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.

Human rights abuse allegations hang over bypass builder gov’t chose

France investigating VINCI and its Qatar FIFA World Cup soccer stadium project

The France-based corporation that will build and maintain the Regina bypass on a 30-year contract has been mired in troubling allegations, and an investigation by the Government of France into its human rights practices. The NDP wants to know if the Sask. Party asked the right questions, or just looked the other way before awarding the corporation a massive contract.

VINCI is the company the government chose to build the Regina bypass. It’s also the corporation building the Qatar soccer stadium in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Paris-based human rights organization Sherpa accuses VINCI of, allegedly, withholding the passports of the migrant workers, forcing them to work long days and preventing them from moving to non-company housing. French authorities determined in April that there is enough evidence to warrant an initial investigation into those allegations.

“We want to know if the government asked the tough questions before inviting this corporation into Saskatchewan, and we want to know what the Sask. Party plans to do should any of the claims be proven in court after their massive deal is finalized,” said NDP labour critic David Forbes.

“This is a corporation we will be tied to for 30 years. Going with a corporation that is connected to alleged human rights concerns just does not match Saskatchewan values.”

In addition to awarding VINCI a contract to build Regina’s $1.2 billion bypass, the government plans to pay a VINCI subsidiary to operate and maintain the bypass for 30 years.

VINCI denies wrongdoing, and says it has filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa, noting on its website that: “… All QDVC employees are free to retrieve their passports at any time…”

QDVC is the partnership between VINCI and the Qatari government’s sovereign wealth fund. The partnership adopted the name Qatari Diar Vinci Construction. The Qatar sovereign wealth fund is also a shareholder in VINCI.

Meanwhile, various organizations, media reports and foreign governments allege that hundreds of workers are dying on that Qatar project – perhaps at a rate equal to one every two days.

In Saskatchewan, the VINCI-led bid group calls itself SaskLink Global Transportation Partners.

The NDP is a strong supporter of building a bypass around Regina. It has raised concerns about the route the Sask. Party government chose, which is too close to the city and will be in the midst of future city expansion. It has also raised concerns about the use of a P3 financing and maintenance scheme for the project. P3s tend to cost more. For example, in Ontario, the Auditor General found that 75 P3 projects cost $8 billion extra, compared to straightforward builds.

Education funding shortfall leads to big cuts in growing schools

Cuts in growing school division near Warman, Martensville includes 21 EAs

The Sask. Party has failed to properly fund education, and the newest outcome of its short funding is sweeping cuts being forced at the Prairie Spirit School Division.

More than 21 educational associates (EAs, also called educational assistants) will be cut for the next school year, according to a letter the school division sent to parents Wednesday. There will also be cuts to pre-school programs, early learning, special education resource staff, librarians, vice-principals and programs supporting children learning English.

The division notes that it will have to make further cuts in response to enrolment growth through the year in its fast-growing schools. That would be because the government has refused to budget for a mid-year funding adjustment to accommodate new students. It’ll also combine classes wherever it can, moving to even larger class sizes.

“Saskatchewan has had a decade of resource wealth. We should absolutely be seeing our schools and our students thrive with fantastic programming, smaller class sizes and the capacity to give every child the help and attention they need to be their best,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “But, this government has refused to prioritize education. So, we see cuts to programs and layoffs in critical positions.

“This government refuses to make classrooms a priority, and as a result, a generation of kids throughout the province are suffering.”

Wotherspoon said the funding shortfall is a province-wide problem. He’s heard from a number of school divisions, urban and rural, that are facing tough decisions because of budget shortfalls, and are making cuts for the coming school year.

School boards are definitely not to blame, he added. Prairie Spirit has repeatedly flagged for the Sask. Party the funding problem that is hurting students. Like other boards, it’s made administrative reductions and dipped into its long-term savings to try to spare the kids from cuts – but those options have largely been exhausted.

The NDP has called on the government to prioritize education; fund a cap on class sizes and increase the number of EAs to ensure every student gets the help and one-on-one attention they need.

Read the list of PSSD cuts here.

GSAs in Saskatchewan – Media

Monday May 11th

Possible cash hit if Gay-Straight Alliances not allowed in schools (LP, CJWW)**
If schools aren’t allowing gay-straight alliances (GSAs), Education Minister Don Morgan wants to know about it — they may face a financial penalty. Morgan was reacting to a private members bill tabled by the Opposition recently, the Respect for Diversity — Student Bill of Rights Act, which would legislate the right to GSAs.

NDP Seeks to Legislate Gay-Straight Alliances in Schools

Tuesday May 12

NDP pushes government on GSAs (CJWW, CKRM, Global Regina, MJ Times, SP)**
The NDP Opposition says Saskatchewan schools should be mandated by law to accommodate gay-straight alliances (GSAs). “What is the real reason this government is so afraid to pass legalization on GSAs? Is it because the Sask. Party is afraid to offend social conservatives?”

Wednesday May 13th

Saskatchewan students call for government legislation (LP)**
Schools and their respective divisions throughout the province may not be handling requests for gay-straight alliances as well as the government had thought. There are kids in our schools who are contemplating suicide,” Forbes said. “We can’t be avoiding the tough questions and the tough leadership.”

Thursday May 14th

Rick Mercer tweets do the right thing:

Friday May 15th

Letter – Margi Corbett asks Why won’t our provincial government legislate protection of students’ human rights in public schools?

Wall says the government’s policy on gay-straight alliances in schools ensures they can exist and legislation won’t make a difference. The Opposition tabled a private member’s bill in April that focused on anti-bullying, but it didn’t get government support.

Tuesday May 19, 2015

Sask. gov’t weak on gay-straight alliances – Op Ed (LP, SP)
The explanations offered by Education Minister Don Morgan for the provincial government preference for a policy stance instead of legislation to enshrine the right of students to establish gay-straight alliances in schools actually seem to make a better case for enacting a law.

Tuesday May 26, 2015

Letter – Don Cochrane writes in response to NDP pushes government on GSAs

 

NDP wants school funding fix before kids go back in the fall

Band programs latest victim of Sask. Party’s short funding of students

The Opposition wants the funding for school boards repaired before the school year starts.

The NDP also says the government was wrong to cut the mid-year adjustment that funded enrolment growth, and wants money set aside for that.

“The Sask. Party has had record revenues and has been spending all of it as fast as it comes in, and then some. But, where has all the money gone? School boards and kids sure aren’t benefiting – and this government isn’t making them the priority they should be,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP deputy leader and Education critic.

“School boards are being forced to make painful spending decisions. That means the classes are getting more and more crowded. There are already too few educational assistants, after the government slashed their numbers, and one-on-one attention is often not there when kids need it. And, in the case of Prairie Spirit School Division, they’ve been forced to eliminate the band program – and the Sask. Party should be absolutely ashamed of that.”

Prairie Spirit, a growing division near Saskatoon, has repeatedly expressed concerns about the funding shortfall – concerns Wotherspoon said he’s heard from other parts of the province, too. It’s a matter of priorities, he said.

“Does this government actually need to spend $120 million a year on private consultants? Does it need to spend millions to introduce the Lean fiasco we know from health care into schools? Or, could it use those millions to add some teachers, hire more educational assistants and give kids the band programs they deserve? That’s the approach I want.”

Among NDP Leader Cam Broten’s proposals for education is a cap on class sizes based on class composition, starting with early years; reinstating the role and ratio of educational assistants; and scrapping the more expensive P3 rent-a-school scheme that’s delaying the building of overdue schools. Those and more plans were laid out in an opposition bill during the spring session of the legislature, but the government refused to debate the bill, or vote on it.‎

Sask Party refuses to vote on GSAs

The Sask. Party government refused Thursday to agree to a free vote on whether or not Saskatchewan students should have guaranteed access to a safe space in school through a Gender Sexuality Alliance, also called a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).

The Opposition New Democrats moved an emergency motion to pass Bill 612, The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act, prior to the spring session of the Legislature ending at noon Thursday. The government refused to consent to a debate and vote on the bill.

“This is common sense, and there should be a sense of urgency to get it done – but the government is bending over backwards to prevent a GSA law here in Saskatchewan,” said David Forbes, the NDP’s critic for Diversity, Equality and Human Rights. “We know that over half of all gay teens consider suicide, and we know that GSAs save lives.

“We also know there are a number of students who have been told ‘no’ when they requested a GSA under the current weak policy, and we know there are countless more who are afraid to ask.”

The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act gives every student attending a school that receives public funding the right to form a GSA or a similar club, promoting anti-racism, for example. It also gives students the right to have a disability accommodated, and to have a bullying-free learning environment in which any concerns about bullying can be taken to the school principal or administration, including cyberbullying.

Issues that matter to families dominated legislature this spring: NDP

Seniors care, outrageous ambulance bills, schools up against government’s misplaced priorities

This year, the government is adding $1.5 billion to the debt and blowing through billions faster than it comes in – but the Opposition New Democrats showed during the spring session of the legislature that money is not going to the things that matter most to Saskatchewan families.

NDP Leader Cam Broten and the Opposition MLAs spent the spring session of the Legislative Assembly 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. The spring session of the legislature wrapped up Thursday.

“This province’s resource wealth should translate into great education and lots of opportunities for young people. It should mean affordability for families and an easier chance to get started in Saskatchewan. And it should guarantee dignity and security for seniors,” said Broten. “Instead, this government is wasting far too much money.

“This government has spent well over $100 million on the toxic John Black Lean project. It spent $1.5 billion on a carbon capture experiment that will barely touch our carbon emissions. 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. In health care, it has way too many managers and communications staff sitting at desks. And the spending on entitled behavior is getting out of control. Pre-Oscar parties in Hollywood, wasting time and money designing a Premier’s Library and especially having highly paid senior staff travel the world to scope out VIP lounges, interview luxury hotels, request upgrades for Mr. Wall and ensure his favorite drink will be waiting in his hotel rooms. This is not what everyday people want their tax dollars spent on. With Saskatchewan’s resource wealth, we could be doing so much better for everyday families.”

Over the last year, an unprecedented number of families came to the Legislature to speak out on short-staffing in seniors care, the erosion of rural health care, crippling ambulance bills and poor decisions in health care, including the decision to build a much smaller hospital than what Moose Jaw needs or currently has, and exclude the life-saving hyperbaric chamber – the only one in Saskatchewan.

Premier Brad Wall showed a new level of dismissiveness of those families and whistleblowers – often attempting to discredit their claims and dismiss their concerns. The only whistleblower still working in health care to reveal his name suffered severe consequences from the government. Within days, the employee with an excellent employment record was being investigated for new complaints and was suspended. Wall admits he sought out that confidential information, and then ordered it to be leaked to the media.

Wall, his chief of communications and operations and the health minister are all now under investigation for breaking privacy laws, an offense that can result in a fine or jail time.

“Not only is the premier failing to get the job done when it comes to spending on what matters; he’s failing to listen and admit mistakes,” said Broten. “Attacking workers, dismissing families and literally laughing off entitled behavior like spending thousands to vet one five-star hotel against another five-star hotel – this is not the leadership Saskatchewan people deserve.”

The Opposition New Democrats put a number of important bills on the table this session, showing a strong vision for a government that focuses on what really matters.

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. The Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act would make P3 deals accountable to taxpayers and prevent the worst, most expensive deals from going forward. The Opposition New Democrats 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. The NDP proposed better care for seniors with minimum, regulated standards through The Residents-in-Care Bill of Rights Act. And, it proposed 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) with The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act.