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


At 7:30 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Driving down 20th Street I was amazed to see a billboard for Corey O'Soup right beside the lot where Station 20 West was going to be. I really don't understand the Sask. Party sometimes.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I have two questions why is Corey O'Soup not doorknocking? He just droping information off by mail about free food and meet brad Wall. My second question is why is he having free bar Q in Riversdale and Area . Is this not a hand out or just buying votes.

At 7:12 AM, Blogger brajamalato said...

before you question the motives of Corey O'Soup regarding Station 20, ask yourself where the NDP candidate was. She wasn't on the board of this organization... so where was her commitment to this??

many, many years of NDP MLA's in this area have done very little to address the many social problems that have been in S'toon Riversdale. It's time for a change


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