Tuesday, April 04, 2017

On incentive programs

Let's add a couple more points to Brad Wall's attempt to hand out freebies to corporations in which he owns shares while the rest of Saskatchewan faces grinding austerity.

First, the Saskatchewan Party's spin (claiming there's no conflict of interest under current rules) is based entirely on an opinion from the conflict of interest commissioner that merely standing to profit from shareholdings doesn't mean one actually shares an interest with a corporation.

On that front, let's note that the conflict of interest commissioner's statement itself seems to be based on his rejecting without explanation some well-established theory as to the effect of stock holdings by employees:
Employers hope that by making employees shareholders through participation in ESPPs, the interests of employees will be more aligned with the interests of shareholders. Consequently, employees who are also shareholders will think and act more like owners.
At best, the conflict of interest commissioner's opinion seems to be based on the assumption that an office move wouldn't actually result in an increase to the value of any company. Which seems like a massive leap to make when part of Wall's pitch involves a willingness to hand over whatever the company thinks to request from the province.

That said, based on the public statement from Whitecap's CEO, Wall's plan to poach corporations is ethically permissible only to the extent it's doomed to fail:
Whitecap CEO Grant Fagerheim said he would move only if it benefited his company's shareholders.
So if Wall's giveaway scheme doesn't meaningfully affect shareholder value, it won't attract anybody. And it if does meaningfully affect shareholder value, then he's in a conflict of interest. 

For the second point worth noting, let's compare Wall's disclosure statements from 2011 (PDF) (the earliest one turning up in search results - note that the linked statements through the Legislative Assembly website only go back to 2012) to 2015 (PDF).

In the past few years, even as Saskatchewan has been suffering through a resource bust and the world has been agreeing on the need to move away from fossil fuels, Wall seems to have been adding a number of oil companies to his own personal portfolio. And Wall's stake in the companies caught up in the corporate giveaway looks to be entirely new: Whitecap Resources and Crescent Point Energy are among the new additions to his list of shareholdings, while CNRL doesn't seem to appear on either of the disclosure statements.

Meanwhile, as Progress Alberta has charted, the Saskatchewan Party has received donations of $118,091.67 from Crescent Point Energy, $13,588 from CNRL, and $8,354.01 from Whitecap Resources in recent years. And over the same time period, Wall himself was taking in a $40,000 per year party top-up funded from its donations.

So it's possible that Wall's shareholdings in the companies he now wants to give a privileged position have effectively been funded by the companies involved.

That might mean that for the oil operators, Wall has turned into the perfect shareholding-motivated employee. But Saskatchewan's citizens have ample reason for concern that their interests rank well down their premier's priority list.

Update: See also Murray Mandryk's column, as well as Geoff Leo's report

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