Sunday, October 18, 2009

StarPhoenix misleading voters about political lobby group LEAD Saskatoon’s motives; directors include Vic Dubois, Russel Marcoux & Coni Evans

The StarPhoenix is misleading voters about lobby group LEAD Saskatoon Futures Inc. and its motives for taking part in civic elections.

Twice in the last month the newspaper has suggested that the non-profit group’s primary reason for getting involved is to get more people to do their civic duty.

On October 16, the newspaper said LEAD’s stated objective is “to increase voter awareness and participation in the election.”

LEAD director Don Ravis said his group is “concerned that… the lack of contentious issues and, in some wards, the lack of candidates will result in a poor voter turnout.” [Group promotes increased voter participation (StarPhoenix, October 16, 2009)]

Last month an editorial noted that the “group formed in time for the 2003 civic election as a response to the embarrassing voter turnout of 26 per cent in 2000.” [Multiple trips to polling booth price of freedom (StarPhoenix, September 17, 2009)]

In that election city councillor Jim Maddin defeated incumbent Mayor Henry Dayday.

Maddin was perceived as being less business friendly than Dayday. This could explain why LEAD Saskatoon was nowhere to be seen following the October 22, 1997, civic election when Dayday won his fourth consecutive term as mayor with a voter turnout of barely 20 per cent. The StarPhoenix reported that Dayday knew within 15 minutes of the polls closing that he’d won. [Electorate fails to show (StarPhoenix, October 23, 1997)]

Why wasn’t LEAD concerned about the results from that election?

Records filed with the corporations branch of Saskatchewan Justice show that LEAD Saskatoon was incorporated on August 23, 2003. The nature of the group’s activities is listed as “political lobbying”.

The group currently has eight directors but their names aren’t posted on the organization’s website. They are:

▪ Joe Bloski, general manager, Early’s Farm & Garden Centre

▪ David Criddle, president, Pro-Trans Ventures Inc.

Vic Dubois, general manager, CJWW-AM, CFQC-FM and CJMK-FM

▪ Gary Emde, owner, Prudential Sask Realty

▪ Coni Evans, former president of Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce. Evans worked for Point2 Technologies.

▪ Russel Marcoux, president and CEO of Yanke Group of Companies; and, former chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

▪ Todd Peterson, vice-president sales and marketing, Saskatchewan Blue Cross

▪ Don Ravis, former Tory MP for Saskatoon East in Mulroney government

(Note: LEAD’s board originally included Don Funk, a friend of Don Atchison. He ceased being a director on December 31, 2004. Funk is one of the organizers of the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. Vic Dubois became a director on February 23, 2006. His wife is Bev Dubois, city councillor for Ward 10.)

LEAD unveiled its civic election plans at a press conference on September 18, 2003, at the Travelodge in Saskatoon. According to The StarPhoenix approximately 50 people attended the event – some by invitation. [Group aims to double turnout from 2000 civic election (StarPhoenix, September 19, 2003); Time to get involved in civic election (StarPhoenix, September 20, 2003)]

At the time LEAD had “about 40 unofficial supporters who have attended meetings during the past year,” and were “launching a fund-raising campaign aimed at generating between $10,000 and $20,000.” The money would be used to fund campaign advertising and a Web site for the organization.

Mayoral candidate Jim Pankiw was skeptical about LEAD, alleging it’s aligned with Atchison through the involvement of Atchison campaign manager Lori Isinger.

“This is a Don Atchison smokescreen,” said Pankiw, refusing to reveal how he knows there’s a connection. “It’s the oldest trick in the book.” [New group stirs civic election pot (StarPhoenix, September 18, 2003)]

LEAD and Atchison denied this, of course.

LEAD is always quick to point out that it endorses no candidate and provides financial assistance to none. Publicly endorsing someone is not the same as working behind the scenes encouraging or recruiting people to run in certain wards. The public would be naïve to think that this kind of thing doesn’t happen.

At some point during this time, a one-page letter, undated, soliciting for donations was circulated. It was signed by LEAD director Joe Bloski and addressed to “all Saskatoon taxpayers”. The problem is not everyone got one. It seems only a select few did.

“There is a growing concern amongst the citizens of our community that our city has become stagnant and is failing badly on its economic course and its ability to make decisions on major issues and opportunities,” Bloski said.

The letter said LEAD Saskatoon was formed “to try and bring about some changes that, hopefully, will place Saskatoon back on track.”

Bloski cited eight issues that LEAD believed city council had “mismanaged.” These include:

1. World University Games 2007
2. South Downtown Development
3. Casino
4. Police Department
5. Dialogue with Aboriginal Community
6. C.P. Wang Dismissal
7. Gathercole Site Proposals
8. Special Needs Transit Services

“In order to effectively promote the aims and objectives of LEAD SASKATOON prior to the next civic election, we are respectfully soliciting your financial support. Your contribution will assist us in preparing and delivering a strong slate of common-sense, business-minded candidates who possess some of those qualities we so desperately need. We will also focus on evoking an emotional response from the taxpayers that will help them appreciate the importance and relevance of their vote,” Bloski said.

The StarPhoenix never informed readers that LEAD’s main objective was more than just getting people out to vote, it was to stack city council with as many business-friendly individuals as possible. The only columnist that came close to exposing LEAD for what they were was Gerry Klein who said in his October 21, 2003, column that LEAD was a “civic lobby group” “organized to unseat council members including Maddin.”

Unfortunately, Klein’s words were limited to just one sentence buried in an article that had little to do with the group.

During the 2003 civic election LEAD used print and radio advertising to evoke “an emotional response” from voters.

One such advertisement was a ridiculously over-the-top two-page spread in the October 19, 2003, edition of the Saskatoon Sun.

Saskatoon is at a crossroads,” the ad said. “Never before in our city’s history has your vote mattered more.”

“You’ve heard it all: About crime and safety issues, casinos, south downtown, transit services. From the Moral Majority, the Politically Correct and other special interest groups.”

“It’s time to take back our city – to restore its unity, its potential and its pride.”

“Vote! Your future depends on it! Do it for your city. For your kids. Foryour future.”

Honestly, the way LEAD was carrying on you’d think the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were at the city gates.

The thing is LEAD itself is a special interest group. At least two of its directors served with the Saskatoon and Canadian chambers of commerce – the biggest local and national business lobby groups around. LEAD wanted their kind of people on city council. It’s no more complicated than that.

LEAD obviously got what it wanted because three years later, during the 2006 civic election, Klein wrote that the group was now “fighting for the status quo.” [Status quo will rule civic race (StarPhoenix, October 25, 2006)]

No doubt this is the minimum that LEAD will accept in the October 28, 2009, civic election as well.

Saskatoon Sun, October 19, 2003, p. 28

Saskatoon Sun, October 19, 2003, p. 29

StarPhoenix, September 18, 2003, p. A1


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