In a recent legislative session, the NDP put forward a motion to conduct a public inquiry into the much debated GTH Land planning and appropriation process. The entire project has been fraught with scandal and controversy from its very beginnings. Not surprisingly, the members of the ruling Sask. Party immediately and unanimously voted to quash this motion claiming that this project had already been subject to RCMP investigation and no charges had resulted, so they felt it was a dead issue with no need to look into the matter any further.
This response reminds us of the kind of cynical comment one might hear from a policeman directing traffic at a roadside fatality… “move on folks, nothing to see here.”
Among numerous inconsistencies in the behavior of our regulators, we point to one that stands out dramatically; In 2017 while campaigning for Premier of Saskatchewan following the sudden, and some think peculiar, resignation of former Premier Brad Wall, Mr. Gordon Wyant conspicuously campaigned on the issue of opening the books and conducting a public inquiry into the GTH matter. This was one of the prominent planks in his platform, and at the time Mr. Wyant, appeared to be a straight talking legislator.
Mr. Wyant appeared confident as he entered the Sask. Party leadership race in late summer 2017. He routinely told him campaign rally audiences that he “…would hold a public inquiry on the GTH land deals no matter what the RCMP investigation concluded [because] there are unanswered questions for me.”
Again, in an early September 2017 interview with CBC Saskatchewan, he emphatically stated: “I’m a citizen of this province whether I’m a member of government or not. There are some troubling things about this and at the end of the day we need to clear the air so that people are made comfortable with that happened.” He then went on to say: “If this process doesn’t result in charges being preferred, it will only be tendered to the director of public prosecutions which won’t be made available to the general public”. … “That doesn’t do anything to clear the air. We need to shine a very, very bright light on this, and the only way to do that is to give the commissioner the power that he needs not only to compel witnesses, documents and testimony, but to make their findings visible so that we can put this whole thing behind us as a party.”
Mr. Wyant seems to have forgotten him emphatic promises and has now joined with his colleagues in voting against the very inquiry for which he dramatically advocated in the past. This reversal of philosophy only raises more suspicions about cover-ups.
A light shone through briefly when Tina Beaudry Meller stood up and voted yes. The light was quickly extinguished as she was loudly heckled by both sides of the house. Embarrassed, she quickly reversed her position claiming she had intended to vote ‘no’ but must have suffered a momentary lapse of consciousness. Her apparent change of heart appears to serve the purpose of those who wish to see the matter dropped.
We continue to ask: why didn’t Gord Wyant and Tina Beaudry Meller do what they had promised when they were running for office and demand a vote for a public inquiry? Why are they now both towing the Sask Party line? Is there in fact wasn’t anything inappropriate that took place or, for that matter anything to hide, why won’t the Sask. Party open up the books and call for a Judicial Public Inquiry and Forensic Audit.
The original approved plan for the Regina Bypass established a northern leg along Tower Road which could provide routing for both north and south bound traffic to bypass the city in the same fashion as the Ring Road does today. However, after developers purchased land along Tower Road, a new preferred plan was unveiled in June 2013 that saw the Regina Bypass move 400 meters east of the original planned location at Tower Road. This resulted in the elimination of a northern leg to the bypass.
As a result, the large amount of westbound truck traffic entering Regina bound for the commercial and industrial areas of the city, must still use the existing infrastructure. This has done nothing to relieve congestion or increased wear on roadways already stressed with truck and rail traffic in this part of the city. Instead, a plan was thrust into place with unprecedented haste which required the city to annex property 25 years ahead of schedule and in areas where no immediate needs would be served.
A CONSPICUOUS FLURRY OF LAND SALES AND PURCHASES?
Along Tower Road, developers purchased 640 acres of land in 2012. Shortly thereafter, in closed-door meetings with the government, these developers succeeded in persuading planners to move the Bypass 400 meters east of Tower Road. abandoning the originally planned and approved northern leg and accommodating their south east community plan developments.
One of the beneficiaries of these changed plans was Long Lake Investments, (AKA: ‘L.L.I.’) a company which had recently purchased 500 acres along Tower Road and paid $12,125/acre totaling around $6 million dollars. It should be noted that Long Lake Investments owner Murad Al-Katib was on the Regina Regional Opportunities Commission as a director in 2011 and 2012 along with Mayor Pat Fiaco and Mayor Fougere. Mr. Al-Katib has served as chairman of the Regina Economic Development Board in 2013 until present.
When the Regina Bypass was moved 400 meters east of Tower Road, it went 2 miles down the middle of Mr. Al-Katib’s recently acquired properties. Mr. Al-Katib’s company, (L.L.I) sold back 128 acres to the city for $85,000/acre. This represented an approximate seven-fold increase in value for land that only a short time earlier had not been considered useful until the bypass plans had undergone these ‘last-minute’ changes. As a result, a $4 million dollar profit was realized by L.L.I in an unprecedentedly short time periods.
Long Lake Investments still had 372 acres of land in their possession from the original purchase, which now had no real cost to them as their original investment has been comfortably recovered within the large profits recorded following the sale of a portion of this land back to the city. The windfall continues as they are now selling parcels of the remaining land for $450,000/acre. When we do the math, that’s a 380% markup.
Yet, another bewildering example of land resale transactions took place at White City. A local developer, Mr. Mauri Gwyn needed some land to build a fence and a burm along Highway No.1 and No.48. In 2011 the government sold him 7.4 acres at $20,000/acre totaling $150,000. Three years later, the same government bought back 2.4 acres of this property and paid $400,000/acre= $975,000 for less than 1/2 the amount of land that was sold to Mr. Gwyn previously. Mr. Gwyn realized a profit of $825,000, and still retains ownership of more than 1/2 the land he purchased from the buyers three years earlier. While this may not itself be illegal, as taxpayers shouldn’t we at least have some expectations for our governing authorities to limit these entitlements to windfall profits at our expense?
In February 2016, two months before the provincial election, investigative reporter Geoff Leo uncovered and reported on the controversial land transactions surrounding the GTH.
The government needed 54 acres west of Regina to accommodate access for the new Bypass to the GTH. The land which at the time arguably could have been purchased by the city from the original owners at its current market value of $5-6,000/acre, was instead sold to an Alberta land developer, Mr. Robert Taupauff.
At the time Mr. Taupauff made an offer to purchase a large quantity of land which surrounded and included that which was needed to accommodate the GTH. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Taupauff was able to sell part of this land to the province in a quickly expedited transaction (which was not registered with land titles at the time) appearing to have pocketed over $6 million in profits in the process.
The optics of this series of purchases and sales suffer under scrutiny when it is revealed that Mr. Taupauff was the owner of land being rented by Sask. Party MLA, Mr. Bill Boyd. Mr. Boyd was the minister responsible for the GTH at the time.
Finally, another developer and Sask. Party supporter, Mr. Anthony Marquart, purchased 204 acres of land adjacent to the planned bypass. In February 2014, Premier Brad Wall signed an Order in Council to pay Mr. Marquart $21.1 million dollars for the land in question. This amount in exchange for 4 times an amount needed for the bypass and at 20 times the rate that other land in the area was valued at. Yet another example of terrible optics. Does our government not realize hoe this makes them appear?
The cost of the Regina Bypass has exploded from $400 million to now over $2 billion dollars. We now see the commercial developments along Tower Road, the Aurora Mall, Costco Store, CN Intermodal, and commercial buildings being constructed along the Regina Bypass.
While we don’t object in principal to well planned growth and development, we have serious concerns about how this project appears to have been hijacked by a select group of individuals who may have had access to privileged information. If this access allowed them to manipulate government officials into sanctioning profiteering on a grand scale, we the taxpaying public need to have a voice in these decisions. The real issue is the source of funds being used to potentially enhance the personal wealth of a few well-placed individuals.
AS TAXPAYERS FUNDING THESE INITIATIVES, WE DESERVE SOME REAL ANSWERS!