Thursday, September 15, 2011

"I love you too," she said softly.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

River Landing Parcel “Y” development delayed again; Victory Majors Investments Corporation seeking zoning changes

Karim Nasser of Victory Majors Investments Corporation says public opinion is strongly against the raised plaza in the long delayed Parcel “Y” development at River Landing. Why are we only hearing about it now? It’s been nearly four years since Lake Placid submitted its original proposal that called for this feature. All we’ve ever heard from Mayor Don Atchison and other councillors is about how great the project is.

Last November, when Victory Majors rescued the development by providing the city with last minute documentation saying it had the financial capacity to bring the project to grade level, the StarPhoenix reported that the developer was required to build the exact same project pitched by Lake Placid and approved by the city.

Nasser told reporters, “We’re doing it exactly the same.”

Now it’s learned that Nasser’s company has been working behind closed doors with the city and Meewasin Valley Authority on revising the plans. The developer wants to decrease the size of the parking structure underground and amend existing zoning for the area to increase the height and size of the development.

We’re told that public consultation to consider the changes will take place in September. Why bother? According to Nasser, city administrators have already decided that the new plans complement the area. Council approval is a given.

Victory Majors has the city over a barrel, as did Lake Placid and Remai Ventures before it when those companies were interested in developing Parcel “Y” as well. Council has never had a Plan B – at least not publicly.

Nasser claims it was public concern over the raised plaza that led his company to revise the plan. The reality is it sounds more like a weak excuse to push for higher density and less expensive underground parking.

The project was supposed to break ground in spring 2011. Now it’s 2012 at the earliest. What else is new?

Lake Placid’s proposal – a boring mix of condos, office space and hotel – was bad enough, a hulking monstrosity looming over the riverbank. Nasser’s plan only makes it worse.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Corporate media donations to Saskatchewan Party top $410,000

The corporate media in the province have long been biased in favour of the Saskatchewan Party. It would be denied of course but, the numbers don’t lie.

Saskatchewan Party financial statements filed with Elections Saskatchewan show that for the 13 year period from 1998 to 2010, private media companies donated $412,615.81 to the political party.

The high-water mark for donations occurred in election years. In 2007, the media stuffed $132,730.93 into Saskatchewan Party coffers, more than triple the $38,306.57 that the party received in 2003. In 1999, the figure was $50,500.00.

Rawlco Radio and the Rawlinson family, through numbered companies, are by far the Saskatchewan Party’s biggest media benefactors with corporate donations totaling $236,795.35.

In addition to that, Gordon Rawlinson, president of Rawlco Radio, made personal donations to the party of $2,261.31 in 2009 and $3,000.00 in 2007.

Rawlco, a private, family-owned company, has 15 stations (12 in Saskatchewan and 3 in Alberta), including NewsTalk 650 in Saskatoon, the home of right-wing talk show host John Gormley.

Gormley, a former one-term Tory MP in the despised Brian Mulroney government, frequently uses his live radio show (and weekly StarPhoenix column) as a soap box for vicious anti-progressive, anti-NDP, union-bashing tirades.

Gormley is a big fan of the province’s current premier, whom he’s known “since he was a kid in high school.” [Tasteless tape sparks tacky outrage (StarPhoenix, April 4, 2008)]

“I trust and like Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall, who has done nothing yet to shake my faith,” Gormley said in a column earlier this year on silent majorities and public opinion polling. [How dare the silent majority (StarPhoenix, January 7, 2011)]

Most people don’t know this, but when the Saskatchewan Party was searching for a new leader to replace Elwin Hermanson following the party’s 2003 election loss, Gormley’s name popped up as a successor.

According to the StarPhoenix, Gormley apparently received calls from people wondering whether he might be cajoled into the race. Two years prior, he was mentioned as a possible Saskatchewan Party candidate. His preference, though, seemed to be broadcasting. [Sask. Party looks for leader (StarPhoenix, November 20, 2003)]

Another radio industry friend of the Saskatchewan Party is Manitoba broadcast pioneer Elmer Hildebrand, whose holding company 629112 Saskatchewan Ltd. has contributed $4,089.98 to the party.

Hildebrand’s company owns Saskatoon Media Group, a multi platform media company consisting of radio stations Country 600 CJWW, Magic 98.3 FM, The Bull 92.9 FM, as well as an internet information portal and Saskatchewan’s internet only radio station, The media group and CJWW/Hot 93/Magic 98.3 have donated a combined $2,017.68 to the Saskatchewan Party.

Vic Dubois, general manager of Saskatoon Media Group, contributed $1,480.00 in 2010 and $300.00 in 2008.

After Rawlco, the next biggest media contributor to the Saskatchewan Party is Access Communications Co-operative Ltd. with $48,037.99.

Established in 1974, Access Communications (formerly Regina Cablevision Co-operative) operates as a non-profit, community-owned service co-operative. It provides customers across the province with cable television, including digital and high definition services, and home security service, as well as high speed internet and home phone services.

Access operates under a broadcast license granted by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Through Access7, a community channel, the company produces thousands of hours of local programming each year.

Access President and CEO Jim Deane is a long-time Saskatchewan Party supporter. Records show that since 2001 he has contributed $7,825.87 to the party.

On November 18, 2008, the Wall government announced that Deane had been appointed chair of the Co-operative Sector Team for Enterprise Saskatchewan — one of 18 sector teams that were established to enhance industry/government communication and collaboration in developing policies to build on competitive advantages and reduce barriers to growth.

The sector team process eventually proved cumbersome, costly and inefficient. As result, the Wall government consolidated of some sector teams in order to reduce the number of teams from the current 18 to eight. The Co-operatives sector team was re-constituted as a Strategic Issues Council.

Four members of the 2010 Access board of directors have contributed to the Saskatchewan Party. Three of those individuals currently work for the Wall government:

▪ Denise Batters, chief of staff to Don Morgan, the Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety and the Minister Justice and Attorney General, has donated $1,762.95 since 2007.

▪ Warren Sproule, chairperson of Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), contributed $347.90 in 2009 and $1,131.25 in 2008.

▪ Howard Louie, director of project services for eHealth Saskatchewan, a Crown corporation, donated $640.00 in 2010.

▪ Harry Cook donated $2,160.00 in 2010 and $424.84 in 2009.

Shaw Communications Inc., a diversified communications and media company headquartered in Calgary, is on the books as having contributed $10,787.36 to the Saskatchewan Party. Through Shaw Media, the company operates one of the largest conventional television networks in Canada, Global Television, and 19 specialty networks.

Shaw CEO Bradley Shaw of Calgary appears to have donated $500.00 to the Saskatchewan Party in 2007, likely during one of leader Brad Wall’s fundraising junkets to Alberta.

On September 14, 2006, Shaw announced that it was partnering with Rawlco Radio station 650 CKOM to simulcast Gormley’s nasty morning drive show on Shaw TV, Channel 10 in Saskatoon.

The Hill family of Regina is represented on the list of media donors through Harvard Broadcasting Inc., which currently owns and operates 8 radio stations throughout Saskatchewan and Alberta including 620 CKRM, Lite 92 FM, and 104.9 The Wolf in Regina and CFWD - Wired 96.3 in Saskatoon.

Harvard Broadcasting has contributed $6,002.93 to the Saskatchewan Party since 2005. This is by no means the extent of the Hill family’s involvement with the party. Other businesses belonging to the Hill Companies that have donated thousands of dollars more include: 584770 Saskatchewan Ltd. (Paul J. Hill), Famhill Investments Limited, Harvard Developments Inc., Western Surety Company and Harvard Energy.

On the print media side, Conrad Black’s Ravelston and Argus Corporations each donated $25,000.00 to the Saskatchewan Party in 1999. Ravelston, through Argus, owned 78.3 per cent of Toronto-based Hollinger Inc., a holding company itself with substantial interests in the newspaper publishing business, including the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post.

Hollinger Inc. announced the sale of the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post to CanWest Global Communications on July 31, 2000, and the sale became official November 16, 2000. Each newspaper that year donated $10,000.00 to the Saskatchewan Party, the only time either publication has made such a contribution to the party. Since that time, the newspapers’ support for the conservative cause has been primarily through a steady stream of editorials and columns from people like Gormley, Randy Burton (the executive director of communications for Saskatchewan Finance since January 2009), Les MacPherson, Bronwyn Eyre, Dwight Percy, Gerry Klein, Murray Mandryk, and Bruce Johnstone.

In 2007, CanWest MediaWorks, a subsidiary of Winnipeg-based CanWest Global Communications, contributed $5,000.00 to the Saskatchewan Party, as did company president and CEO Leonard Asper.

The StarPhoenix and Leader-Post changed hands again July 13, 2010, when it was announced that Postmedia Network Inc., an organization led by Paul Godfrey and backed by U.S. private-equity player Golden Tree Asset Management among other investors, had completed a $1.1 billion transaction to purchase CanWest Global’s newspaper chain.

Any hope that the right-wing slant might change were dashed when nearly every Postmedia newspaper, including the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post, published editorials calling for a majority Harper Conservative government in the May 2, 2011, federal election. Only the Victoria Times Colonist and Windsor Star refrained from endorsing anyone.

In contrast, corporate media donations to the Saskatchewan NDP have paled in comparison. For example, the NDP from 2004 to 2006, its last three full years as the governing party, received $15,547.00 in contributions from various media sources. Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Party took in $52,277.40.


Corporate Media Contributions to the Saskatchewan Party (1998-2010)

565509 Saskatchewan Ltd. (Doug Rawlinson) — $113,098.36
629112 Saskatchewan Ltd. (Elmer Hildebrand) — $4,089.98
Access Communications Co-operative Ltd. — $48,037.99
Argus Corporation Ltd. — $25,000.00
CanWest Global Communications Corp. — $516.00
CanWest Mediaworks Inc. — $5,000.00
Central Broadcasting Company Ltd. — $272.00
CJWW/Hot 93/Magic 98.3 — $515.28
CTV Television Inc. — $11,547.15
Dekkerco Holdings Limited (Northwestern Radio Partnership) — $5,000.00
Global TV Network — $297.20
Harvard Broadcasting — $6,002.93
HDL Investments Inc. (CKCK Regina) — $6,151.69
Jilltd Investments Ltd. (Lana Jill Rawlinson) — $25,000.00
News Talk 650 — $295.80
Ravelston Corporation Ltd. — $25,000.00
Rawlco Capital Ltd. — $19,254.00
Rawlco Communications (Sask.) Ltd. — $7,300.23
Rawlco Radio Ltd. — $71,846.96
Regina Cablevision Co-operative Ltd. (Access Communications) — $500.00
Regina Leader-Post — $10,312.82
Rogers Group of Companies — $3,410.02
Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association — $1,517.64
Saskatoon Media Group — $1,502.40
Saskatoon StarPhoenix — $10,000.00
Shaw Cablesystems G.P. — $329.14
Shaw Communicatons Inc. — $10,458.22
Western Producer Publications — $360.00
Total: $412,615.81

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan receives ‘threatening’ email from Premier Brad Wall supporter

Ever since it was established in 1997, the right-wing Saskatchewan Party has been home to rednecks, racists, bigots, sexists, homophobes and others with extremist views.

The challenge for party brass has been how to keep this unsavory bunch happy, but in check, and out of the public eye as much as possible.

Every so often though, one of these Neanderthals manages to break from the pack and says or does something asinine to embarrass the whole lot.

On June 24, 2011, Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan president Cathy Dickson issued a special message to all members alerting them to a threatening email she had received the day before from a supporter of the Brad Wall government.

“During our lengthy strike action, we have received many e-mails from both members and non-members, offering their opinions on our public statements, negotiating strategy or approach to job action,” said Dickson. “That is everyone’s right to share their opinions.

“However, one e-mail I received a few days ago concerns me greatly,” she said. “It is a threatening e-mail, which comes from someone who describes himself as a strong supporter of Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party. He equates the work of our union with “treason” and goes on to suggest that he and other Saskatchewan Party supporters have the money and the power to “chop us down to size”.”

Dickson called on the premier and health minister to back up their often repeated claim of how much they ‘respect’ the specialized health care professionals in the HSAS “by publicly renouncing these types of threats from their supporters.”

The Wall government has so far remained silent on the matter and the media, who are aware of the situation, have said nothing.

The email in question appears to have been sent by Saskatoon resident Blair Pischak.

According to his Facebook page, Pischak owns a business called ‘professional home detailing’, hence the sender’s email address However, a search of the provincial corporations branch database shows no company by that name is registered to Pischak.

Pischak apparently attended Mount Royal Collegiate (1976-1980) and the University of Saskatchewan (Class of 2004). Given the number of mistakes in his email it would seem that spelling and punctuation were a struggle.

Prior to 2000, the provincial Public Service Act required that any promotions, transfers, resignations and dismissals of employees in the public service be published in the Saskatchewan Gazette.

The October 27, 1995, edition of the Gazette shows that a Blair W. Pischak was terminated with cause by the Department of Health. When something this severe happens it’s usually for a good reason.

The HR Council, an Ottawa-based agency (funded in part through the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program) that takes action on nonprofit labour force issues, states on its website that “termination with cause or termination with just cause means that an action or omission by the employee has irreparably damaged the employment relationship between the employer and the employee. Usually, termination with cause occurs when an employee is dismissed for a serious reason related to the employee’s conduct.”

It appears that unions aren’t the only target of Pischak’s wrath. Earlier this year it seems that Pischak, under the username “blairgolf511” (the same as his Twitter account), posted a message at railing against new immigrants to Canada.

In response to a Winnipeg Free Press story on February 5, 2011, about Muslim families in that city wanting their children excused from compulsory elementary school music and coed physical education programs for religious and cultural reasons, Pischak had this to say: “I’ve had it with immigrants showing up in Canada and expecting all of us to accomodate any and all of their traditions, customs, ways, religious beliefs, religious ways, etc, etc! BS! Like the leader of Australia said recently, “ if you don’t like the way we do things here, LEAVE!!!” That statement was in response to some muslim group wanting special considerations. Enough is enough. Our country is being watered down with some immigrants believing it is their Allah given right to act the way they want when they arrive in Canada. Pretty damn nervy! Yet, take a trip to their countries and see how far you get practising your beliefs, traditions and ways! You will quickly find yourself in a scummy prison being beaqten and tortured for having an opinion different from the state sponsored opinion. Like the old saying goes, “don’t let the border gate hit your ass on the way back to the hell you came from, IDIOTS!””

We know that Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party despise working people, especially those belonging to unions, but do they share Pischak’s disturbing view of immigrants as well?

In his email to Dickson, Pischak criticizes union leaders for recently pulling crop insurance adjusters off the job and for “belly aching about essential services laws.”

“We were the LAST province or territory in North America that didn’t have this type of legislation,” wrote Pischak.

One person that deserves to be called on the carpet for their rotten behaviour on these files is Pischak’s hero, Premier Brad Wall.

Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk said last week that Wall was “overreacting” to the 470 crop adjusters, made up mostly of farmers or former farmers, for hitting the picket line for a couple of days after being without a contract for nearly two years. [Banging head against a Wall (StarPhoenix, June 25, 2011)]

He called Wall’s angry letter to Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union president Bob Bymoen on June 22, 2011, condemning the strike “over the top” and suggested its use of loaded words such as “unconscionable” and “deplorable” were for the benefit “of farmers and others on the political right who are predisposed anyway to hate anything and everything unions do.” Someone like Pischak, perhaps?

Wall’s ridiculous threat to recall the legislature because he’s mad at the SGEU leadership “also makes for bad public policy and bad politics.”

Mandryk made the important observation that “crop insurance adjusters have no responsibility for health or public safety. In fact, we likely have never legislated back to work a bargaining unit that has so little responsibility for the public’s well-being.

“And having crop adjusters walking the picket line for slightly more than 24 hours doesn’t constitute a provincial catastrophe.”

The main duties for the province’s crop insurance adjusters’ are to help farmers with three forms: the unseeded acreage benefit claims; the stored grain declaration; and the benefit establishment claim that counts the number of plants per square yard that have germinated.

“While the forms are somewhat annoying and difficult to fill out, it’s something farmers can do themselves,” said Mandryk. “As happened last year, adjusters could do spot checks later. Given that the government also announced [June 22] that the deadline for all these forms would be pushed back to June 30, there is also no urgency.

“Wall could have taken a more measured approach. He could have appealed to the better nature of people to do the right thing.

“Instead, he chose to demonize union members as untrustworthy and to order them back to work - a move that was drastic, unnecessary and not all that politically wise.” [Acting in anger bad policy (StarPhoenix, June 24, 2011)]

That’s Wall’s M.O. though. He, too, is one of those individuals that Mandryk says are predisposed to hate anything and everything unions do. His government’s attack on labour has been non-stop since winning the provincial election in November 2007.

Prior to the election, the public was told that essential services legislation wasn’t necessary. However, within a month of taking office the Wall government introduced it then insisted that was the plan all along.

Thanks to Mandryk, both Wall and Health Minister Don McMorris were exposed as dishonest and two-faced.

In a column on December 7, 2007, Mandryk noted that on October 1, 2007, a mere 10 days before the election call, McMorris told CBC reporter Geoff Leo that legislating essential services was “not on.”

According to Mandryk, McMorris also told the Leader-Post in a June 28, 2007 story, after the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan strike, that an agreement around essential services should be forged between the parties without having to legislate the matter.

Mandryk noted that Wall himself in a September 22, 2007, story said the same thing.

“There’s some common sense at play here that simply says before collective bargaining begins, before the expiration of a contract, both sides (should) sit down and agree to providing essential services.” Wall told LP reporter Angela Hall, even going so far as to say legislation wouldn’t necessarily be required to set out essential services.

“How is this a clear message from the Saskatchewan Party that it really was contemplating essential services legislation all along?” Mandryk asked.

“The minimum expectation voters should have is for their politicians to be honest and forthright.” [Basic honesty minimum expectation (StarPhoenix, December 7, 2007)]

Wall and McMorris were neither.

HSAS president Cathy Dickson is correct when she says that in other provinces where a union’s right to job action is limited by essential services legislation there is always an independent resolution process, like third party binding arbitration, but not in Saskatchewan. But union-bashers don’t want to hear that.

HSAS also has the public’s support behind it.

The results of a public opinion poll conducted on behalf of HSAS and released on May 24, 2011, shows 67.5 per cent support for independent, binding arbitration to settle the current contract dispute between specialized health care professionals and health care employers.

The poll also shows that 40.6 per cent of respondents say the essential services legislation has hurt negotiations, while only 23.7 per cent say it has helped.

In March 2010, labour leaders were vindicated when the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) issued a ruling that found Bill 5, The Public Service Essential Services Act, and Bill 6, Amendments to the Trade Union Act were in violation of international law and the human rights of working people in Saskatchewan. To this day, the Wall government refuses to comply with the ILO’s recommendations. The anti-union crowd doesn’t want to hear that either.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Taxpayers on hook for any Art Gallery of Saskatchewan fundraising shortfall; Public open-house and online survey an insulting sham

Saskatoon taxpayers had better hope that Art Gallery of Saskatchewan capital campaign chair Doug Hodson finds the remaining $5 million needed to reach the current fundraising goal of $20 million, otherwise they will be on the hook for it.

Infrastructure Canada’s project review report, dated June 2010, for the new art gallery shows that city administration told federal officials more than a year ago that it would cover any shortfall in the original fundraising target.

“Should the City of Saskatoon not be successful in reaching their fundraising target of $8,000,000, they have confirmed that they will borrow the necessary funding to make up for any shortfall,” the report states. “The City notes that it has sufficient debt limit to borrow additional money if required.”

The city failed to share this information with the public.

It’s a slap in the face to other non-profit organizations in the city that fundraise the hard way, one dollar at a time. Who could possibly compete with the city’s seemingly endless capacity to borrow?

The Mendel Art Gallery never received this kind of special treatment. The gallery was expected to raise its share to help pay for expansion and renovation plans.

On December 12, 2005, city council approved the Mendel expansion subject to “confirmation that all fund raising and third-party grants for the total project are in place or committed, based on independent audit verification.”

In a report to the budget committee on December 5, 2005, corporate services general manager Marlys Bilanski said that because the Mendel is a city-owned facility, council is responsible for all renovations and/or expansions. Accordingly, council needs to be assured that all funding is in place prior to awarding construction contracts, as the city will be liable for all contract payments.

“Therefore, your administration is recommending that the contracts not be issued prior to verification of receipt of all funding/funding commitments,” Bilanski said.

Administration also recommended that verification of fundraising commitments should be sought from the Mendel board, with concurrence from an independent source (i.e. the city’s internal auditor), including information and processes around projected pledge defaults.

There was no talk of a bailout from city hall if efforts failed. In fact, the Mendel’s 2007-2011 Business Plan Capital Expansion Program (September 5, 2007) notes that should the gallery’s plan to raise public and corporate funds for the renovation and expansion project be unsuccessful, “the Board and senior management will be required to source additional potential funding sources immediately.”

At the time of the federal report, the gallery had raised $600,000 in cash and pledges. However, most, if not all, of these funds were from supporters thinking they were donating to the gallery’s expansion.

A timeline submitted by the city to federal officials last year shows the project going to tender in March 2012 with construction of the underground parking beginning in June 2012 and the gallery itself in January 2013.

This would mean that Hodson has just over eight months to raise $5 million before the construction bid tender is issued. It will be interesting to see if council follows through on its promise to backstop any shortfall prior to that.

The federal report also reveals that the city intended to cover any resulting shortfall had the Saskatchewan Party government turned down its request to redirect the $4,092,877 previously committed to the Mendel expansion under the Building Communities Program (a provincial program that provides funding for culture and recreation facility projects) to the new art gallery.

“Should the City of Saskatoon not be successful in obtaining this funding, they have confirmed that they will borrow the necessary funding to make up for nay shortfall,” the report states.

City manager Murray Totland and Mendel CEO Vincent Varga had written to Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport deputy minister Wynne Young on November 16, 2009, to formally request that the BCP commitment for the Mendel project be reallocated to the new gallery.

Totland and Varga met with Young on March 15, 2010, in Regina. At the meeting, Ms. Young confirmed verbally that moving the money from the renovation project to the new gallery project would not be an issue.

The provincial cabinet approved the city’s request through an order-in-council on September 2, 2010. However, since $1,023, 219.25 of the BCP money had already been spent on the Mendel, only $3,069,657.75 was available “for the capital development and construction” of the new gallery.

The key message in the federal report is that the city is responsible for any cost overruns and has basically guaranteed to cover any funding shortfalls. In short, the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan is being built on a blank cheque. Just like River Landing, the project is too big and too political to fail. Council will spend whatever it takes to get it done.

In a one-page briefing note, dated June 15, 2010, prepared for the Infrastructure Canada Project Review Panel, federal officials manage to offend those who oppose moving the Mendel to River Landing by saying, “These stakeholder concerns should be lessened by the creation of a permanent collection space that will showcase the 13 original paintings donated by Mr. Mendel.”

This is what happens when faceless bureaucrats in Ottawa make decisions that affect a community some 3,000 kilometers away. They’re generally clueless about local history. The only information they have is what city officials and Mendel management give them. It’s probably safe to say that some federal officials working on the file have never been to Saskatoon let alone visited the Mendel. They are ignorant of the fact that the Mendel building, the idyllic riverbank location, the Mendel name and story, and the paintings donated by the family are so deeply intertwined that they’re inseparable. Sadly, we’re dealing with people that either don’t understand the situation or just don’t care.

According to the federal report, once the Mendel closes it appears the non-profit organization that runs the gallery (the Saskatoon Gallery and Conservatory Corporation that was established by the city in 1967) will no longer exist: “While a final decision has not been made regarding the not-for-profit that currently manages the Mendel Art Gallery, the proponent has indicated that this group will likely be dissolved once the Mendel Gallery ceases to operate.”

If and when that happens, it will signal the final betrayal of the late Fred Mendel.

The public open-house scheduled for June 22, 2011, at TCU Place to view the concept drawings for the new art gallery is a bigger sham now than it was three weeks ago when it was first announced.

On May 30, 2011, council approved the schematic design concept for the new art gallery and underground parking. Councillors also gave the go-ahead for administration to proceed to the public input phase of the project, which was immediately rendered meaningless because it comes after the fact.

Council went a step further on June 13, 2011, when it instructed administration to proceed to complete the final design and construction drawings for the new gallery and parkade based upon the approved schematic concept design.

To say that the process is insulting is an understatement.

The Mendel board had already approved the design at a special in-camera meeting held March 27, 2011. The city’s executive committee, comprised of all councillors, did the same thing at a private meeting on May 16, 2011. The concept drawings themselves were developed behind closed doors.

The open-house consists of four parts: A short presentation by KPMB Architects; a Question and Answer period; viewing of the concept drawings; and, a survey for residents to leave comments on what they think of the new building.

An online survey is available at the Mendel website for those unable to make the open house. Some of the statements and questions include:
▪ The building design takes full advantage of views of the river.
▪ The building is welcoming.
▪ The design incorporates the features that interest me most.
▪ The Gallery will enhance the value of River Landing.
▪ What elements/aspects/features of the design of the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan do you like the most/least?
▪ Do you have any other comments?

Naturally, the survey does not ask people if they support moving the Mendel or whether they agree with spending $84 million on a new gallery when the existing facility can be upgraded for less than half the cost.

It doesn’t matter, though, because the survey is not statistically valid. Names are not required and respondents can make multiple submissions. It’s a farce.

Individuals answering the online survey are thanked for their time and told: “You [sic] input is very valuable to us.”

This is a load of crap. The public, the Mendel family, and most gallery donors and supporters were kept in the dark when the decision to move the gallery was secretly made in March 2009. From that point on the public has always been one step behind in the process. The only time input is sought is after decisions are made. That’s how much the city and current Mendel board value the public’s input.

The only reason the city could have for conducting a survey is to say that consultation occurred and to use the results as a propaganda tool to justify council’s decisions and promote the facility.

UPDATE: The city suffered a humiliating setback on June 22 when, according to the StarPhoenix, only 40 people attended the first of two open house sessions to view the schematic drawings for the new art gallery. The public was split between those with praise for the plans and those who took issue with them. [Public get peek at new gallery (StarPhoenix, June 23, 2011)]

Worthless survey, name not required

Monday, June 06, 2011

Art Gallery of Saskatchewan cost soars to $84M; closed-door meetings continue; Remai donation changes little; StarPhoenix misleading public

More spending, more secrecy, more sham meetings and more lies. In other words, it’s business as usual on the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan (AGS) file.

At a press conference on May 25, 2011, Mayor Don Atchison and Mendel Art Gallery board chair Art Knight unveiled a series of schematic drawings for the new gallery by architectural firms Smith Carter Architects and Engineers and Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB). It was also revealed, almost as an afterthought, that the estimated cost of the new building has soared to $84 million, a 52.7 per cent increase from the $55 million price tag that was originally announced on April 3, 2009.

The size of the project has grown as well, going from 104,000 square feet to 125,000 square feet. The fundraising goal has been increased from $8 million to $20 million.

According to the StarPhoenix, Atchison tried to downplay the controversy surrounding the move of the Mendel Art Gallery from its Spadina Crescent home to River Landing and the removal of the Mendel name from the building that has plagued the project since day one.

This is no surprise, since it was Atchison and Knight that started the controversy two years ago in the first place.

One of the more outrageous comment belonged to Doug Hodson, chair of the capital fundraising campaign, who said, “Our city and community is eager to see an art gallery emerge as the centrepiece of the south downtown.” [Gallery price tag jumps (StarPhoenix, May 26, 2011)]

It’s hard to believe someone could be so oblivious. Either Hodson has been living under a rock the last couple of years or he’s simply not being honest. The new art gallery has seen nothing but controversy since April 1, 2009, when the StarPhoenix first reported that the Mendel was moving.

Within months a website called Save the Mendel was launched and has collected almost 2,100 names and comments, including Fred Mendel’s grandchildren Camille and Chip Mitchell. City council and the StarPhoenix have received well over a hundred letters and emails on the subject. And it was even an issue during the 2009 civic election.

The StarPhoenix reported that roughly 40 city officials and dignitaries attended the news conference at River Landing.

The building received rave reviews at the unveiling of the concept drawings, with politicians, officials and members of the public variously describing it as cosmopolitan, connected and balanced, the newspaper said. [Reaction mixed to first look at $84M building (StarPhoenix, May 26, 2011)]

Of course the people at the unveiling were excited, they were invited to attend. Events like these aren’t spontaneous affairs. They’re carefully orchestrated. Nothing is left to chance. The last thing organizers wanted were protesters.

The Mendel sent out an email late on May 24 urging friends of the gallery to attend the news conference the next day at 11:00 a.m. at River Landing.

“Look for the white tent, southwest of the Prairie Wind sculpture and due south of the new AGS site at Spadina Crescent @ Second Ave.,” the email stated. “Mayor Donald Atchison, Mendel Art Gallery and AGS Board of Trustees Chair, Dr. Art Knight and AGS Capital Campaign Chair, Doug Hodson will be sharing some exciting news and you are invited to be a part of it all.”

There was no advance press release for the general public.

City council approved the schematic design concept for the new art gallery and underground parking at a special meeting held May 30, 2011. It was also decided that administration will report back to council by the end of June 2011 regarding the capital cost estimate and the funding strategy, including confirmation of the amount of community contribution through the capital campaign, as well as operating costs.

In a presentation to council, Hodson informed councillors that an expected major donor announcement would be made near the end of the week. As a result, councillors passed a last minute resolution instructing administration to enter into a naming agreement for the new gallery if there is a significant contribution made to the capital campaign and report further to council at the appropriate time.

The use of closed-door meetings to move the process along continues to the plague the project.

The recommendation to approve the design for the new gallery is contained in a report from city manager Murray Totland dated April 21, 2011. The report notes that the Saskatoon Gallery and Conservatory Corporation (Mendel Art Gallery), at a special meeting held on March 27, 2011, approved the schematic design for the AGS. The Persephone Theatre Board of Directors, at its meeting held on March 14, 2011, approved the schematic design for their theatre shell expansion which is included as part of the AGS contract. What Totland doesn’t say is that both meetings were conducted in-camera.

Furthermore, in an email dated May 27, 2011, the city clerk’s office confirmed that Totland’s report had already been dealt with by the executive committee — consisting of all council members — at a private meeting on May 16, 2011. None of this was reported by the StarPhoenix.

Other private meetings that have been held recently include a secret get together that occurred on February 23, 2011, at city hall “with a group of people to review the plans for the AGS.” The meeting included members of the Mendel Gallery Group who were asked not to discuss the plans with others. The executive committee considered the same issue at an in-camera meeting on March 28, 2011. The city is refusing to release any records regarding the meetings.

The next step in the so-called process is an open house on June 22, 2011, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at TCU Place. According to a news release by the city on May 25 the purpose of the meeting is so the public can “offer their feedback on the gallery design.”

The open house is a sham. Council and the Mendel board approved the design weeks ago. Council’s decision on May 30 was a formality.

Regarding the open house, Totland said in his report that administration “will provide information on the public’s response to the schematic design in a future report to City Council.”

Citizens are being asked to comment on a plan it had no hand in creating. This is the way the public has been treated since 2004 when the city first began developing the concept plan for River Landing behind closed doors.

On June 3, 2011, a news conference was held to announce that Saskatoon resident Ellen Remai had donated $30 million to the gallery, including $15 million toward construction and $500,000 annually toward programming and exhibitions for 30 years.

Because of the donation, which is believed to be the largest private donation in provincial history, the new gallery will be known as the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan.

According to the StarPhoenix, the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation made the pledge, the foundation’s largest-ever contribution. Ellen and her late husband Frank made their fortune in real estate and have made a number of significant donations around Saskatoon during the last decade.

Atchison thanked Remai for “(coming) to the rescue of everyone in Saskatoon.

“There are a lot of naysayers who keep saying you can’t raise $20 million, it’s not possible,” Atchison told reporters after the announcement. “Quite frankly, negative connotations like that don't help a fundraising campaign. . . . I think (this) should really put those people’s thought process to rest.” [$30M for art gallery (StarPhoenix, June 4, 2011)]

If Atchison is right about Remai coming to the rescue and basically bailing the city out you have to question the project’s stability.

It’s also embarrassing to see Atchison use the donation to try and silence critics and buy the public’s support. The man appears to have no shame.

Remai’s donation certainly makes Hodson’s fundraising job easier, but it doesn’t change the fact that the project still costs $84 million, three times more expensive than expanding and renovating the Mendel which city administrators say will serve the gallery’s needs and the required capacity to see it through the next 30 to 40 years of operation.

The cost of the new facility could go even higher. AGS board chair Art Knight said on May 25 the $84 million is “a good firm estimate.” The project hasn’t even broken ground yet.

Furthermore, Remai’s donation does not excuse council’s deplorable conduct over the past two years or justify its decisions.

One thing the donation does is skew the level of support the public might have for the project. We’ll never truly know how many citizens really do back it. Thousands of people still support the Mendel and are concerned about the new gallery’s price tag. And what about admission and parking fees for the new gallery? The city hasn’t addressed these issues yet. The Mendel is free on both counts.

The StarPhoenix’s support for relocating the Mendel to the south downtown dates back to at least October 2005 when the city first floated the idea. Unfortunately, the newspaper’s most recent editorial advocating the move resorts to lies and twisting facts to bolster its case.

In New gallery will maintain Mendel’s vision (SP, May 28) the StarPhoenix accuses what it calls the “naysayers and detractors” of the new gallery of comparing the current $84 million price tag with “an almost decade old estimate” for expanding and renovating the Mendel. The fact is city administration updated the estimate every year during the capital budget process.

In 2007, the cost to renovate the Mendel was $18.3 million. In 2008, it was $21.3 million. And in 2009, the price was $24 million. The Mendel was not listed in the 2010 capital budget. Had it been included, the figure would likely have been about $27 million, less than one third the cost of the new gallery.

The editorial was incorrect to say the city’s share of the new gallery is $21 million, including $13 million for underground parking. The cost of the parking is separate. Saskatoon taxpayers are actually on the hook for $34 million.

The StarPhoenix claims that Saskatoon couldn’t get senior government support for the Mendel expansion. On the contrary, in April 2005, the gallery received $438,513 in funding from the Government of Canada to undertake Phase 1 of its facility renovation and expansion project. The assistance was provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage through its Cultural Spaces Canada Program.

In July 2007, the city received $4.09 million from the province through the Building Communities Program for the renovation. The current federal government has never publicly stated its position on capital funding. However, as late as April 1, 2009, Infrastructure Canada was indicating that the Mendel expansion was still “potentially eligible” for Building Canada Funds. This was the same day the StarPhoenix first reported that the Mendel was moving to River Landing.

The StarPhoenix says the reason why Saskatoon couldn’t get senior government support for the Mendel expansion was because they have little desire to get into supporting the renovations of local facilities.

This is a lie. The Government of Canada website is littered with cultural projects that are receiving federal money. Here’s a small sample:

▪ Beaverbrook Art Gallery expansion and renovation project – $1,878,564

▪ Renovation of a performing arts facility in the City of Barrie – $2,500,000

▪ Malton community centre & library expansion – $3,333,333

▪ Interior renovation of the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery – $1,428,934

▪ Renovation and upgrades to Laurel Packinghouse in Kelowna – $1,100,000

▪ Renovation of the Manitoba Children's Museum – $3,750,000

▪ Expansion of the Maison Saint-Gabriel – $3,297,003

▪ Upgrade and expansion of the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum – $1,500,000

▪ Modification of the Woodstock Art Gallery and Community Arts Centre – $1,683,333

▪ Restoration, preservation and rehabilitation of the York Theatre – $1,790,000

▪ Jasper Municipal Library renovation and expansion – $1,500,000

▪ Expansion and renovation of an arena - Town of Smiths Falls – $2,183,426

▪ Renovation and expansion of the Maritime Museum – $1,660,000

▪ Expansion of the Wellington County Museum and Archives – $1,522,800

▪ Expansion and renovation of the Lloydminster Agricultural Exhibition Association facilities – $3,540,886

For years the public was led to believe that the city could not afford to expand the Mendel without federal funding. Recent events, however, show that this is nonsense.

This spring the city announced that the cost of the new police headquarters could top $130 million. Council has no qualms about borrowing every penny to pay for it.

The Shaw Centre, a state-of-the-art aquatic and fitness facility that opened in 2009, cost $47.2 million, with $34.1 million coming from the city. The facility was budgeted at $23 to 25 million in 2005.

The city’s share of the new art gallery is $34 million, which is galling because it’s more than enough to cover the Mendel’s plans.

Then there’s River Landing. What began in 2004 as a $42.1 million project has ballooned to more than $145 million today. The development has become too big to fail, which is the main reason why the Mendel is being sacrificed. City council desperately needs a year-round attraction at River Landing to make it successful.

It’s clear, now more than ever, that the cost of the Mendel project was low enough that the city could have handled it on its own.

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.