Saturday, August 17, 2019

On selloffs and sellouts

So far, there hasn't been much follow-up since the revelation that the Saskatchewan Party set up (PDF) a committee, and arranged for sensitive operational details to be handed over to bidders in the process. But while there's plenty left to be investigated about how both the secret committee and the Crowns themselves tried to sell off public resources behind closed doors, we can already identify some glaring dishonesty from the Saskatchewan Party government.

Here's what was revealed as a result of SaskTel's submissions to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner about information never before revealed to the public. See para. 97:
In its submission, SaskTel indicated the following:
  • the Cabinet Committee on Crown Structure had been set up to oversee the potential sale of up to 50% of crown corporations. It was created by the Premier at the March 1, 2017 Cabinet meeting.
  • the Vice-Chairperson of the Cabinet Committee on Crown Structure (Vice-Chairperson), who was also the Minister Responsible for SaskTel and SaskTel Holding Corporation (SaskTel Minister), verbally asked SaskTel’s President and CEO to prepare the slide decks (records 10 and 11).
  • SaskTel’s President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) prepared the slide deck to allow the Vice-Chairperson/SaskTel Minister to review the progress that had been made and to ultimately make decisions and determine next steps, if any, to achieve a partial sale of SaskTel.
  • SaskTel’s President and CEO was advised that the slide deck would be shared with the Cabinet Committee on Crown Structure where further decisions would be made.
  • The content of records 10 and 11 would clearly be so important that Cabinet and its committees would had to have been involved in a decision.
So how forthcoming was the Saskatchewan Party about its having taken the time which could have been spent consulting on tragic budget decisions to work on handing over equity stakes in the Crowns? For the answer, let's go to the March 6, 2017 Hansard (PDF) - in the first question period after Brad Wall secretly set up his selloff committee:
Mr. McCall: — Mr. Speaker, it’s cold comfort to the 40,000 Saskatchewan people that are out of work on this government’s watch. The Sask Party’s callous cuts are putting thousands of jobs at risk, more jobs, Mr. Speaker. And their plan to sell off up to 49 per cent of our Crowns without a referendum puts even more jobs at risk along with hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends that help to pay for health care and education.

The Sask Party’s plan to sell our Crowns to pay for their mismanagement was given a resounding no in the Meewasin by-election, Mr. Speaker, and the Sask Party should listen to that message. Will the Premier honour his promise from the last election? Will he stop the attempted sell-off? Will he scrap Bill 40 today?

Hon. Mr. Wall: With respect to the Crown corporations, Mr. Speaker, let me say this: what we said in the wake of the MTS [Manitoba Telephone System] takeover, Mr. Speaker, is that were we, as the representatives of the shareholder, to get an offer with respect to SaskTel to buy SaskTel in its entirety, were we to get an offer that checked off a number of boxes including better coverage and jobs here in Regina and across the province and a good price, that we would take that deal to the people in a referendum.

What has become abundantly clear to members on this side of the House, what has become abundantly clear to me — yes, and including what we heard in the Meewasin by-election but not limited to that — is that the people of the province aren’t interested in it. They’re not interested in a referendum. They oppose the sale of SaskTel, Mr. Speaker. That is what we campaigned on.

So, Mr. Speaker, I will just confirm for members of the House that notwithstanding if there ever is an offer to purchase SaskTel, we’re not going to take it forward. It’s not for sale.
Of course, it took two and a half years and a change in the Premier's office for the public to find out that only five days before providing his assurance - in a forum where it constitutes contempt to make misleading statements - that SaskTel was "not for sale", Wall had himself put a process in motion to sell it. And the OIPC's report confirms that the process continued long after the above answer.

So when Moe - who was of course in Cabinet at the time - now tries to claim there's no reason to doubt any assurances about the future of the Crowns even as SaskTel explicitly argues that it's leaving the door open for future takeovers, he needs to be met with some sharp questioning as to when he'll disavow his predecessor for misleading the province. And if Moe actually expects voters to trust him no matter how often his government lies and gaslights about its intentions, then the only reasonable response is to prove him wrong.

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