GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY IS LACKING AT ALL LEVELS
The latest editorial from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has referenced the need for greater accountability and reform to ethical standards at the federal government level. We contend that the same lack of accountability and adherence to ethical standards is present in many jurisdictions beyond the federal government. Should we decide to ignore these issues we risk allowing control of our interests and security as taxpayers to be hijacked by those whose financial interests are allowed to displace the principles of law which are designed to protect all citizens of our country. Without such protection, the very fabric of our confederation is undermined. We want everyone to see the patterns of behavior from those in power and those who have access to privileged information that demand greater scrutiny. We invite readers to examine these patterns for themselves. To that end we offer the following comparison.
Recently the Federal Ethics Commissionerís Report detailing his findings into the conduct of Prime Minister Trudeau has been a hot topic. This report was aimed at determining whether or not the Prime Minister used his position to attempt to influence decisions at the office of the Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould concerning a criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin. ††
In February 2015, SNC-Lavalin was charged with criminal offenses that allegedly occurred between†2001 and 2011. SNC hoped to receive a deferred prosecution agreement so the company could continue to bid on federal contracts. However, the Attorney General decided that she would not negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin due to the serious nature of the charges and the evidence that was in place.
On September 4, 2018, the Director of Public Prosecutions informed the office of the Attorney General that she would not invite SNC-Lavalin to negotiate a possible remediation agreement. The Prime Minister's Office†and the Minister of Finance's office were informed of this decision by Ms. Wilson-Raybould's office. It was following this announcement from the Attorney Generalís office that Mr.†Trudeau then directed his staff to ìfind a solutionî that would safeguard SNC-Lavalin's business interests in Canada. Such instructions from the P.M.O. in light of the Attorney Generalís firm and considered position on the matter can only be seen as an attempt to contravene or interfere with law enforcement. Such action on the part of our countryís elected leader raises serious concerns. n his report, the Ethics Commissioner concluded;
"O that Mr. Trudeau used his position of authority over Ms. Wilson-Raybould to seek to influence her decision on whether she should overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions' decision not to invite SNC-Lavalin to enter into negotiations towards a remediation agreement. Because SNC-Lavalin overwhelmingly stood to benefit from Ms. Wilson-Raybould's intervention, I†have no doubt that the result of Mr. Trudeau's influence would have furthered SNC-Lavalin's interests. The actions that sought to further these interests were improper as they were contrary to the constitutional principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law. For these reasons, I find that Mr. Trudeau contravened section 9 of the Act."
We applaud the ethics commissioner for his interpretation and decision. It is encouraging to know that at some point the standards of behavior from our elected officials are being monitored. Unfortunately, while these ethical standards may be established by the Act, there appears to be no immediate consequences for those who abuse them. Prime Minister Trudeau is left to extricate himself from the consequences of these abuses at the next election. Many argue that in light of the ethics commissionerís report, the present Prime Minister has disqualified himself already and should be removed from office. It is sadly apparent that abusing the ethical standards established by the Act do not carry the same consequences as those suffered when the rules being broken are in the criminal code and result in charges leading to prosecution. From the laymanís perspective, our society is harmed in both scenarios, whether the actions of the individual are illegal or unethical, damage has been done, or at least attempted.
The dilemma we constantly face is deciding what is criminal vs what is simply unethical. As this is a debate that has been going on for centuries, we donít expect to find an immediate solution. Thereís even a biblical reference to this dilemma when the apostle Paul is quoted saying ìwhile all things are lawful, not all things are expedientî. It seems that many generations ago, the need for adherence to ethical standards was an ongoing concern. It has always been the refuge of the self-interested to hide behind the loopholes in the legal system. Especially when those loopholes do not carry legal consequences for unethical behavior. At least this has now been exposed at the federal level. We now ask the reader to turn their attention closer to home.
We continue in our quest to highlight obvious inconsistencies in the practice of our local authorities and the apparent abuse of authority evidenced by the discrepancies in their practices when dealing with individuals whose circumstances would be affected by new developments being undertaken by the city and the province. only ask for the same principles of justice and the enforcement of ethical standards be followed in our province. To date, this has yet to take place. While investigations have been conducted by law enforcement authorities, without any resulting criminal charges, that does not mean that ethical standards have been abused and influence has been apparent from sources surrounding our governing authorities.
In February of 2012, two major land developers purchased 640 acres along Tower Road. Long Lake Investments purchased 500 acres for $12,125/acre a total of $6 million. Long Lake CEO Murad Al-Katib, was a director on the Regina Regional Opportunities Corporation in 2011 and 2012 at the time and has been on the board since. Also on the board was the Mayor of Regina.
In May of 2013 a meeting was held among the city planners and selected developers regarding possible changes to the new Regina Bypass plans.
In March of 2014, LLI sold 128 acres back to the Ministry of Highways for $85,000 an acre, seven times more per acre than they had paid 2 years before. That resulted in a net profit of $4 million dollars after deducting the entire purchase cost for the original 500 acres. Their remaining 372 acres have been edged with new service roads (paid with Saskatchewan taxpayer dollars). Furthermore, a CN Intermodal terminal is being constructed down the centre of their land. They also own the rail line from Regina to Saskatoon and are currently selling lots for $450,000 an acre. Once the newly acquired land is completely sold, LLI stands to make an additional $16 million + as a result of infrastructure developments adjacent to and surrounding their property. Had this property turnover taken place with someone other than a civic employee who had access to privileged information regarding the Bypass plans, our concerns would be diminished. As it stands presently, the principals of LLI appear to have taxpayersí blood on their hands.
Forester Properties Harvard Developments purchased 141 acres for the Aurora Mall Development. Gulf Flying J, the previous owners, tried for years to get building approval for a truck stop. They were told that it would be 25 years before the land was annexed into the city and serviced. With this information, Gulf flying J decided to sell the property as it would not serve anyoneís purposes for many years to come, or so they were lead to believe. Only months later, the land was annexed into the city after closed meetings of the developers, the government and the city of Regina. This closed meeting resulted in a preferred plan for the Regina Bypass and moved the Regina Bypass 400 meters east of Tower Road, moving the timeline for servicing these properties by the city being radically advanced. Had the Regina Bypass remained on Tower Road, Forester / Harvard would have lost over 60 acres rendering the property undevelopable. To many, especially Flying J, this looks like something more than a simple coincidence.
The GTH Land Scandal was exposed in February 2016. The government needed 54 acres for the Regina Bypass by the GTH. Instead of buying this land from the Order of Nun's for $5,000-$6,000/ acre the going rate for land in the area, an Alberta land baron Mr. Taupauff who rents land to Bill Boyd, Sask. Party MLA and Minister of the GTH at the time, made an offer to purchase this land. Taupauff made $6 million flipping the land to another developer, Mr. Anthony Marquart. This transaction did not go through land titles. Our government then purchased 204 acres of land, 4 times more than needed from Mr. Marquart for the GTH project. Premier Brad Wall signed an order in council to pay $21.1 million for this property. at a rate that was 20 times the rate that everyone else whose land was being appropriated had received.
At White City, Mr. Mauri Gwyn, a land developer, purchased 7.4 acres of land so he could put up a fence and a berm as he had built too close the Regina Bypass. He paid $20,000 per acre. Three years later, the government purchased back 2.4 acres of the same land and paid him $400,000 per acre. Other landowners in the same area received 20 times less for their land. No plausible explanation has ever been offered for this dramatic discrepancy in price. The government had the authority to annex the portion of land needed but chose instead to enrich the private developer while demanding non-disclosure agreements from other land owners in the area as they went about annexing property at significantly lower prices. One can only see the condition of non-disclosure agreements as a means of precluding or preventing comparisons which would be very difficult to explain or justify.
QUESTIONS HAVE BEEN ASKED
The RCMP launched an investigation into the GTH Land Scandal in February 2016. In or around this time, Premier Brad Wall, MLA Bill Boyd, and Finance Minster Kevin Doherty resigned from public office less than half-way through their terms. In 2018, the RCMP closed the file on the Regina Bypass Scandal. They did not disclose the results of the investigation, but they did reveal that Manitoba Prosecution Services recommended that no criminal charges be laid concerning this matter. It was highly complex and multi-layer investigation spanning two years and approximately 7500 person-hours. Over 40 people were interviewed in relation to the investigation. Thousands of pages of documents were examined. All of the documents that the RCMP reviewed were freely provided to investigators by the holding parties.
ANSWERS ARE BEING WITHELD
Unfortunately, due to the unwillingness of the ruling authorities to share the details of this investigation the RCMPís report has done nothing to quell suspicions and concerns.
While campaigning for Premier, Gord Wyant, now Deputy Premier said that he would call for a Public Inquiry into the Regina Bypass to clear the air even if the RCMP found nothing wrong. This was soon swept under the carpet, and a statement was issued that the RCMP did their job and no Public Inquiry was necessary. Sadly, as we referred to in the beginning of this article, it is not the RCMPís mandate to enforce governmental ethical requirements or standards. We would advocate that someone or some institution be given that authority.
OTTAWA & REGINA: WHO IS IN WORSE SHAPE?
Given the foregoing information, it would appear that both national and provincial law makers are in need of greater transparency and accountability. In both constituencies these principles have been interfered with by those whose political power and agendas are being served. While the Feder4al Liberals have prevented the
Ethics Commissioner from giving testimony on the recent decision to sanction our Prime Minister for his partisan behavior, here in Saskatchewan there seems to be no appetite for holding our local lawmakers equally accountable. Unfortunately those who are presently in power here in Saskatchewan are not about to put themselves on the chopping block either.
The future of our democracy is hangs in the balance when we fail to demand greater accountability and transparency from our governing authorities. In the meantime while we continue to press for answers, we can only hope more people will join us in calling for these questions to be taken seriously by politicians and by law enforcement.
WHO WILL DEMONSTRATE THE COURAGE TO ACT? WE HOPE TO SEE THEM SOON!