Wednesday, November 25, 2009

River Landing farce continues as city committee gives Lake Placid ‘unofficial’ extension; Coun. Glen Penner set to betray Aug. 19 vote on deadline

Scathing letter by local developer Ken Achs

The River Landing debacle has entered the realm of the absurd.

On October 30, 2009, Mayor Don Atchison issued a press release stating that the city did not receive payment from Lake Placid Developments for the purchase price of Parcel “Y”.

“At the August 19, 2009 Council meeting, City Council passed a resolution indicating that if full balances owing were not received by 5:00 p.m. on October 30, 2009, then both the Parcel Y and the adjacent lane agreement would be terminated without further resolution of Council,” Atchison said.

In August, Atchison said if the developer didn’t make the deadline it’s over. “There’s no more chances,” he said.

At a meeting held November 23, 2009, the executive committee of city council debated what the do about the situation. In attendance was Lake Placid CEO Michael Lobsinger.

According to the StarPhoenix, Lobsinger told the committee the company is “one signature away” from transferring the $200 million necessary to complete Lake Placid’s project.

In other words, he didn’t have the money. This is 24-days past the deadline and the city is still listening to him.

Lake Placid submitted its request for proposal for Parcel “Y” in September 2007. The project is a hotel-condo-office-retail complex. To date nothing has been built and the developer has missed a number of other deadlines.

In March 2009, Atchison said the developer had assured city administration its financing was in place for the project. [Construction delay (StarPhoenix, March 12, 2009)]

That doesn’t appear to have been the case.

The bulk of Lake Placid’s problems seem to lie in two areas: trouble in securing financing due to the international market collapse; and, required amendments to The Condominium Property Act and The Land Titles Act, 2000 to allow multiple condominium corporations on the site.

Local developer Ken Achs made an interesting observation in a letter to council dated November 13, 2009. Achs expressed concern that council was “reconsidering going back on its word about a drop-dead date” for the Lake Placid project. He suggested that “prolonging” the proposed project would have “negative effects.” One of his concerns was over the project’s financing.

“In order to finance such a massive project, any reasonable financial institution will require between 25% and 40% equity for a project like this. This means that any developer must have cash equity, not financing. Where is the equity? Ask any financier how this project can come together without equity from the developer. It just isn’t possible,” he said.

“We all know that projects always seem to go over budget. Just look at the riverfront development. What will happen if this condo/hotel/office development is over budget and partly built?” Achs asked.

By all accounts Ach’s letter fell on deaf ears.

As for the required amendments to provincial legislation, Crown Corporations Minister Ken Cheveldayoff introduced The Land Titles Amendment Act in the legislature on November 13, 2008. The bill was passed April 1, 2009.

The Condominium Property Amendment Act, 2009 was introduced on April 28, 2009, by Justice Minister Don Morgan and was passed on April 29, 2009. Both bills received royal assent on May 14, 2009.

It’s never been explained why it took so long to get the legislation drafted and introduced. Neither the city nor the developer has said exactly when they discovered that changes were required.

In two reports to city council – one on September 17, 2007, evaluating the developer’s RFP and the other on January 14, 2008, finalizing the sale agreement – city administration never once mentioned that amendments to provincial legislation were needed. Perhaps someone was asleep at the wheel and missed it.

At any rate, Lobsinger says he’s “100 per cent responsible” for the predicament his company is in.

“I am taking all the blame,” he told the committee. “I have spent $8.24 million of my own money and I only have my passion to show for it.” [Lake Placid finds some support (StarPhoenix, November 24, 2009)]

The dollar amount Lake Placid has spent seems to grow every time Lobsinger talks about it. In the StarPhoenix on June 24, 2008, it was “$1 million on plans so far.” On October 17, 2008, the newspaper reported him saying it was “$3 million to $4 million.”

In a news release on October 30, 2009, Lobsinger said his company “has spent $7 million planning the development and has paid the City of Saskatoon $700,000.” It’s hard to know what to believe.

Lobsinger wants to build the project and told the committee he’d submit another bid if the city sends out a request.

In the end, the committee directed administration to make changes to the initial request for proposals sent out two years ago and report back, the StarPhoenix said.

The city’s administration will look at making the RFP more flexible for developers while they await two land appraisals for the site, a process that will likely take three months.

This is where things get really stupid and outrageous.

At the meeting several councillors said they support selling the land directly to Lake Placid if the company’s financing comes through.

Councillor Glen Penner said when that happens he’s prepared to move the matter forward.

“If we find out that the financing is available, I’ll be making a motion that we enter into negotiations with Lake Placid.”

And what about the deadline that council set in August? Apparently it’s no longer valid.

According to the StarPhoenix, Penner told reporters that re-entering negotiations isn’t a contradiction of a previous decision that the Oct. 30 date would be a final deadline.

“One council cannot tie the hands of another council,” he said. “It’s the same people, but a new council, and if they decide that they want to reopen this, it’s up to this council.

“They have every right, legally and morally, to do so.” [Lake Placid finds some support (StarPhoenix, November 24, 2009)]

At the August 19, 2009, meeting Penner was one of seven council members that voted in favour of administration’s recommendation to impose a strict deadline.

It was argued the Oct. 30 deadline was merited because it was requested by Lobsinger and because council will no longer have to vote on the matter, with the payment for the land left with the company.

“This is not a political issue,” said Penner. “There are no more political decisions on this.” [Lake Placid gets time (StarPhoenix, August 20, 2009)]

Now he’s flip-flopping.

One wonders whether Penner bothered to tell his constituents in Ward 8 during the civic election that his vote came with an expiry date – Election Day, October 28. The answer is most likely no, he didn’t.

It would seem that honesty, integrity, credibility, and keeping one’s word don’t have a place in Penner’s thinking – at least on this subject. Penner’s comments are not only mealy-mouthed they also seem to be hypocritical.

When Lake Placid missed the deadline Penner told the StarPhoenix it’s time to test the market again, but said there’s no rush to develop the site.

“If we have to put grass on it for a little while maybe that’s what we should do,” he said. “I think what we need to do is take a longer-term view rather than shorter-term view.” [Future of riverbank site divides city councillors (StarPhoenix, November 3, 2009)]

Penner is not the only council member to make a 180-degree turn.

Mayor Don Atchison told the StarPhoenix in advance of the executive committee meeting that if Lake Placid’s financing arrives council has to make some decisions.

“It’s important we push ahead right now,” he said. “For me the main thing is for us to get started on us getting something built there.” [River Landing megaproject still viable: mayor (StarPhoenix, November 23, 2009)]

It appears the mayor’s word isn’t worth spit either.

What it boils down to is that by allowing Lake Placid to remain in contention while administrators work to update the RFP, the city has essentially given the developer an extension without officially resolving to grant one.

The committee’s conduct made a farce of the process. You’ve got a bunch of councillors openly supporting Lake Placid, basically saying that as soon as Lobsinger gets the financing they’ll approve selling the land. In the meantime, city administrators are expected to work on a new request for proposals that may never get issued. And to top it off you’ve probably got local developers watching this from the sidelines wondering, ‘why the hell would I spend time getting a proposal together when at any moment the rug could get pulled out from under me?’ It’s a sham.

The longer River Landing drags on the closer it seems to get to becoming one the most questionable projects in Saskatoon’s history.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mayor Don Atchison should explain nature of relationship with Lake Placid CEO Michael Lobsinger; City administration flip-flops on Parcel “Y”

On November 9, 2009, the city clerk’s office received an email from Lake Placid Developments CEO Michael Lobsinger requesting permission to address city council at its November 16, 2009, meeting regarding River Landing Parcel “Y” in Saskatoon.

Coincidentally, November 9 was the date the city’s executive committee met for the first time since the civic election. The meeting was held in-camera.

The recipients of the email included Janice Mann and Joanne Sproule (Clerks), Murray Totland (City Manager), and Jack Manning (Solicitors). No problems so far. That is, until you get to the last name on the list: Don Atchison.

On the surface, it may seem insignificant, but when you consider what’s at stake it becomes important.

When Lake Placid submitted its request for proposals in September 2007 the projected cost of the project was $125-million. On November 17, 2009, the StarPhoenix reported that the cost is now $250-million. Yes, that’s right. One quarter of a billion dollars. A massive 100 per cent increase in just over two years.

A day earlier the newspaper described Parcel “Y” as a “prime piece of city-owned riverfront land.” [Lake Placid comes back (StarPhoenix, November 16, 2009)]

It appears Lobsinger sent the email to Atchison’s home – not city hall.

Unlike the city manager, city clerk and city solicitor, Atchison’s title does not appear in the email. This may indicate not only a business relationship but a personal one as well.

The word “Home” appears beside Atchison’s name. This would seem to suggest that the developer keeps the mayor’s contact information in an address book. If that’s the case it seems reasonable to assume that this wasn’t the first email sent to the mayor’s residence.

This could be perceived by some as inappropriate and perhaps even unethical. It also raises a few questions that deserve answers.

Who gave the developer Atchison’s home email address? Was it the mayor himself? If the answer is yes, when did he give it to him?

Do Atchison and the developer correspond? If the answer is yes, how long has it been going on and what is being discussed?

Do any other developers have the mayor’s home email address? If so, who are they and do they correspond with him?

Something else that needs to be considered is that if Atchison is exchanging emails with developers – or anyone else for that matter – from his home and city business is involved, then that correspondence is likely not subject to the province’s freedom of information legislation and therefore would be free from public scrutiny and accountability. This is unacceptable.

For the sake of openness and transparency Atchison should explain the nature of his relationship, if any, with Lobsinger and disclose copies of any emails they may have exchanged since June 2007 when Lake Placid submitted its expressions of interest for Parcel “Y”.

Unfortunately, the concerns don’t end there.

On October 30, 2009, the mayor issued a news release stating that the city “did not receive payment from Lake Placid Developments for the purchase price of Parcel Y.”

Atchison also noted: “At the August 19, 2009 Council meeting, City Council passed a resolution indicating that if full balances owing were not received by 5:00 p.m. on October 30, 2009, then both the Parcel Y and the adjacent lane agreement would be terminated without further resolution of Council.”

With this in mind an email was sent to city manager Murray Totland on November 4, 2009, asking him how long the developer would be allowed to keep its trailer and two billboards on Parcel “Y”.

Totland responded later that day stating: “Now that our agreement with Lake Placid has ended, we will be writing to them to request they remove their property from the site.”

The city manager’s response was absolutely the right thing to say. The city’s agreement with Lake Placid was over. In the mayor’s own words at the August 19, 2009, city council meeting if Lobsinger didn’t “come up with the money for the land” by the deadline then the agreement would be “terminated.”

“There’s no more chances,” the mayor said. [Lake Placid gets time (StarPhoenix, August 20, 2009)]

Something obviously happened in the days that followed because more than a week later Lake Placid’s property was still on the site.

A follow-up email was sent to Totland and the city’s special projects manager, Sandi Schultz, on November 13, 2009, asking them when the letter was going to be sent to Lake Placid. There was no reply until November 17, 2009, the day after city council’s meeting where Lobsinger spoke.

In her email Schultz said: “The Executive Committee at their meeting of November 23 will be considering, in their public agenda, River Landing, Parcel “Y” options. City Council at their November 16 meeting invited Mr Lobsinger to make a presentation to the Executive Committee meeting at the time they are discussing River Landing Parcel “Y”. A letter will be sent to Lake Placid Holdings Inc. following a decision on the Parcel “Y”.”

By this point Totland and Atchison seemed to be singing a different tune as well.

If Lobsinger comes to council with funding in place for the site “it would be a pleasant circumstance,” Totland told the StarPhoenix.

“We’ve supported their development and we still believe a Lake Placid-like development would be a good one for River Landing,” he said.

Atchison said, “I hope that he has the money and would like to enter into discussions with us.” [Lake Placid comes back (StarPhoenix, November 16, 2009)]

This is completely contrary to what council resolved on August 19, 2009, and what Atchison and some councillors said at the meeting.

To date Lake Placid’s property remains on Parcel “Y”.

It’s beginning to look as if the table is being set for the wholesale sell-out and betrayal of council’s August 19 resolution.

Council is already bankrupt of any integrity or credibility as a result of its ongoing disgraceful conduct concerning the Mendel Art Gallery. If councillors break their word on Parcel “Y” how will the public ever be able trust them again?

UPDATE: According to a city manager’s report posted to the city’s website late on November 19, 2009, the administration “is recommending that Parcel “Y” and the land adjacent to Parcel “Y” be consolidated. A Request for Proposals (RFP) similar to the previous document is to be developed that requires proponents to agree to a fixed purchase price. An appraisal will be undertaken to determine the current land value for the consolidated parcel.”

However, in the article Open bids recommended for River Landing site (StarPhoenix, November 20, 2009) the StarPhoenix confirms that administration is willing to ignore that recommendation if Lobsinger shows up at the November 23, 2009, executive committee meeting with the financing in place.

“If he comes to the table ready to build, city council has the option to sell the land directly to the developer, an option the city’s administration would support to avoid a potential funding shortfall and mill rate hit for the year-to-year operation of the $82.1-million River Landing project, which will be completed by 2012, officials say,” reporter David Hutton said.

What Hutton fails to say, though, is that nowhere does administration say this in its three-page report to the executive committee. The newspaper does not explain why the information was omitted. Furthermore, the StarPhoenix is neglecting to tell readers that administration’s support of a direct sale would be a complete reversal from what the city manager told city council at its August 19, 2009, meeting:

“Administration is prepared to recommend an extension of the time for payment to 5:00 p.m., October 30, 2009, (October 31 is a Saturday). The extension would be conditional upon Lake Placid paying the accrued interest noted above by 5:00 p.m., August 31, 2009. In the event that this payment is not received, both sale agreements would be at an end and Lake Placid would forfeit the deposits paid under the Parcel Y agreement. This would occur without further resolution of Council. Similarly, if payment of the full balances owing under each agreement is not received by 5:00 p.m. on October 30, 2009, both agreements would also be at an end without further resolution of Council,” the report said.

Lake Placid made the August 31 deadline but missed the one for October 30. The agreement is terminated, but administration is now prepared to betray its own words and overlook it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Secrecy trumps transparency as Wall gov’t denies five FOI requests on wage mandate and SAHO negotiations with health care provider unions

Sask. Health wage mandate FOI denial, Oct. 20, 2009

It’s quite the team effort. On one side is the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) stalling and stringing the health care provider unions along, and on the other side, the Saskatchewan Party government feigning concern, calling the shots and stonewalling the public’s request for information.

The Saskatchewan Government & General Employees’ Union (SGEU), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Service Employees International Union West (SEIUWEST) who represent 25,000 health care providers have been without a contract since March 31, 2008.

After 17 months of dithering, SAHO finally tabled a financial offer with the three unions at a common table on September 22, 2009. The package included a four year collective agreement with the following general wage increases:

April 1, 2008 – 2.75%
April 1, 2009 – 2.0%
April 1, 2010 – 2.25%
April 1, 2011 – 2.25%

The StarPhoenix reported that within 30 minutes of delivering the offer SAHO headed straight for the media to release details. That did not go over well with the unions, which accused the association of bargaining in the media. [Wage offer insulting: unions (StarPhoenix, September 23, 2009]

In a bargaining update issued later that day the CUPE Health Care Council said the monetary offer was “appalling” and that the cost of the employers’ concessions “far outweighs the cost of the wage increase.”

The council noted that SAHO’s chief negotiator used the phrase “all or nothing” when tabling the proposal.

SAHO’s offer to the health care unions doesn’t come close to the deal it signed with the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses in 2008 that saw a 35 per cent wage increase over four years for a general duty nurse.

Those negotiations started on February 12, 2008, when the two sides met for the first time and concluded on July 9, 2008, when the collective agreement was signed. The total time elapsed was 149, or just under months. Compare that the present situation where SAHO and the Wall government have allowed things to drag on for well over a year.

On September 24, 2009, the union-hating elephant in the room made its presence known when Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer told reporters in a scrum at the Legislative Building that the Saskatchewan Party government had introduced a wage mandate for negotiations with public-sector unions.

According to StarPhoenix reporter James Wood, the finance minister would not disclose the wage mandate set by the government but acknowledged the offer from the government-funded health regions was based on the Sask. Party’s guidelines.

“We’re going to have a mandate that we expect to stick to. But that’s going to be bargained at the bargaining table,” Gantefoer said.

“The bargaining process means that the employer will table an offer, as SAHO did in that sector as an example, the unions will get back and counter and they will go back and forth and hopefully arrive at a contract.” [Flat tax out, budget cuts in, says Gantefoer (StarPhoenix, September 25, 2009)]

The implementation of a strict wage mandate is only the latest attempt by the Wall government to sabotage the bargaining process.

Last year Health Minister Don 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, 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: Gantefoer (StarPhoenix, December 5, 2008)]

It’s crystal clear who’s calling the shots – and it’s not SAHO.

SAHO is said to be a non-government association of health agencies in Saskatchewan. However, appointments to the regional health authority boards are made by the provincial government. The regional boards then meet to select their representatives to the SAHO board. So in a way SAHO is an extension of government – especially during contract negotiations with the various health care unions.

On June 15, 2009, Health Minister Don McMorris issued a statement urging SAHO and the health provider unions 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.

That was five months ago and there’s still no agreement. McMorris hasn’t issued any further news releases on the subject. Apparently he’s gotten over his concern.

On October 14, 2009, SAHO president and CEO Susan Antosh confirmed in an interview with the StarPhoenix that the September 22 proposal was the employers’ “initial offer.”

“We are open to having discussions and negotiating with the unions on how that might change. It is an initial offer, so the unions have to engage in bargaining with us if they wish to see that offer change.” [Health workers frustrated (StarPhoenix, October 15, 2009)]

What seems to escape Antosh is the fact that the unions have indeed been trying to bargain with SAHO since 2008, but to no avail.

On October 16, 2009, SAHO tabled what it called a “new proposal.”

“We are very interested in reaching a collective agreement, and have enhanced our offer to the unions. We feel this is a significant gesture and we hope the unions will respond to it,” Antosh said.

However, the initial monetary offer that SAHO made on September 22 did not change.

The CUPE Health Care Council responded with another a bargaining update: “SAHO has maintained its position of less than 10 percent over 4 years, which is tied to our acceptance of major take-aways. SAHO refuses to discuss other monetary issues in our package without our agreement on take-aways. In other words, SAHO is insisting that we sell the house, but they won’t tell us the purchase price.

“We provided SAHO with our coalition proposal document which includes all bargaining proposals that are common to the three provider unions. SAHO flatly rejected this package on [October 16] and tabled a revised “all or nothing” package that made very minor progress by expanding the classifications for market adjustments.”

In a bargaining update on October 30, 2009, the health care council said the union made an offer to SAHO and the employers on October 28 to withdraw all CUPE exclusive issues and proceed to the coalition table if they would do the same. SAHO considered the proposal and on Friday the 30th said their answer was NO.

“Unfortunately, we believe some form of job action is becoming completely necessary. We will be consulting with SEIU and SGEU and be communicating with you in the very near future,” the update said.

Well, so much for SAHO’s interest in reaching a collective agreement.

Behind the scenes the Saskatchewan Party government has been hard at work doing what it does best – erecting walls of secrecy.

In the last three months the health and finance ministries have denied five freedom of information requests on the wage mandate and SAHO’s negotiations with the health care provider unions:

September 2, 2009 – Saskatchewan Health denied access to copies of any briefing notes or memorandums from June 18, 2009, to August 14, 2009, regarding or relating to contract negotiations between SAHO and CUPE, SEIU and SGEU.

October 20, 2009 – Saskatchewan Health denied access to copies of any briefing notes or memorandums from August 15, 2009, to September 25, 2009, regarding or relating to contract negotiations between SAHO and CUPE, SEIU and SGEU.

October 20, 2009 – Saskatchewan Health denied access to copies of any briefing notes or memorandums from August 1, 2009, to September 29, 2009, regarding or relating to the wage mandate set by the government for negotiations with public sector unions.

November 4, 2009 – Saskatchewan Finance denied access to copies of any letters or memorandums from August 1, 2009, to September 29, 2009, between the provincial government and the health regions or SAHO regarding or relating to the wage mandate set by the government for negotiations with public sector unions.

November 4, 2009 – Saskatchewan Finance denied access to copies of any briefing notes or memorandums from August 1, 2009, to September 29, 2009, regarding or relating to the wage mandate set by the government for negotiations with public sector unions.

Saskatchewan Health went so far as to release a number of records with every page blacked out.

According to Saskatchewan Finance’s and Saskatchewan Health’s 2009-10 strategic plans the government’s goal is to keep its “promises and fulfill the commitments of the election, operating with integrity and transparency, accountable to the people of Saskatchewan.”

The finance ministry goes one step further stating its strategy for achieving that goal is to “demonstrate leadership for good governance, transparency, and accountability across government.”

Neither ministry is living up to that promise. Secrecy is trumping transparency.

Sask. Health SAHO/union FOI denial, Oct. 20, 2009

Sask. Health SAHO/union FOI denial, Oct. 20, 2009

Sask. Finance SAHO wage mandate FOI denial, Nov. 4, 2009

Sask. Finance wage mandate FOI denial, Nov. 4, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hon. Rob Merrifield, Minister of State for Transport, ducking questions on new art gallery; City of Saskatoon denying access to more Mendel records

The federal minister in charge of Saskatchewan infrastructure is now officially a part of the disgraceful controversy over the City of Saskatoon’s plan to move the Mendel Art Gallery.

Rob Merrifield, the minister of state for transport, is ducking questions from the public about the proposed new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan to be located at the city’s troubled River Landing development.

Mayor Don Atchison and Mendel board chair Art Knight announced the plan at a press conference held April 3, 2009, in Saskatoon. Those attending the event received copies of a media release and four-page glossy brochure.

The brochure stated that the Mendel, city, provincial and federal governments had “come to the conclusion a new building” was required. The decision was reached behind closed doors. The public, the Mendel family, supporters and donors were never consulted.

Two weeks earlier, on March 18, 2009, Atchison sent the same brochure to Saskatchewan’s then Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport Minister, Christine Tell, and to Saskatoon’s four Conservative MPs: Lynne Yelich, Brad Trost, Kelly Block and Maurice Vellacott.

Clearly all the major players knew what was happening.

On September 23, 2009, the federal government announced that it was setting aside $13.02-million for the River Landing Destination Centre, which will include the new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan. The total estimated cost of the project is $58 million.

The federal contribution would come from the major infrastructure component (MIC) of the Building Canada Fund delivered by Infrastructure Canada (INFC).

If funding is secured under MIC it is likely Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) will be the implementing department for INFC.

During the six month stretch from March 18 to September 23, 2009, no one at INFC or WD spoke publically about the project. Saskatoon residents have not been told who specifically at the federal level were involved in the discussions that lead to the decision to pursue a new building and abandon the long-planned expansion and renovation of the Mendel.

With this in mind an e-mail was sent to Merrifield on September 9, 2009, asking the following questions:

1) What are the names of the federal government officials that came to the conclusion a new building is the best fit for Saskatoon?

2) On what date was this conclusion reached and is it documented?

3) If no federal officials came to this conclusion then why does the brochure imply that the federal government has concluded that a new building is the best fit for Saskatoon?

Shortly thereafter, records obtained from Infrastructure Canada revealed that on April 1, 2009, department officials received an enquiry from a StarPhoenix reporter asking whether the new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan or Mendel Art Gallery would qualify for Building Canada funding.

INFC told the StarPhoenix that not only would the new gallery be potentially eligible but so would the expansion previously proposed for the Mendel.

Given this new information a second e-mail was sent to Merrifield on September 17, 2009, asking him to explain why INFC staff told the StarPhoenix that the expansion and renovation of the Mendel Art Gallery was still a “potentially eligible project” when the four partners had already decided on a new building.

Merrifield finally responded on November 10, 2009, but only to the first e-mail, and he didn’t bother to address any of the questions either:
“Dear Mr. Kuchta:

Thank you for your electronic correspondence of September 9, 2009, regarding the proposed new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

The Government of Canada received in June 2009 an official project proposal from the City of Saskatoon for the Destination Centre, which would include the new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan.

On September 23, 2009, the Government of Canada announced that it would be setting aside up to one-third of eligible costs, to a maximum federal contribution of $13.02 million for the Destination Centre project, conditional on the project meeting all applicable eligibility and approval requirements under the federal government's infrastructure plan, and on the signing of a contribution agreement.

I, along with my officials, continue to work in collaboration with the Government of Saskatchewan and the City of Saskatoon, with the goal of creating a modern public infrastructure for the community.


Hon. Rob Merrifield, P.C., M.P.”
It seems obvious that Merrifield had no intention whatsoever of answering any straight-forward questions on the subject. The only thing he said that can be considered ‘new information’ is that the city submitted its “official project proposal” in June 2009. The local media did not report this.

On another front, the City of Saskatoon has once again denied access to Mendel related records.

A freedom of information form was submitted to the city clerk’s office on September 18, 2009, requesting copies of any letters, e-mails, or memorandums concerning the Mendel or new art gallery from May 1, 2009, to September 18, 2009. The request was limited to the mayor’s office, the city manager’s office, and the special project manager.

The city responded on October 22, 2009, saying a total of eight records – one memo and seven e-mails – responsive to the request were found but that access to them was being denied.

The Mendel Art Gallery is publicly owned and operated. Yet at every turn secrecy seems to trump the public’s right to know what’s going on.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Saskatchewan Health denied FSIN funding request to conduct own First Nations Patient Review

Commissioner Tony Dagnone’s Patient First Review report, released October 15, 2009, contains some discussion and two recommendations aimed at improving the health of First Nations and Métis people in Saskatchewan.

According to Dagnone the number of First Nations and Métis people living in Saskatchewan is growing faster than the number of non-Aboriginal people and they currently comprise about 15 per cent of the provincial population, projected to increase to 21 per cent by 2017.

“These two groups of people typically experience lower health status than other Saskatchewan people,” he said. “For example, First Nations and Métis people have significantly higher incidences of diabetes, tuberculosis, cardiovascular disease, obesity, arthritis and rheumatism. This disparity in health status is frequently attributed in large part to socio-economic disadvantages.”

Dagnone said he and his researchers “took steps to ensure that the First Nations and Métis voice was heard” during the review.

“In all of the general-population focus groups, at least one First Nations person and one Métis person were invited to attend. Four additional focus groups were held for First Nations and Métis people exclusively, in urban, rural and northern locations. Focus groups were also held on three reserves. Registered nurses working on reserve were invited to attend the provider focus groups and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), the Métis Nation - Saskatchewan (MN-S) and the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority were invited to attend the stakeholder forums,” Dagnone said.

“We decided that a minimum of 15 per cent of individuals we spoke to through our telephone survey should be self-identified as First Nations and Métis. I also attended meetings of the FSIN Health and Social Development Commission, the MN-S Health Roundtable and the Memorandum of Understanding on First Nations Health and Well Being Steering Committee. Through all of these mechanisms, we were able to distinguish the First Nations and Métis patient experience from the rest of the population.” [p. 19]

The Patient First Review was launched November 5, 2008. The review had two parts: a patient experience component and an administrative component.

Dagnone worked with consulting firm KPMG to assist with consultations, analyzing results and drafting recommendations for the patient experience review. He also worked with Deloitte Inc. on the administrative review. Each firm submitted their own report with recommendations.

In its report KPMG said the biggest area of concern from the Patient First Province-wide telephone survey is the finding that 45% of First Nations and Métis participants have experienced unacceptable behaviour compared with 30% among people with other backgrounds. To improve access to quality, safer health services the firm recommends a First Nations and Métis health care strategy should be developed within three years.

Unfortunately, one critical item has been omitted from the Dagnone and KPMG reports. Neither touches on the request made by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) for funding to conduct its own First Nations Patient Review.

Using briefing notes prepared by officials with the policy and planning branch of Saskatchewan Health between January 14 and May 25, 2009, and obtained under the province’s freedom of information legislation, it’s possible to construct a general time line of events leading up the provincial government’s decision to deny the request.

The FSIN senior technical advisory group (STAG) is comprised of health directors from Tribal Councils and Independent First Nations and provides advice to the FSIN Health and Social Development Commission (HSDC).

According to the earliest briefing note at the STAG meeting held January 13, 2009, “there was discussion about the Patient First Review research methodology and whether it would get the “right” First Nations input. A concern was expressed that this methodology may not lend itself well to First Nations people feeling comfortable expressing the racism and mistreatment they receive in the health system. In particular, there was discussion about how First Nations people would be recruited for the Patient First Review and about whether the Review would be using First Nations data sources such as the Regional Health Survey in the research.”

The group also noted “that the MOU on First Nations Health & Well-being was about working collectively and collaboratively together and yet the FSIN was never asked what First Nations would want in the Patient First Review.”

(The MOU on First Nations Health and Well-Being in Saskatchewan (signed August 19, 2008) is a formal tripartite partnership between the FSIN, Health Canada and Saskatchewan Health to improve the coordination of health programming, reduce administrative duplication, better adapt programs to the needs of First Nations and address the gaps in health services for First Nations people.

An inter-governmental steering committee has been established to oversee the implementation of the MOU.)

Vice Chief Glen Pratt said “there are too many critical incidents within the health system that involve First Nations and also said they would like a review and a public inquiry into how First Nations are treated in the health system.”

STAG passed the following resolution:

“WHEREAS, First Nations have a Treaty Right to Health under Treaties #2, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10; and

“WHEREAS, the Province of Saskatchewan has initiated a process of Patient First Review within the Treaty Territories to gather experiences of interaction with the Health System within the province; and

“WHEREAS, First Nation individuals experience negative or inadequate interactions as the general population with the health system; and

“WHEREAS, First Nations have higher levels of Health concerns, i.e. Diabetes, Cancer, Suicide, Chronic Diseases, and Preventable Injuries; and

“WHEREAS, First Nation individuals and families experience unique negative or inadequate interactions with the health system that may not necessarily be included in the Province of Saskatchewan’s Patient First Review Process; and

“WHEREAS, First Nation have a Treaty Right to Health that includes access and use of traditional healing practices that may or may not be located only in Saskatchewan; and

“WHEREAS, First Nations require their own perspective to be included in this process, and that First Nations meet with the Commissioner to ensure input and an effective First Nations consultation Process; and

“THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Senior Technical Advisory Group recommend that Health and Social Development Commission direct FSIN to initiate a First Nation Patient Review process to capture the experiences First Nation have when interacting with the health system at all levels within the province of Saskatchewan.”

In the briefing note the provincial government states that it “recognizes the FSIN as a legitimate First Nations advocacy group in the province.” But then it immediately seems to try and diminish that legitimacy: “While the FSIN represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, it was not a signatory to any of the Treaties in Saskatchewan. Since each First Nation sees itself as having a nation-to-nation relationship with the Federal Government, tensions between the individual First Nations and the FSIN sometimes arise.” What is the Wall government really trying to say?

Dagnone was “asked to attend” the FSIN Health and Social Development Commission meeting in Saskatoon on January 20, 2009. This seems to suggest that the FSIN were at least willing to hear what the Commissioner had to say.

The provincial government went to great lengths to emphasize that the review was “independent” yet the January 14, 2009, briefing note being quoted here contains 13 “key messages” written by health ministry officials for the Commissioner to use at the HSDC meeting.

These speaking points describe the various steps that researchers took to gather input from First Nations and Métis people and were clearly designed to put a positive spin on the review process. Dagnone seemed confident that his team had done a good job.

“Is it enough?” he said. “From a researcher’s perspective, I am told it is enough. From my perspective, I am open to hearing your views.”

Tucked away at the bottom of the Commissioner’s key messages is this subtle warning: “In respect of the [STAG] resolution, I urge the First Nations to be thoughtful in introducing a third process. We all want to improve First Nations health status and a third process may fragment this goal. I believe the Patient First Review can compliment the MOU process and we can make gains on behalf of First Nations people.” [Patient First Commissioner Speaking to the FSIN Health & Social Development Commission; Briefing Note, January 14, 2009]

In the end, Dagnone’s presence at the HSDC meeting failed to produce the desired outcome because the STAG resolution was passed. The folks at the FSIN have likely heard it all before. Perhaps to them the Commissioner was simply a new face putting a fresh spin on an old story.

A briefing note dated February 4, 2009, confirms that a resolution of the STAG and HSDC “has been developed and may make its way onto the agenda of the FSIN Legislative Assembly being held February 11-12, 2009 at Whitecap First Nation.”

The ministry apparently asked the FSIN if they would assist “in collecting contact information for RNs working on reserve so that these front-line health providers could be randomly selected to participate in the provider input phase of the Review.”

Ministry staff claims to have “received a voice mail indicating that the FSIN wouldn’t be able to assist in this manner since they plan to conduct their own process.”

Ministry staff said they were “uncertain whether this means that the FSIN and First Nations are planning to conduct a separate First Nations Patient First Review or if they will be collecting this type of information as part of the process to develop a 10-year health and well-being plan for First Nations through the MOU process.” [First Nations Concerns Regarding the Patient First Review; Briefing Note, February 4, 2009]

On February 18, 2009, health ministry officials prepared a briefing note updating the situation, presumably for the minister, which had only gotten worse.

At the FSIN Legislative Assembly held February 11, 2009, the members passed the following resolution:

“THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Chiefs-in-Assembly direct the Executive Member responsible for the health and social development portfolio to secure resources to initiate a First Nations Patient Review to document the experiences of First Nations citizens and will inform the Patient Review Commissioner of its findings.”

The executive member responsible was Vice Chief Glen Pratt.

Ministry officials weren’t sure where the resources would come from to support a First Nations Patient Review but speculated that the FSIN might approach the provincial government for the funding.

“If a proposal is submitted to the province, it will be assessed based on its merits and potential value to the Patient First Review process,” the briefing note said.

More importantly the document provides a clearer picture of what the problem was: The FSIN has “expressed concerns regarding their lack of involvement in developing the research methodology of the Review” and with the tripartite agreement in mind “believes they should have been involved in setting up the research for the Review.”

Health ministry officials go on to list five specific research methodology concerns that were expressed to them, presumably by the FSIN, and give rebuttals for three. These include: random digit dialing as a recruitment tool, surveys, focus group and patient triad settings.

The two concerns that government officials couldn’t answer for were: treaty right to health is not acknowledged; and, First Nations governments are not recognized in the process. These are pretty important. Dagnone’s report doesn’t mention treaty rights and First Nations governments aren’t acknowledged in the terms of reference for the review.

It seems like the government was determined to prove that the FSIN didn’t have a case.

The ministry still maintain that the “Commissioner and the researchers believe they have framed the research to capture the First Nations person’s voice during the patient input phase of the review.” [First Nations Concerns Regarding the Patient First Review; Briefing Note, February 18, 2009]

The FSIN’s belief that it should have been involved in setting up the review seems to point directly to the Scoping and Planning Project document that Dagnone prepared for the health ministry in early 2008.

Dagnone was initially retained by the government to prepare the terms of reference for the review and make recommendations on the study’s framework and methodology to Health Minister Don McMorris. The term of his contract was May 14, 2008, to June 30, 2008.

On November 7, 2008, an access to information request was submitted to Saskatchewan Health for a copy the framework report that Dagnone delivered to health officials.

The ministry denied the request on December 10, 2008, saying “the information contained in the Scoping and Planning Project document is exempt” because it “contains advice and recommendations to the Ministry of Health’s Executive Government; and… information pertaining to the deliberations of Executive Government and Senior Government employees within the Ministry of Health.”

What is the Wall government hiding?

On March 23, 2009, health ministry officials prepared another briefing note updating First Nations concerns with the review.

“The Minister of Health has received a letter from the FSIN requesting resources to support a First Nations Patient Review. A response is currently in development,” the report said.

The government response, however, was never sent.

According to an e-mail from a health ministry official on July 15, 2009, Minister Don McMorris received a letter from the FSIN requesting financial support for First Nations Patient First Review on March 9, 2009. Subsequent to receiving the letter, a meeting was arranged involving Minister McMorris (Minister Draude) and Vice-Chief Pratt. The meeting occurred on April 27, 2009, and “involved a discussion regarding the Patient First Review, among other matters.”

“While a letter of response was prepared, as indicated in the briefing note, it was not sent,” the e-mail said. Apparently the meeting sufficed.

The briefing note indicates that Commissioner Dagnone attended the March 17, 2009, meeting of the MOU on First Nations Health and Well-being Steering Committee and provided the group with an overview of the Patient First Review. He further highlighted for the group what had been done to capture the First Nations’ patient’s voice in this Review.

During the meeting “Vice Chief Pratt thanked the Commissioner for sharing his preliminary findings with the group and especially for visiting a northern Dene community as part of the patient input phase.”

The Commissioner and committee “agreed that they would share information with each other to better inform their respective initiatives. There was a general sense that the Patient First Review is capturing many of the same concerns that are being heard by the FSIN during its own internal sessions, as well as at the Steering Committee’s open dialogue sessions. Through these two processes, positive change to the health system to better meet the needs of First Nations people could be accomplished.” [First Nations Concerns Regarding the Patient First Review Updated; Briefing Note, March 23, 2009]

A May 25, 2009, briefing note by health ministry staff appears to bring the issue to a close stating: The FSIN “passed a resolution at their February assembly to conduct their own patient first review that would inform this review. The Ministry of Health declined the FSIN’s request for funding for this separate review since both organizations, along with Health Canada, are currently working together to develop a 10-year health plan for First Nations health and well being.” [Patient First Review; Briefing Note, May 25, 2009]

Given the Commissioner’s subtle warning in the January 14, 2009, briefing note the FSIN’s request likely had little chance of succeeding.

Government briefing notes can prove valuable but in many ways they are a one-sided conversation. It’s hard to know if the whole story is being told or whether some parts are being left out.

Take for example the FSIN’s claim that is should have been involved in setting up the research for the review, or Vice Chief Pratt saying they would like a review and a public inquiry into how First Nations are treated in the health system. The health ministry’s briefing notes leave these two very important issues unresolved.

The FSIN seem silent on the Patient First Review report – at least publicly. There are no media releases posted on the organization’s website commenting on the review or the process.

What seems clear is that the Wall government didn’t want any competition. It wanted the review all to itself and on its terms. Allowing a parallel process into the mix would have mucked up its well laid plans.

In his report Dagnone said the review process “embodied a spirit of openness and transparency.” He said as the review proceeded he “shared information with health care leaders, providers, stakeholders, and the public.” However, that sentiment never extended to his scoping and framework document. Until this record is released there will likely continue to be questions.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Patient First Review: ‘Provincial shared services organization’ high on Wall government’s priority list

When Patient First Review Commissioner Tony Dagnone submitted his findings and recommendations on October 15, 2009, Health Minister Don McMorris said in a news release the provincial government will unfold an action plan and priorities on how to best implement the 16 recommendations from the review in the forthcoming weeks.

A September 9, 2009, health ministry briefing note obtained through a freedom of information request appears to identify the government’s top four priorities. These include:

▪ adopting a philosophy of patient- and family-centered care for the health care system;

▪ improving the surgical experience for patients, and addressing the backlog of surgeries;

▪ advancing the development, and implementing an electronic health record system; and,

▪ establishing a provincial shared services organization to take on supply chain management and possibly other functions.

In the Speech from the Throne on October 21, 2009, the government pledged that over the next four years, it will reduce surgical wait times in Saskatchewan to no longer than three months. The other three priority areas weren’t mentioned.

One issue that could be contentious is the provincial shared services organization (Recommendation 14).

The administrative component [conducted by Deloitte Inc.] of the Patient First Review was designed to determine whether the health system is “over-resourced, under-resourced or over-managed,” Dagnone states in his report. [p. 46]

“We heard numerous concerns from patients, frontline staff, and the public, that health regions were becoming a “growth industry for management,” ”he said.

“Questions were raised about the efficiency and cost effectiveness of functions that are duplicated across regions and about the capacity of small and medium-sized regions to respond to the demands of a changing and complex environment.”

Dagnone says it’s time things were done differently.

“Health regions must ensure best value is harvested province-wide in the purchase of goods and services required to deliver quality health care. In other provinces, numerous non-clinical and clinically-related corporate functions have adopted alternate service delivery models. Health regions would be well-advised to explore some of these successful models for possible applicability in Saskatchewan,” he said.

“A new, provincial, shared-services organization should be established to undertake supply-chain management and standardization at a provincial level. This would signal a new way of doing business on behalf of Saskatchewan people. All health regions, affiliates, and the Cancer Agency must be full participants if maximum value is to be achieved.

“An expert board of directors can work with the Ministry of Health, health regions and respective affiliates, and the Cancer Agency in defining the new organization’s mandate. Strong corporate leadership will be needed to break through traditional ways of doing business and enshrine a province-wide perspective. Only then will value-for-money be realized for Saskatchewan citizens.” [p. 48]

Deloitte’s recommendation in its report is a little more in-depth: “Establish a single Provincial Shared Services Organization for Supply Chain, Human Resources and Finance functions, which will require the following:

a) Detailed service model design, and business case, implementation plan, and transition support focused on people, work process, technology, and change management requirements);

b) Defined governance, mandate, role, organization and operating structure, for the Provincial Shared Services Organization; and

c) Alignment / integration plan for SAHO functions and staffing within the mandate of the Provincial Shared Services Organization.” [p. 29]

Deloitte states: “Potential savings from operations in this model will yield the greatest dollar reinvestment available for reallocation to enhance the patient experience.

“Savings estimates as percentage of operating costs are 14-20% for a shared service model versus 12 – 17% a managed service model – with a payback of 4 to 5 years. Estimates are high level and based on Deloitte’s experience in other organizations / jurisdictions.”

It’s unclear whether these savings will involve any job loss.

The Government of British Columbia implemented something similar a couple of years ago and we know how much Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall likes to emulate that province.

On December 14, 2007, the B.C. Government announced the creation of a new Health Authority Shared Services Organization (SSO), an independent organization reporting to a board comprised of the six health authority CEOs and the chief operating officer of the Ministry of Health.

B.C.’s health authorities will examine the feasibility of providing greater shared services with the goal of maximizing available financial resources to direct patient care, Health Minister George Abbott said in a news release.

“In order to ensure that health-care dollars are focused on direct patient care, we are continually seeking ways of reducing overhead costs and duplication in non-clinical services across health authorities,” said Abbott. Sound familiar?

In a news release later that day, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) slammed the government for failing to consult with health unions.

The union said the new organization was targeting payroll, information technology, purchasing and other services in the health sector for centralization and possible privatization.

Even though the plans had been in development for the last eight months, government representatives chose not to disclose them to health unions until the last minute, despite repeated requests for information during talks on the implementation of the June 2007 Supreme Court of Canada decision on Bill 29.

“This bombshell by the provincial government places into question whether they are truly committed to the Supreme Court-mandated consultation process,” said BCGEU president George Heyman. “Dropping this on the table at the last minute, after months of planning in secret, demonstrates a significant lack of respect and commitment to their obligation to consult with affected unions.”

Bill 29 rewrote health care collective agreements and resulted in the layoff of thousands of workers - mostly women - to make way for privatization.

In its decision, the Court established collective bargaining as a right protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a result of this decision, there is an obligation by government to engage in meaningful consultations and good faith negotiations, said the news release.

Heyman noted that the secrecy leading up to the announcement showed that the B.C. government seemed to have learned little from the Court decision.

At the federal level the Globe and Mail reported on August 11, 2005, that federal officials confirmed the existence of a two-year study that proposed to eliminate 41,000 jobs across the public service “in a bid to save as much as $4-billion a year.”

The study had been done at the request of Reg Alcock, the President of Treasury Board. According to the Globe, the report called “for staff reductions through attrition” and many of the jobs “would be transferred to new positions in a new agency tentatively called the Shared Services Organization.” Four areas would be affected: information technology, financial officers, human resources and office supply management.

Federal ministers tried to downplay the report saying it was merely an “internal study” that had “not yet gone to cabinet.”

Union leaders were upset nonetheless.

“I have not been consulted at all on any of this, so I’m pretty pissed off,” said Michèle Demers, the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the union that represents many of the employees who would be affected.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada also condemned the study, demanding meetings with government officials to discuss its possible implications. [Civil servants up in arms over proposal to cut jobs (Globe and Mail, August 11, 2005)]

It will be interesting to see how the Wall government handles the matter given its deep hatred of anything even remotely related to labour.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sask. Party gov’t refusing to release draft Western Economic Partnership Agreement; Crowns and municipalities consulted, but not public

The Brad Wall government appears to be refusing to let the public see the contents of the Western Economic Partnership Agreement before it’s signed.

At a joint cabinet meeting held March 13, 2009, in Vancouver, the governments of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan agreed to enter into a Western Economic Partnership.

In Calgary, on September 11, 2009, the three western provinces held their second joint cabinet meeting to continue discussions on a new pact.

A provincial government news release said the premiers signed a Western Economic Partnership. The partnership will create a broad western interprovincial trade agreement to create the largest barrier-free trade and investment market in Canada.

Premier Wall said the agreement “will break down unnecessary trade barriers” but did not identify them. He has yet to do so.

The provinces also agreed to conclude, by January 1, 2010, all elements of the agreement.

On September 16, 2009, an access to information request was made to Executive Council for copies of the two most recent draft versions of the partnership agreement.

A month later, on October 22, 2009, Bonita Cairns, the executive director of corporate services in Executive Council, advised that the request was denied citing the following sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as the reason for the refusal:

▪ 13(1) Records from other governments
▪ 14 Information injurious to intergovernmental relations or national defence
▪ 17(1) Advice from officials
▪ 18(1) Economic and other interests

It should be noted that sections 14, 17 and 18 are discretionary exemptions, meaning there is nothing stopping the ministry from disclosing the records if it wanted to.

The denial represents the second time in 2009 that Executive Council has refused a request for information about the partnership.

On April 21, 2009, Cairns turned down a request for copies of any agendas, itineraries, reports, briefing notes, memorandums or letters, including attachments, regarding the trilateral provincial meeting that took place on March 13, 2009, in Vancouver; and, also copies of any agreements or memorandums of understanding or cooperation that were signed at the meeting.

In September 2009, Wall acknowledged the partnership agreement is akin to the controversial BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA). [Sask. inks deal with Alta., B.C. (StarPhoenix, September 12, 2009)]

BC and Alberta signed TILMA on April 28, 2006, without any public consultation or legislative debate. As Opposition leader, Wall supported the trade deal without reservation and spent the rest of year demanding that then NDP Lorne Calvert sign it.

On June 28, 2007, Wall flip-flopped saying in a news release that the Saskatchewan Party “would not sign TILMA in its present form” unless Crown corporations and provincial and municipal new growth tax incentives were protected.

In the StarPhoenix on September 12, 2009, Wall said the new pact would accommodate Saskatchewan’s concerns.

Any consultations conducted by the Saskatchewan Party government appear to be limited.

According to an April 1, 2009, briefing note the government “will need to consult with stakeholders, such as municipalities and Crown corporations, to ensure that Saskatchewan’s interests are addressed in the partnership.”

However, the largest and most important group of stakeholders, the people of Saskatchewan, is being left on the sidelines.

Furthermore, what we don’t yet know is how long will Saskatchewan’s interests be protected – permanently or temporarily? This is one question Wall has not answered.

A second briefing note, this one dated April 21, 2009, said the partnership framework “is expected to initially contain an agreement on enhanced internal trade and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on innovation and international market development cooperation.”

These elements – plus an MOU for procurement – are indeed included in the two-page economic partnership document released by the provincial government on September 11, 2009. What’s interesting, though, is the briefing note’s use of the word ‘initially’. Does this mean that something else is coming that we don’t yet know about?

Wall is taking Saskatchewan down the same road that B.C. and Alberta travelled. Outside of a select few no one will be allowed to view the final agreement until after it’s signed. By then it’ll be too late.