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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

I wish to comment on three areas this morning that are certainly of importance to Saskatchewan. 

My first comment is on the use of non-government email servers by the Sask Party government.  If you remember in the last session of the Legislature, the issue came up of the Premier using an email server hosted at the Sask Party office to do government business on.  He promised he wouldn't do it anymore.  He still does.  It has now been revealed that other Cabinet Ministers have been doing this for years and even instructed members of the civil service in their departments to also do so.  They evidentially did this so that sensitive government information could not be accessed by Freedom of Information requests. 

Last Friday, the PC Party called for the resignation of Finance Minister Donna Harpauer who has consistently been doing this all the way back to 2009.  In the release, the PC Party stated "In Saskatchewan, Freedom of Information laws are in place to ensure that the public has access to all government-related documents.  In an open and free society, transparency in government is a cornerstone of democracy."  The PC Party in government would follow this policy to the letter.  Brad Wall's Minister should resign.

The second item I wish to comment on is the distinct possibility of the federal government backing down on some of the proposed tax changes they had earlier proposed.  I wish to congratulate all of the people and groups who made their displeasure known to the Federal government and Federal MPs in order to have this proposed legislation re-evaluated.  It's obvious from comments in the media that there has been a tremendous amount of pressure brought by Federal Liberal backbench MPs who have been really putting the pressure on Finance Minister Morneau and that the Minister is now making public statements of not wanting to hurt agriculture and small business.  Let's hope that when the changes are brought down this week, that a more common-sense approach as proposed by the PC Party of Saskatchewan a few weeks ago are adopted by the Trudeau Liberals.

My final comment is on the NAFTA re-negotiation process which has been underway for a couple of months.  It appears that the Trump administration in the United States wants to turn the clock back by 40 years with their "America First" trade policies.  I remember those days well as a young person starting out in farming and watching the devastation those policies had on international commodity prices and the bullying of various US commodity groups which used their clout at election time in the US.

It's one reason that PC governments in both Saskatchewan and Canada negotiated so hard  to come up with the NAFTA deal in the first place.  Hopefully the Canadian government and all provincial governments in Canada who have developed strong relationships with US Governors, Members of Congress and the United States Senate can use those relationships to help block some of the totally backward negotiating stances of the Trump administration.

Canada in my view must be prepared to walk away from a negotiation that removes all dispute resolution mechanisms from a new agreement.  We cannot have our trading relationship at the mercy of the US court systems.  Fair trade means exactly that.  I do not want to be the pawn in US congressional elections which happen every two years as my farm was before 1988. 

The North American economy is a very integrated one which has brought prosperity and a higher standard of living to most of our citizens.  Why would we ever think of going back to the old ways?

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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I'm sure everyone did their best to decimate the turkey population while being joined by family, friends and good times.  We are very fortunate in Saskatchewan and Canada because we get to do this on an annual basis and have the turkey population at affordable levels and a country safe enough for us to gather together and enjoy giving thanks for what we have.  Canadians of every religious background and ethnic persuasion love partaking of this annual event.  We have much to celebrate as a society. 

Many of us in western Canada were not celebrating this past week with the decision by Trans Canada Corp to not proceed with the Energy East pipeline.  They cited rising costs associated with the new levels of compliance the federal Liberal government has now imposed on pipeline construction in Canada.

There are all sorts of pros and cons to the arguments about pipelines.  We Canadians will have to sort these things out as we strive to get our oil and gas to export positions.  We are an energy rich country and should take advantage of that in some form so that the standard of living for all Canadians remains one of the best in the world.  Our health care, our education and our social service systems are world class and also very expensive to maintain.

What I liked about the Energy East initiative was that it had the ability to guarantee Canadians energy self-sufficiency no matter what hiccup was happening around the world.  The employment to construct the portions that needed fresh builds would have been done by Canadians and the existing pipe in the ground which has been under used for natural gas would have been easy to transform into oil delivery to eastern Canadian refiners.      

Would they have made a lot of money refining western Canadian oil as opposed to Middle Eastern oil?  I doubt it.  But the next time there is a major political blow up or conflict in the middle east, we would not be held hostage.  The same goes for Nigeria or Angola or Venezuela.  There are enough religious fanatics of all stripes in the Middle East with the ability to manufacture, steal or borrow the materials necessary to create a Hiroshima-type bomb.  Just imagine what would happen to oil supplies with one of those archaic-type bombs going off around the Persian Gulf.  Need I say more?  Canada's economy and our well being does not need a major oil shock.  Sometimes there is a price to be paid for that type of security.    

I know there are many in western Canada who believe the Trump administration will okay the rest of Keystone XL.  I put out a release last week reminding Saskatchewanians that could be a two-edge sword.  President Trump is threatening all sorts of dire consequences to the NAFTA trade agreement but I think would love Keystone XL pipeline because it guarantees large volumes of discounted Canadian oil to Gulf Coast refineries for decades.  If that pipe is twinned, we could see refined products being shoved back into Canada at a cost our own refiners can't compete with. 

We must be careful in western Canada what we wish for and what kind of trade agreement we need in place to make sure that Canada's energy wealth continues to build our country.  Remember - for every American President that is a free trader - there is one that is an economic nationalist and every time the American elephant rolls over, all lesser creatures should be aware of how heavy that elephant is. 

The PC Party many years ago helped build two heavy oil upgraders in Saskatchewan because it spoke to our energy strengths.  I would hate to see that foresight thrown away some day with short-sighted policy decisions in four year election cycles. 

Your feedback is always welcome on anything you read in the Monday Morning

Commentary.  Please send your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  If you know of anyone that would be interested in receiving this by email, please forward me their email address. 

             

These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.

I, like many of you, woke up this morning to the tragic events in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The United States has now set a new casualty record for a mass shooting.  50 people are dead and over 400 people are wounded because some nut case decided to get even with the world for whatever reasons were running through his troubled mind.  This guy sprayed bullets on a crowd of 20,000 people for over 5 minutes.  The news report said he had 10 guns in his hotel room.  Is American society so unmoved by gun violence that they don't notice a 64 year old man hauling 10 weapons up to his hotel room in a resort community like Las Vegas?  How many more disaffected Americans will want to copy-cat this remorseless killer and be able to do so because of virtually unlimited access to all types of weapons including fully automatic firearms?  It will be interesting to see what President Trump tweets about this one.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of all those killed or wounded.

Canada is not immune to violence as we witnessed in Edmonton after the football game on Friday night.  We have an individual using a vehicle as a weapon and getting out to finish the job on a policeman with a knife.  The reports of an ISIS flag on the front seat of the vehicle is terribly disturbing and we Canadians must be even more vigilant as long as that sickness continues to haunt the world.  ISIS may soon be defeated militarily in the Middle East but the hatred that it preaches will be with us for a long time to come.

Some of you will be aware of the breaking story that was released by the Toronto Star, the National Observer and Global News yesterday about sour gas leaks and their consequences for people in Saskatchewan.  I reread the story posted by the National Observer again this morning before writing this commentary in order to clearly understand what has been going on in Saskatchewan over the last half a dozen years in certain areas.  I was horrified at what I read.

This period of time coincides with the tremendous growth in the oil and gas sector in the Bakken formation of south eastern Saskatchewan.  This story also confirms, unfortunately, the presence of Bill Boyd and his special advisor and now Deputy Minister of the Economy, Laurie Pushor in this deadly sequence of events which are finally unfolding for the public to read. 

If the allegations in this unfolding story are true about the government's failure to notify citizens of numerous encounters with deadly H2S gases and one death occurring from it, then Brad Wall must be held accountable for the action or lack-there-of of his Ministers.  We all know that the Premier and his Sask Party government are huge promoters of the oil and gas industry and the impact that it has on our economy.  We also know that the oil and gas sector have been huge benefactors of the Sask Party financially.

As a former Minister of Energy and Mines, I can fully appreciate the development of our oil and gas resources and the benefits that they can provide to the citizens of this province who are the owners of the resource.  The government that I represented put a lot of time and effort into the development of horizontal drilling in our province because it was another way to unlock the riches of heavy oil and tight oil formations.  But I also understand that the government has to be the regulator and the honest broker on behalf of the citizens who co-exist with this industry.  Personal safety is always paramount.

Saskatchewan does not have third party regulators who are at arm's-length from government like Alberta and BC and so we must be even more vigilant when issues like sour gas and its safe production become a reality.  The technology is there to safely handle this resource but the money must be spent to do it in a proper manner.  This unfolding report indicates that our government has been negligent and more concerned with the Premier's political agenda than the safety of our citizens.

The PC Party has put out a release this morning calling on the Sask Party government to release all documents related to this matter and to tell the public how many serious encounters have occurred between our citizens and sour gas and where are the areas in our province where our citizens must be totally vigilant in order to ensure their own safety.

Once again, Brad Wall is stepping away from a mess created by his former Minister Bill Boyd and perhaps other Sask Party Energy Ministers before and after. 

I encourage all of you to watch for the second part of this unfolding tragic story.     

Your feedback is always welcome on anything you read in the Monday Morning

Commentary.  Please send your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  If you know of anyone that would be interested in receiving this by email, please forward me their email address. 

             

These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.

This morning I will be commenting on two areas affecting Saskatchewan where I think there is a total lack of common sense.

I am sure many of you have seen the news items over the last week about the concerns of the people in Balgonie, Saskatchewan and their issues with the south Regina bypass.  I know from following some of the social media comments on this issue that many people outside of Balgonie and area believe the people there are simply whiners and complainers and should just keep quiet about their access situation with the TransCanada Highway.

The Balgonie intersection with No 1 Highway was one of those places that had become dangerous with increased traffic flows in recent years.  The requirements for an overpass because of issues like public safety were certainly warranted.  What the people of Balgonie have done is once again expose the Sask Party government's reliance on P3s as a way to move forward on public infrastructure.

I don't know about you but as I age, the thought of cold and winter becomes less appealing to me.  When I woke up early this morning, my local radio station said Moose Jaw had got to -1.  I couldn't see any evidence of frost on the Swenson farm yet but we will see after a couple of hours of sunlight if anything was touched.  We didn't cover the garden last night and I was hoping that some of my newer grape plants in the vineyard would get the opportunity to grow for another couple of weeks.  My grazing corn is definitely not ready for a hard frost.  Hopefully winter is several months away!

I'm sure our Sask Party government must be hoping for a change of political weather when it comes to the GTH land scandal.  This past week, more revelations have come to light about the validity of the appraisals that were used to justify the huge purchase price for land around the GTH.  It also came to light that the GTH can't pay its bills, is not selling enough land to meet its budget projections and in fact, has not been able to make payments on its loan with a major Canadian bank for 2 years and the interest payment is the only thing being paid.

For anyone who cares to look, the PC Party put out a release last Thursday comparing the GTH to a past NDP government's venture into the potato business called "Spudco".  The really sad thing for Saskatchewan taxpayers is that much of the $2 billion expenditure on the south Regina bypass is being spent to build infrastructure to deliver truck traffic to the GTH.  No wonder Brad Wall wants to get out of Saskatchewan politics before all of the bills for this come home to roost with Saskatchewan taxpayers.   As you heard me say on tv and radio ads during the 2016 election campaign, we are building a highway to nowhere.

My final comment for the day is hats off to the plant breeders at the University of Saskatchewan, the Crop Development Centre and our federal research stations for their continued development of crops suitable to western Canada.  A lot of the evidence that is coming in after harvest shows that their diligence over many years has resulted in wheat cultivars which are far more tolerant to drought stress than earlier varieties. 

This last hot dry summer was a great test for the resilience of the new kinds of spring wheat available to farmers.  I have heard of some excellent yields in fields where there was virtually no rainfall for the summer.  These crops lived on what moisture there was in the soil and were able to utilize the nutrients available to them even in the face of extreme heat and windy conditions.  It will be interesting to see how these same varieties will fair if we are facing similar conditions 2 years in a row.

I'm sure Sask Crop Insurance will be breathing a sigh of relief because they will not have to expend as much money on claims as everyone was expecting.  In fact, everyone in agriculture from grain companies on down should be giving the folks in the plant breeding community a high-five and taking them out to dinner at the very least because Saskatchewan's prosperity is still tied in many ways to what comes out of our fields on an annual basis.  Well done to the folks that find us the new plants to keep agriculture going year after year.

Your feedback is always welcome on anything you read in the Monday Morning

Commentary.  Please send your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  If you know of anyone that would be interested in receiving this by email, please forward me their email address. 

These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.

Today marks another anniversary of an extremely sad and tragic event in world history.  This anniversary marks the day when a group of fanatics tried to use religious fervour as an excuse to murder thousands of innocent people.  They flew airplanes full of innocent passengers into the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC and a farmer's field in Pennsylvania.  None of us will forget the images of the Twin Towers collapsing.  The age of international terrorism has been with us ever since and the spectre of radical Islam is now a daily part of lives around the world.   This anniversary and the fallout from it will be with us for a very long time. 

We Canadians are not immune and will have to be very vigilant as we build a society which welcomes immigrants on a daily basis.  We should not fear new Canadians but we must teach them what it means to have a democratic, loving and tolerant democracy which can be a safe haven in a rough world. 

All of us have watched events unfold in the Caribbean and now in the state of Florida as the most powerful hurricane recorded in history has moved its way north.  Our thoughts and prayers should go out to the people who have had their lives devastated by this storm and be thankful we live in Saskatchewan where these kinds of climatic events don't occur on a regular basis. 

It appears the people of Florida have taken the right precautions and thankfully the storm has begun to dissipate as it moved over land.  I'm sure the cleanup will take weeks and months and years and be very costly.  But the loss of life that occurred earlier on in Irma's path has been spared in Florida.  You can always replace things - it's impossible to replace lost loved ones.  Hats off to the people that are facing Irma.

This makes my third comment this morning seem rather mundane as no one is going to lose life and limb because of the proposed tax changes by the Federal Liberal government.  As someone who comes from a farming background and I might add from a farming business background as Wheaton Bee Farms was incorporated in the late 1970's, I have very mixed feelings about what the federal government is proposing to do.

We Canadians have always prided ourselves on having an income tax system which provided the necessary funds to make our society what it is today.  We have lived with the concept that higher income individuals, companies and groups pay more tax than people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum in order to have a just society. 

We've also believed that it is good for people who are risk-takers to succeed and by succeeding, provide employment opportunities for other Canadians.  I don't know about some other areas of business where it has become increasingly popular - and I'm referring to different classes of professionals - to become incorporated entities.  I presume they are doing this because of advice from their accountants and lawyers. 

I do know that agriculture which tends to be a life-long occupation and in many cases inter-generational, needs the right environment to plan for long-term success because there are so many variables you can't control in a profession where things like weather and international commodity prices are totally out of your hands.  By being able to include family members on a company payroll and allow them to be eligible for things like CPP and pension plans and putting money aside to reinvest in the farming operation is a positive part of our current system.

 

I deliberately delayed this commentary by four days this week so that I could comment on the Fairview by-election with everything fresh in my mind.  First of all, congratulations to Vicki Mowat for obtaining a very large mandate from the people of the Fairview riding.  Any time you can get over 60% of the vote in our system of first-past-the-post, you have done very well.

It was very apparent to me after knocking doors in the riding on three separate occasions that there was a strong desire to punish the Sask Party government.  That played out last night.  The surprise for me is that only 36% of the voters turned out to exercise their democratic rights.  Perhaps because of the time of year and people just coming off of summer holidays and getting kids ready for school, electing another politician wasn't a big priority.

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