Monday, September 29, 2008

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in hiding; Globe and Mail said MP should have been fired or resigned, National Post & StarPhoenix attack party leaders

“[T]here are only so many times Prime Minister Stephen Harper can signal his disappointment with his party’s ministers and staff before questions must be raised about just what sort of environment they are working in. Mr. Ritz should have been fired or resigned as soon as his comments came to light, if only to send a message that such conduct will no longer be tolerated.”
The Globe and Mail, September 19, 2008

“If Harper is the right kind of person to run this country, he’s got to do the right thing and get rid of this minister. Simple as that.”
– Dennis Schroh, Swift Current resident and son of Elizabeth Schroh who contracted the strain of listeriosis linked to the Maple Leaf recall and died Aug. 24, 2008

“Minister Ritz has repeatedly disappointed the professional scientists and inspectors who work for him during the listeria crisis…The comments he apologized for are the last straw. Crisis requires real leadership and Mr. Ritz is clearly not fit to lead.”
– Michele Demers, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

“Gerry Ritz should resign.”
– Val Meredith, a former Canadian Alliance party MP
Saskatchewan Conservative MP Gerry Ritz seems to have disappeared.

The Saskatoon StarPhoenix is reporting that the “suddenly invisible incumbent isn’t returning media calls or making public appearances since apologizing recently for joking about listeriosis deaths.”

The newspaper “made six requests for interviews with Ritz since he made his apology” but the “closest his campaign team has come to granting a request was to offer answers to agriculture-related questions through his Ottawa staff.”

Since his public apology, Ritz has also declined interviews with media in the riding. The Battlefords News-Optimist requested a comment from Ritz and received only an e-mail text of his apology, said editor Becky Doig. [Ritz stronghold under siege (StarPhoenix, Sept. 26, 2008)]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t know where his agriculture minister is hiding. When asked on Sept. 23 why the minister wasn’t standing beside his boss during one of Harper’s rare visits to Saskatchewan, the PM responded he had no idea where Ritz had gone. [Paging Mr. Ritz (StarPhoenix, Sept. 27, 2008)]

In a recent editorial The Globe and Mail called Ritz’s comments “offensive” and said he “should have been fired or resigned as soon as his comments came to light, if only to send a message that such conduct will no longer be tolerated.”

“As the lead minister on the crisis, officials at the meeting would have looked to Mr. Ritz to set the tone and to get a read on just how seriously the government of Canada was taking the matter. Judging from Mr. Ritz’s decision to make light of the listeriosis outbreak, they could have reasonably concluded that the answer was, not very seriously at all,” the national newspaper said. [More than a joke (TheGlobe and Mail, Sept. 19, 2008)]

The National Post, meanwhile, could only bring itself to call Ritz’s comments “thoughtless” and “ill-advised.” Rather than call for his firing or resignation Canada’s other national newspaper said “it’s time to start taking this election seriously” and that the “election should be about substantive issues of concern to voters” and not “wisecracks about tainted cold cuts.”

The Post seemed more concerned with what might happen to the Conservatives if voters were to start taking a closer look at Harper and his team.

“The greatest danger in this so-far ridiculous battle is for the Tories, because they have the most to lose. The majority they so crave could slip through their fingers if their gaffes cause voters to think of them as arrogant or unworthy to govern,” the editorial said. [Election immaturity (National Post, Sept. 22, 2008) ]

It should be noted that the National Post has twice endorsed Stephen Harper for prime minister the first on June 23, 2004, and the second on Jan. 19, 2006. It’s likely only a matter of days before the newspaper publicly supports him for a third time.

Closer to home the Conservative-friendly Saskatoon StarPhoenix called Ritz’s comments “twisted” “warped” “disturbing” and “disgraceful,” but then incredibly said “worse has been the reaction of the opposition parties.”

The editorial board said “all opposition party leaders feigned injury and called for Mr. Ritz’s head” and “What’s of greater concern than Mr. Ritz’s gallows humour is the apparent inability of rival politicians to address the issues in the most dire need of attention.” [Trivial pursuits (StarPhoenix, Sept. 19, 2008)]

At last count the death toll from the listeriosis outbreak has reached 19. Neither the National Post nor the StarPhoenix mention the families of the victims in their editorials and what pain Ritz’s comments might have caused.

According to various media reports the following appear to be the key facts in the Ritz case:

– During an Aug. 30, 2008, conference call with scientists, bureaucrats and political staff about the listeriosis scare Ritz resorted to gallows humour about the political dangers of the crisis saying: “This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts.”

The disease was linked to cold cuts from Maple Leaf Meats.

And when told about a new death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said: “Please tell me it’s (Liberal MP) Wayne Easter.”

Easter is the Liberal critic shadowing Ritz’s Agriculture Department.

– We know Ritz said these things because sources “took notes during the call.”

– About 30 people participated in the Sunday morning conference call that began after 10 a.m. EDT.

– Others on the call included communications staff from the prime minister’s office, most of Ritz’s staff, Health Minister Tony Clement’s policy and communications advisers, and senior public servants including deputy health minister Morris Rosenberg.

– Officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency provided updates on the disease during the conversation.

– Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been relentless in searching for and punishing anyone thought to have provided embarrassing information to reporters.

– Kory Teneycke, a spokesman for the prime minister, said Ritz’s remarks were beyond the pale and “clearly inappropriate.” They were “intended as a joke, but some things are not appropriate to joke about.”

– Sources say the Privy Council Office requested and chaired the conference call. This call was chaired by Daniel Jean, the deputy secretary to cabinet in the Privy Council Office.

That office, headed by Kevin Lynch, co-ordinates government policy and harnesses that policy to the formidable power of the public service. [Minister apologizes for ‘tasteless’ listeria jokes (Toronto Star, Sept. 17, 2008)]

– Teneycke told reporters that senior PMO officials “learned” of the comments through the news report on Sept. 17, 2008.

– Teneycke said Harper reacted with “concern. It’s clearly inappropriate. No one is defending the remarks.”

– Teneycke said Harper did not speak to Ritz, the Conservative MP for the Saskatchewan riding of Battlefords-Lloydminster, and “I have no expectation of him resigning.” [Minister sorry for ‘tasteless’ listeria jokes (Toronto Star, Sept. 18, 2008)]

– Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Ritz did the right thing by quickly apologizing, and should not have to resign.

– Harper said the conference call was “a private conversation.”

– Harper spoke to Ritz on Sept. 17, 2008, after a speech in Chicoutimi. Teneycke said “no resignation was offered and none was asked for” during that call.

Ritz refused comment when first approached by reporters at the Ottawa airport on Sept. 17, 2008, when he arrived for a political rally in the Nepean-Carleton riding.

He did apologize at that rally of Conservative supporters — which PMO staff said was a “public” apology, but ran away when reporters, notified late, asked him to repeat it on camera. Ritz was then later ordered to meet the media late last night in Ottawa and register the apology more publicly.

Teneycke said “we think at least one” PMO staff member was on the call, and could not explain why the matter had not been raised any earlier.

Teneycke advised Harper of the damning remarks just before Harper delivered a speech in Saguenay. [PM rejects resignation calls (Toronto Star, Sept. 18, 2008)]

– Harper, campaigning in Quebec on Sept. 19, 2008, expressed sympathy for the victims but stood by Ritz.

“Minister Ritz clearly did not intend to make any such comments publicly and has thoroughly apologized.” [Clamour grows for Ritz's removal from cabinet (StarPhoenix, Sept. 19, 2008)]

A few unanswered questions remain:

– Approximately 30 people took part in the conference call. How many individuals need to be involved in a private conservation before it can be considered public?

– Of Ritz’s comments, Harper spokesman Kory Teneycke said “No one is defending the remarks.” But they’re defending Ritz. How is it possible to separate the remarks from the person making them?

– Are we really supposed to believe that it took 18 days for Harper, a notorious control freak, to find out about Ritz’s comments, and then it was only because the media reported them?

– Whose idea was it to have Ritz make his “public” apology at a Conservative rally in the Nepean-Carleton riding and notify the media late?

– Why did Ritz have to be forced to make a public apology and who ordered him to do it?

– Has Ritz been told not to do interviews? If so, who gave that order?

– Harper said Ritz “clearly did not intend to make such comments publicly.” Does this mean it’s acceptable for a cabinet minister to say such things privately?

– Exactly when did Harper talk to Ritz? The story Minister sorry for ‘tasteless’ listeria jokes, by Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star’s Ottawa Bureau, was dated Sept. 18, 2008, and posted at 4:30AM. It noted “Teneycke said Harper did not speak to Ritz.”

A second story by MacCharles called PM rejects resignation calls was posted by the Toronto Star on Sept. 18, 2008, at 1:43PM. It reported Teneycke saying “Harper spoke to Ritz last night, after a speech in Chicoutimi.”

– Teneycke said “we think at least one” PMO staff member was on the call, and could not explain why the matter had not been raised any earlier. It’s been more than ten days since the story broke, has the government since then been able to determine how many PMO staff members took part in the call and can it now explain why the matter had not been raised earlier?

– Are Harper and his operatives still searching for the person(s) that leaked the story?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Harper Record / Edited by Teresa Healy – New book by CCPA gives a detailed account of Harper Conservative minority gov't during its 32-month term

“Stephen Harper’s core ideological commitments are rooted firmly in the traditions of economic conservatism, and they have been for some time. As a youthful supporter of the Progressive Conservative party, Harper hoped Mulroney’s landslide 1984 electoral victory would bring the politics of Thatcher and Reagan to Canada.” – Steve Patten

“In caucus, Harper controls backbenchers with what is widely perceived as a gag order to maintain the appearance of a unified political party – despite well-known fissures. Major announcements come out of the PMO’s office, generally, and not out of cabinet ministers’ office. Cabinet ministers who wish to speak to the media require “message event proposal” approval by the PMO’s office. When a cabinet minister gets unleashed, it’s so unusual it becomes part of the news.” – Trish Hennessy

“Clearly, the Harper government and the Canadian business community do not want to renegotiate NAFTA. They especially don’t want environment, labour, or investor issues on the table since it could mean a serious recasting of the NAFTA model. They want to advance their NAFTA plus agenda defensively to reverse the thickening of the border, and offensively to push ahead with military and security integration, harmonized regulations, laws and policies, a customs union, a North American dispute tribunal, etc.

A majority of Canadians, on the other hand, want to renegotiate or scrap NAFTA. As with many other public policy issues, the gap between elite opinion and that of the general public is wide, indeed.” – Bruce Campbell

“Harper, it must be remembered, was a key architect of the Reform party’s immigration policies that had the result of attracting members of the white rights Heritage Front to the Reform party.” – Karl Flecker

“The effect of Harper’s embrace of militarism to define his own government’s tenure has been costly to Canada.

In terms of dollars, the massive increases to Canadian military spending has siphoned dollars away from social programs. If any Canadian wondered where the national child care program funding went when Harper cancelled Martin’s plan, one can find it sitting on military bases in the form of new military aircraft and tanks.” – Steven Staples

“The firing of Linda Keen raised eyebrows around the world. This government has bullied other regulatory bodies, including the CRTC, without any public backlash, but firing (they called it a “rescinding of her designation”) the nuclear safety regulator for doing her job was denounced across the country, by citizens through open-line radio programs and letters to the editor, by editors of major newspapers, and by the international nuclear safety community of which Keen is a respected member. Shawn Patrick Stensil, energy campaigner for Greenpeace, called the firing “a frightening lesson in an industry where safety is paramount. It’s very unlikely that the regulator will have the courage to stand up to the industry again.” – Marita Moll

“The fallout from Harper’s child care policy will be felt for years to come. Federal transfers specifically designated for early learning and child care were reduced by almost 37% in 2007-08. The $1,200 taxable allowance cost the federal government an estimated $2.4 billion in 2007-08 and the price tag will keep going up. This is money that should have been used to begin to build an accessible, affordable and quality early learning and child care system.” – Morna Ballantyne

“One of the more insidious of the Harper government’s strategies has been to cut the revenue base of the federal government down to its (reduced) size on the program side of the ledger. Having recognized that burgeoning federal surpluses amount to an invitation to the federal government to expand its programs, the Harper government has effectively wiped out the surplus by ramping up spending on its priority areas of core federal responsibility and introducing substantial tax cuts.

Not only has the Harper government moved to shrink the role of the federal government in Canadian public policy, but it has done so in a way that puts a huge political barrier – the need to raise taxes – in the way of any future federal government seeking to reverse that policy.” – Hugh Mackenzie
On Sept. 23, 2008, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) posted to their website a great new book, edited by Teresa Healy, called The Harper Record. Here is a summary from the CCPA website:

This book is one in a series of CCPA publications that have examined the records of Canadian federal governments during the duration of their tenure. As with earlier CCPA reports on the activities of previous governments while in office, this book gives a detailed account of the laws, policies, regulations, and initiatives of the Conservative minority government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper during its 32-month term from January 2006 to September 2008.

The 47 writers, researchers and analysts who have co-written this book probe into every aspect of the Harper minority government’s administration. From the economy to the environment, from social programs to foreign policy, from health care to tax cuts, from the Afghanistan mission to the tar sands, from free trade to deep integration, and to many other areas of this government’s record, the authors have dug out the facts and analyzed them.

The Harper Record was necessarily researched and written long before an election was called, but its publication does coincide with an election campaign and thus may help citizens to make informed choices about the future of their country. Regardless of the election outcome, its contents will continue to be relevant between elections. In detailing what a minority Conservative government really did, or failed to do, it may serve as a guide and model for future elections.

Hard copies will be available for purchase on October 6, 2008.

Click here to download the whole book. (504 pages)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sask. unemployment rate and number of residents receiving EI benefits show increase; Labour Minister Rob Norris says “This is an exciting time”

A Sept. 23, 2008, Saskatchewan Party government news release proudly reported that because of the strong economy fewer residents are receiving Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.

According to Statistics Canada there were 9,660 people receiving EI benefits in July 2008 a drop of 14.7 per cent from the same month one year ago. This is the second largest drop in recipients of EI benefits across Canada.

“This is an exciting time for Saskatchewan, and I know that there are more great things in store for our province,” Norris said. “We are committed to ensuring our province remains a leader in Canada and the New West.”

Although the figures might be accurate they are deceiving since the government is looking only at the month of July.

In the article Number of EI recipients spikes (StarPhoenix, Sept. 24, 2008) the federal agency said provincially Saskatchewan experienced the second largest increase of EI recipients in July from June (up 18.8 per cent) just behind Manitoba, which was up 21.1 per cent.

On Aug. 27, 2008, the province reported that there were 7,860 people receiving regular EI benefits in June. This means there were approximately 1,800 more residents collecting regular EI benefits in July than June. This wasn’t mentioned in the news release.

In May the number of individuals receiving regular EI benefits were reportedly 7,090 – or 2,570 fewer than July. The numbers seem to be headed in the wrong direction.

The 9,660 people receiving regular EI benefits in July appears to be the highest monthly total since last summer and is the largest so far under the new Saskatchewan Party government. In Oct. 2007, the final full month of the former NDP regime, there were approximately 8,600 residents receiving regular EI benefits.

The province’s unemployment rate under the Saskatchewan Party appears to be creeping upward as well.

According to Statistics Canada’s monthly Labour Force Survey Saskatchewan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Aug. 2008 was 4.5 per cent (up from 4.4 per cent in July).

The 4.5 per cent rate appears to be the highest so far under the Saskatchewan Party and is up from the 4.3 per cent recorded in Oct. 2007 during that last full month of the NDP government.

The following table shows the number of Saskatchewan residents receiving regular EI benefits and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate as presented by Statistics Canada in its monthly reports and may not reflect any adjustments made by the agency since then.

# People on Regular EI

Unemployment Rate (%)

August 2008



July 2008



June 2008



May 2008



April 2008



March 2008



February 2008



January 2008



December 2007



November 2007



October 2007



September 2007



Sunday, September 21, 2008

Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources denies access to briefing note regarding Domtar and Prince Albert pulp mill

“A vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open.”
– Sask. Party Prince Albert Carlton candidate Darryl Hickie 2007 campaign sign

“I can assure you that reopening the Mill is a top priority for me and our Party. As Brad Wall said, when he spoke at the opening of my Committee Rooms two weeks ago, “we will move heaven and earth to open the Mill”.”
– Darryl Hickie, The Prince Albert Daily Herald, Nov. 3, 2007
The Saskatchewan Party government has once again chosen to withhold information from the public. This time it’s about Domtar and the Prince Albert pulp mill.

An access to information request dated Aug. 21, 2008, was submitted to the Ministry of Energy and Resources for copies of any briefing notes between June 1, 2008 and July 11, 2008 regarding the province’s discussions with Domtar concerning the Prince Albert pulp mill. The ministry received the request on Aug. 25, 2008.

In its September 4, 2008, response the ministry’s manager of contract and legislative services said that “While one record was found, access to the record you requested is denied pursuant to sections 16(1)(a)(c)(d)(i); 17(a)(b)(c)(g); 18(1)(d)(e)(f); and 19(1)(b)(c)(i)(ii)(iii) of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (the Act). The reasons for refusal of this record are provided below:
Section 16(1)(a) – if released, would disclose a confidence of the Executive Council, including; records created to present advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options to the Executive Council or any of its committees;

Section 16(1)(c) – if released, would disclose records of consultations among members of the Executive Council on matters that relate to the making of government decisions or the formulation of government policy, or records that reflect those consultations;

Section 16(1)(d)(i) – if released, would disclose records that contain briefings to members of the Executive Council in relation to matters that are before, or are proposed to be brought before, the Executive Council or any of its committees;

Section 17(1)(a) – if released, would disclose advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for a government institution or a member of the Executive Council;

Section 17(1)(b) – if released, would disclose consultations or deliberations involving officers or employees of a government institution, a member of the Executive Council, or the staff of a member of the Executive Council;

Section 17(1)(c) – if released, would disclose positions, plans, procedures, criteria or instructions developed for the purpose of contractual or other negotiations by or on behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution, or considerations that relate to those negotiations;

Section 17(1)(g) – if released, would disclose information, including the proposed plans, policies or projects of a government institution, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to result in disclosure of a pending policy or budgetary decision;

Section 18(1)(d) – if released, would disclose information which could reasonably be expected to interfere with contractual or other negotiations of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution;

Section 18(1)(e) – if released, would disclose positions, plans, procedures, criteria or instructions developed for the purpose of contractual or other negotiations by or on behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution, or considerations that relate to those negotiations;

Section 18(1)(f) – if released, would disclose information which could reasonably be expected to prejudice the economic interest of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution;

Section 19(1)(b) – if released, would provide financial, commercial, scientific, technical or labour relations information that is supplied in confidence, implicitly or explicitly, to a government institution by a third party; and,

Section 19(1)(c)(i)(ii)(iii) – if released, would provide information that could reasonably be expected to: result in financial loss or gain, prejudice the competitive position or interfere with the contractual or other negotiations of a third party.”
Seven of the twelve sections cited by the ministry are discretionary exemptions.

On Nov. 30, 2007, three weeks after the provincial election, the new Saskatchewan Party government cancelled the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Domtar signed on Sept. 12, 2007 by the former NDP government because it included direct government investment.

The news release said the Government will not offer any grants, loans or equity investments to Domtar, but is prepared to discuss other options.

“Our goals are to get the employees of the Prince Albert pulp mill and Domtar’s other mills back to work as soon as possible and to ensure that we use our forest resource to its full potential,” [Energy and Resources Minister Bill] Boyd said.

Prince Albert Mayor Jim Scarrow said the new government appeared to have acted hastily in its decision.

He said there should have been face-to-face discussions between the government and Domtar before the deal was scrapped because of the importance of the mill to the provincial forestry industry, and the importance of forestry to Saskatchewan.

“There’s not a lot of players like Domtar and not many folks shopping for pulp mills right now,” he said.

The mill was shut down by Weyerhaeuser in 2006, putting about 700 people out of work. Domtar, which merged with Weyerhaeuser’s fine paper operations, acquired the plant in March 2007. [Gov’t axes deal with Domtar; Prince Albert pulp mill unlikely to be reopened (StarPhoenix, Dec. 1, 2007)]

During the 2007 provincial election Darryl Hickie, the Saskatchewan Party candidate for Prince Albert Carlton, told voters on the doorstep that “a vote for Darryl Hickie is a vote to open the mill.” [Hickie vows to work for mill deal (StarPhoenix, Dec. 5, 2007)]

In the article Wall says ‘spirit’ in deal to reopen Sask mill stands even after money pulled (Canadian Press, Dec. 4, 2007) The Canadian Press reported that Hickie’s campaign signs read “a vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open.”

On Oct. 18, 2007, Wall told a cheering crowd at Hickie’s campaign office that the reopening of the pulp mill “will be among the top priorities” of a Saskatchewan Party government.[Mill reopening a priority: Wall (P.A. Daily Herald, Oct. 19, 2007)]

Later, in a question and answer exercise with The Daily Herald, Hickie was asked ‘What is your greatest hope for the PA Carlton riding and for the province?’

“I can assure you that reopening the Mill is a top priority for me and our Party. As Brad Wall said, when he spoke at the opening of my Committee Rooms two weeks ago, “we will move heaven and earth to open the Mill”,” Hickie responded. [Learn more about candidates running in the Prince Albert area (P.A. Daily Herald, Nov. 3, 2007)]

No sooner did the Saskatchewan Party win the election then they began to back peddle.

Following the first question period in the legislature after the Nov. 7 provincial election Premier Brad Wall told reporters that Hickie’s campaign slogan was not a campaign promise or a guarantee the mill would reopen during the four-year term of government. [P.A. pulp mill dominates first question period (StarPhoenix, Dec. 12, 2007)]

More that ten months has passed since the election and the Wall government appears no closer to getting the mill open. Face to face meetings have been sporadic with little comment afterward.

On Jan. 24, 2008, Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd met with Domtar vice-president Patrick Loulou, his first face-to-face meeting with a representative of the company on the fate of the closed pulp mill.

Boyd was tight- lipped following, but did characterize the talks as “constructive” and “productive.”

He told reporters he and Loulou agreed to a further meeting in 30 days.

Loulou did not meet with reporters. Domtar said it would not comment on the meeting. [Gov’t mum after P.A. mill meeting (StarPhoenix, Jan. 25, 2008)]

On Feb. 28, 2008, Boyd met with Loulou in Regina.

The Saskatchewan Party government presented a proposal to Domtar to get the closed Prince Albert Pulp Mill up and operating again.

Boyd said the proposal involved the previously discussed areas of infrastructure and power co-generation, but he would provide no details to reporters at the legislature.

“There has been some progress . . . we’re encouraged by what we’re hearing,” Boyd said following the meeting. “We’ve put forward a proposal that they are going to evaluate and get back to us and we’re optimistic.”

Loulou did not speak with reporters and Domtar’s spokesperson in Montreal said the company would not comment.

Boyd would not comment on the potential cost to the government around infrastructure and co-generation. [Province makes offer to Domtar on reopening P.A. mill (StarPhoenix, Feb. 29, 2008)]

On Mar. 14, 2008, Domtar responded to the provincial government’s proposal for the reopening of the Prince Albert Pulp Mill with a counterproposal.

“We’ll be looking at that very seriously and we’ll be making decisions with respect to that very soon,” Boyd said in the legislature on Mar. 18, 2008, in response to questions from the NDP.

Boyd said in an interview there is no timetable for getting the mill reopened. The government plans to meet again with the company soon although the date hasn’t been set, the minister said. [Domtar has proposal for Prince Albert Pulp Mill (Leader-Post, Mar. 18, 2008)]

Two months later, on May 12, 2008, Boyd told StarPhoenix reporter James Wood that the provincial government and Domtar were still talking.

Boyd said he spoke recently with company vice-president Patrick Loulou and a face-to-face meeting will likely be held in early June.

“There are ongoing discussions,” he said in a telephone interview after the NDP raised the issue in question period.

Boyd said he was limited in what he could say because of shareholder issues for Montreal-based Domtar. [Gov’t, Domtar still talking: Boyd (StarPhoenix, May 13, 2008)]

Nearly two more months went by before it was reported that Boyd had met with Domtar officials on July 9, 2008, in Regina, including, for the first time face-to-face, Domtar president and chief executive officer Raymond Royer.

“All of the issues that are important to both sides have been discussed and clarified and ... we’re at the point now where both sides need to make decisions,” Boyd said in an interview.

Boyd said talks will continue as long as they are productive and there is “no definitive timeline” for a decision.

“I think there’s an understanding that both sides see this as wanting it to be resolved fairly soon,” he said.

Domtar spokesperson Michel Rathier described the talks as “constructive.”

“Both parties are looking for a viable solution here and we’re going to pursue the work that we’ve started,” he said from Montreal.

Boyd said Royer’s presence at the meeting may indicate the company is closer to a decision on the mill but noted that the CEO had had health issues that may have prevented his earlier involvement. [Decision time nigh for pulp mill’s future (Leader-Post, July 10, 2008)]

Wall stopped in Prince Albert on Aug. 12, 2008, on his way to a Saskatchewan Party caucus retreat in Waskesiu and told The Daily Herald that the government still wants to see both the pulp mill and saw mill reopen.

“The discussions (with Domtar) are continuing,” said Wall.

“Domtar has indicated an interest in a co-managed agreement,” he said.

“I think people are optimistic talks are happening.” [Talks with Domtar continuing: premier (P.A. Daily Herald, Aug. 13, 2008)]

Domtar spokesperson, Michel Rathier, says the company encourages a co-management plan, noting similar arrangements have been made with other provinces.

“We are supportive of this type of approach because it provides greater involvement for all parties that are interested in the forest. That can include First Nations, independent operators, other business interest in general.”

Exactly when a co-management plan would come into play is difficult to determine, energy and resources minister Bill Boyd says, but “It’s safe to say there will be a co-managed [forest management area] FMA in Prince Albert in the near future.”

But as Rathier says, “Managing the FMA is one thing, opening the pulp mill is another thing all together.”

He points out the various uses of the lumber must be decided through the FMA before any decisions are made for the Prince Albert facility, or any other pulp mill.

“I would assume right now that it’s much too early in the process to envisage what the resource will be used for.” [Timber rights left in limbo (StarPhoenix, Aug. 27, 2008)]

In an interview with James Wood on Sept. 12, 2008, Boyd described continuing discussions with Domtar as “productive.”

Boyd said the sheer size of the investment required to put the mill in the top quarter of operations in North America -- a requirement by Domtar to reopen the mill -- is one of the factors that can’t be rushed.

Boyd reaffirmed the government will not put any money toward that process, which was called for in the memorandum of understanding.

“Our time frame is this: As long as we feel that we are not losing ground, as long as we feel there is still the potential for a positive resolution to this, productive, constructive negotiations, we will continue. We don’t want to cut short just because there is some sort of arbitrary time frame put in place,” he said.

Domtar spokesperson Michel Rathier said the company is still working with the government.

“The restart, in this case, of a pulp mill does require and would require a massive investment. Whenever you have that kind of massive investment required, things have got to take time,” he said from Montreal.

Rathier acknowledged not having work in the mill during the winter would be a concern because of the impact on infrastructure. [Talks with Domtar ‘productive’: Boyd (StarPhoenix, Sept. 13, 2008)]

The tone of Rathier’s comments doesn’t instill much confidence.

Corrections, Public Safety and Policing Minister Darryl Hickie said a vote for him was a vote for the mill open and Premier Brad Wall said he’d “move heaven and earth” to get it done. Anything short of that would be a broken promise to the people of Prince Albert.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

PM Stephen Harper owes Canadians answers in Chuck Cadman affair; Harper’s story hard to reconcile with former Tory adviser Tom Flanagan’s book

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent testimony in his $3.5 million libel suit against the Liberal Party of Canada revealed that he authorized Doug Finley and Tom Flanagan to meet with the late Chuck Cadman in 2005 and make an offer of electoral assistance in return for rejoining the caucus and helping to defeat the then-Liberal government. But other than that Harper’s testimony didn’t seem to deviate from the official party line and left numerous questions unanswered.

In the article Harper testifies he authorized offer to Cadman (The Globe and Mail, Sept. 3, 2008) Harper said he was told before the vote by Conservative Party members that then-prime minister Paul Martin and other Liberals were seeking Mr. Cadman’s support in the Commons vote. According to Mr. Harper, the party members argued that the Prime Minister “had a responsibility to make sure that Chuck was formally approached and that it was clearly understood that he could rejoin the caucus, that he could get the nomination there was no doubt about that, and that he would be a priority for the party in terms of re-election and financial support. And on that basis, I authorized the meeting on the 19th.”

Harper said the assistance would have included a repayable loan to Mr. Cadman’s riding association.

The Prime Minister said Mr. Cadman’s widow, Dona, told him of an offer from two unnamed individuals of a $1-million life insurance policy when he met with her in September of that year, after Mr. Cadman died. He said he told her he knew nothing of such an offer.

When the bribery allegations story first broke Ms. Cadman told the Globe and Mail in a telephone interview on Feb. 27, 2008, that her husband was furious when he returned home to their apartment after the meeting. “Chuck was really insulted,” she said. “He was quite mad about it, thinking they could bribe him with that.”

Ms. Cadman said she had “no idea” where the money for the life insurance was supposed to come from. “They had the form there. Chuck just had to sign.”

In his biography of Mr. Cadman, Like a Rock: The Chuck Cadman story, Vancouver journalist Tom Zytaruk writes that the only person in the office at the time of the visit by the officials was Mr. Cadman’s legislative assistant, Dan Wallace.

When Mr. Zytaruk broached the subject with Mr. Wallace, he writes, “he recoiled,” but said: “I believe Dona Cadman as the day is long. She has no interest in fabricating anything.”

According to the Globe, Ms. Cadman “had read and approved the manuscript for the book.”

In a comment that would come back to haunt the Harper government, Sandra Buckler, a spokeswoman for Mr. Harper, said on Feb. 27, 2008, “that her boss never directed any party official to make any kind of financial arrangement with Mr. Cadman.” [Tories offered ‘bribe’ to MP, widow alleges (The Globe and Mail, Feb. 28, 2008)]

Dona Cadman backed her story up in an interview with Janet Dirks of CTV on Feb. 28, 2008, saying that two gentlemen had visited her husband before the vote “and offered him a million-dollar life insurance policy and a few other things.”

“A few other things such as?” Dirks asked.

“One was being welcomed back into the Conservative Party,” replied Ms. Cadman.

“Did he ever show you any documents or were there any papers shown to him?”

“No. There were papers shown to him, but they were taken with them,” said Cadman.

Dirks asked Ms. Cadman if she considered the offer a bribe.

“Um, yes, in a way,” she replied. [Widow says dying MP husband was offered a ‘bribe’ (CTV News, Feb. 28, 2008)]

The Globe seemed to support Ms. Cadman, who is the Conservative candidate in Surrey North, stating in a Feb. 29, 2008, editorial that she “would seem to have no partisan agenda here – indeed, quite the contrary.”

The Globe wasn’t impressed with the Conservatives side of the story and started asking questions:

“In the Commons yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he looked into the allegations 2½ years ago and found there was nothing to them. That assessment was not Mr. Harper’s to make.

“Mr. Zytaruk writes that he questioned Mr. Harper about the matter. “Of the offer to Chuck,” he quotes Mr. Harper as saying, “it was only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election, OK. That’s my understanding of what they were talking about.” But what makes that okay? Would “replac[ing] financial considerations” not also constitute a form of bribery? And, perhaps confusingly, Sandra Buckler, spokeswoman for the Prime Minister, said Wednesday that Mr. Harper never directed any party official to make any kind of financial arrangements with Mr. Cadman.

“In a statement yesterday, Conservative strategists Doug Finley and Tom Flanagan said they met with Mr. Cadman on May 19, the day of the vote, and offered ways in which Mr. Cadman could “wage a competitive campaign” in any resulting election. This sounds strange, since, as was widely known, Mr. Cadman was suffering from a serious illness. It seems unlikely he would have run again if the government had fallen.” [Just what was Cadman offered? (The Globe and Mail, Feb 29, 2008)]

On Feb. 28, 2008, Mr. Cadman’s daughter, Jodi, told CBC News that her father had told her about the offer.

“He just said, ‘I have something to tell you,’ and he told me that he was offered a life insurance policy; that my mom and myself would be taken care of,” she said from Vancouver. [Liberals request RCMP probe into alleged bribe (The Globe and Mail, Feb. 29, 2008)]

Jodi Cadman told CTV Newsnet’s Mike Duffy Live that the late Independent MP did indeed tell several of his family members about enticements the Tories had allegedly offered him in 2005 in an effort to influence his vote. Cadman said she believes her father didn’t go public with his account of the enticement claims because he wanted to spend his final days peacefully.

Cadman’s daughter says her father told her, on his deathbed, about an offer of an insurance policy and other enticements in exchange for his vote on a 2005 budget vote.

“My father told me directly that he had been offered a million-dollar life insurance policy by the Conservatives,” Jodi Cadman said.

“He didn't give me any more information than that. I don't have names, dates, where it took place. I wish I did. I wish I had asked him more about it.”

Jodi Cadman said her father didn’t explain to her why he turned it down at the time. She has said, however, that he probably didn’t blow the whistle on Conservative inducements because he wanted his last days to be peaceful. She has also said her father, who died in July 2005, knew it would be difficult to back up the claims without any evidence.

Cadman said on Mike Duffy Live that her father also told her husband and mother separately about the alleged offer. Cadman said she did not initially want to come forward with the information. She said she’s speaking out because people had questioned her mother’s veracity. [Cadman was ‘offended’ by Tory offer, daughter says (CTV News, Feb. 29, 2008)]

In an interview with Petti Fong, the Toronto Star’s Western Canada bureau chief, Jodi Cadman said she never told anyone about what her father said about the insurance policy offered to him because he asked her to keep it confidential.

“I was incredibly proud that he didn’t take it,” she said. “People didn’t know he was so close to the end.”

Ms. Cadman, who once considered going into politics like her dad, said she’s disappointed that her mother is still aligned with the Conservative party. Dona Cadman is the Conservative candidate in her late husband’s riding.

“She has her reasons and when I asked her about it, she said it’s the truth,” said Cadman today. “I have to come forward and vouch for her.” [Cadman confided Tory offer, ‘hurt’ daughter says (Toronto Star, Feb. 29, 2008)]

On Feb. 29, 2008, Holland Miller, Jodi Cadman’s husband, said in an interview with Vancouver radio station CKNW that he too was taken aside by Mr. Cadman and told about the inducement. “He was quite upset and made it very clear that this incident had happened,” Miller said.

Mr. Harper “is calling all of us liars,” Mr. Miller said. “If that’s what they are going to say, that’s fine. Myself and my wife and my mother-in-law, we know the truth. We know what Chuck told us.” [Tory MP demands to see ‘full and unedited version’ of interview (The Globe and Mail, Mar. 1, 2008)]

The CanWest News Service reported Miller saying during the radio interview “I can tell you that according to Chuck when he did get back from Ottawa he did specifically tell me this offer was made.”

“He said a million-dollar life insurance policy. Now, I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense to what people are saying, but that’s exactly what he had said.” [Daughter of Cadman backs mother’s claim (CanWest News Service, Mar. 1, 2008)]

This brings to three the number of people Chuck Cadman told separately that he had received an offer from the Conservatives that included a life insurance policy.

On Mar. 3, 2008, Dona Cadman issued a statement saying she believed that Stephen Harper didn’t know anything about the million dollar insurance policy.

“He looked me straight in the eyes and told me he had no knowledge of an insurance policy offer. I knew he was telling me the truth; I could see it in his eyes,” she said.

Don Martin, the National Post’s national affairs columnist, weighed in the following day asking the prime minister to “answer the damned question.”

“Precisely what “financial considerations” were you talking about in admitting knowledge of a Conservative party approach to Independent MP Chuck Cadman prior to the 2005 vote to topple the Liberals?”

“In lieu of a clarification,” Martin said “the Conservatives yesterday were waving around Mrs. Cadman’s sudden insistence that Mr. Harper did not know about an alleged million-dollar life insurance inducement.

“I knew he was telling me the truth; I could see it in his eyes,” she says. If that line wasn’t written by a PMO or Conservative party staffer, I’ll eat my laptop. But it still doesn’t overlook the fact that a tape of the future prime minister shows he knew that two of his closest advisors were negotiating a monetary deal with Mr. Cadman. An explanation is desperately required.

“Yet with every controversial day’s passing, it becomes harder for the Prime Minister to simply shrug off those “financial considerations” as an innocent repayable loan to his riding association or a pension plan top up in exchange for Mr. Cadman’s vote.” [Time for an answer, Mr. Harper (National Post, Mar. 4, 2008)]

Even the conservative friendly Saskatoon StarPhoenix was skeptical.

In a Mar. 6, 2008, editorial the newspaper said “Saskatchewan residents are all too familiar with that look from Harper.

“He used it during the 2005 election campaign when he promised a Conservative government would leave non-renewable resources out of the equalization formula -- giving the province’s revenues an $800-million boost.

“But once he unexpectedly grabbed the reins of government shortly after giving his word (including in writing), he reviewed the numbers, found they didn’t work and Harper’s word was broken.

“The numbers also didn’t add up when Harper promised he would never tax income trusts. After assuring investors he would never consider changing the tax laws in a way contemplated by the Liberals, his finance minister told the country Ottawa couldn’t lose the revenue such a tax would provide.

“And there are enough inconsistencies in the PM’s version of the Cadman saga that even though Dona Cadman, who is now the Conservative candidate in her husband’s former riding, may be convinced by Harper’s eyes, the rest of Canada requires a few more details.

“Chuck Cadman was so ill with cancer he barely made it to Ottawa for the vote for which the Conservatives were trying to secure his support. Within weeks he was dead.

“Yet the PM and his top Cadman spinner, James Moore, want Canadians to believe the offer being made included only a request: If he would agree to replace the already declared Conservative candidate for the riding, the party would “replace financial considerations.”” [Canada needs more evidence than PM’s eyes (StarPhoenix, Mar. 6, 2008)]

The Harper Conservatives have tried using various interviews given by Chuck Cadman to clear their name, but CTV News pointed out on Mar. 5, 2008, that “Cadman’s public statements before his death were contradictory, suggesting in some televised interviews that he was offered nothing beyond an unfettered opportunity to run as a Conservative in the B.C. riding of Surrey. In another interview on CKNW radio, he suggested other considerations were offered but doesn’t specify them.” [Harper visited Cadman on eve of testimony: book (CTV News, Mar. 5, 2008)]

In the House of Commons on Mar. 4, 2008, Primer Minister Stephen Harper threatened legal action against the Liberals when they refused to back away from allegations that Conservative operatives tried to bribe Chuck Cadman.

Harper laid out what he called “the facts” saying that the Conservatives were “prepared to assist Chuck Cadman in securing his nomination and to ensure, financially and otherwise, that he was able to fight a successful election campaign.”

The PMO has stuck with this weak excuse ever since.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, meanwhile, questioned the Conservative line of defence, given that the Conservatives had already appointed a candidate in Mr. Cadman’s riding of Surrey North.

“That they could have told that candidate, ‘Hello, you are no longer our candidate and, by the way, we are replacing you with someone who has cancer and is in terminal phase,’ it doesn’t sound very credible,” Mr. Duceppe said. [Harper to Dion: See you in court (The Globe and Mail, Mar 5, 2008)]

In the same article the Globe published a list of six questions that remained unanswered by the Conservatives, questions which remain unanswered today:
1. Did anyone from the Conservative Party, or connected to the Tories, at any time offer Mr. Cadman financial remuneration if he would vote against the Liberal budget in 2005?

2. If Tom Flanagan and Doug Finley offered Mr. Cadman a repayable loan to help with his election expenses, what was the amount and what were the terms of repayment?

3. Why would the Conservatives have been offering Mr. Cadman the chance to run as a Conservative in Surrey North when a candidate had already been nominated in that riding and Mr. Cadman was dying of cancer?

4. Why, when asked about the offer of a $1-million insurance policy for Dona Cadman during a 2005 interview with a B.C. journalist, did Stephen Harper reply that he did not know the details but that “it was only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election?”

5. What did Mr. Harper mean when he said in that same interview: “I told them they were wasting their time. I said Chuck had made up his mind he was going to vote with the Liberals.” Does that not mean that the offer was in exchange for a vote?

6. What motivation would Dona Cadman, now a Tory candidate in her husband’s former riding, have to fabricate a story about a life insurance offer?
Why won’t Prime Minister Stephen Harper answer these questions?

It seemed like every time someone in the PMO opened their mouth the story grew murkier.

On Mar. 6, 2008, The Globe and Mail reported that the Prime Minister’s Office denied “that any Conservative offered Chuck Cadman a million-dollar life insurance policy but refused to say that no financial benefits were ever held out in exchange for his vote against a Liberal budget.

“When The Canadian Press asked Sandra Buckler, the communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, if anyone connected with the party had ever offered Mr. Cadman the million-dollar policy, Ms. Buckler replied: “I categorically deny it.”

“That is the furthest that a member of the Prime Minister’s staff has gone to date in disputing the allegations of Mr. Cadman’s widow, Dona Cadman, her daughter and her son-in-law.

“But Ryan Sparrow, a Conservative Party spokesman, declined in six e-mail exchanges with The Globe and Mail last week to state that no Conservative official had ever offered a financial inducement of any kind to Mr. Cadman.

“And yesterday, Ms. Buckler also balked at making that kind of blanket denial - even when it was made clear that financial benefits were not being interpreted to include the campaign funds that the Conservatives admit they were prepared to give the dying MP.

“The Globe and Mail asked Ms. Buckler to confirm that “no representative of the Conservative Party at any time offered Chuck Cadman a financial benefit in exchange for his vote [understanding] 'financial benefit' to mean anything but help with a possible election campaign.”

“She twice refused, saying only that “the CP story is accurate” and that her “comment to CP stands.”” [Million-dollar policy not held out to Cadman, PMO says (The Globe and Mail, Mar 6, 2008)]

(On June 26, 2008, Sandra Buckler unexpectedly announced her resignation as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications. Then on Sept. 11, 2008, Tory communications director Ryan Sparrow was suspended indefinitely and ordered to apologize personally for comments he made about the father of a soldier killed in the Afghanistan mission.)

On Mar. 10, 2008, Macleans Ottawa bureau chief John Geddes served up what is perhaps the most damning evidence that the Harper Conservatives story is less than believable.

The evidence comes from former Harper chief adviser Tom Flanagan, who briefly wrote about the Cadman incident in his 2007 book Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power.

Geddes notes that the book’s few brief paragraphs on the May 19, 2005, attempt to lure Cadman back into the Tory fold “isn’t the final word on the subject…But it does make several key points quite clear.”

Flanagan’s words are in italics, followed by the conclusions Geddes drew from them:
Independent Chuck Cadman was the swing voter. If he voted with the Conservatives in favour of the motion, it would carry by one vote and we would have an election. If he voted with the Liberals, there would be a tie, which the Speaker would break in favour of the Liberals, and they would continue in government.

So it was all about voting in the House to fell the Liberal minority. No mention here of coaxing Cadman into running as a Tory in some future election, even though the Conservatives now assert that was mainly what they had in mind.

Doug Finley wanted to make one last attempt to persuade Cadman to rejoin the Conservative caucus, but Chuck was very sick with skin cancer—he would be dead in two months—and wasn’t answering his phone.

No doubt at all, then, that several attempts had been made before May 19, and it sounds like Finley, the Tory campaign boss, was involved in them. Yet the Conservatives now want to talk only about the May 19 meeting, which means their answers must be less than comprehensive.

I dropped into Doug Finley’s office about 1 p.m. on 19 May, just a few hours before the scheduled vote on our non-confidence motion, and found he couldn’t get through to Chuck. I called John Reynolds, who called Gary Lunn, who was able to get us 15 minutes with Cadman at 3 p.m. Chuck was gracious when he received us in his Parliamentary office, but he was visibly tired, and I could see that he wasn’t up to negotiating a return to caucus.

Given Cadman’s weakened state, it seems unlikely that details of an offer of any sort was discussed at this meeting. It was probably at some other meeting, then, that some sort of financial offer was offered, whether the straightforward pitch Tories say they made to help out with his future campaign expenses, or something more dubious, like the insurance policy his widow says he was offered. In other words, we’d need to know about previous meetings to get to the bottom of what was on the table.

The last thing he wanted right now was an election. I knew then that we would lose the vote, which we did a couple hours later.

Here Flanagan seems to discount the possibility of talking seriously to Cadman about running again: the man was too ill. And yet getting him to run as a Tory again is at the core of the official Conservative version of what they talked about with Cadman.

That Doug and I made this last desperate try with Cadman shows how we were all caught up in the attempt to force an election... It’s an excellent example of how the passions of politics lead to decisions that later make you scratch your head.

This last sentence must now ring all too true to Conservatives. It’s easy to imagine, given the atmosphere Flanagan describes, a lot of bad decisions being made.
On Mar. 11, 2008, Conservative spokeswoman Sandra Buckler again refused to issue a blanket denial that no offer was ever given to Mr. Cadman.

The “lingering concern” was that the government’s denials “may relate only to the meeting of May 19 – when the Conservatives acknowledge Mr. Cadman met with Conservative officials Doug Finley and Tom Flanagan – but not to other offers that may have been made on different dates by other people.” [Tories fail to offer blanket denials over Cadman affair (The Globe and Mail, Mar. 12, 2008)]

By now the Cadman controversy had started affecting parliamentary business. The justice committee “collapsed into chaos” on Mar. 12, 2008, when the Conservatives tried to block a bid to launch an investigation into what Tory Party officials offered to Chuck Cadman.

For the second straight day, Art Hanger, the chairman of the committee, walked out of a meeting rather than entertain a Liberal motion that his committee examine the issues surrounding allegations that offers were made to Mr. Cadman in exchange for his vote against the Liberal budget in the spring of 2005.

The Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Hanger’s conduct appeared to follow guidelines issued last year to Conservative committee chairs by their party.

A Calgary columnist who saw a copy of those rules has reported that they explain how to “favour government agendas, select party-friendly witnesses, coach favourable testimony, set in motion debate-obstructing delays and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to grind parliamentary business to a halt.” [Cadman motion paralyzes committee (The Globe and Mail, Mar. 13, 2008)]

(Don Martin, the National Post’s national affairs columnist, exposed the stunning secret in his May 17, 2007, column Tories have book on political wrangling.)

On May 12, 2008, Jodi Cadman said RCMP officials spoke to her in mid-March and that during the 90-minute interview officers asked her what her father told her on his deathbed. She said the Mounties had not spoken to her since then. Her mother, Dona Cadman was interviewed twice by investigators. [RCMP asked daughter about bribe allegations (The Globe and Mail, May 13, 2008)]

In a news release issued May 16, 2008, the Liberal Party of Canada said it had received a letter from the RCMP indicating that its investigation into the Chuck Cadman affair “disclosed no evidence to support a charge under the Criminal Code or under the Parliament of Canada Act.”

The short letter signed by C/Supt. Serge Therriault of the RCMP’s criminal operations “A” Division doesn’t say, however, that at one time evidence may have existed. It should be remembered that Dona Cadman said the two individuals that visited her husband had brought papers, but took them with them when they left.

On July 14, 2008, The Globe and Mail reported that Dona Cadman was still standing by her story and had “not directly denied” the claim that two Conservatives had offered her husband a $1-million life insurance policy if he voted against the Liberals to help force an election. [Expert contradicts Cadman tape claims (The Globe and Mail, July 14, 2008)]

Breaking his own fixed date election law Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Sept. 7, 2008, that Canadians would go to the polls on Oct. 14, 2008, one year earlier than expected.

With the Cadman affair still playing out in the courtroom Harper’s lawyers filed an “emergency” motion for an adjournment with Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland, court officials said on Sept. 12, 2008.

The reason: Harper’s campaign schedule prevents him from paying close attention to the legal details of the lawsuit he filed over an allegation that Conservatives attempted to bribe a terminally ill MP in 2005.

The move came at the same time lawyers for the Liberal party filed their own motion with Hackland asking him to order Harper to produce documents which his lawyer, Richard Dearden, has failed to provide, despite promises to do so. [Harper seeks delay in hearing over Cadman suit (Toronto Star, Sept. 12, 2008)]

Harper sought the hearing. It was his choice to call an election while it was still in progress. It stands to reason that the court proceedings should be allowed to continue. If it negatively impacts the Conservatives election campaign, too bad. Canadians deserve answers and it’s time Harper started giving them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Saskatoon City Council & Meewasin Valley Authority approve Lake Placid River Landing Village plan; Riverfront plaza access limited for disabled

Saskatoon city council and the Meewasin Valley Authority have approved a plan that appears to fall short of requirements and treats persons with limited mobility appallingly.

The River Landing Village proposal submitted by Lake Placid River Landing Inc. will have limited access to the public plaza for persons with disabilities. An Aug. 20, 2008, community services department report notes that the “overall accessibility of the plaza is limited to able-bodied pedestrians.”

“Cyclists, strollers, and those with mobility issues will not be able to access the plaza except through the elevators,” the report states on page eight. According to the news article Council back Urban Village plan (StarPhoenix, Sept. 16, 2008) the two elevators in question will be located inside the hotel and condo tower.

Coun. Bob Pringle called the project’s limited outdoor plaza access “shameful.”

“As a city councillor, I am embarrassed about this situation,” he wrote in an e-mail to The StarPhoenix.

Tim Steuart, the city’s manager of development review said the Urban Village meets provincial barrier-free standards.

In the article Riverfront plaza access limited for disabled (StarPhoenix, Sept. 6, 2008) Project manager Genevieve Giguere of S2 Architecture says ramps are impractical.

“That would take up most of the length around the building and basically eliminate access to any retail along streetfront,” she said from Calgary. Such a “concrete corral” would also attract skateboarders, she said.

So it would appear that achieving the lowest minimum standard for a showcase development like this is acceptable and worries about skateboarders and access to retail trumps treating persons with limited mobility with dignity and respect.

The Lake Placid proposal also does not appear to include the mandatory “destination attraction” defined in the May 2007 expressions of interest as a cultural facility. Furthermore, the developer’s proposal does not appear to comply with the DCD1 Guidelines. The proposed skating rink/reflecting pool and waterfall are not listed as permitted uses.

To add insult to injury the developer has stopped short of promising that the so-called “public plaza” will be open 24/7. This appears to be something the public was not made aware of when the developer’s original proposal was released in Sept. 2007.

There is no shortage of shame to spread around on this ugly issue.

At city council’s Sept. 15, 2008, meeting no recorded vote was taken because no councillor asked for one. So bad was council’s decision that there wasn’t even a show of hands to see how each councillor voted.

The city councillors present for the vote were: Mayor Don Atchison, Glen Penner, Pat Lorje, Maurice Neault, Glen Penner, Gordon Wyant, Bev Dubois and Myles Heidt.

Councillor Tiffany Paulsen did not vote due to a conflict of interest and Councillors Bob Pringle and Charlie Clark were absent.

In an 8-2 vote the Meewasin Valley Authority board of directors approved the plan at its Sept. 5, 2008, meeting. Voting in favour was: Mayor Don Atchison, Councillors Glen Penner and Maurice Neault, U of S president Peter MacKinnon, Jack Vicq, Richard Nieman, Darwin Anderson and Colin Tennent.

The only two board members with the courage to oppose were provincial representatives Kelley Moore and Ann Coxworth.

Saskatchewan Party cabinet minister Rob Norris and Councillor Darren Hill were absent and did not vote.

On Sept. 2, 2008, the city’s municipal planning commission recommended that council approve the project. The commission members present were: Mr. Brad Sylvester, Chair, Mr. Kurt Soucy, Vice Chair, Ms. Debbie Marcoux, Ms. Janelle Hutchinson, Mr. Stan Laba, Ms. Carole Beitel, Mr. Fred Sutter, Mr. Bruce Waldron, Mr. Randy Warick, Ms. Leanne DeLong, Mr. Gord Androsoff, and Councillor Bev Dubois.

The city’s architectural design review committee reviewed the project on Aug. 14, 2008, and also recommended that the plan be approved. The members of that committee, which had been reappointed by city council at its Aug. 11, 2008, meeting, are: Kirk Banadyga, Alan Duddridge, Juan Estepa, Obert Friggstad, Trent Good, Derek Kindrachuk, Ann March, Charles Olfert, Cam Patterson, Colin Phillips, David Powell, Justin Wotherspoon, and Denton Yeo.

The following letter was submitted to city council for its Sept. 15, 2008, meeting:

September 14, 2008

Dear Mayor Atchison and Members of City Council:

RE:Application for Direct Control District Approval
River Landing Village
Parcel YY, Registered Plan No. to be determined
200 Spadina Crescent East – Central Business District
Applicant: S2 Architecture

We would like to provide city council with a copy of a message that was posted on the Internet on Sept. 9, 2008, by someone claiming to work for Lake Placid. The person’s user name is ‘mjl’. The Lake Placid website shows at least one person with these initials: Michael J. Lobsinger.

The message seems clear that the developer considers “aesthetics” and having “a store or coffee shop” and that the interests of “people’s homes and workplaces” within the development are more important than providing a design that is universal and accessible to everyone, something that treats persons with limited mobility with respect and dignity.

The developer indicates that if a ramp were installed it “would be required to be 300 meters long.” This is approximately 984 feet.

In the StarPhoenix article Riverfront plaza access limited for disabled (Sept. 6, 2008) Project manager Genevieve Giguere of S2 Architecture said the ramp “would stretch as long as 75 metres to ensure the grade is safe to the second-storey plaza.” This is 246 feet.

So which is it, 300 meters or 75 meters?

The developer says that its proposal “meets all codes.” Achieving the lowest possible standard at the expense of the disabled is not an accomplishment to be proud of.

The developer states “Let us remember that the reason the plaza is elevated to begin with is to bury all traffic, parking and loading to service the buildings.” It was the developer that chose to go with an elevated plaza that omitted accessibility considerations. No one forced them. The plaza does not have to be raised. Other design options are available.

For example, the Remai Ventures Inc. proposal from May 2005 had underground parking while “loading, garbage and recycling areas are all contained under the second story of the banquet facility.” Remai’s proposed development was not elevated so don’t say it can’t be done.

Lake Placid knew the size of the site when it responded to the city’s expressions of interest and could have taken accessibility for persons with mobility difficulties into consideration early on. It seems that didn’t happen and the elevators are an afterthought to mitigate a design flaw.

The developer states that the plaza is being “donated.” If this is how the developer truly feels, then there are bigger problems with the proposal than originally thought. This arrogant self-promoting attitude might explain why the proposal does not contain the required “destination attraction” defined in the expressions of interest as a cultural facility.

The developer believes “that a choice of two public elevators will be a welcomed alternative to a steep ramp in the winter.”

Why would the ramp be “steep”? Would it not be properly sloped and in the winter be salted and shoveled? Lot’s of buildings downtown have ramps. Built correctly they are easier to use and navigate. The problem goes beyond just elevators. There will no doubt be at least one or two sets of doors that will have to be accessed in order to get to the plaza. Depending on the disability doors can be barriers regardless if they are automatic. We can’t begin to describe the number times we’ve encountered automatic doors that were either out of order, turned off or designed so poorly that someone using a wheelchair cannot reach the button to open them.

Furthermore, the plaza is outside and susceptible to the elements, as would be the ramps, so please don’t use the excuse that the elevators are there as some kind of goodwill gesture to provide comfort in cold weather.

That the developer feels the elevators “are a better concept” and uses the word “handicapped” shows a lack of sensitivity and understanding of disability issues. Who are Lake Placid and S2 Architecture to decide what is best for persons with limited mobility?

This is not a question of accommodation, but one of being inclusive and considering universal design at the outset. The city and developer have the opportunity to address this problem now before anything is constructed.

We feel that Lake Placid should be asked to refine its plans and incorporate a universal design into its proposal before approval is considered.

Thank you for your time.


Georgie A. Davis & Joe Kuchta
, SK


Rod Nickel, The StarPhoenix
Michael E. Lobsinger, President & CEO, Lake Placid Investments Inc.
Genevieve Giguere, Project Manager, S2 Architecture