Monday, September 28, 2009

River Landing cost hits $135-million; Mayor Don Atchison’s comments insulting to Mendel family; public misled on new art gallery being “shovel ready”

$135.6-million and counting…

With the September 23, 2009, announcement that the new destination centre at River Landing will cost $58-million, that’s how much public money has been blown so far on the city’s riverbank development project since 2003.

The Art Gallery of Saskatchewan is expected to be the new building’s anchor tenant and will share the space with several other organizations to be named later.

Attending the press conference at Persephone Theatre was the Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Kelly Block, Municipal Affairs Minister Jeremy Harrison and Saskatoon Mayor Don Atchison.

The funding breakdown for the new centre is as follows:

– Government of Canada: $13-million
– Government of Saskatchewan: $13-million
– City of Saskatoon: $17-million
Mendel Art Gallery: $8-million through fundraising
City of Saskatoon: $7-million for underground parkade

$46-million of this is new public money. Added to the $89.6-million that’s already been spent or committed to the project the total cost of River Landing now stands at $135.6-million.

The funding announcement came on the eve of next month’s civic election. And in what appears to be an unprecedented move city council is shutting down for seven weeks immediately following its September 28 meeting and won’t reconvene until November 16. Unless a special meeting is called Saskatoon residents will have no opportunity to address their elected officials in council chambers on this or any other issue during that time.

Being sacrificed for the mayor’s expensive legacy is the nationally recognized Mendel Art Gallery which will be stripped of its name and moved to River Landing. However, there is an alternative.

According to the city’s 2009 capital budget the gallery can be expanded and renovated for $24-million. The Mendel’s ten-year capital plan addresses both the existing facility needs and the required capacity to see it through the next 30 to 40 years of operation.

On January 8, 2009, the mayor and Mendel board chair Art Knight sent a letter to then Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport Minister, Christine Tell, telling her that the expansion and renovation of the Mendel was a “worthy and important project” and that they were “confident” it “will be successful.” Yet less than three months later those plans were suddenly abandoned. The public was told that the gallery and city had somehow, almost overnight, outgrown them.

Unveiled on April 3, 2009, the plan to move the publicly owned gallery was developed and decided in secret. The public, Mendel family, gallery donors and supporters were completely shut out of the process. The issue was never debated at a public meeting of city council.

In a letter to Mendel board chair Art Knight on March 30, 2009, which was obtained through a freedom of information request, Mayor Atchison advised that at a meeting held March 23, 2009, the city’s executive committee — which is composed of all members of council with the mayor sitting as chair — discussed the Mendel board’s March 14, 2009, resolution to pursue the construction of a new gallery at River Landing. The executive committee passed the following resolution:

1) That the Executive Committee approve in principle, a new art gallery as the anchor facility at River Landing Destination Centre;

2) that the Administration continue discussions with representatives of the Saskatoon Gallery and Conservatory Board of Directors and senior levels of government to secure funding for the new gallery; and

3) that the Administration, through the Destination Centre Steering Committee, report back to the Executive Committee, regarding the concept design for the destination site, magnitude of capital costs, and annual operating budget costs and proposed funding sources.

The executive committee and Mendel board meetings were conducted in-camera. The agendas and minutes for both are closed to the public.

It’s interesting to note that city administration was asked to “continue discussions” with the senior levels of government. This means that discussions about the project were already taking place without the public’s knowledge. What is not known is when they first began.

The resolution also confirms that the Destination Centre Steering Committee has been kept in the loop as well.

City Council, at its meeting held on January 14, 2008, approved a planning and consultation process for the development of the Destination Centre for River Landing that included establishing a volunteer steering committee. According to an administrative report: “The Committee shall be tasked by Council to make a recommendation on a preferred outline concept for the Destination Centre including uses, size, capital cost and potential funding sources, preliminary operating costs, how the Centre should be operated, and an implementation schedule. The Committee should complete this work within four months of its inception and provide a progress report to Council once a month.”

On April 7, 2008, city council appointed 13 individuals to serve on the committee including Mendel board chair Art Knight. The committee meets in secret and is thirteen months behind schedule. None of its reports or updates has ever been made public.

The mayor’s response to criticism about all the secrecy is that he just doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks.

“Everyone has their own point of view,” Atchison is quoted as saying in the September 24, 2009, StarPhoenix article Funds aid art gallery.

“A lot of decisions are made which people don’t agree with. . . . The bottom line is that you can’t please everyone all the time and some people just won’t be satisfied regardless of the outcomes.”

Atchison has also managed to insult the gallery’s namesake, the late Fred Mendel.

The mayor hinted to reporters after the press conference that the new gallery might not be called the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan. The naming rights could be sold to a corporation.

“Those things we will cross later,” Atchison said. “But I have to tell you: in the past, for example. We have the SaskTel Sports Centre, we have the Shaw Aquatic Centre as well. We have other things that are named like that today.”

During Atchison’s tenure as mayor at least two prominent civically owned buildings have underwent name changes in exchange for private sector money: Centennial Auditorium in November 2005 (now TCU Place) and Saskatchewan Place in May 2004 (now Credit Union Centre).

It seems all the mayor had to say about the Mendel Art Gallery is that it was named after “an individual who put monies forward” and that the name “would have some place in the new gallery.” [Funds pledged for $51M Saskatoon art gallery (CBC News, September 23, 2009)]

Talk about ungrateful.

Along with the funding announcement also came the realization that the public might have been misled about the new gallery’s shovel readiness.

On April 3, 2009, Atchison said the project was “ready to go.” The news release said, “Shovels can be in the ground constructing the first phase of the project – a 250-stall underground parking structure – this year.”

Just two weeks prior Atchison sent a letter (dated March 18, 2009) to Saskatoon Conservative MP and Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, Lynne Yelich, requesting her office’s assistance in moving through the federal government’s funding approval process. Attached to the letter was a two-page summary stating, in part: “The functional plan for Art Gallery/support area to be completed early fall 2009, construction drawings completed winter 2010, facility tender spring 2010, construction complete by fall 2012. Construction of the underground parking to begin in fall 2009.”

However, in an interview on September 23, 2009, Atchison changed his tune telling the StarPhoenix that construction wouldn’t begin until 2011, following the architectural design of the structure, and is scheduled for completion in 2014. [Funds aid art gallery (StarPhoenix, September 24, 2009)]

A federal government news release said the financial support for the project will be provided through the Building Canada Fund – Major Infrastructure Component.

According to the Building Canada website the federal government’s economic action plan is meant to speed up project funding “and cut red tape to ensure infrastructure funding gets into the economy when it is most needed – in the 2009 and 2010 construction seasons.”

The 2011 start date violates the intent of the Building Canada plan.

Contacted on September 25, 2009, the city’s special projects manager confirmed the 2011 start date noting that administration will be asking council for more money in December as part of the 2010 capital budget process. A request for proposals for an architect could be issued in January. The mayor’s original timeline appears to have been unrealistic at best.

In stark contrast are the long-planned expansion and renovation plans for the Mendel that could’ve been well underway by now.

On January 6, 2009, board chair Art Knight and gallery CEO Vincent Varga posted an open letter on the Mendel website saying that the project was “shovel ready” and “can be tender ready by March of this year.”

Atchison’s letter to Yelich is significant for one other reason. It included a second attachment, a copy of the four-page brochure that was distributed at the April 3 press conference. The brochure indicates that the federal government, along with the city, province and Mendel, had “come to the conclusion” that “a new building is the best fit” for Saskatoon.

This is important because it establishes that the decision by the four partners to pursue a new gallery was made well before April 1 when the StarPhoenix first reported details about the new project. A reporter for the newspaper made an inquiry to Infrastructure Canada asking whether the new gallery would qualify for funding under the Building Canada program. Department officials subsequently told the StarPhoenix that not only would the new gallery be potentially eligible but so would the expansion previously proposed for the Mendel. Thanks to Atchison’s letter to Yelich we now know that was untrue and that the newspaper was seriously misinformed.

And finally, the StarPhoenix is reporting Mendel CEO Vincent Varga as saying that the collection of 13 paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries from Fred Mendel’s private collection will be given a prominent display in the new gallery.

The paintings were donated by Mr. Mendel in a ceremony held at the gallery on June 17, 1965. John Climer, the gallery’s first curator-director from 1963 to 1979, accepted the “gift from the Mendel family, to hold in trust.” [Mendel presents 13 outstanding paintings to art centre (StarPhoenix, June 18, 1965)]

That trust has been betrayed. The honourable thing to do would be for Varga and Mayor Atchison to return the paintings to the Mendel family along with a letter apologizing for their disgraceful behaviour.

Previous Mendel posts

September 14, 2009:
Western Economic Diversification email suggests backroom deal between city and Mendel board to move gallery; StarPhoenix hypocrisy stunning

August 26, 2009:
Mendel Art Gallery: City of Saskatoon incorporates Art Gallery of Saskatchewan without public debate or input

August 21, 2009:
‘I assure you for all time, this centre will be good’: Fred Mendel; Federal gov’t stalling, breaking law on FOI requests; Province withholding records

July 19, 2009:
Mendel expansion and renovation ‘worthy and important’: Atchison & Knight; Infrastructure Canada violates federal law; MVA won’t release CEO reports

June 21, 2009:
Mendel Art Gallery: City of Saskatoon and Saskatchewan Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport refusing to disclose records on proposed new gallery

May 13, 2009:
Meewasin Valley Authority refusing to release CEO reports; board votes behind closed doors to investigate possible move to Mendel Art Gallery site

April 26, 2009:
Mendel Art Gallery rejects freedom of information request, refuses to disclose records; federal government part of covert plan to move gallery

April 8, 2009:
Meewasin move to Mendel site revives aborted 2005 plan; Lamb & Knight serve on secretive River Landing destination centre steering committee

April 6, 2009:
Mendel Art Gallery: Mayor Don Atchison and Board of Trustees hypocrisy and betrayal appalling; gallery move planned in near total secrecy

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wall government stalling release of EMS Review final report; draft recommendations presented to Health Minister Don McMorris in April

After saying it would be made public months ago the Saskatchewan Party government is now stalling the release of the final report by the committee it established last year to review the province’s emergency medical services (EMS).

Health Minister Don McMorris announced the review on December 11, 2008. The government news release said the review would be conducted in consultation with the ambulance industry and regional health authorities. It was expected to be completed in the spring of 2009.

Don Cummings, an Edmonton-based consultant with experience in health system issues, was appointed chair of the EMS review committee.

Other committee members include:

Mike Redenbach, Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region
Rod MacKenzie, Saskatoon Health Region
Duncan Fisher, Saskatchewan Health
Patrick O’Byrne, Saskatchewan Health
Ron Dufresne, Saskatchewan Emergency Medical Services Association
Trevor Dutchak, Saskatchewan Emergency Medical Services Association

Its recommendations will reportedly focus on pre-hospital and inter-hospital transfers, and will form the basis for a long-term plan to improve the province’s road ambulance services.

In response to an access to information (ATI) request made earlier this year for records concerning the review, Saskatchewan Health said in a letter dated March 23, 2009, that the committee’s final report “will be published within the next 90 days. The approximate date of publication is April 30, 2009.”

There’s been no sign of the report since.

On September 9, 2009, in response to a follow-up ATI request for a copy of the study, a Saskatchewan Health official said, “At this time, we are unable to provide this document because the report has not been finalized.”

This is odd considering a health ministry briefing note dated April 15, 2009, suggests it’s practically finished.

“The committee, is nearing completion of the final report and the Ministry would like to provide the Minister an overview of the draft recommendations of the report,” said Patrick O’Byrne, the health official that prepared the note.

“The EMS Review Committee has been meeting since November of 2008 and has pursued a very aggressive timeline to complete the report. Extensive stakeholder consultations have occurred.”

O’Byrne said the committee “has developed a strategic vision for EMS as well as recommendations for a five-year plan to achieve this strategic vision.” The strategic vision in the paragraph that followed was blacked out by ministry officials.

According to the report the recommendations are quite numerous and are grouped into three sections:

– Recommendations that are designed to deal with immediate issues in the system;

– Recommendations as to infrastructure issues; and

– Recommendations that lead to achievement of the strategic vision.

Attached to the briefing note was a four-page summary of draft recommendations but the health ministry is refusing to disclose any part of this record.

One thing is clear, though, and that is the final report is surely done and ready to go but for some reason the Brad Wall government does not want it released yet.

Currently pending as well is the province’s Patient First Review led by commissioner Tony Dagnone, the former head of Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital. This two-part review was launched November 5, 2008.

According to a January 7, 2009, news release Dagnone will provide his report to the health minister by summer of this year.

It might be that the government is contemplating releasing the Patient First and EMS reviews simultaneously. There have been concerns from the start that both could involve more private sector involvement in the health system.

Last summer McMorris confirmed that the government is open to looking at an increased private role in health care as part of its “patient-first review.”

Dagnone, whom the Saskatchewan Party government retained to provide advice on the study’s terms of reference, told the StarPhoenix that the review may examine controversial areas such as contracting out of support services or the restructuring of health regions. [McMorris looks at more private care (Leader-Post, July 26, 2008)]

In a June 27, 2008, letter to then Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce president Dale Lemke, McMorris said: “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.”

Morris was responding to a resolution that was passed at the Chamber’s 2008 Conference on Business and Annual General Meeting held in Humboldt May 8 and 9, 2008, recommending that the provincial government promote the establishment of a competitive environment for the provision of health care in Saskatchewan.

A few months later The StarPhoenix reported that the EMS review may look at the delivery model of emergency medical services. Road ambulance services are provided through the health regions, but about 40 operations are privately owned. Another 56 of the ambulance services are publicly owned, while 13 are non-profit. [Review aims to improve EMS service (StarPhoenix, Dec. 12, 2008)]

Previous EMS Review posts:

April 15, 2009
EMS Review: Saskatchewan Health censors committee meeting minutes; SEMSA and health regions “will directly shape” final report

February 8, 2009
Emergency Medical Services: Review examining “all aspects” of pre-hospital & inter-hospital EMS; SEMSA in lead role, health care council left out

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Premier Brad Wall to sign TILMA/WEPA by year’s end; Opposition Saskatchewan Party called for public and stakeholder consultations in March 2007

BC Premier Gordon Campbell with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach
and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall at joint cabinet meeting in Calgary on September 11, 2009

Some time between now and January 1, 2010, Premier Brad Wall will sign the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) – but not in its present form. It will instead be called the Western Economic Partnership Agreement.

In Calgary, on September 11, 2009, the governments of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan held their second joint cabinet meeting to continue discussions on a new pact.

A provincial government news release said the premiers signed a Western Economic Partnership. The partnership will create a broad western interprovincial trade agreement to create the largest barrier-free trade and investment market in Canada.

“I am pleased that we are one step closer to completing the Western Economic Partnership that we committed to at our last meeting,” said Premier Wall. “This partnership will break down unnecessary trade barriers and facilitate cooperation on international marketing, innovation and procurement.”

It was at the inaugural meeting on March 13, 2009, in Vancouver, that the three governments agreed to enter into an economic partnership.

In an interview with StarPhoenix reporter James Wood, the premier admitted the new agreement is similar to the controversial TILMA but said it will address the potential impact on Crown corporation subsidiaries and municipal tax incentives that caused the Saskatchewan Party to shy away from TILMA in the first place.

“We have concerns from before the election that remain consistent with us and I think they will be accommodated,” said Wall.

“We are going to have a trade agreement to take care of some of the barriers to growth . . . and also to make sure we’re achieving certain things like an interprovincial business registry. In other words, if you are registered to do business in Saskatoon, you can do business in Calgary without registering.” [Sask. inks deal with Alta., B.C. (StarPhoenix, September 12, 2009)]

Wall failed to name the barriers he’s concerned about or acknowledge that sweeping and intrusive trade agreements like TILMA or WEPA aren’t needed in order to address things like business registration.

The StarPhoenix neglected to remind readers that Wall once supported TILMA without reservation. On May 1, 2006, shortly after BC and Alberta signed the trade agreement, the opposition Saskatchewan Party issued a news release in which leader Brad Wall demanded the NDP government join immediately.

Wall wanted Premier Lorne Calvert to sign TILMA under the same circumstances BC and Alberta did – behind closed doors with no public or legislative debate. The latest agreement appears to be headed down the same road.

Wall’s flip-flop on TILMA first became apparent in a March 19, 2007, letter to Saskatoon city clerk Janice Mann thanking her for forwarding him a copy of city solicitor Theresa Dust’s February 2007 report outlining the trade agreement’s potential impact on municipalities.

“The Saskatchewan Party supports TILMA in principle because it is consistent with the growth agenda that we have called for. That being said, a Saskatchewan Party government would not sign on to the agreement unless certain it was in the best interests of Saskatchewan people. It would be in the best interest of the Saskatchewan people if it removed barriers to growth without negatively impacting on the public ownership of the major Crowns, environmental standards in the province and well-being of workers,” Wall said.

By June 28, 2007, the references to environmental standards and worker safety were removed and replaced with concerns over TILMA’s impact on provincial and municipal new growth tax incentives. Protecting Crown corporations remained.

Wall said in a news release that the Saskatchewan Party “would not sign TILMA in its present form.”

“Our goal would be to negotiate trade agreements with BC, Alberta and other provinces that reduce trade barriers while protecting these three important areas,” Wall said.

Ken Krawetz, the Saskatchewan Party’s then labour critic and deputy leader, made the same comments a week earlier in a letter to the Leader-Post attacking Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich for criticizing TILMA (Western trade deal worries unions, Leader-Post, February 23, 2007).

Krawetz also added this forgotten gem: “Given the impact of TILMA across the province, we also believe the provincial government has an obligation to consult with stakeholders and the public prior to accepting or rejecting Saskatchewan’s participation in TILMA.” [TILMA contains no threat to labour (Leader-Post, March 10, 2007)]

Hypocritical as ever the Saskatchewan Party government appears to have no intention whatsoever of consulting with all stakeholders or the public before it signs the new partnership agreement.

The Western Economic Partnership will encompass four areas:

1. internal trade;
2. international marketing;
3. innovation; and,
4. procurement.

On the surface the agreement appears to be TILMA and then some. It’s right there in the first paragraph under internal trade: “Building on the agreement already in place between British Columbia and Alberta, the Western Economic Partnership will include a comprehensive western interprovincial trade agreement (Agreement) to remove barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility between the three western provinces.”

The opening paragraph and six bulleted points that immediately follow describing the agreement’s purpose have been lifted almost word for word from Part I of TILMA’s operating principles.

Saskatchewan is not a signatory to TILMA, and yet its obvious Wall agreed to let it be the foundation, the starting point of discussions. With negotiations ‘building on’ TILMA the end result could be an agreement that’s equal to or more far reaching, one that might include things BC and Alberta couldn’t or didn’t think to include in the original agreement. It’s hard to imagine these two provinces wanting something less than TILMA. It stands to reason they would want something that’s at least on par with or greater than what they already have.

And like TILMA, the new agreement will apply to “all public sector entities” and “all economic sectors.”

This likely means every government department, ministry, board, council, committee, Crown corporation, regional, local, district or other forms of municipal government, school boards, publicly-funded academic, health and social service entities and non-governmental bodies that exercise authority delegated by law will be subject to the new agreement.

TILMA includes a list of measures relating to water, Aboriginal people, taxation, royalties, health and social services, social policy and labour standards that are excluded from the agreement. However, all exceptions to the agreement are subject to an annual review by a Ministerial Committee (Article 17). This committee will to look at how these exceptions can be reduced and covered by the general rules and special provisions of the agreement. In other words nothing is completely safe.

The Western Economic Partnership signed by the three premiers is silent on exemptions. The document also raises a few early questions.

A purpose of the agreement “will be to… promote development that is sustainable and environmentally sound, high levels of consumer protection, and health and labour standards.”

What is considered high level? Will the lowest standard of the three provinces become the new benchmark? The agreement is designed to “remove” barriers. What happens when health and labour standards are identified as barriers? Many business lobby groups and industry associations see things like workers compensation, EI benefits, social assistance benefits, labour laws, minimum wages, and OH & S regulations as impediments to economic growth.

The partnership document states: “The Agreement will provide a level playing field for workers and businesses across the region.”

This appears to be Article 4 of TILMA’s non-discrimination policy which states each party “shall accord to: like, directly competitive or substitutable goods; persons; services; and investors or investments of the other Party treatment no less favourable than the best treatment it accords, in like circumstances, to its own or those of any non-Party.”

The partnership document states: “The Agreement will remove unnecessary barriers, reduce costs and improve the competitiveness of businesses operating across the region, which will benefit consumers.”

What constitutes an unnecessary barrier and who gets to make that determination?

The partnership document states: “The Agreement will address the differences in government measures that are creating unnecessary barriers to trade. The Agreement will ensure that, going forward, the three provinces work together when developing new measures so that they do not create impediments to trade within the region.”

This appears to be Article 5 of TILMA relating to the harmonization of standards and regulations.

Under TILMA a ‘measure’ means any legislation, regulation, standard, directive, requirement, guideline, program, policy, administrative practice or other procedure.

How will differences be addressed? Will it be by eliminating certain ‘measures’ altogether or by adopting the highest or, more likely, the lowest standard?

With regard to environmental and consumer protection, worker and public safety, health and labour standards the partnership document states: “The Parties recognize the importance of such measures and the Agreement will provide for the ability of each Party to maintain and enact legislation and regulations in these areas.”

This appears to be Article 6 of TILMA relating to legitimate objectives.

Legitimate objectives are defined by TILMA to include such matters as the protection of the environment; protection of the health, safety and well-being of workers; and the provision of social services and health services.

Under TILMA a party may adopt or maintain a measure that does not fully follow the agreement provided that it can demonstrate that: “the purpose of the measure is to achieve a legitimate objective; the measure is not more restrictive to trade, investment or labour mobility than necessary to achieve that legitimate objective; and the measure is not a disguised restriction to trade, investment or labour mobility.”

In other words the onus is on the party to go through the grueling task of trying to prove that its measure satisfies all three requirements of Article 6. How hard will the Wall government fight for tougher, better standards and regulations?

The only concession to Saskatchewan is in the very last sentence under internal trade: “The Parties further agree that negotiations will recognize the particular needs of Saskatchewan.”

What those needs are isn’t stated. The parties can negotiate all they want but there is nothing in the partnership document guaranteeing that Saskatchewan’s needs will be in the final agreement.

What the public requires right now is to see a copy of the most recent draft of the final agreement. Also needed are public and stakeholder consultations before it gets signed. This is what the Saskatchewan Party demanded of the NDP government in March 2007. No less should be expected today.

It should be noted there are two versions of TILMA available: the original that was signed April 28, 2006, and the consolidated one released in April 2009 that includes the original agreement as modified by subsequent amendments.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Western Economic Diversification email suggests backroom deal between city and Mendel board to move gallery; StarPhoenix hypocrisy stunning

It’s been more than five months since Mayor Don Atchison and Mendel Art Gallery board chair Art Knight announced on April 3, 2009, that construction of a new $55-million art gallery at River Landing, to be known as the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan (AGS), is being proposed for federal infrastructure funding. The long-planned expansion and renovation of the present facility would be abandoned. The proposal was developed in secret. The Mendel family, gallery members, donors and the public were not consulted.

No sooner was the press conference over than the discussions moved back behind closed-doors. The public has been shut out every step of the way.

In an editorial on September 12, 2009, The StarPhoenix lambasted Saskatoon city council for conducting an in-camera meeting on September 8, 2009, with library board members and city employees to review a $50-million plan to expand the Frances Morrison Library.

City officials later said it was mistake to hold the meeting in private and the plans were released to the public. But that didn’t keep the newspaper from weighing in.

“These plans -- and the discussions surrounding them -- never should have been kept out of the public eye,” the editorial said.

“An issue should only be discussed in-camera if it involves collective bargaining, personnel matters, legal opinions and land negotiations. This project falls into none of these categories.”

The editorial also stated, “It can be uncomfortable to develop ideas and policy under the scrutiny of the public eye. Criticism at early stages of planning can seem unfair, but discomfiture is not a good enough reason to go behind closed doors.”

And finally this: “The public… should have access to all the debate and input that leads to decisions on the development of publicly owned property.”

However, when it comes to the Mendel Art Gallery and the proposed new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, both of which involve publicly owned property, The StarPhoenix, won’t advocate for the same openness and transparency. In an editorial on April 4, 2009, just one day after the Atchison-Knight press conference, the newspaper said it supported the move – end of discussion. The hypocrisy is stunning.

Since April 3, 2009, the city and Mendel management have denied access to records on the subject. At the provincial level the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport have disclosed some records but are refusing to grant access to a significant number of others.

The federal government has released several records, mostly emails, some of which paint a disturbing picture.

A record obtained from Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) through an access to information request appears to contradict Mayor Don Atchison’s version of events leading up to the April 3 press conference.

On April 22, 2009, the mayor hosted a volunteer appreciation banquet at TCU Place in recognition of citizens that volunteer their time to serve on the city’s various committees, boards and commissions.

During the event Atchison spoke about the Mendel and the proposed new art gallery at River Landing. The mayor told the audience it was the Mendel that approached the city with the idea of moving and not the other way around.

However, an April 7, 2009, email from WD’s manager of infrastructure programs, Deanne Belisle, to WD assistant deputy minister Sharon Lee Smith confirms that, “the Mendel Art Gallery was placed on the City of Saskatoon’s proposed list for funding under Building Canada Fund – Major Infrastructure Component, but was 6th or 7th in priority. The City’s stipulation for giving the Mendel higher priority was that it agree to move to River Landing location. The Mendel Board announced its acceptance of this requirement on April 3, 2009. Presumably, it is now of sufficient priority to be considered for [Major Infrastructure Component] funding.”

So there it is a backroom deal where it seems the city basically strong armed the Mendel board into selling out its expansion and renovation plans in exchange for a higher priority.

If WD knows this then chances are so does the provincial government and maybe even one or two other federal departments. Someone has a lot of explaining to do.

There is one problem with Belisle’s email. The city’s stipulation was never made public. The only information that’s been made available to the public is a news release, a glossy brochure, and a misleading two-page fact sheet. None of these discuss the city’s requirement.

The same goes for Art Knight’s op-ed that was published in The StarPhoenix on April 4, 2009. He never mentioned it.

Just as troubling is the fact that the Mendel was placed so low on the city’s list of priorities that it risked being passed over for federal funding.

Like famed New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà-vu all over again.”

On December 8, 2005, during the federal centennial funding fiasco, the then city manager, Phil Richards, submitted to WD the city’s list of priorities for the $10-million grant. The Mendel was listed third behind the Victoria Bridge and Persephone Theatre and ahead of the River Landing Phase I Riverfront Park.

WD warned the city beforehand that the bridge might not be appropriate for funding, but the city went ahead and submitted it anyway. Furthermore, the city does not own Persephone Theatre and yet was allowed to include it on its list of priorities.

On March 24, 2006, the then WD Minister, Carol Skelton, announced the winners of the funding sweepstakes: Saskatoon Prairieland Park Corporation, Riverfront Park in River Landing, Persephone Theatre, and Wanuskewin Heritage Park Authority.

The Mendel got shafted.

On December 12, 2005, Saskatoon city council approved the Mendel’s expansion and renovation plans. To this day the gallery is being promoted as “a Saskatchewan treasure” and “Saskatoon’s premier destination for contemporary and historical art” in brochures distributed throughout the city. And yet city council continues to resist making it a top priority.

On January 8, 2009, Atchison and Knight sent a letter to then Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport Minister Christine Tell telling her that the expansion and renovation of the Mendel is a “worthy and important project” and that they were “confident” it “will be successful.” But their actions seem to betray that sentiment.

On July 22, 2009, Belisle sent an email to Smith and Martin Chicilo, WD’s manager of policy, planning and external relations, regarding criticisms by a private citizen of the city’s decision to move the Mendel to River Landing.

“It is important to have the complete picture – there is a lot of support for moving the Art Gallery instead of spending the same $ or more to make necessary renovations at the current location,” Belisle said.

It appears Belisle, Smith and Chicilo work at WD’s office in Saskatoon. This makes the story even more disturbing because some of the information they’re sharing with each other seems wildly inaccurate.

The City of Saskatoon’s 2009 capital budget clearly states that the “total cost of [the Mendel] renovation/expansion project, including preliminary design, detailed design and construction is $24,000,000.” This is significantly lower than the $55-million being touted for the new gallery.

The budget document approved by city council on December 15, 2008, also states, “The Mendel’s ten-year capital plan addresses both the existing facility needs and the required capacity to see it through the next 30 to 40 years of operation.” Apparently, this is of little value to federal officials.

Belisle’s email does not say where the support for moving the gallery is coming from. What is indisputable is that the majority of letters published in The StarPhoenix and received by city council are against the plan.

As for not having “the complete picture” this is something the public is being denied access to. As mentioned earlier the city, Mendel management and provincial government are withholding a significant amount of important information. Openness and transparency are virtually non-existent.

Records obtained recently from Infrastructure Canada (INFC) show the department was caught off guard when The StarPhoenix reported on April 1, 2009, that a new gallery to replace the Mendel was being proposed.

Jennifer Dawson, the executive director of portfolio management with Transport Canada, sent an email to Janet Alexander, an executive assistant with INFC’s assistant deputy minister’s office, that said, “Hi Janet: Have we received anything to request funding for a new art gallery in Saskatoon (or for that matter, expansion of the existing Mandel [sic] gallery).”

“This doesn’t sound familiar to me. Have you got anything?” replied Alexander.

In another email, Vanessa Vermette, an executive assistant with INFC’s policy and priorities directorate, asked Denis Michaud, a policy analyst, and Michael Rutherford, the director of priority initiatives, if they had any information on the new gallery.

Michaud responded by sending the other two a ‘Hot Issues Note’ that he prepared in January.

“It basically says that we have not received information on this project and that what we have so far was provided to us by [Canadian Heritage],” he said.

Unfortunately, the document Michaud forwarded to his co-workers pertains only to the Mendel’s expansion and renovation plans and not the new gallery.

Michaud’s report does, however, contain one piece of intriguing information. In it, he states: “Infrastructure Canada has not received a formal project proposal for the expansion and renovation of the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon as of January 8, 2009.”

As background, Canadian Heritage regional program manager, Claudette Novak, advised Mendel executive director and CEO Vincent Varga in a letter dated June 9, 2008, that “in light of the limited availability of funds through the [Cultural Spaces program]” the gallery should “pursue funding under the Building Canada Fund.”

According to media reports an application for funding was indeed submitted but the city hadn’t heard back.

The November 20, 2008, StarPhoenix article ‘Mendel backer frustrated’ reported that the gallery was “awaiting word on its $7.6-million request from the federal Canada Builds program.”

This raises at least a few questions:

– Why didn’t Mendel management submit a formal project proposal to Infrastructure Canada for the expansion and renovation of the gallery prior to January 8, 2009?

– Was a formal project proposal for the expansion and renovation of the Mendel submitted to Infrastructure Canada after January 8, 2009? If not, why not?

– Did Infrastructure Canada, at any time, ask the city or Mendel management to submit, or if it intended to submit, a formal project proposal for the expansion and renovation of the gallery? If the answer is yes, what was the city’s response?

Additionally, at the press conference on April 3, 2009, a four-page glossy brochure on the proposed new art gallery was distributed. Page one notes: “We’ve fully explored the implications of expanding our old home. With our partners in the City, Provincial and Federal governments, we have come to the conclusion a new building is the best fit for Saskatoon’s expanding future and our city’s amazing new urban riverfront.”

– Which federal government officials were involved in reaching this conclusion and on what date did it occur?

On April 1, 2009, Infrastructure Canada received a media inquiry from a reporter with The StarPhoenix. The request was given ‘high’ importance.

Department officials quickly prepared a three-page Q & A for the newspaper. Under the question, ‘Would the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan (or the Mendell [sic] Gallery) qualify for BCF funding?’ it states:

“The department has not received a request for funding for a new art gallery in Saskatoon, however this type of project may qualify for funding under the cultural infrastructure category. A project proposal could be reviewed against the criteria and conditions for these types of projects under the Building Canada plan.

“The expansion previously proposed for the Mendell [sic] Gallery is also a potentially eligible project, but again, a project review would be required to determine this.”

This is important because it establishes that, at the time, the federal government was still willing to consider the expansion and renovation of the Mendel, or so we think, because it also appears to contradict the glossy brochure which suggests that all four partners have already decided on a new building.

The public deserves answers. And lots of them.

Infrastructure Canada ‘Hot Issues Note’ (January 2009)

Below are the Articles of Incorporation for The Art Gallery of Saskatchewan Inc., which was incorporated as a non-profit organization on July 9, 2009. The mayor and all 10 ward councillors are directors. The public was never told that the gallery had been incorporated.

The name of the new entity implies provincial designation, and yet, it’s been incorporated as a civic gallery.

On August 28, 2009, the city clerk’s office advised that there was no formal resolution of the executive committee with respect to incorporating the new gallery. The committee was made aware of the plan to incorporate, but it is unknown as to when that occurred since it was done informally.

The Articles of Incorporation for the new gallery were signed by Donald Atchison, who is listed as the incorporator. His title as mayor was not used.

According to Section 8 of the Articles it appears that the new board may have met at least once already.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sask. Party Riversdale candidate, Corey O’Soup, praises Premier Brad Wall whose government axed $8M in funding for Station 20 West

As sell outs go this one seems pretty big.

From 2007 to 2008, Saskatoon resident Corey O’Soup was co-chair of the Station 20 West Development Corporation, a non-profit organization formed by CHEP Good Food Inc. and Quint Development Corporation to develop an integrated community enterprise centre. O’Soup also served on the Quint board from 2005 to 2008.

Provincial health officials describe Station 20 West as an urban renewal project aimed at strengthening the economic and social well being of Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods of Pleasant Hill, Westmount, King George, Riversdale and Caswell Hill, through a community-based economic development approach.

The initiative combines social, health, housing, library, community and educational services with a neighbourhood grocery store, and a public gathering place.

In February 2007, the NDP government announced that it was committing $8-million in capital funding to the inner city project. The source of the funding was the unspent budget in the 2006-07 fiscal year. The money was direct deposited to the Saskatoon Regional Health Authority on April 3, 2007.

On November 7, 2007, the right-wing Saskatchewan Party was elected.

On December 22, 2007, just as Station 20 West organizers were ready to tender the project, Max Hendricks, the assistant deputy minister of health, instructed Donna Magnusson, the executive director of primary health services with Saskatchewan Health, to “craft a letter putting a freeze on this til further notice.”

The letter in question, dated January 25, 2008, was from acting deputy minister of health Gren Smith-Windsor to Station 20 West and Saskatoon Regional Health Authority advising them “to delay” the tender “until such time as we can have further discussion with you and your organizations, as to the viability and sustainability of the proposed Station 20 West project.”

Paul Wilkinson, the Station 20 West project manager, responded to Smith-Windsor in detail with a five-page letter dated February 20, 2008. “We are available to meet with you at your earliest convenience to respond to more specifics,” Wilkinson said.

Smith-Windsor replied to Wilkinson on March 3, 2008, saying that the “viability and sustainability” of the project was “still under consideration.” He said ministry officials would be in contact “as soon as we are able to set up a meeting to discuss the future of the project.” That meeting never took place.

Then, on March 20, 2008, the day after Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer tabled the 2008-09 provincial budget, Saskatchewan Health faxed Station 20 West organizers a letter advising them that the government “will not be proceeding further” with the project. No reasons were given for the decision.

The story hit the media the following week when Premier Brad Wall confirmed that government support for the project was cancelled because it would compete with other businesses.

Wall insulted thousands of Station 20 West supporters, volunteers and organizers when he said: “We don’t think that the government of Saskatchewan should be opening up, basically, a mall development where we’d be competing with grocery stores and competing with others who are renting to community clinics in the area.” [Province pulls $8M from inner city Saskatoon project (CBC News, March 27, 2008)]

So how does all this relate to Corey O’Soup? Well, he was one of the two recipients of the March 20, 2008, letter from health officials pulling the $8-million in capital funding.

As co-chair of the Station 20 West board, O’Soup received copies of the February 20 and March 3, 2008, letters that Wilkinson and Smith-Windsor exchanged. He also co-authored a letter to Health Minister Don McMorris detailing all the work that had been done on the project.

The letter, dated January 18, 2008, congratulated McMorris on his election and appointment to cabinet. “We look forward to a complementary and supportive working relationship with you and your department in our efforts to improve the health and well-being of community residents in the core communities of Saskatoon,” O’Soup and co-chair Val Veillard said.

“We believe that this project has a history of excellent community consultation and involvement. Despite this, one of the ongoing challenges of working in the core communities is ensuring that the activities and services reflect the demographics of community residents. In these communities, there are a high number of Aboriginal residents (23 – 44% depending on neighbourhood). To this end, 40% of the Station 20 West Board is First Nations or Metis; and many Board members are community residents. These members have had tremendous input into decisions taken, including being a part of a large Feast Day last fall, which involved elders, a drumming group from Thunderchild Reserve and a pipe ceremony. All the agencies co-locating have made similar efforts to hire and work in genuine partnership with First Nation and Metis people.”

O’Soup was born in Yorkton and is originally from the Key First Nation. And yet one of the government’s criticisms of the project was lack of engagement of the aboriginal community.

The co-chairs said in closing: “We would like to meet with you, and perhaps other caucus members you would advise be included, to provide more details of our plans and answer any other questions you have. We also look forward to continue working with Saskatchewan Health officials as they have provided us with invaluable guidance as part of the Station 20 West Steering Committee. We look forward to working with your government as you continue your support for this wonderful initiative; we think it will be an innovative showpiece for Saskatoon and the province.”

So how did McMorris and Premier Brad Wall respond? They crippled the project by robbing it of critical funding without so much as a meeting beforehand.

Fast forward to June 12, 2009, and the stunning announcement that O’Soup would represent the Saskatchewan Party in Saskatoon Riversdale after capturing a majority of votes during a contested nomination meeting held the night before. (A by-election was later called for September 21, 2009).

“Under the leadership and vision of Premier Brad Wall the province has moved forward with such initiatives as the largest property and income tax cuts in Saskatchewan history,” said O’Soup.

O’Soup said in the constituency of Saskatoon Riversdale, the Saskatchewan Party has a proven record.

“It was the Saskatchewan Party government who implemented the highly successful Mobile Primary Health Unit along with funding a new St. Mary’s school and building more affordable housing,” said O’Soup.

First of all, the previous NDP government contributed to projects in Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods as well. These include:

– $891,000 for the One Arrow First Nation 15-unit rental housing project
– $2.9 million for Juniper Manor towards 43 new affordable rental units
– $233,927 for the renovation of the city’s 20 Above Arts Centre
– $145,000 towards a four-unit affordable housing project on Avenue I South
– $72,360 to core neighbourhoods for community literacy plan
– $5.0 million for River Landing Phase II Riverfront Park

It should be noted that the One Arrow First Nation project was announced by the NDP government on August 20, 2007. However, in one of his campaign brochures O’Soup appears to be giving credit for this initiative to the Saskatchewan Party.

In the same brochure O’Soup states, “I’ve spent most of my life in Saskatoon Riversdale.” Land title records show he now lives in Martensville. Why aren’t O’Soup and the Saskatchewan Party telling voters this? Don’t they have a right to know?

Furthermore, the Saskatchewan Party news release neglected to mention the horrific damage the government inflicted on the Station 20 West project. It also failed to mention that a new St. Mary Community School was no more on the Wall government’s radar than Station 20 West was.

When Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer delivered the 2008-09 provincial budget on March 19, 2008, there was no money included for the school. According to The StarPhoenix the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools was “bitterly disappointed” by the news.

“Disappointed probably really underscores our feeling towards the St. Mary project,” Don Lloyd, the school division’s superintendent of administrative services, said Wednesday. “(It’s a) very valuable project for that community.” [No funds for St. Mary replacement (StarPhoenix, March 20, 2008)]

On April 5, 2009, nearly 2,500 people gathered at the Station 20 West site to protest the Wall government’s despicable decision to withdraw funding for the development. The StarPhoenix called it “Saskatoon’s largest demonstration in recent memory.”[Thousands back Station 20 West (StarPhoenix, April 7, 2008)]

During question period in the legislature on April 7, 2008, in what can only be described as major damage control, Premier Brad Wall said when it comes to investing in Saskatoon’s inner city his government “will focus our attention on St. Mary School.”

Five weeks later on May 13, 2008, Wall announced that the Ministry of Education’s 2009-10 capital budget will include $8.3-million toward construction of a new St. Mary Community School.

More than a year later the project is now mired in controversy.

The StarPhoenix reported recently that Education Minister Ken Krawetz has been stalling for the last nine months in giving the school board the go ahead to proceed with a detailed design for the new school. The ministry won’t approve the project until the Catholic school division agrees to scale back its enrolment plans.

Catholic Schools superintendent of administrative services Don Lloyd said the ministry’s proposal to reduce enrolment to 300 is unacceptable. The government’s proposal would reduce the current projected size of the school by 1,000 square metres, potentially cutting out space the community is counting on.

“I think we’re easily losing about a year here as a result of the continued delays in approval,” he said. [St. Mary school behind schedule (StarPhoenix, August 26, 2009)]

In his biography posted on the Saskatchewan Party website O’Soup says he believes “in giving people a hand up rather than a hand out.”

Anyone familiar with Ontario politics will remember this slogan from Tory Premier Mike Harris’s destructive Common Sense Revolution in the mid-Nineties.

Harris cut income taxes by 30 per cent over three years, closed hospitals, shifted welfare responsibilities to the local governments and cut education spending. His government introduced the draconian forced labour “workfare” program and brutally slashed welfare rates by 21.5 per cent.

The Harris government repealed the Employment Equity Act in its entirety and enacted Bill 7, a package of anti-union and anti-worker labour legislation, permitting the use of replacement workers during a strike and requiring a secret ballot be held in every certification application.

There was the Walkerton tainted water tragedy caused in part by government budget cuts and Environment Ministry ineptitude; and the ugly Ipperwash standoff between natives and police.

Harris’s popularity plummeted to 33 per cent and on October 16, 2001, he announced his plan to resign.

On October 2, 2003, the Tories won just 24 of the 103 seats in the Ontario Legislature and, according to a report by former Ontario Provincial Auditor Erik Peters, left a $5.6 billion deficit behind. Harris’s finance minister was Jim Flaherty, who is now Stephen Harper’s. We know now how well that’s worked out.

This is the wrong bunch for O’Soup to be borrowing ideas from.

The Wall government spent its first year in office coasting on bulging coffers thanks to unprecedented resource revenue. Those days, however, appear to be fading.

On August 14, 2009, the finance minister revealed that the province will take in $1.3-billion less from potash than it had projected and, as a result, is deferring $132.3 million in capital projects. One of these is the much anticipated children’s hospital in Saskatoon that O’Soup is trumpeting in his campaign material.

According to Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk the government’s miscalculation is the biggest since the dark days of Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservative regime of the 1980s. [Gov’t made Devine error (Leader-Post, August 25, 2009)]

Brad Wall, by the way, served as a ministerial assistant to Graham Taylor and John Gerich in the final years of the disgraced Devine government.

With its deteriorating infrastructure and significant social, economic, and health disparities Riversdale and Pleasant Hill remain the poorest neighbourhoods in Saskatoon.

The nastiest of the Saskatchewan Party government’s right wing policies have so far been reserved for labour where its deep hatred of unions is felt every time Advanced Education, Employment and Labour Minister Rob Norris brings forward a new piece of labour legislation.

That could change if the province’s finances continue to slide. Under conservative governments social programs and services are usually among the first things to go. We haven’t seen very much of that side of the Wall government — yet.

Election brochure taking credit for One Arrow First Nation project

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Station 20 West: Wall gov’t refusing to disclose full contents of key letter to Saskatoon Regional Health Authority pulling $8M in provincial funding

When Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer delivered the 2008-09 provincial budget on March 19, 2008, there was no hint whatsoever that the Saskatchewan Party government was about to rob Station 20 West of $8-million in funding.

On March 20, 2008, Saskatchewan Health faxed Station 20 West organizers a letter advising them that the government “will not be proceeding further” with the project. No reasons were given for the decision.

It wasn’t until March 27, 2008, that the story became public when The StarPhoenix and CBC News reported what happened.

Civic affairs columnist Gerry Klein said the “decision was buried in budget documents and not announced openly or addressed directly until the finance minister spoke to a reporter during a StarPhoenix editorial board meeting.” [Time to rethink poor moves (StarPhoenix, April 3, 2008)]

Provincial health officials define Station 20 West Community Enterprise Centre as an urban renewal project aimed at strengthening the economic and social well being of Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods of Pleasant Hill, Westmount, King George, Riversdale and Caswell Hill, through a community-based economic development approach.

The initiative combines social, health, housing, library, community and educational services with a neighbourhood grocery store, and a public gathering place.

On February 23, 2007, the previous NDP government announced $8-million for the Station 20 West project to improve health and community services for Saskatoon inner city residents. The source of the funding was the unspent budget in the 2006-07 fiscal year. The money was direct deposited to the health authority on April 3, 2007.

For Premier Brad Wall the reason for slashing the funding was strictly ideological.

According to the CBC the premier said support for the project was cancelled because it would compete with other businesses.

“We don’t think that the government of Saskatchewan should be opening up, basically, a mall development where we’d be competing with grocery stores and competing with others who are renting to community clinics in the area,” Wall said.

Provincial Health Minister Don McMorris said the government has other spending priorities. [Province pulls $8M from inner city Saskatoon project (CBC News, March 27, 2008)]

The StarPhoenix lambasted the government saying the reasons for cutting the grant “look more like a raft of juvenile excuses rather than part of a coherent plan to run the province.”

The newspaper called Wall’s excuse “weak” and the decision “ill-considered.”

“[T]o cancel the entire project rather than deal directly with the situation is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.” [Government’s actions signal trouble ahead (StarPhoenix, Mar. 29, 2008)]

In the article Station 20 cash to pay down health deficit (StarPhoenix, March 29, 2008) Jean Morrison, vice-president of performance excellence and chief nursing officer for the Saskatoon Health Region, said the provincial government had given the health region the $8 million to hold in trust for Station 20 West while the organizations involved worked on more detailed plans.

The region has no power to decide how that $8 million will be spent, Morrison said.

“We can’t spend it until they can tell us how we can spend it,” she said of the Ministry of Health.

Louise Greenberg, associate deputy minister of health, said about $6 million of that money will be spent on urgent capital needs in the health region, including $1.1 million for new hospital air conditioners, $1.4 million to replace the fire alarm system at St. Paul's Hospital, $1.6 million to replace an aging CT scanner at City Hospital, and money to upgrade ambulance equipment and to buy transportation equipment to accommodate morbidly obese patients.

More than $2 million will go toward paying off the $8.7-million shortfall the Saskatoon Health Region has accumulated in the first 10 months of its 2007-08 operating year, Greenberg said.

There’s more to story but the government is denying access to those details.

In response to a freedom of information request made on August 4, 2009, Saskatchewan Health is refusing to release the full contents of a March 28, 2008, letter sent by Max Hendricks, the assistant deputy minister of health, to Saskatoon Health Region CEO Maura Davies informing her that funding for Station 20 West was being pulled.

“In February of 2007, Government announced $8.0M for a project in Saskatoon, called the Station 20 West Community Enterprise Centre. This letter is to advise you that Government will not be proceeding with this initiative,” Hendricks states in the opening paragraph of the partially disclosed letter.

The next section of the letter, however, as well as most of the five-page attachment, was redacted. The only other part of Hendricks’s letter that was disclosed is the two closing sentences.

“The Ministry is pleased to assist your Region in addressing the infrastructure issues outlined, and we look forward to working with you in concluding the Station 20 West Project,” he said.

“If you are in agreement with the enclosed amendment as written, please sign both copies and return one to the Primary Health Services Branch… by April 18, 2008.”

Despite the missing information it remains clear that what the Wall government did was reach back in time to change an earlier agreement by deleting the services and funding schedules agreed to by the health region and the NDP government and replacing them with its own. The health region still got to keep the $8-million. They were just forced to spend it on something other than Station 20 West.

The timeline of events is troubling. The Wall government made the decision to pull the funds, then informed Station 20 West organizers, and finally confirmed it publicly all before actually signing the amendment agreement.

The original agreement, signed by Davies and Donna Magnusson, the executive director of primary health services with Saskatchewan Health, on March 28, 2007, contains at least two clauses worth noting:

Section 2.2: “The Department may at any time request a change to the scope of services to be provided pursuant to Schedule A. A change of services shall become effective upon the signed written consent of the RHA, which shall be appended to this Agreement.”

Section 12.8: “This Agreement, including the Schedules, may be amended by the written, mutual consent of the parties.”

Anyone can request anything. According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary all a request is a polite way of asking for something. Whether or not it’s granted is another matter entirely. There is nothing in the original agreement that states the health authority was compelled to grant any and all requests made by the health ministry (the “Department”). In fact, before any change could take place the regional health authority had to give its written consent. It would seem that the health authority could have said no. Hendricks seemed to acknowledge this in his letter to Davies when he asked her to sign the attached document “if” she was “in agreement” with it. The disturbing thing is in the opening paragraph of his letter Hendricks basically made it impossible for Davies to refuse telling her in no uncertain terms that the government “will not be proceeding” with the Station 20 West project.

The health region was essentially bullied into accepting the government’s decision. There’s little doubt that someone would’ve lost their job had they tried to say no.

Page 1 of original agreement

Page 2 of original agreement

Page 6 of original agreement

Page 7 of original agreement

Schedule A of original agreement

Schedule B of original agreement