Wednesday, March 31, 2010

AEEL Minister Rob Norris brings shame to Saskatchewan by insulting United Nations International Labour Organization

StarPhoenix, Mar. 30, 2010

Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) Minister Rob Norris brought shame to Saskatchewan recently when he devalued and dismissed out-of-hand the ruling by a well respected United Nations agency that promotes social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights.

In June 2008, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), on behalf of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU/NUPGE), filed a complaint against the Saskatchewan Party government with the International Labour Organization (ILO) alleging that the Public Service Essential Services Act and changes to the Trade Union Act impede workers from exercising their fundamental right to freedom of association by making it more difficult for workers to join unions, engage in free collective bargaining and exercise their right to strike.

A similar complaint was also filed by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) on behalf of more than a dozen other unions in the province.

On March 25, 2010, the ILO, of which Canada is a founding member, issued a decision supporting the unions’ claims and makes six non-binding recommendations for appropriate action by the provincial government.

In its ruling, the ILO said it “expects” the Wall government “will ensure that the provincial authorities hold full and specific consultations with the relevant workers’ and employers’ organizations in the future at an early stage of considering the process of adoption of any legislation in the field of labour law so as to restore the confidence of the parties and truly permit the attainment of mutually acceptable solutions where possible.”

The agency “requests” that the Wall government “ensure that the provincial authorities take the necessary measures, in consultation with the social partners, to amend the Public Service Essential Services Act so as to ensure that the [Labour Relations Board] may examine all aspects relating to the determination of an essential service, in particular, the determination of the sectors in question, classification, number and names of workers who must provide services and act rapidly in the event of a challenge arising in the midst of a broader labour dispute.” The agency “further requests that the Public Service Essential Services Regulations, which sets out a list of prescribed essential services, be amended in consultation with the social partners. It requests the Government to provide information on the measures taken or envisaged in this respect.”

The ILO also wants the province “to amend the Trade Union Act so as to lower the requirement, set at 45 per cent, for the minimum number of employees expressing support for a trade union in order to begin the process of a certification election.”

The Wall government has been instructed to keep the ILO informed of the progress it makes in implementing the recommendations.

The ILO Governing Body approved the recommendations (contained in the 356th Report of the Committee on Freedom of Association) in their entirety at its meeting held March 24, 2010, in Geneva.

The ILO is the only ‘tripartite’ United Nations agency in that it brings together representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programmes.

On March 29, 2010, the SFL held a press conference at the Delta Regina where labour leaders commented on the ILO ruling.

According to the StarPhoenix, SFL president Larry Hubich said he was “pleasantly surprised” at the depth and strength of the decision.

“It vindicates the position we’ve been advocating. We expect the government will comply with the recommendations and request of the ILO.”

If the government does not comply with the recommendations, Hubich said the SFL has every intention of proceeding with a court case it began filing last year.

“I think responsible governments are governments that pay attention to these international organizations,” said Hubich. [ILO finds province’s labour laws lacking (StarPhoenix, March 30, 2010)]

As for AEEL Minister Rob Norris, it seems he felt the best way to handle the situation was by insulting the ILO and embarrass Saskatchewan with immature comments.

“This is non-binding and certainly I don’t think this is some of the best work from the ILO,” Norris said.

Norris says the recommendations made by the ILO, which was founded in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles and became the first specialized agency of the UN in 1946, “will not force a change in the legislation.”

“The ILO has offered an opinion that’s non-binding,” he said. “The analysis is incomplete. Certainly from where we stand we have every confidence in both our essential services legislation and the amendments to the Trade Union Act.” [Province Will Ignore International Labour Ruling (NewsTalk 650, March 29, 2010)]

Why Norris thinks the ILO analysis is lacking has not been explained.

The ILO report notes that the Wall government made two submissions to the agency in its defense: February 11, 2009, and October 15, 2009.

The Committee on Freedom of Association uses four pages in its report to quote extensively from these communications. In the unions’ case it used six pages. If Norris is looking for someone to blame for his ministry’s failure to sway the ILO with a stronger case he should look in the mirror. From the outset Norris didn’t appear to take the process very seriously.

In June 2008, when the Leader-Post first reported that NUPGE was going to file a complaint against the Wall government with the United Nations, Norris said the government would provide, if asked to do so, a submission to the ILO. But he suggested the matter “is probably not top of mind for activities of that organization.”

“We have every confidence that the labour legislation that’s been passed is constitutional, that it’s fair and balanced and really reflects some of the best practices from across Canada,” Norris said. [Union files complaint against Sask. labour legislation (Leader-Post, June 12, 2008)]

So Norris was prepared to participate, but only if asked to do so. That’s how much stock he put into the process.

On February 5, 2009, the Leader-Post reported that NUPGE were accusing “the provincial government of holding up the process.”

The unions said that “they recently learned the ILO had not received a response from the Saskatchewan government as of early November.”

The newspaper said the Saskatchewan Party government dismissed the union’s argument as a “red herring.”

AEEL Minister Rob Norris said he “challenged the assumption” made by the unions. The province is working as planned with the Government of Canada, which actually makes the submission to the ILO, he said.

“We’re not holding up the work of the ILO,” Norris said. “Our submission is going to go forward in 2009. We said that all the way along.” [ILO ruling still pending (Leader-Post, February 5, 2009)]

The Wall government’s first submission to the ILO was dated February 11, 2009 – six days after the story was published.

It’s interesting that Norris should mention the federal government because in a speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce on January 7, 2008, the former Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, spoke highly of the ILO and Canada’s role as a member.

“Through our membership in international organizations and in our bilateral relations with key partner countries, Canada actively works to ensure respect for internationally-recognized labour principles,” Blackburn told the audience.

“It is for this reason that Canada plays a leadership role in the International Labour Organization –the ILO—the UN specialized agency that advances internationally recognized labour rights. The ILO sets international labour standards and promotes decent work globally. It has a structure that is unique in multilateral organizations in that it brings together representatives of government, workers and employers to shape joint policies and programmes. Canadian governments, employer and worker representatives have long played important roles at the ILO.

“Fostering commitment to human rights, freedom, democracy and the rule of law are not only important ends in themselves, but crucial elements in creating security, stability and prosperity. The establishment of labour standards through the ILO and their effective enforcement are key to achieving this goal.”

On March 29, 2010, NUPGE president James Clancy called on the province and the Harper government in Ottawa to respond quickly to the U.N. agency’s decision.

“The ILO’s ruling is very troubling for both Saskatchewan and for Ottawa,” Clancy says. “It damages the human rights reputation of both the province and the Canadian government.”

Clancy urged Saskatchewan not to ignore the ILO or to try to avoid taking the corrective actions proposed by the United Nations body.

Canada has undertaken as a country to uphold the UN conventions it has signed over the years. In the case of this contravention of those obligations, the ILO has asked that it be regularly updated on the steps taken to implement its recommendations,” Clancy noted.

“The National Union will continue to monitor every aspect of this troubling case. We will not rest until corrective action is taken and the government of Saskatchewan demonstrates respect for the basic human rights of working people in the province.”

Unless the Harper government acts it too will be guilty of bringing shame not only to Saskatchewan, but to all of Canada.

ILO Report issued Mar. 25, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

2010-11 budget shows Wall government turning CPSP licensing and inspection functions over to arms-length Delegated Administrative Organization

Corrections, Public Safety and Policing 2010-11 Plan, p. 5

Corrections, Public Safety and Policing 2010-11 Plan, p. 13

The Wall government’s road to privatization has cut a path through the licensing and inspections branch of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing (CPSP).

The ministry’s plan for 2010-11, released with the provincial budget on March 24, 2010, contains strategies and actions that will be pursued in the upcoming year, measures to gauge the ministry’s progress, and a financial summary.

According to the report, one of CPSP’s “key” actions this year will be to: “Establish a legislative framework for the delivery of services through delegation of program delivery, with government retaining responsibility for policy and legislation.”

Buried on the last page under ‘Highlights’ the plan states: “The Ministry will see a service funding reduction of $1.6 million from the Licensing and Inspections Branch for establishment of an arms-length Delegated Administrative Organization to deliver the licensing and inspection functions for boiler and pressure vessel, amusement park rides, and elevators. The Ministry will retain the responsibility for legislation and regulation of these technologies.”

The 2010-11 estimates show that $1.667 million is being allocated to licensing and inspections this year, down from $3.260 million in 2009-10. [Estimates, Corrections, Public Safety and Policing, Vote 72, Public Safety (CP06), p. 43]

And finally, the budget summary document provides the Saskatchewan Party government’s justification for the move: “Effective July 1, 2010, boiler and pressure vessel, elevator, and amusement ride licensing and inspection services will move from the Ministry of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing (CPSP) to a delegated administrative agency.

“This move will allow these services to be provided in a more flexible manner, adapting to industry demand for licensing and inspection services. Costs will be recovered on a fee-for-service basis. Legislative and regulatory authority will remain with CPSP.” [Budget Summary, p. 24]

The name of the agency that will be doing the work is not mentioned.

In October 2009, the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) posted a news bulletin on its website warning that the Wall government was considering handing the responsibility for these duties over to private interests.

SGEU subsequently launched a public awareness campaign to let the people of Saskatchewan know what was happening and what was at stake.

The provincial government “is proposing to move safety inspections from the public service to a Delegated Authority. This new authority would be governed by a board of directors that would include industry representation,” the SGEU said.

“The public has not been made aware of any plans to shift responsibility for safety inspections from public to private hands. Industry has been consulted, but the people of the province have been left in the dark.”

SGEU says that industry self-regulation too often means lower standards, inadequate reporting, limited monitoring and reduced compliance. The union would also like to know if the provincial auditor and ombudsman will have powers to oversee operations and address problems, and whether freedom of information and privacy protection rules that apply to government ministries will apply to the Delegated Authority. Good questions. Unfortunately, the budget documents don’t answer them.

2010-11 Budget Summary, p. 24

2010-11 Estimates, p. 43

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lake Placid CEO flip-flops interest in new RFP; City administration dragging its feet; Nasser financial commitment seems murky, halfhearted

Manlio Marescotti, Karim Nasser, and Michael Lobsinger,
in council chambers Mar. 22, 2010
(Photo by Richard Marjan, SP)

‘Developers tout plan; River Landing Village could be ready for 2013, Lobsinger says’ was the headline in the StarPhoenix on March 23, 2010. What it should have said, though, was ‘Developers seek special treatment; Lobsinger, Nasser say no to new RFP, want council to ignore previous decision.’

The River Landing Parcel “Y” soap opera was back at city council on March 22, 2010. Participating in the latest embarrassing installment was Lake Placid Developments CEO Michael Lobsinger, Karim Nasser, a director of Victory Majors Investments Corporation, and Manlio Marescotti, vice-president of lodging development for Marriott Canada, a potential anchor tenant.

Lobsinger and Nasser, according to the StarPhoenix, have “signed a partnership” to build the riverfront hotel-condo-office-retail project “contingent on city hall reviving” Lake Placid’s sales agreement that expired October 30, 2009.

“We could complete (this project) in its entirety within 36 to 38 months,” said Lobsinger.

Both parties told reporters after the meeting they are not interested in participating with other developers in a request for proposals, which city administration was working to get in front of councillors on April 19, the StarPhoenix said.

“Am I interested in another (request for proposals)?” Lobsinger said. “No I am not. The process that it took me to get approval was 30 months. . . . We’re ready to get going literally in May. We can start now instead of two years from now.”

Lobsinger appears to be flip-flopping from what he told the city’s executive committee on November 23, 2009.

The StarPhoenix reported at the time that Lobsinger “indicated he would enter another bid if another request is sent out by the city.”

“Would I come back? Absolutely. I’ve spent 32 months on this project.” [Lake Placid finds some support (StarPhoenix, November 24, 2009)]

Why is Lobsinger now backing away from participating in another RFP? Perhaps it’s because Nasser wants no part of one.

Chris Carr of NewsTalk 980 radio reported Nasser saying he’s not interested in going through a request for proposals process, if that is the route city council decides to take.

“I think it’s wonderful to be able to proceed with it. If we want to go beyond that, it takes a long time, and I don’t know whether I am interested myself to start something new like that,” said Nasser. [Hope Revived (NewsTalk 980, March 18, 2010)]

So Nasser’s interest seems to be halfhearted and is basically saying that it’s his way or the highway.

Furthermore, the level of Nasser’s financial commitment to the project seems to be a little murky.

Nasser recently told CBC News he is prepared to write Saskatoon a cheque for $5 million, to keep the project moving.

“We would be very happy to pay them the money that they need right away,” Nasser said. “And we will proceed and complete the project within a certain period of time.” [New investor attached to River Landing development (CBC News, March 19, 2010)]

Nasser’s cheque would cover the outstanding balance owing on Parcel “Y” and the adjacent lane, but what about the $250 million needed for the project? Is Nasser prepared to guarantee that? Someone has to since Lobsinger doesn’t appear to have the financing.

On November 23, Lobsinger told the executive committee he was “one signature away” from transferring the funds necessary to complete the project. In other words, he still didn’t have the money. This was one month after the October deadline.

According to the StarPhoenix nothing has changed since then. When asked on March 23 “about the elusive signature” the developer said it was “not an issue for the public.”

“Nothing has happened, I’m one signature away,” he said. [Developers tout plan (StarPhoenix, March 23, 2010)]

And then there is city administration who seem to be dragging their feet getting the updated RFP into council’s hands.

At its November 23 meeting, the executive committee considered a report by city manager Murray Totland recommending: “that the Executive Committee recommend to City Council that the Administration be authorized to consolidate Parcel “Y” with the land adjacent to Parcel “Y” and proceed to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) with a fixed purchase price based on an updated appraisal value.”

The committee resolved: “that the matter be referred back to the Administration for a report regarding the current appraised value of the land, together with possible alterations to the RFP and to the DCD1 Guidelines.”

City officials said the process “will likely take three months.” [Lake Placid finds some support (StarPhoenix, November 24, 2009)]

It appears the new RFP should have been ready by February 22 and is nearly two months late. It won’t get to council until April 19. Why the delay?

On March 22, city council directed administration to report back on April 12 on the financials of the Lake Placid and Victory Majors deal – conveniently one week before the RFP is tabled. Council is expected to decide at the meeting whether to enter into negotiations with the developers.

Councillors Dubois, Heidt, Hill, Lorje, Neault, Paulsen, Pringle, and Wyant voted in favour of the motion, while Councillor Clark voted against. Councillor Penner, who was absent from the meeting, has stated in the past that he supports reopening negotiations with Lake Placid.

Forgotten in all this is council’s August 19, 2009, resolution that there would be no more chances for Lake Placid. In a recorded vote, Mayor Don Atchison and Councillors Dubois, Heidt, Neault, Penner, Pringle, and Wyant voted in favour of the following motion:

1) that the Amending Agreement to the Memorandum of Agreement for the sale of Parcel Y, River Landing, and the Sale Agreement for the Lane Adjacent to Parcel Y, which provides for extension of the Construction Requirement to June 30, 2010, be further amended to:

a) extend the time for payment of the balance of the Purchase Price for each of Parcel Y and the Lane to 5:00 p.m., October 30, 2009, provided that all interest accrued under both Agreements, totalling $214,197.19, is paid on August 31, 2009; and

b) provide for termination of each Agreement in the event that either payment referred to in a) is not received.

On October 30, 2009, just two days after the civic election, Atchison issued a news release reaffirming council’s August 19 decision. By mid-November, however, the mayor and several councillors were publicly declaring their support for reopening negotiations with Lake Placid.

Not only has city council disgraced itself and made a mockery of the process, so have city administrators.

After all, it was administration that recommended the firm deadline in the first place. In a report to council on August 19 the city manager said: “if payment of the full balances owing under each agreement is not received by 5:00 p.m. on October 30, 2009, both agreements would also be at an end without a further resolution of Council.”

However, in the StarPhoenix that same day, city manager Murray Totland said he was “hopeful” that Lake Placid would get its finances in order.

“I think it’s in our best interest for the city for this deal to proceed.” [City meets with Lake Placid (StarPhoenix, August 19, 2009)]

Then, on November 15, 2009, the day before Lobsinger was scheduled to address council, Totland said “it would be a pleasant circumstance” if Lobsinger were to come to council with funding in place.

“We’ve supported their development and we still believe a Lake Placid-like development would be a good one for River Landing,” he said. [Lake Placid comes back (StarPhoenix, November 16, 2009)]

On November 20, 2009, the StarPhoenix confirmed that “the city’s administration would support” selling the land directly to the developer “to avoid a potential funding shortfall and mill rate hit for the year-to-year operation” of the River Landing project. [Open bids recommended for River Landing site (StarPhoenix, November 20, 2009)]

From Day One city council and administration have bent over backwards to accommodate the developer, showing nothing but favouritism. It’s no surprise that the mayor and the majority of council are willing to sell out even further by betraying their August 19 decision. Council, you see, has nothing left to lose. It bankrupted itself long ago of any integrity or credibility on the River Landing file.


Recent River Landing posts

November 25, 2009:
River Landing farce continues as city committee gives Lake Placid ‘unofficial’ extension; Coun. Glen Penner set to betray Aug. 19 vote on deadline

November 19, 2009:
Mayor Don Atchison should explain nature of relationship with Lake Placid CEO Michael Lobsinger; City administration flip-flops on Parcel “Y”

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”

Friday, March 19, 2010

RCMP VIP Security inflates Harper protest numbers; details of incident outside Bessborough Hotel wildly exaggerated

At the public portion of its March 18, 2010, meeting, the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners received a report by Chief Clive Weighill containing several letters of appreciation and recognition to the Saskatoon Police Service.

One of the letters, dated February 16, was from RCMP VIP Security in Regina thanking the police service for providing security during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Saskatoon on February 5, 2010.

The letter from Sgt. Robert Pilon and Supt. Jim Templeton starts off well but quickly goes off the rails when it becomes apparent that the main reason for Saskatoon police involvement was not to protect the prime minister from harm so much as it was to shield him from being embarrassed by protesters.

The officers make matters worse when they inflate the number of protesters that attended the event and wildly exaggerate the details of an incident that occurred outside a downtown hotel.

“The Patrol Officers for this visit were Cst. Casselman, Cst. Buchholz, Cst. Shirran and Cst. MacKenzie. When the 100 protesters rushed the front doors of the Bessborough Hotel, the Patrol Officers responded quickly and ensured the protesters did not gain access,” Pilon and Templeton said in their two-page letter.

“This was a visit where the Prime Minister could have been embarrassed or even harmed due to the actions by the protesters.”

According to the StarPhoenix, approximately 75 people attended the noon hour protest, mostly members of the Saskatoon chapter of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP). RCMP ordered the group to remain across the street from the hotel.

At 1:30 p.m. about 30 to 40 of the demonstrators walked across the street and attempted to enter the hotel peacefully. Nobody “rushed the front doors.”

Hotel staff and RCMP stopped the group from entering. One of the protesters asked to speak with the prime minister. The request was ignored.

Four patrol officers soon arrived and asked the crowd to disperse because they were blocking the doors. The protesters complied. There was no violence, threats or yelling.

Harper was in town to meet with Premier Brad Wall and to attend regional caucus and business roundtable meetings at the Bessborough Hotel. In the evening he was joined by Wayne Gretzky for the Kinsmen Annual Sports Celebrity Dinner at TCU Place.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Harper’s visit was a public event, but the public wasn’t permitted near him. Security personnel were stationed at every hotel entrance.

Harper arrived under police escort in a convoy of dark blue sedans that parked behind the hotel. The protesters did not get to speak with Harper.

CBC News interviewed Chief Weighill on March 18, 2010, after the police service was criticized for trying to protect the prime minister from potential embarrassment during the protest. Some questioned whether that’s the job of the police.

Weighill said Saskatoon police don’t want people to get too close.

“Our job is to prevent anybody who wants to exercise their freedom of speech not to get too close to a VIP,” he said. “That’s all our job is.”

When asked how close was too close, Weighill responded, “Within arm’s-reach or possible harm’s reach.” [Saskatoon police kept PM from being ‘embarrassed’ (CBC News, March 18, 2010)]

No one had to worry about that on February 5 because law enforcement made sure that protesters couldn’t see Harper let alone be at arm’s length from him.

Local police and RCMP may have spared the prime minister some grief. However, the mere the fact that dozens of people cared enough to protest while Harper hid out in a hotel refusing to meet with them guaranteed embarrassment nonetheless.

Because of the RCMP letter the StarPhoenix revealed for the first time that when Harper, a notorious control freak, met at the hotel with Premier Brad Wall during his stop in Saskatoon he “answered a handful of preapproved questions from local media.” [Police protected PM from ‘embarrassment’ (StarPhoenix, March 18, 2010)]

Now, how pathetic is that?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saskatchewan Health briefing note biased in favour of SAHO in contract talks with health care provider unions

The province’s health care provider unions have their work cut out for them in trying to secure new collective agreements.

Not only do they have to deal with the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) – representing health-care employers – and its political master, the anti-worker Saskatchewan Party government. They now have to contend with what appears to be pro-SAHO reporting by Health Ministry bureaucrats.

At issue is a briefing note prepared by the ministry’s policy and planning branch on December 2, 2009, entitled: SAHO proposes the introduction of a conciliator in health provider bargaining. The document is blatantly one sided, often casting the unions in a negative light, and makes little attempt to present a balanced view.

The two-page record was obtained through a freedom of information request made January 29, 2010, for copies of any briefing notes since October 1, 2009, regarding the contract negotiations between SAHO and the health care provider unions (CUPE, SEIU, and SGEU).

The ministry responded March 5, 2010, disclosing two records totaling three pages. In a subsequent email the ministry advised that an additional 8 records totaling 17 pages were being withheld in their entirety. In other words, the Wall government is refusing to release them.

The December 2 briefing note provides a timeline of significant collective bargaining events beginning on September 22, 2009, with SAHO’s tabling of an initial monetary offer to the provider unions at a common table “that contained market adjustments for specific classifications and a general wage increase totaling 9.25% over four years.”

Ministry officials neglected to mention that, according to a CUPE Health Care Council bargaining update (#16), when CUPE, SEIU and SGEU representatives met with SAHO’s chief negotiator to receive the initial monetary proposal they were told it was “all or nothing.”

Furthermore, the monetary offer was “tied to accepting the Employers’ concessions including multi-site work, limitations on bumping, making you pay for their mistakes, disabled workers losing rights to re-employment, elimination of 3rd weekend overtime payments and major concessions to home care workers.” [CUPE Health Care Council Bargaining Update #16 – September 22/09]

The briefing note states that on October 16, 2009, SAHO tabled “a second comprehensive package proposal” which included all of the proposals in the initial offer, as well as additional market adjustments for specific classifications.

The ministry failed to acknowledge that, according to the CUPE Health Care Council, SAHO refused “to discuss other monetary issues in our package without our agreement on take-aways. In other words, SAHO is insisting that we sell the house, but they won’t tell us the purchase price.”

The union coalition provided SAHO with a proposal document which included all bargaining proposals that are common to the three provider unions. However, “SAHO flatly rejected this package on [October 16] and tabled a revised “all or nothing” package that made very minor progress by expanding the classifications for market adjustments.” [CUPE Health Care Council Bargaining Update #17 – October 16/09]

The briefing note states that on October 30, 2009, CUPE requested that SAHO drop all items in exchange for CUPE doing the same. SAHO refused this offer as it created significant risk for the employer and would not support reaching a collective agreement with all of the provider unions.

What CUPE made was an offer, not a demand or a request. This offer was made on October 28, not the 30th. SAHO considered the proposal, which included both sides proceeding to the coalition table, for less than two-days before rejecting it. [CUPE Health Care Council Bargaining Update #18 – October 30/09]

The briefing note states that on November 4, 2009, SAHO sent a written request to the provider unions seeking confirmation of additional common table dates. A response was not received until November 13, 2009.

Yes, so? Those nine days are nothing compared to the near 18 months of stalling that the health care provider unions had to endure after their collective agreements expired before SAHO finally tabled an initial monetary offer on September 22, 2009. During those months SAHO repeatedly refused requests by the unions to move to a common table.

The briefing note states that the provider unions rejected the employer’s most recent proposal on November 26, 2009, and “tabled a counter-offer with SAHO the following day. The counter-offer included a general wage increase of 5% per year over 3 years.”

The counter-offer submitted by the unions was “an initial monetary proposal,” not a final offer. It was presented “in addition” to the tri-union’s October 16 proposal, which includes parity issues, market adjustments and retention/recruitment initiatives among other items.

It should be noted that the unions requested data from SAHO so as to enable them to make a further proposal in respect to market adjustments. “[SAHO] refused to share their research data – therefore we are required to do our own,” a coalition communiqué said. [Coalition Bargaining Communiqué #1, November 26, 2009]

The unions issued another communiqué the following day indicating that on November 26, “SAHO returned to the table at 2:35 p.m. and provided an amendment to their October 16 proposal document. The single change to SAHO’s initial general wage increase offer is a meager 0.15% increase in the fourth year only. Their document included certain amendments to each Union in respect to individual language related issues and primarily in respect to their ‘rollbacks’.”

The unions asked SAHO to deliver the following message to the Saskatchewan Party government: ‘How is it that patients will come first when you continue to put health care providers last?’

SAHO provided a response the following day. The lead negotiator said, “Our proposal is not about valuing our employees”. [Coalition Bargaining Communique #2, November 27, 2009]

Ministry officials included none of this important information in the briefing note.

The briefing note states: “On December 1, 2009, the unions launched advertising that significantly misrepresented comments made by the employers’ negotiating committee. This move raised concerns by SAHO that the unions would continue to mislead the public, and in doing so hinder efforts to reach a collective agreement.”

It would appear that the Health Ministry obtained this information from SAHO’s Dec. 1 news release.

Neither SAHO’s news release nor the ministry’s briefing note explains how the unions “significantly misrepresented” comments made by the employers’ negotiating committee.

The union coalition issued a communiqué on December 1, 2009, that states, in part:

“The three Health Provider Unions attempted to meet with representatives of SAHO, the Regional Health Authorities and the Government on December 1 in Saskatoon. At 10:50 a.m. SAHO advised the Unions that they will no longer meet face-to-face with the Union Committee. SAHO was upset about our newspaper ad in the December 1 edition of both the Star-Phoenix and the Leader-Post. SAHO stated that they will be requesting the services of a conciliator and that the Unions would be receiving a copy of their letter of request. At this point, they left the room.

“It would appear that SAHO has abandoned the bargaining process. SAHO alleges that the Unions lack integrity – because the Unions used a direct quote from the SAHO lead negotiator in our newspaper ad. When challenged with the truth – SAHO chose to walk away from the process.

“We were not given an opportunity to respond to the SAHO allegations.” [Coalition Bargaining Communiqué #3, December 1, 2009]

The parties had only met eight times (about four hours in face to face discussions) at a common bargaining table to discuss monetary issues before SAHO pulled the plug and walked away. [Tri-union news release, December 2, 2009]

Naturally, the majority of this information never made it into the briefing note. The same goes for any discussion about the radio and newspaper ads that SAHO had been running up to that point.

Briefing notes are meant to inform a decision maker about an issue. It’s reasonable to expect that they be accurate and include both sides of the debate, which in this case didn’t happen. The document prepared by the Health Ministry seems heavily biased in favour of SAHO. And this is only one briefing note. How many more are out there just like it?

Health care provider unions ad, StarPhoenix, Dec. 1, 2009, p. A4

Monday, March 15, 2010

Saskatchewan Party’s tasteless 9/11 ‘pig roast’ poster story reaches Australia; Editorial boards silent, give Wall, Heppner and Gorelitza free pass

New York Post, Mar. 11, 2010

It’s not every day that news from Saskatchewan reaches the other side of the world.

But a Saskatchewan Party constituency association poster exploiting the 9/11 tragedy for its own fundraising purposes did the trick when it caught the attention of news agencies on the afternoon of March 10, 2010. Within 48 hours the story was in Melbourne, Australia, some 14,400 kilometers away, home of the country’s largest-selling newspaper, The Herald Sun. ‘Burning Twin Towers used in pig roast ad,’ the embarrassing headline read.

The ad in question was produced by the Saskatchewan Party in Martensville, just north of Saskatoon, to promote the constituency association’s 2nd Annual Spring Fundraising Dinner on April 10, 2010 in Hepburn. For $50.00 guests could enjoy a “pig roast dinner” and listen to guest speaker Chief Richard Picciotto, the highest-ranking firefighter rescued from the rubble after the towers collapsed.

The background image on the poster shows WTC 2, or the South Tower, exploding into flames moments after United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into it on September 11, 2009.

The Globe and Mail was among the first to report the story soon after the poster started appearing on political blogs.

“Using that image to do political fundraising is tasteless and lacks judgment,” said Dwain Lingenfelter, leader of the opposition NDP. “It lacks common decency and humanity.”

An organizer whose phone number appears on the poster, Rick Gorelitza, told the Globe he doesn’t see anything wrong with using the 9/11 image.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “It was discussed for quite some time. There’s always someone out there willing to kick up dust over nothing.” [Saskatchewan cabinet minister ripped for 9/11 image on fundraiser poster (Globe and Mail, March 10, 2010)]

That nothing quickly turned into something ugly.

On the evening of March 10, 2010, the StarPhoenix reported that Premier Brad Wall and one of top ministers had apologized.

Wall said he hadn’t seen the flyer, but he admitted there may be an issue of “juxtaposition.”

“I don’t think there was anything intended there,” Wall told reporters. “If anybody found that offensive, then I apologize to them because that would neither be the intent of it, and neither would it be the intent of the party.”

Environment Minister Nancy Heppner, the MLA for Martensville, said the picture was chosen solely because of its connection to Picciotto.

“His story exists because of what he went through on 9/11,” she said. “It was not chosen with any malicious intent or it was never our intention to appear insensitive or offend anybody.”

Heppner said she approved the flyer without even thinking there would be any problem with it.

“It would make me feel horrible if anyone was offended by this; that was never our intention, and if anybody is, I would obviously apologize for it,” said Heppner. [Premier apologizes for pig-roast flyer with 9/11 photo (StarPhoenix, March 10, 2010)]

In a follow-up story, the Globe described Heppner’s apology as “tepid.”

The newspaper said the flyer “was distributed door-to-door” in the Martensville riding and that members of Heppner’s constituency association designed the poster and asked for her approval before they began distributing it.

“I saw it before it went out and because this is [Mr. Picciotto’s] story, I didn’t see a problem with it at the time,” Heppner said. “I’ve seen Mr. Picciotto’s presentation before and he uses a similar image. The thinking was that if he’s using this as a part of his presentation it would be okay.” [Politician apologizes for 9/11 gaffe (Globe and Mail, March 11, 2010)]

The poster, Heppner’s lukewarm apology, and Gorelitza’s stubborn defiance, didn’t go over well in the Big Apple.

“A cadre of small-town Canadian politicos is standing by its invitation to a “pig roast” fundraiser that depicts the fiery moments after United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the World Trade Center South Tower,” said New York Post reporter Chuck Bennett.

Bennett reported that both Picciotto and the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) denounced the use of 9/11 imagery as in “bad taste,” but the pig roast organizers “were not deterred.”

“An apology? No, I don’t think we are the ones offending people,” Gorelitza told the Post.

“People should be offended, but they should be offended by the terrorists who committed such a heinous act and took so many souls that day,” added Gorelitza.

Gorelitza blamed the Saskatchewan NDP, which just lost an election [more than two years ago] in the oil-rich western province, for the ruckus.

“The American people should be offended by a small, beat-up, NDP party whose only purposes is to get as much political mileage possible from this,” Gorelitza said.

Bennett then points out something that most observers seem to have overlooked, that Heppner [and Wall] stood by the poster only if “somebody is offended.”

According to Bennett the FDNY, however, did not agree.

“The FDNY hopes that no one ever forgets what happened on September 11th,” said spokesman Frank Dwyer. “However, we do think the use of images of the attacks for political or monetary gain, like the image on this poster, is in bad taste.”

Likewise Picciotto, who charges between $10,000 and $20,000 per speech and is being paid for his Saskatchewan appearance, said he was taken aback.

“It was inappropriate without a doubt,” he said. “They wanted me to talk about September 11 and they bundled it with a fundraiser and with a pig roast. It wasn’t too bright on someone’s part.”

However, Picciotto confirmed he’s still speaking at the event. [Canadian lawmakers won’t apologize for Twin Tower ‘pig roast’ flier (New York Post, March 11, 2010)]

The New York Magazine wasn’t impressed either, stating “there are innumerable things you could put on an invite to a pig roast that would make people think, I am definitely going to this thing! The Saskatchewan party is awesome! Conversely , there are only a handful of things that you would not want to put on the invite, one of them of course being a heavily loaded image of fiery human death and destruction at the hands of terrorists. The Saskatchewan Party, somehow, made the exact wrong choice.” [Saskatchewan Party Does Not Know How to Get People Excited About a Party (New York Magazine, March 11, 2010)]

Back in Saskatchewan, the editorial boards of the province’s largest newspapers – the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, Prince Albert Daily Herald, and Moose Jaw Times-Herald – have inexplicably given Wall, Heppner and Gorelitza a free pass. The conservative friendly newspapers haven’t uttered a word since the embarrassing incident made headlines. Had this involved an NDP constituency association you can bet the coverage would have been far more intense.

New York Magazine, Mar. 11, 2010

The Herald Sun, Melbourne, Australia, Mar. 12, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Harper government spending at least $39 million taxpayer dollars on partisan advertising for Economic Action Plan

Full-page ad promoting Economic Action Plan,
StarPhoenix, Mar. 5, 2010

Treasury Board table showing initial $34 million
Economic Action Plan advertising spending

A story that’s getting little press coverage is the Harper government’s determination to blow tens of millions of taxpayer dollars flogging its Economic Action Plan (EAP).

The Treasury Board in the first quarter of 2009-10 approved the allocation of $65.4 million to various departments and agencies to spend on advertising. The department’s website shows that $34 million of this was used to promote the EAP:

▪ Canada Revenue Agency – $7 million
▪ Finance Canada – $12 million (includes $2 million for website)
▪ Human Resources and Skills Development Canada – $7 million
▪ Infrastructure Canada – $8 million

The Globe and Mail reported on March 3, 2010, that the Harper government poured an additional $5 million into the pot bringing the total spent so far on advertising to $39 million – a 15 percent increase. At least two departments received some of this extra money: Finance Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. [Tories give $5-million bump to stimulus ads (Globe and Mail, March 3, 2010)]

In days immediately following Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s tabling of Budget 2010 on March 4, full-page ads promoting the EAP began appearing in major newspapers across the country. The list includes: Victoria Times-Colonist, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, Winnipeg Free Press, Windsor Star, London Free Press, Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Montreal Gazette, Cape Breton Post (Sydney), and The Telegram in St. John’s.

The advertising campaign, which also includes TV, radio and billboards, has faced harsh criticism from the outset.

In September 2009, the Canadian Press (CP) revealed that the Harper government was spending more than five times as many taxpayer dollars on promoting its economic plan than it was on informing Canadians about the H1N1 virus and how to avoid infection.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said it had a total marketing budget of just $6.5 million to raise public awareness about the flu pandemic.

The CP contacted the four federal departments receiving EAP advertising funds but all inquiries were directed to the Privy Council Office (PCO), the non-partisan bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

PCO failed to respond to a written list of questions from the CP over a three-day period the previous week. [Tories spend 5 times more on economy ads than H1N1 ads (The Canadian Press, September 20, 2009)]

Three weeks later the CP published a story saying the PCO has never been comfortable administering the website for the EAP. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was informed of its misgivings at the time of the January 2009 federal budget.

“Those misgivings were heard, but overruled,” the CP said.

Both PCO and the PMO vigorously denied the story – even though the source of the claim came from inside the normally secretive PCO.

The CP went on to say that the EAP website “has been widely criticized as an exercise in Conservative propaganda on the taxpayers’ dime.”

The news agency interviewed a number of past and present government insiders who said “they’ve never seen anything so blatant as the current use of the office for self-promotion.”

They were afraid to speak on the record, though, for fear of reprisals.

The CP noted that PCO “doesn’t even have a line item accounting for the cost of development of the economic action plan website. The $2-million budget went to Finance, but PCO developed the website with frequent input from the PMO.” [Sources: Privy Council objected to government ad campaign (The Canadian Press, October 10, 2009)]

It should be noted that PCO requested an additional $3.96 million in the 2009-10 Supplementary Estimates (B) – tabled in the House of Commons on November 4, 2009 – “to support the implementation of a government-wide communications strategy for Canada’s Economic Action Plan.” It’s unclear whether these funds are over and above the $5 million that was reported by the Globe and Mail. If it is, then that would push the Harper government’s advertising spending on the EAP to $42.96 million.

The EAP website has been heavily criticized for its Tory-blue government background and for the number of times the prime minister and members of his cabinet are mentioned. The concerns are well founded.

A search of the website using Google produced 405 hits for ‘Stephen Harper’ and 163 references to the ‘Harper government.’

Cabinet ministers whose departments receive EAP advertising funds are well represented on the website, too: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty – 179 hits, Transport and Infrastructure Minister John Baird – 113 hits, Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley – 449 hits, and former National Revenue Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn – 150 hits.

The current National Revenue Minister is Keith Ashfield (appointed January 19, 2010). As former Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency he had 493 hits.

The EAP website is also littered with photos of Harper attending various announcements around the country.

One of the creepier, more bizarre, events took place in Ottawa on July 29, 2009, when Harper visited a local hardware store that was participating in a nationwide campaign to inform Canadians about how to apply for the Home Renovation Tax Credit, a key component of the federal government’s economic action plan.

Harper was joined by a traditional looking family unit – a father, mother and two young children. Just the kind of wholesome, family values oriented image that appeal to the Conservative Party base. Photos of the visit (posted on the PM’s website) show that even when he’s trying to be casual, Harper still comes across as wooden and out of place. The reaction of the youngest child to Harper’s looming presence is particularly noticeable.

Harper’s visit was peddled as a ‘public event,’ yet the public wasn’t allowed within a country mile of the man. It was strictly a photo opportunity – no questions – and open only to media photographers who were required to present proper identification for accreditation.

The Globe and Mail covered the event and weren’t very impressed: “The Harper PMO’s secrecy around photo ops backfired this week. Photographers who wanted to cover Mr. Harper’s event trumpeting his home renovation tax-credit program were told to meet at a certain time behind a certain building and they would be taken by van to a certain location. It turns out the secret place was a Rona store in Ottawa’s south end, where Mr. Harper talked up the credit. The photo op didn’t get much play in the media. It didn’t help that the van left without a couple of photogs, who were just minutes late.” [Another help-wanted sign nailed up on PMO’s revolving door (Globe and Mail, August 1, 2009)]

For the record, media were asked to gather behind the Confederation Building no later than 8:15 a.m. in order to be directed to the event location.

PM Stephen Harper peddling Home Renovation
Tax Credit at RONA in Ottawa, July 29, 2009

Align CenterEconomic Action Plan website
being used for partisan purposes, June 11, 2009

Monday, March 08, 2010

Secrecy continues as Wall government denies third freedom of information request for Western Economic Partnership records

For the third time in less than a year, the Saskatchewan Party government has denied a freedom of information request for records pertaining to the Western Economic Partnership between Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan.

The request, dated January 26, 2010, was submitted to Executive Council for copies of any briefing notes regarding the economic partnership since October 1, 2009. The ministry’s executive director of corporate services, Bonita Cairns, denied the application on March 2, 2010, pursuant to several sections of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The Wall government slammed the door on two previous attempts to obtain information on the secretive trade deal.

October 22, 2009: Access was denied to copies of the two most recent draft versions of the Western Economic Partnership Agreement.

April 21, 2009: Access was denied to copies of any agendas, minutes, reports, briefing notes, memorandums or letters, including attachments, regarding the trilateral provincial meeting that took place on March 13, 2009, in Vancouver. Access to any agreements or memorandums of understanding that were signed at the meeting was also turned down.

At the inaugural joint cabinet meeting held March 13, 2009, the governments of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan agreed to enter into a Western Economic Partnership.

In Calgary, on September 11, 2009, the three provinces held a second joint cabinet meeting where premiers signed a Western Economic Partnership encompassing four areas: internal trade; international marketing; innovation; and, procurement.

In an interview after the meeting, Premier Brad Wall confessed the partnership agreement is akin to the controversial B.C.-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA). [Sask. inks deal with Alta., B.C. (StarPhoenix, September 12, 2009)]

That agreement was signed on April 28, 2006, without any prior public consultation or legislative debate. Wall is taking Saskatchewan down the same road.

The new agreement was supposed to be finalized by January 1, 2010, but the deadline came and went.

On November 30, 2009, the NDP Opposition criticized the premier for not revealing details of the pact.

“Lots of time has passed, so we want to know what have they discussed, what have they decided,” NDP MLA Len Taylor said.

“It’s very hard for the public of Saskatchewan to be supportive of a new trade agreement without seeing it.”

Wall told reporters it’s still being negotiated so it can’t yet be made public. [Trade deal still in works: Wall (StarPhoenix, December 1, 2009)]

That’s precisely the point. The public and Legislative Assembly should have the opportunity to see and debate the agreement before it’s signed. But Wall will have none of that.

It’s nearly mid-March and there’s still no word from the Wall government on what’s happening. In other words, it’s business as usual.

Friday, March 05, 2010

B.C. hip and knee surgery proposal ‘looks promising’: Health ministry; gov’t releases information previously denied to Saskatchewan NDP

Hill-Fisher emails released Feb. 17, 2010

Additional facts have emerged surrounding the B.C. government’s controversial proposal last year to charge the Saskatchewan government a “premium” for providing hip and knee joint replacement surgeries to Saskatchewan patients.

A senior health ministry official said last summer that the proposal put forward by the B.C. Government looked “promising” and that a funding request to cabinet was being prepared.

“The initial response is it looks promising although as you know I am not in a position to make any commitments yet as we have not taken the full proposal to gov’t for funding approval,” said Duncan Fisher, special advisor to the deputy health minister, in an August 19, 2009, email to B.C. assistant deputy health minister Wendy Hill. “I will keep you informed as that process unfolds.”

Hill replied later that day asking Fisher if he needed “a more fulsome costing analysis” for his purposes and when would he “be going to gov’t” on the item.

“I will need to connect with the health authority we have suggested to confirm the costing model including feasibility and need a window to do this work,” she said.

Fisher responded on August 20, 2009, stating: “Don’t need anything more at this point. Our proposal will be requesting a lump sum for [out of province] assistance so rates can be finalized later. We hope to be before gov’t by mid Sept.”

However, Fisher’s plan seemed to hit an unexplained snag.

On September 11, 2009, Fisher responded to a request by Hill the day before for an update on when Saskatchewan health officials would be taking their proposal to government and when they’d be in a position to move forward in discussions.

“We were supposed to go to Treasury Board next week but our appearance has been cancelled. A new date has yet to be scheduled but it would appear it will not be until October. I will keep you posted,” Fisher wrote.

This appears to be the last email that Fisher sent to Hill. So if he’s kept her in the loop since then it must be by some other means.

In his email to Hill on August 19, Fisher also inquired about the post operative stay for Saskatchewan hip and knee patients.

“The proposal speaks to an inpatient stay of 3-4 days. The question is will these patients be ready to fly home in 3 days. Our experience suggests they might not be ready (i.e. no 90 degree bend in leg for an airplane seat, ability to sit up for that long particularly if stopover in Calgary) is there any non acute step down capacity to keep these folks a few days longer to allow them to be better prepared for travel?”

It turns out that health officials in B.C. had already thought about this.

“I anticipated the need for this for the reasons you mentioned,” Hill replied.

“The need for additional convalescent care beyond the 3 or 4 day [average length of stay] that would be included in the procedure rate would be over and above, and based on the IPR agreement. Hope this makes sense. If we need to chat further, we can set up another T/C.”

Saskatchewan Health has described the discussions as very preliminary. But obviously they were pleased with what they were hearing, so much so that a proposal and funding request was being readied for the treasury board. What we don’t know is whether or not that plan made it to cabinet and what the outcome was.

The health ministry released the August 19-20 emails between Fisher and Hill in their entirety on February 17, 2010, in response to a freedom of information (FOI) request made by a private citizen January 14, 2010.

Oddly, some of the information disclosed in the emails was previously denied to the Saskatchewan NDP when it made a similar FOI request in November 2009. It would be interesting to know why the ministry did that.

The B.C. government made its proposal on August 10, 2009.

The idea apparently first arose at the June 2009 Western Premiers’ Conference in Dawson City, Yukon.

According to the StarPhoenix, Premier Brad Wall said he initiated a discussion with Premier Gordon Campbell about Saskatchewan’s long waiting lists and B.C.’s capacity to do joint replacements. [Sask. not interested in paying premium for surgeries: Wall (StarPhoenix, November 3, 2009)]

Saskatchewan health officials followed-up on the conversation with inquiries to their counterparts in B.C.

On November 3, 2009, Saskatchewan Party Health Minister Don McMorris told reporters that two phone calls were initiated by a Saskatchewan health bureaucrat with B.C. officials. [B.C., Sask. at odds over surgery costs files (StarPhoenix, November 4, 2009)]

Duncan Fisher told StarPhoenix reporter James Wood on October 29, 2009, that, “The call to B.C. was simply a request on our part to see if they had the capacity to help us out if we needed the help.” [Group to examine wait times (StarPhoenix, October 30, 2009)]

Neither McMorris nor Fisher revealed the dates of the phone calls.

The earliest email between Fisher and Hill appears to have been August 10, 2009, when Hill sent an attachment containing the two-page proposal entitled Proposed Out-of-Province Joint Replacement Program: British Columbia and Saskatchewan, that outlines the potential treatment of 440 provincial patients by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

The body of the email was blacked out by the province as well as portions of two sections of the proposal called “service description” and “proposed funding model.”

The controversy started in the B.C. legislature on October 28, 2009, during question period when NDP health critic Adrian Dix accused the right-wing Campbell government of cancelling thousands of elective surgeries while offering hip and knee operations to patients from Saskatchewan and other provinces.

According to CBC News, B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon “scoffed” at the accusation.

“If we do this properly, we would have the ability to charge a premium,” Falcon said.

“So we cover not only our costs, but use the additional dollars to allow British Columbians to get through the system quicker, faster and better.” [B.C. plans to import surgery patients (CBC News, October 28, 2009)]

From that moment forward the Saskatchewan Party government was in damage control mode. Premier Brad Wall and Health Minister Don McMorris confirmed the discussions but denied that the idea of a “premium” was ever discussed.

In early November 2009 Wall told the StarPhoenix: “If right away other jurisdictions want to talk about that, clearly, that’s not on. We didn’t talk about premiums when I mentioned it to the premiers, we just simply talked about capacity.

“There’s reciprocal health agreements that exist today between the provinces.

“There are no premiums charged for those. So it’s interesting that B.C. would be saying that. That’s certainly not been part of the intent here.” [Memo to Sask.: Don't expect freebies (StarPhoenix, November 5, 2009)]

It’s difficult to accept Wall at his word when on so many occasions in the past he has misled, flip-flopped or outright broken a promise. Essential services legislation, TILMA, and equalization are but three examples.

It should be noted that in the throne speech on October 21, 2009, the Wall government promised that in four years no surgical waiting time will be longer than three months.

The StarPhoenix reported Wall as saying the health-care system will remain a single-payer, publicly funded medicare system but all options will be considered to cut into the wait times. [Gov’t focuses on health care (StarPhoenix, October 22, 2009)]

McMorris said the same thing on October 29, 2009, when he appointed a working group to develop a wait time reduction plan that is expected to be in place by April 2010. According to StarPhoenix reporter James Wood, McMorris said all options are on the table. [Private clinic interested in Sask. (StarPhoenix, October 31, 2009)]

On January 11, 2010, the Saskatchewan NDP held a news conference to release documents it obtained through the FOI request it made in November 2009. One of those records was the redacted two-page proposal that Saskatchewan received from B.C.

However, the StarPhoenix had access to an uncensored copy of the proposal and said it shows B.C. had suggested that “an administrative and capital overhead” be put on each case as a “discrete business unit will be established to manage this work.”

In an interview with reporter James Wood, Saskatchewan’s deputy minister of health, Dan Florizone, acknowledged that could amount to the “premium” referred to by B.C., but Saskatchewan never identified it in that way.

The lesson here is that a premium does not need to be called a premium to be one.

NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter said at the news conference the censored documents show the Saskatchewan Party government has not been telling the truth about the issue.

He noted B.C.’s Falcon has spoken consistently of a premium since the issue became public in October. An e-mail exchange obtained by the NDP shows Saskatchewan health official Fisher describing the first media report published in B.C. on the issue, which mentions a premium, as “essentially true.”

“They spent months working on a premium surgery scheme that now sits in limbo and then, when pressed, they denied doing so. What we have here is a government that does not know what it’s doing,” said Lingenfelter. [Document details Sask., B.C. surgeries fees (StarPhoenix, January 12, 2010)]

McMorris told the StarPhoenix that he spoke with his B.C. counterpart, Kevin Falcon, on November 4, 2009. Apparently the issue of a premium was discussed but the subsequent news article is not clear on whether McMorris told Falcon that Saskatchewan had no interest or intention of paying one. [Sask., B.C. stitch up rift (StarPhoenix, November 7, 2009)]

Falcon is sticking to his story that the question of a premium was there from the beginning. He made that clear in the B.C. legislature on November 24, 2009, and even suggested that the Wall government was still considering the controversial proposal: “The reason why we wanted to make sure that there was a premium reflected in us doing it was because, obviously, we’re not interested in doing it just for the sake of doing it. We’ve got British Columbians who also require those services and want to have those services. So we would only do it on the basis that a premium is paid such that we can use those dollars to get British Columbians through the system faster.

“That was the nature of the discussion. I’m not sure where Saskatchewan is on that. I understand their position. No doubt, they’re receiving their share of political feedback on that, and I imagine that they’ll have to decide whether that’s the appropriate way.

“The last time I had the discussion with their Minister of Health, he advised that they were still examining the B.C. option, private clinics and them undertaking the equivalent kind of massive investments, presumably, that we’ve made here in British Columbia.”

The story does not appear to end here. According to an October 29, 2009, email obtained by the Saskatchewan NDP, Duncan Fisher told the health ministry’s executive director of communications, Marg Moran McQuinn, that B.C. has been put “on hold pending budget decisions and to see whether we need their help.”

Saskatchewan Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer will present the 2010 budget on March 24, 2010. This is when we might see if Brad Wall keeps his word or not.

Hill-Fisher emails released to Sask. NDP Jan. 4, 2010