Monday, May 03, 2010

On influence peddling

Joe at Owls and Roosters has a highly informative post on the Wall government's award of a major contract to former Enterprise Saskatchewan CEO Dale Botting. But Joe seems to me to have only scratched the surface of the glaring problems with the arrangement.

For the most part, Joe focuses in on two major problems: the exorbitant amounts being paid to Botting (more in raw dollars than he's received as CEO, plus public sector-level expenses, plus explicit permission for him to do additional consulting), and the direct link between Botting and the Premier's office.

But there's much more to the deal than that which makes the arrangement look highly questionable. Take for example...

The Sask Party's focus on a "visible culmination" of its corporate-first ideology rather than, say, a mix of development that's actually in the public interest. In effect, Botting's contract explicitly instructs him to use whatever means necessary to give the Sask Party some ribbon cuttings to attend in advance of the 2011 election - reflecting a glaring misuse of public money for political purposes, and a prioritization of glitzy one-time projects over actual economic fundamentals.

And of course, Botting's contract is hardly the only area where public money figures to be funneled into the Wall government's staging. Indeed, the effect of putting a full-court press on the corporations involved in the listed projects seems to be a deliberate attempt to use government influence and resources to alter corporate decision-making.

But what if one recognizes that government has a role in shaping economic development? That brings us to the province's weakened bargaining position. Having been named on a list of projects that the provincial government has a public stake in seeing completed, all of the businesses involved will be able to drive a hard bargain with the province. And the Sask Party doesn't figure to have much choice but to pony up whatever the corporations involved can think to ask for, since it's publicly named a specific list of projects it wants to have finalized as symbolizing economic development (even if they go ahead only because of provincial inducements).

And that in turn leads to the fact that the Wall government has contradicted its constant admonitions against picking winners and losers. The list of 14 projects which they want to be able to point to come election time obviously reflects the "winners" list of corporate interests who can count on provincial support. Meanwhile, the "losers" include both everybody else looking at investment in Saskatchewan - and of course the public which will be stuck with the bill for the Wall government's Potemkin economy.

In sum, Saskatchewan taxpayers are paying a Sask Party crony to peddle his widely-advertised influence with the provincial government, funneling money into politically-motivated "development" intended to provide Brad Wall and company with photo ops in advance of the 2011 election with no regard for the province's longer-term economic interests. And while Saskatchewan voters probably shouldn't be surprised that this is Wall's idea of a market economy, they don't figure to be happy with the knowledge that the province's resources are being so blatantly misused.

Edit: fixed wording.

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