Saturday, June 21, 2008

Conservative love fest in Saskatoon: city councillors and MLAs snubbed at photo op with PM Stephen Harper, Premier Brad Wall and Mayor Don Atchison

The Reuters photo says it all. The June 20, 2008 funding announcement for a new bridge in Saskatoon was strictly a conservatives-only affair.

Three levels of government, including the City of Saskatoon, are joining together to build the South River Crossing, a bridge crossing the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon. The bridge is part of the Building Canada Plan, the federal government’s infrastructure development program. The budget for the bridge is $300 million.

On hand for the ceremony was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right-wing Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall, Saskatoon’s equally conservative mayor, Don Atchison, and two of Harper’s Saskatoon MPs, Carol Skelton and Lynne Yelich.

City councillors and MLAs whose constituencies will be affected by the future bridge weren’t invited.

According to the StarPhoenix story Councillors feel snubbed by PM's lack of invitation (StarPhoenix, June 21, 2008) : “Early this week, city administration notified councillors to keep their schedules clear for a major, though unspecified, announcement Friday. On Thursday, the 10 councillors got a memo from administration saying due to security reasons, the Prime Minister’s Office only wanted Mayor Don Atchison at the press conference.

“Even the councillors whose wards are at either ends of the new south bridge site -- Pat Lorje and Bob Pringle -- were left off the list. The guest list included several provincial cabinet ministers, the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce and Conservative supporters who broke into applause several times during Harper’s statement and answers to questions.”

Lorje and Pringle are former NDP MLAs.

In the editorial Strict secrecy mars good news over new bridge (StarPhoenix, June 21, 2008) the StarPhoenix called the press conference “inappropriately partisan and controlled.” It described Harper’s conduct as “over-controlling and churlish.”

“While it’s usual that senior governments would want to occupy the limelight in making such an announcement, it’s going too far when the PMO acts to limit civic representation to only the mayor, with the 10 councillors excluded for “security reasons,” the editorial said.

“The six-lane south bridge is the costliest public works project in Saskatoon and local politicians, especially those in the wards that will be directly affected by the construction, have good reason to be kept informed about what is happening and when.”

The same could be said for provincial politicians whose constituencies will be affected as well.

Saskatoon Riversdale NDP MLA Lorne Calvert and Saskatoon Nutana NDP MLA Pat Atkinson were not invited, but the StarPhoenix doesn’t mention that.

Conservative bias in the media is nothing new, though. In 2000 the StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post each donated $10,000 to the Saskatchewan Party.

In 2007, Canwest Global Communications Corp. president and CEO Leonard Asper and subsidiary CanWest Media Works Inc. each contributed $5,000 to the Brad Wall-led party.

CanWest’s flagship newspaper the National Post has twice endorsed Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper for Prime Minister. It also endorsed Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory for premier in that province’s Oct. 10, 2007, election and was quite pleased when the Saskatchewan Party was elected on November 7, 2007.

On the political front Conservative MPs Carol Skelton and Lynne Yelich are contributors to the Saskatchewan Party – which is rife with connections to the Harper government.

Mayor Don Atchison seems to be right in there as well. During the 2003 provincial election he endorsed Roger Parent the Saskatchewan Party candidate for Saskatoon Centre. A testimonial from Atchison, as a local businessperson, appeared in one of Parent’s campaign brochures along with that of Don Morgan and Shelley Hengen.

On June 20 while in Regina Harper met with Premier Wall for an hour-long closed-door meeting.

In Harper and Wall get cozy in closed-door meeting (Leader-Post, June 21, 2008) Wall said they talked about uranium “value-added” opportunities his Saskatchewan Party government is exploring, including research and development that could take place in the province.

Wall wasted the opportunity, however, by apparently failing to remind Harper of his promise made when in Opposition to reduce the application of the GST on fuel, when retail fuel prices exceed 85 cents a litre. Regular unleaded gas in Saskatoon is currently pushing $1.39 a litre.

Wall also neglected to push the equalization dispute, a battle that Lorne Calvert’s NDP government had taken all the way to the courts with a constitutional challenge. The Conservative election promise was to pull non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization formula, and at issue was their subsequent decision after forming government to put a cap on payments.

It seems Wall has no intention of sticking up for Saskatchewan if it might mean upsetting his political master in Ottawa. Instead he appears content to be seen as Harper’s toady, which was the case during the press conference when he joined the PM in attacking the federal Liberals plan of a national carbon tax. [PM: Dion carbon tax will ‘screw everybody’ (Toronto Star, June 20, 2008)]


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