Thursday, January 28, 2010

Industry Minister Tony Clement downplays prorogation concerns, says only ‘5 percent of what Ministers do is related to parliament and Question Period’

Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (Saskatoon Chapter)
at Radisson Hotel on January 27, 2010

In town less than twenty-four hours, and with barely any media coverage, Industry Minister Tony Clement still managed to insult thousands of Canadians by trivializing concerns over the Conservative government’s decision to prorogue Parliament.

Clement was in Saskatoon on January 27, 2010, to tour the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan, then deliver a key note address to the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Radisson Hotel. At 4:00 p.m. the minister was to attend a photo-op at farm implement manufacturer Case New Holland in the city’s north industrial area.

About a dozen residents belonging to the Saskatoon Chapter of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament gathered outside the hotel, braving minus 30 temperatures, to protest the prime minister’s decision to shut down Parliament until March. However, the demonstrators didn’t get to greet Clement because he’d slipped in through another entrance and was already on the second level making his way to the Da Vinci Ballroom by the time the protest got under way.

Chapter administrator Peter Garden said on his Facebook page that he saw Mayor Don Atchison entering the hotel and asked him what his position was on the prorogation of Parliament. “He turned to me with a surprised look, paused, and walked quickly into the hotel without a response,” Garden said.

When he was first elected mayor in October 2003, Atchison promised to be “the People’s Mayor.”

The RSVP-only luncheon was presented by the Chamber’s science city committee and Genome Prairie, a not-for-profit organization supporting and managing large-scale genomics and proteomics research projects in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Sponsors of the event included: the Saskatoon Blades Hockey Club, SaskTel subsidiary DirectWest, law firm MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman, accounting and business advisory firm Meyers Norris Penny, PGI Printers, and TD Canada Trust.

According to the daily itinerary posted in the hotel’s lobby, Industry Canada appeared to have the Verona and Shakespeare rooms booked for meetings, including one with the minister’s regional office.

Clement’s visit to Saskatoon generated very little media attention., which seems to be owned and controlled by SaskTel, posted a short article online saying that the minister, along with fellow conservative MP Kelly Block, toured the Canadian Light Source to get a first hand look at the type of scientific advancements which are being made in Saskatoon. [Tony Clement in Saskatoon (, January 27, 2010)]

Interestingly, Genome’s director of communications and government relations, Carol Reynolds, was Block’s campaign manager in the 2008 federal election. It was during the campaign that Block – the Conservative candidate for Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar and a long time Saskatchewan Party member – was criticized for refusing to participate in candidate debates. Reynold’s, in turn, made an unsuccessful bid to get elected as Ward 1 councillor in Saskatoon’s October 2009 civic election.

On a news article was posted saying that in answer to protests of the government’s decision to prorogue Parliament until March, Clement said MP’s “are still hard at work,” approximating that “maybe 5 percent of what Ministers do is related to parliament and Question Period.”

Clement says the government is focusing on the state of the economy in Canada, and touching base with Canadians before putting the next budget in place. [Federal Industry Minister Tours Saskatoon (, January 27, 2010)]

( is owned and operated by Saskatoon Media Group, a multi platform media company consisting of conservative friendly radio stations CJWW, Magic 98.3, 92.9 The Bull, as well as Saskatchewan’s internet only radio station,

In Clement’s world ‘touching base’ seems to include avoiding accountability in the House of Commons, ducking protesters, and insulting the hundreds of thousands of Canadians that have expressed outrage over the prorogation of Parliament by minimizing their concerns.

Industry Canada’s media notice for Clement’s trip states that further information could be obtained by contacting the minister’s press secretary in Ottawa, Lynn Meahan. However, an email sent to Meahan on January 27 asking who paid for the minister’s trip and which of his staff accompanied him has gone unanswered.

Industry Minister Tony Clement (in light brown coat) heading to Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the Da Vinci Ballroom

Radisson Hotel itinerary for January 27, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

Premier Brad Wall preaches importance of democracy and then twice supports PM Stephen Harper’s “nakedly partisan” decision to prorogue Parliament

No Prorogue Rally, Saskatoon, Jan. 23, 2010

Premier Brad Wall & PM Stephen Harper, Jan. 11, 2008

What would Premier Brad Wall tell students at Campbell Collegiate in Regina today?

On February 12, 2008, Wall spent an hour at the school preaching the importance of democracy and encouraging students to get interested in politics and, when they’re old enough, to get out and vote. The visit was initiated by the government.

According to the Leader-Post, Wall said the problem in Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada is that not enough young people have been engaged by the various political parties.

It’s not enough for “middle-aged politicians” to decide what works for young people -- they have to offer up ideas themselves and politicians have to listen, said Wall.

Only 38 per cent of voters aged 18 to 21 voted in the 2004 federal election, Wall said, as he insisted to the students that every vote really does count.

Another reason teens may not get interested in politics is cynicism about politicians, said Wall. [Wall tells students about joy of politics (Leader-Post, February 13, 2008)]

“When you think about it, young people have the most at stake in elections because the decisions that governments make today are going to affect them for the longest time,” Wall said in a news release. “Yet we know that voter turnout among young people is the lowest of any age group.”

Eight months later Wall eagerly congratulated Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his re-elected government following their October 14, 2008, election win.

In a news release, Wall also acknowledged the work of everyone who participated in the recent election campaign, once again mentioning democracy.

“From the returning officers to the candidates to the volunteers for all parties, everyone who is involved in an election gives up a little bit for the greater good of our country,” Wall said. “In a world where peaceful elections would still be considered a near miracle in many nations, we should always remember the people who help make it happen and never take our proud democratic process for granted,” Wall said.

On December 4, 2008, Harper turned democracy on its ear when he asked Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament so his Conservative government could evade a confidence vote.

The StarPhoenix reported the next day that Wall supported Harper’s decision. [Coalition drama thrill for academics (StarPhoenix, December 5, 2008)]

Then, just over a year later, on December 30, 2009, Harper again pulled the plug on Parliament, this time to thwart an investigation by a House of Commons committee of the Afghan detainee affair.

Andrew Mayeda, the national politics reporter for Canwest News Service, said Harper brushed off criticism of his decision to shutdown Parliament for the next two months, calling the move a “routine” procedure that will enable the government to “recalibrate” its agenda.

“The decision to prorogue, when the government has the confidence of the House, is a routine constitutional matter,” said the prime minister.

“There’s nothing particularly unusual about a session of Parliament being roughly a year in length,” Harper said during the interview with CBC Television at his office on Parliament Hill. [Shutting down Parliament ‘routine,’ PM says (Canwest News Service, January 5, 2010)]

And for a second time, Harper found support in Saskatchewan.

In addition to holding down the premier’s job, Brad Wall is also responsible for intergovernmental affairs.

But when reporters asked for the intergovernmental minister to comment on Harper’s controversial decision to prorogue Parliament, Wall was nowhere to be seen. The Saskatchewan Party government instead left it to Justice Minister Don Morgan to handle the media.

“I’m sure the prime minister’s position is that they need to do this so they can get on with the other things they need to do and legislation was being stymied or thwarted through the Senate, and I appreciate the frustration that they’ve gone through,” said Morgan, one of 11 Saskatchewan Party MLAs who are also members of the federal Conservative party. [Premier not anxious to comment on Harper tactics (StarPhoenix, January 9, 2010)]

Wall finally surfaced the following week speaking to reporters for the first time since before Christmas.

According to StarPhoenix reporter James Wood, Wall – described as one of Harper’s “closest allies” among provincial leaders – “had no problem with the PM’s decision” to prorogue Parliament.

“I can’t put my finger on anything that is problematic for the provincial government with the House (of Commons) not sitting,” said Wall.

The premier used the fact that Saskatchewan legislators will return as scheduled in March to defend the federal prorogation.

“If there’s no harm done by the provincial government on its regular schedule not being in the legislature . . . from December to March . . . then I can’t think of, offhand, any trouble with the House of Commons not sitting,” he said.

Wall had no comment when asked if he thought Harper had prorogued Parliament to avoid questions on the Afghanistan torture issue, as suggested by a range of figures, including NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter and former Harper strategist Tom Flanagan.

“I can’t speculate on the motives of the prime minister.” [Wall does time warp on website (StarPhoenix, January 16, 2010)]

You can be damn sure if Harper wasn’t Conservative Wall would have plenty to say about motives. As Opposition leader Wall took every opportunity to slam the Liberals when they were in power but as soon as the Conservatives were elected in January 2006, he folded like a cheap suitcase.

Wall’s creepy desire to be Harper’s prairie stooge has left him squarely on the wrong side of a major national controversy.

A Facebook group created by University of Alberta alumnus Christopher White called Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament boasts more than 216,000 members and is growing by the minute.

In dozens of cities across the country rallies were held on January 23, 2010, to protest Harper’s proroguing of Parliament. In Saskatoon, organizers said more than 450 people packed City Hall Square. In Regina, a crowd of over 300 gathered in the Scarth Street Mall.

Parliament has been prorogued 120 times since Confederation. But according to John Whyte, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Saskatchewan’s college of law, prorogation “has never properly been used to manipulate parliamentary oversight of a government or delay accountability, but this is exactly what happened in late 2008, and again last week.”

The prime minister “has resorted to a parliamentary device for purposes for which it was not intended,” Whyte said. [Prorogation: Pity Canada, Jean (StarPhoenix, January 14, 2010)]

On January 12, 2010, the Ottawa Citizen published an op-ed signed by more than 170 Canadian academics (including six from Saskatchewan) with expertise in the principles of democracy. The lead authors are Daniel Weinstock of Université de Montréal, Jeremy Webber of the University of Victoria and Charles Taylor of McGill University.

“As Canadian university professors dedicated to educating students about democratic institutions, we are deeply concerned by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to use his power to prorogue Parliament for a second year in a row in circumstances that allow him to evade democratic accountability,” the letter said. “The Prime Minister is not only making cavalier use of the discretionary powers entrusted to him in our Parliamentary system, but in so doing he is undermining our system of democratic government.”

The group said Harper’s proroguing of Parliament in 2008, and now, “was nakedly partisan.”

“Given the short-term, tactical, and partisan purposes served by prorogation, and given the absence of any plausible public purpose served by it, we conclude that the Prime Minister has violated the trust of Parliament and of the Canadian people. We emphasize moreover that the violation of this trust strikes at the heart of our system of government, which relies upon the use of discretionary powers for the public good rather than merely for partisan purposes. How do we make sure it serves the public good? By requiring our governments to face Parliament and justify their actions, in the face of vigorous questioning,” they said.

In the Vancouver Sun on January 16, 2009, Richard Foot, a national and international affairs reporter for CanWest News Service, said “no other English speaking nation with a system of government like ours -- not Britain, Australia or New Zealand -- has ever had its parliament prorogued in modern times so that its ruling party could avoid an investigation, or a vote of confidence by other elected legislators.

“Only three times has this happened, all in Canada,” Foot said.

The first was on August 13, 1873, after Sir John A. Macdonald persuaded Gov. Gen. Lord Dufferin to prorogue Parliament in order to halt a House of Commons probe into the Pacific Scandal.

The Liberals had evidence to show that key Conservative ministers, including Macdonald himself, had accepted money from Sir Hugh Allan, who hoped to be awarded the contract to build the railway to British Columbia. A commission of inquiry was summoned to investigate allegations of Conservative corruption, and more and more damning details were emerging by the day. With Parliament scheduled to sit in August 1873, Macdonald feared a non-confidence vote and asked Dufferin to prorogue the House rather than allowing a vote on adjournment. [Prorogation, then and now (National Post, December 8, 2008)]

Parliament reconvened on October 23, 1873, but under extreme pressure, Macdonald and his government resigned November 7, 1873.

Foot said no prime minister dared use prorogation to such effect again, until Stephen Harper in 2008. [Other PMs don’t prorogue parliament for own ends (Vancouver Sun, January 16, 2010)]

Premier Brad Wall should apologize to the people of Saskatchewan and, at the very least, pay a return visit to Campbell Collegiate to apologize in person for displaying the kind of behaviour that has caused so many young people in the province to be cynical of politicians and politics in general.


History of Prorogation in Canada, 1867 to 2009

Stephen Harper (Conservative Party)
February 6, 2006 – present

▪ December 30, 2009
▪ December 4, 2008

▪ September 14, 2007

Paul Martin (Liberal)
December 12, 2003 to February 6, 2006

▪ None

Jean Chrétien (Liberal)
November 4, 1993 to December 12, 2003

▪ November 12, 2003
▪ September 16, 2002
▪ September 18, 1999
▪ February 2, 1996

Kim Campbell (Progressive Conservative)
June 25, 1993 to November 4, 1993

▪ None

Brian Mulroney (Progressive Conservative)
September 17, 1984 to June 25, 1993

▪ May 12, 1991
▪ February 28, 1989
▪ August 28, 1986

John Turner (Liberal)
June 30, 1984 to September 17, 1984

▪ None

Pierre Trudeau
March 3, 1980 to June 30, 1984

▪ November 30, 1983

Joe Clark (Progressive Conservative)
June 4, 1979 to March 3, 1980

▪ None

Pierre Trudeau (Liberal)
April 20, 1968 to June 4, 1979

▪ October 10, 1978
▪ October 17, 1977
▪ October 12, 1976
▪ February 26, 1974
▪ February 16, 1972
▪ October 7, 1970
▪ October 22, 1969

Lester B. Pearson (Liberal)
April 22, 1963 to April 20, 1968

▪ May 8, 1967
▪ June 30, 1965
▪ April 3, 1965
▪ December 21, 1963

John Diefenbaker (Progressive Conservative)
June 21, 1957 to April 22, 1963

▪ September 29, 1961
▪ August 10, 1960
▪ July 18, 1959
▪ September 6, 1958

Louis St. Laurent (Liberal)
November 15, 1948 to June 21, 1957

▪ January 8, 1957
▪ August 14, 1956
▪ July 28, 1955
▪ June 26, 1954
▪ May 14, 1953
▪ November 20, 1952
▪ December 29, 1951
▪ October 9, 1951
▪ January 29, 1951
▪ June 30, 1950
▪ December 10, 1949

William Lyon Mackenzie King
October 23, 1935 to November 15, 1948

▪ June 30, 1948
▪ July 17, 1947
▪ August 31, 1946
▪ December 18, 1945
▪ January 31, 1945
▪ January 26, 1944
▪ January 27, 1943
▪ January 21, 1942
▪ November 5, 1940
▪ September 13, 1939
▪ June 3, 1939
▪ July 1, 1938
▪ April 10, 1937
▪ June 23, 1936

Richard Bedford Bennett (Conservative)
August 7, 1930 to October 23, 1935

▪ July 5, 1935
▪ July 3, 1934
▪ May 27, 1933
▪ May 26, 1932
▪ August 3, 1931
▪ September 22, 1930

William Lyon Mackenzie King
September 25, 1926 to August 6, 1930

▪ June 14, 1929
▪ June 11, 1928
▪ April 14, 1927

Arthur Meighen
June 29, 1926 to September 25, 1926

▪ None

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Liberal)
December 29, 1921 to June 29, 1926

▪ June 27, 1925
▪ July 19, 1924
▪ June 30, 1923
▪ June 27, 1922

Arthur Meighen (Conservative)
July 10, 1920 to December 29, 1921

▪ June 4, 1921

Sir Robert Borden (Conservative)
October 10, 1911 to July 10, 1920

▪ July 1, 1920
▪ November 10, 1919
▪ July 7, 1919
▪ May 24, 1918
▪ May 18, 1916
▪ April 15, 1915
▪ August 22, 1914
▪ June 12, 1914
▪ June 6, 1913
▪ April 1, 1912

Sir Wilfred Laurier (Liberal)
July 11, 1896 to October 6, 1911

▪ May 4, 1910
▪ May 19, 1909
▪ July 20, 1908
▪ April 27, 1907
▪ July 13, 1906
▪ July 20, 1905
▪ August 10, 1904
▪ October 24, 1903
▪ May 15, 1902
▪ May 23, 1901
▪ July 18, 1900
▪ August 11, 1899
▪ June 13, 1898
▪ June 29, 1897
▪ October 5, 1896

Sir Charles Tupper (Conservative)
May 1, 1896 to July 8, 1896

▪ None

Sir Mackenzie Bowell (Conservative)
December 21, 1894 to April 27, 1896

▪ April 23, 1896
▪ July 22, 1895

Sir John Thompson (Liberal-Conservative)
December 5, 1892 to December 12, 1894

▪ July 23, 1894
▪ April 1, 1893

Sir John Abbott (Liberal-Conservative)
June 16, 1891 to November 24, 1892

▪ July 9, 1892
▪ September 30, 1891

Sir John A. Macdonald
October 17, 1878 to June 6, 1891

▪ May 16, 1890
▪ May 2, 1889
▪ May 22, 1888
▪ June 23, 1887
▪ June 2, 1886
▪ July 20, 1885
▪ April 19, 1884
▪ May 25, 1883
▪ May 17, 1882
▪ March 21, 1881
▪ May 7, 1880
▪ May 15, 1879

Alexander Mackenzie (Liberal)
November 7, 1873 to October 8, 1878

▪ May 10, 1878
▪ April 28, 1877
▪ April 12, 1876
▪ April 8, 1875
▪ May 26, 1874
▪ November 7, 1873

Sir John A. Macdonald (Liberal-Conservative)
July 1, 1867 to November 5, 1873

▪ August 13, 1873
▪ June 14, 1872
▪ April 14, 1871
▪ May 12, 1870
▪ June 22, 1869
▪ May 22, 1868

Monday, January 18, 2010

New art gallery to charge admission for special exhibits; City never submitted Building Canada application for Mendel; MVA withholding records

In November, Mendel Art Gallery board chair Art Knight told the StarPhoenix that the question of an admission fee would be addressed in the business plan for the new art gallery at River Landing.

A preliminary look at other galleries has shown only five per cent of revenue is generated from admission fees, with more coming from restaurants, gift shops and other areas, he said.

“The possibility of an admission fee will be developed in that context,” Knight said. [Gallery plan to council (StarPhoenix, November 27, 2009)]

However, in an August 2009 report reviewing the eligibility of the proposed $58-million Destination Centre project for Building Canada Funds (BCF), Infrastructure Canada states that “increased revenue will be generated from admission fees for special exhibits.” What else is Knight not telling people? Are general admission and parking fees around the corner too?

In the same report, which was obtained through a freedom of information request, federal officials say proponents of the new gallery anticipate 200,000 visitors annually. Is that all? The Mendel topped that in 2000 with 214,945. Granted, attendance has fallen since then but a renovated and expanded gallery at less than half the cost ($24-million) would see a significant increase. Knight suggested as much in the gallery’s 2007 annual report saying that once the building is rejuvenated individuals and families will visit “in even greater numbers”.

The report does not say how the 200,000 was arrived at for the new art gallery. Is it wishful thinking or was a market study done to determine this figure? What evidence is there that attendance will exceed what the Mendel currently experiences? It’s possible that the River Landing location could actually see a decline in attendance, since the Mendel is more easily accessible in terms of parking, and its proximity to the Meewasin trail, Kinsmen Park, and the University, etc.

An admission charge (even for just special events) would definitely be a deterrent for many people who can’t afford the cost or believe they shouldn’t have to pay twice (since the gallery is already supported by tax dollars) for access to their own cultural heritage.

INFC officials are claiming that the proposed Destination Centre has local and provincial support but aren’t saying how they got that information.

On August 24, 2009, Michael Rutherford, the department’s director of priority initiatives, sent an email to Loryn Gentle, a communications advisor, containing a draft questions and answers document for the new building.

One of the questions was: “Why did the federal government decide to proceed with this project, when there is a project underway to renovate and expand the current Mendel Art Gallery?”

The answer: “It is understood that there is strong support for this project at the municipal and provincial level, and with its accessibility and close proximity to the downtown, hotels and Riverfront Park, it will be an ideal location for a tourist attraction. The added space and expansion of community programs will offer more to the local arts community and will be able to accommodate the increased number of visitors.”

With this in mind, an email was sent to Rutherford on January 10, 2010, asking him how INFC determined there was strong local and provincial support for the project and what was the source of the information. He was also asked whether INFC had conducted any kind of public consultation process. Rutherford hasn’t responded.

The federal government fails to acknowledge that the Mendel has been a nationally recognized tourist attraction for 45-years and if expanded and renovated, it too would offer more to the local arts community and be able to accommodate an increased number of visitors.

Public reaction to moving the Mendel has been mostly negative with the vast majority of letters received by city council or published in the StarPhoenix opposed to the plan. Additionally, since September 23, 2009, more than 1,500 individuals have signed an online petition to keep the gallery at its present location. Apparently this means nothing to the powers that be.

To this day the federal government has refused to disclose the details of its closed-door discussions with the city, the Mendel and the province in early 2009 when the four partners secretly decided to pursue a new building.

Another stunning piece of news is the recent revelation that the City of Saskatoon never submitted the Mendel renovation and expansion project to the federal government for consideration of Building Canada Funds.

In late 2008 the public was led to believe that city administration had requested funding for the Mendel expansion under the Building Canada program. The StarPhoenix appeared to confirm this on at least two occasions:
Big building year ahead, December 31, 2008, page A3
“The gallery is among several projects on the city’s application for funding from the Canada Builds program.”

Mendel backer frustrated, November 20, 2008, page A3
“The project, which is at least five years old, is awaiting word on its $7.6-million request from the federal Canada Builds program.”
The main evidence, though, is the city’s 2009 capital budget document (approved by city council on December 15, 2008) and Project 1817 – Mendel Renovation and Expansion that states: “A grant application has been submitted to the Buildings Canada Fund in excess of $7 million.”

On October 30, 2009, an access to information request was filed with the city for a copy of the application.

In a letter dated January 6, 2010, the city clerk advised that the only submission made was on April 9, 2009, for the Destination Centre. There was no earlier application for the Mendel.

So what about the statement in the city’s 2009 capital budget? Well, according to the city clerk in a follow-up email on January 12, 2009, the report “could have been better worded. It should have said that it was the City’s intention to forward a project application to the Building Canada Fund, not that an application had already been made. At that point there had only been discussions between administrative staff of the City and the Federal Government as to project eligibility, but no submission had been made and wasn’t made until April 2009.”

The city has never disclosed the details of its early discussions with the federal government or explained why it didn’t submit the application. Especially when on January 8, 2009, Mayor Don Atchison 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” that “will be successful.”

And finally, there is the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA), an organization with a huge interest in the Mendel’s demise. Ever since April 3, 2009, when it was announced that the gallery would be moving to River Landing, the MVA have had the inside track on possibly relocating to the Mendel building once it’s vacated. That particular process appears to be just as big a sham as the one involving the new art gallery or the nearby Parcel “Y” and developer Lake Placid.

In early January 2010, Meewasin administration flatly denied a freedom of information request for copies of two memorandums (dated October 2, 2009, and November 6, 2009) from CEO Susan Lamb to her board and also a feasibility report for a new Meewasin Valley Centre that was prepared by On Purpose Leadership Inc. and considered by the board at its November 20, 2009, meeting.


Previous Mendel posts

January 1, 2010:
Mendel board chair Art Knight failing to answer questions; City refusing access to steering committee minutes and Mayor Don Atchison’s daily planner

November 12, 2009:
Hon. Rob Merrifield, Minister of State for Transport, ducking questions on new art gallery; City of Saskatoon denying access to more Mendel records

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”

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

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Energy Sector Team rolls out red carpet for Alberta energy industry, recommends gov’t harmonize labour and OH&S regulations with western provinces

On November 18, 2008, the then Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart officially launched 18 sector teams specifically dedicated to an economic sector of the Saskatchewan economy.

Reporting to the Enterprise Saskatchewan board of directors, the sector teams are accountable for identifying and reporting on the barriers to growth, making recommendations to remove barriers, prescribing prioritized action, and reporting on the progress on an annual basis.

At the time of Stewart’s announcement, at least two sector teams were already up and running: the minerals and energy teams held their first meetings on November 7 and 12 respectively. The energy sector team didn’t waste any time turning things over to the Saskatchewan Party’s friends in the energy industry who have donated more than $1.17-million to the party since 1998.

The nine member team includes:

▪ Michael (Mick) MacBean, Chair, Diamond Energy Services (Swift Current)*
▪ Carolyn Preston, Petroleum Technology Research Centre (Regina)
▪ Brent Dunnigan, Arista Energy Limited (Calgary)*
▪ Jim Goldmann, Alliance Pipeline (Calgary)*
▪ Steve Halabura, North Rim Exploration (Saskatoon)
▪ John Jenkins, TransCanada (Calgary)*
▪ Brenda Kenny, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (Calgary)*
▪ Tony Marino, Baytex Energy Trust (Calgary)*
▪ Roger Soucy, Petroleum Services Association of Canada (Calgary)*

Seven of the members (*) represent companies that have contributed to the Saskatchewan Party with six of them headquartered in Calgary.

At the second meeting, held in Regina on January 13, 2009, the minutes show that team members were reminded that Enterprise Saskatchewan has indicated that sector teams “are to be a direct link between private industry and the government; the government is anxious to hear the recommendations, regardless of its ability to act on them. There is no timeline on a deliverable to cabinet.”

An issue was raised about inviting industry associations to contribute their input to the team. “This would include the Coal Association of Canada, CAPP, SEPAC, CEPA, CAODC and PSAC and others. The Team discussed the timeline for this Sector Team and the desire to have a deliverable by the end of Meeting 4,” the minutes state.

The recommendation was made that the “next meeting take place in Calgary and that major industry associations in the Energy Sector be invited in advance to submit a list of key barriers and constraints to development and expansion of the Energy Sector in Saskatchewan. This list of barriers will be summarized before the meeting and distributed to Energy Sector Team members; selected association members will be asked to present to the Energy Sector Team meeting in Calgary. The Chair will also meet with SaskPower and SaskEnergy to solicit their perspective on the Energy industry and issues.”

The energy sector team’s third meeting was held April 7-8, 2009, at Alliance Pipeline’s head office in Calgary. The minutes show that all members attended.

The facilitator/recorder for the meeting was Stuart and Muriel Garven of Garven & Associates Consulting Ltd. in Saskatoon. Stuart is a brother to Garnet Garven, the former deputy minister to Premier Brad Wall.

Observers at the meeting included Derek Lamers, Enterprise Saskatchewan’s manager of business solutions and IT services, and Ranga Ranganathan, director of business development with the Saskatchewan Research Council.

The purpose of the meeting “was to receive a cross-section of presentations from several representatives on barriers to development of the energy sector in Saskatchewan.”

Sector team members took this input and on the second day “further identified barriers and conducted a gap analysis of the issues. The Team ranked the barriers in order of importance as determined by the Team. Initial recommendations emerged from the session.”

Presentations were received from the following associations or energy sector representatives:

▪ Coal Association of Canada (CAC)
▪ Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (SEPAC)*
▪ Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC)*
▪ Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA)*
▪ Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC)*
▪ Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)*
▪ Crescent Point Energy Trust*
▪ Spur Resources

Of the eight presentations made six were from organizations (*) that have contributed to the Saskatchewan Party. Two of the presenters – CEPA and PSAC – are represented on the Energy Sector Team.

According to the meeting minutes “a common theme from the presenters was that Saskatchewan had established a positive environment for the sector’s development.” You wouldn’t know it though by looking at the list of 25 “development issues and barriers” that the presenters identified.

On April 8, 2009, the facilitator assisted the team in prioritizing the barriers and issues tabled the previous day. Number three on the list – right behind land management and fiscal regime – was harmonization. The following issues were cited for further action:

▪ Harmonization of regulations, certifications and safety training.

▪ Labour legislation and regulations need to be harmonized within western Canada. Where practical – ‘one standard fits all’.

▪ Harmonization of weights and over-dimension regulations from province to province.

▪ Sunday rig moves for over-weight or over-dimension rigs.

The minutes show three recommendations for development and consideration were prepared:

▪ PST refund administration is onerous and the Sector Team requests simplification of the process based on exemptions. (Similar to the methods that are used in British Columbia.)

▪ Harmonize … labour, weights and dimensions, OHS safety regulations, trade certification, etc. (Use CAODC and PSAC recommendations.) with other western provinces.
– Benefits to the industry in efficiencies and industry investment. Rather than individual provincial regulations, the industry can invest in a broader based, broadly accepted set of regulations and standards. There is strength in building common regulations and standards to enhance a western Canadian market.

▪ Review the policy for transportation of overweight and over-dimension equipment.

Based on the industry presentations one of the biggest complainers seemed to be PSAC who presented a list of five clauses in Saskatchewan’s Labour Standards Act that it wished to see addressed:

▪ 13(1) states that employees must receive a rest period of one day in every seven days.
– Not practical for this sector due to remote locations.
– Typical work schedules in this sector are 15 days on / 4 or 5 or 6 days off, or 21 days on / 5, 6 or 7 days off.

▪ 12(1) states that no employee shall be required to work more than 44 hours in any week, except in the case of emergency circumstances.
– With recent activity levels, labour shortages and work schedules this is not practical.

▪ 13.2(1) requires that employees have a period of eight consecutive hours of rest in any 24 hours, except in emergency circumstances.
– Nature of work on live wells means some services can take even longer than 24 hours.

▪ 6(2) states that employees who work more than eight hours in any day or 40 hours in any week shall be paid at the rate of time and one-half for each hour or part of an hour in excess of eight hours in any day or 40 hours in any week.
– Nature of work means some weeks very busy while others light.
– Proposal: Overtime is payable when hours of work exceed 12 in a day or 191 in a work month.

▪ 46(b) requires that no employer shall, unless authorized by the minister pay wages to employees later than the period during which the wages are earned.
– Oilfield services workers paid on ‘salary plus bonus’ system.
– ‘Bonus’ or ‘field pay’ based upon the work and revenue generated by the employer on each job and can only be determined once the job is complete and the customer agrees by paying the invoice.

And what’s PSAC’s solution? It told the sector team that the “desired outcome” is “harmonization across western provinces. (TILMA)”

The next Energy Sector Team meeting occurred on June 23, 2009, at the offices of the Petroleum Technology Resource Centre in Regina. It was at this meeting that members reviewed recommendations under consideration from the previous two meetings.

The minutes state that ten draft recommendations were developed during the meeting and were ready for due diligence review by Enterprise Saskatchewan. On the issue of harmonization the following two recommendations were made:

▪ That the province negotiate with other western provinces to harmonize labour, weights and dimensions, OH&S regulations, and trade certification with other jurisdictions.
▪ That the ES Board recommend to Cabinet that companies be given permits to move drilling rigs on Sundays.

Due diligence on the recommendations were to be completed “over the summer with the recommendations being presented for decision to the ES Board in the fall.”

It was noted that the chair, Mick MacBean, was “in contact with Premier Brad Wall” who is “hoping that he can move some issues forward and that action can be taken based on this Team’s work.”

MacBean and Wall both live in Swift Current, the premier’s hometown. On February 14, 2008, Wall appointed MacBean to the SaskPower board of directors. [Order in Council 52/2008]

SaskPower was named by the sector team on at least two occasions as being a barrier to development. Once for its “regulations” and the other through “increases in power costs – the monopoly does not provide for competition and choice.”

The minutes indicate that Enterprise Saskatchewan was expected to complete a review of harmonization issues in time for the sector team’s next meeting, which was scheduled for September 2, 2009, in Regina.

TILMA and its offspring the Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA) being negotiated between British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan loom large.

On December 18, 2009, Enterprise Saskatchewan released the board’s most recent progress report covering the period from April 1, 2009, to September 30, 2009.

The board received presentations and recommendations from several sector teams and strategic issues councils but strangely energy was not among them.

The report notes that prior to meeting with the Alberta and British Columbia cabinets on September 11, 2009, Premier Wall asked the ES Board for opinions about the new partnership.

“The Board expressed its support for the WEP. The agreement aligns with what the ES Board is promoting by removing barriers to trade and making Saskatchewan businesses more competitive,” the report states.

Since forming government in November 2007, the Saskatchewan Party has spent an inordinate amount of time attacking labour with various pieces of legislation designed to appease business and weaken the influence of unions in the province.

WEPA takes the fight one step further by going after government measures in all economic sectors such as standards and regulations that some claim are creating unnecessary barriers to trade. Through the sector teams the Wall government is allowing the private sector to determine what those barriers are and is refusing to let the people of Saskatchewan see the agreement before it’s signed – just like former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and BC Premier Gordon Campbell did with TILMA in April 2006.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Mendel board chair Art Knight failing to answer questions; City refusing access to steering committee minutes and Mayor Don Atchison’s daily planner

Letter from Mendel board chair Art Knight, Dec. 14, 2009

For the past nine months the Mendel Art Gallery and the City of Saskatoon have operated under extreme secrecy about the process behind the decision to move the gallery to River Landing by keeping an iron grip on information, through endless denials of requests for records, censoring/redacting documents, or simply refusing to answer questions.

A recent example of this appalling behaviour comes courtesy of Mendel board chair Art Knight.

On December 6, 2009, a letter was sent to Knight asking four simple questions about comments attributed to him by the media following his November 30, 2009, presentation to city council; and, also about the four-page colour brochure that was distributed at the April 3, 2009, press conference announcing the new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan in which he was a participant. The questions were:

1) Who advised the Mendel that its renovation plan “wasn’t going to fly” and when was the advice given?

2) What were the time constraints that forced the Mendel “to make the decision to make use of the federal money” and who imposed them?

3) What is the exact date of the brochure and who was the author?

4) What date did the Mendel, the city, the provincial and federal governments “come to the conclusion that a new building” was needed and which federal officials were involved in reaching that decision?

Knight responded in a letter dated December 14, 2009, stating:
“This is to acknowledge your letter of December 6, 2009.

“I can advise that the Mendel Art Gallery provided City Council with all the information it wished.

“Furthermore, I wish to inform you that I will not enter into further correspondence with you in this matter.”
Knight failed to answer any questions and appears to have no intention of doing so. The level of contempt and arrogance shown is breathtaking.

This is the second time the Mendel has refused to provide information. The gallery’s executive director and CEO, Vincent Varga, on April 9 and 23, 2009, denied requests for copies of the agenda and minutes for the board of trustees’ March 14, 2009, meeting. It was at that meeting that trustees approved in principle pursuing the construction of a new art gallery at River Landing.

The gallery is city owned and taxpayer funded. The city subsidy to the gallery in 2009 was $2.06-million and yet those in charge seem to think they are beyond the public’s reach and not obliged to answer questions or provide information.

Equally appalling is the city’s lack of openness and transparency.

On September 28, 2009, a freedom of information (FOI) request was submitted for copies of Mayor Don Atchison’s daily planner for the dates on which any meetings occurred in his office with representatives of the Mendel Art Gallery since December 1, 2008. The city clerk denied the request on December 4, 2009, stating: “My position is that daily planners are not a “record” of the municipality and are therefore not subject to the provisions of The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.”

An informal, follow-up request was made to the city on December 18, 2009, asking only for the dates of any meetings – not copies of any records. This request was turned down as well. In an email dated December 21, 2009, the city clerk informed: “You can always ask any department or office of the City for information, outside of the FOI process. However, in this case I took the liberty of checking with the Mayor’s Office as to whether they would be willing to respond to your question, and was advised that they would not.”

Evidence suggests that Atchison met with Mendel representatives more than once. In a letter dated March 6, 2009, Mendel board chair Art Knight and gallery CEO Vincent Varga request a meeting with the mayor and allude to an earlier one held in his office.

“Since our last meeting in your office the realities of the current global and national circumstances have changed significantly. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss in a realistic and pragmatic fashion how the Mendel can proceed with its rejuvenation and contribute to the aspirations of the City of Saskatoon at River Landing,” Knight and Varga said.

“We are anxious to meet with to seek your advice on how together we can deliver a renewed Art Gallery that furthers the future oriented vision for Saskatoon. We look forward to meeting with you at your convenience.”

Unfortunately, according to the city clerk’s December 4, 2009, letter, the mayor’s office has no written notes, minutes, memorandums or letters for any meetings between the parties making it impossible to know what was said or in what context. Also a mystery is whether Knight and Varga were directed by the Mendel board to seek a meeting with the mayor. If they were, the date of the board meeting where the issue was discussed has not been made public.

On December 1, 2009, an access to information request was submitted to the city for the following records:

1) Copies of the minutes to any Destination Centre Steering Committee meetings since its inception; and,

2) Copies of any reports prepared by the Destination Centre Steering Committee since its inception; and,

3) Copies of any city administrative reports received by the Destination Centre Steering Committee since its inception; and,

4) Copies of any correspondence, including attachments, between the City of Saskatoon and Lundholm Associates Architecture since September 1, 2009.

The city clerk advised on December 14, 2009, that the steering committee prepared no reports nor did it receive any from city administration.

With respect to correspondence between the city and Lundholm Associates Architects, the Toronto-based consultant hired by the city at a cost of up to $150,000 to prepare a functional program plan for the Destination Centre, the city is refusing to disclose the contents of four emails.

As for the minutes, the city clerk released the cover page for each meeting but severed the bodies of the minutes, which amount to 16-pages of information that is being withheld.

At its January 14, 2008, meeting, city council approved a River Landing Destination Centre Consultation Process that included establishing a volunteer steering committee “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, council appointed 13 individuals to the River Landing Destination Centre Steering Committee, including Mendel board chair Art Knight, Meewasin Valley Authority CEO Susan Lamb, and Persephone Theatre president Nicki Kiteley, all of whom appear to be in a conflict of interest given that their respective organizations have an interest in the outcome.

The steering committee met in secret a total of eight times: March 28, 2008; April 11, 2008; June 20, 2008; October 3, 2008; October 31, 2008; December 5, 2008; April 1, 2009; and, April 29, 2009.

It’s interesting to note that the committee’s first meeting was held before city council officially appointed the members. Furthermore, it wasn’t until November 30, 2009, that city council received a report from administration providing details of the committee’s deliberations – a full seven months after the committee’s final meeting.

Additionally, for the committee’s first six meetings Knight was listed as a representative of the Mendel Art Gallery. However, in the final two meetings he was identified as “a proponent only” representing the Saskatoon Gallery and Conservatory Corporation. In an email dated December 2, 2009, the city’s special projects manager, Sandi Schultz, refused to provide the date on which the Mendel became a proponent saying the “details of the Steering Committee meetings are confidential.”

In the report to council, administration also states: “The Steering Committee, during its first round of consideration, asked if there was interest from the Mendel Art Gallery and the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) in locating to the proposed Destination Centre. Both organizations indicated that they had no interest in relocating to the Destination Centre, but instead suggested that they preferred to renovate their existing spaces. However, the Art Gallery has reconsidered their earlier decision and approached the City in early 2009 regarding pursuit of construction of a new gallery at River Landing. The Mendel Art Gallery subsequently submitted a proposal to the Steering Committee for consideration.”

As mentioned earlier Mendel management and the city are refusing to disclose a significant number of records leaving the public with little choice but to condemn the process and view it as being untrustworthy.

The administrative report also notes that: “The Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) CEO confirmed that the MVA is interested in exploring, with the City, the opportunity to relocate the Meewasin Centre program to the Mendel Art Gallery location, should the space become available. The Administration, in a separate report, will identify for City Council resolution, the future use of the Mendel Art Gallery building and grounds.”

Several city council members have already voiced their support for the MVA relocating to the Mendel building once it’s vacated. In short the process appears to be a fait accompli and is just as dirty and suspect as the gallery’s situation.

On April 7, 2009, the StarPhoenix reported city councillor Darren Hill, a member of the Meewasin board, as saying that all four councillors on the Meewasin board (Mayor Don Atchison, Councillors Charlie Clark and Glen Penner) are in favour of moving to a vacated Mendel Art Gallery.

Hill estimated it would cost no more than $1 million to relocate and renovate the Mendel, plus around $2 million to set up exhibits in the interpretive centre. He also said the present building would likely be demolished if the MVA moves out. [MVA eyes Mendel site (StarPhoenix, April 7, 2009)]

At the provincial level, an access to information request was made to Saskatchewan Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport (TPCS) on September 25, 2009, for a number of records including copies of any briefing notes from May 1, 2009, to July 7, 2009, regarding the Mendel or proposed new Art Gallery of Saskatchewan.

On December 18, 2009, TPCS granted partial access to a four-page June 26, 2009, briefing note titled “Mendel Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan.” However, ministry staff heavily censored the record by redacting nearly three pages of information. Briefing notes are a key to understanding how and why decisions are made. The public is being denied this critical information.

And finally, on December 22, 2009, the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) issued the results of a review conducted on whether the Saskatoon Gallery and Conservatory Corporation (a.k.a. Mendel Art Gallery) is a ‘local authority’ for the purposes of The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The OIPC determined that the gallery is not a local authority and therefore is not subject to the province’s freedom of information legislation. Unfortunately, what this means is that the gallery is essentially free to hide as much information from the public as it pleases, which appears to be exactly what gallery officials are doing.

Letter to Mendel board chair Art Knight, Dec. 6, 2009

Letter from City Clerk re: Mayor's Daily Planner, Dec. 4, 2009

Email from City Clerk re: Mayor-Mendel meeting dates, Dec. 21, 2009

Letter from Knight and Varga to Mayor Atchison, Mar. 6, 2009

Letter from City Clerk re: Steering Committee, Dec. 14, 2009

Email from Special Projects Manager re: Mendel, Dec. 2, 2009

Destination Centre Steering Committee minutes, Mar. 28, 2008

Destination Centre Steering Committee minutes, Apr. 29, 2009

Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport briefing note, June 26, 2009

Letter from SK Information and Privacy Commissioner, Dec. 22, 2009