move a good first step toward improving the regulatory climate for business owners in Saskatchewan.

“It is encouraging to see one of the first recommendations of the Regulatory Modernization Council is being adopted by the Ministry of Finance,” Braun-Pollon said. “We look forward to seeing the results and working with the ministry to further improve its relationship with small business.”

The CFIB and Saskatchewan Party have had a close working relationship for many years. In March 2004, shortly after becoming party leader, Brad Wall wrote to Braun-Pollon assuring her that it was business as usual.

“My party has had a very good relationship with your organization through the years and that will absolutely not change under my leadership. The position the CFIB puts forward, for the most, reflect our own.”

The RMC is starting to prove that in spades.

RMC Key Issues and Options presentation (p. 1)

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