THE GLOBAL TRANSPORTATION HUB SCANDAL HAS COME FULL CIRCLE
CBC Investigative reporter Geoff Leo exposed the GTH land scandal in February 2016, two months before the provincial election. In his article, Mr. Leo explains how an Alberta Land Baron who rents land to Bill Boyd, then Minister of the GTH, made an offer to purchase four times as much land than was needed for the Regina Bypass and made $6 Million Dollars in one day without going through land titles. The GTH Land Scandal all came to a head when Premier Brad Wall signed an order in counsel on February 27, 2014 to pay $21 million dollars for 204 acres of land to a numbered company owned by Anthony Marquart, a Regina Land developer. The public wants to know how our government got into the business of land development. This mega project has been dubbed by many as; “Highway Robbery, - The Regina Bypass Land Scandal.”
Later on, a different developer with known connections to the Sask Party, Mr. Anthony Marquart, purchased 204 acres of land, again nearly four times more than was needed to accommodate the new Regina Bypass. Premier Brad Wall subsequently signed an order in council to pay $21 million dollars to Mr. Marquart’s numbered company. This turns out to be nearly 20 times the rate everyone else in the area was getting. The 54 acres of land that was needed for the Regina Bypass was only worth $315,000 and could have been purchased directly from the Order of Nuns or McNally Enterprises. It could also have simply been expropriated as has been done to other land owners along Highway No.1 and Pinky Road. At those locations they paid the $5,750.00/acre which was determined to be fair market value at the time. This land is only a couple of miles from the land in question. For more information check out Mr. Leo’s article here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/businessmen-millions-regina-land-bill-boyd-1.3420479
Prior to the last election, Bill Boyd sued CBC. This story could have been a major political downfall and it might have been enough to see the Sask. Party being voted out. However, the Sask. Party cleverly dodged this bullet and regained control of the Saskatchewan legislature. By this time our grass roots organization, the Regina Committee for an Alternative Bypass Solution/ Why Tower Road? - had already invested over 2 years and thousands of hours of time researching, informing the public, and lobbying the government for accountability on the location of the Regina Bypass on the east end of the city off Tower Road.
Super Seamless of Canada, a local Metal Building Products Manufacturer began in business in 1978, and had acquired land along Highway No.1 South Service Road off Tower Road to accommodate a new manufacturing plant for insulated steel siding and exterior Finish Building Products. Their potential and existing clientel came from Residential, Commercial, Architectural, and Agricultural markets. They had purchased and developed the technology for the only insulated steel siding machine in North America. The technology had been in development for over 25-years and had resulted in the creation of state of the art manufacturing equipment unique to the industry. Super Seamless was poised to become the leading metal building product manufacturer in North America. This was the basis of our plans to expand ourr business into the national and international markets. We would need to employ hundreds of people locally and we felt confident that this would also create many spin-off jobs both nationally and internationally.
In June 2013, mid-way through building the first building of our new manufacturing plant, we learned at a public open forum that there was a new preferred plan for the Regina Bypass. This was a radical change from the 2012 approved plan for the Regina Bypass. The Bypass on Tower Road would have gone north and south around Regina. The new preferred plan saw the Regina Bypass move 400 meters east of Tower Road and could no longer go north. The informed public wanted to know why the government would abandon the approved Bypass plan in favour of a new plan which would relocate the bypass another 400 meters east of Tower Road. Many wondered about the hard science behind this decision? After thousands of hours of research, dozens of letter to the government and hundreds of questions asked, the only meaningful answer we received was that it was the engineers who decided where the Regina Bypass should go. Highways and Infrastructure Minister Don McMorris said that at first he wasn't convinced that Tower Road was the best place for the Bypass but his engineers convinced him not once, not twice, but three times that was where the Regina Bypass had to go.
This motivated us to interview Senior Engineers with the Department of Highways and Infrastructure in documented and recorded conversations. In stark contrast to Mr. McMorris’ comments, they told us that they did not agree with the relocation plan for the Regina Bypass. They stated that it was the developers who influenced the relocation decision. They also made sure to inform us that their only mandate was to study how to get from Tower Road to Pinky Road. We began an intensified lobbying campaign to inform the public. Our goal was to develop enough consensus by engaging the public in an attempt to get the government to back down an re-evaluate the location of the Regina Bypass.
Through many interviews with people that were well informed about the Regina Bypass including companies along the route like Brandt, Redhead and other land owners, none of them agreed with the relocation of the Regina Bypass. In fact, in 2013 Brandt took an alternative plan to the Government to build the Regina Bypass at Gravel Pit Road just outside the city. This proposed location was on flat land that could have saved 25% of the original $400 million dollar cost of the Regina Bypass. It simply seemed to defy common sense that the government wouldn’t approve building the Regina Bypass outside the city at a cost of $300 million instead of right on city limits at a cost of $2 billion dollars.
We also learned that Sask. Party MLA Chrsitne Tell's family owns land along Gravel Pit Road and had plans for a commercial development that would have been impacted by the Brandt plan. Was this a possible explanation?
Then we discovered that some developers had recently purchased land along Tower Road. Forester Properties / Harvard Developments had purchased 141 acres for the Aurora Mall from Gulf Flying J in 2012. Gulf Flying J had purchased this land years earlier and tried to get approval for a truck stop. The municipal authorities stated that it would be 25 years before this property would be developed as they did not have the infrastructure in place to service it. Based on this information, Gulf Flying J sold the land to Forester/Harvard who we then learned had plans for the Aurora Mall project in that location. There was however one significant problem: the Regina Bypass was originally approved to be built along Tower Road and this would have consumed over 60 acres of this property and rendered the rest of it undevelopable.
Then later in 2012, Long Lake Investments purchased 500 acres of land along Tower Road for $12,125/acre a total of $6 million dollars. Principal of the Long Lake Investments, Murad Al-Katib, was a director on the Regina Regional Opportunities Corporation (now known as Economic Development Regina) along with Mayor Pat Fiaco beginning in 2011. Murad Al-Katib was chairman of the board beginning in 2012-2018 and remains on the board along with Michael Fougere.
All of this was happening at the same time as the land transactions at the GTH. We discovered that there were closed meetings where the developers along Tower Road, the provincial and municipal governments, and the City of Regina were in attendance, These meetings took place May 6th-9th 2013. It was at these meetings that the new preferred plan for the Regina Bypass first appeared. The relocation of the new Regina Bypass to a spot 400 meter east of Tower Road had the Regina Bypass going 2.5 miles right down the middle of LLI ‘s newly acquired properties. LLI sold 128 acres back to the government and received $10.1 million, about one quarter of the land they had purchased earlier. LLI managed to pocket over $4 million dollars profit and now has gained 372 acres of new prime development property which essentially cost them nothing. LLI investment is now selling lots for $385,000/acre which represents over 3075% profit. Now we find the new CN Intermodal facility is being built on this property. It is no coincidence that LLI owns the Rail line from Regina to Saskatoon and to the Port of Churchill. We now have a better understanding of why this facility which should have been located at the now imperiled GTH, will never help to make that facility viable. The rail relocation to the GTH had been one of the major points of its rationale from the outset. It is therefore not surprising that the government is finding themselves nursing a stillborn baby with the GTH.
The land scandal didn't stop here. At White City Highway No.48 and Highway No.1 Maurie Gwyn needed to build a berm and a fence for the Mackenzie Point subdivision as it was built too close to land owned by Highways for the Regina Bypass. In 2011, the Government sold Maurie Gwyn 7.4 acres for $20,000/acre a total of $150,000. Three years later, the government repurchased 2.4 acres of the very same land and paid $400,000/acre, 20 times more than what Maurie Gwyn purchased the land for.
Other land owners directly across the Highway are receiving between $15,000 and $27,000/acre. It seems incredulous that Mr. Gwyn's dirt should be worth 20 times more than that of other land owners along the Regina Bypass route.
Land prices along the Regina Bypass vary between $5,000/acre up to $400,000/acre. The developers who only a short time ago purchased land along the Regina Bypass and influenced the location have been offered in some cases up to 80 times more for their land than long term land, home, and business owners.
It is troubling that key developers were offered money for their land and paid as willing buyer-willing seller. At the same time, other land owners who were offered $5,000/acre, far less per acre than the developers, were forced to either accept the offer or risk expropriation. The fact that many were also required to sign non-disclosure agreements in the process is another concerning issue. The optics of these transactions is, to say the least, atrocious.
Many people have been affected by the Regina Bypass. They want to stand up to say that these actions on the part of our municipal authorities are simply wrong. They are a poor legacy for those whose lands and livelihoods have been damaged as well as the rest of Saskatchewan taxpayers who will be paying for these questionable transactions for many years to come.
$2 Billion Dollars of public money is now invested in a flawed, developer- influenced, dead end (GTH) Regina Bypass; part of which still resides within city limits, and does not ‘bypass’ anything. It fails to alleviate truck traffic to the northern part of our city where the commercial industrial business district has grown over the years, and that traffic has overloaded the access (ring road north) to the point where safety remains a major concern. Anyone merging on to the Ring Road from Victoria or Dewdney Avenues at peak traffic hours can attest to this.
It is difficult to avoid attributing at least a significant portion of our present economic stress in this province to a $2 Billion Dollar expense which appears to be largely accrued through the manipulation of the public purse for the benefit those few who appear to be politically privileged. The government further fueled the fires of concern when they awarded the general construction contract and 30 year maintenance agreement to a company from France that has no direct experience with our conditions or practical functional needs.
So here we are today, the GTH has been declared a catastrophic failure and the government is trying to divest themselves of this white elephant. Year after year, the GTH has failed to meet their target land sales and as of the 2017-2018 annual report, the Hub is over $40 million in debt. Our government saw fit to grant the Chief Executive a $242,000 severance pay package upon termination.
If our government is unable to find someone to take over the lease, the GTH will be liable for the million dollars in rent due over the next 11 years remaining on the lease.
There is so much wrong with the Regina Bypass Land Scandal that one cannot help but wonder who is steering this ship? Is our government simply a puppet to the developers? When you look at the facts you cannot help but wonder how something so wrong happen right in front of our eyes.
Twenty-five years ago, the Grant Devine government was involved in a million dollar phony expense account scheme. This ended with thirteen MLA's being charged criminally. Here we are twenty-five years later with a $2 Billion Dollar scandal, 2000 times larger. Three people, Brad Wall, Bill Boyd, and Kevin Doherty came from the Grant Devine government and were also among the founders of the Sask Party. All have resigned mid-term, but not before imposing a crippling 6% PST on the construction services industry. This coupled with government waste and a slow oil industry sent our province spiraling into a recession. Perhaps the 6% PST levied against the maintenance contract for the new Regina Bypass will claw back some minor revenues from Vinci, the French company who was awarded the 30 year maintenance contract, but this will do nothing to address the stresses placed upon our local businesses in that industry.
We would like to note that MLA Gordon Wyant, who entered the Sask. Party leadership race late last summer said a number of things in his campaign speeches. Mr. Wyant routinely told his rally attendees 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.”
During an early September 2017 interview with CBC, Mr. Wyant 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 what happened. If charges aren’t preferred then there’s going to be a report that’s tendered to the director of public prosecutions which isn’t going to be made public and 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 and to compel documents and testimony but to make some findings so that we can put this whole thing behind us as a party.”
So once Gordon Wyant was elected as Deputy Premier, why did he suddenly change his tune on his obvious suspicions regarding the Regina Bypass? Why has he not kept true to his promise and opened up the books for a Judicial Public Inquiry? Is the government afraid that the truth will finally be reveled? Why didn’t the Provincial Auditor do a Forensic Audit into the Regina Bypass Land Scandal?
The RCMP spent 2 and a half years investigating the GTH land scandal. They announced that after 7500 hours spent on the file they were not laying charges and the evidence they examined was freely provided to them. That they never met the threshold to subpoena evidence. This begs the question, what did they spend 7500 hours investigating? And what exactly was the threshold to subpoena evidence?
There needs to be a Judicial Public Inquiry and a Forensic Audit into the entire Regina Bypass Land Scandal. The people of Saskatchewan demand better form our government. The Regina Bypass, the biggest infrastructure project in Saskatchewan's history will go down in history as, Highway Robbery the Regina Bypass Land Scandal. We, the taxpayers of Saskatchewan, challenge the government to clear the air on the Regina Bypass Land Scandal as Gord Wyant said.
Premier Scott Moe has been wasting time, money, and resources fighting the carbon tax. It is felt by many that this is a no-win scenario as it has been established that this is a constitutional issue that remains in the hands of the
Federal Government to enforce. The challenge to the legality of this tax is scheduled to be ruled upon by the Supreme court in December. So far, any such challenge has failed at the provincial court level. It does however make for good PR. Scott Moe wants us all to know he is fighting for our provincial interests.
Sadly, taxpayers have been left holding the bag for the costly mistakes and poor controls that have caused major investments to serve a chosen few at the expense of the rest of us. We have a government that says they are standing up for Saskatchewan and yet our economy has been left in a recession, due in large part to mismanagement on several fronts. The controversial Regina Bypass and the failed GTH will stand for many years as a testament to irresponsible administration of public funds.
It’s time we demanded accountability, transparency and real advocacy from our elected officials. We are the people who must bear the cost of these mistakes. If we fail to engage in the process, we will continue to be victims.
We invite all interested parties to go to our website and sign our petition.