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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

I am sure most of you saw the news articles last week about the huge village that the ATCO Company out of Calgary is going to build for BHP Billiton at their Jansen potash mine site. This village is going to have accommodations for 2,500 people and will be totally self-contained. Each room will have its own washroom facilities. There will be a gymnasium, a hockey rink, a movie theatre and of course, good wholesome meals 24/7.

This concept of housing workers onsite is not unlike some of the camps that I had the pleasure of visiting when touring mines in isolated parts of northern Saskatchewan in my days as Energy & Mines Minister. This site at Jansen is far more elaborate than any of those operations and Jansen is not an isolated spot in the bush in northern Saskatchewan. The news articles mentioned that this would be even more elaborate than what was constructed at Fort McMurray when the oilsands were first being developed. I am sure that the workers who are probably going to be flown into Saskatoon from all over the world will appreciate the wonderful accommodations provided for them by ATCO.

This, however, is where I think not enough questions have been asked. By constructing this onsite 24/7 all-inclusive living arrangement, this means that none of the communities surrounding this development will see much in the way of housing opportunities during the construction phase and the normal increase in retail spending which would normally occur with a project this size. I believe this whole arrangement is designed to very carefully control BHP’s development costs and allow them to go outside the western Canadian labour pool and bring in cheaper labour from around the world. I think that there are many issues around this to be examined because BHP Billiton will be getting the same considerations as the other potash companies who have been doing their expansions based on being able to write off the entire cost against tonnage produced. In other words, they will not pay royalties on that tonnage until their costs have been recouped. The taxpayers of this province are building those mine expansions and I believe the taxpayers of this province will be paying for the village that ATCO is constructing at Jansen.

If there are workers brought in from all over the globe, will they be paying income tax in the province of Saskatchewan? Will they be paying workman’s comp? Will they be contributing to CPP? And what is the arrangement with First Nations who are supposedly getting employment training, job guarantees and first dibs on the ATCO facility once construction is completed? If the shareholders of our mineral resources, which are you and me, are paying for all of this then we should clearly understand what the payback is and how soon. Our Premier is now telling us that he needs to start cutting back because government revenues are not growing as predicted. One glaring feature of this shortfall is a $200 million shortfall in corporate income tax. I wonder if that shortfall has something to do with the way that our government has been handing out royalty holidays, royalty write-offs and closed in production on some of our resources. No one has explained why this has occurred in any rational way that I have heard so far. It is time that someone did.

I am sure that the seniors next door in Humboldt who were given a few weeks notice to get out of their nursing homes because there hadn’t been enough money to do the necessary repairs, would be asking the same question. And then before they had even vacated the building, the wrecking crews were in there removing old asbestos tiles without informing the seniors or their families. Unfortunately, we have seniors’ accommodations all over this province that have been waiting for upgrades for a long time. I am sure this new fancy facility down the road at Jansen would look pretty good to those seniors in Humboldt and to many others around this province. Maybe the folks that are going to be removed from Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw by this Sask Party government would find those accommodations pretty good also.

I think it is very important that we all start to ask the tough questions about this arrangement and others that our Sask Party government enters into and we pay the bills.

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

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