IS OUR GOVERNMENT A PUPPET TO OMNIPOTENT DEVELOPERS?
The No-Business-in-the-Park criticisms and demonstrations against Brandt have been heating up as of late. City of Regina councillor Bob Hawkins is calling for a public inquiry, as are provincial NDP caucus members. But, as usual, our esteemed provincial government is a dead-set determined to slam the door on that investigative procedure. They even rehearsed one of their leading talking-heads, the Honorable Gordon Wyant, and pushed him onto the media scrum stage to reassure the people that, in his judgement, all is above board because the proper “processes were followed” prior to the agreement with Brandt was reached.
Now, before anyone puts too much trust in Mr. Wyant’s judgement, a few of his public statements he made during his Saskatchewan Party leadership run (between late 2017 and early 2018) should re reviewed. While RCMP Economic Crimes inspectors were still probing the series of seemingly illegal land transactions that had transpired next to the Global Transportation Hub (GTH), Mr. Wyant was saying, “I have made an unequivocal commitment to a public inquiry into the GTH once the RCMP investigation has concluded.” And, “…regardless of the RCMP findings…the only way our government can have true renewal is to eliminate the ‘cloud of suspicion’ that is causing even Sask. Party members to question the GTH.” And also, “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 and compel documents and testimony, but to make some findings so that we can put this whole thing behind us as a party.”
Then, last year in July, a RCMP sergeant stepped up to a microphone to announce that they would not be criminally charging any of the deal-makers who seemed to have been caught red-handed misappropriating many millions of dollars of Saskatchewan taxpayer funds. The RCMP’s jaw-dropping decision was immediately followed by a stunning CBC Saskatchewan news story titled, Deputy Premier Backs Away From Campaign Call for GTH Inquiry Following RCMP Probe. In that story, Geoff Leo wrote, “Gord Wyant says he supports the government’s position to move on, despite what he promised during the leadership bid. He would not repeat that strident call for a detailed public review of the controversial deals, instead saying he’s satisfied with the RCMP investigation.” More recently, within his March 5, 2019 column, the Leader Post’s Murray Mandryk recalled Mr. Wyant’s abandonment of his promise to launch a public inquiry into the very concerning GTH land transactions. And then, in reference to Mr. Wyant’s it’s-all-good opinion regarding Brandt’s construction operations in Wascana Park, Mandryk wrote, “Again we suffer the disappointment of a politician putting their interest ahead of the public interest.” Mr. Wyant seems to recite whatever script the government spin doctors hand him — so he’s likely not the most credible Sask. Party spokesperson at this point in time.
The government has stated that Brandt’s development proposal went through a very rigorous approval process. However, based on our past dealings with this “redact-happy” government, we tend to think it more likely went through a very rigorous cover-up process; which would be no different than the many shameful Regina Bypass cover-upsour Highwayrobbery.org contributors have been digging into and unearthing for more than five years now. The government, as well as certain members of the media, appear to be working overtime to permanently bury the Regina Bypass Scandal.
Our Highwayrobbery.org campaign is also gaining more momentum thanks in large part to the Compass magazine articles that we write and have published weekly. And, we anticipate we’ll gain even greater momentum once our lobby groups have had a bit more time to ascertain whether or not our provincial and municipal governments are serving as performance puppets for a cabal of opportunistic big business power brokers.
The East Regina Bypass terminal was originally approved to be built along Tower Road. But, when that terminal’s blueprints were abruptly and mysteriously redrawn so that it could be re-positioned 400 meters east of Tower Road, the land holdings of certain private enterprise associates of the Sask. Party were suddenly perfectly situated within the most lucrative money making corridors on the eastern edges of Regina. Those amazingly “coincidental” circumstances were made possible by that seemingly innocuous 400-meter shift. Take, for example, the fortuitous tale of Long Lake Investments (LLI). LLI’s principal owner was a Regina Regional Opportunities Commission (RROC) board member in 2011 and 2012– along with various other “insider” political and business persons of influence. Since 2013, this LLI principal owner has served as the board chair of RROC (now known as Economic Development Regina). Was it simply devine intervention when, in 2012, LLI purchased 500 acres of land close to Tower Road for $12,000/acre? When the Regina Bypass’s east terminal was moved 400 meters east of Tower Road, LLI’s property instantly become a very hot commodity. Mere months after their 500-acre acquisition, LLI sold 128 of those acres to the Ministry of Highways for $85,000/acre. That’s seven time more per acre than what LLI has paid! LLI ‘earned’ a very extravagant and excessive net profit of $4 million dollars from that incredibly ‘devine’ transaction. And… their remaining 372 acres have been edged with new service roads (paid with Saskatchewan taxpayer dollars); a CN Intermodal terminal is being constructed down the center of their land (they just so happen to own the rail line from Regina to Saskatoon); and they are currently selling lots for $450,000/acre. LLI ‘somehow’ managed to have their property annexed to Regina and approved for development– about 20-25 years ahead of the city’s original intentions.
Another major Regina-based developer (and major Sask. Party supporter), purchased 141 acres along Tower Road from Gulf Flying J in 2012. Presently, this acreage is the site of their expensive mega-mall venture. However, is the Regina Bypass’s east terminal had stayed on Tower Road (as was originally planned) this major developer would have lost over 60 of their 141 acres, and that scenario would have halted their commercial development ambitions. The 400-meters-east-of-Tower-Road shuffle was such a ‘lucky’ break for these well-heeled corporate raiders. And… this major developers also ‘somehow’ managed to have their property annexed to Regina and approved for development– about 20-25 years ahead of the city’s original intentions.
Sherwood Muiltitech, a developer from Calgary, owned a tract of land on the west outskirts of the city (in the vicinity of Dewdney Avenue). They had tried for years to get their acres rezoned for development. However, they were told over and over again by the City of Regina administrators that it would be at least 25 years before their land holdings would be annexed to the city and approved for development. Discouraged by the city’s refusals, Sherwood Multitech eventually sold their acreage to the aforementioned major developer. And, once again, those acres were hastily annexed to Regina and approved for development — about 20-25 years ahead of the city’s original intentions. A short time later, that major developer broke ground on Westerra, their “490-acre Complete Community.”
We absolutely believe the Regina Trans-Canada Highway No.1 Bypass is a deplorable and amoral example of how a major public works project can be illicitly redesigned primarily to satisfy the greedy profiteering agendas of entitled commercial and residential developers whose 100-year business expansion goals are focused on the east, south, and west edges of the city. It makes no sense whatsoever that heavy transport trucks coming into the city from the east are only provided with a southbound bypass thoroughfare. According to the government’s own studies, 85% of the through-traffic that enters the east side of Regina needs to travel north around the city into the Commercial/ Industrial Business District (located in northeast Regina_ or towards the major highways that are situated on the city’s north side; and only 15% of that through-traffic needs to travel south around the city.
A special invite-only Regina Bypass strategic planning meeting was conducted on January 13 of 2013. Brandt attended that meeting, and they were very vocal about how then-approved Regina Bypass routing plans would severely restrict the access to their business operations adjacent to Tower Road. They threatened to leave the city if the bypass’s east terminal was built alongside Tower Road.
I had a lengthy conversation with Brandt’s president, Shaun Semple, in 2014. He told me his company had presented alternative Regina Bypass routing plans to the government. Those plans were highlighted by their credible (i.e. much more practical, efficient and affordable) proposal that the east terminal should be pushed further east to Gravel Pit Road (which is located outside of city limits). That location would have allowed the bypass’s architects and engineers to design routes so that both north- and southbound vehicles could travel safely around the city. And.. their alternative solutions would have cost taxpayers of Saskatchewan far less than $2 billion dollars! Furthermore, their proposed routing corridors would not have significantly affected the majority of those who were living and/or working alongside any of the bypass’s thoroughfares. The family of a Sask. Party MLA, Christine Tell, owns plots of land along Gravel Pit Road– and they have plans to commercially develop those plots– it’s not too difficult to understand why Brandt’s alternative strategies were so utterly ignored by our government.
I did ask Shaun if I could have a look at their alternative blueprints, but he mentioned the provincial government was still in possession of those documents. He then told me Brandt had already made their deals with the government. Lately, in light of the emerging No-Business-in-the-Park controversy, I’ve been wondering what he really meant by his “already made their deals with the government” statement.
Then, closed-door meetings held from May 6th-9th of 2013 were attended only by select developers along Tower Road, handpicked provincial government and City of Regina officials, Ministry of Highways’ senior engineers and R.M. of Sherwood councilors. To their credit, Brandt chose to boycott those backroom gatherings; but the individuals who did participate in those secret sessions seemed to initiate the public open forums the government hosted during the summer of 2013. The general consensus among the attendees was that those futile and infuriating “lip service” events were dictated by certain influential (i.e. unscrupulous) developers and land speculators who were hellbent on fast tracking that 400-meters-east-of-Tower-Road scheme.
So, where are we now? For more than a decade our ‘transparent and fair-to-all’ democratic government has spun and spewed out numerous redacted tall tales. The following bullet points briefly overview just some of the unjust situations that have been created by the woefully bloated Regina Bypass Project:
- The provincial government has approved building an outdated, seriously flawed, dysfunctional, unsafe, $2 billion dollar-plus Regina Bypass that doesn’t even allow traffic to flow north around the city.
- The Bypass’s original projected cost of $400 million has now exploded to over $2 billion, and many analysts believe the final bill could easily exceed $3 billion dollars!!
- Certain government-friendly developers and land speculators now have an extensive $2 billion dollar-plus bypass system in place to accommodate their commercial and residential development ambitions on the east, west, and south fringes of Regina. They will be positioned to benefit for at least the next century.
- Vinci, a scandal-ridden company from France, was awarded the bypass’s general construction contract as well as its 30-year maintenance contract. That decision has shipped off at least a billion dollars of public funds overseas.
- Many capable and deserving Sask-based road and bridge building companies received little or no work from this unprecedented public works fiasco. A number of those deserving and capable companies have now laid off workers, and some have even gone out of business.
- Too many good people have lost their land, homes, businesses, recreational facilities and property accesses. Some have had their life’s work, health, history and futures damaged. A number of these besieged people who were living and/or working alongside the bypass’s “Pathways of Destruction” were relentlessly bullied and berated by the Ministry of Highways’ land acquisition representatives. They were presumably ‘encouraging’ them to quickly agree to what appears now to be very unfair cash settlements. Some of those former property owners were even forced to sign confidentiality agreements so that they would not disclose the details of these transactions made with the local governing authority. Other have been stubbornly battling in court to seek more equitable compensation. As is often the case, the only real winners have been their lawyers. Finally, a handful of former property owners have since been afflicted with terminal illnesses.
- On the flip-side of this tarnished coin, certain government-friendly developers and land speculators have been paid up to 80 times more for their land holdings than was offered to long-time land, home and business owners int he same areas.
- Our 40-year-old family-owned business (Super Seamless of Canada) was bulldozed through by the Ministry of Highways’ land expropriators. Those callous actions significantly harmed our local business operations and completely destroyed our international business expansion plans.
- The wasteful spending on the Regina Bypass has severely depleted the monies the Ministry of Highways critically needed to maintain and repair hundreds of existing highways throughout Saskatchewan which have been designated as “roadways of concern”. Those “roadways of concern” would include the site of last April’s catastrophic Humboldt Bronco’s bus crash, a truly heart-breaking tragedy that has been followed by million of people around the world. highway No.6 south of Regina which sadly claimed two more lives last fall, has also been in need of attention for many years. It is destined to become another needed upgrading project likely to be delayed indefinitely.
- The wasteful spending on the Regina Bypass has also greatly contributed to the successive slash-and-burn deficit budgets that cut public sector jobs, services and wages; that shuttered STC and sold off other Crown Corporations. Adding to the pain is the additional 6% provincial sales tax imposed on the construction and service industries. This could not have come at a worse time for an economy already dealing with taxation pressures and mortgage regulations imposed from Federal level as well. These are all factors which have helped to plunge Saskatchewan into a broad-based economic recession which is likely to need years to fully recover from.
How could a 55-kilometer jumble of terminals, interchanges, overpasses, roundabouts, diverging-diamonds and 4-lane thoroughfares constructed partly around the city have delivered so much anguish and anxiety to so many loyal taxpaying citizens?
What will it take before a comprehensive Judicial Public Inquiry and a Forensic Audit are finally launched? We need to properly investigate every Regina Bypass land acquisition deal and every ‘last hour’ blueprint revision.
If only a few manipulative public and private sector individuals have colluded and conspired to rework the Regina Bypass into their very own enormous economic development opportunity, they absolutely must be exposed. Someone needs to be held accountable for damaging the trust of Saskatchewan taxpayers while benefiting the interests of a chosen few. We’re better than this!