Friday, April 29, 2011

Conservative MP Kelly Block a no-show at Saskatoon all-candidates forum, too busy eating pizza in Biggar; AWOL on Twitter since Apr. 20

Over 130 people packed the St. George’s Senior Citizens’ Centre in Saskatoon on April 28, 2011, for a federal election all-candidates forum organized by the Riversdale Community Association.

Three of the four candidates for the riding of Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar were present: Nettie Wiebe (NDP), Lee Reaney (Liberal) and Vicki Strelioff (Green Party).

The Conservative candidate and incumbent MP Kelly Block was a no-show.

Josh Boyes, Block’s campaign manager, had previously told the StarPhoenix that Block would be in Biggar at a volunteer appreciation pizza party, followed by a door knocking blitz in the community.

Community association president Doug Ramage on April 20 said when he originally spoke with Boyes and Block, he told them the debate would be either the 27th or 28th, with the latter being a backup date.

“Boyes and Block knew the debate would be either the 27th or 28th as those are the dates I presented them with,” said Ramage in an email.

Block’s campaign team had lots of time to plan for the forum but it seems they went ahead and booked other events on those two days anyway.

Dodging debates with her opponents appears to be Block’s specialty. In the 2008 federal election she skipped forums in Saskatoon and Biggar.

Block won the seat in 2008 beating Wiebe by a slim 262 votes.

Block has also been AWOL on her Twitter account since April 20 when the story first broke about her decision not to attend the forum. It’s as if she’s dropped off the face of the earth.

The candidates at the forum were permitted to question each other. Wiebe’s first query was to the absent Block.

“I’d like her to take the time to defend (her) record,” Wiebe said.

The candidates faced questions from the forum moderator before the crowd had its chance to ask the three about their policies, the StarPhoenix reported. Questions ranged from Canada’s involvement in NATO to poverty reduction. One person asked about the candidates’ support for proportional representation.

“We have to move in the country . . . towards a system that more clearly reflects the wishes of the electorate,” Wiebe said.

Strelioff said the Green party has always supported introducing proportional representation to Canada. “Every vote should count,” she said.

Reaney was less clear about his support.

“Our system is not representative of a number of Canadians,” he said.

On affordable housing, Wiebe said Canada needs a national plan to ensure people find acceptable homes. [Incumbent absent from forum (StarPhoenix, April 29, 2011)]

Conservative candidates are in hiding in many ridings across the country.

In a blog posting for, Alheli Picazo said she compiled a list of those who have, thus far, refused to take part in all-candidate forums, town hall events, and scheduled debates. As of April 22, 2011, there were 67 Conservative candidates on the list.

The repugnant behaviour displayed by Block and her fellow Conservatives appears to be merely an extension of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s deep contempt for Parliament, democracy and Canadians in general.

Incumbent MP Kelly Block a no-show at forum

Block AWOL on Twitter since April 20, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar Conservative MP Kelly Block 'dodges public debates'; similar stunt pulled in 2008 federal election

For the second straight federal election Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar Conservative candidate Kelly Block has been caught ducking debates with her opponents.

As first reported here, Block failed to meet a recent deadline to inform organizers if she will attend an all candidates forum hosted by the Riversdale Community Association on April 28 at the St. George’s Senior Citizens’ Centre.

The NDP, Liberal and Green Party candidates have confirmed their attendance.

According to a StarPhoenix article published on April 20, community association president Doug Ramage found out Block wasn’t attending from a TV reporter.

Ramage said all candidates were contacted on April 4 and given a range of four days to choose from. The community association heard back from everyone except Block.

Ramage went so far as to visit Block’s campaign office. “It started off as, ‘Absolutely not, as her schedule was predetermined weeks in advance,” he said. Then, they said they’d try squeezing her in. “We were left assuming she would do her best to make it.”

Josh Boyes, Block’s campaign manager, apparently told reporter Janet French that Block will be in Biggar at a volunteer appreciation pizza party, followed by a door knocking blitz in the community.

“We’re left wondering if this was planned in advance in order to avoid (the forum) or if this was simply just the only time they could run that,” Ramage said.

It was about a week ago when Block’s campaign set volunteer appreciation events in Rosetown and Biggar on April 27 and 28 respectively, Boyes said.

“We understood there was a possibility of a conflict, but it was just that we had a number of (possible forum) days and we weren’t sure which day he was going to come back to us with,” Boyes said.

Boyes said he didn’t propose an alternative forum date and time to the community association and that request likely got lost in the “craziness of the campaign.”

(Or, maybe they just didn’t want to attend so chose not to respond.)

Boyes said Block would be willing to participate in forums that fit into her schedule.

(But didn’t he just say he never offered the community association any alternative dates?)

Boyes insists Block is open to questioning and is happy to defend Conservative policies and platform on doorsteps, in the campaign office and on the phone. [Riversdale meeting minus Block (StarPhoenix, April 20, 2011)]

Just not at public forums, though, where her campaign team can’t control the message. reported Boyes saying the date of the debate was changed on April 13. [All Candidates Forum for Saskatoon Rosetown Biggar Riding (, April 19, 2011)]

It appears Boyes is wrong.

On April 20, Ramage said in an email the date was changed on the 12th, and that all candidates are sent the same emails by way of blind carbon copy (BCC).

“What is missing from Boyes’ story,” said Ramage. “Is that when I originally spoke with Josh Boyes and Kelly Block, I told them the debate would be either the 27th or the 28th (the 28th was the backup date, that we ended up having to use).”

April 12 also coincides with around the same time Boyes states the volunteer pizza party and door-knocking blitz was organized for Rosetown (27th) & Biggar (28th) in the StarPhoenix article, said Ramage.

“Boyes and Block knew the debate would be either the 27th or 28th as those are the dates I presented them with,” said Ramage.

The community association is non-partisan and thereby not for or against any of the candidates and encourage all of them to attend, said Ramage.

The Riversdale Community Association clearly went above and beyond to accommodate all candidates. Everyone was treated the same. Unfortunately, they came up against a candidate that didn’t seem to want anything to do with the forum and made sure no solution could be found.

Boyes is a former president of the Saskatoon–Wanuskewin Conservative Party Association. He was also Block’s campaign manager in the 2008 federal election when the candidate avoided debates then, including one in Biggar, which led organizers to cancel it.

Block’s communication manager, Carol Reynolds, said at the time her door knocking schedule was busy.

“This is not a directive from the Conservative party,” Reynolds said. “She will be spending the bulk of her time getting to know residents.”

Reynolds defended the decision as “strategic,” arguing Block has to get out to see as many constituents as she can, the StarPhoenix reported. [Block passes on debates (StarPhoenix, October 3, 2008)]

The StarPhoenix editorial board blasted the decision saying “it defies credibility for Ms. Block’s campaign officials to suggest that she has a better chance of connecting with more residents in the far-flung constituency by knocking on one door at a time than she would at a centralized public forums attended by dozens of people at a time.”

The editorial board noted that Ms. Block in Saskatoon and Wascana candidate Michelle Hunter were among more than 17 Conservative candidates -- including cabinet ministers Diane Finley and Helena Guergis – who had so far ducked all-party debates across Canada.

The number of Conservative no-shows was simply too large to ignore.

The board suggested it was an attempt by the Tory national campaign to keep a tight rein on candidates -- especially rookies whose inexperience might lead to embarrassing pronouncements.

“For a party that got into trouble with Elections Canada for funnelling money to local candidates’ campaigns to purchase advertising deemed to be national ads for regulatory purposes, it’s damaging to send a message to voters that their candidate is but a mere pawn in a game far removed from local control or accountability,” said the board.

“It’s bad enough when a party’s candidate does no more than spew out packaged pablum prepared by the national office, that has little to do with local issues.

“But it undermines the entire democratic process when candidates refuse to participate during an election campaign in public events that give voters a chance to assess their ideas in the context of what’s being offered by other parties, especially when the party in question has not yet released a full platform that can be useful for comparison purposes.” [Tory candidates have obligation to share views (StarPhoenix, October 6, 2008)]

Like Saskatchewan’s other 12 Conservative MP’s, Block seems to be little more than an empty shell, a mouthpiece for the Prime Minister’s Office and the Conservative Party of Canada.

Block does excel in one area though: wasting taxpayers money on mail outs to constituents.

A Board of Internal Economy report on individual MP spending shows Block’s office spent $67,358.15 on taxpayer funded mail outs in 2009-10, the second highest total among Saskatchewan Conservative MP’s. Most of that money was blown on nasty, partisan flyers sent to constituents’ homes.

Since the summer of 2009, Block has sent out at least 37 of the controversial flyers as well as calendars, oversized mailings and booklets outlining the party’s tough on crime agenda and reckless tax cuts.

Block sends out so many flyers that sometimes constituents receive two different ones on the same day.

The black and white flyers usually say nothing about Block’s activities as an MP. Their purpose is twofold: To praise Prime Minister Stephen Harper and promote the Conservative brand and to create fear and demonize the opposition parties.

Saskatchewan’s 13 Conservative MP’s blew an astounding $607,608.94 on mail outs in 2009-10, an increase of 32.14 per cent over the previous year.

Since 2006-07, spending on mail outs by Saskatchewan Conservative MP’s has risen 125.75 per cent.

Records indicate that since the Harper Conservatives took office in January 2006, the cost of printing by all MP’s has increased a whopping 148.68 per cent going from $5.94-million in 2005-06 to $14.77-million last year.

Kelly Block taxpayer funded fearmongering flyer (Rec'd Nov. 25, 2010)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Campaign bubble continues as Harper takes no questions from audience or media at rally in Saskatoon; Kelly Block misses debate deadline

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign bubble tour was in Saskatoon on April 15, 2011, with a Conservative rally at Prairieland Park Trade and Convention Centre (Hall A).

As with every other election stop by the PM since the federal election campaign began on March 26, the event was tightly controlled and scripted.

Those attending were required to pre-register by April 14 and show photo ID at the door. Anyone without a media pass or a round blue Conservative Party sticker reading “Here for Harper Canada” was denied entry to the hall.

In the crowd were such familiar faces as city councillor Bev Dubois and Saskatchewan Party cabinet ministers Don Morgan and Ken Cheveldayoff.

The rally lacked any spontaneity. The supporters that filled the risers at the back of the stage were coached on how to wave their signs by Conservative handlers before the event started. Once under way, the audience clapped and cheered seemingly on cue.

The first to take the stage was Blackstrap MP Lynne Yelich, who introduced the province’s other 12 Conservative MPs, along with several senators. Dubbed the “Saskatchewan 13” the MPs have proven to be ineffective and useless.

The MPs were silent during last fall’s $38.6 billion takeover bid by Australia’s BHP Billiton of PotashCorp. And to this day they refuse to own up to Harper breaking his $800-million-a-year promise to Saskatchewan in the 2006 election to remove natural resources from the equalization formula. They live to serve Harper and little else.

Next up was Saskatoon–Rosetown–Biggar MP Kelly Block to introduce the Prime Minister.

Block’s claim to fame is her refusal to participate in any debates during the 2008 federal election. This campaign seems to be no different. Block failed to meet a recent deadline to inform organizers if she will attend an all candidates forum hosted by the Riversdale Community Association on April 28 at the St. George’s Senior Citizens’ Centre (1235 20th St. W.). The NDP, Liberal and Green Party candidates said they plan to be there.

In October 2010, Block introduced a private members bill seeking to disclose the salaries and expenses paid to First Nations chiefs and councillors. The StarPhoenix noted at the time that Block does not represent any First Nations communities in her riding and that she came up with the idea for the bill by speaking with fellow MPs. [Disclose band salaries: MP (StarPhoenix, October 2, 2010)]

Block’s riding includes Saskatoon’s poorest neighbourhoods. Given the challenges some of her constituents face with skyrocketing rent, poverty and poor health it’s mystifying why Block would devote so much time to a cause that has no impact in her riding.

StarPhoenix columnist Doug Cuthand hit the nail on the head last month when he called the bill “a shiny bauble aimed to keep the party’s right wing happy.”

“While it’s a private member’s bill,” said Cuthand. “Make no mistake that under the tight control of Stephen Harper, it had the blessing of the PMO.”

In Cuthand’s opinion, since taking power five years ago, “the Conservative government has done very little to improve conditions for First Nations.” [First Nations’ issues on Tories’ backburner (StarPhoenix, March 18, 2011)]

Harper was ushered into the hall through a side door and steered directly to the stage, shaking a few hands as he walked by his Saskatchewan caucus.

In his speech, Harper took every opportunity to paint the opposition parties as a coalition ready to seize power in the event of another minority Conservative government. He said such an arrangement would be “unstable” and only lead to another election.

Canada needs a strong, stable national, majority Conservative government,” said Harper.

Harper reminded the crowd that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff once said he wouldn’t “take a GST hike off the table.” Naturally, he didn’t mention that most economists worth their salt have said his government’s decision to cut the GST by two percentage points was a mistake that cost the treasury billions of dollars in lost revenue. Even the StarPhoenix said the move was “unwise.”

And, of course, Harper took time to talk about tax cuts and being tough on crime.

Harper also repeated the Conservatives’ Big Lie about Canada leading the global economic recovery.

A Postmedia News article published in the StarPhoenix two weeks ago set the record straight stating: “Canada ranked sixth in 2008 and 2009 in economic performance out of the 17 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to a report by the Conference Board of Canada. But Canada is expected to slip to 10th in 2010 and ninth in 2011, according to the report.

Canada’s economy has been improving, but not at the same rate as the leading economies. Australia and Sweden are expected to lead in economic improvement in 2011, according to the report.” [Reality ‘cheque’: Tory claims about the economy (StarPhoenix, March 28, 2011)]

The same article also debunks Harper’s lies that the Liberals would raise taxes and increase spending should they form government.

Harper spoke from notes for nearly half an hour and then left without taking questions from the audience or the media.

NewsTalk radio 650 later reported that Conservative staffers said the Prime Minister was there strictly for rallying purposes, and that he was taking no questions from the media.

Harper arrived in Saskatoon the previous evening, but it remains unknown what he did between then and the rally. [Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Saskatchewan (NewsTalk 650, April 15, 2011)]

Blackstrap MP Lynne Yelich introducing colleagues

Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar MP Kelly Block introducing Prime Minister

Email invitation from Kelly Block campaign office (Apr. 12, 2011)

Conservative sticker required for rally

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thanks to Wall government, PAIRS negotiations stalled for over 20 months; parity with Alberta resident physicians recommended

Just over a year ago, the StarPhoenix carried an article about life as a medical intern inside an emergency room as part of National Resident Awareness Day.

Real-life trauma at Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital is managed largely by residents, especially during overnight care when residents are often on the front line. When patients arrive at the teaching hospital, the first doctor they see is usually a resident. Medical students do not automatically become physicians upon graduation and must spend between two and six years as a resident before becoming an independent physician, the story said.

The following are some of the conditions Saskatchewan interns work under:

▪ A doctor in the third year of training as a resident has an annual salary of $57,207.

▪ A resident doctor in Saskatchewan is allowed to work more than 24 hours once every four days.

▪ Residents are paid $100 to work a 24-hour in-hospital call shift from 8 a.m. Saturday until 8 a.m. Sunday.

▪ Residents have no scheduled rest or meal breaks.

▪ The average resident works 80 hours per week.

▪ A resident walks more than 10 kilometres during an average shift.

The Professional Association of Internes and Residents of Saskatchewan (PAIRS) represent more than 340 physicians in training in the province.

Residents are both employees and students of the University of Saskatchewan. PAIRS negotiate terms of their contract with the university. The Ministry of Health, which funds the contract, has the final say on what the U of S can offer.

The members of PAIRS have been without a contract since December 31, 2008.

The Saskatchewan Party government says physician recruitment and retention is a high priority, and that it values the important role that post-graduate residents play in meeting the needs of Saskatchewan people. At least that’s the message health ministry officials are peddling in briefing notes on the matter.

In response to an access to information request submitted in February, the health ministry recently released six briefing notes totalling fifteen pages. Three of the records were heavily censored. Another eight briefing notes totalling twenty-four pages were withheld in their entirety. Obviously, there are things that the Wall government does not want the public to know.

Despite the extreme secrecy, some details have emerged.

The records show that the Wall government stalled negotiations for more than 20 months.

A briefing note dated September 27, 2010, states that PAIRS and the U of S had not met since March 2009, after PAIRS submitted their proposals to the U of S.

“The PAIRS and the U of S are anxious to resume negotiations. Negotiations have been postponed pending an approved bargaining mandate from Cabinet. The Ministry is in the process of finalizing a Cabinet Decision Item (CDI),” the document says.

Subsequent briefing notes show that the U of S and PAIRS finally resumed negotiations late last year after receiving the Wall government’s mandate.

The U of S and their contracted negotiator, Greg Trew of Claymore Consulting, met with PAIRS on December 15, 2010, where PAIRS provided a counter-offer.

The negotiating teams met again on February 3 and 14, 2011.

A briefing note dating back to April 28, 2010, indicates, “PAIRS has requested wage parity with the SUN agreement; however the University of Saskatchewan is instead recommending parity with Western Canada, specifically Alberta (PARA), which is 11.48% higher Saskatchewan’s 2008 rate.”

Ministry officials say physicians who relocate, tend to move to Alberta or B.C.; therefore, competitiveness is a strong consideration.

A December 20, 2010, briefing note includes a table showing a comparison of salaries for Ontario and Western provinces. Unfortunately, details of the government mandate immediately following are blacked out.

News reports suggest that what the U of S (i.e. provincial government) has been offering doesn’t come close to parity with Alberta.

At a meeting on January 13, 2011, PAIRS members voted overwhelmingly to reject the Wall government’s latest contract offer, which the organization said was no different than the initial offer and did nothing to address the low salaries of residents working in the province.

PAIRS president Dr. Marilyn Kinloch told reporters at a news conference that the government also refused to include retroactive pay in a new contract.

“It’s an absolute mandatory piece of the contract,” Kinloch said. “(Members) will not sign a contract without retroactive pay.”

Kinloch said the two sides have made progress on non-monetary issues, but the employer has refused to budge on salary issues, the StarPhoenix reported.

In the article, Barb Daigle, the U of S associate vice-president of human resources said the university’s strategy is to be competitive with all medical-doctoral schools, not just the one that offers the highest salary. That means the U of S is aiming to rank among the 75th percentile in salary, she added.

However, that’s not what the health ministry briefing notes seem to be saying. These documents clearly show that the U of S is recommending parity with Alberta. Since the cost of living has increased since 2008, the U of S will have to do better than 11.48 per cent in the short-term.

Last year, 26 out of 59 University of Saskatchewan medical graduates stayed in the province for residency programs, which is the lowest rate in Canada, according to PAIRS, the StarPhoenix said. At 34 per cent, Saskatchewan has the highest rate of unmatched residency spots in Canada, PAIRS says. The national average is 10 per cent. [Medical residents reject gov't contract offer (StarPhoenix, January 15, 2011)]

The StarPhoenix editorial board criticized the Wall government’s stance on retroactive pay: “The government’s objection that PAIRS is seeking retroactive pay for persons who no longer are residents or who have moved on to other institutions is an odd rationale, to say the least. Such a justification, if it stands, would reward the government for dragging on the talks for as long as possible, and any settlement would apply only to those specialists-in-training who might take longer to qualify.

“The fact that others put in the long 24-hour-a-day, weeklong shifts at pay rates that can be as low as $10 an hour for serving as front-line doctors in hospitals, seems not be a consideration. Surely, they deserve back-pay if a subsequent contract deems their work to be more valuable, especially since the deal could have been reached while they were on the job except for foot-dragging over issues such as their salaries.” [Fair PAIRS deal needed to beat doctor shortage (StarPhoenix, February 14, 2011)]

According to Daigle, the latest contract offer from the U of S was tabled February 14, 2011. Negotiations are “complex” because of the number of parties involved, she said.

“It’s a challenge when we’re not necessarily the ones making the financial decisions,” Daigle said. “The offer that we tabled on Monday was a best effort to offer to make some progress, in terms of competitive salaries.”

The Ministry of Health declined to comment, referring questions to the university. [Drawn-out talks on contract leave poor impression: medical residents (StarPhoenix, February 18, 2011)]

It’s plain to see that the real road block to a new agreement is the Wall government.

Health Minister Don McMorris told reporters on February 22, 2011, he’s confident negotiations between the U of S and PAIRS will conclude soon.

“Just from my experience in three years as minister of health, it seems like when we get very close is when it gets to be the most tense,” he said. “I would say it’s getting pretty tense right now.” [Pairs’ withdrawal of role ‘unfortunate’: recruitment agency (StarPhoenix, February 23, 2011)]

That was seven weeks ago.

PAIRS members are set to vote on the latest contract offer on April 14, 2011.

In an interview with the StarPhoenix, PAIRS president Dr. Marilyn Kinloch said the negotiating team isn’t making a recommendation to the residents on whether to accept or reject it.

“The negotiations team has decided to remain objective on this offer, present it as is and answer questions,” she said. [Medical residents set to vote on contract (StarPhoenix, April 6, 2011)]

It doesn’t sound promising.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Meewasin Valley Authority abandon interest in Mendel Art Gallery building for new home; concerns include cost, control and controversy

In a surprising move, the Meewasin Valley Authority has for the time being withdrawn its interest in moving its operations to the Mendel Art Gallery after it is vacated in 2014.

The decision, made at a meeting of the Meewasin board on February 4, 2011, could be reviewed if the participating parties (City of Saskatoon, Province of Saskatchewan and University of Saskatchewan) decide at some point to increase both Meewasin’s statutory revenue and provide resources toward capital improvements.

The main reasons for the decision are cost, control and controversy.

According to a memorandum from CEO Susan Lamb and director of operations Gwen Charman to the Meewasin board dated February 4, 2011, the organization’s current operating budget is $122,000.

“This is extremely tight,” the document says. “It is impossible for us to continue at our current service levels unless we receive a significant increase in revenue tied to inflation.”

Lamb and Charman “anticipate” operating costs at the Mendel could be nearly $600,000 leaving an unfunded operating deficit of about $480,000.

“This does not include any increased marketing for an out-of-the-way location or increased staffing for special events needed to attract visitors.”

The potential loss of autonomy is a big concern.

Meewasin owns its current building and pays no rent or lease costs. This would not be the case at the Mendel site, where city council has decided the city will maintain ownership.

“[W]e have very specific needs that are most easily met when we own our own building. If we cannot meet our needs, there is no point in pursuing the project,” Lamb and Charman said.

There is also fear that any deal could become a political football, generating negative coverage.

“We lose control of the discussion as others hold the Open Houses etc. our fundraising analysis shows that controversy would be the death of any fundraising campaign,” Lamb and Charman said.

“We have completed a fundraising analysis with potential donors split virtually down the middle on the option of staying in the current site or moving to the Mendel. Our analysis showed that Meewasin could raise $4.5 million in a fundraising campaign. Donors told us the campaign would be successful only if there is a minimum of controversy about the decision.”

It’s also noted that competition for the Mendel building through the city’s expressions of interest process sets up “winners” and “losers” in the community.

“Anticipation of our interest has already meant we are excluded from the Kinsmen Park master planning steering committee. As this is a major addition to the Meewasin Valley, the fact that we cannot be part of the discussion is unfortunate to say the least.”

Preliminary discussions with representatives of the Government of Canada have revealed that “there is little likelihood of federal funding until at least 2015.” Meewasin’s plan, on any site, “would need to see additional capital from municipal, provincial, federal and private donors to complete the project.”

“Given the risks,” Lamb and Charman said they could not recommend that Meewasin participate in the EOI for the Mendel building “at this time.”

Actually, what the city issued was a call for ideas not an EOI. The deadline for submissions was February 23, 2011. The ideas received were scheduled to be reviewed by the executive committee at a closed-door meeting on March 14, 2011. The city will invite up to two candidates to submit detailed business plans.

What’s puzzling is that Meewasin waited so long to pull the plug. The organization’s expansion plans have been on hold since April 3, 2009, when the city and Mendel board announced plans to move the art gallery to River Landing. Lamb has known for more than a year that the move would result in a tight fit and higher operating costs.

In an interview with the StarPhoenix on Feburary 11, 2010, Lamb said a preliminary estimate showed that renovating the Mendel for the MVA’s purposes would cost $10 million, compared to an estimated $11 million to $12 million to build a new 28,000-square-foot interpretive centre at the current spot in the former Rothman’s building in Friendship Park.

The costs to operate year-to-year would also be increased substantially, she said.

The Mendel building, constructed in 1964, requires significant renovations to the heating and mechanical systems and space remains an issue, Lamb said.

“We would fit over there, but just barely,” Lamb said.

Lamb also said a fundraising drive wouldn’t begin until a decision was made on whether to stay in the south downtown or move downstream. [MVA in holding pattern on interpretive centre (StarPhoenix, February 12, 2010)]

Thanks to the city, Meewasin has lost at least 22 months.

Controversy will follow the Mendel no matter what Meewasin does.

The only reason the building is available is because the gallery’s board and city council stabbed the Mendel family in the back at two closed-door meetings in early 2009. On March 14 the Mendel board passed a resolution to pursue the construction of a new gallery at River Landing. The city’s executive committee approved the plan in principle on March 23. Both decisions were the culmination of secret discussions and back room dealing involving the provincial and federal governments. The public, Mendel family and gallery donors were never consulted.

The despicable decisions were made for two reasons: the availability of federal Building Canada funds and the city’s desperate need for a year-round attraction at the troubled, cost-plagued River Landing development.

The Meewasin board was briefed on the Mendel situation at an in-camera meeting on April 3, 2009, a few hours before the official announcement.

No sooner had the ink dried on the betrayal than Meewasin shamelessly stepped in to ‘stake claim’ to the building.

On April 7, 2009, the StarPhoenix reported that Meewasin administrators were already investigating a possible relocation; and, that all four city councillors on the Meewasin board (including Mayor Don Atchison) were in favour of moving to a vacated Mendel Art Gallery.

“If it had been orchestrated, it couldn’t have been done any better,” Coun. Darren Hill, a member of the Meewasin board said. “I’m 100 per cent behind moving into the Mendel location. . . . It’s got adequate parking, the interpretive area, a gift shop, the civic conservatory will get to stay. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

Moving into the Mendel site would save money and ensure the building doesn’t sit empty, Hill told reporter David Hutton.

The present building would likely be demolished if the MVA moves out, Hill said. [MVA eyes Mendel site (StarPhoenix, April 7, 2009)]

In deciding not to submit a proposal, the Meewasin board has likely avoided a major headache. Any process involving the organization relocating to the Mendel would be seen as a complete sham.

Often seen as a rubber-stamp body for city council’s schemes, the MVA already suffers from credibility problems.

Meewasin, a conservation agency, is mandated to protect the natural and heritage resources of the Meewasin Valley, which includes the south downtown. Sadly, it sat on the sidelines when the historic Gathercole and Legion buildings were torn down. It was silent when city council on December 6, 2010, voted in favour of demolishing and replacing the 103-year-old Traffic Bridge. And earlier this year when a stand of 80-year-old American elm trees on River Landing Parcel “Y” were cut down to make room for future development, it looked the other way.

The last thing Meewasin needs is the added burden of being associated with destroying the late Fred Mendel’s legacy.

MVA memorandum dated February 4, 2011
(Received April 6, 2011, as part of an access to information request)

Preliminary estimates prepared by MVA staff
(Received Nov. 2010 as part of an access to information request)