Friday, August 28, 2009

Bill 80: Wall government doing Saskatchewan Chamber’s and Christian Labour Association of Canada’s bidding with ‘unnecessary’ law

The Saskatchewan Party government’s latest attack on labour began in the legislature on March 10, 2009, when Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) Minister Ron Norris introduced Bill 80 – The Construction Industry Labour Relations Amendment Act, 2009 (CILRA).

A government news release said under the current version of the CILRA, companies are required to belong to a representative employers’ organization (REO), which bargains on their behalf. The legislation designates unions to represent workers in particular trades. The legislation prohibits a single employer or union from negotiating a separate collective agreement, with all bargaining taking place between REOs and unions designated by the government.

The proposed changes will allow a trade union to organize a company on a multi-trade, or “all employee” basis, as well as on a craft, or single trade basis. It will enable any trade union to certify an employer and allow employers to choose the REO that will represent them. It will also permit an employer operating outside an REO to negotiate a collective agreement for the duration of a specific project.

The amendments were introduced without any prior public debate or stakeholder consultation continuing the government’s tradition of announcing changes first then seeking feedback later. The tactic was used to introduce essential services legislation, make amendments to The Trade Union Act, and to lower the minimum age of employment.

The following day in The StarPhoenix, Norris said the new labour bill should give workers and employers more choices around unionization and boost building activity.

“We know that there are companies based in other provinces who are discouraged from operating in Saskatchewan because they find the current labour legislative environment too restrictive,” said Norris, before tabling amendments. [Labour bill should boost construction work: Norris (StarPhoenix, March 11, 2009)]

Industry associations and business lobby groups applauded the move while labour groups – with the exception of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) – did not.

One very vocal critic of the legislation is Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk.

In his June 16, 2009, column Mandryk said the proposed legislation was “a bit of a puzzler” before proceeding to use the Saskatchewan Party government’s own facts against them.

“By virtue of the government’s own news releases, which laud a record $2 billion in building permits and 37,000 construction jobs in 2008, there doesn’t appear to be a problem that needs fixing from an economic or employer standpoint. Also, with 8,130 apprentices working in 50 trades last year, the construction industry appears to be having a strong future,” he said.

“And the fact that we’ve had no provincewide strike or lockout on the construction labour front for 17 years under the current law, which sees provincial collective agreements bargained between employers and workers, suggests things are working rather well.”

Mandryk said Bill 80 is being “driven by pure ideology” and is “far more intrusive than it appears on the surface.”

“It’s being sold publicly as a relatively innocuous piece of legislation that makes it easier for out-of-province companies to work in Saskatchewan while giving employees more choice. The changes have the support of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Union of Canada and the Christian Labour Association of Canada, which both want to make inroads in the province.

“However, labour resents the Christian Labour Association as a “company” union that negotiates sub-par agreements. As for the government's “greater choice” argument, current laws allow construction and trades workers the choice of working either for non-unionized employers or at unionized shops, often being hired out of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council's union hall.

“One of the quirks of the new law, now under review at legislative hearings, is that an employer can “voluntarily recognize” a particular union if the shop isn't already certified. Essentially, an employer can pick the union it wishes to deal with.

“But perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the new law is what’s described as the “abandonment” of unions that are deemed to be inactive in a workplace. Again, on the surface it would seem to make sense. However, one of the reasons unions are inactive is because the companies that employ their members also are inactive.

“This raises the spectre among unionists that the new law will permit companies to reactivate old subsidiaries -- perhaps even those old “doubled-breasted” spin-off companies created in the 1980s to avoid certification -- as non-union shops or with more friendly unions. Unions also wonder if the legislation has been carefully crafted to allow companies to get around hiring through the union halls.

“At worst, the new labour law will be far more nefarious than the government claims. At best, it still seems really unnecessary.” [New labour bill suspicious (StarPhoenix, June 16, 2009)]

Three days later, on June 19, 2009, Mandryk picked up where he left off earlier saying, “The closest thing we’ve heard to honest talk from the government this week came from Labour Minister Rob Norris, who let it slip that his government “predominately listened to business” in preparing the bill. The truth is that the legislation is being driven primarily by construction businesses that prefer “wall to wall” unionization, where everyone on a job site belongs to one union. The Saskatchewan Party government would prefer to see this happen for both practical and philosophical reasons.

“As for all the rhetoric about “freedom of choice” for unionized workers and allowing in “wall to wall” unions such as the controversial Christian Labour Association of Canada and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers to “build capacity,” these groups generally are in the business of raiding each other’s members rather than “building capacity.” ” [Truth absent at hearing on bill (StarPhoenix, June 19, 2009)]

Still on the offensive, Mandryk said in his July 17, 2009, column: “There have been no labour disruptions in the Saskatchewan construction industry in the past two decades, or problems with out-of-province contractors competing. Instead, what we’ve seen is the Construction Association and others resort to expressing phoney concerns about tradespeople lacking a choice of union representation and about a lack of opportunity for tradespeople in Saskatchewan.

“Yet, the association seems to have no problem with contractors from outside Saskatchewan bringing in tradespeople from elsewhere to work on jobs in this province. My, what heartfelt concern for the Saskatchewan working man!

“Let’s be truthful: Bill 80 is the result of backroom lobbying of government by business -- the payback for years of an NDP government that did equally hideous things for labour, such as the Crown Construction Tendering Agreement that dictated firms pay union wages.” [Best when laws made in open (StarPhoenix, July 17, 2009)]

Two groups in favour of Bill 80 are the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce and the aforementioned Christian Labour Association of Canada.

In response to a freedom of information request made on June 30, 2009, AEEL disclosed a handful of correspondence between the provincial government and the two organizations that appear to show Mandryk was right.

In late February the co-chairs of the Saskatchewan Chamber’s human resources committee, Alan Thomarat and Mike Wainwright, sent two letters to AEEL Minister Rob Norris complaining about various aspects of the CILRA.

In the first letter, dated February 24, 2009, the duo told Norris that the legislation “requires an “alternate union provision”, to reduce inflexibility in the workplace. Non existence of the alternate union provision means that if there is a slowdown in one particular area then workers must be laid off, rather than being assigned other work in the interim.”

“This issue,” they said “speaks to a need for Saskatchewan to operate competitively with other jurisdictions especially in neighbouring provinces where “wall to wall” representation is now allowed for large projects to ensure a stable environment.”

The co-chairs did not provide any examples or offer any information detailing how widespread the problem might be to justify the need to amend the legislation.

The second letter to Norris, dated February 26, 2009, was to register the Chamber’s concerns with the findings in the Labour Relations Board decision on September 23, 2008, regarding the issue of abandonment involving the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 529, and Saunders Electric Ltd. (LRB 019-05). The Chamber felt the board’s findings in favour of the union were “contrary to normal jurisprudence and would set an untenable precedent in the construction industry.”

Thomarat and Wainwright continued: “While you are by now quite familiar with case in question, it is our position that this decision is inconsistent with over 50 years of precedent as evidenced in previous determinations in similar cases in the construction industry. There are specific examples in the jurisdictions of Alberta and Ontario where the principle of abandonment, in instances such as this case, has been recognized and these would serve as a foundation that should apply in Saskatchewan and that should be entrenched in new legislation at the earliest opportunity.”

At the legislature’s human services committee hearings for Bill 80 on June 17, 2009, Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) president Michael Fougere referred to the Saunders case “as a prime example” of why the abandonment provisions in the legislation were needed. Interestingly, the Saunders case was the only example the SCA and the Saskatchewan Chamber had to offer.

The abandonment provisions of Bill 80 seem to be in direct response to that one case.

Fougere told the committee the bill will ensure “that we don’t have the issue with respect to Saunders Electric as an example where the uncertainty rests with both employees and employers.”

Fougere later acknowledged that the Saunders case was “extreme.”

Terry Parker, the business manager of the Saskatchewan Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council, noted at the hearing that “for at least 20 years the Labour Relations Board in Saskatchewan has ruled on matters of abandonment without requiring any specific legislative provisions to do so. And the courts in Saskatchewan have, through their past rulings, supported as reasonable the LRB’s [Labour Relations Board] authority to consider and make decisions on abandonment. This begs the question, if the LRB has the authority to rule on abandonment and has in fact done so with the support of the courts, what is the purpose of the abandonment provisions in Bill 80?”

The Saskatchewan Chamber obviously got what it wanted because at its annual general meeting held in Swift Current May 6-8, 2009, a resolution was passed congratulating the provincial government for introducing the legislation.

“Bill 80 addresses two of the Chamber’s Selected Issues – the issue of abandonment and the issue of alternate union option for wall to wall representation in large projects. The amendments, when passed will enhance competitiveness while at the same time allow employees more options for selecting the union that represents them in construction projects,” the resolution states.

The Chamber recommended the government “immediately commence the consultation process, in order that it may proceed with the timely passage of this legislation and enact Bill 80 to clarify the issue of abandonment and to enable the alternate union option in construction.” In other words, don’t change it.

It should be noted that both the Chamber and Thomarat, the CEO of the Saskatoon & Region Home Builders’ Association, appear to be supporters of the Saskatchewan Party. According to the party’s financial statements filed with Elections Saskatchewan Thomarat donated $809.47 in 2008 and the Chamber $728.80.

The Saskatchewan Chamber and the current government appear to be pretty close. Close enough in fact that Premier Brad Wall managed to find time during the lobby group’s annual Political Forum held November 12, 2008, in Regina to pose for a picture with the Chamber’s expert committee representatives (which included Thomarat and Wainwright) for the cover of the December 2008 edition of the Chamber’s action! news magazine.

Less dramatic are a string of emails concerning Bill 80 between CLAC Prairies director Paul de Jong and AEEL associate deputy minister Mike Carr.

On Thursday, March 5, 2009, Carr received an email from de Jong inquiring about the bill: “Mike, I just heard a rumour that next week Tuesday, March 10, the new labour legislation is going to be tabled. Is there any substance to this? If there is any concrete action planned, could you let me know, as we would like to be present if at all appropriate and possible….I normally don’t like acting on rumours, but in the context of you suggesting that there might be a positive announcement in short order, I thought I’d just check in with you.”

Carr replied on Saturday, March 7, 2009, telling de Jong, “Tuesday is introduction day. Paul I believe your organization has be [sic] invited to the stakeholder briefing on Tuesday at 11:30 am at the Travelodge on Albert Street South. Hope to see you there!”

A short while later de Jong wrote back saying, “Mike, Thanks for getting back to me – this is very welcome news. I have in fact received an invitation from Robyn Lekien, and plan to be there on Tuesday. Looking forward to that.”

At the briefing Carr reportedly stated a couple of times that the changes would allow unions such as the Steelworkers (USW) and CEP (in addition to CLAC) to apply for wall-to-wall certifications. SFL president Larry Hubich asked Carr a pointed question:

“Mr. Carr, you have said a couple of times in your presentation that the changes will allow CLAC, CEP and USW to apply for wall-to-wall certifications. Have you, your office, or the Minister ever been requested by either CEP or USW to make these changes?”

Carr responded, “No we have not.”

Hubich replied, “A supplementary question then Mr. Carr - has CLAC ever requested these changes?”

“Yes,” Carr said.

Carr was appointed associate deputy minister in March 2008 by the Wall government without competition. Carr has contributed to the Saskatchewan Party and is the former co-chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber’s human resources committee.

The email exchange between Carr and de Jong is interesting because neither mentions Bill 80 by name. It’s simply referred to as the “new legislation.” This would seem to suggest that some previous discussion about the CILRA had taken place.

Furthermore, in his March 7 email to Carr, de Jong said the introduction of the new legislation was “very welcome news.” Why would he say that unless he already had some inkling of what the legislation might contain?

The emails’ subject line is “Re: CLAC’s interest in Saskatchewan”. AEEL did not disclose the original email. According to the ministry this was non-responsive to the request. This further establishes that CLAC and AEEL were in contact prior to the bill’s introduction.

CLAC, according to one of its publications, “is an independent labour union that seeks to be guided by the Christian principles of social justice and love as taught in the Bible. It therefore views man as an image bearer of God called to responsibility and freedom in all areas of life, including his daily work. The CLAC rejects the adversary approach to collective bargaining and works toward the establishment of a form of partnership between labour and management within a just and pluralistic collective bargaining framework. It believes that the state’s primary role is to administer public justice, which includes the concept of a limited state and respect for the freedom of private institutions and a host of intermediate structures.”

In the past CLAC has been opposed to the concept of ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ and seems to have been critical of interest groups trying to establish universal childcare. [Affirmative Action: The Perils of Social Engineering; CLAC, 1985]

In his book, The Freedom to Work, Harry Antonides, formerly director of research and education for CLAC and editor of The Guide, said members and supporters of the group “constantly face the challenge to defend the right of existence of a Christian labour union.”

Antonides said this “should not discourage Christians to live in the midst of the world as followers of Jesus Christ in obedience to His Word. We are convinced that the Bible demands a Christian approach to all human action, calling for Christian organization.”

Antonides notes that Christians “agree that improved working conditions and just wages are important… However, they must always be seen in the framework of the Biblical view of man. The unions’ secular view of man’s needs in reality narrows and confines his real perspective. Man’s first need is to be reconciled to God through Christ’s redeeming grace and power. Without this redemption, life remains limited to this world and cannot really flourish.”

“The Bible is clear,” he said. “Man was created to work. When God created man, he entrusted him with the task of developing creation and ruling over it.” He goes on to say, “The right to work comes from God.” He also believes, “The Government derives its authority from God.”

That’s fine, but what if you don’t happen to be Christian or believe in God?

CLAC appears to be undemocratic and have little room in its power structure for non-Christians.

Research conducted by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) notes that “CLAC’s Constitution spells out the “Christian social principles” that guide CLAC as those basic concepts of just and charitable relations found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.”

According to the CLC, “CLAC’s constitution restricts who is able to run for local or national office on the basis of subjective criteria. For example, a member is ineligible to run if he/she “is not qualified to give leadership that is in harmony with the Constitution. In other words, a member must be willing to adhere to CLAC’s version of Christianity and “Christian principles”.”

The CLAC Staff Council, the CLC points out, is “an important leadership structure” within the organization and “elects its own executive without any say from the rank-and-file membership.”

“Real trade unions,” the CLC say “pride themselves on the fact that union democracy is not a hollow concept, but is rather a living reality that members experience and practice at the work-site, union office and the convention floor.” [The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC): An Overview of an Employer-Accommodating Pseudo Union; Canadian Labour Congress, February 2008]

Chamber Expert Committee Representatives (left to right): Top -- Mike Dillon, Bob Schutzman, Alan Thomarat, Mike Wainwright, Richard Ahenakew Bottom -- Colleen Vancha, Holly Hetherington and Gary Syrota with Premier Brad Wall (2nd left)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mendel Art Gallery: City of Saskatoon incorporates Art Gallery of Saskatchewan without public debate or input

Saskatoon city council appears to be moving full speed ahead with plans to establish a new art gallery at River Landing regardless of what the public might think.

On July 9, 2009, The Art Gallery of Saskatchewan Inc. was incorporated as a non-profit charitable corporation. According to records filed with the corporations branch of Saskatchewan Justice the mayor and all ten ward councillors are directors of the new entity.

The purpose of the corporation is to “operate a publicly owned and funded civic art gallery.” The registered office and mailing address is listed as city hall.

The new corporation was published in the August 7, 2009, edition of The Saskatchewan Gazette.

As a charitable corporation the assumption is the new art gallery can now begin soliciting for donations or gifts of money from the public. It can also receive grants from a government or government agency.

It was on April 3, 2009, when Mayor Don Atchison and Mendel Art Gallery board chair Art Knight announced that construction of a new $55-million art gallery at River Landing, to be known as the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan (AGS), is being proposed for federal infrastructure funding under the project category of sport and culture. The long-planned $24-million renovation and expansion of the current facility would be abandoned. The proposal, developed in secrecy, only became public at the last minute. The Mendel family, gallery members, donors and the public were not consulted.

The decision to pursue and incorporate a new gallery has never been debated at a public meeting of city council or any of its standing committees. All decisions and discussions thus far have occurred behind closed doors, some of which involved the provincial and federal governments.

The new gallery will not only mean having the Mendel name ripped from the marquee it could also mean the end to gallery’s legal name – The Saskatoon Gallery and Conservatory Corporation. How can the city keep both?

In a news release on April 3, Atchison said there “aren’t enough dollars from either governments or private donors to fund many different riverbank projects.”

It was at a public meeting of city council of January 3, 1967, that the Mendel’s articles and memorandum of association were approved. In fact, the majority of the process leading up to that point appears to have been conducted in an open and transparent manner. In stark contrast is the obsessive secretiveness that is being displayed by Saskatoon’s current city council. The public has been excluded from any meaningful participation whatsoever. And this is supposed to be a civically owned and publicly funded art gallery. What an absolute disgrace.

Recent Mendel posts:

August 21, 2009
July 19, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

‘I assure you for all time, this centre will be good’: Fred Mendel; Federal gov’t stalling, breaking law on FOI requests; Province withholding records

The StarPhoenix, October 17, 1964

The StarPhoenix, June 18, 1965

In 1960, Saskatoon businessman and art collector Fred Mendel approached Mayor Sidney L. Buckwold to initiate discussions for the creation of a new civic art gallery which would provide a permanent home for the Saskatoon Art Centre. Subsequently, Mendel donated $175,000 to build such a gallery, and the amount was matched by the provincial government and augmented by assistance from the municipal government. [The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan]

In a letter to the mayor on August 14, 1961, Mr. Mendel asked the city to “set aside for the building a plot of land on the river side of Spadina Crescent north of the Twenty-fifth Street Bridge, at the intersection with Queen Street.”

“It is my firm belief that the citizens of Saskatoon in the years to come will prize an Art Centre such as I visualize,” he said.

At the official opening of the Mendel Art Gallery on October 16, 1964, Mr. Mendel told an audience of civic and provincial dignitaries, artists, and many private citizens that, “I could not visualize it would be so beautiful. I am in love, not for the first time,” he laughed, “but I am in love with this beautiful building and the perfect site on which it has been set on the bank of the river. This beautiful creation of a gallery and conservatory combined in one unique building will be one of the beautiful spots of the world. It cannot be created again. There is only one.”

Mr. Mendel, according to The StarPhoenix, recalled his father’s advice, “watch your name. If your name is good, then everything is good. I assure you for all time, this centre will be good.” [Gallery-Conservatory idea “stroke of genius” (StarPhoenix, Oct. 17, 1964)]

This does not sound like someone who would appreciate, let alone support, having their name and legacy trampled upon like it is today.

On April 3, 2009, Mayor Don Atchison and Mendel board chair Art Knight announced that construction of a new art gallery at River Landing, to be known as the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan (AGS), is being proposed for federal infrastructure funding under the project category of sport and culture. The long-planned renovation and expansion of the current facility would be abandoned. The proposal, developed in secrecy, only became public at the last minute. The Mendel family, gallery members, donors and the public were not consulted.

Adding insult to injury was the Mendel name being callously omitted from the official news release and glossy brochure that were distributed at the press conference, and also absent from board chair Art Knight’s op-ed published in The StarPhoenix on April 4.

At a presentation on June 17, 1965, the Mendel family offered 13 paintings to the gallery to form the nucleus of a permanent collection.

“When this child was born,” said Mr. Mendel, referring to the Mendel Art Gallery, “it needed help to walk. It is not enough to bring something into this world without giving it the necessary frame.”

The gallery, he continued, needed a permanent collection, paintings to hang that would attract people and give joy and happiness to all, including his family who had lived with most of the paintings for a long time and who were happy to see them hanging in such worthy surroundings.

John Climer, the gallery’s first curator-director from 1963 to 1979, thanked the Mendel family for their generosity.

“Curator-directors and boards of directors come and go,” he said. “The society and the institution live on. And so it is in the name of the Art Centre that I gratefully accept this gift from the Mendel family, to hold in trust, with pride and confidence in your selection for the enrichment of Saskatoon, the pride of the province and of the nation, and for the enjoyment of all who may visit this gallery for years to come.” [Mendel presents 13 outstanding paintings to art centre; curator lauds generous gift (StarPhoenix, June 18, 1965)]

The city and board of trustees are proposing to remove the paintings from the gallery and rip the Mendel name from the building. If this should come to pass the honourable thing to do would be for the city to return the paintings to the Mendel family along with a letter of apology.

Mr. Mendel died May 26, 1976, in Palm Springs, California, at age 87. He is buried next to his wife, Claire, at Desert Memorial Park in nearby Cathedral City.

It’s doubtful that anyone working at The StarPhoenix today ever met Mr. Mendel. That hasn’t stopped some columnists and editors, though, from suggesting that Mr. Mendel would not likely object to what the city and gallery trustees are proposing to do.

The Mendel’s had two daughters, Johanna Mitchell (1917-1999) and Eva Mendel Miller (1919- ), who, after their parents passed away, fought to keep their father’s legacy alive and intact. Who better to speak for the family? Their words certainly carry far more credibility than newspaper columnists who never met the man.

In October 2005, when the city floated the idea of moving the gallery to River Landing, Eva sent a letter to then Mendel director and CEO, Terry Graff, threatening to withdraw her support if the city followed through with the plan.

“This proposal is a betrayal of the city’s commitment to my father, Fred Mendel, when Saskatoon donated the land for the current Mendel Art Gallery in the spirit of public-minded generosity that prompted my father to donate part of his own art collection as the foundation for the public art collection it has become,” Mendel Miller said. “In this sense, the current proposal is a betrayal of the people of Saskatoon as well, who have, since the founding of the Mendel Art Gallery, enjoyed the benefit of a magnificent, growing collection housed in a beautiful, architecturally significant building.

“Unfortunately, should the art collection be moved from its current location, I regret that I will be forced to revoke any promise I have made to support further expansion of the Mendel Art Gallery and discontinue any future support of the Mendel Art Gallery.”

Graff told The StarPhoenix he’d received “a number of e-mails and countless calls, all of which disapprove of the idea.”

“We have a moral duty not to violate that moral obligation to the spirit, vision and wishes of Fred Mendel,” he said. [Mendels threaten to pull cash gift: Plan to move art gallery doesn’t sit well with donors (StarPhoenix, October 12, 2005)]

Chip Mitchell, son of the late Johanna Mitchell, said he didn’t think his family would have sanctioned the move.

“I have to put on my family hat when I think about the Mendel,” Mitchell said. “My sense is my grandfather and my mother would be very disappointed and very upset if the gallery was to move.”

Two decades ago, the city also toyed with the idea of moving the gallery, and Mitchell’s mother, Johanna, spoke out against the move then.

“She went in and said, ‘If you want to do this, don’t expect a lot of support from the family anymore,’ ” Mitchell said.

Fred Mendel loved the gallery’s current riverbank location and parkland-surrounded site, Mitchell said. While Saskatoon is no Paris, moving the Mendel would be akin to moving the contents of the Louvre to another building, he said.

“It’s 40 years now that (building has) been associated with the Mendel, and my feeling is, if something isn’t broken, then don’t (fix it),” he said. [Council cautious about Mendel move (StarPhoenix, October 11, 2005)]

Unfortunately, Atchison and Knight seem determined to fix something that’s not broken.

In fact, on January 8, 2009, Atchison and Knight sent a letter to then Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport Minister Christine Tell saying they were “confident” that the expansion and renovation of the gallery is a “worthy and important project” that “will be successful.” Less than three months later they were suddenly telling the public that the city and gallery had somehow, almost overnight, outgrown those plans.

(It should be noted that the Mendel is still being promoted as “a Saskatchewan treasure” and “Saskatoon’s premier destination for contemporary and historical art” in brochures being distributed around the city this summer.)

On August 14, 2009, the StarPhoenix reported that city officials have presented their business case to the federal government to retain funding for the new gallery, but they haven’t heard any feedback yet on the plan. [River Landing budget balloons by $6.3 million (StarPhoenix, August 14, 2009)]

To date no federal official has spoken publicly about the project and at least two federal departments are dragging their heels in responding to freedom of information requests.

On April 15, 2009, an access to information request was submitted to Infrastructure Canada (IC) for any records regarding the Mendel or the proposed new gallery. The department received the request on April 23, 2009.

On May 15, 2009, IC advised that a 30-day extension was being applied to the request in order to conduct external consultations. Under federal law IC had until June 23, 2009, to complete the request. As of August 21, 2009, that requirement has not been met. IC has broken the law but department officials don’t seem to care. Four IC officials, including Minister John Baird and assistant deputy minister John Forster, have been made aware of the situation but neither has bothered to respond.

A similar request was made to Canadian Heritage (PCH) on June 24, 2009, which the department received on June 29, 2009. On July 22, 2009, PCH staff advised that an outrageous 60-day extension was being applied to the request so consultations could be done. The department has until about September 27, 2009, to complete the request.

At the provincial level, a freedom of information request was submitted to Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport (TPCS) on July 7, 2009, for copies of various Mendel-related records.

On August 10, 2009, TPCS deputy minister Wynne Young advised that 2 responsive records, totaling 4.5 pages were located but access to them was being denied.

“The reason for the refusal of these records,” Young said “is that they could reasonably be expected to disclose plans and procedures developed for contractual or other negotiations or considerations that relate to those negotiations. The records also could not be released as they could reasonably be expected to disclose advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed for a member of the Executive Council. Financial information supplied by a third party as well as information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to result in financial loss or gain, or interfere with the contractual or other negotiations of a third party are also reasons for refusal of these records.”

The outright denial appears to violate section 8 of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act which is mandatory stating: “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.”

On October 2, 2007, the Mendel Art Gallery entered into an agreement with the provincial government to receive a grant of $4,092,877 under the now defunct Building Communities Program “for work associated with capital development and construction of the expansion and renovation of the Mendel Art Gallery.”

The city and Mendel management would now like to see that money put toward the construction of a new gallery at River Landing. It is quite possible that some of the records being denied by TPCS are related to the two parties negotiating an amendment to the original agreement.

Earlier this year the City of Saskatoon and Mendel Art Gallery both refused to disclose any information through the freedom of information process.

It would appear that a conspiracy of silence is taking hold.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saskatchewan Health censors collective bargaining briefing notes; SAHO refusal to table monetary package to CUPE, SEIU and SGEU hypocritical

“We are committed to ensuring that Saskatchewan residents receive quality health care services. I encourage the parties to proceed with the collective bargaining process to develop an agreement that will support the needs of our health care employees.”

That was one of the ‘key messages’ Saskatchewan Health officials outlined in a briefing note prepared May 22, 2009, presumably for Health Minister Don McMorris, as an update on collective bargaining and essential services bargaining between health sector unions and the health regions.

The briefing note was one of three that were recently obtained from the health ministry through a freedom of information request that was made June 17, 2009. One additional record, a three-page document dated June 11, 2009, was withheld in its entirety. The ministry denied access to this record and heavily censored two of the briefing notes because they contain “Cabinet information, advice from officials, and/or the release of the information would release economic and other interests.”

It wasn’t until June 15, 2009, that McMorris finally issued a statement urging the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) and unions representing approximately 25,000 health care workers to “quickly conclude” negotiations on collective agreements.

“I’m concerned about the lack of progress at the bargaining table,” McMorris said. “It appears contract talks have bogged down. I’m challenging SAHO and the unions to redouble their efforts to ensure settlements are reached.”

McMorris said the government values the work done by all health care employees in Saskatchewan.

Two months have passed and McMorris’s challenge has had little to no effect.

Collective agreements for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU) expired March 31, 2008.

At the request of the unions, negotiations for a new collective agreement began in September 2008 for CUPE and in October 2008 for SEIU and SGEU.

The Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan (HSAS) collective agreement expired March 31, 2009, and bargaining began shortly thereafter.

SAHO negotiates collective agreements on behalf of regional health authorities and other health care employers in Saskatchewan.

On June 9, 2009, CUPE released the results of a strike vote held between May 26 and June 8. Health-care providers voted 88 per cent in support of taking job action — one of the strongest strike votes in the council’s history, according to the union.

“It sends a strong message to the employer to drop the demands for major concessions and get serious about contract negotiations,”' said Gordon Campbell, president of the CUPE Health Care Council. [CUPE health-care providers vote 88 per cent in support of strike (Leader-Post, June 9, 2009)]

On July 28, 2009, the unions representing health provider workers in the province issued a joint news release expressing their extreme disappointment with the lack of progress at their respective bargaining tables since the health minister’s “public challenge to the unions, the health care employers and SAHO to get down to business and settle these negotiations.”

CUPE Health Care Council president Gordon Campbell said, “After a significant move by CUPE in response to this challenge, we see the employers and SAHO remain steadfast in their takeaway proposals and their continued refusal to table an initial monetary offer”.

Barbara Cape, president of SEIUWEST, stated “SAHO and the employers continue to insist we bargain in a vacuum without knowing the full extent of the employer’s proposals. It makes it impossible for us to make informed decisions.”

Bob Bymoen, president of SGEU said the lack of progress at their bargaining table is a direct result of the tactics being employed by SAHO and the employers. “Collective bargaining is not a process where one side withholds information of proposals and then expects the other side to make all of the movement,” he said.

The unions believe the health minister “should follow-up his challenge but with specific directions to SAHO and the health care employers to begin bargaining in good faith.”

In the article Health-care unions call for SAHO monetary offer (StarPhoenix, July 29, 2009) SAHO CEO Susan Antosh said the outstanding non-monetary issues have to be resolved before wages can be discussed at a common table with the three unions.

“I think by any objective measure the employer has moved more than the unions have to this point. With both CUPE and SEIUWest, we have either withdrawn or amended more than three-quarters of our proposals. The unions in both of those cases have withdrawn or amended less than half their proposals,” Antosh said.

What Antosh failed to mention is that there appear to be a significant number of issues that SAHO is unwilling to discuss.

In a bargaining update on July 24, 2009, the CUPE Health Care Council noted that: “Out of the remaining 45 proposals the Union has on the table at this point, 17 of them (more than a third!) the employer will not even discuss at the CUPE table. The employer told the press that we were not moving on our issues, and we still had a huge number of issues on the table – yet, their unwillingness to even discuss (or outright rejection of) your proposals is the true problem. It flies in the face of their claims.”

As for the monetary package, CUPE said they’re “still left wondering who is calling the shots. The Union, in spite of repeated efforts to gain the information we require to move forward with meaningful negotiations, we are continually lead down a mysterious path by SAHO. We have yet to receive a direct answer as to what party ultimately bears the control to release this information.”

In a news release immediately following the health minister’s challenge, SAHO CEO Susan Antosh claimed that, “As early as December of 2008, SAHO indicated to CUPE that the employers were prepared to move to the common table and deal with the financial proposals as well as everything else as a package if it was desired by all three of the unions.”

As far back as last fall the unions have been asking for a monetary package and have wondered who was in charge – the employer or the Saskatchewan Party government. They’re efforts have been stymied at nearly every turn. Newsflash to the health minister: negotiations bogged down long before June 15.

On November 21, 2008, CUPE said in a bargaining update that its bargaining committee “asked for the employer’s mandate for monetary issues.”

“Without knowledge of the monetary portion and the wage mandate of the employer’s bargaining proposals, the Union bargains in a vacuum, and the process cannot be considered fair. In an attempt to discover the mandate, we specifically asked the employer “who are your principals?” The answer was, “The Premier and Cabinet,”” the news release said.

CUPE said the bargaining committee was told on November 18, 2008, that it “could not have this information, indeed that they “didn’t have it” to give. They would need to “get back to us” after consulting Cabinet and the Premier.”

Then, on January 23, 2009, CUPE announced that, “During the holidays and through discussions between CUPE and the employer, we were expressly advised that the employer committee does not have the information or authority regarding the monetary package to share with CUPE at this time.”

This begs the question, if SAHO didn’t have the monetary information in November 2008 or January 2009, how was it able to make an offer in December 2008 to table it?

Then there is the matter of SAHO’s hypocrisy during negotiations with the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) last year.

The two sides met for the first time on February 12, 2008. On April 2, 2008, “full proposals” were exchanged including a monetary package.

On June 23, 2008, it was announced that nurses had voted 78 per cent in favour of accepting a final offer from the province’s health employers. The new four-year contract, according to The StarPhoenix, would provide general duty nurses with wage increases of nearly 35 per cent over four years. The collective agreement was signed July 9, 2008. The total time of the bargaining process from start to finish was 149 days, or just under five months.

Compare that to the eleven months that bargaining has dragged on with the other unions with no apparent end in sight.

On March 20, 2008, during tense negotiations with SUN, SAHO CEO Susan Antosh said, “The difficulty remains we need to see SUN’s full proposal package in order to proceed with bargaining.

“What SUN initially presented to us was a document that basically said we would agree to exchange proposal packages and that we would talk and come to conclusion on all recruitment and retention initiatives and then we would talk about all of the other issues.

“But we can only deal with things in collective bargaining as part of an entire package. We have one mandate. We have to deal with it as an entire package.” [SUN asks for conciliator for negotiations with SAHO (Leader-Post, March 20, 2008)]

On April 2, 2008, after both sides exchanged full proposals, Antosh said the exchange of packages was a “positive result.” [Nurses receive new wage offer (StarPhoenix, April 3, 2008)]

And yet when CUPE, SEIU and SGEU make a similar argument SAHO repeatedly slams the door in their face.

Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk revealed a disturbing tidbit of information in his March 18, 2009, column when he wrote: “McMorris unquestionably was involved directly in negotiations with the nurses last year -- either through publicly signing the retention agreement, or by privately and indirectly intervening in the talks between the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations and SUN, according to sources.” [Health may prove Achilles heel (StarPhoenix, March 18, 2009)]

Meanwhile, CUPE said in June it has been trying to meet with the health minister since he was elected, but “have been rebuffed by him at every turn.” [CUPE Health Care Council Bargaining Update #12 – June 17, 2009]

Overlooked throughout all this is the fact that the Wall government tainted the bargaining process early on when McMorris told reporters outside a meeting of the provincial cabinet at the legislature on June 4, 2008, that the “massive pay raise offered to nurses isn’t likely to be repeated for other health-care workers.” [Hefty offer to nurses special case, McMorris says (StarPhoenix, June 5, 2008)]

Six months later, on December 4, 2008, Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer said that in preparing the 2009-10 budget inflation, or a cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) would “be the benchmark for public sector contracts, including the three health care unions that currently have open contracts.”

Gantefoer said the SUN contract was necessary for retention and recruitment purposes because of discrepancies in pay between Saskatchewan and other jurisdictions.

“If you’re one of the support staff or one of the people who provide valuable services but by and large you’re similarly treated in other jurisdictions, then the case for special consideration doesn’t exist and COLA looks pretty good in my mind,” he said. [‘Challenge’ to balance Sask. budget (StarPhoenix, December 5, 2008)]

Finally, health officials cited section 16(1) of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act pertaining to cabinet documents 15 times as a reason why a significant amount of information was severed from two of the briefing notes recently released. This alone suggests who’s really calling the shots in this mess.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wall gov’t denying access to Western Energy Corridor briefing notes; U.S. groups file legal challenge to Bush-era West-wide Energy Corridor plan

Western Governors’ Association Annual Meeting,
Park City, Utah, June 14-16, 2009

At a “sidebar meeting” during the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) annual meeting in Park City, Utah, in June, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall “announced their intent to pursue establishment of a Western Energy Corridor Coalition.”

The coalition, “comprising bi-national regional political leadership,” will help address “regional energy challenges.” [The Western Energy Corridor: An Overview of Strategic Resources and Trends Critical to North American Energy Security and Prosperity, Idaho National Laboratory, June 18, 2009]

According to the article Western energy corridor touted (Calgary Herald, June 15, 2009) the plan, “spearheaded” by Wall and Schweitzer, “could open new markets to the three Prairie provinces, which are all major energy producers in both renewables and fossil fuels.”

Joining Wall at the conference were Alberta’s Ed Stelmach and Manitoba’s Gary Doer. The three met on June 14 “with state political leaders to explore the potential for a broader energy relationship.”

Schweitzer, chairman of the WGA, said the oilsands are critically important to the U. S.’s energy security and a major component for a powerhouse energy corridor.

“The most important energy corridor on the planet is no longer the Persian Gulf. It runs from the oilsands, Fort Mc-Murray to Port Arthur, Texas,” Schweitzer said. “A large part of energy independence is going to be dependent upon developing the oilsands.”

In a June 15 provincial government news release, Wall confirmed that governors and premiers requested that he and Gov. Schweitzer continue developing an action plan for a western energy corridor, subject to a fall go-forward approval.

The action plan will consider transmission issues, co-ordination of research, development and deployment of cleaner energy technology and advocacy.

“There is a great swath of renewable and non-renewable resources in the western part of North America,” Wall said. “We’re all going to be investing in research into the safe and sustainable development of these resources. My point is – let’s be working together on this thing.”

Completely absent from the discussion is the potential cost to taxpayers of implementing any energy corridor initiatives.

On June 11, in a news release issued just prior to the WGA meetings, Wall said, “A key goal for me at this meeting is launching the Western Energy Initiative – something I’ve been working on with Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana. The plan is to bring together the major energy players in the Canadian and American mid-west.”

This was news to the people of Saskatchewan who had no idea their premier was working on such a plan. In fact, the June 11 news release was the first time it was mentioned.

On May 7, Schweitzer joined Wall at the legislature for signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding for a joint development of a carbon capture and storage demonstration project. The estimated total cost of the project in Canadian dollars is $270 million.

Although the Western Energy Corridor was not specifically mentioned, the government news release said the project would “help address national policy priorities in both countries including the development of near zero, sustainable energy technologies; continental energy security and economic stimulus to support the North American economy.” As Schweitzer already pointed out U.S. energy security is a big reason for the corridor plan.

In March, Schweitzer invited Wall to attend the Chairman’s Retreat and Spring Policy Conference of the Democratic Governors Association from March 27 to 29 in Big Sky, Montana.

In addition to a carbon capture and storage project, Wall said in a March 25 news release “he will also be discussing… Saskatchewan’s future plans for uranium value-added production and nuclear research at the Governor’s meeting.”

There was no mention of the Western Energy Corridor, but it’s interesting to note that Wall’s comments on the province’s nuclear plans came a week before the Uranium Development Partnership report was released and two months before the Future of Uranium in Saskatchewan public consultations began.

Wall and his Saskatchewan Party government have repeatedly told the public that no decisions have been made on nuclear power, so what “plans” did the premier disclose at the meeting?

Attempts to obtain additional information on the Western Energy Corridor are being thwarted by the provincial government.

On June 19, a request was made to the Ministry of Energy and Resources under the province’s freedom of information legislation for copies of any briefing notes on the subject since January 1, 2009.

On July 22, the ministry disclosed one, undated, two-page briefing note. A ministry official later advised that access to four records totaling approximately 11-pages was being withheld from release in their entirety. It seems the Wall government is willing to commit the province to the energy corridor plan but won’t let the public see all the details.

The lone briefing note was prepared in advance of a meeting between Premier Wall and Gov. Schweitzer that was scheduled for January 28 in Helena, Montana. The purpose of the meeting was “to discuss the Western Energy Corridor Initiative (WECI), together with other matters.”

The document says that the WECI “is an outgrowth of studies funded by the United States (U.S.) Department of Energy (DOE) for a strategic plan to develop U.S. unconventional fuel resources (e.g. oil shale resources, coal to liquid fuels, oil sands, heavy oil, carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery) pursuant to a requirement set out in Section 369(i)(1)(A) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.”

Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the DOE’s lead nuclear energy research and development facility, “has been the lead national energy laboratory in developing WECI.”

The note states: “The broad geographic reach of WECI includes the U.S. states immediately east of the Rocky Mountains, and proposes to include Alberta and Saskatchewan as international partners (including provincial agencies and research institutions) to facilitate information sharing on unconventional resource development.”

The provincial government did not issue a press release for Wall’s trip to Montana in January. It was, however, reported by the media but the WECI was not mentioned. The public was kept in the dark. It remains unclear exactly how long the premier has been working on the energy corridor initiative.

On March 17, 2009, the Saskatchewan Party government and the INL signed an MOU, which, according to an INL news release, “formalizes processes for INL and Saskatchewan to agree on energy research and demonstration efforts in uranium, nuclear energy, heavy oil, oil shale and oil sands. The agreement also provides for potential collaboration on carbon dioxide capture and storage projects.”

The INL considers the Saskatchewan MOU as the continued expansion of its “collaborations in the Western Energy Corridor,” noting that the “lab has signed several such cooperative agreements during the last year.” These include one in British Columbia and another in Alberta. This information wasn’t included in the provincial government’s news release.

The INL and the Wall government worked together recently at the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) 19th Annual Summit held July 12-16 in Boise, Idaho.

INL energy business lead Michael Hagood and Crown Investments Corporation vice-president and longtime Saskatchewan Party insider Iain Harry participated in a panel discussion on the Western Energy Corridor as part of the PNWER Energy II working group meeting on July 14.

Established in 1991, PNWER is a public/private partnership made up of legislators, governments and businesses from across the U.S. and Canadian northwest with the aim of pursuing similar goals in the areas of regional co-operation and economic growth. The organization acts as a lobby group to leverage regional influence in Ottawa and Washington D.C.

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

Saskatchewan joined PNWER during the organization’s 18th Annual Summit in Vancouver, July 20-24, 2008. The newest member, the Northwest Territories, was accepted into the fold at last month’s summit in Boise.

It should come as no surprise to learn that PNWER is a big booster of a similar U.S. government plan that is currently mired in controversy – one that PNWER hoped to see Saskatchewan dragged into.

In a November 28, 2005, letter to the DOE, PNWER executive director Matt Morrison presented the organization’s comments on the Bush-administration’s development of a West-wide Energy Corridor Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) pursuant to Federal Register Doc. S05-19375 (“Notice of Intent”) and Section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, enacted August 8, 2005.

“We enthusiastically support efforts to designate energy corridors on federal lands for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities,” Morrison wrote.

Morrison cited the INL’s work on Generation IV nuclear power systems and British Columbia’s series of hydrogen and fuel cell demonstration projects in and around Victoria, Vancouver and Whistler as “cutting-edge projects” that “deserve specific mention in any efforts to identify energy corridors on federal lands.”

PNWER encouraged the U.S. government to, “Actively reach out to relevant ministries, government agencies and the private sector in the Western Canadian Provinces of Alberta, British Columbia (and Saskatchewan).”

“The Pacific Northwest is heavily dependent on Western Canada for natural gas and our electrical grid is interdependent,” Morrison said.

“Furthermore, the Oil Sands have the potential to produce, through cogeneration, an estimated four to six thousand megawatts of electricity, with essentially no fuel cost, as thermal energy is already being used to make steam to liberate the oil from the oil sands. These resources could provide long-term contracts to industrial customers in the Pacific Northwest, if the necessary transmission corridors can be sited.”

“Reaching out to public and private Canadian partners will be essential to the successful development of the draft PEIS,” Morrison said.

While the energy corridor plans have gone largely unnoticed in Saskatchewan, it is very much on the radar south of the border.

On July 9, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that a Colorado county and a coalition of conservation groups – including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society – have filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco alleging that agencies “that mapped the 6,000 miles of energy-corridor rights of way failed to analyze renewable-source locations and numerous federal and local land-use plans.”

According to the article Groups sue to stop Bush plan for Western energy corridors (Salt Lake Tribune, July 9, 2009) the “lawsuit names Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the heads of three federal land-management agencies.

“The coalition filed the lawsuit essentially to get the Obama administration’s attention, said Liz Thomas, a SUWA attorney in Moab, where a map shows a corridor three to six miles wide running past the entrances to Arches National Park and continuing through the narrow Moab Canyon to the south.

“While the Bureau of Land Management changed the corridor plan to avoid some wilderness areas, Utah’s maps were unchanged, Thomas said.

“Fourteen of the corridors are in Utah, and would be anywhere from two-thirds of a mile to four miles wide. Each corridor could hold as many as nine electric transmission lines, 35 petroleum and 29 natural-gas pipelines.”

The following day a Salt Lake Tribune editorial said the Bush plan “might have been a good idea 50 years ago, but not today” and “should be scrapped.”

“The Western states targeted by the corridor plan -- Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming -- comprise an area of the planet among the most vulnerable to rising temperatures brought on by the burning of carbon fuels. On the other hand, the same states can produce more solar, wind and geothermal energy than most others,” the editorial states.

“There is a pressing need for new and efficient distribution systems to take those resources to Americans nationwide. The Bush corridor plan clearly isn’t it. The governors’ Western Renewable Energy Zone Initiative and the Utah Renewable Energy Zone Task Force offer forward-thinking alternatives.

“Under a pair of new Utah laws, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development will identify zones with the greatest potential for commercial-scale solar, wind and geothermal power plants. A new state agency will help communities and energy developers finance electrical transmission lines to connect to the main grid.

“The WGA has already taken steps to launch a similar regional plan to bring renewable energy online and distribute it. Both the Utah and WGA projects consider effects on the environment and disqualify areas where development would harm scenic and recreational areas, wildlife and watersheds. The Bush corridors, by contrast, could run near or inside national parks and roadless and wilderness study areas.” [Scrap corridor plan (Salt Lake Tribune, July 10, 2009)]

People are hoping for better things under the Obama administration but if Energy Secretary Chu’s comments in the Edmonton Journal and Salt Lake Tribune following his address to state leaders and premiers at the WGA meeting on July 15 are any indication, it could mean more of the same old, same old.

According to the Edmonton Journal, Chu said there’s “a lot of concern” about the Alberta oilsands, saying it takes far more energy to develop compared to conventional sources, and that there’s also environmental issues to deal with, but the oilsands nonetheless remain a key part of the U.S. energy mix. [Oilsands’ carbon footprint leaves Obama team uneasy (Edmonton Journal, June 16, 2009)]

Chu said that nuclear power “has to be part of the mix,” then made the bogus claim that it’s “clean” energy. He also said the problems of waste, safety and possible proliferation of weapons-grade material, considered by anti-nuclear activists as insurmountable, can be solved. [Energy secretary sees nuclear power in America’s future (Salt Lake Tribune, June 16, 2009)]

No doubt this was music to Premier Brad Wall’s ears.

Unfortunately, Wall hasn’t yet told Saskatchewan residents what kind of environmental impact the Western Energy Corridor will have on the province. So far his government is withholding more information than its releasing.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the energy industry which has donated nearly $1.2 million to the Saskatchewan Party since 1998 – with the majority of that money coming from Alberta-based oil and gas companies and industry lobby groups. It’s obvious who’s pulling the strings.