Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Last month, I noted that Bill Boyd is apparently the lone Sask Party MLA or member who Brad Wall trusts to carry out tasks more complex than tying his own shoes. Now, we learn that any such trust in Boyd looks to have been another example of the Sask Party's unwarranted optimism.

Here's Boyd - the Minister responsible for SaskPower, appearing before the Standing Committee on Crown and Central Agencies to discuss a revised SaskPower borrowing estimate - trying to figure out just what it is that he was summoned to discuss in response to NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon's justifiable skepticism at being told borrowing was actually going down:
Mr. Wotherspoon: —...So just to make sure we understand here tonight, we’re looking at vote 152, which looks at increasing borrowing by 64.5 million. Is that correct, Minister?

Hon. Mr. Boyd: — The borrowing is 598.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — So the borrowing for the year is 598?

Hon. Mr. Boyd: — I’m not sure. Let me just check this for a moment, please.

Mr. Chair, Mr. Member, indeed you are correct. Vote 152 is for 64.5 million.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — So just to make sure we understand that. I maybe misunderstood the preamble at the start, but I believe I heard that there was going to be a reduction from the original budget that was 598.7 million in the original budget document this year. This estimate here, to my understanding, then reflects that we have an increased pressure or increased need of borrowing on top of that of 64.5 million. Is that correct?

Hon. Mr. Boyd: — Well the supplementary estimates would deal with a certain period of time and the balance would be within the rest of the year.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — So in the preamble, there was a discussion about a reduced need to borrow, I believe, on behalf of SaskPower?

Hon. Mr. Boyd: — That’s correct. The original borrowing forecast was $598 million over the 2009-10 period. For that entire forecasted period of time, now the borrowing need is down to $516 million. But this particular estimate, the supplementary estimate is accurate at the 64.5, 64.5 million.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — So then am I correct to assume that we have the original budget estimate of 598.7 million; we’re adding this amount of debt to that in this budget year; and so we’re at 663 million this year of borrowed dollars?

Hon. Mr. Boyd: — Mr. Chair, members, we’re going to ask for some additional folks from SaskPower to provide some information on this. We want to make sure that we are providing the committee with the proper information with respect to that. And there seems to be some concern that we may not have the correct information with us.

The comptroller is being called for right now. So, Mr. Chair, committee members, with your indulgence, if you could perhaps move to some other questions. We’ll certainly supply that information as soon as it becomes available.
That's right: in a committee appearance to discuss an increase in borrowing for SaskPower, with the Finance Minister having already announced the higher borrowing figure, Boyd had to turn to the staff appearing with him to figure out whether any increase in borrowing was actually happening.

But surely it couldn't be that difficult for a high-ranking cabinet minister and his choice of qualified civil servants to figure out whether the single number under discussion was set to go up or down, right? Well, let's check in about halfway through the same meeting:
Mr. Wotherspoon: —...I would like to get to the actual discussions around the estimate here tonight. And so the Chair’s wanting us to cut to the chase. I would look to the minister, if there’s any clarity at this point in time. I know when I came in with the budget book here tonight, I was looking to question an increase of $64 million of borrowing. Now the minister suggested here tonight that that estimate book is incorrect and that . . .

Hon. Mr. Boyd: — No. I didn’t suggest that.

Mr. Wotherspoon: — Okay. Though my understanding was though that the borrowing needs here for the current year will not be 598 million but 519 million, which would mean that we should actually be looking at a reduction here tonight in the borrowing needs of SaskPower.

So we have quite a difference between those two numbers, a $64 million increase or a reduction of the amount that the minister has discussed. Do we have any clarity on those numbers yet at this point?

Hon. Mr. Boyd: — The SaskPower officials are working on that information right now, and we’ll have it as soon as it’s available.
Yikes. But surely by the end of the meeting Boyd would at least have figured out the concepts of "up" and "down", right?
Mr. Wotherspoon: — Mr. Minister, thank you for the clarity that we will receive. That’s very important. But we’re also going to need the process that was similar to what we had laid out here tonight — that being a committee structure and some time to look at whether or not we’re looking at a reduction in borrowing, as the minister suggests, or an increase in borrowing, as the Minister of Finance suggests.

So in either event, Mr. Chair — specifically I guess, if there’s an increase because that’s where a supplementary estimate would then come into effect — we’re certainly going to need and be required to have that time. And it would only be fair to the people of Saskatchewan, many who will be watching here tonight, to be provided that time. So I guess I look to the minister to offer that commitment to this committee.

Hon. Mr. Boyd: — We’re prepared to provide the information as it becomes available through the SaskPower officials.
So there you have it: the Sask Party's Minister of Everything - the man responsible for determining whether to rush forward with nuclear development - the man charged with running the Sask Party's 2011 campaign - isn't quite well enough acquainted with his ministerial responsibilities to figure out the answer to a single yes-or-no question during the course of an hour-and-a-half committee meeting convened for the sole purpose of discussing it.

But have no fear: Boyd does appear to have at least offered the NDP another crack at the estimates which so baffled him. And that should prove much more productive - at least until somebody has to stop the meeting to help Boyd out with the significance of the S with a vertical line through it.

(H/t to a reader.)

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