Monday, August 23, 2010

Art Gallery of Saskatchewan cost spirals to $66.51 million; Destination Centre Steering Committee review of proposals a sham

The ground hasn’t been broken yet and already the cost of the future Art Gallery of Saskatchewan is escalating.

At its August 18, 2010 meeting, city council approved spending $510,000 on design fees for additional floor space and a second level of underground parking estimated to cost $8-million. The $8.51 million would increase the new gallery’s price tag from $58 million to $66.51 million.

The project is behind schedule. Construction on the underground parking was to begin next year but has been pushed back to 2012. On April 3, 2009, Mayor Don Atchison said the city was “ready to go.” Shovels could be in the ground by year’s end, the public was told. That turned out to be false. There was no design or business plan in place.

The city spent millions of dollars to extend 2nd Avenue and Spadina Crescent. The functional program for the new gallery, however, calls for removing the 2nd Avenue roundabout and replacing it with a conventional two-way roadway to the east side of the Prairie Wind sculpture, as well as creating a lay-by for bus and car-drop-off along the Persephone Theatre frontage. The accompanying drawing is hideous.

The plan also says the Saunders Place roadway may require adjustment to accommodate waste disposal trucks and the largest allowable tractor-trailer for art and exhibition shipments.

These expensive afterthoughts expose council’s folly of not engaging the public in a master plan process for the south downtown. Council instead worked behind closed doors from January to March 2004 to develop a concept plan. Atchison proudly boasted that the city did a year’s worth of planning in three months. And boy does it show.

What started out in 2004 as a $42.1 million project has ballooned to $144.1 million and counting. River Landing has become a financial albatross, a development too big to fail. Apparently council will spend whatever it takes to get it built.

Toronto-based Lundholm Associates Architects (LAA) was hired by the city, through a sole source contract, at a cost of up to $150,000 to prepare the functional program plan for the Destination Centre.

LAA was previously hired by the Saskatoon Art Gallery and Conservatory Corporation, through public tender, to complete the functional program for the Mendel Art Gallery renovation and expansion project.

When the city floated the idea of moving the Mendel to River Landing in 2005, Michael Lundholm told the StarPhoenix it undermines an art gallery’s stature to be located in a multi-use complex.

He said galleries need a strong identity and a strong visual image, and noted that the Mendel already is a strong institution with a national reputation.

“When you’ve got something that’s working that well, you don’t fool around with it,” Lundholm said. [Leave Mendel out of the mix (StarPhoenix, October 15, 2005)]

Sadly, Lundholm’s work for the city appears to have done just that, selling out the Mendel and sacrificing his credibility in the process.

The city recently reconsidered a decision it made last year to deny access to the meeting minutes of the Destination Centre Steering Committee. In July, the city released the minutes of the committee’s first six meetings, but continues to withhold the minutes of the final two meetings held in April 2009.

The minutes show the committee “was in agreement” that a joint submission by the Children’s Discovery Museum, Centre for Creativity, and the University of Saskatchewan “was the best fit” for the Destination Centre. Following the proponents presentation on October 31, 2008, the committee resolved the “concepts will continue to be considered for the Destination Centre.”

The steering committee was supposed to provide a progress report to council once a month. However, the committee produced no reports whatsoever. Instead, on November 30, 2009, city administration reported to council that the committee reviewed the joint bid but did not support their inclusion for the Destination Centre.

Interestingly, the steering committee’s first meeting of 2009 was on April 1, which by then was too late. The city, provincial and federal governments had already settled on a new building. On March 14, the Mendel Art Gallery board voted to pursue the construction of a new gallery at River Landing. By March 18, Atchison had sent letters and brochures to Saskatchewan Party MLAs and Conservative MPs announcing the move. And then, at a private meeting on March 23, the city’s executive committee approved in principle, a new art gallery as the anchor facility at River Landing Destination Centre. This means the steering committee conducted its review knowing that the city had already made its decision. In other words, the review was a sham.

What’s galling is that earlier this year council happily borrowed $13 million for the new gallery and intends to do the same with the latest $8.51 million. That’s a total of $21.5 million. Meanwhile, in December 2008, the city said the cost to renovate and expand the Mendel was $24 million and would address both the existing facility needs and the required capacity to see it through the next 30 to 40 years of operation. The city grudgingly committed $4.6 million to the project.

Mendel board chair Art Knight and gallery CEO Vincent Varga said in January 2009 that the expansion plan was “shovel ready” and could be tender ready by March. Had it been issued, we’d soon be experiencing the grand re-opening of an important community and heritage landmark – at less than half the cost.

Destination Centre site with roundabout, April 2010

Destination Centre site without roundabout, April 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Harper, Wall governments ignoring International Labour Organization obligations

As a member state of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Canada has an obligation to respect, to promote and to realize in good faith the fundamental principles and rights concerning freedom of association and collective bargaining.

On March 23, 1972, Canada ratified ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (1948).

This fundamental convention sets forth the right for workers and employers to establish and join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization. Workers’ and employers’ organizations shall organize freely and not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority, and they shall have the right to establish and join federations and confederations, which may in turn affiliate with international organizations of workers and employers.

On June 18, 1998, delegates to the 86th International Labour Conference, the annual gathering of the ILO global membership in Geneva, adopted by an overwhelming vote a Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, reaffirming the commitment of the international community to uphold fundamental rights in the workplace, including the right of workers and employers to freedom of association and the effective right to collective bargaining. The vote was 273 for, and zero against, with 43 abstentions. Canada was among those that voted in favour.

The ILO notes on its website: “International labour standards are legal instruments drawn up by the ILO’s constituents (governments, employers and workers) and setting out basic principles and rights at work. They are either conventions, which are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member states, or recommendations, which serve as non-binding guidelines. In many cases, a convention lays down the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries, while a related recommendation supplements the convention by providing more detailed guidelines on how it could be applied. Recommendations can also be autonomous, i.e. not linked to any convention.

“Conventions and recommendations are drawn up by representatives of governments, employers and workers and are adopted at the ILO’s annual International Labour Conference.”

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s Labour Program manages Canada’s labour affairs abroad. The International Labour Affairs Division handles the country’s participation in the ILO on behalf of the federal Minister of Labour.

According to an ILO-related report posted on the HRSDC website: “In a federal State such as Canada, when the subject of a Convention or Recommendation is partly within provincial and territorial jurisdictions, the federal government must refer the instrument to the attention of the other competent authorities, i.e. the provinces and territories.

“The long-standing Canadian practice, as regards ILO Conventions dealing with matters under both federal and provincial/territorial jurisdictions, has been to ratify a Convention only if all jurisdictions concur with ratification and undertake to implement the Convention’s requirements in their respective jurisdictions.”

Sadly, another long-standing practice in Canada has been for the federal and provincial governments to pay lip service to the ILO while and ignore its recommendations.

A classic example of this was in March 2003 when the ILO ruled against the right-wing B.C. Liberal government concerning six pieces of legislation adopted by the government in connection with labour relations, and in particular the right to strike and collective bargaining in the health and education sectors. The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association found that workers’ rights had been violated and recommended the government repeal or amend some of the legislation but the Campbell government ignorantly refused.

The Vancouver Sun reported Premier Gordon Campbell saying he had no intention of making such changes: “We said in the election we were going to do this and that is what we have done,” he stated. “I feel no pressure whatsoever. I was not participating in any discussion with the UN.” [Labour lauds UN slap at Liberals (Vancouver Sun, March 28, 2003)]

Graham Bruce, B.C.’s then labour minister, said the government passed the new laws to allow reforms aimed at reducing the province’s mounting deficit.

He said the government was not planning to amend or repeal the legislation, but was looking for different ways to negotiate public-sector collective agreements.

“What’s done is done. What I’m trying to do is move forward,” Bruce said on March 27, 2003. “We will note the ILO’s recommendations and carry on with the steps we need to take.” [Laws violated workers’ rights (Leader-Post, March 28, 2003)]

Seven years later it was the Saskatchewan Party government’s turn to bring shame to Canada.

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 Wall government with the 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 issued a decision (contained in the 356th Report of the Committee on Freedom of Association) supporting the unions’ claims and made six non-binding recommendations for appropriate action by the Wall government:

▪ 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;

▪ 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;

▪ amend the Public Service Essential Services Regulations in consultation with the social partners;

▪ take the necessary measures so that compensatory guarantees are made available to workers whose right to strike may be restricted or prohibited and to keep it informed in this respect;

▪ take the necessary measures 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; and,

▪ consult with the social partners to find an appropriate means of ensuring that the Labour Relations Board enjoys the confidence of all the parties concerned.

Like the B.C. Liberals, the Wall government thumbed its nose at the ruling. Saskatchewan’s then Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) Minister Rob Norris went a step further insulting the ILO.

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

Norris said the recommendations made by the ILO “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)]

Norris did not explain how the ILO analysis was incomplete.

The Wall government, through HRSDC, made two submissions to the ILO in its defense: A Statement of Evidence dated February 11, 2009, and a Response for Request for Further Clarification dated October 15, 2009. The submissions are posted on the provincial government website but are damn near impossible to find.

In the Statement of Evidence the province freely admits that “a formal consultation process with labour and employers organizations was not conducted prior to the introduction of the Bills in the Legislature.” A key recommendation of the ILO was that the Wall government consult with unions at an “early stage” when developing labour legislation. It was the government’s position, however, that it was under no obligation to do so.

“Under Canadian law, legislators are generally not required to consult with affected parties before introducing legislation,” the Wall government said.

The Wall government said it “was elected to form a majority government for the province” and justified its actions by saying the offending labour legislation was introduced “to fulfill commitments made by the Saskatchewan Party in its election platform.”

This might fly for the Trade Union Act amendments where there is a kernel of truth to the government’s claim, but in the case of essential services it’s a bald faced lie. The Saskatchewan Party’s election platform didn’t mention essential services legislation, but rather a pledge that a Saskatchewan Party government would work with public sector unions to ensure essential services are in place in the event of a strike or labour action.

Fortunately, the ILO was able to look past this nonsense and put the rights of workers ahead of the political interests of the Saskatchewan Party. The bad news is the Harper and Wall governments don’t seem to care what the ILO thinks.

In April 2010, a letter was sent to Labour Minister Lisa Raitt asking her what the federal government’s position was on the ILO’s Saskatchewan ruling and what steps her department was taking to ensure that the Wall government complies with the recommendations. The letter was copied to Premier Brad Wall, NUPGE president James Clancy and SFL president Larry Hubich.

The first to respond was Wall with a short letter dated May 4, 2010, repeating the same disingenuous message that the Saskatchewan Party government have been peddling since the November 2007 provincial election, which is that the “government is committed to ensuring a fair and balanced labour environment that contributes to growth and is competitive with other Canadian jurisdictions.”

The next to respond was Norris in a letter dated May 18, 2010 that is less credible and believable than the premier’s.

Norris said the government “has the greatest respect for the ILO and its work to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue in handling work-related issues.” The contents of the ILO report were “still being reviewed,” so “it would be inappropriate to comment on the future actions of the Government on this matter,” he said.

Gosh, it must have been a different Rob Norris that crapped all over the ILO a few weeks earlier, slamming its report and recommendations. Those things do happen from time to time.

Norris seems to forget that when he said the ILO report won’t cause the government to change the legislation he revealed the government’s future action. The last paragraph of his letter reiterates that: “The Government remains committed to supporting a fair and balanced labour relations framework for Saskatchewan workers, employers and citizens. The Public Service Essential Services Act and the amendments of The Trade Union Act are an important part of that commitment. In drafting, consulting and implementing these pieces of legislation, we took a measured, appropriate and lawful approach.”

In a cabinet shuffle on June 29, 2010, Norris was thankfully stripped of the labour portfolio becoming Minister of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration. Don Morgan was appointed Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety in addition to being Minister of Justice and Attorney General. It didn’t solve anything, though.

In an interview with StarPhoenix reporter James Wood on July 5, 2010, Morgan said he was “vocally supportive” of the labour changes made by the government and backed Norris’ navigation of the portfolio.

He said there will be no reversal on the key policy changes made by the government. [Labour leaders eye better relations with gov’t after cabinet shuffle (StarPhoenix, July 6, 2010)]

The Wall government is also refusing to disclose certain information on the subject. In response to an access to information request for briefing notes government officials released several records with the sections containing advice, recommendations, analyses or policy options blacked out. What is the Saskatchewan Party government hiding?

The last to respond was Minister Raitt who, in a letter dated July 22, 2010, basically said the federal government’s role in the issue was limited to shuffling papers back and forth between the province and the ILO.

Raitt said if the ILO Committee of Freedom of Association finds there has been a violation of standards or principles related to freedom of association, it issues a report. Governments are subsequently requested to report on the implementation of its recommendations.

“Where, as in the current case, the issue concerns legislation or measures taken by a province or territorial government, the Government of Canada works with the government concerned to ensure that responses and follow-up information are provided to the CFA in a timely manner. When the CFA issued its report in March 2010, the Government of Canada provided the report to the Government of Saskatchewan, which has the exclusive authority to follow-up on the CFA’s recommendations.

“I have recently spoken with my counterpart in Saskatchewan to ensure our continued collaboration as Saskatchewan provides follow-up information to the ILO on this case.”

The Harper government appears to have little interest in taking a leadership role in pressuring the provinces to comply with ILO rulings. It instead uses provincial autonomy as a shield to avoid international obligations arising from Canada’s ILO membership. This was evident at the 99th International Labour Conference that took place in Geneva from June 2-18, 2010. The Canadian government delegates included Ms. Debra Young, Director General, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Mr. Marius Grinius, Ambassador, Permanent Representative, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Permanent Mission, Geneva.

The government delegates were joined by an employer delegate and a worker delegate. Technical advisors assist the delegations, which are usually headed by Cabinet Ministers who take the floor on behalf of their governments. In Canada’s case, it appears Raitt and her deputy minister, Ms. Hélène Gosselin, were no shows even though their names appear on the initial list of attendees. Were they too busy to represent Canada?

The Canadian contingent was part of the Committee on the Application of Standards, a standing committee of the Conference composed of 220 members tasked with considering and reporting on item III on the agenda: “Information and reports on the application of Conventions and Recommendations”. Among the topics of discussion was Canada’s dismal record in applying Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise.

The Report of the Committee on the Application of Standards, Provisional Record No. 16, Part Two (released June 17, 2010), shows the government member from Belarus and worker members from Colombia, Sweden and Brazil were all critical of Canada’s poor track record on complying with the Convention. Even the employer members “urged the federal Government to ensure that provincial governments fully complied with strict freedom of association and right to organize requirements for the benefit of all workers.”

The Canadian government representative, presumably Ms. Young, appeared to be going through the motions retelling the same tale of woe that delegates over the years have grown tired of hearing: “that Canada remained committed to observing the Convention” but “that ensuring full implementation of international labour obligations in a context where the federal Government had the authority to ratify ILO Conventions, but was bound to rely on the provinces and territories to implement their provisions in areas of their exclusive authority, was a challenging task.” It seems the best she could muster was to say that the federal government was engaging “the provinces and territories on a continuous basis with a view to promoting implementation of Canada’s international labour obligations and ensuring that full and transparent information was made available to the ILO supervisory bodies.”

The federal government claims to be powerless. The provinces exploit it. In the end nothing changes. Ultimately, it’s the federal government that has to answer for this failing. As the old English proverb says, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ But the Harper government appears content to let the status quo prevail.

Censored AEEL ILO briefing note, March 24, 2010

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Wall gov’t reneges on offer to provide comprehensive list of barriers to trade and investment between Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia

Prior to the signing of the New West Partnership between Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia on April 30, 2010, in Regina, the Council of Canadians initiated an email campaign asking the public to write to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz to demand the release of the full text of the agreement and hold a legislative review and full public consultations before they consider signing on to the partnership.

The premier responded with a form letter dated May 13, 2010, thanking those that wrote for taking the time to raise their concerns.

In the letter, Wall said the agreement “will create Canada’s largest interprovincial barrier-free trade and investment market.” This was followed by the outright lie that his government “has been fully transparent on the New West Partnership,” and the half-truth, that subsequent to the TILMA hearings in 2007 (or, as Wall calls them, “the broad legislative multi-party consultations on regional trade”), two key concerns were then identified: protecting the public ownership of Crown Corporations and retaining the ability of municipalities to encourage economic development.

For the past five years right wing politicians, think tanks and business lobby groups have inundated Canadians with apocalyptic rhetoric that the country’s economy and competitiveness is suffocating under a blanket of interprovincial trade barriers too numerous to count.

In July 2004, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, a national lobby group that speaks for more than 175,000 businesses, embarked on a mission to survey its members to identify barriers to trade. The goal was to forward the results to provincial and territorial governments to assist in their efforts in implementing the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT), an intergovernmental trade agreement signed by Canadian First Ministers that came into force in 1995.

“Unfortunately the AIT has not been fully implemented and numerous barriers to trade exist within Canada,” the Chamber claimed in the survey questionnaire sent to members. “Internal trade barriers increase the costs to both businesses and consumers and negatively impact the competitiveness of the Canadian economy.”

The final report released in November 2004 shows the exercise was a total disaster.

Out of the tens of thousands of businesses that likely received the survey only 106 bothered to respond. Of those, just 37 companies said they experienced barriers to trade within Canada, seven of which said they “worked with the provincial or territorial government to resolve the barrier.”

The abysmal response might have been worse had the Chamber not coached members along by including in the survey seven “examples” of barriers then asking them if they’d experienced any.

Despite the poor results, the Chamber’s then president and CEO Nancy Hughes Anthony publicly stated: “What our members told us is that they face a plethora of barriers.” [B.C., Alberta are leading the way (Windsor Star, April 26, 2007)]

In May 2006, the Conference Board of Canada published the report Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts that examines the extent of the barriers to competition in Canada and their impact on productivity.

The Conference Board claims Canada has a “bewildering array” of internal trade barriers yet only identifies two examples: Quebec prohibition of margarine from having the same colour as butter and Ontario’s restriction making it illegal to manufacture and sell products that resemble a dairy product if those products combine edible oils.

The Conference Board admits “little research” has been done on interprovincial barriers but is convinced they exist “in all sectors of the economy.” They acknowledge, “No comprehensive listing of these barriers seems to exist” then lamely suggest this is because “their sheer numbers present a daunting obstacle to any attempt to compile a full list.”

Incidentally, in July 2008, the Quebec government lifted the ban on coloured margarine and on July 22, 2010, in Toronto, a summary panel conducted a hearing under the dispute resolution provisions of the AIT to review the Ontario case.

TILMA and New West Partnership supporters will now have beat the bushes to scare up another example of a genuine interprovincial trade barrier.

In a web-exclusive commentary to the Globe and Mail on May 1, 2010, BC Premier Gordon Campbell, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said “it is critical that we break down unnecessary barriers between our provinces.”

“We cannot afford to allow internal borders to stifle opportunity or permit antiquated ways of thinking to continue to impede our ability to move forward with new ideas with new partners,” they said.

Through the New West Partnership the three provinces will enhance the competitiveness of the region “by removing barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility.” [We are stronger as one than if we stand apart (Globe and Mail, May 1, 2010)]

As usual, no list of barriers was produced.

With that in mind a letter was sent to Premier Brad Wall on May 18, 2010, asking him to provide separate comprehensive lists of the barriers to trade and investment that currently exist between Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

Wall replied three weeks later, but only to say that an access to information request had to be submitted.

The subsequent request to Executive Council resulted in a phone call from Garett Murray, the manager of corporate planning at central management services with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, on June 28, 2010, to discuss the matter. The central management services branch provides support to intergovernmental affairs through a shared services agreement.

Murray advised that there is no one document containing a comprehensive list of barriers to trade and investment between the three westernmost provinces, but proposed that the provincial government would create a new record that had the information. It was further agreed that such a record would also contain the source for each barrier listed.

Unfortunately, the Wall government reneged on the offer without explaining why.

In a letter dated July 22, 2010, Bonita Cairns, the executive director of corporate services with Executive Council, provided a one-page record prepared by intergovernmental affairs staff listing five “general examples” of barriers to trade and investment that currently exist between the three westernmost provinces.

“A comprehensive list of barriers does not currently exist,” the document states. “To implement Article 5 of the trade component of the New West Partnership, i.e., to mutually recognize or otherwise reconcile differences in standards and regulations that operate to impair trade, investment and labour mobility, the three governments will be compiling a comprehensive list of all existing differences.”

The “general examples” of trade barriers include: differences in commercial vehicle registration rules; differences in labour mobility rules for financial services professionals such as insurance agents and mortgage brokers; differences in procurement rules for ministries, Crown corporations, municipalities, health regions, school divisions, universities and colleges; differences in business registration; and, differences in reporting requirements.

It appears all the Wall government did was expand on what is stated in the New West Partnership Trade Agreement implementation schedule shown on page four of a provincial government backgrounder released on April 30, 2010.

What’s good about the new record is that it exposes the absurdity of the three governments signing such an intrusive, heavy handed trade agreement without first identifying the alleged barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility it was created to eliminate. Perhaps this was done to avoid having to answer questions had the list been compiled before the agreement was signed.

Besides confirming that no list of barriers exists, the document also shows that, like TILMA, the New West Partnership is primarily an attack on standards and regulations – not bona fide trade barriers. The Wall government – in lock-step with business groups and conservative think tanks – is falsely claiming that differences in public interest regulation amount to “trade barriers.”

Economists Marc Lee and Erin Weir point out in their study, The Myth of Interprovincial Trade Barriers and TILMA’s Alleged Economic Benefits (February 2007), that most serious studies conclude that there are few significant obstacles to trade and investment within Canada. There are no customs inspection stations along provincial borders, nor any kind of tariffs on interprovincial trade. Canadians use the same currency and share common legal, financial and economic institutions. Canadians are free to live and work anywhere in the country. The federal government has constitutional power over interprovincial trade and the courts have consistently struck down attempts by provincial governments to obstruct it.

“What corporate Canada calls “trade barriers” are in fact differences across provinces in government procurement systems, labour standards, consumer-protection measures, environmental regulations, and taxes,” Lee and Weir explain. “Harmonizing these policies down to the lowest common denominator would certainly reduce the cost of doing business. However, the alleged trade distortions resulting from these differences, and the supposed public benefits of removing them, have been greatly exaggerated. Genuine trade barriers are quite small and exist in only a few areas.”

It seems like the average Canadian is more apt to spot a UFO or run into Bigfoot than encounter a legitimate trade barrier.

By signing the New West Partnership, Premier Brad Wall has committed Saskatchewan to adopting or recognizing standards that might be lower than its own.

According to the April 30 backgrounder Alberta and British Columbia already “fully comply with the agreement.” Saskatchewan has until July 1, 2012, to mutually recognize or otherwise reconcile differences in regulations and standards that restrict or impair trade, investment or labour mobility.

An undated question and answer document released by the Wall government on May 25, 2010, through an access to information request notes that: “The New West Partnership supersedes TILMA. In practice, obligations for Alberta and British Columbia do not change under the New West Partnership Trade Agreement.”

A March 10, 2010, briefing note prepared by intergovernmental affairs staff indicates that one of the main obligations in the agreement for Saskatchewan is to essentially agree not to discriminate against its western neighbours. For example: “recognize Alberta and British Columbia standards and regulations as our own.”

What if those standards and regulations are lower than Saskatchewan’s?

The three governments deny that the agreement will result in provinces adopting the lowest common denominator when it comes to standards and regulations. They say that the agreement requires them work toward the enhancement of sustainable development, consumer and environmental protection, and health, safety and labour standards and the effectiveness of any such measures.

In theory, the New West Partnership could result in some higher standards being adopted. However, if Alberta and British Columbia already comply with the agreement why would they adopt a tougher Saskatchewan standard? Mutual recognition means there could be up to three sets of different standards and regulations putting regulators in competition with each other. How long will regulators put up with that nightmare scenario?

Despite claims to the contrary, the Wall government has not been “fully transparent” on the New West Partnership. Executive Council has denied several access to information requests.

▪ On March 2, 2010, access was denied to copies of any briefing notes regarding the Western Economic Partnership (now the New West Partnership) since October 1, 2009.

▪ On April 21, 2009, access was denied to copies of any agendas, minutes, reports, briefing notes, memorandums or letters, including attachments, regarding the trilateral cabinet meeting that took place on March 13, 2009, in Vancouver. It was at this meeting that the three governments agreed to enter into an economic partnership. Access to any agreements or memorandums of understanding that were signed at the meeting was also turned down.

▪ On October 22, 2009, access was denied to copies of the two most recent draft versions of the Western Economic Partnership Agreement (now the New West Partnership).

And when Wall says that following the June 2007 TILMA hearings “two key concerns were then identified: protecting the public ownership of Crown Corporations and retaining the ability of municipalities to encourage economic development,” what he’s not telling people is that those were the only concerns the Saskatchewan Party would listen to. All the other concerns raised at the hearings were ignored.

And finally, just so there is no mistaking how close the new agreement resembles TILMA is the following passage from a fact sheet posted on the Government of Alberta website: “Built on the groundbreaking success of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) between Alberta and British Columbia, the NWPTA extends Alberta and British Columbia’s commitments to include a new partner, Saskatchewan. The trade obligations under the NWPTA remain the same as those made under the TILMA, but they now apply across the three western provinces.”

Maybe now the Wall government will stop trying to distance itself from TILMA.