Monday, March 31, 2008

Station 20 West: Sask. Party health critic Don McMorris raised no concerns with development at March 2007 committee meeting

Health Minister Don McMorris, Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer
and Premier Brad Wall

On Mar. 26, when he confirmed that the Saskatchewan Party government would not honour a previous funding commitment made by the former NDP government of $8 million for the Station 20 West mixed-use development in Saskatoon, Finance Minster Rod Gantefoer said when his new government took a look at the project, “there were a number of problems.”

He managed to cite only one, though, and it turned out to be completely wrong.

Gantefoer said fundraising from private donors was supposed to contribute between $12 million and $14 million toward the total cost, but he was told only about $75,000 had been collected – raising concerns about whether the province would end up on the hook for a shortfall. [Core project in limbo; Sask. Party pulls $8M from centre on 20th Street (StarPhoenix, Mar. 27, 2008)]

At a press conference on Mar. 27, Station 20 West project manager Paul Wilkinson said organizers needed to raise about $3.5 million on their own, and had already received commitments worth about $1 million. They knew they would be able to obtain a mortgage to cover a further $1 million, and felt confident a public fundraising campaign could net the remaining $1.5 million within the next few months, Wilkinson said.

“We have a large number of very significant partners in this project.”

Gantefoer’s office confirmed he’d been mistaken about the numbers. [20th Street ‘mall’ not a priority: gov’t (StarPhoenix, Mar. 28, 2008)]

Gantefoer has not said what the other problems were.

In the same StarPhoenix article Premier Brad Wall gave a different explanation for his government’s despicable attack on Saskatoon’s poorest neighbourhood, one that appears to be closer to the real reason for the decision -- ideology.

Wall said the concept of the project was “problematic” for the Saskatchewan Party, that it was essentially a “mall development.”

“We ought not to be in the mall business and it’s just, it’s a different approach. We don’t think that the government of Saskatchewan should be opening up basically a mall development, where we’d be competing with grocery stores, competing with others who are already renting (facility space) now to community clinics in the area.”

Wall failed to mention, however, that there hasn’t been a full line grocery store in the area for over ten years and that there are no developers planning to build one any time soon. Many low income residents are forced to travel a considerable distance to get food and other necessities.

In the editorial Government’s actions signal trouble ahead (StarPhoenix, Mar. 29, 2008) the StarPhoenix lambasted Wall saying his “clear lack of understanding about the dire needs of core neighbourhoods and the history of Saskatoon demonstrates just how out of touch he remains with urban Saskatchewan. Considering the role the province’s largest city is playing in the economic revival of Saskatchewan, such ignorance could have dire consequences.”

“The proponents of Station 20 want a grocery store not because they want to compete with private industry but because many people in core neighbourhoods don’t have the wherewithal to keep hiring cabs to go shopping.”

Meanwhile, Health Minister Don McMorris had by far the lousiest excuse for his government’s decision.

“You know, the chillers at RUH, they need to be replaced, the fire alarm doesn’t work at St. Paul’s (Hospital), there’s a CT scan that needs to be added. There are a number of challenges, immediately -- safety challenges -- that we hold the liability on,” he said.

“For example, a fire alarm -- I mean, they’ve hired more people (and) it’s a human fire alarm now – that’s just not acceptable in today’s standards, so we have decided to move the money from Station 20 to make sure that our facilities are properly equipped. So that was a decision that was made by our government.”

McMorris’ concern with finding money to replace a fire alarm and remove mold is difficult to accept given the province’s current fiscal situation.

For the past few years Saskatchewan has been raking in revenues hand over fist with no apparent end in sight.

On budget day, Mar. 19, the government projected a C$250 million ($248 million) budget surplus for 2008-09 and also detailed plans for C$1 billion of capital investments.

The financial plan assumes annual revenue of C$9.4 billion, up 19 percent from last year’s budget document, but 0.3 percent under the most recent forecast for the 2007-08 budget year.

The budget assumes a benchmark U.S. oil price of $82.36 a barrel, compared with current levels above $100. [Saskatchewan projects surplus, boosts spending (Reuters, Mar. 19, 2008)]

Withdrawing financial support for Station 20 West was not a political decision, McMorris insists.

“I can tell you that we didn’t look at where it was being built, we looked at it as, what is the need of our infrastructure as far as health care is concerned. We have a lot of long-term care homes that the roofs are leaking and there’s mold growing in the rooms and they’re having to move patients out. Those are priorities.”

McMorris’ assertion that his government wasn’t looking at where Station 20 West was being built does not appear to be entirely accurate.

On Mar. 19, 2007, the Standing Committee on Human Services considered the Department of Health funding request for Station 20 West contained in the 2006-07 Supplementary Estimates — March (Vote 32, Subvote HE03).

The Hansard record shows that NDP Health Minister Len Taylor provided committee members with a comprehensive overview of the project: “The $8 million investment will help to improve access to primary health care and community-based services by supporting projects such as Station 20 West, a partnership for the development of community programs that promote health and well-being. Station 20 is fundamentally an urban renewal project involving a number of community organizations with a vision of developing a centre that would provide multiple services to the community.

“The proposal envisions a broad variety of services including everything within community-based services from child care, integrated primary health services, and including a grocery store. This concept includes a mix of cultural, social, educational, recreational, and health service delivery components. It provides a venue that will not only attract residents who want to participate in community life, but will also enhance access to needed resources. It becomes a centre for direct delivery of services.”

Taylor also noted that, “Station 20 West will see a number of programs and services co-located and more easily available to inner-city residents. Many of these residents do not have ready access to health care professionals or convenient transportation to access services in other areas of the city. As a result they will often use the nearest hospital for basic, everyday health care. If we can provide these residents with primary health care and community-based services that are close to their homes, it’s better for them and it’s better for the system as a whole.”

McMorris, the Sask. Party’s health critic, was at the meeting and asked several questions but raised no concern whatsoever with the grocery store or any other specific aspect of the development. He was, however, interested in knowing in whose constituency the development was going to be built:
Mr. McMorris: — Just so I can have a bit of an understanding, whereabouts is this Station 20 West located in Saskatoon?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — The actual location is expected to be in and around Avenue L and 20th Street in Saskatoon. The reason I say expected to be is the land is still being discussed with the city of Saskatoon. I think tonight — maybe it was last — tonight the city of Saskatoon council, city council will be dealing with this piece of land and whether or not they will provide that piece of land to the partnership for a very fine sum of money.

Mr. McMorris: — So there is no facility there at all. This money isn’t going into an existing facility, existing programs. This is being virtually started from scratch.

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — That is correct. The land has been cleared. It is anticipated and expected that a community facility of some sort will be provided. It would be built on that particular piece of land, which is why it’s under consideration, for all intents and purposes, granting from the city of Saskatoon.

This project, the business plan that’s been brought forward, is for a $12 million facility of which Sask Health is bringing forward this $8 million. This will facilitate Health’s interest in the facility, that interest being primarily the possible relocation of the Saskatoon community health clinic and offices supported by and sponsored by the College of Medicine and the College of Nursing to provide dental and other services to the community through that facility.

Mr. McMorris: — Not knowing Saskatoon real well but having an idea of the constituencies, what constituency would that be, would L and 20th be located in, do you know?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — I’m looking at my Saskatoon friends over here. I think it’s the riverside constituency.

Mr. Prebble: — L and 20th is in, sort of borders Pleasant Hill and Riversdale and will be in Pleasant Hill.

Mr. McMorris: — Well I guess that would mean . . . But it would be in the Riversdale constituency.

Mr. Prebble: — It would be in Minister Forbes’s constituency, right on the edge of the Premier’s and Minister Forbes’s.
McMorris admitted he knew little about the two organizations the government would be partnering with: CHEP and Quint Development. Taylor explained who they were and where their funding came from and said they were responsible for raising the remaining $4 million of the approximate twelve and a half million dollar project.

With respect to the province’s $8 million investment the only thing McMorris seemed interested in was who would own the facility.

“So $8 million and then four coming from the other organizations and it’s a building starting from scratch. At the end of the day, does the Saskatoon Health Authority own the facility?” asked McMorris.

“No, the Saskatoon Health Authority does not,” Taylor replied.

“So do these two other organizations own the facility?” asked McMorris.

“The partnership would own the facility,” said Taylor.

“The partnership of all three?” said McMorris.

“Yes plus others. AIDS Saskatoon is involved in the project as well the Westside clinic. Currently the Westside clinic in Saskatoon owns its own building and property and is simply funded by Saskatchewan Health. They would continue to have a partnership interest in this project,” Taylor replied.

In his final question McMorris asked what are the ongoing investments that the department will have? Will there be another line item next year, another $1 million going to Station 20 West?

Taylor replied that it was “a one-time allocation of dollars, one-time allocation that will find its way into capital same as the other item before us tonight in supplementary estimates.”

For someone with big concerns about Station 20 West today, Minister McMorris certainly had none on Mar. 19, 2007 – except wanting to know in which constituency it was going to be built and who would own it. The Sask. Party raised no concerns in the Legislature or through a news release so why all the fuss now?

It should be noted that on Aug. 13, 2007, Saskatoon city council approved the direct sale of land to the Station 20 West Development Corporation “for the development of a Community Enterprise Centre comprising of offices, retail space, and a public plaza.”

In its report to council the community services department said it had “thoroughly reviewed the Business Plan for the Station 20 West Community Enterprise Centre” and found that “Overall, the numbers appear good, with several committed tenants who are able to pay market rates for space and enter into multi-year leases. The Station 20 West development is expected to be at capacity from the outset of operation.”

“Station 20 West expects to raise $2.5 million from private donations by the fall of 2008, and will carry a residual $2 million dollar mortgage for a five year period. Without accounting for available incentives through the Enterprise Zone, Station 20 expects to operate with a small surplus beginning in year three. A modest reserve of $50 thousand will be established to cover unforeseen expenses,” the report notes.

It took several years of hard work but Station 20 West organizers had finally gained the support of all levels of government.

The Saskatchewan Party government’s decision to pull funding for Station 20 West at this late stage was clearly driven by politics and its conservative ideology.

“New investment in Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods is crucial to building a sustainable city,” said Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison in a Feb. 2, 2007, federal government news release. “With the support of all our partners, it is the City’s hope that…the recently announced Station 20 project, will demonstrate that the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood is leading the way in community renewal and revitalization.”

Not anymore.


At 8:58 PM, Blogger Rusty said...

I cannot understand why this government did not use their crown jewel, Enterprise Saskatchewan, to make a determination if in fact Station 20 is a community Economic Development. Not unlike Harper with his promise on equilization Brad had to steal something from the community to keep up with his mentor. It now seems that their focus is to grow food banks. Station 20 was developed to eventually do away with food banks a goal of the community and previous Executive Director Bob Pringle.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Matt said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Matt said...

I don't think the government should be in the business of funding buildings for groups that don't have any pre-planned programming. It's not economically smart to give money on a good word. The fact that this government is actually thinking these things through before just signing a cheque is a good indication of why they were elected in the first place.

At 9:21 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

maybe a big 'F'n NO' would have been better received?


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