Thursday, April 29, 2010

Campbell government demands $119.50 to process Western Economic Partnership records request; Premier Brad Wall set to betray Saskatchewan

The BC Liberal government is demanding a fee of $119.50 before it will process a freedom of information request for records concerning the Western Economic Partnership. The right wing government is also stalling on a separate request for a copy of the most recent draft of the secret trade deal between British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

A freedom of information request was submitted to the Office of the Premier last month for copies of any briefing notes since January 1, 2010, regarding the agreement. The Campbell government responded on April 6, 2010, stating that Section 75 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a discretionary exemption, allows the provincial government to charge a fee for costs associated with provision of the requested records.

The Campbell government estimates that six hours are needed to locate and retrieve the requested records. The Act stipulates that the first three hours are at no charge. After that the cost is $7.50 per 1/4 hour. The government is seeking $90 for this work. It is asking for a further $22.50 for the 45 minutes it will take to prepare the records for disclosure. According to the government’s letter this may involve just 20 pages of information. There is no guarantee either that any records disclosed won’t be heavily censored rendering them useless.

The six hours needed to locate and retrieve the requested records seems excessive and ludicrous. Documents such as briefing notes are usually stored on computer hard drives. An email could be sent to the bureaucrats responsible for the records asking them to perform a simple search and forward the results. This would not take the number of hours that the government is demanding payment for. If six hours were required to do the job then the public should be concerned about the government’s records management system.

On March 15, 2010, Premier Gordon Campbell’s office received a separate freedom of information request for a complete copy of the most recent draft of the Western Economic Partnership Agreement being negotiated by the three westernmost provinces.

Under the Act the Campbell government had 30 business days, or until April 28, 2010, to respond. It failed to meet the deadline and is now guilty of breaking the law. A subsequent email sent to the senior analyst in the Ministry of Citizens’ Services handling the request, Sylvia Love, asking for a status update on the file has gone unanswered.

The Campbell government’s behaviour pales in comparison to the disgraceful conduct shown by the Saskatchewan Party government which has denied three requests for information on the trade deal:

March 2, 2010, access was denied to copies of any briefing notes regarding the economic partnership since October 1, 2009.

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.

Coincidentally, on April 28, 2010, the media services unit in Executive Council issued a media advisory announcing that Premier Brad Wall along with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and BC Premier Gordon Campbell will complete a half day of trilateral cabinet meetings with the signing of the New West Partnership Agreement on Friday, April 30, 2010, at Government House in Regina.

Like the deal it’s modeled on – the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) – the new agreement was negotiated behind closed doors and is being signed without any public or legislative oversight.

In the spring of 2007, the Opposition Saskatchewan Party demanded the NDP government hold public consultations on TILMA prior to making any decisions.

Then deputy leader of the Saskatchewan Party Ken Krawetz (the current Deputy Premier) stated in a letter to the editor, published in the Leader-Post on March 10, 2007:

“A future Saskatchewan Party government would not sign on to the agreement unless certain it was in the best interests of Saskatchewan people and removed barriers to growth without negatively impacting on the public ownership of the major Crowns, environmental standards in the province and well-being of workers. Given the impact of TILMA across the province, we also believe the provincial government has an obligation to consult with stakeholders and the public prior to accepting or rejecting Saskatchewan's participation in TILMA.”

Now, in a gross act of hypocrisy, Premier Brad Wall is rejecting calls for extensive public consultations on the new agreement saying there has “been a lot of debate on this issue,” including the legislative committee hearings on TILMA.

Wall can’t seem get his story straight on the relationship between the two agreements.

In an interview, the premier said the agreement in the works is “not TILMA.”

But Opposition NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter questioned how the new agreement can be “not TILMA,” but the consultation process around the older deal is adequate. [Sask. close to signing trade deal, Wall says (StarPhoenix, April 28, 2010)]

According to the StarPhoenix, Wall has been adamant the new deal is not TILMA redux, but acknowledged on April 28 TILMA is the starting point for the New West Partnership.

“There is much in that old agreement that would be manifest in a new agreement we would sign,” said Wall, who noted the agreement will not contain the provisions affecting Crown corporations and municipalities that caused the Saskatchewan Party’s problems with TILMA.

Wall wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Lingenfelter said his primary concern remains that the document has not been seen.

“I just find, to be signing any kind of agreement like this where we haven't seen it and (they) say, ‘Trust us.’ Well, I don’t, quite honestly,” he said. [Wall mum on details of trade deal (StarPhoenix, April 29, 2010)]

And neither should the people of Saskatchewan.

Wall has a disturbing history of saying one thing one day then doing the exact opposite the next. His wholesale betrayal on the equalization file in July 2008 is a prime example.

In January 2006, Wall promised to fight for Saskatchewan regardless of who was in power in Ottawa. In June 2007, Wall called on then-premier Lorne Calvert to release copies of any legal opinions regarding a possible court challenge. After winning the November 2007 provincial election, however, Wall turned his back on both. The man simply cannot be trusted to keep his word.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

City council gives in to Lake Placid Developments, again; the south downtown, a legacy of favouritism

Mayor Atchison and Councillors Dubois, Heidt, Hill,
Lorje, Neault, Paulsen, Penner, Pringle, and Wyant

Another day, another sorry spectacle at city hall involving River Landing.

City council disgraced itself beyond belief recently when it agreed to re-enter negotiations with Lake Placid Developments to build the hotel-condo-office-retail project on Parcel “Y” in Saskatoon’s troubled south downtown, despite setting a firm deadline last summer that the developer missed.

At a special meeting on August 19, 2009, council granted Lake Placid an extension for payment of the balance of the purchase price for each of Parcel “Y” and the adjacent lane to 5:00 p.m., October 30, 2009. Failure to meet the deadline would result in each sale agreement being terminated.

Voting in favour of the deadline was Mayor Don Atchison and councillors Bev Dubois, Myles Heidt, Maurice Neault, Glen Penner, Bob Pringle, and Gordon Wyant.

Atchison said the deadline was an “absolute certainty now.” If the developer didn’t come up with money owing on the land the agreement would be “terminated.”

“There’s no more chances,” the mayor said. [Lake Placid gets time (StarPhoenix, August 20, 2009)]

On October 30, 2009, Atchison issued a news release confirming that Lake Placid failed to meet the deadline and reaffirmed council’s earlier decision that “both the Parcel Y and the adjacent lane agreement would be terminated without further resolution of Council.”

It’s important to remember that it was Lake Placid CEO Michael Lobsinger – in an August 17, 2009, letter to the mayor – that requested the deadline in the first place, which city administration recommended council approve. It was also administration that recommended to the city’s executive committee on November 23, 2009, that council authorize administration “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 rejected the recommendation and instead referred the matter back to administration “for a report regarding the current appraised value of the land, together with possible alterations to the RFP and to the DCD1 Guidelines.”

That report was due to be tabled at executive committee on April 19, 2010. Now that council has reopened negotiations with the developer it more than likely won’t see the light of day, which is what most councillors seemed to have wanted all along. Many had voiced their support for reviving negotiations with Lake Placid. It’s seems obvious the process was manipulated to ensure that outcome.

On April 12, 2010, the seven council members that supported the October 30 deadline ignored the earlier decision and voted in favour of re-entering negotiations with Lake Placid. They were joined by three other council members: Darren Hill, Pat Lorje and Tiffany Paulsen.

The message was clear. Council can and will play favourites. It will change the rules whenever it wants, and it can no longer be trusted.

Council’s problems on Parcel “Y” are of its own making.

The nonsense started during the October 2003 civic election when mayoral candidate Don Atchison publicly declared that his “vision” for the former Gathercole site included a spa hotel, condos and live theatre.

From January to March 2004, the city – working behind closed doors without any public input – raced through its south downtown concept planning process. On June 21, 2004, when council voted to adopt the plan, Atchison boasted at how the city did a year’s worth of work in just three months.

In May 2005, council found itself behind the eight-ball when Remai Ventures Inc. turned out to be the only company to submit a request for proposals for Parcel “Y”. However, the project later stalled and the developer pulled out in February 2007. The city had dodged a bullet. Rather than take a step back and consider its options council elected to forge ahead with another expressions of interest and request for proposals.

In September 2007, the city found itself backed into a corner again when Lake Placid Investments ended up being the only company to submit a proposal. This could have been avoided had the city rejected the developer’s submission, which did not appear to fulfill the city’s requirements. The EOI/RFP called for a destination attraction in the form of a cultural facility but Lake Placid’s proposal did not seem to have that. Furthermore, the public component of the developer’s project included elements not listed in the permitted uses of the Direct Control District 1 (DCD1) Guidelines. And yet, the city accepted the proposal. Now the city appears to be at the developer’s mercy. River Landing has become too big to fail. The city needs something, anything, built to pay the bills.

The city’s business incentives are designed to target housing to downtown, all forms of business to core neighbourhoods and industry in general – not theatres, office buildings, retail stores or hotels. Council doesn’t care though. For years it appears to have shown nothing but favouritism in the south downtown.

Persephone Theatre

There was no formal RFP process for the live theatre component of River Landing Phase I. The right to build a theatre on the cultural block was basically handed to Persephone on a silver platter.

On May 3, 2004, Linda Frank, the former president of Persephone Theatre, presented city council with a concept plan for a new auditorium and indicated that they would like to be included in plans for redevelopment of the south downtown. Council referred the matter to administration “to commence discussions with Persephone, and report to Council as appropriate.”

Frank addressed council again on September 20, 2004, and asked the city for a commitment of land that would allow the theatre to move forward and be the lead party on the cultural block development. The matter was referred to the administration for a report to the executive committee, in a timely fashion, regarding all of the issues involved.

Scene III, a partnership of two Saskatoon theatre companies – Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan and La Troupe de Jour – submitted a competing proposal to build a new performance theatre on the site.

At council’s November 15, 2004, meeting Raoul Granger, Co-Chair, Scene III and Tony Badger, Project Manager, Scene III, provided a PowerPoint presentation with respect to the Facility Development Concept Plan.

Scene III was criticized at the meeting for not having a business plan in place. Mr. Badger pointed out that Persephone Theatre did not have a business plan either when it addressed council earlier that year, but council didn’t want to hear that. The matter was referred to the administration for consideration.

On November 29, 2004, city council adopted a recommendation by the executive committee to “provide conditional approval, in principle, for the Persephone Theatre new building project proposed to be located in the Cultural Block.”

The executive committee made the decision at an in-camera meeting held November 22, 2004. The committee’s report contained one lousy paragraph pertaining to the theatre. It offered no insight into how the decision was reached: “After already receiving proposals for the live performance theatre component of the Cultural Centre, the Executive Committee of City Council is recommending that conditional approval be given to Persephone Theatre. The preliminary development plan will better identify the additional uses and possibly suggest modifications or additions, and how they can be best accomplished.” Scene III never stood a chance.

On December 7, 2005, council approved a deal in which Persephone received a five-year tax incentive under which the non-profit theatre will pay no taxes in its first year of operation in the new building, with discounts of 80, 60, 40 and 20 per cent in each of the following four years. The theatre will be exempt from property taxes during construction.

The StarPhoenix reported that Persephone paid $30 per square foot, or about $888,600 for the parcel of land at the corner of Second Avenue and Saunders Place. [Curtain call for theatre (StarPhoenix, December 8, 2005)]

However, what wasn’t reported is that the land was originally valued at $32.50 per square foot.

On December 5, 2005, the city advised Persephone that it had obtained a fresh appraisal that differentiated between the values of the north half and the south half of the River Landing cultural block. The north half was valued at $30 and the south half, being closer to the river, was valued at $36. Accordingly, the city reduced Persephone’s cost to $30 per square foot, and that was the price reflected in Persephone’s purchase agreement.

Also on December 7, 2005, council announced its priorities for the Canada Celebrates Saskatchewan initiative administered by Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD). Persephone was listed second behind the Victoria Bridge and ahead of the Mendel Art Gallery which was third. The River Landing Phase I Riverfront Park was fourth. The problem, however, is that the city does not own Persephone. The theatre really had no business being on the list.

Remai Ventures Inc.

On December 12, 2005, council approved a sale agreement and incentive agreement with Remai Ventures Inc. Under the deal, Remai received a total of $3.1 million in tax incentives from the city over the course of the spa hotel’s construction and its first four years of operation. The sale price for Parcel “Y” was $1.6 million, well below the appraised value of $2.9 million.

Atchison voted in favour of the sweetheart deal, despite saying previously there would be no tax breaks or subsidies on the hotel site and that the city must receive every dollar of the land’s value.

Current councillors that voted in favour of the deal include: Bev Dubois, Myles Heidt, Maurice Neault, Glen Penner, and Gordon Wyant.

At its February 13, 2006, meeting council received a letter from Betty Anne Latrace-Henderson, president of Airline Motor Hotels Ltd., expressing concern over council’s decision to provide tax breaks to Remai Ventures, a direct competitor. Latrace-Henderson wished to compete on a level playing field and was looking for similar treatment. Her company had recently invested over $9 million and 18 months to upgrade the facility (formerly known as the Quality Inn) in order to acquire the Hilton franchise.

“City Council has now set a precedent which we feel deserves fair consideration and application. Therefore, we would ask that the City of Saskatoon entertain the possibility of a similar arrangement for Hilton Garden Inn, to ensure fair treatment that recognizes our value to the City and significant investment which will surely promote Saskatoon’s economic prosperity as much as the River Landing Spa and Hotel,” Latrace-Henderson said.

A motion to refer the matter to the administration and finance committee was defeated. The letter was instead referred to city administration “to respond to the writer.”

As George Orwell said in his book Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Famous Players/Cineplex Galaxy

On March 21, 2005, council voted in favour of providing “an annual grant to Famous Players in an amount equivalent to the amusement taxes collected by Famous Players at the theatre to be constructed on Block CC, Plan 00SA33273 (formerly Block 146).”

Mayor Don Atchison and current councillors Bev Dubois, Myles Heidt, Maurice Neault, Tiffany Paulsen, and Gordon Wyant voted in favour of the deal.

The city refused to commit to extending the same incentive to the existing downtown theatres run by Cineplex Odeon and Famous Players.

Council also approved a 100 per cent property tax break on the theatre in its first year, dropping to 80 per cent in the second, 60 per cent in the third, 40 per cent in the fourth and 20 per cent in the fifth.

Mayor Don Atchison and current councillors Bev Dubois, Myles Heidt, Maurice Neault, Tiffany Paulsen, and Gordon Wyant voted in favour of that deal, too.

Councillor Glen Penner was not present during the votes.

In June 2005, Cineplex Galaxy LP announced an agreement to purchase the Famous Players theatre chain from Viacom Inc.

On June 25, 2007, council finally voted to abolish the amusement tax but Atchison refused to support the move noting council had defeated a motion to kill the tax when it passed the city budget.

“I don’t know how you can pass things that were defeated. . . . To pass this today, you’re sending a very bad message.”

Instead of killing the tax now, the city should have waited until later in the year when it knows if it’s running a surplus or deficit, Atchison said. [Council axes tax (StarPhoenix, June 26, 2007)]

The hypocrisy is astounding.

Lake Placid Developments Inc.

On June 23, 2008, council voted in favour of unfairly bending the rules to allow Lake Placid to build River Landing’s hotel four storeys higher than zoning guidelines permit.

The maximum building height for a hotel at the corner of Second Avenue South and Spadina Crescent was eight storeys. Council passed an amendment to the site’s special zoning allowing the hotel to rise to 12 storeys.

Councillor Charlie Clark said two developers told him they might have submitted proposals had they known the city would be flexible with the zoning rules.

“I have some real questions about the fairness of the process. I question, when this is what the competition was based on, going back and changing the rules now.”

Atchison didn’t seem to give a damn about the integrity of the process.

The amendments are “minor,” he said. [River Landing hotel can add four storeys (StarPhoenix, June 24, 2008)]

Voting in favour of the amendment was Atchison and councillors Bev Dubois, Myles Heidt, Maurice Neault, Glen Penner, and Gordon Wyant.

Councillor Tiffany Paulsen was not present for the vote.

On September 15, 2008, city council dutifully approved a request by Lake Placid to permanently close and purchase the lane right-of-way behind the former Legion building for $475.494.21. Lake Placid owns the former legion site and wanted to consolidate the lane for future development.

On June 22, 2009, city council granted Lake Placid an extension to June 30, 2010, to complete all excavation required for the development of Parcel “Y”, River Landing Phase I, provided that payment in full for Parcel “Y” was received no later than 5:00 p.m., Monday, August 17, 2009. The original deadline to complete the excavation was June 30, 2009.

At its November 30, 2009, meeting council received a letter from Ken Achs, president of Mid-West Development (2000) Corp., blasting councillors for “reconsidering going back on its word” about the October 30, 2009, deadline for Lake Placid’s proposed project.

“The City afforded this project every conceivable chance to go ahead and bent every rule to make it happen. You extended the time for payment and then excused missed interest payment deadlines. Finally, you emphatically set a drop-dead date. Now, it appears you may go back on what you said,” Achs wrote.

It took some time but on April 12, 2010, council did just that. It went back on its word.

Airline Motor Hotels, Jan. 31, 2006

Mid-West Development (2000) Corp., Nov. 13, 2009

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Construction and Land Development Sector Team called for changes to labour legislation; SCA demanded “immediate meeting” with Norris

On November 18, 2008, Enterprise Saskatchewan (ES), the province’s economic development agency, officially launched 18 sector teams specifically dedicated to an economic sector of the Saskatchewan economy.

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 to the ES board.

The sector teams are industry-led and typically include seven to nine members from their respective sector, many of whom are Saskatchewan Party supporters and contributors. Several of the sector teams were already up and running when the official announcement was made. One such team is the Construction and Land Development Sector Team. The members of the team in November 2008 were:

Mr. Ron Shirkey Q.C. (Chair), Shirkey & Company
Mr. Muir Barber, Pinnacle Developments Inc.
Mr. Allan Didur, Realty Executives
Mr. Erick Erickson, Saskatchewan Construction Association
Mr. Perry Friesen, Westridge Construction Ltd.
Mr. Dale Griesser, Avison Young
Ms. Rosanne Hill-Blaisdell, Harvard Developments Inc.
Mr. Tom McClocklin, Colliers International – Saskatoon
Mr. Paul McLellan, Alliance Energy Ltd.

Every member of the team, with the exception of Muir Barber, appears to either work for or represent a business or industry association that made a financial contribution to the Saskatchewan Party between 2006 and 2008:

▪ Ron Shirkey – $825.00; Shirkey & Company – $1,203.98
▪ Realty Executives Saskatoon – $1,670.40
▪ Graham Construction (Erick Erickson) – $22,258.96
▪ Westridge Construction Ltd. – $13,486.76
▪ Avison Young – $6,715.60
▪ Harvard Developments Inc. – $5,402.90
▪ Colliers McClocklin – $5,072.80
▪ James (Paul) McLellan – $1,500.00; Alliance Energy – $19,509.56

Former Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart spoke glowingly of the sector teams, touting the importance of private sector involvement in the decision making process.

“These sector teams will be pivotal in positioning Saskatchewan as a jurisdiction that is competitive, investment friendly, enterprising and entrepreneurial,” Stewart said in a news release on the day of the launch. “Saskatchewan’s economy is on a roll, and we need to identify and seize opportunities now in order to keep pushing our competitive envelope. Sector team members represent the key elements of important sectors of our economy and bring valuable expertise to the decision-making table.”

Stewart declared: “This is the ultimate participation model for private sector involvement.”

The Leader-Post reported Stewart as saying “by the end of the year that we’ll start to see the recommendations coming to the Enterprise Saskatchewan board.”

Each team member will be paid $110 when they meet about once a month, Stewart said. The team’s chair will receive $155. [Province seeks advice from private sector (Leader-Post, November 19, 2008)]

So important were the sector teams that Premier Brad Wall met with the team chairs and Enterprise Saskatchewan board at a special luncheon at the Legislative Building on November 18, 2008.

According to the premier’s speaking notes, which were obtained through a freedom of information request, Wall told the group: “[W]hat our government needs from you – the sector teams – are the imaginative and creative ideas to make sure we are even more competitive – as competitive as possible.

“Leave it to us – myself and Minister Gantefoer – to deliver the message of consistency and prudence – you need to, with some urgency, come up with a plan for maintaining Saskatchewan’s competitive position.

“It’s time for the sector teams to get busy,” Wall said.

And busy the Construction and Land Development Sector Team got, conducting just four meetings through December 31, 2009.

The sector team held its first meeting on November 3, 2008. The meeting minutes, obtained from ES through a freedom of information request, indicates that discussion was held on the strengths and weaknesses of the construction and land development sector, as well as the opportunities and barriers to economic development.

Team members identified 11 barriers for further consideration. Among them were: shortage of skilled labour, restrictive labour legislation, real or perceived environment that’s unfriendly to business (regulations, taxes, etc.), and lack of public and private partnerships (P3).

At the second meeting, held December 11, 2008, the sector team began a “gap analysis” of the barriers faced by the construction and land development sector. The team wrote two goals for this sector, with actions and recommendations to ES.

Goal #1: To create the most competitive location in North America for attracting and retaining skilled immigrants.

Goal #2: To have labour legislation that is competitive to other western Canadian jurisdictions.

With respect to the second goal, the sector team determined that a competitiveness analysis was needed of labour legislation and rulings in all western provinces, including the Trade Union Act.

The team prepared the following recommendation: “The Enterprise Saskatchewan Board direct ES to undertake a competitiveness analysis of current labour legislation and rulings. ES should engage with the Sector Team to create the terms of reference for this analysis.”

One of the more telling pieces of information in the minutes is on the last page under the heading Actions and Next Steps. It’s here that we see where the discussion is headed, at least in terms of labour legislation. Erick Erickson, representing the Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA), was to bring forward, for information purposes, the association’s “analysis of the Act and of trade positions needed in the future.” Presumably the legislation in question was the Trade Union Act.

The minutes for the third meeting, held February 5, 2009, notes that the sector team was still waiting for a response from ES to its recommendation concerning labour legislation/regulations.

“The sector team would like to see any available information and have the time to consider it; the recommendation for ES to engage the sector team in any future study terms of reference still stands,” the minutes state.

“There is a desire for action on the issue of labour legislation/regulations in a timely manner.”

Two items were then distributed to the sector team: “Letter to Rob Norris, Minister of AEEL from the Saskatchewan Construction Association, and Brief by PCL on Saskatchewan Labour Issues. The restrictions in the working environment are an ongoing issue that these two handouts address.”

The minutes do not say where the documents came from, but the assumption is they may have been supplied by SCA representative Erick Erickson.

The sector team continued with its gap analysis whittling its list of barriers down to six. The top two were shortage of labour and restrictive labour legislation. The team also requested “an update from [ES CEO] Dale Botting and Enterprise Saskatchewan about Saskatchewan’s competitive position in labour laws and legislation and report back to the Sector Team.”

In response to a separate freedom of information request, ES on March 29, 2010, granted full access to copies of the SCA letter to AEEL Minister Rob Norris and brief by PCL Construction Management Inc.

However, ES warned in the cover letter: “With respect to the Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) letter, Mr. Michael Fougere, President, SCA, has informed us this is not an official copy of his letter. As you can see, the record is not on letterhead nor does not have Mr. Fougere’s signature.”

ES goes on to say that the PCL “document dated January 2009 may be an earlier draft of a submission made in June 2009 by Mr. Kris Hildebrand, Saskatchewan District Manager, PCL, to the Standing Committee on Human Services related to Bill No. 80 – The Construction Industry Labour Relations Amendment Act, 2009.”

Finally, some connections to Bill 80 were emerging.

Fougere’s ‘unofficial’ letter is dated October 10, 2008. This is important because little is known about what went on behind the scenes prior to the Wall government introducing Bill 80 in the legislature on March 10, 2009. Fougere’s letter pre-dates by more than four months two pieces of correspondence sent by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce to Minister Norris whining about similar issues. The coincidences are too strong to ignore.

In his letter, Fougere rails against a Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (LRB) decision two weeks earlier (LRB 019-05, September 23, 2008) concerning Saunders Electric Ltd.

“In this decision, the LRB has recognized a union agreement that is over 20 years old, even though the agreement is inactive and the employees and current owner of the company have changed. As a result of this decision, Saunders Electric must pay union dues dating back to 1984,” Fougere said, adding that the decision “will in all likelihood force the owners out of business.”

“This decision of the LRB has major implications, not just for Saunders Electric, but for the entire construction industry. If not reversed, this decision will have a chilling effect on investment and economic development across our province.

“The SCA and our member companies are demanding a quick and final remedy to this unprecedented threat to our industry and our members,” Fougere said, without offering any evidence to support his hysterical claim that the ruling endangers the provincial economy.

In the second half of his ‘unofficial’ letter, Fougere abruptly switches gears and starts talking about “the right of employees to choose the union to represent them” and demanding the Wall government end “the monopoly of the Building Trades in the construction industry.” Then it’s back to the LRB ruling.

“The decision of the LRB is one of the most serious threats to our industry and, by extension, to the provincial economy. The SCA is calling on the government to make the necessary legislative changes to bring balance and fairness to our industry by implementing fair abandonment rules and ensuring the freedom of choice for employees to choose which union they wish to represent their interests.

“The issues raised in this letter are of grave concern to our members. We are requesting an immediate meeting with you and your officials as a first step in resolving the issues facing our industry.”

Clearly, the seeds for Bill 80 were being planted.

It should be noted that Fougere is not only president of the SCA he is also a member of the ES board of directors. It would seem the SCA was using ES and the sector team to further its agenda.

Incidentally, the LRB reconsidered its decision in the Saunders Electric case in its decision dated November 6, 2009. The original application was dismissed and certification order rescinded. The heavy hammer of legislation was not required and the province did not implode because of the earlier ruling. And yet, Bill 80 remains.

Truth be told, the last twelve months have shown that the provincial economy has more to fear from Premier Brad Wall and Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer than it does the labour relations board.

The brief by PCL echoes the SCA stating “it is imperative that the Saskatchewan Government move immediately to introduce balanced and fair legislation that will ensure Saskatchewan’s labour environment respects the rights of workers and employers and is competitive with other Canadian jurisdictions.” PCL recommended, as a minimum, the following amendments to existing labour legislation:

▪ Recognition of the principle of abandonment in the construction industry.

▪ Allow employees to choose whether they wish to belong to a traditional union (Building Trades) or to a non-traditional union (wall-to-wall).

▪ Re-introduce the right of employers in the construction industry to choose the employer organization they wish to represent them and make membership in any employer organization voluntary.

PCL, by the way, are a big contributor to the Saskatchewan Party. For the six year period from 2003 to 2008 the company donated at least $51,921.99 to the political party.

Fougere’s and PCL’s self-serving propaganda neglects to mention that the construction industry has not had a work stoppage in more than 17 years. Construction in the province, as reflected in building permits, set an all-time record of $2.18 billion in 2008, up by one-third when compared to 2007. Even amidst the global economic downtown building permits in 2009 were $1.89 billion – good for the second highest total ever.

When introducing the amendments on March 10, 2009, AEEL Minister Rob Norris stated at a news conference that Bill 80 is necessary “first and foremost [for] the choice for employees.” But Bill 80 does not expand choice for workers. On the contrary, it is about allowing contractors to pick the union they want to deal with. And if workers don’t like it, that’s too bad. Under Bill 80, workers cannot decertify the union picked by the employer. The choice left for the employee is simple: take it or leave it. That is no choice at all.

At the fourth sector team meeting, held March 2, 2009, the minutes state that team members “discussed various aspects of the current labour situation in Saskatchewan as it affects the Construction and Land Development sector and agreed that the important issues are abandonment and alternate unions.”

A three-page handout about labour certifications was distributed. The material is dated June 11, 2008, and several points were highlighted by the chair, Ron Shirkey, as follows:

▪ Over the last six years, over 94% of certification requests brought before the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board were successful, compared to an average of 69% in British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba.

▪ Over the last six years, only 59% of the applications for revocation have been granted in Saskatchewan (compared to 80% of applications in British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba).

▪ In Saskatchewan, 45% support is required for certification vote in 2008, which is up from 25% in 2007. And a secret ballot vote is also now required.

▪ And in point #7 on page 3, “The amendments that have recently been made to the Trade Union Act put Saskatchewan more in line with the requirements for certification in the other western provinces.”

According to the minutes, Shirkey “suggested that an experienced labour lawyer would be a good person to speak to this Sector Team. Comments from the team indicate the desire for a way to deal with what constitutes an unfair labour practice (e.g. work stoppage rules are different in Saskatchewan than in other provinces). The “Privative Clause” means that the Labour Relations Board (LRB) is the final decider in these things (confirmed at”

The sector team “recognizes that the issues of abandonment and alternate unions are important and well understood issues. However, the details of the Trade Union Act are outside the purview of this Team and should be discussed by the appropriate government officials.”

The final results of the sector team’s gap analysis show a total of five barriers. Topping the list is restrictive labour legislation, which somehow managed to replace shortage of labour as the number one barrier facing the construction and land development sector.

The minutes indicate that the chair was to prepare draft recommendations for policy from the gap analysis; and, to write an executive summary, distribute to the rest of the team by March 20, 2009, and solicit feedback by March 31, 2009. The chair and one team member would present the recommendations to the ES board in April 2009.

However, the ES board’s September 2009 progress report notes that between April 1, 2009, and September 30, 2009, the board received presentations and recommendations from 11 sector teams and strategic issues councils. Construction and Land Development was not among them. It remains unclear why this sector team was not included. The team did not meet again in 2009.

Friday, April 09, 2010

City manager report shortchanges public, council on financials of Lake Placid – Victory Majors deal, purchase price for Parcel “Y” and adjacent lane

City manager report in council’s April 12, 2010, agenda

Thanks to city council and administration the ridiculous and embarrassing River Landing Village saga continues.

At city council’s March 22, 2010, meeting, Karim Nasser, a director of Victory Majors Investments Corporation, confirmed that his company “signed a partnership” with Lake Placid Developments to build the riverfront hotel-condo-office-retail project “contingent on city hall reviving” Lake Placid’s sales agreement that expired October 30, 2009.

Councillors directed administration to investigate the financials of the Lake Placid-Victory Majors deal and report to city council April 12, 2010, seeking direction from council on whether to enter in negotiations on the sale of the land and the terms of the development.

Other councillors, like Ward 2’s Pat Lorje, asked administration to provide as much information as possible, including the updated land appraisals and due diligence on the financials of the deal. [Developers tout plan (StarPhoenix, March 23, 2010)]

However, it appears that the report submitted by city manager Murray Totland for council’s April 12 meeting falls well short of providing councillors with the information they asked for.

The report notes the purchase price for Parcel “Y” in 2008 was $4.765 million. The price for the adjoining lane was $475,494.21. Totland says administration has obtained new appraisals for Parcel “Y” from two separate companies.

“The appraisal reports completed by Suncorp Valuations Ltd. and Beatty Appraisal and Consulting Ltd. resulted in an estimate of value for Parcel “Y” within a narrow range of $98 per square foot to $110 per square foot. If these appraisals were used, the price average value between the appraisals is approximately $104 per square foot which would result in a purchase price of $11 million,” the report states.

Totland’s report, though, does not provide a new appraisal for the adjacent lane. No explanation is given why this information was omitted. It stands to reason that if Parcel “Y” has increased in value so has the lane.

Furthermore, the report gives no indication whatsoever if Lobsinger and Nasser are willing to pay the new purchase price. Again, no explanation is given why this information was not included.

Totland’s report also fails to provide the results of the investigation administration were asked to do on the financials of the Lake Placid-Victory Majors deal. The city manager instead says that if administration is instructed to negotiate with Lake Placid, it would “include in those negotiations a financial due diligence process.”

Apparently, city administration, and representatives from the city’s outside auditor, Deloitte & Touche Inc., met with Lobsinger and Nasser on Wednesday, April 7, 2010. Lobsinger and Nasser provided documentation for review by Deloitte and “indicated their willingness to provide further details as required by the outside auditors.”

Unfortunately, this is not what the public was led to believe would happen. Totland’s report does not come close to fulfilling council’s request for information. Council and the public are being severely shortchanged.

The bottom line is this discussion should not even be taking place. At its August 19, 2009, meeting, city council resolved that if Lake Placid missed the October 30, 2009, deadline to pay the outstanding balances owing on Parcel “Y” and the adjacent lane, then the agreement would be terminated.

“There’s no more chances,” Mayor Don Atchison said at the time. [Lake Placid gets time (StarPhoenix, August 20, 2010)]

On October 30, 2009, just two days after the civic election, Atchison issued a news release reaffirming council’s August 19 decision. And yet here we are five months past the deadline still discussing it.

Since council is unwilling to revisit the South Downtown Concept Plan 2004 and consider other alternatives, the only decision for council to make on April 12 is to receive Totland’s report as information and set the wheels in motion for the issuance of another request for proposals for Parcel “Y”.

If Lobsinger does not wish to participate in another RFP, which he told the city’s executive committee on November 23, 2009, that he would but backed away from on March 22, 2010, then that’s his decision to make.


Recent River Landing posts

March 24, 2010:
Lake Placid CEO flip-flops interest in new RFP; City administration dragging its feet; Nasser financial commitment seems murky, halfhearted

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”

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Pressure and intimidation used to sell new Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative

The Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative (SSI), a plan to shorten surgical wait times and improve the experience of surgical patients in Saskatchewan, was publicly released by Health Minister Don McMorris at a Regina news conference on March 29, 2010.

Among the plan’s 25 initiatives will be a surgical referral website for patients, standardized safety checklists in operating rooms and contracting of third-party surgical care [i.e. private clinics] to increase the province’s surgical capacity, a provincial government news release said.

The plan is in response to the 2009 Patient First Review (released October 15, 2009) and the Wall government’s promise in throne speech on October 21, 2009, to reduce surgical wait times in Saskatchewan to no longer than three months over the next four years.

Surgeons, family physicians, nurses, therapists, health care administrators, health sector organizations and associations, health unions and former surgical patients collaborated on the plan.

“The Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative is guided by the cooperative effort of two important advisory groups,” the plan states.

“The Executive Sponsorship Group provides strategic leadership, advice and direction for the Surgical Initiative and champions the transformation of the patient’s surgical experience in Saskatchewan. This group represents higher-level decision makers and is made up of 22 members from the Health Quality Council, Regina Qu’Appelle, Saskatoon and Cypress health regions, Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Medical Association, Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association, Kaizen Institute Lean Advisors, senior leaders of the Ministry of Health, and two patient advisors.

“The Guiding Coalition represents the front line experience and is comprised of 65 members including physicians, nurses, therapists and other providers, all 12 health regions, health care unions, regulatory bodies, Health Quality Council, Ministry of Health, and three patient advisors.”

In his message in the report, McMorris said the plan “is just the beginning of a transformation of the broader health-care system. In time, other initiatives will follow, such as improving primary health care and fully realizing our vision of a patient- and family-centred health system.”

To achieve this end, the report concludes that a sustainable health system requires “unity of purpose and alignment of priorities.”

“If everyone is working to put patients and families first, that common vision helps to inform even the most difficult choices about service delivery and resource allocation. With everyone pulling in the same direction, there is much less waste of energy. This has been seen with the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative, where the differing perspectives and interests of providers, administrators, and patients, and others are coming together in an exciting synthesis.”

The “success” of the plan “will depend on the energy, innovations and commitment of the thousands of health care professionals and providers, leaders and managers, patients and families who affect or are affected by the surgical care experience.”

What remains unclear is how the Wall government plans to get health care workers to buy into the initiative and pull in the same direction. Part of the answer might be contained in the meeting notes for the Executive Sponsorship Group (ESG).

Records obtained from the Health Ministry through a freedom of information request show that the ESG met at least twice before the Patient First Review was released and the Wall government’s speech from the throne.

The notes of the September 2, 2009, meeting indicates that the role of the ESG is to: “Champion the transformation of patient’s surgical experience in Saskatchewan.”

“Specific Actions” of the ESG include breaking down “artificial barriers” among regional health authorities, institutions and organizations. It also involves using “influence” and “policy” to make life “uncomfortable for people to maintain the status quo.”

The ESG will “demonstrate courage and commitment” by “staying the course,” and not being afraid to “tackle the tough conversations.” It will be “unified around our vision – moving towards a common vision.”

The “General Required Actions/Behaviours” of the ESG includes an “unwavering commitment to vision and aims” while asking “the tough questions of the Guiding Coalition and others.”

It would appear that the government is prepared to tackle any dissension or resistance to its plan with pressure and intimidation.

The ESG conducted a teleconference on October 29, 2009 – the same day the Wall government issued a news release officially announcing that a “surgical care working group” had begun work on developing an “implementation plan” to improve surgical care and reduce wait times. The meeting notes provide the names of those that participated or weren’t able to attend. The group’s composition is clearly top-heavy in Health Ministry representation.

At the meeting, the group agreed to add one patient advisor to the ESG membership, and 3 patient advisors to the Guiding Council (GC).

It was also agreed that union representatives would be invited to join the ESG and GC. However, it appears union involvement came with the understanding that it would be for “perspective and advice, not advocacy.”

The next meeting of the ESG was held on November 20, 2009. Records also show that the group was scheduled to meet again, in Saskatoon, on January 25, 2010.

The meeting notes give no indication whether the ESG will disband once the implementation plan is completed or carry on as the Wall government’s transformation of health care in Saskatchewan continues.