Wednesday, June 27, 2007

TILMA: National Post continues with its blatant pro-trade agreement bias

Financial Post reporter Paul Vieira’s latest pro-TILMA article, Flaherty backs B.C.-Alberta trade deal, reeks of desperation and cheap publicity for the beleaguered trade deal.

Reporting from Meech Lake, Quebec, where federal Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his provincial counterparts met for two days of meetings, Vieira said the Minister “threw his support behind the recently implemented free-trade deal between Alberta and British Columbia.”

“I am a fan of the Alberta-B.C. agreement, and I urge the other provinces to emulate it. And if they can, they should join it,” Mr. Flaherty said at the conclusion of the meetings.

That Flaherty supports TILMA is nothing new. On March 19, 2007, Flaherty tabled in the House of Commons his governments Budget 2007 in which Page 177 states:
“In April 2006, the Governments of Alberta and British Columbia signed the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), a wide-ranging internal trade deal that will make it much easier for goods, investments and skilled workers to move between these two provinces. This agreement, the most comprehensive of its type in Canadian history, has created significant momentum. The federal government is committed to building on this momentum and will work with interested provinces and territories to examine how the TILMA provisions could be applied more broadly to reduce interprovincial barriers to trade and labour mobility across the country.”
Prior to that, on November 23, 2006, Flaherty released “a long-term, national economic plan” called Advantage Canada: Building a Strong Economy for Canadians. Page 39 of the plan states:
“All governments within Canada have a responsibility to allow our internal market to operate as freely as possible. In that regard, encouraging progress has been made recently. The governments of Alberta and British Columbia have signed a comprehensive agreement that could significantly enhance the movement of goods, services and capital between these two provinces.”
The plan made the following policy commitment:
“The Government intends to foster a stronger Canadian economic union by continuing to engage with the provinces and territories to enhance internal trade and labour mobility and create a common securities regulator, and by encouraging the provinces to move ahead with the harmonization of sales taxes with the GST.”
Note the phrase intends to.

For the Financial Post to present Flaherty’s comments at Meech Lake as revelatory or some kind of late-breaking news story seems dishonest.

It also appears that the Harper Conservatives may be willing to move unilaterally on the issue if it does not get its way. In a June 7, 2007, news release Maxime Bernier, Minister of Industry, announced that he proposed to his provincial and territorial counterparts at a meeting of the Committee on Internal Trade held in St. John's that the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) be strengthened to ensure that Canadians enjoy the benefits of full labour mobility by April 1,2009.

According to the news release the proposal conveniently delivers on commitments made by the Government of Canada in its long-term economic plan Advantage Canada and in Budget 2007.

“Minister Bernier led the discussion on labour mobility and proposed that the AIT be amended to include mutual recognition of occupational qualifications by default and that a more effective dispute resolution mechanism be incorporated into the AIT. These provisions would be similar to those in the Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) signed by British Columbia and Alberta in April 2006. TILMA provides for mutual recognition by default if parties cannot reconcile measures. It also has a strong dispute resolution process, with monetary penalties [up to $5-million] for non-compliance,” the news release said.

“Provinces and territories agreed to look at the Minister of Industry's proposal and recommend that the Chair of the Committee on Internal Trade consult with the Forum of Labour Market Ministers on the matter.”

Perhaps Vieira could have mentioned this to his readers.

(It is interesting to note a June 7, 2007, news release by the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat (CICS) states that: “The meeting marked the first formal consultation between the Committee and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to exchange views on the state of interprovincial trade in Canada. Ministers welcomed this opportunity for closer dialogue with a leading voice of the business community.” No word on whether anyone from the other side of the issue had been invited.)

One question Vieira never gets around to answering fully is why Flaherty thinks other provinces should emulate or join TILMA? The closest he comes to providing any kind of reason that can be attributed to Flaherty is that the trade agreement has “a strong enforcement mechanism that is lacking under the current federal-provincial structure aimed at promoting freer trade.”

It’s hard to imagine this lone reason can justify and warrant such a sweeping, intrusive, and hard-hitting piece of legislation as TILMA.

By most accounts it appears internal trade was meant to be a key agenda item at the meeting but got out-muscled by discussion on the strong Canadian dollar, the fear of rising interest rates, equalization and Ontario’s plea that Ottawa take an “more active” role in helping the manufacturing sector.

As the Toronto Star reported “The key agenda item of the meeting, eliminating internal trade and labour mobility barriers, resulted in little progress, although [Alberta Finance Minister Lyle] Oberg said the provinces and territories have agreed to establish a ministers' panel that would review issues of internal trade at future meetings.”

That the finance ministers were comfortable shuffling the matter down on the list of priorities seems to suggest that it is not the burning issue some believe.

Even the June 20, 2007, news release issued by Flaherty’s department after the meeting buried the matter near the bottom of the page saying: “In an effort to strengthen Canada’s economic union the Finance Ministers discussed ways to reduce barriers to inter-provincial-territorial labour mobility, trade and improving regulatory efficiency.”

According to Vieira, Lyle Oberg, the Alberta Finance Minister said at the meeting TILMA “is something that has to be taken across Canada…It needs to be driven forward.”

Once again left unsaid is, why? No meaningful explanation from Oberg is given. His quote seems to have been thrown into the article for dramatic effect and nothing more.

Furthermore, Vieira failed to mention that TILMA obligates signatories to support and promote the trade agreement no matter how bad it is or how much of a shellacking it gets in the media. Honestly, what else was Oberg expected to say?

Vieira does take the time, though, to point out that “the tearing down of interprovincial barriers” is “an issue economists and think-tanks say is necessary to improve productivity and make Canada a more amendable place for foreigners to invest.”

Unfortunately, Vieira made no attempt to list the barriers between provinces nor did he provide the names of the economists and think-tanks he referred to. There are certainly economists and think-tanks out there that do not support TILMA as a vehicle to achieve removing the alleged barriers in question but they aren’t mentioned either. In fact, the article contains no dissenting opinions whatsoever. This is, after all, a CanWest newspaper.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

River Landing Parcel “Y” mess in Saskatoon continues; EOI attracts just 2 proposals, Mayor Don Atchison says no special tax breaks…again

“For the life of me, I can’t believe we would take federal, provincial or municipal dollars on a site where the private sector has been knocking at the door.”
– Mayor Don Atchison, StarPhoenix, January 16, 2004

“In all of Canada, and even internationally, this site is becoming very well-known as one of the premiere locations.”
– Mayor Don Atchison, StarPhoenix, March 8, 2007
Saskatoon city council concluded its rush through the latest Expressions of Interest (EOI) for Parcel “Y” at River Landing Phase I on June 25, 2007, when it gave the go-ahead to two developers to proceed to the Request for Proposals (RFP) phase. This current EOI process took about a month less than it did for the first one in 2004-05 when the city received four proposals. This time it received only two.

In April, a month after developer Remai Ventures cancelled its plans for spa hotel, the StarPhoenix reported that Mayor Don Atchison and administrators had “received inquiries from at least 16 people from all over Canada and as far away as Asia.”

Calgary-based Lake Placid Investments and a partnership of Edmonton-based WAM Group and Concorde Group Corp. of Saskatoon will compete for the right to own 2.43 acres (Parcel “Y”) south of 19th Street west of Third Avenue South.

The city has fixed the price of the property at $4.765 million or approximately $45 per square foot.

On December 12, 2005, city council had approved a purchase price of $1.6 million with Remai Ventures or approximately $15.12 per square foot. The appraised value of the land at the time was $2.9 million. Remai had also received a total of $3.1 million in tax incentives from the city over the course of the spa hotel’s construction and its first four years of operation.

In the April 11, 2007, StarPhoenix the mayor said he does not foresee any tax incentives being available this time around aside from those for condominiums because the city has a policy for waiving property taxes for five years on condominiums built in downtown. Atchison made a similar vow two years but Remai ended up getting them anyway.

It is interesting to note that Remai Ventures continues to own the former Royal Canadian Legion property located directly north of Parcel “Y”. The property is comprised of two parcels of land totaling 0.25 acres. According to Information Services Corporation of Saskatchewan (ISC) the parcels are valued at $500,000 each. Remai Ventures reportedly paid the Legion $1-million for the land. Its value at the time was $250,400.

It appears that Remai paid a whopping $91.83 per square foot for the property. The details for the former Legion property from the ISC database are as follows:

Surface Parcel Number: 136212779
LLD: (Parcel Y) Plan 71S24965 Ext 1
Area: 0.016 hectares (0.04 acres)
Owners: Remai Ventures Inc.
Parcel Value: $500,000.00

Surface Parcel Number: 144927333
LLD: Lot 0-Block 145 Plan C195 Ext. 5
Area: 0.085 hectares (0.21 acres)
Owners: Remai Ventures Inc.
Parcel Value: $500,000.00

Located across the street from Parcel “Y” is the Persephone Theatre site. The minutes from the December 7, 2005, city council meeting show that the purchase price for that land was $30.00 per square foot. The estimated total is $888,600.00.

In the December 8, 2005, SP Mayor Don Atchison said that was the appraised value of the land, not a reduced price.

What Atchison did not mention, however, was that the land was originally valued at $32.50 per square foot.

On December 5, 2005, the City advised Persephone that it had obtained a fresh appraisal that differentiated between the values of the north half and the south half of the River Landing cultural block. The north half was valued at $30 and the south half, being closer to the river, was valued at $36. Accordingly, the City reduced Persephone’s cost to $30 per square foot, and that was the price reflected in Persephone’s purchase agreement.

The details for the Persephone Theatre property from the ISC database are as follows:

Surface Parcel Number: 161971195
LLD: (Parcel: XXX) Plan 101906636
Area: 0.213 hectares (0.53 acres)
Owners: Persephone Theatre
Parcel Value: $687,168.00

In December 2003 and January 2004, city council led people to believe that there was no money available to spend on the former Gathercole site. To date more than $60-million has been spent or committed by federal, provincial and municipal governments and the Meewasin Valley Authority to the River Landing development. Of that amount approximately $25-million is for the former Gathercole land.

Below are excerpts of StarPhoenix articles since March 8, 2007, involving Parcel “Y” when it was first reported that Remai Ventures had cancelled its spa hotel development plans.

Remai backs out: Investor pulls plug on hotel, spa project (SP March 8, 2007):

The only private-sector investor involved with Saskatoon's River Landing is pulling out of the project.

Remai Ventures Inc. will not build what was seen as the cornerstone of the long awaited development project in the city's south downtown -- a $40-million hotel and mineral spa.

"The rising cost of construction and difficulty in obtaining skilled labour has made this project cost prohibitive," wrote Ellen Remai, president and CEO of Remai Ventures Inc., in a letter to the city administrator responsible for River Landing.

In her letter dated Feb. 26, Remai also raised concerns about the costs and risks of developing the spa.

"Based on these factors, it is no longer economically viable to proceed with this project at this time," she wrote.

While Mayor Don Atchison was surprised to read Remai's letter, which will be received at Monday's city council meeting, he continues to be optimistic about the future of River Landing.

"We'll go out to the private sector once again and, hopefully, we'll be able to have someone build us a wonderful facility there," he said in an interview.

"Each person has a different idea and thought process of what costs are incurred along the way and what type of return on investment one can expect to have as well."

Atchison expects council will direct its administration to follow a previous consultant's recommendation that a hotel complex be built rather than offices.

"Condominiums would be very nice there as well. We're certainly looking for something where people are coming and going all the time."

Atchison believes it will be easier to entice private-sector investment now because of the other development that is proceeding in the area.

He points to the new riverbank park, Persephone Theatre, Saskatoon Farmers' Market and Village Square as well as Cineplex Galaxy Theatre -- all projects either under construction or already completed.

"In all of Canada, and even internationally, this site is becoming very well-known as one of the premiere locations," said Atchison.

River Landing hotel viable: mayor (SP March 9, 2007):

It doesn't look like a money-maker to Remai Ventures anymore, but Mayor Don Atchison and some city councillors insist Saskatoon could still end up with a new landmark hotel at River Landing someday.

"There's still a strong viability, I believe, for a hotel here. We'll find out what the market actually says," Atchison told reporters at a press conference Thursday, in the wake of the local developing company's announcement that it has abandoned plans for a luxury hotel and mineral spa on prime land in the south downtown.

In a written statement issued to local media outlets Thursday, company president Ellen Remai said the estimated cost of the project has doubled during the past two years, from $40 million to $80 million, due to rising construction costs and a shortage of skilled labour.

"At an average room rate of $100 per night, the numbers just no longer work," Remai wrote.

The company's decision to abandon the hotel and spa project leaves River Landing without private-sector investors.

That doesn't make it a white elephant, Atchison emphasized.

"I think the land is very developable. The question is what's developed on it, and that's what we're trying to do. We want to make sure that we get the best possible project for the area and for the city of Saskatoon. So if you were to ask me if the land could be sold tomorrow and something built on it, absolutely."

Critics who suggest Remai scuttled its plans because the city's expectations for the hotel's architectural design were too high are basing their arguments on "innuendo," Atchison told reporters.

"That's not what the letter (addressed to the city) said."

City council will have to study the matter before making any decisions about whether to relax the architectural controls and other zoning requirements on the property in order to attract another hotel developer, Atchison said. The current zoning would allow for condominiums, but only as part of a mixture that would include retail outlets or some other form of attraction, he added.

"We want people to be coming and going. We just don't want it to be sterile from five o'clock in the afternoon on, for example like an office tower."

It's unlikely the city will drop its asking price below the $1.6 million Remai paid for the land in 2005, Atchison said.

"I would think that with all the development that's happening there with Persephone Theatre going up, the Cineplex Galaxy that has just gone up, the farmers' market and village square opening up this year…I would think the value of the property has to be equal or greater at this time."

The local hotel industry as a whole may not have particularly low vacancy rates, but "we're in fact short of hotel rooms in the downtown core when we have major conventions here," he said.

Interest high in River Landing site (SP March 14, 2007):

Civic officials have heard from at least 10 potential investors since a local developing company abandoned its plans for a luxury spa hotel at River Landing last week, city council heard Monday.

"What that will translate to, no one knows -- but I think that is a positive sign," said city manager Phil Richards.

He told council he received telephone calls from interested parties last week -- as did Mayor Don Atchison and special projects co-ordinator Chris Dekker -- after Remai Ventures announced its decision to pull out of the project.

He did not name any of the interested companies.

Mayor won't give up on hotel (SP April 11, 2007):

Saskatoon's mayor is still holding out hope for a hotel to be built in the south downtown.

"It might be a boutique hotel. It could be a lot of different things. It may not be a traditional hotel," Mayor Don Atchison said at a news conference Tuesday morning after The StarPhoenix reported construction on a new full-service hotel will begin within a year, kitty-corner from TCU Place.

The development of the south downtown will proceed apart from the new hotel near TCU Place, says Atchison. He and city administrators have received inquiries from at least 16 people from all over Canada and as far away as Asia.

"If you went out and said we'd like to have it all as condominiums, it could be all condominiums tomorrow. It could be all office space tomorrow. It could be a lot of things tomorrow," he said.

Atchison's vision for River Landing includes restaurants, retail outlets, condominiums and hotel rooms.

He doesn't buy the argument that the Saskatoon market for hotel rooms is saturated. With the expansions at TCU Place and Prairieland Park, Saskatoon has the facilities to host up to 98 per cent of all conventions in Canada, says Atchison.

"It seems like every group that comes through says there aren't enough downtown hotel rooms for them."

On Monday at its regular meeting, city council will receive a report from its administration recommending ways to proceed with the development of the River Landing property designated for a hotel. Atchison hopes council calls for expressions of interest from potential investors who are ready to develop the land.

"I don't think council is prepared to put any money into it," said Atchison.

Remai Investments had secured from city council $3.1 million in tax abatements during construction and for the hotel and spa's first four years of operation.

"The tax incentive was for drilling down for a geothermal spa. It was not for the hotel portion, because the spa was supposed to be a fully public-access venue," said Atchison.

The only tax incentives he sees being available are if condominiums are part of the River Landing development. The city has a policy for waiving property taxes for five years on condominiums built in downtown.

Market to shape River Landing (SP April 13, 2007):

The long-held vision of a landmark spa hotel at River Landing is not dead yet, but it could be in line for some life-saving measures.

A report slated to be heard before city council Monday night suggests the city stick to its original concept for the one-hectare parcel of riverfront property it sold to Remai Ventures for hotel development last year, but leave potential investors to decide between a spa and some other kind of public attraction such as a museum or art gallery.

People seem to have latched onto the idea of a large hotel with 150 to 250 rooms anchoring the River Landing site, "and perhaps that's not what it is," Mayor Don Atchison said in an interview Thursday.

"Only the marketplace will tell us in the end."

Civic administrators contacted consultant Gwyn Symmons, the original author of the South Downtown Concept Plan, after Remai's announcement, and he encouraged council to make a further effort to attract a hotel development, according to a report from city manager Phil Richards.

"The rationale for a hotel was the role it could play in bringing activity to the area late into the evening through all the seasons, reinforcing it as a destination," Symmons wrote in a memo to the city on April 3.

The hotel was never meant to stand alone, but the potential for a residential component has not attracted much attention, Atchison said.

"I think somehow the condominium side of it always has been lost, so I think what we need to really focus on is, do we want to have condominiums there or not? And I think basically everyone (on council) is on the same page of yes."

Councillors also appear to support the idea of restaurants, retail and "something that will attract the public as well," Atchison said.

"The question becomes, does it have geothermal or is it going to be a mineral spa or a boutique-type spa?

"Those are things that will have to be discussed."

Atchison noted the direct control district zoning guidelines for the site also allow up to 50,000 square feet of commercial office space -- a feature the city didn't advertise to prospective buyers when it last put the property up for sale.

"The reason we're going to have to have that discussion as well is because if the hotel portion, as the (local) hoteliers say, isn't required (by the market), then how much longer do we keep beating the bushes to do that as well?" he said.

"So I think there will be that type of discussion on Monday night. I think most would (still like) to see a hotel there, but perhaps some would like to see more broadening of what is possible to have there."

Council defers River Landing issue (SP April 17, 2007):

Saskatoon will revive its quest for the perfect private investor to develop a portion of the south downtown -- but not just yet.

Faced with a recommendation to adopt a two-stage process similar to the one it used when it sold the land in 2005 to Remai Developments, city councillors resolved Monday to defer the matter until after they discuss it at their next executive committee meeting.

Administrators have suggested the city stick to its original concept for the one-hectare riverfront parcel, but leave potential investors to come up with ideas for a public destination to draw visitors.

"We believe, based on the research we have, that the initial vision was a good vision," said city manager Phil Richards.

The city's ongoing strategy for the site includes a "mixed-use urban complex" of a hotel, residential housing, one or more restaurants, retail stores and a spa or other attraction. Zoning guidelines for the site also allow up to 50,000 square feet of commercial office space, considered the least desirable use for the site.

Council's previous requirement for a mineral spa is now on the chopping block.

Spa developments can be risky and there's no guarantee the mineral aquifer below the site is actually accessible or of suitable quality, project manager Chris Dekker told council.

City crafts development wish list (SP April 24, 2007):

Developers interested in buying a piece of real estate formerly earmarked for a hotel and spa at River Landing will be rejected outright if their proposals don’t include space for retail stores, restaurants and some kind of public attraction, city councillors decided after a lengthy debate Monday.

Bidders who respond to the city’s upcoming request for expressions of interest (EOI) in Parcel Y will get additional points from city council if they plan to construct a hotel, residential units such as apartments or condos and additional covered parking beyond what’s already required by zoning restrictions for the site, council’s executive committee resolved in a series of votes on each component.

It’s a significant departure from the menu of essential components listed by the city when it last marketed the land about two years ago. Back then, bidders were told their plans for the site had to include a hotel and a spa. In the end, only Remai Developments made an offer. The company returned the land to the city earlier this year after concluding the project was no longer economically viable.

The new priorities approved by councillors Monday should open the door to a variety of ideas for an attraction to draw people to the area, without restricting it to a spa or demanding a hotel, said special projects manager Chris Dekker, who oversees River Landing.

“I think there’s still an excellent mix of uses and we’ll get an excellent quality, and quantity, of interest,” he told reporters.

Potential developers have already been calling the city to inquire about the land, “much more than there was two years ago, when you couldn’t buy a phone call (from them),” Dekker added.

If council isn’t satisfied with any of the proposals it receives over the coming months, it can always keep the property and consider a public use, administrators told the committee.

Council approves priorities for portion of River Landing (SP May 1, 2007):

City council has officially approved new priorities for the future sale of the portion of River Landing formerly slated for a luxury spa and hotel.

An initial call for expressions of interest (EOI) from potential buyers will require proponents to submit ideas for developing the property with street-level retail spaces, one or more restaurants and a public attraction or gathering place. Residential housing, underground or covered parking and hotel space are also considered important to the site and will therefore garner extra points for proponents whose plans include them, although those uses are not mandatory.

The last time the city offered the parcel of land for sale, bidders had to include plans for a hotel and publicly accessible spa in their proposals. The only bidder left at the end of the process was Remai Developments, which returned the land earlier this year after concluding its plans for a spa hotel were out of reach due to rising construction costs.

Councillors hammered out the new priorities at a meeting of the executive committee last week and followed through with a vote to make them official Monday.

The hotel aspect should not even be worth extra points this time around, Coun. Bob Pringle argued.

"I don't see how the hotel contributes to a key riverfront destination point," he told council. His motion to remove the extra points available to hotel proponents was defeated.

After a committee compiles a shortlist of the best EOI responses later this spring, the leading proponents will be invited to answer a more detailed request for proposals for the site. Council is expected to develop and review the terms of the requests this summer.

River Landing Phase 2 construction commences (SP June 16, 2007):

Three gold-painted spades dug into a patch of prepared ground on the riverbank Friday afternoon, marking the official start of construction of the second phase of the River Landing development.

Earlier Friday, the final deadline passed for expressions of interest (EOIs) from companies hoping to build on parcel Y, a key piece of the development's first phase near Second Avenue and 19th Street. The land was returned to the city by its previous owner, Remai Developments, when construction costs overwhelmed a plan to build a luxury spa hotel there.

Two developers submitted EOIs prior to Friday's deadline passing, and both proposals will now be reviewed by a civic committee to ensure they meet the terms set out by city council, Chris Dekker, manager of the River Landing project for the city, said in an interview.

The names of the two companies will not be made public until they are presented to city council at its next meeting on June 25. Details of their proposals will not be released for competitive reasons. If both proposals meet the EOI criteria, the companies will be invited to submit more detailed descriptions of their plans through a formal request for proposals (RFP) process.

Dekker said the verbal interest the city heard from developers leading up to the EOI process had led administrators to believe there would be at least three or four submissions, but given the specific development controls requested by city council, and the tight market for contracted labour, two strong proposals is still a satisfactory result.

"If it's good, one (proposal) is enough," he said.

Developers line up (SP June 22, 2007):

Three months after one development plan for a key piece of riverside real estate was scrapped, two companies have lined up to consider buying the city-owned land at triple the price of the original proposal.

The City of Saskatoon made public Thursday the names of two groups interested in potentially paying the $4.8-million asking price for River Landing's linchpin Parcel Y property at the base of Second Avenue.

A developer's agreement with the city two years ago negotiated a sale price of $1.6 million.

Lake Placid Investments Inc. and a partnership between Saskatoon's Concorde Group Corp. and Edmonton-based WAM Group are interested in developing the property.

City council will review the expressions of interest at a meeting Monday. Following that, the short-listed companies will be invited to submit detailed proposals for the property.

Chris Dekker, the city's special projects manager in charge of River Landing's development, said the new price for the land is based on the market.

"The price of land has skyrocketed in Saskatoon," he said, "especially riverfront land, which is so scarce."

Neither company would discuss their plans for River Landing.

Dekker said the normal time period for a company to complete a proposal is between eight and 10 weeks. Once the proposal deadline has passed, the companies' submissions will be made public.

"This is very much a competition," Dekker said.

Developers will create detailed riverbank plans (SP June 26, 2007):

Two developers have received city council's OK to draft detailed plans for the most prominent undeveloped riverbank site in Saskatoon.

Calgary-based Lake Placid Investments and a partnership of Edmonton-based WAM Group and Concorde Group Corp. of Saskatoon will compete for the right to own 2.43 acres south of 19th Street west of Third Avenue South. They were the only developers to submit expressions of interest in the site.

Detailed proposals must include at least one restaurant, retail at street level and some type of attraction or public gathering place. The developers earn extra marks for including housing, a hotel or extra public parking.

The city has set the price for the successful developer at $4.765 million. The city will score the two groups on criteria including the quality, vision and mix of land uses, green initiatives, density, streetscaping and consistency with the River Landing plan. The developers will have eight to 10 weeks to draw up plans, after which they will become public. That may happen as early as September.

Saskatoon City Council rushes through River Landing "Parcel Y" EOI process

The following letter was submitted to Saskatoon City Council for its June 25, 2007, meeting.

June 25, 2007

Dear Mayor Atchison and Members of City Council:

RE: Item F1 - EOI Selection and RFP for River Landing Parcel “Y”

I would like to submit the following comments for city council’s consideration.

The first EOI for Parcel “Y” was issued December 6, 2004 with a deadline for submissions of February 11, 2005. The EOI was open for a total of 68-days.

The second EOI for Parcel “Y” was issued May 1, 2007 with a deadline of June 15, 2007. The EOI was open for a total of 46-days. This is 22-days shorter than the first.

Even after taking into account the Christmas holiday in 2004 the first EOI was open significantly longer than the second. City administration’s report does not address why the most recent EOI was so much shorter than the first.

The first EOI ended Feb. 11, 2005 with city council making its selection 24-days later on March 7, 2005.

The second EOI ended June 15, 2007 with city council scheduled to make its selection 10-days later on June 25, 2007.

It appears the administrative committee had considerably less time to evaluate the most recent EOI submissions. Administration’s report does not explain why.

To assist the City in marketing the land for the first EOI, city council at its meeting of November 15, 2004, approved the awarding of a contract with Colliers-McClocklin. The primary task of the realtor was the exposure of the land to prospective purchasers, the promotion of the development opportunity, and to encourage responses from the private sector.

For the second EOI it appears the City did not hire an outside firm to assist with marketing the land. According to administration’s report “The City engaged a local marketing firm to develop the theme, layout, and placement of print advertisements in daily newspapers including.”

The City itself “produced and distributed a sales brochure, and distributed mailouts and emails to prospective developers.”

On March 7, 2005, during the first EOI, City Council received an administrative report that states: “Colliers-McClocklin…distributed nearly 1,500 emails to prospective developers and hotel owners,” and “Twenty-five EOI were distributed and 15 firms officially registered. Senior staff from Colliers-McClocklin met with or contacted each of these proponents on a continual basis.”

The June 2007 report from administration for the second EOI does not provide this type of information. What is not known are how many emails to prospective developers were sent out, how many EOI were distributed or how many firms officially registered or whether any of the proponents were met with or contacted on a continual basis. The report also does not address why the City chose not to hire an outside firm to market the Parcel “Y” property. In the end only two proposals were received as opposed to four the first time around.

Administration’s report does not address the advertising error in the EOI notice that appeared in the May 5, 2007, edition of the StarPhoenix. The words “destination attraction” and “public” were missing from the advertisement. It is not clear whether this was corrected for subsequent advertisements that were placed in various newspapers.

For the first EOI, Colliers-McClocklin, and Gwyn Symmons of CitySpaces Consulting Ltd. served on the administrative committee as consultants to the review. It appears there were no outside consultants on the administrative committee for the second EOI. The administration’s report does not address why this change was made.

With regard to the current EOI evaluation process and the 100-point scoring system city administration’s report states: “While the proposals will be displayed for public review and comment, the evaluation will be conducted by the administrative committee based on this allocation.”

It is extremely disappointing that the city continues to place such a low value on public input. Why bother displaying the proposals for public review and comment if it is only going to be ignored?

Thank you for your time.


Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK

Sunday, June 24, 2007

U.S. Embassy building in Ottawa an abomination

During a recent trip to Ottawa I happened upon the U.S. Embassy in downtown Ottawa for the first time. Located at 490 Sussex Drive the site is bounded on the north by Murray Street Extension, on the south by the York Steps, on the east by Sussex Drive, and on the west by MacKenzie Avenue. It’s a stone’s throw from the Parliament Buildings. It’s also a monstrosity and an insult to the city.

The embassy was dedicated by President Bill Clinton on October 8, 1999; the first time in American history a president had personally dedicated a new embassy.

With layer after layer of security measures the building resembles a fortress or a bunker in the middle of the city. The only missing is a moat, alligators and a drawbridge.

Traffic has been hampered by the closing of one of the lanes on Sussex Drive and MacKenzie Avenue to accommodate a cement barrier that runs the length of the building. Inside of that are concrete bollards, cement flowerpots and then a tall steel fence with spiked tips that surround the perimeter. There is virtually no way to drive a vehicle near the complex which is clearly the purpose of the security.

An article on the embassy’s website notes security measures also include “forced-entry and ballistic steel doors and windows and thick walls”.

You almost feel sorry for those having to work inside such a forbidding place located in the middle of perhaps one of the safest most open and free countries in the world. Then again when your country is run by a wholly unpopular lunatic warmongering president the building seems fitting and unfortunately represents the level of resentment that exists towards the nation in nearly every corner of the world today. And our Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper can’t seem to run fast enough to shake the man’s hand and offer to do his bidding. What an embarrassment.

The U.S. Embassy building in Ottawa of course does not come close to comparing with the new super-embassy the Americans began building in Baghdad, Iraq following the illegal U.S.-led invasion, overthrow and occupation of the country to gain control of its vast oil reserves. The $1-billion dollar structure on 104-acres apparently has 15-foot blast walls surrounding it and will have its own army to defend it. It will have its own water wells, electricity plant and wastewater-treatment facility.

(Photos by Joe Kuchta, June 19, 2007)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Orwell couldn't have come up with this stuff: Passenger Protect? Office of Reconsideration? How did we let it get this far?" -- Stuart Trew

Ottawa XPress
June 21st, 2007
High Bias

Orwell couldn't have come up with “Passenger Protect”

Stuart Trew

Congratulations, Canadians. It takes balls to scale back rights and embrace inequality. But obviously there's nothing we're incapable of when we roll up our sleeves. Doubleplusgood, I say. Well done!

Canada now has a no-fly list and a pro-fly list: a list of people who have been found guilty of blowing up planes they haven't even boarded and a list of people deemed personally incapable of wrongdoing by virtue of their wealth; a list of brown people with funny names and another filled with pasty businessmen who simply must catch their flights; a list of people denied their Charter right to mobility and a list of privileged, "low risk" Canadians who can pay their way to the front of the airport line.

I'm talking about Canada's new no-fly list, Passenger Protect, and its newish pro-fly list of Nexus pass-holders - those deemed worthy of expedited air, land and sea travel by the Canadian Department of Public Safety and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Whether you land into the first or the second database depends largely on where you come from, who you know, how you've lived and how much money you make.

Are you a self-maximizing self-starter who contributes to the economy in a productive and nationally important way? By all means apply for a Nexus card. If, after paying the $80 application fee, the U.S. government decides to grant you easy access to the Land of the Free, all you have to do is submit 10 fingerprints and two iris scans to a joint Canada-U.S. database and you can travel, hassle free, to and from both countries for five years. You can join the Nexus elite, the super citizens of North America, the "low-risk" champions of capitalism whose business it would be immoral to disrupt for reasons of national security.

Are you from Syria, Iran, Jordan, Algeria or any another Mohammedan nation considered to be an "outpost of tyranny" by Condoleezza Rice? Do you wear a turban? Do you know a friend of a friend who once thought they saw Osama bin Laden's cave while flying over Afghanistan? Then you can take your chances with the mass killers, drug dealers, gassy people and who knows who else our Transport Minister plans on filing next to the suicide pilots in his token no-fly list.

The list is token because it won't even include real terrorists for fear that they'll find out we're on to them! (At least that's how it works in America.) It's token because it was whipped together on the fly (ahem) to appease U.S. fears that we are a nation of infidels.

But most importantly, Canada's no-fly list is a token list because it logically can't make Canadians any safer than we were without it. I mean, if these travellers are so dangerous to the specific flight they are about to board, why didn't CSIS or the RCMP (or the U.S. Army, which has been hunting down war resisters on Canadian soil) catch them before they made it to the airport?

All the no-fly list does, quite successfully, is transform Canada from a place where we're all considered equal and innocent until proven guilty into a place where we're either high risk or low risk. Low-risk people get to move around, like it says we can in the Charter - section 6 if you're interested. Those who are high risk can either wait around at the airport for the RCMP to show up and grill them on the inner workings of al-Qaeda, or, if they actually didn't plan on blowing up their flight, plead their case to Transport Canada's "Office of Reconsideration."

Orwell couldn't have come up with this stuff: Passenger Protect? Office of Reconsideration? Nexus passes and "trusted travellers"? How did we let it get this far?

Like I said at the beginning - it wasn't easy. It took perseverance. We've known this shit was in the pipes for a long time, at least since the "Smart Border" declaration between Canada and the U.S. in 2001 that includes the no-fly list and Nexus.

Transport Canada couldn't have been clearer about its plan to strip a few hundred, maybe a few thousand, people of their Charter right to mobility. And Public Safety Canada has been openly proud of a trusted traveller system that institutionalizes class inequality more blatantly, more honestly than we're used to in this country.

It got this bad because, like with so many other post-9/11 laws and security measures, Canadians - the majority of which are neither high risk nor low risk - just didn't care enough until it was too late. So let's pat ourselves on the backs. May the iris scans be painless and the Office of Reconsideration merciful.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

TILMA: Canadian Chamber of Commerce survey garners 106 responses; only 37 companies report experiencing barriers to trade within Canada

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce bills itself as “the only national business group with a membership that covers a broad spectrum of private enterprise” and “is the only non-political, not-for-profit organization with an organized grassroots business network in every single federal riding.”

The organization represents over 350 chambers, close to 70 business associations, and many corporate members. According to the Chamber “it speaks with a voice that is 170,000 businesses strong.”

In the Canada West Foundation publication Dialogues (Winter 2007), Nancy Hughes Anthony, the former President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, stated in her pro-TILMA article Canada Should Learn a Lesson From BC and Alberta that “Canadians are among the world’s most successful traders…But when it comes to trading across Canada…we are classic protectionists.”

“A few years ago,” said Hughes Anthony “the Canadian Chamber of Commerce conducted an information gathering exercise with its members, who represent large and small businesses in every sector and region of the country, to identify barriers to trade. In part, this was done because, too often, federal, provincial and territorial governments cite a lack of information regarding trade barriers as an excuse for inaction.”

“What our members told us is that they face a plethora of barriers,” she said.

The report in question is the 22-page Obstacles to Free Trade in Canada: A Study on Internal Trade Barriers that was released in November 2004.

Upon further investigation, however, it appears that the Chamber’s claim is largely unfounded. It seems the voice that speaks for 170,000 businesses across Canada could barely muster a hundred responses to its national survey.

The study methodology is described as follows:
“The Internal Trade Questionnaire targeted businesses operating in Canada. The questionnaire was distributed on July 17, 2004 to Canadian Chamber of Commerce corporate members, associations and local chambers that are members of the Canadian Chamber. The Canadian Chamber requested that the association and local chamber members distribute the questionnaire to their respective memberships. The questionnaire closed on September 3, 2004. Completed questionnaires were received from companies ranging in size from self-employed to over 500 employees.”
(It should be noted that the study available for download at the Chamber’s website does not include a copy of the four-page Internal Trade Questionnaire. Fortunately, one is currently still available at the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce website.)

The questionnaire is interesting in that the respondent is provided with seven examples of the types of barriers that a business might encounter. It is curious the Chamber would do this given the fact that for years the public has been led to believe that barriers are so prevalent and onerous to business that one would think companies would already be familiar with them and not require this kind of coaching to answer a survey.

At any rate, of the many thousands of businesses across Canada that the questionnaire likely reached the Chamber received just 106 responses. Of those only 37 companies (or 34.9%) said they experienced barriers to trade within Canada, seven of which said they “worked with the provincial or territorial government to resolve the barrier.”

The abysmal response to the Chamber’s questionnaire far surpasses the poor response rate the Conference Board of Canada received for the surveys it conducted for the governments of British Columbia (30.7%) and Saskatchewan (21.7%) as part of their impact assessments of TILMA for those provinces.

That so few companies could be bothered to respond to the Chamber’s national survey suggests that alleged interprovincial trade barriers are not a particularly important issue for Canadian business. It begs the question who is TILMA really serving?

Results of the Chamber’s study also show that 20 of the 37 companies that experienced barriers in another jurisdiction “accommodated the provincial or territorial requirements and proceeded to operate in the province or territory” anyway.

Furthermore, it appears that 24 of the 37 companies that experienced barriers did not provide an answer to Question #8 that asked: “In your estimation, how much do barriers between provinces or territories cost your company on a yearly basis?” This may indicate the cost was negligible and did not warrant much of a concern.

To be fair the survey did show that “over half of the companies that have encountered a trade barrier did not proceed to operate in that jurisdiction.” For some the estimated yearly cost of the barriers they encountered ranged from $1,500 to $200,000 for small companies up to $10-million or more for two businesses that reported having more than 500 employees.

Among its conclusions the Chamber stated that its questionnaire “demonstrated that the most common barriers to trade were overlapping of regulations between jurisdictions, multiple licensing requirements, and local preferences in awarding government contracts.”

While frustrating for some these areas of concern do not appear to be insurmountable and certainly would not require something as far-reaching and intrusive as TILMA. If anything the Chamber’s survey illustrates that some companies are able to work with government to resolve barriers while others choose to accommodate them and proceed to work in the jurisdiction anyway.

As Steven Shrybman of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell noted in his analysis of TILMA for the Ontario Federation of Labour:
“The overwhelming majority of government measures that are subject to TILMA have little if anything to do with inter-provincial trade, investment or labour mobility, per se. Rather, these measures, which run the gamut from environmental controls to health care insurance plans, were established to serve broad public or societal purposes and apply equally to persons or companies whatever their respective province of origin. While such measures may impact investment, trade and labour mobility, these effects are indirect or tangential to their essential purpose.”
Additionally, Kathleen Macmillan and Patrick Grady, in their report for Industry Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Inter-Provincial Barriers to Internal Trade in Goods, Services and Flows of Capital: Policy, Knowledge Gaps and Research Issue (March 31, 2007), wrote:
“There is a widespread belief, especially among members of the business community, that internal barriers to trade in goods, services and flows of capital are undermining the Canadian economy and jeopardizing the competitiveness of Canadian industry. This view has been given a thorough airing in ongoing hearings into the internal market being held by the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. Yet there remains a scarcity of hard data and good research to substantiate the impression that barriers do, in fact, impose a significant cost on our economy.”
Regardless of that and the embarrassing results to its national survey the Chamber remains a big booster of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA). A May 25, 2006, newsletter noted that it sent “a letter to Premiers Klein and Campbell congratulating them on the signing of the agreement at the 4th annual joint Alberta-British Columbia cabinet meeting in Edmonton on April 28th.”

To understand why the Chamber might find TILMA so appealing can perhaps be found in the study’s introduction that states:
“Barriers to internal trade exist due to the nature of Canadian federalism, which assigns economic and regulatory powers to federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions. In many cases, barriers are a result of provincial jurisdictions exerting their autonomy over economic and social policies.”
TILMA would appear to deliver much of what the Chamber seems to desire and that is changing the nature of Canadian federalism by curtailing economic and regulatory powers to provincial and territorial jurisdictions and lessening their autonomy over economic and social policies. It would mean erasing borders between provinces and territories and, as former Alberta Minister of Intergovernmental Relations Gary Mar said in a June 6, 2006, speech to the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the enforceable dispute resolution process provides “everything Canadian business asked for.”

On June 5, 2007, the Chamber issued a news release renewing its Board of directors “plea for the liberalization of trade among Canada’s provinces and territories.”

The news release went on to praise TILMA and shamelessly appeared to cite the Conference Board of Canada’s discredited claim that the trade agreement “will add $4.8 billion to the GDP and will result in the creation of 78,000 jobs between the two provinces.” The Canadian Chamber of Commerce should be ashamed.

Canadian Chamber of Commerce
Internal Trade Questionnaire (2004), Page 1

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

TILMA: Labour standards, minimum wages, social assistance benefits, subsidies for non-profit organizations "by no means safe"

The following letter to the editor appeared in the June 19, 2007, edition of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix:

SP commentary on TILMA skips many key provisions

The StarPhoenix

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Randy Burton's column, No need to fear new trade deal (SP, June 14) omits important facts.

He cites a long list of exemptions in TILMA but failed to point out that Article 17 of the agreement requires a ministerial committee to "review annually the exceptions listed ... with a view to reducing their scope."

The list of exemptions is meant to shrink over time, eventually exposing them to the full force of the agreement.

The Conference Board of Canada's impact assessment of TILMA for the B.C. government confirms this. So, such things as labour standards and codes, minimum wages, Employment Insurance, social assistance benefits and workers' compensation programs are by no means safe.

Subsidies for recreation, academic research and to non-profit organizations could be at risk since they, too, are subject to Article 17. British Columbia's Minister of Economic Development Colin Hansen has stated many times that "TILMA is designed to eliminate subsidies."

B.C. and Alberta state in their TILMA publications that, "If a measure is not clearly identified as an exception, it is subject to the rules of the agreement." Since health and education measures are not clearly identified as exceptions, it seems that they, too, could be at risk. Burton doesn't acknowledge this.

An Edmonton Journal editorial admitted on April 3 that there's "little in the way of genuine trade barriers remaining between the two westernmost provinces." Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said in a news release that Saskatchewan has "fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta."

And yet Wall and The SP say we must sign TILMA as soon as possible. Why?

Georgie Davis

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

TILMA: Saskatoon StarPhoenix campaign of insults and misinformation continues, columnist refuses to consider opposing views

Saskatoon StarPhoenix columnist Randy Burton’s June 14, 2007, opinion piece No need to fear new trade deal seems to pick up right where his June 24, 2006, column Saskatchewan needs to join western front left off – only this time there is more in the way of insults, name calling, ignoring of facts, no evidence to support claims, dismissing out of hand or altogether ignoring opposing views etc. Generally just more of what has come to be expected from this particular CanWest newspaper.

Burton takes a swipe at the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Saskatchewan Federation of Labour but not once has Burton ever produced an analysis of his own addressing the legitimate concerns that are being raised by these groups to explain why he thinks they are wrong.

Burton instead lashes out at critics of TILMA calling them “alarmist” and “doomsayers”. On May 15, 2007, the SP editorial board referred to the same people as “the usual anti-trade and protectionist suspects” and “scaremongers”. To strike this much fear into the media could mean that the truth about TILMA is hitting a little too close to home. As the Council of Canadians so wonderfully said “The greatest strength of the case against TILMA is that it is entirely based on the wording of the agreement itself.”

It seems that for Burton and the StarPhoenix editorial board the only weapon left in their arsenal is personal attacks, insults and misinformation with the hope of creating an atmosphere of negativity towards those speaking out on the issue.

In his article Burton wrote:
"We are told that when the corporations rule, our legislature will be emasculated and our municipalities neutered. It will be a race to the bottom where our standard of living will presumably be reduced to that of Alberta."
In one fell swoop Burton manages to insult Vancouver, Yellowknife, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Burnaby, Coquitlam, the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA), the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA) and organizations like the BC School Trustees Association and Saskatchewan Teachers Federation that have come forward with very real and legitimate concerns with TILMA and its potential impact on municipalities and institutions. Some of the concerns are so intense that outright permanent exemptions from TILMA are being sought. Burton ignores this completely.

The “race to the bottom” scenario that Burton scoffs at so easily minimizes the gravity of the impact TILMA could have on governments to legislate in the public interest and for the public good.

In her analysis Asking for Trouble: The Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (Feb. 2007) for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Ellen Gould wrote:
“Some of TILMA’s most sweeping provisions, such as its prohibition on government measures that are obstacles to trade, derive from the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT).”

“AIT dispute panels have consistently ruled that governments cannot use the fact that they are acting within their constitutional authority to justify violations of the AIT. For example, one panel stated: “In signing the Agreement, the Parties recognized that constitutionally valid measures may be contrary to the Agreement and may need to be changed in order to achieve the objectives of the Agreement.” TILMA, by pairing the strict wording of the AIT with the ability of private investors to enforce it, will significantly limit the policy space provincial and local governments are granted under the Canadian constitution.”

“TILMA does not incorporate provisions from the AIT that moderate that agreement’s impacts. For example, TILMA subjects investment to a “No Obstacles” requirement, whereas the AIT exempts it. The AIT stipulates that when environmental and consumer protection regulations are being reconciled, governments are prohibited from engaging in a deregulatory race to the bottom. TILMA omits these safeguards.”
Steven Shrybman of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell offers this perspective in his February 2007 analysis of TILMA for the Ontario Federation of Labour:
“The pressure that TILMA creates to reduce regulatory standards to the lowest common denominator was recently described by the Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants in testimony before the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce:

“Although we support the merits of trying to enhance labour mobility, we bring to your attention the important need to recognize that provisions such as article 13.1 of TILMA could lead inevitably to the risk that standards of qualification for professionals are thereby reduced to the lowest level prevailing in the country.

“As provincial standards for regulation of professions are not uniform to begin with, this provision essentially makes the lowest of the standards that may exist in Canada acceptable as the base of qualification — essentially a race to the bottom, if you will. We do not believe that this is consistent with the obligation of legislators and governments nor of the professions themselves to ensure that the public is protected.

“Given the broad prohibition on regulatory intervention set out by Articles 3 and 5.3, it is inevitable that various efforts for reconciling or harmonizing provincial standards (see Articles 5.1, 5.5, 11.1 and 13.6) will create real pressure to reduce standards and regulations to the lowest common denominator, or abandon them altogether. If further evidence of TILMA’s deregulatory intent is needed, it can be found in the fact that it fails to incorporate AIT provisions intended to moderate the “race to the bottom” effect of trade liberalization.”
Burton does not address these issues he simply dismisses them as “alarmist” and “far-fetched” without actually addressing them in any meaningful way.

In his column Burton wrote:
"[I]f you look at the TILMA agreement itself, its hard to find a basis for many of the claims that have been made."
Look at the TILMA agreement itself – now there’s a novel approach! This is exactly what the groups opposed to TILMA have done. It appears Burton has neither read TILMA nor any of the analysis put forward by the various groups he attacks otherwise he might not be making some of the comments that he is. Or perhaps it’s that he just doesn’t want to know.

In his column Burton wrote:
"[T]here is a long list of exemptions to this deal, including labour standards, minimum wages, employment insurance, social assistance benefits and workers compensation. Policies affecting aboriginal people, water and associated infrastructure, tax policies, natural resource royalties and regulated utility rates are all exempt.

"Subsidies for culture and recreation are exempt, as is help for non-profit organizations. Assistance for academic research is exempt, and so is environmental policy. Forestry and fish management are not part of the deal."
Here we go again with the exemptions. The StarPhoenix and other pro-TILMA groups just can’t seem to find it within themselves to level with the public on this particular matter. They simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of Article 17 in TILMA that requires a ministerial committee to “review annually the exceptions listed…with a view to reducing their scope.”

The exemptions will eventually be removed and exposed to the full force of the agreement. The Conference Board of Canada’s impact assessment of TILMA for the BC Government states on page fourteen that: “TILMA is considered to be an improvement… since future negotiations can focus on the removal of the exceptions from the explicit exclusion list.”

The BC and Alberta governments, in their own official TILMA publications, have stated that “ongoing efforts will continue to reduce exceptions”

So labour standards and codes, minimum wages, employment insurance, social assistance benefits and workers compensation, among other things, is by no means safe.

Subsidies for recreation, academic research and to non-profit organizations could be at risk since they too are subject to Article 17 and BC Minister of Economic Development Colin Hansen has stated on more than one occasion that “TILMA is designed to eliminate subsidies.”

Groups like the Fraser Institute bitterly oppose exemptions and have stated in no uncertain terms that there should be none in TILMA period. Why do Burton and the StarPhoenix refuse to come clean on this issue?

In his column Burton wrote:
"The Conference Board of Canada has concluded that TILMA would increase Saskatchewan's GDP by $291 million, and increase annual employment by 4,400 person years. In other words, signing the agreement could cause economic growth that exceeds our average annual increase in employment."
In their June 5, 2007, submission to the The Standing Committee on the Economy public hearings into TILMA, the Canadian Labour Congress wrote:
“The Conference Board projects that TILMA will add $291 million (at 1997 basic prices) and 4,400 jobs to Saskatchewan’s economy. These figures seem implausibly optimistic for three reasons.

“First, $291 million (at 1997 basic prices) equals 0.92% of Saskatchewan’s GDP. In other words, the Conference Board is suggesting that a “free trade” agreement with two other provinces would produce gains twenty times greater than those previously estimated for complete “free trade” with all provinces. John Helliwell, a former President of the Canadian Economics Association, judges “the maximum gain to be a small fraction of the 0.92% of GDP estimated by the Conference Board.”

“Second, TILMA would handicap Saskatchewan’s economic development policies. Due to Alberta’s vast resource wealth, businesses located there enjoy lower tax rates and higher levels of public spending. Although Saskatchewan cannot match Alberta on this basis, it can currently use targeted incentives to compete in specific sectors. TILMA would not address the omnipresent subsidy created by Alberta’s overall tax rates and public spending, but would prohibit the more focused and affordable “business subsidies” provided by Saskatchewan.

“According to Dr. Helliwell, “increases in mutual access will always tend to favour firms located in the richer province. This fundamental nonneutrality means that the playing field can never be level between Alberta and Saskatchewan firms. This may indeed be the most important fact affecting the evaluation of TILMA by Saskatchewan, even though it is not mentioned in the Conference Board report.” By aggravating this disadvantage, TILMA could slightly reduce Saskatchewan’s GDP rather than slightly increasing it.

“Third, Saskatchewan imports substantially more from its prospective TILMA partners than it exports to them. Since no significant inter-provincial barriers exist, TILMA would not significantly increase trade flows. However, if TILMA fulfilled its objective of expanding these flows, it would increase Saskatchewan’s trade deficits.

“The most recent figures dividing Saskatchewan’s inter-provincial exports and imports by province are for 2003. In that year, Saskatchewan’s international trade surplus offset most of its inter-provincial trade deficit, leaving a net deficit of only $43 million. If Saskatchewan had exported 10% more to Alberta and BC and imported 10% more from these two provinces, this deficit would have been $288 million.

“Other things being equal, a larger trade deficit (or smaller trade surplus) implies a lower GDP and less employment. Larger trade flows might increase productivity, which might increase GDP. However, productivity does not create jobs: “since the gain in GDP is coming from productivity increases, the increase in GDP is not based on hiring more workers but on reducing the number of workers required to produce a given amount of GDP.” Even if TILMA were to increase GDP, it is completely unclear how it could create 4,400 jobs.”
It is unclear whether Burton attended any part of the public hearings that were held in Saskatoon between June 11-15 at the Radisson Hotel or made a submission of his own outlining why he feels TILMA’s opponents are wrong in their assessment of the agreement.

In his column Burton wrote:
"University of Saskatchewan economist Eric Howe was contracted by the government to examine this study and he concluded the Conference Board might be underestimating the benefit.

"Nor should we believe that we can avoid the process of reducing trade barriers, he argues.

“Any policy-maker who contemplates sitting out this particular dance should consider that the trade liberalization party will not be over. The process of trade liberalization will continue.

"If Saskatchewan decides not to sign TILMA, it will tend to further the isolation of our businesses and make them more insular relative to their competitors to the west (or elsewhere) and make them more dependent on the non-tariff-barriers we have erected,” Howe wrote in his analysis."
It is interesting to note that, aside from the discredited Conference Board of Canada, the only other source of information Burton and the StarPhoenix seem willing to cite is Dr. Howe, and then only selectively.

Dr. Helliwell was contracted by Saskatchewan Government Relations to provide a cross-review of Dr. Howe’s analysis of the Conference Board of Canada’s impact assessment of TILMA on Saskatchewan should the province join the agreement.

In his report Dr. Helliwell noted:
“In the three-province community of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, it is realistic to think that the agreed standards would be set to match the preferences of the larger provinces, so that any cost reductions are only achieved by accepting the standards of the other provinces. Given the different resource endowments, growth prospects and sometimes political orientations in the three provinces, Saskatchewan would almost surely be better to wait for the greater gains flowing from harmonization at the level of the AIT.

“In any event, the size of the cost reductions likely to be made available by TILMA are so small as to make it essentially costless to use whatever leverage Saskatchewan may have to improve the AIT rather than join TILMA.”
Helliwell went on to say:
“Eric Howe says that the Conference Board assessment is likely to be too small since some of the survey respondents (those favoured by exsiting procurement policies, for example) will over-estimate the costs of joining TILMA. (Howe does not, as I thought he would and should, reject the notion of job gains as being inconsistent with the appropriate equilibrium methodology.) But would not the gainers be as likely to over-estimate the gains, for analogous reasons?

“However, my reason for dismissing the point is not that it only sees the possibility of under-estimating gains. Rather, as I outline in my report, there is essentially no empirical support for converting the qualitative survey response to an estimate of the changes in GDP, so how can one possibly say that the Conference Board gave too much weight to the naysayers? This would only be possible if one had some other means of establishing what might be a realistic estimate of the efficiency gains from the change from AIT, current and projected, to TILMA. Howe provides no such evidence.”
It should be noted that in his report Dr. Howe also said “We don’t want to get this wrong. We need to weigh the tradeoff between the social advantages and disadvantages.”

Howe’s report does not do that. In fact, Howe inexplicably devotes just two measly sentences to describe the trade agreement’s negative impact: “The disadvantage of signing TILMA is reduced sovereignty. TILMA will restrict some abilities of provincial and local governments to enact certain laws and requires that some regulations be standardized across the signing provinces.”

“[T]here is very little discussion of future social policies for Saskatchewan that will be prohibited by signing TILMA. In the absence of such discussion of anticipated future social policies, it is nearly impossible to objectively quantify what the social disadvantage of signing TILMA will be,” Howe said.

Those discussions have not taken place in Saskatchewan. They certainly did not happen in British Columbia and Alberta where TILMA was signed without public consultation or legislative debate.

Howe says non-tariff barriers are extremely heterogeneous in nature. “It is difficult to know how signing TILMA will affect current government policies,” he said.

The absence of such information did not seem to deter Howe, though, from concluding that Saskatchewan must join TILMA anyway.

Unfortunately, Randy Burton does not touch on any of this.

In his column Burton went on to attack the NDP government:
"In spite of the fact the NDP provincial government still professes to have an open mind on the issue, it faces huge pressure from its own supporters to conclude that TILMA is bad. So bad, in fact, that Premier Lorne Calvert may want to run against it in a provincial election, whatever the experts conclude.

"He will do this because Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall thinks TILMA is really good. So good, in fact, that he wants the Saskatchewan cabinet to start meeting with the Alberta cabinet right away."
Burton’s anti-NDP sentiments are well known. Naturally, he fails to tell his readers, however, about Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall’s blatant hypocrisy when it comes to TILMA or that it was closed-door cabinet meetings between BC and Alberta that helped create TILMA.

During much of 2006, Wall condemned and vilified NDP Premier Lorne Calvert both in the legislature and in news releases for not being at the negotiating table with BC and Alberta during their closed-door discussions and for not signing the agreement which, by the way, occurred on April 28, 2006, without any prior public consultation or legislative debate. It’s clear that a government under Brad Wall would have done the same underhanded thing.

In the last few months Wall and his party have suddenly embraced the public consultation process and even went so far as to say they should have happened years ago. The funny this is Wall made no mention of consultation when berating Premier Calvert last year for not signing the agreement.

Burton also failed to tell his readers about Brad Wall’s March 19, 2007, letter to the City of Saskatoon outlining his party’s three criteria for signing TILMA. Those criteria are:

1) That it not negatively impact on the public ownership of the major Crowns
2) That it not negatively impact environmental standards
3) That it not negatively impact the well-being of workers.

Everything else it seems is open season and fair game to dismantle.

If Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party cannot come right out and say that it supports a permanent exemption for important social policies, programs and services then it seems reasonable to assume that they have no intention of protecting them let alone enhance them.

Like the StarPhoenix editorial board and Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall, columnist Randy Burton appears to have little credibility when it comes to TILMA.