Sunday, May 29, 2011

Regional health authorities say Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan employees ‘good to work with’

The Saskatchewan Party government’s deep contempt for working people, especially those belonging to unions, could very well damage the positive working relationship that the regional health authorities (RHA) say it has with striking Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan (HSAS) employees.

According to a Ministry of Health briefing note dated October 6, 2010, feedback regarding the priority of current tabled items was sought from the RHA’s last summer in order to ensure a fully informed bargaining process between the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) and the union.

Collective agreement articles were reviewed by the RHA’s with respect to alignment with the Wall government’s Strategic and Operational Directions for the Health Sector.

Eleven of the twelve provincial RHA’s responded to a letter dated July 27, 2010, requesting feedback on the currently tabled articles. Keewatin Yatthe Regional Health Authority was the only RHA that did not respond.

“Overall message from the RHA’s is that the package is quite reasonable, but they are willing to live with the removal of items if necessary, as HSAS employees are quite good to work with,” the six-page document states. “There was very little outright opposition to any of the outlined initiatives.”

Unfortunately, health ministry officials blacked out most of the remaining five pages.

The briefing note was one of 10 (totaling 33 pages) that were recently released by the health ministry under an access to information request. The majority of the records were heavily censored.

The collective agreement with HSAS expired on March 31, 2009. On February 22, 2011, members voted 88 per cent in favour of job action, citing a wage increase below the cost of living, no improvements to workplace benefits, a series of contract take-aways, and a threat to eliminate retroactive pay unless members accepted SAHO’s January 27 offer before March 31.

The average wage rate of HSAS members is 25 per cent less than their counterparts in Alberta, a union news release said.

On March 11, SAHO presented the union with what it called the employers’ “best offer,” a 7.5 per cent wage increase over four years, a marginal improvement over the 5.5 per cent SAHO initially offered on February 22. The latest offer also expands the number of classifications that would receive a market adjustment.

“We have indicated to them that although we believe this is kind of the parameters of which a settlement could be reached, we do have a little bit of room to move, but it’s very little,” said Susan Antosh, SAHO president.

“The employers’ goal is to ensure that we’re providing market-competitive wages and by that we mean market competitive in western Canadian health care to all of the workers within the health-care system.” [SAHO offer not enough: health union (StarPhoenix, March 12, 2011)]

HSAS, which represents more than 3,000 health care professionals across the province, said the offer represented “some small progress” but was “far from adequate.” The union is seeking 18.5 per cent over four years.

On April 27, HSAS called on Premier Brad Wall to agree to submit the union’s lengthy contract dispute with health care employers to independent, binding arbitration.

“After more than two years without a contract and no indication health care employers are ready or able to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement, we believe independent, binding arbitration is the best option to prevent job action. We call on Brad Wall to act now to introduce independent, binding arbitration of our contract dispute,” Health Sciences President Cathy Dickson said in a news release.

“At the bargaining table yesterday, Health Sciences presented its fourth new contract proposal in the past four months to try to jumpstart negotiations, but health care employers, represented by SAHO (Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations), rejected our proposal, admitted they had no authority to negotiate its terms, and refused to even discuss it,” Dickson said, noting that SAHO cancelled the remainder of the bargaining sessions planned for that week.

Dickson said the union reminded SAHO of the commitment by Health Minister Don McMorris in the Legislature on March 16 to make HSAS a contract offer that would be ‘competitive’ with Alberta. Shockingly, SAHO pretended not to be aware of it and then dismissed it saying the minister was not at the table and added “we don’t know where the Minister gets his information.”

Alberta is Saskatchewan’s main competitor in Western Canada, followed by British Columbia. However, SAHO stubbornly insists on including Manitoba, with its significantly lower wages, in its rate comparisons to drag down the average.

On May 9, McMorris shot down the idea of arbitration telling reporters it was premature. He confirmed that SAHO has “room to move,” but would not say whether the government had authorized more funding for a new offer. [Health workers walk the line (StarPhoenix, May 10, 2011)]

The following week Wall and SAHO both said no as well.

According to the StarPhoenix, Antosh said in an interview that binding arbitration allows for too many variables in that “arbitrators do not have to follow policy decisions and those kinds of things.”

HSAS president Cathy Dickson responded by saying, “If the government doesn’t feel comfortable with it, it’s probably because they know (their offer) is not something that’s very fair. And an arbitrator is going to look at that right off the bat.”

Dickson added that the problem is that the Saskatchewan Party government’s essential services legislation contains no independent resolution process such as arbitration.

About 50 per cent of union members have been declared “essential” under the law and cannot strike.

Meanwhile, Wall told reporters the government’s continued preference is for a negotiated settlement.

“There’s a good reason why governments of all stripes have avoided (arbitration) as a way to settle disputes. The best solutions are found at the bargaining table. We need to exhaust every possible avenue to get that, to have that resolution happen.” [HSAS ponders next move (StarPhoenix, May 17, 2011)]

It appears that after more than two years of stonewalling by SAHO and the provincial government, the only thing Wall is exhausting is the public’s patience.

On May 24, HSAS released the results of a province-wide public opinion poll conducted on behalf of the union that shows 67.5 per cent support for independent, binding arbitration to settle the current contract dispute.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Premier Brad Wall threatens striking teachers with talk of ‘massive layoffs’; Ministry of Education flouting freedom of information law

“Be it resolved that a Saskatchewan Party government will recognize and respect the valuable role that labour and the collective bargaining process have played and will continue to play in the growth and development of Saskatchewan.”
Saskatchewan Party Policy Resolution LB05-1 Recognizing the Contribution of Labour and Collective Bargaining in Saskatchewan

Premier Brad Wall respects organized labour so much that he recently threatened striking teachers with the spectre of “massive layoffs” if they didn’t lower their wage demands.

On May 5, thousands of members of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) rallied at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina as part of what the Leader-Post described as “the first-ever, provincewide, one-day teacher walkout” to protest stalled contract talks.

At the time, the government was offering a 5.5 per cent salary increase over three years (which is less than the current rate of inflation in Saskatchewan) while teachers were asking for a 12 per cent increase over one year.

During question period at the legislature that day, Wall warned teachers about what happened in Alberta after that province signed a large contract settlement.

“The Alberta situation is instructive and important for us here because we want to avoid a settlement where our school boards would have to, because of budgetary constraints caused by a settlement, potentially look at layoffs,” said Wall, who encouraged the parties to return to negotiations. [Teachers make a statement (Leader-Post, May 6, 2011)]

The legislative Hansard shows that Wall’s scare tactics went further than what was reported by the Leader-Post and StarPhoenix.

In addition to job cuts, Wall said teachers in a number of school districts in Alberta are “working 20 per cent more in terms of teaching time or assignable time.” They are also seeing “teacher/student ratios that are too high.”

“They are high also in centres in this province. We want to see that problem relieved, not exacerbated,” Wall said, the implication being that the same thing would happen here if teachers secured a large contract.

Education Minister Donna Harpauer said after the rally that both sides needed to start talking again, and then promptly declared the offer of 5.5 per cent is firm. [Contract lessons: Teachers walk out of class for first time in Saskatchewan (Globe and Mail, May 5, 2011)]

So much for good faith bargaining.

Teachers have been without a contract since August 31, 2010. In April, they voted 95 per cent in favour of job action. Wages are the main issue in the dispute.

The STF and the government-trustee bargaining committee, which is comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Education and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, returned to the bargaining table on May 17, however, talks broke down two days later.

The teachers’ federation has asked the government to increase salaries by about 5.4 per cent per year over three years, for a total of 16.3 per cent, or agree to binding arbitration -a third-party, legal settlement both sides would be obligated to agree to, the StarPhoenix reported.

The government and school boards rejected the proposal, refusing to budge from its offer of 5.5 per cent over three years, with a 1.5 per cent increase the first year and two per cent the next two years.

The STF says it would take an increase of 10.8 per cent for Saskatchewan teachers to be situated between the salaries of Manitoba and Alberta. During bargaining, the STF added a further 5.5 per cent in its demands to account for cost-of-living increases and moved to a three-year proposal from its original request of a 12 per cent increase over one year.

On May 20, the STF announced plans to strike on May 25-26.

“Our two parties are extremely far apart on direct compensation,” Gwen Dueck, spokesperson for the STF said. “It was disingenuous of the government to invite us back to the table without being willing to move off of their original proposal.” [Teachers plan strike (StarPhoenix, May 21, 2011)]

Meanwhile, officials in the Ministry of Education are busy flouting the province’s freedom of information law.

On May 3, an access to information request was submitted to the ministry for copies of any briefing notes regarding the STF contract negotiations since January 1.

Access and Privacy Coordinator Marie Syrnyk responded on May 6 acknowledging receipt of the request and to say that a review of “all the records” relevant to the request was underway. A formal written response in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act would be provided as soon as possible.

Then, just four days later, the ministry advised that access to the records was denied.

“The reason for refusal of these records is that they provide information related to current negotiations with the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation and release of such records could interfere with current and future negotiations,” said Drew Johnston, the ministry’s access and privacy officer, in a letter dated May 10.

A follow-up email was sent to Johnston on May 16 asking how many records and the total number of pages was being withheld. The reply from Johnston later that day was stunning to say the least:

“I cannot tell you how many briefing notes, pages etc. have been prepared on this issue as we did not ask the branches of the ministry to submit them since we knew we wouldn’t be releasing them under the legislation,” he said. “This would have required several hours of work for staff searching, reviewing and copying documents knowing that they would not be released. As you can appreciate planning for and conducting negotiations requires confidentiality, particularly given that negotiations are continuing at this time. Thank you again for your interest in this matter.”

So it would appear the ministry lied on May 6 when it said that “all the records” relevant to the request were being reviewed.

Under section 8 of the province’s freedom of information legislation, government institutions are required to give access to as much of the record as can reasonably be severed without disclosing the information to which the applicant is refused access. When asked if this mandatory section was applied to the request, Johnston replied:

“From speaking with the people who prepared briefings on the matter, there would be very little left in as the notes go over what is offered and what is proposed and next steps. We cannot disclose proposals, analysis of those proposals, possible options, next steps or strategy. Some information such as what the STF is requesting in terms of pay and the response of the collective bargaining committee has been publicly communicated and is already publicly available. Some proposals have not been made public and would not be disclosed. In summary, once severing was done on a briefing note the only information left in it would have been what is already publicly available through media reports and other public communications.”

The short answer is no, the ministry did not follow the law.

The Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner publishes a document entitled Helpful Tips – Best Practices for Public Bodies/Trustees for the Processing of Access Requests (Sept. 2010). Page 6 states: “The public body/trustee has a duty to search for, identify and consider all responsive records. We highly recommend that public bodies/trustees thoroughly document their search efforts.”

The ministry failed to do this.

The freedom of information legislation contains two types of exemptions: discretionary and mandatory.

In his May 10 letter, Johnston cites sections 17 and 18, both discretionary, and 19, which is mandatory, as the reasons for denying access.

The ministry failed to exercise discretion. In Saskatchewan OIPC Report LA-2011-001 involving the City of Saskatoon, the information and privacy commissioner states:

“As we received minimal submissions from the City, it is unclear whether the City has exercised its discretion. However, based on the fact that of the over 500 pages of responsive records only eight pages were subject to any severing, while the rest were withheld in their entirety, it seems that the City did likely apply the exemptions in a blanket manner without regard for whether there are actual reasons or a need to withhold the specific document, or to sever portions and release the remainder of the document.”

The Ministry of Education did the same thing. It applied a blanket denial without properly reviewing the responsive records.

On the issue of discretion, Report LA-2011-001, states:

“[45] I also wish to make a note about the exercise of discretion. The exemptions applied in this case are primarily discretionary exemptions. That is, the language in the legislation is that the record “may” be withheld, as contrasted to “must” be withheld. Whenever a public body invokes a discretionary exemption, my office looks for evidence that the public body has properly exercised its discretion. A good discussion of discretion can be found in Alberta’s FOIP Guidelines and Practices:

“The exercise of discretion is not a mere formality. The public body must be able to show that the records were reviewed, that all relevant factors were considered and, if the decision is to withhold the information, that there are sound reasons to support the decision.

“Discretion amounts to the power to choose a particular course of action for good reasons and in good faith, after the decision-maker has considered the relevant facts and circumstances; the applicable law, including the objects of the Act; and the proper application of the law to the relevant facts and circumstances.

“The Commissioner can, however, require the head to reconsider a decision if it appears that the obligation to exercise discretion has been disregarded, or where discretion has been exercised without due care and diligence or for an improper or irrelevant purpose (see IPC Order 96-017).”

The ministry showed no discretion whatsoever.

On the issue of severability, Saskatchewan OIPC Investigation Report F-2007–001 states:

“[108] There is nothing in the procedure document that makes reference to severing certain parts and providing the balance of the document to the claimant which is a requirement of section 8 of FOIP. Severing requires a line-by-line analysis of the record.”

The Ministry of Education has already admitted that no records were retrieved and no severing took place. They simply didn’t feel like doing it. To them it was a waste of time.

Apart from responding within the required thirty days, the ministry has made a complete mockery of Saskatchewan’s freedom of information legislation.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Art Gallery of Saskatchewan secrecy continues; Mendel Gallery Group members attend private meeting, asked not to talk about city’s plans

Secret discussions continue to be held on the City of Saskatoon’s despicable plan to move the nationally recognized Mendel Art Gallery to the city’s troubled River Landing development.

According to the minutes of a meeting of the Mendel Gallery Group on March 8, 2011, the chairperson, Alison Lawlor, reported that a meeting regarding the new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan took place on February 23, 2011, at city hall “with a group of people to review the plans for the AGS.”

Lawlor and another group member, Gwen Barker, were invited to attend.

The meeting was “very informative.” Lawlor and Barker “had the opportunity to look at the plans of the AGS, and provide feedback to the group.” They “were asked not to talk too much about the plans.”

The document states that the AGS information was scheduled to go to an in-camera meeting of the executive committee (city council) on March 28, 2011.

The Mendel Gallery Group, comprised of volunteers, meets each month at the gallery to discuss and organize annual events, fundraisers and special events. All funds raised by the volunteers assist in purchasing new acquisitions for the gallery’s permanent collection. The group appears to have at least 64 members, 14 of which were at the March 8 meeting where the AGS plans were discussed.

It would be interesting to know who else participated in the private meeting at city hall in February and who it is was that told the group about the in-camera executive committee meeting in March, because not even the public is told what items are on the committee’s agenda. Clearly, some citizens are more privileged than others.

The agenda for the gallery group’s April 12, 2011, meeting shows that the AGS was once again up for discussion. The group was also to receive correspondence from Mendel board chair Art Knight.

The city is refusing, at least for now, to release any information on the two meetings held at city hall.

On May 10, 2011, the city clerk denied an access to information request made in April for the following records:

1) Copies of any agenda (or agenda package), minutes, list of attendees, reports or materials circulated regarding or relating to a meeting that occurred at city hall on or about February 23, 2011, to review the plans for the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan.

2) Copies of any reports that were considered by an in-camera meeting of the executive committee on or about March 28, 2011, regarding or relating to the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan as well as an excerpt of the minutes for any agenda items concerning the AGS that were considered at the same meeting.

The city’s refusal was made pursuant to sections 15 (documents of a local authority) and 16 (advice from officials) of the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

“The records which you have requested relate to issues such as the design of the new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, issues which are still under active consideration and review by City Council, and to release the records while this review is still taking place would jeopardize the successful completion of the project. There will be a report submitted to City Council in very short order, and certainly once City Council has made all of its decisions (which will, of course, be made in public) we will be happy to release most, if not all, of the requested records,” the city clerk said.

It’s true that final decisions are made at a public meeting of city council. However, it’s the secret discussions and closed-door meetings where resolutions are passed in the months leading up to the decision that are the problem. By the time a particular item reaches city council the final vote is a formality.

A perfect example of this was in early 2009 when the gallery’s board and city council stabbed the Mendel family in the back at two closed-door meetings. 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 deplorable 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 cost-plagued River Landing development.

It wasn’t until a press conference on April 3, 2009, when Mayor Don Atchison and Mendel board chair Art Knight, in a stunning act of betrayal and breach of trust to the gallery’s namesake, Fred Mendel, announced plans to move the gallery to a proposed new $55 million building located at River Landing, that the public was finally informed.

The cost of the project has now reached $66.5 million, with more spending to come. It’s wasteful and unnecessary. The Mendel can be renovated and expanded for less than half that amount.

The so-called ‘final decision’ by council wasn’t made until November 30, 2009, when councillors approved, in principle, the development of the Destination Centre with an expanded art gallery (Saskatoon Art Gallery and Conservatory Corporation) as the anchor attraction. Councillors didn’t even have the guts to call for a recorded vote.

The obvious reason for the extreme secrecy is that the city wants maximum control over the way the new gallery’s design gets rolled out to the public. With the media’s help, the city will dazzle residents with colorful diagrams and pictures hoping to sucker enough people into forgetting what happened in March and April of 2009. With any luck the plan will not succeed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sask. Party government refusing to disclose occupational health and safety briefing notes; Don Morgan no better than Rob Norris on labour file

The Saskatchewan Party government is refusing to release records containing details of its review of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

On May 5, 2011, Labour Relations and Workplace Safety (LRWS) deputy minister Mike Carr denied an access to information request made in April for copies of any briefing notes since October 1, 2010, regarding or relating to any type of review of the Act. Four records, totaling 11 pages, are being withheld in their entirety.

According to Carr, access to the records was denied because they contain cabinet confidences and advice from officials.

The ministry violated the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by not applying section 8 pertaining to severability, which is mandatory and states: “Where a record contains information to which an applicant is refused access, the head shall give access to as much of the record as can reasonably be severed without disclosing the information to which the applicant is refused access.”

This is the second access request for OHS related records that the Wall government has turned down.

In February 2009, the former Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour received a request for copies of any reviews, analysis or studies that had been conducted by or for the provincial government since May 1, 2008, of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The then deputy minister of AEEL, Wynne Young, denied the request outright on March 24, 2009. Not one scrap of information was released. Young’s decision was subsequently appealed to the province’s information and privacy commissioner for review. The case is still pending.

On April 20, 2011, LRWS announced the launch of consultations on proposed amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

“The proposed amendments are aimed at improving workplace health and safety to help us achieve Mission: Zero,” LRWS Minister Don Morgan said in a news release.

The proposed amendments include the sufficiency of current levels of penalties, benefits of alternative types of penalties, and whether the revenue collected from these penalties should be partially re-directed toward furthering public education and prevention efforts.

The deadline for public feedback on the amendments is May 20, 2011.

News of the proposed amendments came as a complete surprise. There was no advance warning.

As part of the consultation process, the ministry sent out a package to approximately 200 stakeholders and 5,400 Occupational Health Committees inviting them to participate in the consultation process.

One the organizations to receive a package (comprised of a discussion paper, questionnaire and a letter from Morgan dated April 19, 2011) was the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour. However, they did not receive it until April 27, giving them barely three weeks to respond.

This prompted a letter from federation president Larry Hubich to Morgan expressing concern and disappointment over the government’s actions.

Even if the SFL had received the minister’s letter on the very day it was dated, Hubich said a deadline of May 20 for considering changes to the OHS Act would still be unrealistic.

“The Act protects the safety of the working people in this province and one month is simply not nearly enough time to thoughtfully consider changes to the legislation,” Hubich said in the letter dated May 6, 2011, which was shared with other individuals and groups and forwarded to the media.

“Because your Ministry has already prepared a list of desired changes, research and preparation must have begun some time ago. We cannot understand why we were not given adequate notice and time to participate in this important process. Major stakeholders should have been notified at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Asking for surveys to be filled out only a few short weeks before proposals for changes are finalized does not constitute consultation, Hubich said.

Don Morgan was named Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety in a cabinet shuffle by Premier Brad Wall on June 29, 2010, replacing Rob Norris on the labour file. Norris was quite possibly the worst labour minister the province had seen in many decades. Labour leaders were hopeful that relations with the Wall government would improve under Morgan.

According to the StarPhoenix, on the day of his appointment to the labour relations portfolio, Morgan apparently left a message for Hubich seeking to set up a meeting.

In an interview with reporter James Wood on July 5, 2010, Morgan acknowledged part of his role is to develop “a better working relationship” with organized labour.

“When you’ve had some difficult times, sometimes a fresh face can put some of that personal animosity behind. . . . I’m certainly willing to try and meet with people that are active on the labour side and try to see if there are more areas of common ground,” said Morgan. [Labour leaders eye better relations with gov’t after cabinet shuffle (StarPhoenix, July 6, 2010)]

It would appear that Morgan has since squandered any goodwill that might have existed between the parties.

In his letter to the minister, Hubich notes that Morgan last year committed to a meeting with the SFL’s occupational health and safety committee, a commitment he failed to live up to. The SFL human rights committee had asked for a meeting with Morgan to discuss legislative changes to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, but that, too, failed to materialize. Labour relations practitioners also asked to meet with Morgan to discuss the proposed amendments to the Trade Union Act regulations, but the request was turned down.

“When it comes to the laws and regulations that affect workers and their families, it is time you respected and welcomed the labour movement’s expertise and commitment,” Hubich wrote.

Like the song says, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

LRWS suggests in the discussion paper sent to stakeholders that the amendments are needed to improve the safety performance of Saskatchewan workplaces, which continues to have the second highest workplace rate in the country.

“While the majority of the proposed amendments are based on the Occupational Health and Safety Council’s 2006 recommendations following the review of the adequacy of the Act and have been consulted upon, a number of additional proposals are being made in which stakeholder input is sought. These additional proposals have arisen based upon review of best practices in industry and other jurisdictions, and issues emerging since 2007,” the document’s introduction states.

It should be noted that a copy of the 2006 report and recommendations was not included in the packages sent to stakeholders by LRWS. It doesn’t appear to be posted online either. How are stakeholders supposed to refer to it if it’s not made available?

Exactly who conducted the review of best practices in industry and other jurisdictions or what specifically were the issues emerging since 2007 is not explained. An email asking these questions was sent to LRWS communications consultant Jennifer Veri on May 10, 2011. Veri’s name appears on the April 20 government news release as the contact person for further information. A follow-up email was sent on May 13 to see if a response was forthcoming. So far no one from the ministry has bothered to respond.

First the briefing notes were denied and now general questions about the process are being ignored. What on earth is the Wall government hiding?

Buried at the bottom of page two of the discussion paper is the following sentence: “Please note that when updates to the OHS regulations are proposed, further consultations will occur.”

This means the issue will only uglier as time goes on.

Update: In an email response dated May 16, 2011, Christine Markel, a senior policy analyst with the occupational health and safety unit in LRWS, has advised that “the additional proposals being made on issues emerging since 2007 arose from and were researched and reviewed by Ministry staff.” She also states that the Occupational Health and Safety Council’s 2006 report “is considered a report to the Minister and has not been publicly released.” A lot of good that does stakeholders who would like to review the report before answering any questions in the latest so-called consultation.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Saskatoon board of police commissioners refusing to release in-camera records concerning new headquarters

Saskatoon city council and the board of police commissioners should be ashamed for insisting that the process around the change in scope of the new police headquarters was open and transparent.

Police Chief Clive Weighill noted in a recent op-ed to the StarPhoenix that on April 26, 2010, Rebanks Pepper Littlewood Architects Inc. (RPL) was named consultant for the project “through an open process.”

The request for proposal document that RPL responded to was prepared by city administration and issued March 9, 2010. It was never tabled a public meeting of city council, executive committee or police board. The city recently advised that it would only consider releasing the document if an access to information request were submitted.

The decision to award the contract to RPL was based on a recommendation by the executive committee made a private meeting on April 19, 2010. The issue was dealt with by the police board at an in-camera meeting prior to that but the date of the meeting has not been disclosed.

The administrative report that went to city council on April 26, 2010, gave no hint that RPL’s work might result in an increase in the size and cost of the project.

The process may have been open to the companies submitting proposals but it was closed to the public.

On October 22, 2010, the police board learned that the original estimate was low and that the plans should be updated. The board requested the executive committee consider increasing the scope of the RFP.

On November 1, 2010, the executive committee, which consists of all city councillors, gave the go-ahead to proceed with a revised RFP. It also directed administration to identify funding options to supplement the approved capital budget shortfall.

The city manager provided a verbal update on the RFP to the executive committee on December 13, 2010.

The police board subsequently approved changes to the scope of work to include an overall increase in building area from approximately 221,000 square feet to 329,000 square feet. On March 28, 2011, the executive committee determined that a revised budget of up to $131 million be approved.

These meetings, all chaired by Mayor Don Atchison, were closed to the public. At no point during this time was a report on the subject tabled at a public meeting. Weighill’s lone verbal update during the public portion of the February 24, 2011, police board meeting was far too little too late.

The city has released some information from the November 1 executive committee meeting, but only because an access request was filed. The records show that the police service, working with RPL, knew in July 2010 that a larger building would be required. City administration also knew because it assisted in refining the space needs program to a concept design development stage.

The police board, on the other hand, is refusing to release any information whatsoever from its in-camera meetings.

This may come as a surprise to some, but the police board and service, unlike most other provinces, are not subject to freedom of information laws.

However, the board’s lawyers, Scharfstein Gibbings Walen Fisher LLP, in a letter dated April 14, 2011, seem to suggest that even though the board is not covered under the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, it is operating as if it were and is using the legislation to deny access to records. And that’s not all. The board is even refusing to disclose the dates of its closed-door meetings. How absurd is that?

The attorneys’ letter was in response to an informal request to the board on March 18, 2011, for copies of any reports pertaining to the new police headquarters as well as the minutes to the meetings where those reports were tabled.

The chief says that letters were sent to members of council, Broadway and Riversdale BIDs, North Saskatoon Business Association, Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, the Partnership, school boards, community associations bordering the north-downtown area, FSIN and Saskatoon Tribal Council asking for input.

What goes unsaid is that the July 2010 letter to these stakeholders discussed the new police headquarters only in general terms and did not mention that the building might be larger and more expensive.

Furthermore, restricting discussions to a privileged few is not being open and transparent.

In November 2010, the same groups were sent a letter inviting them to an open house to answer questions and address any concerns that may exist. Like the previous letter, nothing was said about the scope of the project changing.

Weighill and councillors point to the open house held December 7, 2010, at the Frances Morrison Library as evidence of transparency. The open house was a farce. The police service ran one tiny, inconspicuous ad in the StarPhoenix on December 4, 2010, to promote the event. There was no ad in the Saskatoon Sun, which is delivered free to nearly every household in the city. Additionally, the ad and police service news release for the open house gave no indication that a larger, costlier building would be discussed.

Only 12 people attended the open house, five of which had received a personal invitation from Weighill. The other seven were youth who, according to Weighill, were presumably walking by, saw coffee and cookies and decided to drop in and see what was going on.

Let’s be honest. By the time the matter reached city council on April 4, 2011, the vote was a formality. Both the police board and executive committee had already given the thumbs up to proceed.

Tiny ad for police service open house, StarPhoenix, Dec. 4, 2010

Monday, May 02, 2011

Toronto Star endorses Jack Layton and the New Democrats; 50 reasons to avoid the Conservatives like the plague

The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper, is endorsing Jack Layton and the New Democrats in the May 2 federal election.

As shifts go this one is huge.

In each of the last seven federal elections dating back to 1988, the Star has supported the Liberals. This time things are different.

“Voters who believe that Canada can — and should — aim higher have an important decision. Until 10 days ago, they had only one realistic alternative to the Conservatives — the Liberal party under Michael Ignatieff. Today, that is no longer the case,” the Star editorial board said on April 30.

“The New Democrats have been reinvigorated under the leadership of Jack Layton. After Monday, they may well challenge the Liberals as the principal national standard-bearer for the roughly two voters in three who disagree fundamentally with the course charted by the Harper Conservatives. Progressive voters should give them their support on Monday.”

The Star says the biggest disappointment has been the Liberal party under Ignatieff.

“Going into the campaign they had by far the biggest challenge — to connect with voters and offer a strong alternative to the Conservatives. They had to overcome the Conservatives’ brutal but effective framing of Ignatieff as something other than a real Canadian. With only two days to go before voting day, all the signs are that they have fallen short,” the board said.

With Stephen Harper, the board states that another Conservative victory would be bad for the country. “The last thing Canada needs is an affirmation of a government obsessed with control, dismissive of critics, and determined to further diminish the role of the state in charting a better future for the country.”

In the past it has been easy to dismiss the federal NDP as naive idealists, the board said. That no longer applies. In this campaign they have emerged as a credible force, for many reasons.

▪ The party is on the verge of a historic breakthrough in Quebec, which would go far toward establishing it as a truly national party.

▪ The platform the NDP offers voters is ambitious and puts people first.

▪ On economic issues, long the NDP’s weakest point, the party is much sounder than it has been in the past.

▪ In Layton it has a leader who has won the trust of many voters — a rare feat in a time dominated by cynical, ultra-partisan politicking.

“Elections are about the future, and the Liberals have not made a persuasive case for themselves as the alternative in 2011,” the board said.

“Fortunately, this time there is a real choice. Voters who believe Canada should aspire to something greater than the crabbed, narrow vision offered by the Harper Conservatives should look to Jack Layton and the New Democrats on Monday.” [Toronto Star endorses the NDP (Toronto Star, April 30, 2011)]

Over at the National Post and the Globe and Mail it’s more of the same old, same old with both newspapers backing the Harper Conservatives.

In the case of the Post, it comes as no surprise. Ever since the first issue on October 27, 1998, the newspaper has been staunchly conservative. It backed Tories Mike Harris and John Tory for Ontario premier. It has supported Stephen Harper in four straight elections now.

When it was clear the federal Liberals under Jean Chretien and provincial Liberals under Dalton McGuinty would win in 2000 and 2003 respectively, the Post hoped for stronger showings by right wing candidates the next time around.

The Post also has the dubious record of endorsing George W. Bush for president of the United States. Any newspaper that would back a war monger and criminal and support the illegal U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

The Post gives Harper a free pass saying that during his tenure he has provided “intelligent, sober leadership”. [Conservatives a clear choice in uncertain times (National Post, April. 28, 2011)]

They must be talking about a different Stephen Harper; the one that’s not mean, vindictive, contemptuous, deceitful, petty and unethical.

The Globe and Mail is often considered the newspaper of record in Canada. That’s why its (third straight) endorsement of Harper on April 27 is so disturbing. The editorial is one of those pieces that you have to double check the masthead because you can’t believe what you’re reading. It’s as if the previous five years didn’t exist.

The first hint comes in the opening paragraph when the board says the current election campaign has been “unremarkable and disappointing”. This is odd given that advance polls showed a record number of voters turning out. And what’s not remarkable about Jack Layton’s sudden explosion in popularity?

The board states that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has “failed to show how the Conservative government has failed.” The editorial board chooses to ignore the stories within its own newspaper documenting Harper’s sorry record over the past five years.

The board comes off the rails with this preposterous passage:

“Only Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party have shown the leadership, the bullheadedness (let’s call it what it is) and the discipline this country needs. He has built the Conservatives into arguably the only truly national party, and during his five years in office has demonstrated strength of character, resolve and a desire to reform. Canadians take Mr. Harper’s successful stewardship of the economy for granted, which is high praise. He has not been the scary character portrayed by the opposition; with some exceptions, his government has been moderate and pragmatic.

“Those who disdain the Harper approach should consider his overall record, which is good.” [Facing up to our challenges (Globe and Mail, April 27, 2011)]

The board is clearly out of touch with reality, a fact that’s driven home by many of the 4,700 comments left by readers. Unfortunately, this disappointing piece of work has cost them whatever journalistic integrity they may have had left.

Here is some of Harper’s record that the Post and Globe ignored:

1) Squandered before the recession the $13.2 billion surplus it inherited from the previous Liberal government

2) Ran up a record $55.6 billion deficit in 2009-10

3) Projecting a $40.4 billion deficit for the 2010-11 fiscal year

4) Chuck Cadman affair

5) Maxime Bernier affair

6) Rahim Jaffer affair

7) Helena Guergis affair

8) Bev Oda affair

9) Bruce Carson affair

10) Toronto G20 Summit debacle

11) Refused to implement the Kyoto agreement

12) Scrapped the Kelowna accord

13) Lost bid for U.N. Security Council seat to Germany and Portugal

14) Reckless GST cuts

15) Reckless corporate tax cuts

16) Prorogued Parliament twice to avoid defeat in the House of Commons

17) Axed mandatory long-form census then lied to defend it

18) First government in Canadian history to be found in contempt of Parliament

19) Promised to spend billions building new prisons as crime rates declined

20) Ignored police report on long-gun registry that says the registry is a crucial weapon in fighting crime and gang violence

21) Harper broke his own fixed election law

22) Produced a 200-page manual to control and disrupt committees

23) Changed the Government of Canada to the Harper Government

24) Federal Court of Appeal ruled the Conservatives’ 2006 election ad spending violated the Elections Act in the so-called ‘in and out’ affair

25) Deceived Canadians about the spiraling purchase price of untendered F-35 stealth fighters

26) Fired Canadian Wheat Board president Adrian Measner for refusing to adopt the Conservative government’s position that the board’s monopoly power be repealed

27) Fired Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission president Linda Keen after her agency ordered the shutdown of the Chalk River reactor over public safety concerns

28) Sacked RCMP Chief Supt. Marty Cheliak, director general of the Canadian Firearms Program, for defending the gun registry

29) Publicly maligned Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin for blowing the whistle on the treatment of Afghan detainees

30) Dropped Paul Kennedy, head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, who had long called for more independent oversight powers

31) Fired outspoken Canadian Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran who repeatedly criticized the Conservative government’s treatment of injured soldiers

32) Created Parliamentary Budget Office then routinely attacked budget officer Kevin Page’s integrity or analysis

33) Muzzling Conservative MPs

34) Silencing scientists at Environment Canada, preventing them from speaking publicly about climate change without permission

35) Broke promise to Saskatchewan to remove non-renewable resource revenue from equalization formula then denied making it

36) Fired CFIA whistle-blower biologist, Luc Pomerleau, for leaking a government memo proposing to allow the meat industry to handle its own inspections

37) Political meddling in access to information requests

38) Boycotting the Afghanistan committee by refusing to show up

39) Broke promise to strengthen Access to Information Act

40) Cancelled the Co-ordination of Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS)

41) Ideologically driven funding cuts to numerous women’s groups

42) Dozens of Conservative MPs refusing to participate in all-candidate forums

43) Lack of transparency surrounding the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership, including meetings of the North American Competitiveness Council

44) Cancelled the popular Energuide program and replaced it with the inferior ecoEnergy home retrofit program

45) Broke promise not to tax income trusts

46) Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz joking about Listeriosis deaths

47) Appointed Michael Fortier to the Senate so he could be made an unelected cabinet minister

48) Environment Minister Rona Ambrose stops Environment Canada scientist Mark Tushingham from speaking publicly about his science fiction novel called Hotter than Hell

49) Dumped Peter Tinsley, the head of the Military Police Complaints Commission, before he could conclude his enquiry into torture allegations of Afghan detainees

50) Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh resigns because he could not remain head of an agency “whose reputation had suffered” under the Conservatives

51) Lying when it says that Canada is leading the global economic recovery when, in fact, it is expected to slip to 10th in 2010 and ninth in 2011, according to the Conference Board of Canada