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Thanks for stopping in at my website! Spring session is now over and we are all back in our constituencies. NDP Leader Cam Broten and my colleagues spent the spring session showing massive shortfalls, cuts and neglect when it comes to the seniors care crisis, the condition of schools and hospitals and the massive ambulance fees Saskatchewan patients pay.

This year, the government is adding $1.5 billion to the debt and blowing through billions faster than it comes in! This government has spent well over $100 million on the toxic John Black Lean project. It is spending more than $120 million every year on private consultants, most of which don’t even have job descriptions or any accountability, according to the independent provincial auditor. With Saskatchewan’s resource wealth, we could be doing so much better for everyday families.

We put a number of important bills forward, showing a strong vision for a government that focuses on what really matters. I submitted Bill 612 The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act ensuring better schools with smaller class sizes and an anti-bullying strategy, including allowing students to form Gender and Sexuality Alliances or Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs).

Several of the bills were about building a stronger, more stable economy. The Fairness for Saskatchewan Businesses in Government Procurement Act and The Buy Local Day Act were designed to support local industry and small business. We took a strong stand for the environment, economy and green jobs with ambitious but achievable targets in The Green Energy, Green Jobs and Diversified, Sustainable Economy Act

Please check back again as we update this site regularly. I appreciate any comments you might have or further questions.

 

Yours,

David Forbes, MLA
Saskatoon Centre

Government neglect of deteriorating schools puts children at risk of asbestos exposure

The Sask. Party government’s refusal to fix deteriorating schools throughout the province is putting children and educators at risk of potential asbestos exposure.

Last week, the Opposition New Democrats revealed information about three of the schools the government has refused to fix. All three are listed on the province’s asbestos registry:

  • Rosthern Elementary School’s “structural pad is sinking, causing large gaps in the walls and concerns of plumbing line failure.” According to the asbestos registry, it has asbestos in tiles and pipeline fitting compound.
  • Rosthern High School’s roof is “leaking, rotting and in danger of collapse” and “drywall is falling from the ceiling in the library.” It has asbestos in cement board and tiles.
  • Colonsay School has “structural damage to roof/walls of the gym.” It has asbestos in cement board and tiles in the gym.

“It’s bad enough that this government expects parents to send their kids to schools with rotting roofs, holes in the walls and major structural damage,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “But for this government to ignore the fact that kids may be put at risk of potential asbestos exposure because of the deterioration of school buildings is absolutely unacceptable.”

Asbestos exposure occurs when products containing asbestos deteriorate or are damaged and airborne asbestos fibres are inhaled or swallowed, which can lead to the development of serious respiratory diseases and cancers, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

According to the asbestos registry, 499 Saskatchewan schools have asbestos in them. Government documents show there are at least $1.5 billion of repairs needed to our existing schools. The required repairs in Rosthern Elementary School, Rosthern High School and Colonsay School are estimated at $5.2 million, or just 0.3 per cent of the total need throughout the province. The government refuses to release details of the $1.5 billion of needed school repairs.

“With the kind of money this government has raked in over the last eight long years, we should have some of the best schools in the entire country, and that includes having well-maintained school buildings,” said Broten. “But this government has wasted far too much money on its misplaced priorities, while largely neglecting what really matters to Saskatchewan families. I’m hearing from more and more parents who are alarmed to learn about $1.5 billion of needed repairs to our schools and 499 school buildings with asbestos in them. Parents cannot understand why this government isn’t taking this seriously.”

Government says no to emergency repairs of rotting school roofs

The government claims “pre-existing conditions” as grounds to refuse to fix schools

The Sask. Party government refuses to do emergency repairs on school roofs that are “leaking, rotting, and in danger of collapse” because it deems them to be “pre-existing situations.”

Documents obtained through access-to-information laws show the government said no to emergency repairs of dangerous structural issues at multiple schools in at least one school division, Prairie Spirit, which is in the Saskatoon area.

“It is absolutely ridiculous for this government to use legalese and red tape to weasel out of fixing school roofs that are rotting and in danger of collapse, and schools that have major structural damage,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “This is about the safety of children and this is about providing a good space to learn. To say no to these emergency repairs on the grounds that these are pre-existing conditions defies common sense and it says a lot about this government’s misplaced priorities.”

An internal government email notes: “Prairie Spirit has made multiple requests through the program, most of which have been denied.” The email goes on to say: “The majority of the requests have had old engineering requests that date back to as early as 2006 identifying issues that needed to be, but have not been addressed. As the policy is clear that the emergent program is for unknown, not pre-existing situations, most of the requests have been denied.” A separate letter confirms the policy, referring to the major problems in Prairie Spirit schools as “pre-existing conditions.”

Applications for emergency funding which the government denied include:

  • Rosthern High School: “Barrel roof is leaking, rotting and in danger of collapse. Drywall is falling form the ceiling in the library. Further deterioration will result in the closure of this entire wing, which houses most of the classroom space.”
  • Rosthern Elementary School: “Structural pad is sinking, causing large gaps in the walls and concerns of plumbing line failure,” and “Roof is rotting and portions are disintegrating.”
  • Colonsay School: “Structural damage to roof/wall of the gym”

The total cost of the three projects is $5.2 million. The government suggested that Prairie Spirit could perhaps use its funding from the Preventative Maintenance and Renewal Program (PMR), however Prairie Spirit received just $1.37 million through the PMR program this year for all building maintenance in the entire division.

Province-wide, the Sask. Party says it’s aware of at least $1.5 billion in school repairs that are necessary, but refuses to share the list or any details with parents or teachers. The total PMR is only $27 million, less than two per cent of the need.

“The Sask. Party government has had record revenues for eight years now – and this year it plans to spend more than any year in the province’s history – but it can’t even fix our school roofs that are rotting and disintegrating? It makes no sense,” said Broten. “No wonder more and more Saskatchewan people are starting to ask where all the money has gone. This government has wasted far too much money on its misplaced priorities, instead of investing in what matters most to Saskatchewan people – better schools, better hospitals, better seniors care, and better roads. Saskatchewan families deserve so much better.”

Read the documents accessed via Freedom of Information laws.

Statement from NDP Leader Cam Broten regarding the Sixties Scoop

Last week, I called on the Government of Saskatchewan to apologize for Saskatchewan’s role in Canada’s Adopt Indian Métis program, also called the ’60s Scoop. Today, the government responded positively. I’m pleased, and ready to work together with all members of the Legislative Assembly and First Nations and Métis leaders and community members on this process.

Apologies can be powerful, especially when they’re accompanied with by concrete actions.

Easier access to birth records as well as access to counselling are concrete steps the government should take to assist individuals and families affected by the ’60s Scoop. I also want the provincial government to host a roundtable with ’60s Scoop survivors, to hear their stories, and develop an action plan to move toward healing and reconciliation.

Extending opportunity to more and more people is critical to improving our shared futures, and to building a stronger province both socially and economically. Acknowledging the ’60s Scoop as a damaging historical wrong with long-lasting consequences can help tear down a barrier to a better life for many in our province.

I encourage all members of the Legislative Assembly to lay aside political differences to work in cooperation on this important process. Apologizing to those who were taken as children, and to their families and communities, needs to be a significant and meaningful process.

Sask. Party failing students, new cuts in Regina schools announced

The government’s refusal to properly fund students and scrapping of the mid-year adjustment will now result in cuts to staff in Regina schools, and the NDP wants a change to the education funding formula before September to solve the problem.

The Regina Public School Board is being forced to cut $2.55 million in positions as part of its efforts to overcome a $6.1 million funding shortfall, the board said late last week. The schools will also have more Grade 1 students walk to school instead of being bussed and eliminate some noon-hour supervision. The Saskatoon-area Prairie Spirit School Division announced more than 40 job cuts a week ago, including more than 21 educational assistants, eight teacher librarians, positions in special education and more.

“Saskatchewan has had a decade of resource wealth,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “We could and absolutely should have one of the strongest school systems in the country. But this government didn’t invest properly in students and classrooms. Whether it’s crumbling schools that aren’t getting any repair dollars, overcrowded classrooms and schools that can’t afford supports for students like anti-bullying programs, enough educational assistants or English as an additional language supports, it’s the students that lose when the government has misplaced spending priorities.”

The NDP is calling for immediate changes to the funding formula, to reverse its $18 million cut caused by its scrapping of the mid-year funding adjustment, and to commit that enrolment growth at mid-year will be fully funded.

The provincial government will spend more than ever before, but classrooms are being shortchanged because of the government’s misplaced priorities. Wotherspoon said more teachers and educational assistants could easily be possible by cutting government waste and pet projects. For example, he pointed out, this year the government is mandating a roll-out of the controversial John Black Lean program in education. He also pointed out that millions have already gone to P3 consultants, unsuccessful bidders and negotiators as a part of the more-expensive and lengthier P3-rent-a-school scheme. And, the province shoveled more than $120 million to consultants last year, an increase of 228 per cent.

“Making common sense decisions would save millions – millions that could be spent on more teachers, more educational assistants and addressing bullying in schools,” said Wotherspoon. “This is about giving kids the best education possible, but it’s also about giving Saskatchewan the strongest future.”

The NDP plan for education includes capping class sizes starting with early years and increasing the number of educational assistants. The NDP has also tabled an anti-bullying bill for schools that establishes each students’ right to raise bullying and cyberbullying with their school principal, their right to have a disability accommodated and the right to request and form a gender and sexuality alliance (GSA, also known as a gay straight alliance) in their school.

Time for apology and action to repair damage done by Sixties Scoop

On the eve of National Aboriginal Day, NDP Leader Cam Broten said it’s time for the Government of Saskatchewan to formally apologize for the province’s role in Canada’s Adopt Indian Métis program, also known as the ’60s Scoop.

The program took First Nations and Métis children from their parents without consent and placed them in non-Aboriginal households. Parents were typically not told where their children were. Saskatchewan formally participated in the program from 1966 to 1975.

“It’s important to recognize the harm that this practice caused and continues to cause,” said Broten. “Ripping families apart has long-lasting effects, not only for individuals and families, but also for communities, our society and our economy. We cannot reasonably expect individuals, families and communities to heal until we acknowledge and address the root causes of trauma, like the residential schools and the ’60s Scoop.”

On Thursday, the Government of Manitoba formally apologized for its role in the program. Broten wants the Government of Saskatchewan to do so as well.

“The healing process begins with a meaningful apology, and with concrete actions behind the words. A common sense place to start is making birth records easily accessible to stolen children and their birth families so they can reconnect, and making counseling available to those affected.”

Broten also urged the provincial government to host a roundtable with ’60s Scoop survivors to hear their stories and develop an action plan to move toward healing and reconciliation.

“I want to build the strongest Saskatchewan we can. The choice to be our strongest – socially and economically – begins with the choice to extend opportunity to more and more people. The repercussions of the ’60s Scoop are a barrier to a better life for many in our province. It’s time to start tearing down that barrier.”

Across Canada, the number of children taken from their parents as part of the ’60s Scoop is estimated to exceed 20,000.

Huge support for anti-bullying and GSA bill during pride month

Before pride month ends, the NDP wants the Sask. Party to agree to pass the bill that addresses bullying and allows students of any publicly funded school to set up a GSA, a gender and sexuality alliance, also called a gay straight alliance.

The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act is private member’s bill introduced by the NDP. It addresses bullying and cyberbullying, gives students with a disability the right to be accommodated and requires all schools that receive public funding to help any student that asks to establish a GSA. The bill has found immense support during pride month in Saskatchewan.

“People have approached New Democrat MLAs and candidates during pride events to say what that bill means to them. People tell us that having a GSA when they were a student would have made a huge difference,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon, who will march in the pride parade in Regina on Saturday.

“We’ve also heard from students who say they were turned away when they asked for a GSA in their school. It’s time to take the pressure off these kids and make the right to form a GSA law. Whether it’s a friend or family member or someone we read about in the news, we all know a child for whom this law will come too late.”

Statistics show that 64 per cent of gender and sexually diverse students feel unsafe at schools. 80 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) youth report being bullied. 50 per cent of all LGBTQ youth have thought about suicide. Having GSAs established in a school for three or more years reduces rates of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts by half.

“GSAs save lives,” said Wotherspoon. “We’ve had hundreds of people lining up to sign a petition to call on the Sask. Party to pass this law; and. Kids shouldn’t have to be the leaders in fighting for their safety and their rights here – that should be up to us.”

Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick already have similar GSA laws.

The NDP bill was introduced by David Forbes, the critic for Diversity, Equality and Human Rights, in the spring.

Don’t sign P3 schools contract, start straightforward schools build now: NDP

P3 rental schemes have worked poorly and cost more in other provinces. The NDP wants the Sask. Party to turn away from its P3 schools scheme before the contract is signed, and instead start building schools in a cost-effective and transparent way.

The NDP has previously criticized the government’s plan to use a massive, bundled P3 to have private corporations build and operate schools in Saskatchewan. Now, with the government just about to sign the contract and evidence from other jurisdictions’ bad P3 experiences piling up, the Opposition says it’s urgent that the plan changes before the province is locked in to a 30-year bad deal.

“Instead of awarding a private conglomerate from another province or country a lucrative deal to build and manage our children’s schools for the next 30 years, let’s learn from other provinces and just do this the straightforward way,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “If we decide to own and maintain our schools ourselves – as we always have – we save money, we get building immediately and our communities will get all the access to the schools they’ve always had.

“The delays have already been too long, and the consulting and bidding fees we’ve paid are already piling up. The government needs to stop its rent-a-school plan before it hands out a multi-million-dollar contract to an out-of-province and out-of-country conglomerate.”

In Nova Scotia, a Conservative government abandoned that province’s P3 schools plan after finding the new schools were costing $2 million more, each, than a straightforward build.

In Alberta, the P3 schools plan was scrapped by the previous government because it failed to be competitive enough to guarantee value. Alberta parents and school boards also found troubling community concerns with P3 schools, including groups like sports teams or children’s groups not having access to the buildings after school.

In Ontario, the Auditor General said 74 P3 projects in that province, combined, cost taxpayers an extra $8 billion.

In B.C., P3 Crown Partnerships B.C. has been embroiled in conflict of interest scandals – but, despite that, the Sask. Party government is giving it $5.6 million in consulting fees in its P3 push.

“Other provinces have gone down this road and turned back,” said Wotherspoon. “Why is the Sask. Party trying the same costly experiment?”

He added that the bundled P3 approach – hiring one massive conglomerate to build nine cookie-cutter schools on a single contract – will shut out the local construction industries.

“The value, dollar for dollar, just isn’t there in a P3,” he said. “And the value to the local economy certainly isn’t there when you have a corporation from another province or country being paid to build and operate our schools.”

Both Ontario’s Auditor General and Saskatchewan’s Provincial Auditor found that the so-called value-for-money audits being used to justify P3s are based largely on unsubstantiated assumptions. Most notably, to make the straightforward method of a provincial build look bad, it inappropriately assigns a “risk” amount five or six times greater than the amount budgeted for the P3 method.

“After a decade of resource wealth, it’s shameful that the Sask. Party hasn’t built the schools our communities need,” said Wotherspoon. “The fact is, paying to get shovels the ground now and owning and operating our schools ourselves is faster and less costly than a complex scheme of for-profit financers and management corporations.”

The winning bidder on a bundle of P3 schools awarded Monday is a massive international conglomerate from Milwaukee, Vancouver, Ontario, Saskatoon and Alberta.

Sask. Party’s P3 schools have seven non-Sask. corps sharing profits

The Sask. party awarded two massive P3 schools contracts Monday – to the same multi-national conglomerate – so seven non-Saskatchewan corporations and two Saskatchewan companies will take a profit from Saskatchewan children’s schools.

A large firm headquartered in Milwaukee will be responsible for maintenance and operations of Saskatchewan schools on two long-term contracts, likely about 30 years. P3 deals are costly complex ownership and financing schemes in which the province essentially rents its own schools from management conglomerates. In P3 deals, one or several large for-profit corporations put up the capital in exchange for a hefty profit and massive interest fees.

Corporations comprising the conglomerate, which calls itself Joint Use Mutual Partnership (JUMP), include:

  • from British Columbia, Concert Infrastructure;
  • from Ontario, Bird capital;
  • from Ontario, Bird Design-Build;
  • from Saskatoon, Wright Construction;
  • from Alberta, GEC Architecture;
  • from Saskatoon, Kindrachuk Agrey Architecture; and
  • from Milwaukee, Johnson Controls and its Canadian subsidiary offices.

“For private corporations to make a profit off operating our children’s schools on a 30-year contract, that money comes right from families in the form of more property taxes,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “And, to add insult to injury, the proponents aren’t even from Saskatchewan – the profits go directly to British Columbia, Ontario and out of country. Plus, the local construction industry is largely shut out of building our community’s schools.”

The NDP has been critical of the use of a P3 rent-to-own scheme in education, noting that it typically costs more; that local community access is restricted or made very expensive by the management company; and that the local economy, including the local construction industry, doesn’t benefit as they should from large-scale construction projects.

Minimum wage change puts Saskatchewan in eighth place

The NDP wants a minimum wage that’s both more competitive with other provinces, and gives working people a decent wage to live on.

The government announced Thursday that the new wage will be $10.50 as of Oct. 1. That’s lower than the current minimum wages in eight other provinces and territories. The premier of Alberta has stated her government has plans to raise that province’s minimum wage to the highest in Canada, which would bump Saskatchewan down to ninth place.

“The reality is that working 40 hours per week, every week, and never calling in sick – that equals about $21,000 per year with no benefits or pension,” said NDP Labour critic David Forbes.

“The cost of living in Saskatchewan has really gone up, especially when you look at housing, our utility bills and childcare costs. The reality for many minimum-wage earners is two or even three jobs, and tough choices, like choosing between food and rent. We shouldn’t have to hear about food bank use jumping or about kids going to bed hungry in this province – but we do.”

The NDP supports indexing minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index changes, but called for an increase before indexation started to prevent indexation from holding minimum-wage earners back. Now, it would like to see a one-time adjustment to ensure minimum wage is a livable wage.

NDP questions Regina bypass company VINCI’s human rights record

CBC News, June 10th, 2015

The Saskatchewan NDP is wondering if the government asked the right questions about the human rights record of a company hired to build the new Regina bypass.

The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure selected VINCI, a French corporation, at the end of May as the preferred proponent in a 30-year contract to construct the $1.2-billion project.

VINCI has faced allegations regarding the violation of workers’ rights in Qatar, where the company is constructing a stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

In March, the human rights organization Sherpa filed a complaint against VINCI and its subsidiary in Qatar for forced labour, servitude, and concealment.

Sherpa’s release states: “Modern slavery does not consist of shackling and whipping workers. It is subtler: the penal code defines a vulnerable population, under the threat of an employer and extreme economical dependency, as having no choice but to accept the deplorable working conditions and therefore renew its contract.”

The company has refuted all of these claims and filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa.

“We have repeatedly welcomed unions, international NGOs and journalists onto our building sites,” VINCI said in a release. “They have ascertained that we do more than merely comply with local labour law and respect fundamental rights.”

The VINCI release adds that all employees are free to retrieve passports at any time and that appropriate working hours are observed.

However, Sherpa has remained steadfast in its allegations.

David Forbes, NDP critic for labour, as well as quality, diversity and human rights, addressed these controversies on Wednesday.

“If they are found guilty there, clearly we’ll have questions about that. But we want to make sure their practices here are following Saskatchewan standard,” Forbes said of the VINCI corporation.

He said people are anxious to prevent any mistreatment of workers in this province.

“We want to know that the government has asked the questions to ensure that kind of thing won’t be happening here in Saskatchewan,” Forbes said.

The government said it is already aware of the allegations against VINCI and that the contract could be terminated if any of those allegations are proven true.