Thursday, May 18, 2017

On Leadership and Definitions

SOURCE: CBC News: Ryan Meili Seeks NDP Leadership for 3rd Time

By this point in time, most of you have likely heard the news that Ryan Meili has announced his intention to seek the leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP for the third time. Meili, who has had two strong second place finishes in prior leadership contests, is thus far the only announced candidate in the leadership contest; and arguably, regardless of who may come next, likely considered to be the frontrunner.

With Ryan thus far being the only announced candidate, I suppose we'll be spending the rest of this post looking at some things that I hope Ryan and his team have already begun to work on. After all, there's more at stake here than just the NDP Leadership.

I'd like to preface this post, before we launch into the main arguments and discussion, that this post may come across perhaps as prodding on my end. It may very well be, but hopefully, it's a good kind of prodding that will help ensure that the party comes out stronger on the other side of this leadership contest.

Let's start with the obvious point: The Sask Party is very much prepared for the Meili-led NDP. Brad Wall has, on several occasions, referred to Meili (since his election in Saskatoon-Meewasin) as "the future leader of the NDP" or some variation thereof; so we need to ask ourselves what exactly that means for the first few days of a Meili led NDP.

One of the things that has ham-stringed the last few provincial NDP leaders was a failure to define themselves out of the gate; by leaving such an opening, Wall and the Sask Party were able to define the new leaders and set the tone and tenor of their tenure. And regardless of what developments came later, both Lingenfelter and Broten suffered from these initial perceptions perpetuated by the Sask Party and Wall and his front bench.

Since his first run against Dwain Lingenfelter, Ryan Meili has likely been a "person of interest" for Saskatchewan Party partisans. They have had years to craft what messaging they can, or would, use in the event Ryan became party leader. As such, it's very likely that from the first second after a Meili win, the Sask Party would be ready to launch every salvo they have stored from those years to do what they did to Lingenfelter and Broten so well: Define him before he defines himself.

As such, Meili and his team need to be ready for this. Wall's chattering of acknowledging Meili as the front-runner in the NDP race more or less shows that they will be ready from day one to start their campaign against him. With that in mind, Team Meili needs to ensure that they're laying groundwork not just to win the NDP Leadership, but also getting ready from Day One to ensure that they are the ones who define Ryan to Saskatchewan voters.

There will be precious little time after a Meili win to achieve this, so I do certainly hope that it is something that is being discussed within his organizational structure.

That's not to say that this same kind of tactic would not be employed against a 'dark horse' candidate who pulls out a surprise win over Meili; as the Sask Party is likely to continue on this path as it's worked well at kneecapping two previous leaders. But for Meili, having been in the public eye longer, the Sask Party will certainly be more ready for him.

We certainly saw a taste of this during the Meewasin by-election, wherein the Sask Party ran ads tying Ryan to Trudeau's Carbon Tax. While it seems like that argument landed with a thud, given Ryan's victory in Meewasin, it's likely just the tip of the iceberg on potential "definition" campaigns they could run.

Again, I point all of this out in the hopes of acknowledging that should Ryan end up winning the leadership next May, he and his team must be ready for this. The campaign to come isn't just about securing the NDP Leadership, but also about securing Ryan's public image to ensure that it is defined by him and his actions, and not by political tactics of the Sask Party.

Which brings us to the next point, the need for this leadership race to be a conversation and not a coronation.

Ryan's entry into the race is likely to scare off some of the 'smaller fish' candidates who were perhaps entertaining a leadership run. The problem here, in my opinion, is that the party is in such a place at the moment that a singular leadership race poses many problems.

While the party could maintain that it's the membership uniting behind Ryan, and seeing his vision as the best for the province; we come back to opposition definition. If Ryan is the only candidate, the Sask Party will undoubtedly use that as an attack in several ways. From arguing that the party is in such dire straights it could only find one person wanting to lead it to painting the party as being completely taken over by so-and-so wing of the party.

Again, definition is important; and a healthy leadership competition is a part of that definition. As such, it's important to ensure that many voices are active and engaged during the leadership race. Anything else than that is ceding ground to the Sask Party attack ad machine; and that's a dangerous ground to cede.

Which brings me to the next point: Regardless of whether it's Ryan, or someone else, the next leader has to be ready to deal with two realities.

The first reality is the one where the NDP is elected in 2020, and the leader is able to begin to implement the policies and vision that they were elected on.

The second reality is the one where the NDP is elected in 2020, and we find ourselves in a repeat of the early 1990s: The cupboards barer than the previous government admitted to, and the newly elected government stymied into the role of a caretaker rather than a visionary.

As much as it may be pessimistic, we need to have an open and frank discussion of what happens in 2020 if the party finds itself in power and the financial burden of the province in a much darker hole than Wall and his outgoing cabinet revealed. Call it the difference between political idealism and practical realism; we need to have a platform that reflects lofty goals, but we also need to have a dose of realism on what the party, and the leader, will do if we find Saskatchewan in more dire straights than we think.

The Sask Party has made a living off of citing all the "Closures" and "deferred building" under the NDP of the 1990s; ignoring the reasons why that all occurred...And we need to ensure that any future leaders of the NDP are not caught in the same trap again.

It's not fun to perhaps have to consider what happens if you're elected and have to keep the province's head above water, rather than enacting your pet policies; but again, if we want to avoid opposition definition years down the line, we need to be prepared for both scenarios.

And again, hopefully Ryan and his team (and all potential leadership candidates and their teams), have reflected on this possibility and are able to address what the party and the province would look like in this scenario with them in control. Otherwise, we are likely to see the same arguments Wall uses today return in ten to fifteen year's time as the new reason to shun the NDP.

Effectively, as much as this leadership race will be about laying out a new vision for the party and the province, it must also be a race to acknowledge difficult truths and possibilities of what the next government might have to deal with. And I hope that that is something that has been deeply pondered by every candidate considering running.

Monday, May 8, 2017

You Get a P3! And You Get a P3! Everybody Gets a P3!

SOURCE: CBC News: Sask. Spending Millions on Companies that Bid on Work and Lose
SOURCE: Leader Post: Sask. Government Gave $5.6 Million to Companies for Failed P3 Bids

When it was announced earlier today that Brad Wall had sent off another prodding letter to the Federal Government to saber-rattle over the looming Carbon Tax; my first though was what other information could possibly be coming out later today that Wall wanted to distract from.

At first, there was a strong contender in the information that Saskatoon was selected as the new headquarters for Saskatchewan's amalgamated health region; foresaking Regina and cities such as Moose Jaw and Prince Albert that seemed to pose interest in hosting the new HQ. (We'll probably talk more about this at another point.)

But what seemed more in need of a diversion was the story of millions of dollars being paid out to companies who produced failing bids on some of the province's P3 projects.

In the 2015 - 2016 Budgetary year, as cited in the Leader Post source, the province paid out $5.6 million to companies who were not selected as the successful bidder in the project. I'm going to expand on that point, and it's worth noting, that in the Request for Proposal (RFP) that went out for these P3 projects a section was included for the payment of 'honorariums' to unsuccessful bidders.

In the case of the Swift Current Care Home, the honorarium was marked at $300,000; of which two payments were made to unsuccessful bidders for a total of $600,000.

For the Regina Bypass, the honorarium was $1.5 million; of which three payments were made for a total of $4.5 million.

For the North Battleford Hospital, the honorarium was $500,000; of which two payments were made for a total of $1 million.

That accounts for the $5.6 million paid out reported by the Leader Post. What's unaccounted for is any payments made as a result of any of the 18 P3 schools to be built in the province.

Project 1, which covers six schools in Regina, offers a honorarium of $300,000; with no reporting of whether any honorariums have been paid out, or how many. Project 2, which covers twelve schools in Saskatoon, Martensville, and Warman, offers a honorarium of $500,000; with no reporting of whether any honorariums have been paid out, or how many.

Needless to say, Brad Wall and Minister for SaskBuilds Gordon Wyant have been quick to defend the use of these honorarium payments to unsuccessful bidders. Both have held up the defence of "Standard Practice", when it comes to these payments

To be fair, they do seem to be telling the truth on that matter. A cursory Google search of P3 honorariums will show you several different jurisdictions throughout Canada that talk about the honorarium incentive. What's interesting, and unclear in Saskatchewan, is how the honorarium is determined.

For example, the Consulting Architects of Alberta have suggested the following formula for determining an appropriate honorarium:

Honorarium = (CAA suggested fee for basic services X 15%) X 75%

Now, that is just a suggested formula; but it at least provides a baseline for what should be a simple and public question: How are the honorarium for P3 bidders determined, and what percentage of return is there on an honorarium?

The worry, which invokes similarities to the plot of Mel Brooks' The Producers, is the concern that a company could make money off an unsuccessful bid. Regardless of that potential, I think there is a very valid concern in knowing the how the province is determining the level of reimbursement to an unsuccessful P3 bidder.

Wyant is on record, in the CBC article, stating that companies receive "about 30%" of the cost of the designs. What's unclear is whether this is standard, below average, or above average for the design work performed.

Further complicating things is that word "About". Does about 30% mean 29%? 28% 25%, generously rounded up? 31%? Without knowing more specifics about how the rate of honorariums are determined, we can't honestly say whether taxpayers are getting a good deal on these payments or if they're grossly inflated.

But there's a problem we haven't addressed yet; are design costs actually being paid prior to the bid?

As per the Consulting Architects of Alberta, again:
Design firms are often expected to perform design services for free or at heavily discounted rates; they are commonly expected to take on the risk of providing free services as their contribution to their team's pursuit of the project.
So, in Alberta at least (which let's be honest, often serves as operating model for a lot of stuff the Saskatchewan Party does...or at least, it did.) there is an expectation that design teams work on a project for either free or a heavily discounted rate of their normal service as "their part" of the risk in the project.
Which makes one worried that we're reimbursing design costs that didn't actually cost a thing. Again, images of Max Bialystock pop into one's brain, and concern that a corporation could use a P3 honorarium as a form of taxpayer funded subsidizing to avoid paying their own workers, or subcontractors, for work rendered.

Of course, I imagine most companies would hide behind "market interests" or "competitive reasons"  and other buzzwords to forego explaining the direct cost of their design services on a P3 RFP bid. So, we'll just have to go with Wyant's "About 30%" and try to determine whether or not that's a good value or a fleecing on our own.

Which brings us to the next defence, uttered by Wall and Wyant, that honorariums are common in both P3 models and in the traditional "design-build" model (how government generally builds infrastructure projects). Add in the additional, "The NDP paid out honorariums when they were in office" defence, and you have the standard SK Party defence uttered since 2007.

So, is there any truth to those statements?

Right now, not a lot. There is a case of a skyscraper being built in Alberta in 2004, under a traditional design-build method, where a $500,000 honorarium was paid out to two unsuccessful bidders. In that case, the payout was considered unprecedented; and further Googling suggests that honorarium for design-build projects are outliers, not the norm. As opposed to P3s, which seem to require the honorarium to move forward.
I'm failing to find any such example in Saskatchewan; nor am I finding any from when the NDP was in power. I welcome readers who have such information to fire it into the comments section, with links please, so we can update this section as needed. 

As such, on the face of it, this defence doesn't hold water.

Which brings us to Wyant's last defence of the honorarium payment. Wyant admitted that without the honorarium, it's possible there would be no interest in the bid. 

The problem is, there's historical record that rejects this. We cast our eyes, yet again, on Alberta and their experiment with P3 schools. Alberta's PC Government originally made a P3 deal for 19 new schools, with a $750,000 honorarium, before the government scrapped the program. And the reason they scrapped it: Lack of interest from private business.

Saskatchewan's school honorariums, as noted above, ranged from $200,000 to $450,000 below the Alberta one; for one less school overall. Which throws some cold water on the notion that the honorarium produces incentive; if Alberta's more generous offer only attracted one bidder, how did Saskatchewan get away with less incentive for a similar project?

Which brings us to a fundamental question that must be asked: If incentives are needed to convince businesses to sign on to P3 bids, and these incentives are nothing more than taxpayer provided subsidy, why are we pursuing this model?

The best answer to this question, and one I sadly can't provide, is to compare interest and responses to RFPs under the design-build model compared to the P3 model. When the government handled the design work did we have more contractors bid on the project?

Part of me says, without evidence, that it's possible; after all, smaller firms would be able to bid on a project if they had the capacity to build a project but perhaps not the capacity needed to completely design one from scratch.

A defence of P3s that I've heard bandied about by SK Party supporters is that government guidelines require so much work to be done up front on an RFP that some form of compensation is needed for the unsuccessful bidders. And while there is some merit in that argument, the problem is it is undercut by a clearer answer: traditional design-build projects would remove that upfront design cost and need for a honorarium to unsuccessful bidders.

So, we can have a system where the design work is handled and smaller firms are capable of bidding on a project...OR we can have a system where only larger companies, or a hodge-podge mixture of several, can afford to put up upfront costs but want some form of reimbursement regardless of how the competition pans out.

When it's phrased like that, at least to me, the answer seems fairly obvious as to which of those two systems is better over the long haul.

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn't talk about the notion of standard operating practice (SOP). SOP is often cited as the reason why something was done the way it was done. As mentioned above, SOP is for honorariums to be paid out to unsuccessful bidders in a P3 model. From BC to Nova Scotia, P3 projects have used honorariums.

But the question, and one that must be asked in light of the most recent budget, is what does the SOP cost us in the long haul?

As mentioned previously, this government has made a myriad of cuts to various programs in the name of austerity and chase of a balanced budget. What could that $5.6 million paid out to unsuccessful bidders have paid for in other aspects of the budget?

How many hearing aids for kids could that have bought? How many graduates could have gone through NORTEP/NORPAC? How many funerals for the homeless could have been paid for, to provide one last shred of dignity in death? How many EAs could that have put into classrooms?

There's dozens of more examples, but I think that gets the point across. We shouldn't accept "Standard Operating Practice" as an answer for why this money was spent in the manner it was. How a government spends money in our name highlights the priorities that they are pursuing. Regardless of what is said, or not said, in an election; a budget shows you the true colours of those in charge.

And what we've seen, time and time again, is that the average Saskatchewan resident is nothing more than a piggy-bank to be exploited at every turn to ensure an effective transfer of wealth from us to corporate interests. And while that may sound like a teenager rattling off a tenant of Communism, and it does, in this case it is a very real and fundamental truth.

Follow the money and you'll see that our current government has always gone out of their way to ensure corporations were well looked after in this province; from these SOP honorariums to corporate tax cuts in a time of austerity to an idea to clean-up oil wells so companies wouldn't have to...

Wall and Co. have never turned away a thought on how they can benefit business. Conversely, they haven't seen a way to drag more out of the average citizen (resistance to minimum wage increases, SAID funding slashes, increases in cost of living [utilities, university education, etc], etc.)

Look at who Wall has stood up for and gone to bat for the most over the last decade. I'll give you a hint: It wasn't the general public.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Long Gone to Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan, we need to talk.

There is a very real problem in this province, regardless of whether or not you want to admit it, but we need to talk about it. To put our fingers in our ears and sing our lungs out isn't going to do anyone any good; instead, we need to admit a pure and simple truth: Saskatchewan, we've been had.

Now, this is not an easy concept for anyone to admit. Humans, by our very nature, are a prideful bunch. It takes a special kind of person to stand back and admit "I made a mistake" or "I trusted someone I shouldn't have." While buyer's remorse is a concept many of us are familiar with, especially those who watch the Home Shopping Channel, when it comes to the things that matter we are slow to admit when mistakes have been made.

Instead, as is often the case, deflection and denial become the order of the day. It's easier to convince ourselves of a happy lie than it is to accept a painful truth. But we, as a province, need to step back and open our eyes.

Irreparable harm is being done to our province. I'm going to say that again: Irreparable harm is being done to our province. Sadly, this is not harm being committed by an external party intent on our harm, but it is harm being done by those we expected to represent us. By those who, quite literally, draped themselves in the colours and symbols of our province and told us that they were here for us.

Despite the analogy being overused to the point of useless cliché; a wolf in sheep's clothing fooled us. They filled the room with platitudes and banner waving; talked about the promise of a "new Saskatchewan", and basically made "Happy Days Are Here Again" the unofficial anthem of their new vision for our province.

To say a word against them was akin to blasphemy. Raise a valid concern? You were DOWN ON SASKATCHEWAN. Ask what happens when the traditional boom-bust cycle of resource revenue returns to the bust side of the pendulum? THAT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! DO YOU WANT TO SEE OUR PROVINCE FAIL?!

The problem, Saskatchewan, is that many of us allowed this behaviour to go unchecked. Instead of persisting, instead of demanding answers and a clear vision, we took the pablum that was offered and swallowed it down with a smile. We bought into the notion that somehow, this time, it was going to be different. That against all odds, what we were being told was true, "Next Year" had finally arrived in Saskatchewan, and we were NEVER going back to before.

Sadly, as we are finding out on a daily basis, we are learning a very stubborn and harsh truth: The cycle of boom-and-bust continues, and despite all the protestations of one blustering Premier, the entire province is now paying the price for an extreme lack of vision. While other jurisdictions used the unprecedented highs of the oil and resource economy to save some of that wealth; Saskatchewan spent like a drunk sailor on shore leave.

In 2009, when the economic downturn really started to peak globally, questions began to be asked about how the government would avoid being hit with this new economic reality. Yet again, instead of any tangible plan or explanation, we were given platitudes and pipe dreams (which is a great band name, by the way).

Yet again, critics were "Down on Saskatchewan" or "Down on the Promise of Saskatchewan", for asking "What happens if the economy goes south for us?"It was a question that should have been given serious thought and reflection; but it is painfully clear that it was never in the forefront of the minds of those who lead our province.

At no point was this more painfully clear than in 2014, when our illustrious Premier commissioned Peter MacKinnon to look at the development of a Saskatchewan Futures Fund. MacKinnon's report called for the immediate establishment of such a fund; Wall's response: "Now is not the time."

In the same time that Wall decided not to save any of Saskatchewan's resource revenue, he did apparently decide that it was indeed the time to:
Saskatchewan, just look at some of the dollar figures quoted and cited in the links above; now consider those priorities at a time when Saskatchewan's economy was riding high. I won't fault the Wall Government for trying new things; sometimes, the new thing works, sometimes it doesn't. As a popular example, we'll cite SpudCo, since the right-of-centre people in the province will never let us forget that one. So, yes, on occasion governments make mistakes and or ideas don't pan out as planned.

The problem, however, is when a government fails to learn from their mistakes. And year after year, we have seen a hubris and ego from the Wall Government that shows that they are not a group who learn from their mistakes.

Instead of owning up to their shortcomings and accepting their lumps, the Wall Government has never seen a scapegoat they haven't found a way to hoist up and condemn.

Complaints about rural health care? The NDP is to blame from when they were in government over a decade ago! Complaints about road infrastructure? The NDP paid less for roads than we have! Economy collapsing? Resource revenue globally...PLUS for good measure, we'll blame the NDP in Alberta!

There's an old phrase, that I'm going to clean up to use on the blog: If you run into a jerk in the morning, you ran into a jerk in the morning. If you run into jerks all day, you're the jerk. Passing the buck only works for so long, if it works at all, and instead what we've seen is a government that is very slow to admit mistakes.

We saw one of those once in a blue moon instances recently with the decision to reverse cuts to library funding. And that was a huge victory for people who got active, wrote letters, showed up to protest events, and held onto issue like a pitbull with a steak bone.

Of course, the storm cloud on the horizon on this issue, is that the funding restored is equal to last year's funding. No increases, no decreases. Which makes the possibility of a decrease in the next budget, but perhaps not one as substantial as the cut proposed this most recent budget, all the more likely.

And then there's the cuts that are still happening.

The loss of STC. Education claw backs, despite an increase to mill rates for education. The cutting of funeral services for homeless individuals in the province. Continued cut after cut to people on programs like SAID in the province; with the announcement today that a $20 travel voucher credit is being replaced by a "mileage" system, requiring out of pocket expenses first. This was a project that cost $240 a year for a single person, with the government saying the change would affect 4,200 people.

That's a grand total of $1,008,000 a year. A literal drop in the bucket, when you consider the size of the provincial deficit.

At the same time, among all these cuts, is a generous cut of 1% to the corporate tax rate in the province.  At the same time, a 1% increase to the PST; while also removing previously exempted items from their exemptions, meaning some items effectively saw a 6% tax increase.

Also among all these cuts: Bill 40, which we've talked about before, and the potential sale of up to 49% of our Crowns to "private partnerships".

Not even a week after Bill 40 passed, it was confirmed that SaskTel Minister Dustin Duncan had talked to a representative from a large telecommunications company...And that SaskTel had done "preliminary" work on what a 49% sale would look like. Never mind that on Wednesday, before Bill 40 passed, Duncan declared in the Legislature that no work had been done. Come Thursday, and the bill being passed, Duncan's tune changed and he said that he had misspoke.

I want to emphasis this, because it's very important: The Minister responsible for SaskTel stood up in the Legislature, the public's House, and unequivocally denied any work being done by SaskTel on a potential sale...Only to correct the record AFTER the bill had been passed. That is DANGEROUSLY close to a Minister misleading the Legislature; which believe it or not, is actually a very serious issue.

Granted, until we know otherwise, we have to take Duncan at his word and that it was an oversight not a malicious attempt to mislead the Legislature. But the timing sure is suspect, and it points to yet another stronger case for the hubris and ego that permeates throughout our provincial government.

Which brings me back to the conversation and the harsh truth we need to admit to ourselves.

Saskatchewan, Brad Wall and his government have not earned the right to treat this province in any manner in which they choose. Now, I can hear some of you saying, "But Scott, we elected them. They won an election."

And while they did indeed win an election, I have to ask: Where in their platform did they include any of this?

Where did they pledge to sell up to 49% of our Crowns and redefine the word "privatize" in order to do it? Where did they pledge to cruel, heartless and short-sighted cuts to some of the most vulnerable among us? Where did they pledge to restructure education in the province? Where did they pledge to raise the PST? Where did they pledge to cut the corporate tax rate by 1%? Where did they pledge to shut down STC? Where did they pledge to kill the grants-in-lieu to municipalities? Where did they pledge to do ANY of things they're doing now?

The fact of the matter is they didn't.

Their campaign platform from 2016 contained very few pledges:
  • Increase funding for children with Autism in the province (Cancelled, by the way, at least for the foreseeable future)
  • Create an"Innovation Patent Box" system in Saskatchewan. (They did do this...Huh, it's almost like they'll always do stuff for companies but not families, the poor, or average citizens...)
  • Rebuild the Rainy-Day Fund...ONCE oil is north of $75 again. (At the time of typing this, WTI Crude was pegged at $44.44 USD; oh, and keep in mind that the 2017 - 2018 Budget numbers pegged WTI at $56.25...So we're only $11.81 shy on that.)
And those were most of the "big ticket" items. There was no talk of cuts, or coming austerity. In fact, the Saskatchewan Party spent a lot of time talking about "Not going back" to how things were under the NDP...And how resources were down, sure, but they were prepared and ready to meet the challenge.

Nevermind the fact that the Wall Government quashed budget numbers being released prior to the election. Nevermind that the NDP, quite accurately, were telling us to prepare for the $100-odd million surplus to be closer to a $1 billion plus deficit by the time the budget was revealed.

And this is a big problem.

In a democratic society, an election is supposed to be a contest of ideas. Politicians provide policy, talk about their plans, and let us know what they're going to do in our name for the next four years. But that didn't happen in 2016. The Saskatchewan Party campaigned with rose-tinted glasses, and told us all to look through them, rather than admit to any possible storm that could cost them the election.

We weren't told about cuts, we were told that our "economic diversification" had made Saskatchewan an island; that we would weather the storm and come through unscathed. That unlike other jurisdictions, -COUGH ALBERTA COUGH COUGH DAMNED NOTELY COUGH-, that we would be fine. That despite our financial outlook looking closer and closer to the darkest days of the Grant Devine years, that Saskatchewan was NEVER going back to before.

The fact of the matter, actually, is that despite all their talk of "Never Going Back", the Saskatchewan Party has managed to do exactly that.

In 1968, W. Ross Thatcher's re-elected Liberal Government launched an unannounced austerity program throughout the province. They raised taxes, cut government programs, and brought in fees on medical procedures. (2017: PST raised, check; government programs cut, check; medical fees: We'll count private MRI and CT expansion as a check here.) Thatcher's cuts took a lot of people, including members of his own caucus and cabinet, by surprise.

It's shockingly scary, actually, how valid this quote from John Russell Kowalchuk NDP MLA from Melville is today:

"They  just  couldn't  have  been  in  on  that  great  secret  Budget,  Mr.  Speaker,  and  of course  I  can  readily  understand  the  terrible  dilemma  they  were  in.  They  were  probably  thinking  as  to how they could face their constituents back home. How could they explain the abrupt change from boom to  bust?  How  could  they  wash  away  the  betrayal  of  their  supporters  who  had  believed  them?  Mr. Speaker,  never  in  the  history  of  Saskatchewan  have  the  people  been  betrayed  as  they  were  by  that Budget  presented  by  the  Provincial  Treasurer  on  that  black  Friday  of  March  1. Mr.  Speaker,  from  the pre-election  days  of  October  11,  from  the  big,  new  shiny  Saskatchewan  to  utter  decay,  ruin  and  grim austerity, is  a  lie  that  the  people  of  Saskatchewan  will  never  forget,  not  even  in  four  years time,  Mr. Speaker."

By 1971, Thatcher and his Liberals were resoundingly tossed from office; showing that, at least in 1971, Kowalchuk's vow that people would not forget was true. It's a warning perhaps Brad Wall and company should take to heart as well.

Saskatchewan, we have a problem, and it's indeed bigger than one Brad Wall. As you can see, we have a bad habit of falling into a very specific cycle in this province.

Here, to make it very simple, I've made a chart:

Seriously, we've been doing this song and dance since 1967; and it's time that we realize that we're stuck in a rut and need to get out of it. Saskatchewan, we have a problem, and it's been going on for decades. But rather than commiserate the past, let's focus on the here and now.

Today's problem is Brad Wall and his government. They had a chance to speak frankly to the people, it's called an election, and explain what they were going to do to our province. They lied by omission. It's like going in for open-heart surgery, and waking up to find that while the surgeon was operating they also decided to amputate one of your arms without consulting you or your spouse in the waiting room. Meanwhile, while you're preparing your malpractice lawsuit, the surgeon is claiming that they spotted a suspect looking growth or such on your arm two months ago and decided they'd fix it when you came in for surgery...It's just, they never told you at any point, despite knowing about it months ago.

We wouldn't tolerate a surgeon who made a decision on based on withheld information, so why would we tolerate it from our government?

I'm going to say this as plainly as I can: Brad Wall and his government have no mandate to be undertaking the cuts and austerity agenda that they are now passing. They had an opportunity to make a case for austerity to the electorate; they chose not to, and we know they made that decision purely based on electoral fortunes. After all, not many governments win elections on austerity agendas.

But we needed to have that conversation. We deserved to know that STC was gone under a re-elected Saskatchewan Party. We deserved to know that the PST would go up by 1%, and that some exemptions would disappear completely. WE, the people of Saskatchewan, are Brad Wall's boss. Him, and his entire government, are accountable to us.

It's not the other way around.

And that's where this gets very tricky. We're years away from an election, and Saskatchewan (like the rest of Canada) has no method of recall legislation. Like it or not, we're stuck with Wall and Co until 2020 at the latest. The problem, of course, is all the damage they can between then and now.

And that's why this blog post is the length that it is: We need to be vocal. We need to be active. We need to be ready to call out attention to EVERY little detail this government does in our name. We need to show everyone, regardless of political stripe, that the actions taken by our Government DO NOT represent our wishes.

We need to demand accountability.

I'll say this: If Brad Wall and his government wish to continue to push Saskatchewan down the path of austerity and cuts; the path of privatization of public services and our Crown Corporations; the path of completely transforming this province from the one we know and love to one whose form I can't imagine...Then you need to get permission from the people you claim to represent.

You need to take this callous, heartless, and deceitful budget from the legislature and turn it into an election platform. You need to let the people in on this decision, and let us decide whether this unannounced direction is where we want to see our province go.

If you truly believe this is the course the province must take, and I think you do, then you need to have enough common decency to let the people have a say. Simply running on platitudes and popularity (another great band name), while concealing what you would undertake just months later in our name lacks all decency and sincerity.

You've been privileged, and it is a privilege, to lead our province for a decade. Privilege comes with responsibility, which you have eschewed for political expediency. If you truly care about our province, if you truly want to "keep Saskatchewan strong", then make your full and open case to the people.

Put quite simply: Brad Wall must dissolve the legislature and ask for a new election. His party is lacking any mandate or credibility to undertake this austerity agenda. Let them face the people and pitch their plan, and let us decide whether this is what we want for our province.

Refuse this with the premonition uttered by Mr. Kowalchuk some 49 years ago:

"...from  the  big,  new  shiny  Saskatchewan  to  utter  decay,  ruin  and  grim austerity, is  a  lie  that  the  people  of  Saskatchewan  will  never  forget,  not  even  in  four  years time, Mr. Speaker."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Forget the Wall, We've Just Opened a Hell of a Door

Source: CBC News - Saskatchewan Government Passes Bill 40 Allowing Partial Sale of Crowns

Let's ignore the long absence, and just get right to it, shall we?

We've talked about Bill 40 before on the blog, and how the government was making overtures towards moving the goal line on what is and is not "privatization". There is a lot of be rehashed, which could just be gleaned from reading the old post, but let's do the cliff notes short version to make sure we're all on the same page:

  1. Saskatchewan law, under the Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act of 2004, which makes it such that a government cannot "bring into force" a bill that would privatize a Crown unless it occurs 90 days after the last election. (Nutshell: A government passes the law, has to campaign on it and be re-elected in order to actually privatize a Crown.)
  2. Wall's campaign in 2016 did not include any reference to selling off the Crowns; it was not an idea that was floated. As such, Wall cannot say that he fulfilled any aspect of the CCPO Act as mentioned above.
  3. Wall mused with a referendum as a potential out, but abandoned the idea in the face of overwhelming public resistance to it.
  4. Bill 40, which had the boring title of "an amendment to the Interpretation Act of 1995" was Wall's Hail Mary pass; in that the government would simply redefine privatization as a sale of more than 49% of a Crown. As such, as long as the province maintained 51% of the Crown's shares, it was not "privatized".
There, that should catch us up. If you're curious as to the case to why selling SaskTel, in any amount, is a bad idea, I encourage you to go back and read the first post on Bill 40.

Now that the bill is law, we need to add a reason to that list that hasn't been discussed very much yet. Surprisingly, the province has talked a bit about this given the cuts to the Grants-in-Lieu to Municipalities, but Wall and Co. have yet to address a very real situation they're about to open the door to.

In another nutshell, the Grants-in-Lieu of Taxes was an ages old agreement between the municipalities and the province as a means of revenue transfer from the province to the municipalities. But why, you ask?

The answer lies in the complex nature of taxation: No level of government can levy a tax against another level of government. As such, the Grants-in-Lieu of Taxes served as a complex web that compensated municipalities who couldn't levy taxes on the Crown Corporations in their communities. (For example, Yorkton couldn't levy property tax on the buildings owned and operated by SaskTel; since it would be one level of government taxing another.) This is a gross oversimplification of the Grants-in-Lieu of Taxes, and only looks at one aspect of the program, but it's the part we want to highlight for now.

Where else have you heard this argument?

Well, surprise surprise, Brad Wall has gone around for the better part of a year making this argument himself against the Federal Carbon Tax. Wall has argued that the province would have legal grounds to fight any federally imposed Carbon Tax if it was applied against any of Saskatchewan's Crown Corporations. Since one level of government cannot levy tax on another, a federal Carbon Tax would in effect potentially violate that notion. So, Wall is certainly aware of the limits of federal taxation when it comes to the Crown Corporations.

And that's what makes this next part rather shockingly frustrating.

Under Section 149, d.1 of the Income Tax Act of Canada, Crown Corporations are exempted from Federal Income Tax, as they are owned by the Crown. The problem, however, is that the threshold of what qualifies as a Crown Corporation is a corporation wherein no less than 90% of shares are owned by the Crown.

Bill 40 would allow the government to sell up to 49% of the shares in a Crown Corporation; leaving the Crown with only 51% of the shares, and thus falling massively below the federal tax threshold of 90%. As such, Bill 40 opens the door for any Crown to sell more than 10% of shares to be taxed on the federal level; a tax which they currently do not pay.

Wall, who has spent the better part of the last two years railing against any potential new taxes levied on Saskatchewan by the feds, finds himself in a somewhat hypocritical position here as he just passed a law that opens Crown Corporations to being taxed by the federal government once a stake in them is sold.

Pot meet kettle, and all that, I suppose. It is really quite strange to watch a politician who has been in a Quixotic-like war of words with the federal government pass a bill that basically cedes a lot of ground to them on the issue of taxation. I'd have some kind of joke here for that, but really, it's kind of too mind-boggling to even try.

The fact of the matter is, ultimately, Bill 40 is going to do more harm than good. As highlighted in the last post, SaskTel for example provides a level of service that would not exist under any "national" competitor. We talked about the Black Market for SaskTel cell phones across the country. We talked about the risk to infrastructure development and investment in "low coverage areas". We talked about the risk of rising rates once the regional carrier has been effectively rendered useless. And now, we can talk about opening the Crowns open to a federal tax responsibility they currently are exempted from.

So, what happens now?

Wall and Co. have been adamant that no offer is currently before the government on any of our Crowns, although their trustworthiness on this kind of issue is suspect at best given their history of closed room deals thus far in the province. (We'll talk more about this one at some point.)

The province thus far in response to the budget has been rather proactive. Earlier this week, cuts to provincial libraries were completely rolled back by the province; and a huge part of that was due to public outcry and support for our local libraries. As such, we've established that it is possible for the province to blink.

Which means that every action taken by this government from now is effectively a staring contest between them and the people of Saskatchewan. It's our job to get out there and make sure they're one who blink first.

Monday, November 28, 2016

MRIs: The New Provincial - Federal Grudge Match

SOURCE: CBC News - No Plans to End Private MRIs, Says Sask. Health Minister to Federal Concerns

While there's some interesting things happening with the GTH as of this morning (Wall's Chief of Staff being involved in an e-mail chain, the auditor indicating a police investigation is underway, etc.) we're going to talk about the thing that came out of left field.

Earlier today, the federal Health Minister Jane Philpott sent a letter to Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter that effectively said it was time to "put an end" to private MRIs within the province. Reiter, and his government colleagues, scoffed at the notion.

Bill 179, the MRI Facilities Licensing Act, passed back in 2015 established private MRI clinics in our province under the system of a "2-for-1" trade off; the idea being that for each private scan conducted in the clinic, that clinic would then be responsible for providing a public scan as well.

Reiter's letter back to Philpott more or less doubles-down on the practice; saying that it has been responsible for more than 2,200 scans and the removal of 1,100 from the wait list. However, these numbers are a little confusing for me.

Back on October 20, 2016 the government released numbers regarding the current "2-for-1" system and the results. Their numbers,from February 2 to September 30, 2016 were as follows:

  • 943 private scans performed in the province
  • 757 public scans performed as part of the "2-for-1" deal
  • 186 public scans in the process of being scheduled
Now,  all of those numbers combined add up to 1,886 scans. Take away the "in-scheduled/not-happened yet" scans and those numbers drop to 1,700. So, where is Reiter getting the 2,200 scans and 1,100 people taken off the wait list numbers from?

Now, that's 241 days being accounted for in the government's October release. In those 241 days, 1,700 scans occurred (Not including the 186 in the "scheduled" portion). That's roughly, if my math can be trusted, about 7 scans a day. At that level, from the period of October 1 until Today, that means we'd have at most 2,113 scans performed in the province.

Yet, Reiter says the system has contributed "more than 2,200" scans. So, I'm not seeing where he's pulling the numbers from on this one...At least, not from the public data that was released a little over a month ago.

But let's bring it back to the basics and talk about the numbers from the release, as opposed to Reiter's numbers that we can't explain. What's the one facet of that that sticks out?

The difference in private scans versus public scans.

At one point or another, the private scans managed to move almost 200 scans ahead of the public scans. That hardly sounds like "2-for-1", given that it shows the scans are not close to parity. And the main reason this is a problem: As far as we know, private clinics have been given no directive to focus on public scans to eliminate the gap.

So, while 186 scans were "in the process of being scheduled" how many scans were added to that backlog?

If private clinics don't have to prioritize ensuring the 2-for-1 ratio is being met, this swap deficit is only going to continue to grow. It doesn't matter if the 186 waiting for a scan to be scheduled eventually get in, if at the same time, 200 more private scans are conducted leading to 200 more people waiting for their swap scan.

So, unless the government issues a directive that private clinics could risk losing their license unless parity is kept and maintained the swap deficit is unlikely to ever actually go away. And that undermines the entire notion of a "2-for-1" swap, when it's painfully clear that the clinics have already placed a greater emphasis on private scans over public ones.

Which brings us to the federal intervention.

One can argue that perhaps this is just desserts for Wall, who has managed to find something new to complain about with regards to the Federal Government pretty much every day. (Don't get me wrong, there's lots wrong with the Federal Government [and we'll talk about that sometime) But as Premier, Wall needs to be diplomatic and receptive, not combative and seeing every Federal action as a personal slight. So, it's not surprising to see the Feds finally kick back on something they can actually do.

On the other hand, Harper had a hands off approach to the Canada Health Act; and one can argue that with tweaks in various provinces, it was only a matter of time until the Trudeau Government did something to try and bring some balance back to the act.

Philpott invoked the ultimate clause in the Canada Health Act: The clawing back of health transfer funds.

As per Article 10 of the Canada Health Act:
In order to satisfy the criterion respecting universality, the health care insurance plan of a province must entitle one hundred per cent of the insured persons of the province to the insured health services provided for by the plan on uniform terms and conditions.
Effectively, provincial governments must ensure that health care services are universal. All people resident in their province should have the same level access to health services as everyone else in the province. If the 2-for-1 trade was at parity, with no discernible deficit for the public scans, you could argue that the province was keeping its end of the bargain.

But, given that we do have this gap between the two, a case can indeed be made that universality is not being maintained under this current system.

Article 19, Section 1 lays out the penalty for breaking universality:
In order that a province may qualify for a full cash contribution referred to in section 5 for a fiscal year, user charges must not be permitted by the province for that fiscal year under the health care insurance plan of the province.
So, what does that mean?

Effectively, Ottawa can decide that the full cost of user fees charged by Saskatchewan should be deducted from their health transfers.

So, if Saskatchewan charged $4 million worth of MRIs in one year; Ottawa could turn around and retract $4 million in health transfers because the province violated the Canada Health Act. And while Saskatchewan receives about $1.6 billion in transfers, $1.1 billion of which is for health transfers,  and a few million less in transfers sounds like a drop in the bucket...Consider the deficits for Saskatoon Health Region and the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region, where that additional funding could prevent front line layoffs.

If the 2-for-1 system showed promise of working, by which I mean it kept public-private scans at parity with one another, then the SK Party might have had a leg to stand on here. But given that all public data currently available shows that parity has not been achieved, and current practice means striking that balance gets tougher every day with every new private scan conducted, I think the feds are in the right here.

And given that the province plans to expand the system to CT Scans in the near future, it seems increasingly likely that the province is unlikely to blink on this matter.

Which means, of course, that the province will be going to court on it and spending some tax dollars fighting the federal government. At the same time, I'm sure, the feds will invoke the Canada Health Act to claw back Health Transfers to the tune of the private MRI fees. And, sadly, it's the taxpayer who loses here. Since we're either losing money from the federal government, at a time when our health regions need every dime they can get AND that we won't get back unless our side wins a court case (which seems unlikely, in my opinion) OR we're spending money to fight a court case.

Either way, it's money that's being spent or lost that could be making a difference somewhere else in our province.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Going for a New Record, Perhaps?

Source: CBC News: Sask. Now Projects $1B Deficit for 2016-2017
Source: CJME News: $1B Deficit Forecast for Saskatchewan by End of April

I did say I would get to the growing deficit eventually.

So, at a time when the Finance Minister Kevin Doherty is arguing with former NDP MLAs and candidates on Facebook, to our Premier effectively calling for a boycott on A&W...It really makes you wonder what other potential distractions are going to come out now that the news has finally confirmed what we've all long feared: Saskatchewan deficit for the 2016 - 2017 year has hit $1 Billion Dollars.

Before the last election, the SK Party was taking an incredible amount of flak for postponing the budget until after the election. The NDP rightfully called them out on this issue, but for one reason or another, voters handed Wall another majority government in the province.

The 2015 - 2016 Budget showed a narrow surplus of $107 million dollars, in March of 2015. Although, it's worth noting, that many commentators were already shaking their head at this figure, given that the government borrowed $700 million and didn't include it as 'debt' in the budget, but most people have already moved on from that.

By November 2015, that $107 million surplus had become a $262 million deficit. By February 2016, the last look at the books before the election, the deficit had grown to $427 million. Wall and Company assured electors that by the time the 2016 - 2017 Budget would be released, the deficit would be back to a manageable $259 million, and that the budget would return to balance come 2017 - 2018.

But weeks after being elected, Wall's comment on the deficit: "“I think it’s going to be higher than that,"and it was with the deficit clocking in at $434 million. Well, given the Sask Party's shoddy record of forecasting economics; for once, Wall was dead right about this one, as it did indeed get much higher.

By June, the deficit was finalized at $675 million. A far cry from the $262 million forecast nearly a year before hand, and still more staggering than the $434 million presented after the election. However, let us not pretend that this was a new experience for Premier Wall and his party.

As Murray Mandryk points out since 2009, four summary budget deficits occurred under Wall and the Saskatchewan Party. A brief refresher for everyone:

Up until 2015 - 2016, Saskatchewan had two accounts that they reported on: The General Revenue Fund (GRF) which accounted for general government revenues and spending. The second was the Summary Financials, which included things like Crown Corporation Debt and the like. Saskatchewan was the only jurisdiction in Canada who presented their budgets primarily on the GRF; where it was easier to present a balance.

It's effectively like saying "Well, we've got $500 in our chequing account and only $200 for bills this month, so we're breaking even!" while you neglect the fact that you've got $20,000 in debt from various other sources at the same time.

In fairness, the NDP used the GRF during the Romanow and Calvert years, so they take a bit of the blame on the way accounts were presented to the province. But, also in fairness, Wall and his party had nine years in office before they saw the need/were pestered enough to officially change the way budgets are presented.

But, back to the modern.

Now, Saskatchewan finds itself staring down the barrel of a $1 Billion dollar debt. And given the history of listed above, one does have to wonder if the buck is going to stop at the $1 Billion mark...Or if the number will continue to climb. Again, given the SK Party record on financial forecasting, I'm not entirely sure we're locked into this number yet.

There is also something to keep in mind: As this deficit grows, Wall and company are hitting a financial record that has stood in Saskatchewan for nearly 30 years: The whopping $1.2 billion dollar deficit of Grant Devine in the 1986 - 1987 budget year.

Much like Wall, prior to an election Devine's team forecasted a modest deficit of $389 million. Devine's deficit, however, grew out of naked self-interest. The government opened the spigot before the election to avoid a potential defeat; and the PCs did lose the popular vote in the province but won the most seats. One does wonder if Devine had shown restraint with tax-payer money, if he'd had gone down as a one-term Premier.

Wall's deficit is a lot more opaque than Devine's.

Doherty has blamed lower than projected resource revenues, especially in oil & gas and potash, as well as decreased tax revenue. And while those are parts of the story, they're only parts of the whole.

The SK Party has been unable to admit when they've made mistakes, and believe me, there have been plenty of them. Things like $1.5 billion, and raising, spent on the Boundary Dam project. A $35 million contract to bring Lean to health-care with questionable results. To a completely questionable land deal that continues to perplex and lead to government stalling to produce any meaningful answers, that has cost at least $22 million if not more.

Yet, Wall and Co. are unable to admit that perhaps they made missteps on these files.

And that brings us to the bigger elephant: Wall is also on track to top Devine's record of being leader when Saskatchewan's overall debt is at its highest. By 1991 - 1992, Saskatchewan's debt topped $15 Billion.

Public debt in Saskatchewan now is expected to hit $15.2 Billion by the end of the fiscal year.

As stated before, yes, the market economy does take some of the blame for this. But, and this is the important bit: We're also coming off some of the best fiscal years Saskatchewan has had since being a province.

When the market was strong, we were taking in record amounts of income. And yet, the SK Party was spending it just as quickly as it was coming in and putting nothing away at the same time. And that, rightfully, is on them.

Saskatchewan stands on the precipice of uncharted territory for our province. Our previous benchmark of "the worst time period in our history" is close to being blown out of the water. And most of us should remember that it took a little over a decade for the province to pull itself back from the brink last time; and that it happened at an enormous cost.

While the SK Party can try and lay the blame as much as they like on anyone but themselves, they have to take ownership of this situation. The market economy only drops so much, it's the government's response that helps determine what happens after the bottom falls out. And so far, Wall and Co. have proven sorely lacking in this area.

I suppose I need to include the standard refrain of during the good times, they were quick to take as much credit as they could. When the bad times started, they started pointing fingers in as many directions as they could.

For years, they were in charge of guiding an unheard of economy in our province. Throughout it all, they were told by numerous sources that they should plan for the future, work on diversification, and be prepared for the eventual bust.

They didn't. They bet the farm on oil & gas, with a side bet on potash, and the dealer ended up having a stronger hand then they did. Unfortunately, for all of us, they we gambling with our money and the debt collector is on the phone.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Premier of Saskatchewan, Not Alberta Opposition Leader

SOURCE: Alberta Politics - The Question Must be Asked: Was Brad Wall's Party Being Paid to Undermine Alberta's NDP?
SOURCE: CBC News - Saskatchewan Party Received Millions in Donations from Alberta Companies
SOURCE: CKOM - Premier Brad Wall Gets Extra Top-Up Salary from Sask. Party

One of these days, I'll get to the Global Transportation Hub and the stuff coming out from there...OR the proverbial war of words between Wall and any member of the Liberal Federal Government he feels like complaining to about the Carbon Tax...OR the state of the increasing deficit...Or any of the other myriad of problems that continues to creep up under Wall's watch.

But what I want to talk about today is some revelations about electoral funding that came out this week. Predominantly, the fact that Wall and the Saskatchewan Party have raked in millions of dollars from out of province donors; predominantly from Alberta based companies in the oil and gas sector.

Now, a cornerstone of democracy is the idea of transparency. Citizens remain informed on what their elected representatives are up to in our name; or at least, in theory, that's part of how this is supposed to work. Part of that is knowing about monied interests when it comes to our politicians. That's why we have financial disclosures and rules revolving around conflict of interest and codes of ethics.

We like to know where the bread is buttered, and by whom, when it comes to our politicians raising money to get elected or re-elected.

We can watch and see whether they're getting grassroots support from a bunch of individual donors, or if they're taking in dollar over fist of donations from large special interests (Corporations, Unions, Lobby Groups, etc).

That way, when it comes time to make a difficult decision that impacts a certain group, we can be sure that our politicians are acting in the best interest of the voters and not in the interest of their major donors.

Which brings us to the Alberta donations.

Saskatchewan's electoral finance laws have been described as "the wild west", which is an over-used cliche by the way, with regards to rules and restrictions. In terms of residency, Saskatchewan simply requires that you be a Canadian citizen to donate to a party here. So that means Mrs. Entity from BC can hand out as much money to any Saskatchewan based party she'd like, even though she doesn't live in the province or is eligible to vote for any of those candidates.

Some provinces do have residency restrictions on donations to political parties. Ontario, for example, requires you to be a resident in order to make a contribution. It seems like a common-sense argument: If you are unable to cast a ballot in the province, why should you be allowed to contribute huge sums of money to a party there?

Yet, Premier Wall has "no plans" to discuss changing the laws regarding this issue. He even cites that not a single voter mentioned the problem with this during the last campaign; so, if that's the only benchmark we need, we'd best start getting that letter writing campaign going to see if the voters who do complain about it are enough to sway him.

The opposition NDP have taken on the issue, with Trent Wotherspoon calling for an end to corporate, union, and out-of-province donations. Wall's response was to complain that the NDP got money from unions, and more or less left it at that.

The difference here, of course, is the NDP is putting up ALL of those donors on the chopping block. So, the NDP has shown that they're willing to stop allowing union contributions moving forward in the future. Whereas Wall has not shown any evidence that he's ready to cut ties to the nearly $13 million received over the last 10 years from corporate donations.

For fun, let's look at some of the numbers dating back to the 2011 Election. All numbers taken from Elections Saskatchewan.

Total Raised: $1,326,180.09
Corporate: $144,870.40
Union: $211,156.90

Sask Party
Total Raised: $4,264,352
Corporate: $1,699,139
Union: $2,510

NDP Union Total - SK Party Business Difference =  $1,487,982.10

Total Raised: $908,542.40
Corporate: $28,683.09
Union: $47,783.48

Sask Party
Total Raised: $2,731,762
Corporate: $894,638
Union: $990

NDP Union Total - SK Party Business Difference = $864,854.52

Total Raised: $1,177,515.47
Corporate: $24,004.82
Union: $137,108.09

Sask Party
Total Raised: $2,680,215
Corporate: $992,887
Union: $1,801

NDP Union Total - SK Party Business Difference = $855,778.91

Total Raised: $956,597.01
Corporate: $25,055.85
Union: $73,977.64

Sask Party
Total Raised: $3,267,950
Corporate: $1,042,015
Union: $3,702

NDP Union Total - SK Party Business Difference = $968,037.36

Total Raised: $2,096,988.92
Corporate: $609,088.08
Union: $325,552.25

Sask Party
Total Raised: $6,113,499
Corporate: $3,086,535
Union: $10,752

NDP Union Total - SK Party Business Difference = $2,760,982.75

So, looking at the numbers, what do you notice?

Effectively, since 2011, the SK Party has had nearly $1 Million dollars more each year in corporate donations than the NDP received in Union donations. So, Wall's defence that the NDP takes union money so his party can take corporate money falls apart when you look at the actual numbers being donated.

Wotherspoon and the NDP are right: It's time to put an end to corporate, union, and out-of-province donations in Saskatchewan.

One more note on this matter before we wrap up the post.

A reason why these out-of-province donations are especially problematic in Saskatchewan is because of the Saskatchewan Party's policy towards paying their leader a "top-up" salary in addition to monies received by being MLA/Leader of the Opposition/Premier.

Wall came under heat, slightly, after the practice was noted in BC for Liberal Premier Christy Clark. Wall and Clark, to public knowledge, are the only two sitting Premiers who receive a top-up salary from their party.

Wall receives $37,000 a year from the party (which is an additional $148,000 over the course of a four year legislative term), and now with the question of out-of-province donations this issue becomes infinitely trickier.

While it is true that a party more or less has the right to spend their donations as they see fit, there are serious implications to consider when you are receiving out of province money and making direct payments to your leader at the same time...Especially if your leader is also the current Premier.

While it's not as bad as direct payment to Wall from these companies, it's close to it, given that monies are being rendered to a party and the party is then using those monies to provide a salary to their leader.

It may not be dishonest, or even improper on the face of it, but it's ethically dodgy and just enough of a "oh, that seems wrong" thought for it to warrant a degree of concern. And while you can argue that their donation is just part of the money raised by the party, it would be impossible to link it to the leader's top-up, there's still a perception of this being quite ethically questionable.

And for Wall, and his party, the only way they're going to be able to put that to bed is to fundamentally prove, once and for all, that the Saskatchewan Party is standing up for the people of Saskatchewan. And a good way to prove that, would be to make sure only the people of Saskatchewan have any sort of say in how OUR representatives are elected.

So, I guess, ultimately: For a party that uses the provincial name, it's time for them to put their money where their mouth is and either close off Saskatchewan's electoral financing to out of province actors...Or maybe think about changing their party name.