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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

Like 30,000 other Rider fans, Joanne and I were at Mosaic Stadium Saturday afternoon and took in the announcement of the new football stadium.

Because of the sound system down at our end of the stadium, you couldn’t really understand what the announcement was all about and who was going to pay what. Certainly it was obvious that football fans are really looking forward to a new stadium. Saskatchewan, however, is about much more than Rider football. The challenge of governments of all stripes and levels is to spend taxpayers’ money in as fair way as possible. When the announcement by Mayor Fiacco was made a few weeks ago that a new stadium would be built and that there would be $80 million from the province, most commentators seemed to think that number was a good compromise.

The elephant in the room on this latest announcement is that there is no mention of corporate funding and now the taxpayers of Saskatchewan are kicking in a further $100 million loan to someone as part of this project. Is the City of Regina assuming the responsibility for the loan? Is it the Roughrider football team assuming responsibility for the loan? Or is there some “as yet named” private entity that is getting the $100 million loan? Or is this simply a way to get past the next provincial election at which time football fan, Brad Wall, can forgive the loan?

These are all questions that should be answered before you put up $180 million of provincial taxpayers’ money, tens of millions of Regina taxpayers’ money and $25 million from the Riders which will be recouped by increasing ticket prices a minimum of $12 per ticket. The question that I heard being asked around the stadium was why all of this money was being spent to move 2 blocks further west with less parking and the same number of seats that we currently have now and still not have a roof on it. I have no idea what roof-ready means but I can’t imagine more money being spent down the road on this facility when it will be at least 10 years before the current expenditures can be brought into line. Anytime a bunch of politicians get together and announce $100 million loans without knowing who is going to be responsible for the loan if things don’t work out as planned should make everyone want to hang onto their wallets a little bit tighter because someone is going to be digging into it against your will. I’m sure there will be much more commentary on this item before all is said and done.

Speaking of the taxpayers’ wallet, the more I think about how our government is front-ending the costs of potash mine expansion in this province, the more I am displeased with this government’s approach. I remember very well the great potash debate in this province in 1989. I remember speaking in the Legislature on this debate and in many public venues around the province. One of the strongest arguments that the PC Party and government made for privatizing PCS was that Saskatchewan taxpayers were not the ones who should be paying for capital spending on infrastructure of the existing mines. This argument was made because the NDP had spent nearly half a billion dollars on capital improvements to build capacity to the point where Saskatchewan’s existing mines could double production without spending another dime on capacity.

If the potash business was that good and profitable, then it should be shareholders who paid for capital improvements out of profits made by the company. That is how improvements are made in my business and that is how improvements are made in just about any business I know of or I am sure businesses that you know or are involved in. That argument seemed to resonate very strongly with Saskatchewan voters and taxpayers. The NDP government of Lorne Calvert were desperate to try and show some economic activity in Saskatchewan after all of those years of NDP government and so they came up with the current scheme which put taxpayers back in the business of paying for capital improvements in potash mines with no relationship to world-wide demand or price. The current Wall government is way off base again on their estimates of potash revenue in the current budget year. And yet taxpayers will continue to upfront the capital costs of mine expansion for tonnage that may not hit the market for years and years to come because there is lots of current capacity on hand.

Potash company executives must laugh and rub their hands with glee. There is absolutely no risk involved for them, their boards of directors or their shareholders. All of their decisions good or bad will be paid for against future tonnage and their royalties that won’t be paid to the people of Saskatchewan. I am amazed that some of my former colleagues can be supporting the Sask Party and this NDP game plan when they stood on their feet 20 years ago and made the very solid argument that taxpayers should not be paying for capital improvements in potash mines. Go figure.

The next Monday Morning Commentary will be sent out on July 30th.

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