You can always tell when a government is getting arrogant and beginning to worry more about their own political hides when they start to lash out at anyone that has the audacity to criticise that government’s actions.
Such is the case this past week with the disrespectful language and attitude of the members of the Sask Party who sit on the Public Accounts Committee. Because of their over-whelming majority, all of the members on that committee are Sask Party MLAs with the exception of NDP’er Trent Wotherspoon. The Public Accounts Committee is supposed to work very closely with the Provincial Auditor to ensure that Saskatchewan’s financial transactions and modes of governance are in the best interests of taxpayers. If you remember just before Christmas, Provincial Auditor Bonnie Lysyk issued her report in which she pointed out that Saskatchewan was the only province left in Canada which was not reporting to its citizens on a summary financial basis. She also pointed out that by reporting finances using only the consolidated fund, that Saskatchewan was indeed running deficits when they were reporting surpluses.
Now when the Provincial Auditor appears before the Committee to get her budget approved for the coming year, all of a sudden backbench Sask Party MLAs – some of whom have only been around for a little over a year – are questioning the Provincial Auditor’s methods and deferring her budget request rather than going through the budget and approving or disapproving of the line items which would be the normal process. For Mr. Wall’s government to even think about attacking the credibility of the Provincial Auditor who has done nothing more than tell the truth to Saskatchewan taxpayers about how their money is being spent is the mark of a government that is already in a downward spiral and trying to hide something.
If Mr. Wall and his Minister of Finance have any credibility at all in the upcoming provincial budget, they would be taking the advice of the Provincial Auditor and moving Saskatchewan into the modern age and presenting a budget that is based on summary financial statements and nothing else. The consolidated fund approach is simply a mechanism to allow government jiggery-pokery with the Crown Corporations and make believe surpluses. If anything in this period of transition, the Provincial Auditor’s budget should be strengthened and not weakened so that the taxpayers of this province get the true picture of where their money is going. The question must be asked – if Ms Lysyk had not criticized the government’s accounting methods, would Mr. Wall’s pitbull backbenchers been quiet on this issue and passed her budget without question?
Speaking of large sums of money…I hope everyone in Saskatchewan noticed the over $96 million out-of-court settlement reached between Saskatchewan’s three potash companies who are members of Canpotex and plaintiffs who had filed anti-trust actions against them in an Illinois courtroom. The media reports from all three of the companies could have been written by the same person where they all claimed innocence and that this was only paid out because further legal action would have been more costly. The statement also claimed that this amount of money would not affect their business bottom lines at all.
This may not seem like a lot of money to our potash companies but if you put this in perspective, this is only a few million short of the new regional hospital that is supposedly being built in Moose Jaw. This hospital is being down-sized from the current one because the government has said that we must do more with less. This amount of money is more than double the amount that the University of Saskatchewan needs to balance its budget and not make major cuts to programming and staff. This amount of money is equal to the amount needed for new bridges in Saskatoon and Prince Albert and yet our potash companies freely spend it to get out of court actions that they probably would have lost anyway.
The point I am making is that there is enough profitability in the potash business – the same amount of money required to build a major hospital in Saskatchewan - that has now gone into the pockets of American lawyers and plaintiffs rather than building this province. These companies have all received huge tax credits from the taxpayers of this province to build mines. I wonder how much taxes and royalties were paid on this $96 million. This is just another piece of evidence that the people of this province as the owners of their resource need to at least have the opportunity through their Legislative Assembly to look at royalties and potentially move to a per tonne based royalty rather than on the arbitrary price settings of company CEOs which can dramatically affect the amount of money Saskatchewan gets. .
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.