In a rare move, three Saskatchewan Opposition parties are calling on the provincial auditor to hold a performance review of Communities of Tomorrow (CT).
The Green Party of Saskatchewan, the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Progress Party of Saskatchewan want the auditor to investigate Communities of Tomorrow, which came into being in 2003.
“$30-million for Communities of Tomorrow partnership and NRC Centre,” reads the headline of the 21-year-old provincial news release. The article goes on to explain, in vague terms, how the initial focus of the Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure Research (CSIR) will be “Municipal water management best practices.”
The Research Centre would go on to produce ten studies on asbestos cement (AC) water pipes. Communities of Tomorrow is described as “A public-private partnership with the mission of making Saskatchewan a global leader in the field of innovative sustainable infrastructure.” It would eventually form a partnership with the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) in January 2013 before winding down just five months later.
“What exactly was this entity,” asked Saskatchewan Progress Party official agent Michael Melby. “At least $34 million dollars of taxpayer’s money was funneled through Communities of Tomorrow. What benefit did we receive?”
Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan Leader Rose Buscholl agreed, adding “We have seen some money-losing fiascos in this province. This could turn out to be the topper.”
Saskatchewan Green Party Leader Naomi Hunter said she wants the auditor to shine a light on what happened to the CT promise of making Saskatchewan “Canada’s first infrastructure innovation hub.”
“The plan was to have a permanent National Research Council presence in Regina. The research centre is long gone. Communities of Tomorrow is gone. This feels like the old shell game, and Saskatchewan taxpayers are the big losers,” she said.
According to the Communities of Tomorrow website archives, the last activity was in July of 2023, even though it ceased operations a decade earlier. A June 2013 SUMA news release says the organization will “house a variety of important documents created by CT.” There is no mention on the SUMA website of studies undertaken by Communities of Tomorrow related to asbestos cement water pipes.
“Let me be very clear. Communities of Tomorrow was created to help fund the study of asbestos cement water pipes. Those studies referred to asbestos fibres in the water as a health concern. Communities of Tomorrow is gone. The Research Centre at the University of Regina is gone. The only thing left is a lot of old asbestos cement water pipes,” said Hunter.
“We fully expect the provincial auditor to take a hard look at this entire issue,” said Melby with the SPP. “People have the right to know what happened to public money, and how they benefited from the expenditure of tens of millions of public dollars.”
Progressive Conservative Party Leader Rose Buscholl pointed out that both the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP have been aware of this issue for decades and have done nothing.
“It’s time to get to the bottom of this issue, and solve it so it never happens again,” she said. “It’s time Saskatchewan taxpayers got some answers about Communities of Tomorrow, and what appears to be a failed plan to turn the province into an innovative infrastructure powerhouse.”