Thursday, November 27, 2008

Public barred from Bruce Power news conference in Saskatoon on company’s nuclear feasibility study

The door to the William Pascoe Room where the Bruce Power
news conference took place. Only invited guests were allowed beyond this point.

For a company that is hoping to get the public on board for its plans to possibly build a nuclear power plant in Saskatchewan, Bruce Power LP has gotten off to an abysmal start.

On the morning of Nov. 27, 2008, The StarPhoenix posted a story announcing that Duncan Hawthorne, the nuclear power generator’s president and CEO, would speak at a news conference at 2 p.m. at the Delta Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon about the findings from its nuclear feasibility study for Saskatchewan.

The private, Ontario-based company announced in June plans to initiate a study into whether or not Saskatchewan would be a good candidate for nuclear power. Hawthorne said at the time the study would likely be complete by the end of the year.

“We made a commitment that we would have this study done by year’s end and it’s important to us,” said Bruce Power spokesman Steve Cannon. “We’ve reached a point now where we have information we can share and some sound findings, so we want to do that and fulfill our commitment.” [Nuclear feasibility study results to be released (StarPhoenix, Nov. 27, 2008)]**

What The StarPhoenix failed to mention, though, is that the public wasn’t welcome. As it turned out attendance was by invitation only. Anyone showing up hoping to get in, but weren’t on the guest list, were turned away.

Arriving shortly before 2 p.m. was Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison and Richard Florizone, the chair of the province’s Uranium Development Partnership (UDP), which has been given a mandate to identify, evaluate and make recommendations on opportunities for value added development of our uranium industry. Part of the UDP mandate is an evaluation of nuclear power generation. The group’s objectivity has been called into question, however, since nine of the twelve members appear to be pro-development.

Moments later, Hawthorne, surrounded by an entourage of suits, strode into the William Pascoe Room. As soon as the press conference got under way the door was closed and officials stood outside making sure no one that wasn’t invited got in.

The news conference concluded at approximately 3 p.m. When asked if the public could have a copy of the feasibility study, or any other information that might have been distributed during the conference, one of the officials guarding the door said no. If the public wants information it’s apparently supposed to check the Bruce Power website.

According to a schedule posted in the hotel’s lobby Bruce Power had the Cypress Room booked for a meeting from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. It also had the Terrance Lounge booked for a meeting from 1 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

In a news release issued later Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart and Crown Corporations Minister Ken Cheveldayoff said the Government of Saskatchewan is pleased that Bruce Power concluded nuclear power generation could be feasible in Saskatchewan.

“Our government supports adding value to our raw uranium resources here in Saskatchewan to support the long term prosperity of our province and our people,” Stewart said. “We will undertake a thorough evaluation of the conditions identified by Bruce Power that would be necessary for a nuclear power plant to be feasible in Saskatchewan and will provide a response to both Bruce Power and the people of Saskatchewan within six months.”

In a follow-up story The StarPhoenix said that Bruce Power has identified a region in Saskatchewan spanning from Lloydminster that includes the Battlefords and Prince Albert as the most viable spot in the province for a nuclear facility.

The site would likely be somewhere along the North Saskatchewan River between Lloydminster and Prince Albert, and would be between 1,200-1,300 acres. However, the company is saying it won’t be until 2011 that it will announce whether a specific site within the region has been identified or even if it will go ahead with building the plant.

The next step for Bruce Power is to meet with community and aboriginal leaders. Following that, the company may select a suitable location for an environmental assessment. That assessment could take up to three years to complete. [Saskatchewan region ID’d as viable spot for nuclear plant (StarPhoenix, Nov. 27, 2008)]

The manufacturing of consent is already well underway.

Hawthorne was in Saskatoon on Nov. 14, 2008, to speak at a North Saskatoon Business Association luncheon in the Delta Bessborough Hotel. He told the business crowd of more than 230 that a Saskatchewan nuclear power plant would contribute $4 billion to the economy and generate 20,000 direct jobs during its construction.

Hawthorne said the plant would cost $8 billion to $10 billion in total to build, and would ultimately employ 1,000 people full-time, many of those university graduates. It would also contribute about $240 million annually to the provincial economy.

“We’re talking about a very, very significant impact to Saskatchewan’s economy.” [Nuclear plant report due soon (StarPhoenix, Nov. 15, 2008)]

It seems obvious Hawthorne knew then that his company’s plans would be moving on to the next phase, otherwise why would he be in Saskatoon promising jobs, jobs and more jobs. This appears to be a big part of the Bruce Power strategy. Make it sound so good, that to say no would be considered crazy. The huge financial and environmental costs will be pushed to the background.

**Note: The original article Nuclear feasibility study results to be released appears to have been removed from The StarPhoenix website and replaced with Saskatchewan region ID'd as viable spot for nuclear plant.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Saskatoon StarPhoenix resorts to historical revisionism in latest attack on labour groups

Premier Brad Wall addresses the Saskatchewan Party
convention in Saskatoon on Nov. 15, 2008 (Photo: Greg Pender/SP)

Upset at the prospect of union leaders being proven right about the anti-labour legislation introduced by the Saskatchewan Party government in Dec. 2007, The StarPhoenix has resorted to revisionist history in what seems to be an attempt to head off any feelings of sympathy the public might develop for workers.

In the editorial Health employers over-reaching only helps unions (StarPhoenix, Nov. 20, 2008), The StarPhoenix laments the Wall government’s “ridiculous” and seemingly “self-destructive behaviour” in letting government-side negotiators representing the regional health districts as they prepare for contract talks with three health sector unions to designate as essential nearly every member of the unions involved, including such professionals as music therapists and librarians.

The newspaper says the “obstinate stance taken by the health districts is counterproductive” and will “only lend credence to the claims by labour leaders that the legislation contravenes their members’ charter right to free collective bargaining.”

Labour Minister Rob Norris “is doing himself and the government no favours when he seems to be advocating that the matter be hauled before the Labour Relations Board rather than caution the two sides to try to work out an amicable solution that will help talks progress toward a settlement in the public interest,” the editorial said.

The StarPhoenix, in an attack against labour, managed to rewrite the history of four separate issues in a single paragraph stating: “When the Saskatchewan Party government delivered on its campaign promise by introducing essential services legislation, the move that was welcomed by a citizenry that was tired of such bargaining tactics as unions pulling snowplow operators off the highways in the midst of a snowstorm and limiting crucial treatments provided at the cancer clinic.”

First, there is absolutely no mention of introducing essential services legislation in the Saskatchewan Party’s Securing the Future 2007 Election Platform. Pages 19 and 20 of the platform merely said: “A Saskatchewan Party government will establish a fair and balanced labour environment in Saskatchewan that respects the rights of workers and employers by: Protecting public safety by working together with the province’s public sector unions to ensure essential services are in place in the event of a strike or labour action.”

Regina Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk blew the myth apart in his Dec. 7, 2007, column Sask. Party rewrites election script.

Mandryk said that prior to the 2007 provincial election Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall and MLAs Elwin Hermanson and Don McMorris gave “repeated assurances…that the Saskatchewan Party saw no reason to legislate essential services and that the unions and governments could work this out at contract time.”

Mandryk said that Wall and now Labour Minister Rob Norris “simply aren’t being honest with the voters” on the issue.

At best they “were deliberately unclear leading up to the election” and at worst “still choosing to be duplicitous in their revisionism that the Saskatchewan Party made it clear all along that it might legislate essential services (even if it didn’t bother mentioning it was doing so in its platform).”

Mandryk backed up his claim stating: “McMorris told the Leader-Post in a June 28 story, after the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan (HSAS) strike, that an agreement around essential services should be forged between the parties without having to legislate the matter. Former leader Elwin Hermanson, in a July 12 Leader-Post story in the aftermath of HSAS, also stressed that essential service services agreements could be negotiated at contract time and didn’t require legislation.

“Wall himself even said the same thing in a Sept. 22 story: “There’s some common sense at play here that simply says, before collective bargaining begins, before the expiration of a contract, both sides (should) sit down and agree to providing essential services,” Wall said.

“He, too, went so far as to say legislation wouldn’t necessarily be required to set out essential services.”

Second, The StarPhoenix states that the essential services legislation “was welcomed by a citizenry that was tired” of union bargaining tactics. On the contrary, it was the business community that was demanding changes to labour legislation.

In his Dec. 21, 2007, column Not the worst – nor the best, Mandryk said what the government and business lobby groups weren’t willing to admit and that is the Saskatchewan Party government’s Trade Union Act amendments and the Public Service Essential Services Act legislation weren’t “designed to be… legislation aimed at creating a “fair and balanced work environment.”

“Especially when it comes to the amendments to the Trade Union Act, it really seems this so-called “fair and balanced” legislation really benefits private-sector employers more than anyone. Make no mistake that this is a right-wing government throwing a bone to the only people demanding the change -- its friends and political donors in the business community who have patiently waited for the past 16 years for the labour pendulum to swing back in their favour,” Mandryk said.

Third, unions did not pull “snowplow operators off the highways in the midst of a snowstorm,” in reference to the blizzard that hit parts of Saskatchewan in Jan. 2007.

News reports at the time show that snow plow operators, as part of a strike action by the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union (SGEU), were temporarily off the job from midnight on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007, to Tuesday afternoon on Jan. 9, 2007.

In Blizzard blasts Saskatoon (Leader-Post, Jan. 11, 2007) the StarPhoenix’s Darren Bernhardt reported that the “blizzard began around midnight Jan. 10” and lasted 26 hours, so workers were indeed back on the job well before the storm hit. Ironically, conditions that day forced provincial highways workers and snowplow drivers to shut down.

“It was a difficult day. The biggest problem was the visibility,” said Highways Department spokesperson Doug Wakabayashi.

Department policy states no plow is allowed to set out once visibility falls below 200 metres. At 100 m they are instructed to return.

“Given the stopping distances of our trucks, that’s effectively zero visibility,” said Wakabayashi. [Storm challenged emergency crews: Snowplow operators worked throughout night in Saskatoon (StarPhoenix, Jan. 12, 2007)]

A search of historical records at shows that the total precipitation from Jan. 7-9, 2007, was 2.0mm. In fact, from Jan. 1-9, 2007, there was just 3.0mm of precipitation recorded at Saskatoon airport. Blowing snow, as well as clear and cloudy skies, was reported on some of these days as well.

Fourth, unions did not limit “crucial treatments provided at the cancer clinic.”

On Sept. 18 and 19, 2007, the SGEU, which represents cancer agency employees, conducted a strike vote. [Cancer agency employees plan strike vote (StarPhoenix, Sept. 6, 2007)]

On Sept. 20, 2007, it was announced that employees of the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency had voted in favour of strike action. Bob Bymoen, president of SGEU said workers had served 48 hours strike notice. [Cancer staff may strike (StarPhoenix, Sept. 21, 2007)]

On Sept. 24, 2007, it was reported that the 485 employees of the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency were told to go to work as usual, despite being in a legal strike position.

Cheryl Mogg, a spokesperson for the SGEU, said on Sept. 23 that the affected employees - - including registered nurses, social workers, clinical research associates and support staff at Saskatchewan's two cancer centres – won’t be out on the picket lines.

“It’s work as usual as far as SGEU members are concerned,” she said. [Cancer agency workers delay strike action (StarPhoenix, Sept. 24, 2007)]

Contract talks between the SGEU and the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) resumed on Sept. 24, 2007, and were scheduled to continue on Sept. 25, 2007. [Union, SAHO resume talks (StarPhoenix, Sept. 25, 2007)]

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007, the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency and its unionized workers reached a tentative three-year deal.

“We are happy to say that this agreement was reached within the normal bargaining processes and the parties had a chance to work hard at addressing the issues that were at the table,” SGEU president Bob Bymoen told reporters the following day.

“We look forward to providing a good service to the people of the province for years to come.”

The deal was brokered after three days of intense negotiations by the union and SAHO, which represents the cancer agency.

“The collective bargaining process worked,” Bymoen said. [Cancer staff, SAHO reach tentative deal (StarPhoenix, Sept. 28, 2007)]

There was no strike and there was no limiting of treatments as The StarPhoenix alleges.

Incidentally, it was during this dispute that Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall told Leader-Post reporter Angela Hall that legislation wouldn’t necessarily be required to set out essential services. [Strike threat reopens essential services debate (StarPhoenix, Sept. 22, 2007)]

The StarPhoenix is also being hypocritical. In May 2007, it lambasted the Harper Conservatives for the very thing it’s shamelessly doing to labour groups today: “Despite the Conservatives’ best efforts at historical revisionism, there’s absolutely no doubt that their promise to Saskatchewan voters was to drop non-renewable resource revenues from calculating equalization payments to the province under the constitutionally mandated program.” [MPs shameless in addressing broken pledge (StarPhoenix, May 30, 2007)]

In its Nov. 20 editorial The StarPhoenix accuse Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) delegates of “deplorable conduct” toward labour Minister Rob Norris, whom they had invited to speak at their annual convention on Oct. 23, 2008, at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina.

What really is deplorable, however, is the print media’s bias when the coverage the SFL convention is compared to attention paid to the annual meetings held by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce on May 8 & 9, 2008, in Humboldt and the Saskatchewan Party in Saskatoon from Nov. 14-16, 2008.

The StarPhoenix and Leader-Post joined forces to publish a total of eight mostly negative stories, including two nasty editorials, on the SFL convention. Some were written by people that didn’t even attend the event, but still had an opinion on the proceedings anyway. In stark contrast were the seven positive, upbeat articles, and no hysterical editorials, covering the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce and Saskatchewan Party annual meetings.

What’s also deplorable is that union workers booing a cabinet minister during a speech is considered more news worthy than the premier’s equalization betrayal that will cost the province billions of dollars in lost resource revenue.

On July 10, 2008, Premier Brad Wall bowed to pressure from Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and withdrew the province’s legal challenge on equalization. There were no editorials of outrage or shame. In fact, there was no editorials period. This was despite the fact that prior to the 2007 provincial election Wall had promised the people of Saskatchewan that a Saskatchewan Party government would fight the federal government on the issue no matter who was in power. After winning the election, however, Wall and his promise disappeared into the nearest gopher hole.

While the Leader-Post is unionized, it appears The StarPhoenix is not. Both, however, are owned by CanWest Publishing Inc., a subsidiary of CanWest Global Communications Inc., a corporation that does not appear to be very fond of organized labour.

According to CanWest’s 2007 Annual Information Form unions are “risk factors” that “investors and others should carefully consider” when reviewing the company’s forward-looking statements.

“We may be adversely affected by strikes and other labor protests,” CanWest states.

“Any strikes, lock-outs and other form of labor protests could disrupt operations and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial conditions or results of operations.”

The company notes that approximately 49% of its Canadian publishing employees are employed under a total of 42 collective bargaining agreements. Eighteen of these collective agreements expire in fiscal 2008. In general, the collective agreements cover operations at individual publications or business locations, rather than multiple locations.

“We may not be able to renew these collective agreements on satisfactory terms or at all, and we may experience strikes, lockouts and other forms of labor protests in the future,” the report states.

On Oct. 9, 2008, blogger Martin Patriquin reported that CanWest News Service Editor-In-Chief Gerry Nott was trying to recruit Concordia University journalism students as scab reporters in the event of a strike at The Gazette in Montreal.

Concordia Department of Journalism Director Mike Gasher, wasn’t very pleased and told students that accepting such an offer could harm their reputation and the reputation of his department within the journalistic community. [CanWest gets scabby with it (, Oct. 9, 2008)]

Meanwhile, on Feb. 8, 2008, Canadian Media Guild (CMG) president Lise Lareau and Freelance Branch president Don Genova sent a letter to Graham Green, the executive editor of the Ottawa Citizen, with concerns over the Citizen’s proposed “new boilerplate contract to freelancers – a contract that makes exaggerated demands upon writers who seek to earn a living from their work.”

“The most troubling demand is that freelance authors waive their moral rights in the work they provide. Moral rights give the author creative ownership over their work and ensure they get credit when that work is used or re-used. It is the most fundamental right a writer has, and it is simply unacceptable to expect freelancers to surrender it outright. A media organization does not need to hold moral rights to be able to subject a piece to the normal editing process. In our view, the only reason a company would need to hold the moral rights would be to have the unfettered right to modify an item beyond its original meaning. Surely this is not the Citizen’s aim,” the CMG said.

Green’s Feb. 15, 2008, response to the CMG was silent on the issue of moral rights for creators.

According to the CMG a similar contract has been used in Montreal at The Gazette.

Finally, it is worth noting that The StarPhoenix and Leader-Post each donated $10,000 to the Saskatchewan Party in 2000. In 2007, CanWest Global president and CEO Leonard Asper contributed $5,000 to the party as did another subsidiary, CanWest MediaWorks Inc. What does that tell you?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Regina Correctional Centre: Briefing notes and news stories following the escape of six inmates on Aug. 24, 2008 raise troubling questions

News stories and briefing notes obtained from the Ministry of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act regarding the escape of six inmates from the Regina Correctional Centre earlier this year raise a number of troubling questions.

On Sunday, Aug. 24, 2008, at approximately 9:35 p.m., six inmates escaped from a remand unit at the Regina Correctional Centre.

According to the Leader-Post at “a hastily assembled news conference” on the afternoon of Aug. 25, 2008, the RCMP said five of the inmates were presumed to be “dangerous and possibly armed.”

A sixth escapee was arrested on the eastern outskirts of Regina late Sunday night. His name had not yet been released by RCMP.

Questioned on why it took the RCMP about 15 hours to notify the public that five potentially dangerous inmates were on the loose, [RCMP spokesman Sgt. Doug] Coleman said it took time to confirm who had escaped and assemble the information for the media.

Later in the day, Corrections, Public Safety and Policing Minister Darryl Hickie said he is concerned that the public wasn’t made aware of the prisoners’ escape earlier, and said government policy is being changed to ensure people are informed faster.

Tammy Kirkland, executive director of adult corrections, would not elaborate on how the men were able to escape from the facility and said corrections officials are doing an internal investigation of the matter. [Accused killers among escapees (Leader-Post, Aug. 26, 2008)]

CBC News sources said “that the men escaped by pulling a vent off a wall, crawling into it and then kicking their way through an exterior brick wall. The brick wall did not have any reinforced concrete or rebar.”

Minister Hickie first learned of the breakout earlier than the public, about 7 a.m. CT. The public was not alerted for another six hours.

“I believe that in this case, it sure would seem to me that the most critical thing to do would have been to inform the public at first time [in the morning] to ensure that people were aware of this,” Hickie said on Aug. 25. [Inmates still at large as questions raised over delay of public notice (CBC News, Aug. 26, 2008)]

The Canadian Press, meanwhile, reported that “Hickie said officials in the corrections centre followed protocol by locking down the jail and notifying the RCMP of the escape.

“However, the minister - who said he was “quite shocked” upon learning of the breakout - did not find out until Monday morning when he turned on his Blackberry.” [Five prisoners escape from Regina jail (The Canadian Press, Aug. 26, 2008)]

It appears that neither the Leader-Post nor the StarPhoenix picked-up on the fact that Hickie only learned of the escape when he turned on his Blackberry around 7 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 25. If they did know it wasn’t reported. The two major dailies were more focused on why the public wasn’t informed until 15 hours after the escape. Nobody seemed to be curious about Hickie’s movements.

This leads to a number of other questions surrounding the incident:

– Where was Hickie, a former corrections worker, when the breakout occurred? Who first contacted him about it and when? What kind of message was left text, email or voice, and what did it say?

– How long had Hickie’s Blackberry been turned off and was it the only way to contact him? If so, why is that?

– What exactly was Hickie doing in the six hours from 7 a.m. when he found about the escape and the RCMP news conference later that day? Who specifically was he in contact with during that time and what was discussed?

– When did the premier and executive council first learn of the escape and who told them?

In an Aug. 26, 2008, news release the Wall government announced that “Effective immediately, if there is an escape from any provincial correctional centre, the public will be notified immediately through the media.”

“People have the right to know if offenders are unlawfully at large, whether they are potentially dangerous or not,” said Hickie.

Apparently the public had no right to know this information on Aug. 24 immediately after the escape or early on Aug. 25 and the minister was somehow completely powerless to do anything about it.

In the article New policy will notify public sooner (Leader-Post, Aug 27, 2008) Hickie said ministry officials always relayed the information about escapes to police, but there was never a provision for the ministry to also send out a fax to the media right away.

“(The) previous policy didn’t allow for this to happen. We let the police agencies actually release the information at their discretion, based on their protocols and their policies,” Hickie said.

But NDP MLA Kevin Yates, also a former corrections worker, said the Sask. Party government is simply trying to cover up for failing to notify the public more quickly about the jail break.

“It’s been the practice forever that when you have a violent offender escape that you immediately notify the public,” said Yates.

“Really they’re putting into writing what has always been the practice. Public safety has always come first.”

Shortly after a news conference on Aug. 27, 2008, Hickie confirmed, as a source had earlier told the Leader-Post, that the inmates broke through a wall to escape, and that a cache of weapons was discovered in the unit from which they escaped.

The remaining inmates “made attempts to hinder the investigation,” though they were ultimately removed to another unit, said Hickie. [Jail warned 10 days before mass escape (Leader-Post, Aug. 28, 2008)]

On Aug. 29, 2008, in another news release, Hickie ordered a comprehensive search of all secure provincial corrections facilities. “These facilities will be thoroughly searched for weapons, drugs and any other illegal materials as well as for structural problems that could facilitate future escapes,” the release stated.

In Gov’t orders jails searched (StarPhoenix, Aug. 30, 2008) Terry Coleman, deputy minister of corrections, public safety and policing, said the searches will be carried out within days at nine or 10 locations, including the secure young offender facilities.

“In addition to thoroughly searching all the cells, all the grounds, all the parts of our corrections centres, we’ll also be looking at structures and any possible weaknesses,” Coleman said.

Sources have said the inmates dug a hole in the wall over a period of time and hid it until the escape and that the escapees scaled the outer fence.

“We focused our attention this past week on Regina and the minister (Darryl Hickie) has now directed we expand our attention to all the secure facilities,” Coleman said.

A two-page ministry briefing note, dated Sept. 2, 2008, that was obtained through an access to information request details the results of those searches including the one conducted at the Regina facility.

Page one notes that: “Over the Labour Day weekend, an extensive search of the living units, program areas and yards was conducted at the Saskatoon Provincial Correctional Centre, the Prince Albert Provincial Correctional Centre, the Pine Grove Provincial Correctional Centre and the six secure custody young offender facilities. The Regina Provincial Correctional Centre search began August 25, 2008.”

“Senior management, supervisors, staff, maintenance personnel, drug dogs and electronic metal detectors were utilized in the searches to ensure all areas were identified and searched extensively.

“The searches revealed a few items of scrap metal that could be fashioned into weapons. However, significant contraband and weapons were not found.”

Page two of the briefing note states that “Inmates were cooperative and no incidents occurred as a result of the searches.”

“There were very few items of concern discovered during the search; however, the search was helpful in identifying for management some improved practices to be implemented, i.e., storage of shop and building supplies.”

This leads to the puzzling question, why did Hickie say on Aug. 27 that a cache of weapons was found and that inmates hindered the investigation when the briefing note seems to suggest otherwise?

An Aug. 30, 2008, briefing note commenting on the full lockdown at the Regina Correctional Centre notes that “a comprehensive search of the entire facility immediately following the escape” had begun. There is no mention of weapons being found or inmates hindering the process.

It’s clear that the details of the searches of the four secure adult correctional centres outlined in the briefing note include the Regina facility. It’s also clear that corrections officials seem to distinguish between the types of items found, materials that can be fashioned into weapons and actual weapons.

The access to information request sent to the Ministry of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing was dated Sept. 19, 2008, and asked for copies of any briefing notes between Aug. 24, 2008 and Sept. 19, 2008 regarding the Regina Correctional Centre and the breakout of inmates that occurred on or about Aug. 24, 2008.

The ministry’s Oct. 28, 2008, reply included four records:

Aug. 30, 2008 – Issue: Lifting of Full Lockdown at the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre (RPCC)

Sept. 2, 2008 – Issue: A complete search of the four secure Adult Correctional Centres and the six secure Young Offender Facilities was completed over the weekend.

Aug. 25, 2008 (Revised Sept. 10, 2008) – Issue: Six Offenders Escape from the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre

Aug. 25, 2008 (Revised Sept. 18, 2008) – Issue: Six Offenders Escape from the Regina Provincial Correctional Centre

None of the briefing notes explain why it took so long to notify the minister and the public, in fact, it’s not even discussed.

On Aug. 29, 2008, the Leader-Post’s Angela Hall reported that government MLAs were being urged not to comment on the escape, according a government memo.

The memo appears to have been intended for Sask. Party government MLAs but was also sent to other recipients on Aug. 28 and was leaked to the media. It said that if people are asked about incident, “your message should be it is now under investigation and anyone who has any specific knowledge about the break-out should contact the investigators.”

The note was sent from executive council, which provides support to the premier and cabinet. [Security restrictions lifted prior to jail break (Leader-Post, Aug. 29, 2008)]

Since then the government has not commented on the investigation leaving many questions unanswered.

The last of the escaped inmates, Ryan John Agecoutay, was apprehended on Sept. 23, 2008, following a tense standoff on the Star Blanket First Nation. [Sixth prison escapee Agecoutay arrested (Leader-Post, Sept. 24, 2008)]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Agency refuses to disclose board minutes; Sask. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t see group as independent of government

Premier Brad Wall (center right) posing with the
“independent” Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors

The former Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation (EI), which recently changed its name to Enterprise Saskatchewan (ES), is denying public access to the minutes of ES board of director meetings. It also appears that the province’s main business lobby group, the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t view the board as being independent of government.

An access to information request dated Apr. 25, 2008, was submitted to EI for “copies of the complete agenda package, including any attachments, for the Mar. 31, 2008, and Apr. 24, 2008, Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors meetings, and also a copy of the minutes for both meetings.” The ministry received the request on Apr. 29, 2008. It was finalized on Oct. 27, 2008, taking a total of 182 days to process.

According to The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act it appears that a government institution has, at most, 60 days to respond in writing stating that access to the record or part of it will be given or refused, setting out the reason for the refusal and identifying the specific provision of the Act on which the refusal is based.

The ministry is refusing access to five records totaling 35 pages in their entirety. These include:

– The minutes to the Mar. 31, 2008 ES board meeting
– Contact information for ES Board of Directors
– Presentation by Dale Botting: Board Priorities for Discussion
– Tax Flow Financing – Discussion Document
– The minutes to the Apr. 24, 2008, ES board meeting

The ministry cites the following sections of the Act as the reason for denial:

Sec. 14 – Information injurious to intergovernmental relations
Sec. 17 – Advice from officials
Sec. 18 – Economic and other interests
Sec. 22 – Solicitor-client privilege
Sec. 29 – Disclosure of personal information

According to the ministry a portion of the request has been transferred to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL). AEEL Minister Rob Norris gave a presentation to the ES board at its Mar. 31 meeting. A copy of the minister’s presentation is the record in question. AEEL will make the determination whether the document gets released or not.

ES granted full or partial access to a number of other records. Where access was denied Section 17 – Advice from officials was the reason most often cited.

The following records released pertain to the ES board meeting held Mar. 31 in Room 25 at the Legislative Building:

– Agenda (2 pages)

– Briefing Note – Background History and The Enterprise Saskatchewan Act (5 pages)

– Draft Board of Directors Policy Manual – Consolidated Board Governance Policies and Practices (35 pages)

– General information on per diem rates for boards, commissions and committees and travel expense/rate claims (7 pages)

– Presentation by Dale Botting: Fulfilling the Promise: Introducing Enterprise Saskatchewan’s Proposed Operations and Design (14 pages)

Enterprise Saskatchewan Draft Business Plan: Fulfilling the Promise of Saskatchewan (23 pages)

– Enterprise Saskatchewan Enhanced Business and Regulatory Services Strategic Issues Council: Terms of Reference and Backgrounder (6 pages)

Enterprise Saskatchewan – Frequently Asked Questions (8 pages)

The agenda shows that board members also received copies of the Saskatchewan Party’s 2007 election platform Securing the Future – New Ideas for Saskatchewan and leader Brad Wall’s economic paper The Promise of Saskatchewan – A New Vision for Saskatchewan’s Economy (Sept. 2004), which is part of the official Saskatchewan Party Policy Book.

The following records released pertain to the ES board meeting held Apr. 24 in the Brandt Industries Boardroom located on Highway #1 East in Regina:

– Agenda (2 pages)

– Enterprise Saskatchewan Communications Protocol (1 page)

– Sector Teams Update (2 pages most of which are blacked out)

– Presentation by Byron Burnett: Enterprise Saskatchewan Marketing and Investment Attraction Division (12 pages)

– Outline of Phase One of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce Growth Strategy Task Force, April 15, 2008 (5 pages)

– Presentation by Minister of AEEL: Marketing Saskatchewan (6 pages)

– Presentation by Angela Schmidt: New Growth Tax Incentives (20 pages of which 8 slides from a 27 slide PowerPoint presentation are blacked out)

– ES Functional Organizational Chart (6 pages)

– Key Items for The Enterprise Saskatchewan Regulations and Orders in Council (2 pages)

One item dealt with by the board on Apr. 24 was related to the Mar. 31 meeting. Board members were provided with a copy of a presentation given by Angela Schmidt on the Proposed Business Services and Red Tape Reduction Council. The 9-page record contains an 18 slide PowerPoint presentation of which 5 of the slides are blacked out. This record names the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce as possible members of the proposed council. In the end the CFIB was named part of the Regulatory Modernization Council (RMC) that was announced on Sept. 17, 2008. This could be one reason why ES violated the Act in delaying the release of the information. It would have preempted the roll out of the RMC.

It is disturbing that the agency is refusing to release the minutes of its meetings and also a discussion paper on board priorities.

Minutes are an official and legal record of the proceedings of a meeting. They show the kind of meeting, regular or special. They include the date and place of the meeting and those in attendance as well as those that weren’t, or in their absence the names of their substitutes. All main motions and points of order and appeals, whether sustained or lost, and all other motions that were not lost or withdrawn and usually the hours of meeting and adjournment are recorded. Generally the name is recorded of the member who introduced a main motion, and in many instances the seconder. When voting the tally may be included recording the number of people voting for and against a motion (or abstaining), but requests by participants to note their votes by name may be allowed. If a decision is made by roll call vote, then all of the individual votes are often recorded by name. If it is made by consensus without a formal vote, then this fact may be recorded. Minutes can also include a list of the speakers on each side of every question, with an abstract of all addresses, if not the addresses in full. Without access to the minutes the public will see none of this.

In Oct. 2008 ES released the Enterprise Saskatchewan Progress Report (Sept. 30, 2008). The 20-page document contains a summary of the agency’s highlights and accomplishments in its first six months.

In a message from the deputy chair, Gavin Semple said “An important role for ES is to increase transparency and accountability through public reporting. At our first meeting, the ES Interim Advisory Board made the decision to be pro-active in communicating to Saskatchewan residents. I am honoured to present the first of what will be regular updates on the progress of the future ES Board.”

Unfortunately, the progress report is little more than a selective, sanitized version of events created and approved for public consumption. Unlike the minutes it is not the official record of the board’s proceedings.

Equally disturbing is the political meddling that occurred at the board’s inaugural meeting on Mar. 31, 2008.

According to the ES progress report and meeting agenda Premier Brad Wall showed up during the lunch break, addressed the board and participated in a photo shoot. He “stressed the importance of its work to the province’s growth agenda” and “asked the ES Board to oversee three priorities during the coming months.” These include: closing the labour supply and demand gap, identifying uranium value-added opportunities, and hosting a New West Summit in Saskatchewan in 2009.

The agenda also indicates that AEEL Minister Rob Norris addressed the board and that board chair Lyle Stewart, the Minister of Enterprise and Innovation, requested that the board establish a “Business Services and Red Tape Reduction Council (with new reform agenda).”

Norris, according to the ES progress report, “spoke to the Board about his Ministry’s three main priorities to support economic growth.” These include: immigration, training and workforce development, and balancing labour legislation.

As for Stewart’s request, “The Board passed a motion to establish a strategic issues council to make recommendations on ways to improve business services including one-stop services and to reduce regulatory red tape.” The resulting Regulatory Modernization Council was announced on Sept. 17, 2008, and held its first meeting that day.

The briefing note in the board’s Mar. 31 agenda package describes ES as “a guiding coalition of Saskatchewan leaders that transcend the political interests of the day.”

The ES draft business plan, written by CEO Dale Botting, notes that “Enterprise Saskatchewan will be formed as a more independent, arms’ length agency of government…Its main purpose will be to bring the process of economic development closer to the grassroots input and prioritization of key partners in the Saskatchewan economy.”

And yet at the agency’s very first meeting the premier and two of his cabinet ministers take centre stage making requests and giving the board direction.

Furthermore, board members were provided with copies of Wall’s 2004 economic paper and the Saskatchewan Party’s 2007 election platform. No explanation is given why, but the suspicion is board members are expected to follow them.

When Wall’s economic plan was announced on Sept. 21, 2004, the Saskatchewan Party news release quoted the then leader of the Opposition as saying “The goal of our Enterprise Saskatchewan plan is to create an aggressive, agile and entrepreneurial economy within a stable and positive business environment that removes the politics from economic development and can survive Saskatchewan’s volatile election cycle.”

Wall’s report noted that the chairperson of the board would come “from the non-government members of the board.”

Wall states, on page eleven, that “Rather than taking direction from government, Enterprise Saskatchewan will establish provincial economic development goals and strategies for endorsement by Cabinet and the Legislature.”

These two fundamental elements asserting the board’s independence from government never happened. In fact, the exact opposite has occurred.

The Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors Policy Manual (March 2008) provides some interesting insight into the way the board functions:

Enterprise Saskatchewan is subject to the terms and conditions of: The Enterprise Saskatchewan Act; The Financial Administration Act; The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act; and The Interpretation Act.

– Board members must represent unconflicted loyalty to the interests of the ES mandate. This accountability supersedes any conflicting loyalties to advocacy, special interest groups, any membership on other boards or staffs.

– Board members must not allow the judgment and advice that they are expected to provide to the Organization to be impacted by extraneous factors – whether those to be the financial interests of the Board member or the interests of the members that nominated the Board member.

– In order for there to be a valid contract between a Board Member and the Organization, the Board member must make a disclosure to the Organization to be recorded in the minutes of a Board meeting prior to the contract coming into existence or as soon as the Board member is aware of the contract. This rule applies to contracts to which the Board member is a party and to situations in which the Board member is also a director of or has a shareholding of significance in, the other contracting party. If the contract is one that would not, in normal practice, come to the Board of the Organization for approval, the Board member is nonetheless required to make a disclosure to be entered into the minutes of a Board meeting. With limited exceptions, a Board member must abstain from voting in respect of any contract in which the Board member has an interest.

[Without access to the minutes of board meetings the public will not know if this is being adhered to.]

– In order to be able to make well-informed decisions, each director must…Maintain an understanding of the regulatory, business, social and political environments in which ES operates.

[What is meant by “political environment” and why must board members “maintain an understanding” of it? After all, isn’t ES supposed to be independent and arms length from government?]

– Every meeting of Directors shall provide an opportunity for meeting In Camera. The In Camera session may be conducted with or without staff personnel present as determined by the Chair of the Board of Directors or the Committee Chair as appropriate.

– A record of In Camera meetings of the Board shall be kept that includes the date, time, place and attendees of each meeting. Minutes of In Camera meetings will be recorded at the discretion of the Chair of the Board of Directors or the Committee Chair as appropriate.

[Without access to the minutes of board meetings the public will never know how many In Camera meetings have been held.]

– To ensure open and frank deliberation among Board members, all matters discussed at Board meetings and individual positions on any subject matter will be held in strict confidence.

– Minutes of Board meetings are exempt from public release under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Board has decided that it will review any Freedom of Information requests for Board minutes on a case by case basis.

[The above paragraph is from Page 8 of the ES board of director’s policy manual dated March 2008. The board’s first meeting was held Mar. 31, 2008. The policy manual was on the board’s agenda for that meeting. How can the manual say the board “decided” that it would review any requests for board minutes on a case by case basis when it hadn’t met yet? Did the board meet prior to Mar. 31 and the public not notified? Did someone in the ministry make this decision for the board?

This issue appears to fall under Section 17 of the Act which is a discretionary exemption. There is absolutely nothing stopping the board from disclosing the minutes of its meetings. Ironically, if someone requests minutes they will never know when and where the board decided to either grant or deny the request.]

– The Chair shall be an ex-officio member of all committees of the Board.

[The ES board currently has three committees: audit and finance, governance, and human resources and compensation. Committees will maintain minutes of its meetings and report at Board meetings.]

– The Chair shall…set the agenda of the Board and members’ meetings in consultation with the CEO.

– Where possible, decisions will be made through consensus. In the event that a vote is required, the following shall apply.

– All Directors named as Board members by the current Order in Council are eligible to vote. A quorum of voting members must be present in order to call a vote on any motion before the Board. A motion is deemed to have been carried and becomes effective if the majority of the votes cast are in favour of the motion. The outcome of the vote is recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

– An Abstention is not counted as a vote of either “in favour” or “not in favour”. Where less than a quorum participates in voting, as a result of abstention, the results of the vote are valid as long as a quorum of voting members is present.

– The Chair may instigate a Return Fax Ballot where the Chair is satisfied that it is important to convene a regular Board meeting to address an urgent issue.

– The Chair shall vote on all matters and has a second vote in the event of a tie.

[Not having access to the minutes of board meetings means the public will likely never know when or how often voting takes place or on what issues.

On the matter of the ES board chair being allowed to vote twice it is interesting to note that Robert’s Rules of Order states: “If a member of the assembly, [the chair] is entitled to vote when the vote is by ballot (but not after the tellers have commenced to count the ballots), and in all other cases where the vote would change the result. Thus, in a case where a two-thirds vote is necessary, and his vote thrown with the minority would prevent the adoption of the question, he can cast his vote; so, also, he can vote with the minority when it will produce a tie vote and thus cause the motion to fail; but he cannot vote twice, first to make a tie, and then to give the casting vote.”

Meanwhile, Bourinot’s Rules of Order (Fourth Edition) notes that in formal meetings “The chair must remain objective and impartial, acting strictly as an umpire of proceedings. Removing the chair from active participation is necessary in view of the chair’s role in regulating the conduct of the gathering and in ensuring that conflicting opinion receives equal expression. In these circumstances the chair has no vote, but may exercise a deciding or casting vote if the vote is tied.” In less formal gatherings and committees the chair “enjoys the same right as any other member to participate in discussion and to vote on any issue.” Either way it would appear that what the ES board is doing might not be appropriate, or advisable, given that the chair is a cabinet minister.]

Finally, at the Apr. 24, 2008, ES board meeting former Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce president Dave Dutchak, vice-president Holly Hetherington, and CEO Steve McLellan presented the Chamber’s New Growth Strategy to the board. The business lobby group has set 20 growth targets related to population, labour market, and economic activity, with the key target being a population of 1.5 million people by 2030. A Chamber-led, task force is being established to make recommendations focusing on infrastructure, education, immigration, innovation, and growing Aboriginal businesses.

According to the outline of phase one provided to the ES board it seems the Chamber’s task force will be dominated by business interests:

Sask. Chamber board member

Sask. Chamber board representative
Labour representative
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
Metis Nation of Saskatchewan
Aboriginal business leader
Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce
Regina Chamber of Commerce
Representatives of local Chambers (4)
Sask. Construction Association
Universities Representative (2)
Sask. Indian Institute of Technologies
Business Representatives At Large (4)

The task force appears to mirror Enterprise Saskatchewan but the Chamber claims there are differences between the two.

“It is different in many ways including its ability to clearly target the key issues limiting growth which will allow this Task Force to get to the barriers faster and to identify breakthroughs sooner,” the report notes.

“Also, this group will be independent and not have to ‘couch’ recommendations because of political considerations.”

The Chamber’s confidence level in Enterprise Saskatchewan doesn’t appear to be very high. It certainly doesn’t see it as being independent of government which has got to hurt since it was one of the organizations that nominated Brandt Group of Companies president Gavin Semple as the business representative on the board.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Patient First Review: Gov’t short on details; regional health authority restructuring, job cuts and privatization of some services seem inevitable

“The Saskatchewan Party wants an audit of the entire health care system to ensure money is being used properly,” McMorris said. “We also want to establish a single provincial health authority to replace the 13 health regions.”

“This would reduce administration, direct precious health care dollars to front line care, and encourage hospitals to work together on solving waiting list problems.”
Don McMorris, Saskatchewan Party Health Critic, June 9, 2005
The official launch of the Saskatchewan Party government’s “patient first” independent review on Nov. 5, 2008, was short on specifics and judging from comments made by Premier Brad Wall since then indicate that the review might not be as independent as people think.

According to the government news release, Tony Dagnone, the former head of Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital, has been appointed as the commissioner to lead the review, which will have two parts.

The first part of the review will focus on issues and challenges in the health care system from the perspective of patients, their family members, and advocates, based on their experiences with the system. Front-line health care providers will be asked to provide advice and insight on possible recommendations for change, to directly address the issues and concerns raised by patients and their families.

The second part of the independent review will examine administration in health care and identify efficiencies, constraints and opportunities for improvement in the regional health authorities, their affiliates and the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations. Areas of specific examination will be general administration (executive offices, board costs, planning and development), finance, human resources, system support (including information technology) and communications.

Dagnone will work with independent consulting firm KPMG to assist with consultations, analyzing results and drafting recommendations for the patient experience review. He will work with Deloitte Inc. on the administrative review. Details on opportunities to participate in the consultation process will be announced in the coming weeks. Dagnone plans to present the minister with his report by mid-2009.

Health Minister Don McMorris said at a news conference that privatizing health-care services isn’t the goal of the review.

“Right now we have some private delivery within the public system,” said McMorris.

“Our goal and our commitment still will be to a publicly funded, publicly administered health-care system.”

Nor is centralizing all of the health regions under one single health authority “in the cards at all right now,” McMorris said.

“As a matter of fact, I’m working on reappointing and renaming the boards of the 12 health regions that we have in the province and that will hopefully be done in the next two to three weeks,” he added. [Patients have a voice (Leader-Post, Nov. 6, 2008)]

McMorris’s comments don’t exactly square with what he has said in the past. And as for board members of the health regions they are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and serve at pleasure.

In its Oct. 2007 election platform the Saskatchewan Party said the province “requires more accountability in the health care system, so that health care dollars are directed away from bureaucracy, red tape and unnecessary duplication and into improving front-line care for patients and health care providers.”

“To ensure greater efficiency and accountability in health care spending and improve front line care, a Saskatchewan Party government will undertake a Patient First Review of the health care system.”

The key words to remember seem to be bureaucracy, duplication and efficiency.

Following the Throne Speech on Dec. 10, 2007, McMorris said he had already talked to the Ministry of Health about the patient-first health review and planned to start the review as soon as possible.

“What we want to do is have a look at the whole system and find efficiencies so we can push more money to the front lines, doctors and nurses,” McMorris said.

“We certainly realize that there (are) administration costs to run a system as big as this, but do we have the right mix?” [Health system under microsope (Leader-Post, Dec. 11, 2007)]

On Apr. 21, 2008, McMorris told the legislature’s human services committee that his ministry has “allocated 1.75 million to begin work on a patient-first review of our health care system and patient exit surveys.”

At the May 5, 2008, human services committee meeting, during consideration of the health ministry’s estimates, NDP MLA Cam Broten asked Minister McMorris if he foresaw a public tour around the province or individual meetings with stakeholders, if an interest or stakeholder group wanted to have a role in the patient first review, is there a process that they can follow to be included?

“I would expect we’d see probably all of the above,” McMorris said. “You know, I don’t see why we would be limiting or eliminating anybody.”

“Will members of the public be able to have their say?” Broten asked.

“Yes, I can’t see why not,” McMorris replied.

“RHAs have their meetings open to the public, you know, so there’s certainly avenues for public to input,” he said.

“I will say that the few that I was at, I was surprised at how few public showed up to these. But I guess it usually takes a burning issue in a community — or a community being large like Regina or a smaller community — that creates interest. And I guess if none of the public are showing up, maybe those issues aren’t quite as burning.”

It remains to be seen just how much input the public will have and the quality of that consultation. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the government tried to limit this to letters, emails or online forms through a special website.

Broten’s questions then turned to the structure of the regional authorities.

“Are you satisfied with the RHA structure, or is this an area where you see changes occurring over the coming years?” he asked McMorris.

“You know, we don’t have any immediate plans to change the RHAs. Maybe if, you know, after the patient-first review comes back and, you know, they talk about whether there does need to be some structural change, we can have a look at that,” McMorris replied.

“I do know that — and not that this is, you know, this is not a warning to any of the RHAs at all — but every time I look at the map and I see, you know, the different jets and extensions of how the RHAs are formed, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as far as transportation patterns.”

McMorris went on to say “I’m not saying that’s what the patient-first review will change that. I’m just kind of musing out loud, when you look at the map there are some, you know, oddities to it. That doesn’t mean that we need to change the number of RHAs or anything else. It’s just a comment that certainly the patient-first review will maybe come back and say we should even just change the way the borders look for better flow. Yes, just for better flow.”

It should be noted that at its annual convention in Feb. 2005, Saskatchewan Party delegates passed a resolution stating a Saskatchewan Party government would create “a single health care agency for the entire province that would fully utilize the province’s health facilities and human resources.”

This was reaffirmed in a June 9, 2005, news release when McMorris, who was then the party’s health critic, said “The Saskatchewan Party wants an audit of the entire health care system to ensure money is being used properly…We also want to establish a single provincial health authority to replace the 13 health regions.

“This would reduce administration, direct precious health care dollars to front line care, and encourage hospitals to work together on solving waiting list problems.”

The Wall government can say it doesn’t have any “immediate plans” to change the RHAs, but that doesn’t mean things won’t change after Dagnone’s final report is released. When asked by CBC reporter Geoff Leo on Oct. 1, 2007, a week before the provincial election, if he would legislate essential service agreements, McMorris said no.

“I don’t think we need to get to legislation, I don’t think we need to go there at all,” he said.

Within a month of winning the election, however, the Saskatchewan Party government turned around and introduced essential services legislation even though it wasn’t in its election platform.

Tossing around words like “unnecessary duplication” “finding efficiencies” “bureaucracy” and “red tape” points to the existence a plan. The Wall government seems convinced there is considerable fat to be trimmed in the health regions.

At its 2008 Annual General Meeting the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution urging the provincial government to implement a funding mechanism for health care delivery based on outputs rather than inputs; promote the establishment of a competitive environment for the provision of health care in Saskatchewan; and to fully review recommendations provided by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce with the intent to establish a strategy to develop health care economic opportunities in the province.

It appears a copy of the resolution was sent to Health Minister Don McMorris in a letter dated May 15, 2008.

In his June 27, 2008, response to Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce president Dale Lemke, McMorris said his government is “prepared to look carefully at a variety of options” and that “The private sector can and does deliver health services effectively within a publicly funded system. This is clearly the case with respect to ambulance and medical laboratory services. We will continue to examine whether there are benefits to further private delivery in publicly funded, publicly administered health services.”

In the article Review for health system (StarPhoenix, July 12, 2008) reporter James Wood revealed for the first time that Tony Gagnone, the former president of Royal University Hospital, was hired to help set the terms of reference for the report in conjunction with consulting firm Deloitte and Touche at a cost the government says it expects to be under $200,000.

In an interview from London, Ont., where he served with the London Health Sciences Centre from 1992 until his retirement in 2005, Dagnone said looking at the heath region structure is not a starting point for the review but if the focus on the patient requires looking at the region model, it will be done.

When asked about private involvement of health support services, Dagnone said the duty of any government is to consider ways to get the best value for its health dollars.

“If there’s a support service out there that one can demonstrate can be delivered differently, why not? Because to me, the core competency of health care is looking after that patient,” he said, adding just because an area is studied doesn't mean changes would necessarily take place.

Dagnone said no decision has been made about whether the review should look at private delivery of direct health-care services, but downplayed the possibility and stressed the government's commitment to medicare.

Dagnone also said the review will look at “high-impact areas” that affect the provision of quality health care.

“That will include looking at some solutions around improving the access to the systems, looking at rejuvenating and building some capacity, looking at new models of care, looking at how best to improve the workplace and we can’t forget looking at some efficiencies,”

According to Wood, “Dagnone expects to make his recommendations on the study’s framework to Health Minister Don McMorris within the next few weeks” and that “He may or may not have a role in the review when it is then launched.”

“The review will include consultation with community leaders, patients and health-care providers. It will likely involve focus groups rather than public meetings.”

Wood’s story is important for a number of reasons, one of which is transparency and the lack of details.

– Dagnone was hired to help the government so there is likely a contact and terms of reference for his services. The government has not released this information. Why?

– Dagnone submitted a report with recommendations on the study’s framework to Health Minister Don McMorris. Where is this report and why has it not been released to the public?

– The consultation process announced so far does not mention the general public. Will the public get to have its say in a meaningful way? If not, why? McMorris told the human services committee on May 5 that the public would be included.

– With the terms of reference for the review apparently complete why have they not been released in their entirety?

In a follow-up article by James Wood on July 26, 2008, McMorris confirmed “that the government is open to looking at an increased private role in health care as part of its “patient-first review” of the health system.”

“I don’t think we’re going to be opposed to them looking at, you know, areas we can find efficiencies in. And if it is around governance, if it is around contracting-out, I need to know that,” said McMorris, who noted that there are other factors that have to be considered beyond “pure dollars and cents.”

“I’m not afraid to have any review look at that kind of stuff. Then it would be up to government to see if we want to move in that direction. Certainly we’re looking for the best information to make the best system.”

When asked about whether the review will extend to looking at the potential of private delivery of actual health services, McMorris did not rule it out.

“The question is not whether there should be private delivery within the health system. There already is. It’s to what extent? There are arguments on both sides of that. In some areas, it makes sense and there are some efficiencies to be found. In other areas there aren’t,” said McMorris.

McMorris also said the government wants to “move as much money to front-line care and make sure we’re as administratively lean as possible.” [McMorris looks at more private care (Leader-Post, July 26, 2008)]

McMorris’s comments, past and present, seem to suggest that some privatization of services is a given and that arguments against it have already been dismissed; and that the restructuring of regional health authorities, including job loss, is inevitable.

It’s interesting to note that, at one time, Tony Dagnone was not a supporter of regional health authorities – at least not the kind in Saskatchewan.

On Apr. 18, 1997, Dagnone spoke at a lunch meeting of the North Saskatoon Business Association and indicated he was happy that Ontario’s Tory government had rejected the Saskatchewan model of regional, partially elected health boards.

According to StarPhoenix business editor Murray Lyons, Dagnone, president and chief executive officer of London Health Sciences Centre, left Saskatoon and his post as president of Royal University Hospital just as the NDP government was adopting the regional model.

Keeping hospital governance in the hands of volunteer boards gives communities direct influence in health care decisions, Dagnone told the audience.

“I do not believe that appointing people by government or electing people into those positions is necessarily the best solution,” he said, noting Ontario Premier Mike Harris had praised the volunteer boards running hospitals.

“Hospitals are very, very important community resources. They’re big, big businesses,” he said later in an interview. “To run big businesses, especially if it’s a business that has to do with looking after the health of the community, you need the very, very best people.”

Instead of regional health authorities, the province appointed a health services restructuring committee which is “the hammer” to force change in the communities.

Long before the announcement by the Harris government that hospitals would close, health administrators in London got together to merge hospitals and services.

Dagnone’s facility was created through the amalgamation of the university hospital and the two other hospitals. A merger negotiated in 30 days during 1995 put the three hospitals and two family practice sites under a single administration. [Ex.-Sask. health administrator lauds volunteer health boards (StarPhoenix, Apr. 19, 1997)]

Does Dagnone still hold these views? If so, should we expect his report to include it?

Recent comments by Premier Brad Wall suggest that Dagnone’s review might not be as independent as we think.

In a question and answer session with StarPhoenix reporter James Wood on Nov. 5, Wall was asked if his government had given any thought to including ambulance service with health-care coverage. At present it’s not covered and can be expensive, especially in rural areas.

Wall replied that the patient-first review is “going to look at ambulatory care.”

“There are some innovative things government can do on the ambulance side of things and we’re looking at those and, again, I think we will see more as a result of the patient-first review, more recommendations on that.” [Glad you asked: Premier Wall answers your questions (StarPhoenix, Nov. 8, 2008)]

So according to Wall it’s already been established that the study will include recommendations regarding ambulance service.

The Saskatchewan Party Policy Book, by the way, states that a Saskatchewan Party government will create “a centrally dispatched EMS system to coordinate the delivery of EMS services (air and ground) province-wide” and reorganize “provincial EMS to include emergency fixed and rotary wing service in partnership with the STARS program in Alberta.”

Whether these are good ideas or not isn’t the point. It’s the integrity of the review process that’s at stake. It’s barely started and already the outcome of several issues seems to have been pre-determined. If that’s the case then what else is there that the public hasn’t been told?

Friday, November 07, 2008

PotashCorp President & CEO Bill Doyle rolling in dough, made $47,092 a day in 2007 while unionized hourly workers at striking mines averaged $213

On Oct. 23, 2008, the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan reported that it earned more in its third quarter of 2008 ($1.24 billion) than it did in the entire record setting year of 2007 ($1.1 billion).

Company president and CEO Bill Doyle said while PotashCorp is not isolated from economic turbulence, the essential nature of its product protects it from market instability.

“The very nature of what we do provides a unique shelter. Consumers might choose to park their car or spend less on discretionary goods, but food will remain a priority. As I’ve said before, it is not a luxury item,” he said in a conference call with investors, analysts and media.

Significantly higher prices for all PotashCorp products, including potash, nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers, fuelled the massive increase. [PotashCorp sees profit soar (StarPhoenix, Oct. 24, 2008)]

It’s hard to imagine Doyle parking his car anytime soon, spending less on discretionary goods or struggling to put food on the table due to tough economic times.

According to PotashCorp records Doyle’s total compensation in 2007 was $17,188,621 (up from $8,943,757 in 2006), including a $2.19-million bonus based on the company’s performance. This works out to $47,092.11 a day.

Based on figures posted on the PotashCorp website unionized hourly workers at the company’s Allan, Cory and Patience Lake mines earned on average $78,070.67 in 2007, including overtime, or $213.89 a day.

On July 16, 2008, the company tabled its final offer to the union locals and later sent it directly to workers’ homes. [Potash union serves strike notice (StarPhoenix, July 24, 2008)]

In Saskatoon on July 21, 2008, nearly 500 members of United Steelworkers (USW) Locals 7458, 189 and 7689 who work at Allan, Cory and Patience Lake mines voted more than 96 per cent in favour of strike action.

The USW said the vote is “a rejection of a company offer that does not address key issues, including control over contracting out, pensions, wages, vacation and bonus.”

The union went on to say that while PotashCorp receives far more profit per worker than most mining companies, it pays wages that are lower than many other major Canadian mining operations. [PotashCorp workers back strike (StarPhoenix, July 23, 2008)]

On July 23, 2008, the USW issued its 48-hour strike notice. In response, PotashCorp issued a 48-hour lockout notice.

Workers went on strike Aug. 7, 2008, after mediation sessions between the company and the United Steelworkers (USW) District Three broke down. [PotashCorp workers hit picket lines (Leader-Post, Aug. 8, 2008)]

One of the main sticking points appears to be over bonuses.

The Globe and Mail’s David Ebner reported that the union is calling for a “commodity-based bonus.”

Ebner said the demand is modelled after the Nickel Price Bonus Plan at Vale Inco Ltd.’s Greater Sudbury operations and several other Vale Inco sites. Originally won by Inco workers in 1988, such a bonus plan for miners remains a rarity, and is now under threat because Vale wants to get rid of it.

Like Vale, PotashCorp is resolutely against the idea and insists it refuses to budge, saying it doesn’t want to saddle itself with undue costs. But Lee Edwards, lead union negotiator for the workers, represented by the United Steelworkers, said the commodity-based bonus - which could deliver an average of as much as $15,000 a year to potash workers - is an elegant and egalitarian proposal.

“When times are good the employer would be rewarding its employees. And if times are bad - which we don’t foresee for a while - then they wouldn’t have to pay,” Ms. Edwards said.

“This industry is going to be highballing for a considerable amount of time and we see that [management] wants to keep all the money to themselves,” she added.

For PotashCorp itself, the new collective agreements will be a precedent-setter because separate collective agreements at its two largest mines in Saskatchewan expire next year.

“The one thing that we won’t do is destroy our cost structure,” Mr. Doyle said. “We will not become a high-cost producer of potash. We don’t want to end up like one of the airlines or a Detroit auto maker.” [Labour seeks its piece of the potash boom (The Globe and Mail, Aug. 15, 2008)]

PotashCorp says it already offers its employees a performance-based bonus – a Short Term Incentive Plan (or annual bonus of up to 10%). The company’s final offer includes a new $5,000 per year bonus.

It appears that PotashCorp has drawn a line in the sand over the issue.

In the conference call with investors, analysts and media on Oct. 23, 2008, PotashCorp president and CEO Bill Doyle said the union’s request is not grounded in the “real world” and has “paralyzed” negotiations. [Strike having ‘absolutely no impact on us’: Doyle (StarPhoenix, Oct. 24, 2008)]

In an Oct. 8, 2008, letter sent directly to striking workers’ homes PCS Potash president Garth Moore said “we would be willing to return to the bargaining table if your union removed its demand for a new bonus plan.” [Moore writes letter to striking PotashCorp workers (Leader-Post, Oct. 11, 2008)]

The USW believes restrictions should not be placed upon bargaining discussions. [Union denounces PotashCorp tactics (StarPhoenix, Oct. 11, 2008)]

Comments and actions by PotashCorp senior executives haven’t helped the situation.

In his Oct. 23 conference call Doyle said “the strike has absolutely no impact on us” and seemed to suggest that any new young potash workers hired are merely a “common labourer.” According to Doyle union leadership live in the “realm of the impossible” and “don’t seem to have much expertise in concluding a labour agreement.” [Strike having ‘absolutely no impact on us’: Doyle (StarPhoenix, Oct. 24, 2008)]

Moore’s Oct. 8 letter to striking workers’ seemed to be little more than a scare tactic designed to intimidate and undermine the union.

“During the past several weeks, the world has experienced significant financial turmoil, with companies in all sectors, from financial to manufacturing to commodities, being significantly impacted by a wide-spread credit crisis.

“North American, European and other key capital markets around the world have seen hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth vanish, and governments are scrambling to devise “bailout plans” to protect against further business failures and loss of jobs.

“On July 16, we made a final offer to the union negotiating team and shared that offer with you in a letter sent to your home. In this uncertain current global environment, we cannot provide assurance as to how long we can continue to justify our outstanding contract offer,” Moore said.

“Strikes by their nature are not pleasant affairs. We have a tremendous amount of respect for you and all our workers and we hope that this has been reflected in the way the company has conducted itself during this strike.

“Our offer remains on the table for now, and we would like to see you vote on it.” [Moore writes letter to striking PotashCorp workers (Leader-Post, Oct. 11, 2008)]

After reading Doyle’s and Moore’s comments it seems clear there are two worlds’ out there. The one the rich and super-rich live in and the other in which the “common labourer” resides.

In his Aug. 15 story The Globe’s David Ebner reported that “The soaring price of potash has made the top three executives who run Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. fantastically wealthy, with stock options worth a total of $846-million.”

Ebner noted that “Mr. Doyle’s stock options alone were worth $553-million at yesterday’s close [Aug. 14], and company profit in the first half of this year tripled to $1.5-billion (U.S.).”

To put this in some kind of perspective consider that the incredible amount of wealth concentrated in just these three individuals alone would cover the 2008 operating budgets for the cities of Saskatoon ($254.8M), Regina ($235.7M), Prince Albert ($19.6M), Moose Jaw ($22.8M), Swift Current ($33.4M), North Battleford ($29.6M) and Yorkton ($15.4M) and still leave $234 million to spare.

On at least two occasions PotashCorp shareholders have been asked to vote on resolutions to rein in excessive executive compensation, but both times was defeated.

At the 2008 Annual and Special Meeting of Shareholders on May 8, 2008, in Saskatoon, shareholders considered a proposal submitted by the Carpenters’ Local 27 Pension Trust Fund in Burnstown, Ontario:

“Be it Resolved: The shareholders of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. (“Company”) herby request that the Board of Directors establish a policy regarding the Company’s supplemental executive retirement plan that provides the following: (1) an exclusion of all incentive pay from inclusion in the plan’s definition of covered compensation used to establish benefits, and (2) a prohibition on the granting of past service credits or accelerated service benefits to participating executives. This action should be implemented in a manner so as not to interfere with existing contractual rights of any supplemental plan participant.”

The PotashCorp board strongly recommended that shareholders vote against the proposal stating in part that “if implemented, would significantly impair our ability to provide a market competitive compensation package necessary to attract and retain the most qualified executive officers and key employees, which is not in our and our shareholders best interests.”

At the 2004 Annual and Special Meeting of Shareholders held on May 6, 2004, in Saskatoon, shareholders were asked to consider a proposal that would replace the company’s current system of compensation for senior executives with a “Commonsense Executive Compensation” program including the following features:

(1) Salary – The chief executive officer’s (“CEO”') salary should be targeted at the mean of salaries paid at peer group companies, not to exceed $1,000,000 annually. No senior executive should be paid more than the CEO.

(2) Annual Bonus – The annual bonus paid to senior executives should be based on well-defined quantitative (financial) and qualitative (non-financial) performance measures. The maximum level of annual bonus should be a percentage of the executive’s salary level, capped at 100% of salary.

(3) Long-Term Equity Compensation – Long-term equity compensation to senior executives should be in the form of restricted shares, not stock options. The restricted share program should utilize justifiable performance criteria and challenging performance benchmarks. It should contain a vesting requirement of at least three years. Executives should be required to hold all shares awarded under the program for the duration of their employment. The value of the restricted share grant should not exceed $1,000,000 on the date of grant.

(4) Severance – The maximum severance payment to a senior executive should be no more than one year’s salary and bonus.

(5) Disclosure – Key components of the executive compensation plan should be outlined in the Compensation Committee’s report to shareholders, with variances from the Commonsense program explained in detail.

“We believe that compensation paid to senior executives at most companies, including ours, is excessive, unjustified, and contrary to the interests of the Company, its shareholders, and other important corporate constituents. CEO pay has been described as a “wasteland that has not been reformed.”' (Institutional Shareholder Services senior vice-president, Wall Street Journal, “Executive Pay Keeps Rising, Despite Outcry,” October 3, 2003). We believe that the growing disparity between the compensation paid to senior executives and average workers is a disturbing trend and contrary to the long-term interests of companies, their shareholders, workers and communities,” the Carpenters’ Local 27 Pension Trust Fund said in its supporting statement.

The board of course considered this heresy and strongly recommended that shareholders vote against the proposal.

“The Board and the Compensation Committee believe that restricting potential incentive program features and capping compensation levels for executives at arbitrary levels would unduly restrict the Compensation Committee’s choice among performance based compensation arrangements and would place the Corporation at a significant competitive disadvantage in recruiting and retaining executives. Salary and compensation levels for executives and the CEO are generally established at levels that approximate the median of what our peers are paying. In addition, as proof of our executive group’s recognition of their responsibility to shareholders, all senior executive employees (including the CEO) have taken a voluntary 10% salary cut, effective July 1, 2003,” the board said in its reasons for opposing the proposal.

The pay cuts were apparently “part of cost-saving measures undertaken by the Corporation.” It seems, however, that this goodwill gesture was simply a mirage.

PotashCorp financial records show that while CEO Bill Doyle’s base salary decreased from $812,500 in 2002 to $783,750 in 2003, his bonus increased from $476,000 to $535,000 wiping out any savings that the company might’ve realized. Since then his salary has just kept climbing to where it sits in 2008 at $1,092,000.

The story for PCS Potash president Garth Moore is much the same. His salary dropped from $324,500 in 2002 to $317,216 in 2003, but his bonus increased from $107,000 to $123,000. Although his salary remained unchanged in 2004, Moore received a bonus of $267,000. In 2007 Moore’s salary was $382,900.

So twisted is the company’s executive compensation plan that Doyle’s 1994 salary ($295,000) and bonus ($250,000) alone, when he was still the company’s executive vice president of potash and sales, is still nearly seven times as much as what the average unionized hourly PotashCorp worker at the three striking mines earn today, including overtime.

In 1998, Moore’s salary ($172,285) and bonus ($121,775) was considerably lower than Doyle’s but still more than three and a half times greater than the average unionized hourly PotashCorp worker today.

Even in years when the company took a loss there seemed to be money available for executive bonuses and salary increases.

In 1999 the company reported a $412 million net loss. According to The StarPhoenix Doyle said it was a poor year largely because of lower North American demand and excess product supply.

In a conference call with analysts and investors, Doyle said he did not foresee an immediate turnaround in the industry’s fortunes.

“We see 2000 as being another difficult year for the industry,” said Doyle.

“We do think we’re at the bottom of the cycle. The question is how long does it take us to start climbing back up the ladder, and we think it’s going to be into 2001 before we really make some significant progress in that area.”

The company’s gross margin, or sales revenue minus costs, fell 33 per cent from 1998 levels. Cash flow remained fairly strong at $335.7 million, although down from $549 million the previous year. [Markets pound PCS stock: Huge writedown ends string of eight consecutive profitable years (StarPhoenix, Feb. 11, 2000)]

That year Doyle received a salary of $622,500 (up from $475,000) and a bonus of $230,000 (down from $450,000). He was granted 70,000 stock options, up from 50,000 in 1998. In 2000 his salary rose to $725,000 and he was given a bonus of $1,000,000 plus another 70,000 in options.

Meanwhile, Moore’s salary climbed from $172,285 in 1998 to $300,000 in 2000. He received bonuses of $121,775 in 1998, $80,000 in 1999 and $213,000 in 2000. In those three years he was granted a total of 85,000 stock options.

A few years earlier an interesting story appeared in the Vancouver Sun saying Doyle had taken advantage of the company’s skyrocketing share price and in two days of trading hauled in $2,865,562.

According to an insider trading report filed with the provincial government, Doyle purchased 12,900 shares at the option price of $17.50 on Nov. 27, 1995, and sold them the same day for $102.50 for a profit of $1,096,500.

On Feb. 23, 1996, Doyle purchased 22,500 shares at his option price of $25.50 and sold them the same day for $104.125 for a profit of $1,769,062. [BRIEFLY: Boss gets $3 million in options (Vancouver Sun, June 8, 1996)]

One month prior, on May 8, 1996, The StarPhoenix’s James Parker reported that production workers at PotashCorp made between $16 and $25 per hour. [Potash mine unions propose united front (StarPhoenix, May 8, 1996)]

According to figures posted on the PotashCorp website the average base hourly wage as of April 2008 was $29.17 at the Allan mine, $28.91 at Cory and $29.91 at Patience Lake.

It would seem that little has changed in the last dozen years. Senior executives continue to get the goldmine while workers get the shaft.


Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan

Net Income (Loss) ($ millions)





























Bill Doyle, President and CEO



Non-Equity Incentive Plan Compensation















































Garth W. Moore, President, PCS Potash



Non-Equity Incentive Plan Compensation