Getting Big Money Out of Politics

Statement from Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes regarding investigation into irregularities in Pinehouse

“The information released today on the Village of Pinehouse raises far more questions than it answers. Robertson’s inspection and Vancise’s inquiry come to drastically different conclusions. The Sask. Party government must not be allowed to sweep further examination of this issue under the rug.

“Today we’re calling on the Minister of Government Relations to act immediately on the five recommendations from the September 2019 inspection. In particular, a full forensic compliance review of expenses is essential, including for previous years. Of the expenses examined, only eight per cent were found to be fully compliant with the law.

“Finally, we are currently awaiting the results of an FOI request to the Northern Village of Pinehouse seeking records of any undeclared political donations made by the Village or its subsidiaries to political entities, including provincial constituency associations. Because of the slow pace of the response, we have asked the Freedom of Information Commissioner to review the request and would urge the Village to comply promptly.”

NDP calls for release of Premier’s and Cabinet’s expenses ahead of Spring Session

Today NDP Leader Ryan Meili called on the Premier to stop hiding the Sask. Party government’s expenses from the people of Saskatchewan, and called for the release of all 2019 records, including detailed receipts, prior to the start of session on March 2.  

“The Sask. Party has a long history of governing in the best interests of themselves and their friends and donors. It’s time for the people of this province to see the receipts,” Meili said. “Today I am calling on Premier Moe to show leadership and disclose his 2019 expenses, and his ministers’ expenses, before we are back in the house on March 2.”

After filing Freedom of Information requests, the NDP received a cost estimate of $1,700 for the Premier’s expenses. Not all ministries have responded to requests, but so far, access to cabinet minister’s expenses bring the total bill to $4102.50.

Meili is calling on the Premier to waive those fees and release all ministers’ 2019 calendar year expenses before the house sits again on March 2.

As with campaign finance, Saskatchewan is among the worst provinces in the country when it comes to government transparency, disclosing the least information on government expenses of any province.

“The Sask. Party is letting people down by hiding how they’re spending our money,” Meili said. “Making these expenses public is the right thing to do.”

NDP calls for Sask. Party to finally release Vancise and Robertson reports

The NDP is calling on the Sask. Party to release two reports into financial and governance irregularities in the Northern Village of Pinehouse that the government has been sitting on: the report conducted last spring by Neil Robertson before he was named to the Court of Queen’s Bench, and the final report completed by former justice William Vancise in December, both of which the government committed publicly to releasing.

“There has been a serious lack of transparency and accountability by the Sask. Party government on this file,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes. “The people of Pinehouse have been waiting for clarity on their important concerns, and they expected the Minister to stick to his commitment to release the report at the end of 2019. This is just another case of the Sask. Party letting people down.”

This issue dates back to July 2016, when 34 concerned citizens wrote a letter to the then-Minister of Municipal Relations asking for help fixing the Local Authority FOI Act so issues around multiple infractions of provincial legislation and serious financial irregularities with the Village could be made public. The Minister responded three months later, committing to “schedule a meeting with the Village council at the earliest opportunity to assist them in complying with the provisions of [The Local Authority FOI Act].”

There was, however, no known follow-up until December 2018, when the then-Minister of Municipal Relations announced that the province would finally investigate. This came after the provincial information and privacy commissioner had found the Village to be in contravention of the Act multiple times.

The NDP also revealed that another former Minister of Municipal Relations, Donna Harpauer, failed to disclose all-expenses-paid fishing trips for her and her partner, paid for by Pinehouse Village, while the government was considering investigating issues with Pinehouse council.

“The people of Pinehouse deserve a government that takes this issue seriously, not one that tries to bury information that makes them look bad,” Forbes said. “The Sask. Party needs to step up, release these reports, and answer for their actions.”

$4,102.50: NDP updates fee estimate for ministers’ expense records, slams Sask. Party paywall

In response to NDP Freedom of Information requests for the expenses claimed by the Premier and the government’s 18 ministers, seven have responded so far, with fee estimates to date totaling over $4,000.

“The Premier’s and ministers’ expenses should be public,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes. “Hiding basic information behind a paywall on how the Sask. Party is spending public money is an insult to democracy.”

No detailed information is publicly available on expenses for the Premier and cabinet inside the province.

The fee estimates for disclosing ministers’ expenses so far are as follows:

  • Executive Council and Office of the Premier: $1,690
  • Energy and Resources: $900
  • Finance: $420
  • Central Services: $400
  • Immigration and Career Training: $390
  • Health: $157.50
  • Advanced Education: $145
  • Total so far: $4,102.50

Other ministries have yet to respond.

The NDP reported last week receiving a $1,700 fee estimate for a Freedom of Information request for Scott Moe’s expenses last year. Saskatchewan discloses the least information of any province on government expenses:

Ministerial travel last year jumped 53 per cent to $321,248. Scott Moe’s travel bill was $84,868, 86 per cent above the $45,628 then-Premier Wall spent in his last full year in office.

“The government has an obligation to make these records public,” Forbes said. “It shouldn’t even take a pay-per-view freedom of information request. When will the government make these records public?”

“A smaller loophole isn’t good enough”: NDP Ethics & Democracy Critic David Forbes says rule change insufficient

NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes slammed the Sask. Party government for failing to close a loophole in the lobbyist act in legislation they tabled today.

“A smaller loophole isn’t good enough,” said Forbes. “Under the new threshold, a lobbyist could meet a Minister for coffee every single week for more than six months without anybody knowing. 

“These amendments let Saskatchewan people down by failing to fix the holes in our outdated rulebook. The Sask. Party just keeps looking out for the wealthy and well-connected instead of doing what’s right for Saskatchewan people.”

New amendments to the lobbyist act have lowered the threshold at which a company needs to register as a lobbyist from 100 hours to 30. Forbes said the threshold should simply be eliminated, so that all lobbying activity is on the public record. Registrar of Lobbyists Ron Barclay has made the same call.

“The Sask. Party has a long history of skirting the rules and falling short of what people expect,” said Forbes. “By failing to implement these long-overdue changes, the Sask. Party government is letting people down yet again.”

Changes needed to make government accountable: NDP

Today, the NDP called on the Sask. Party government to strengthen legislation to prevent conflicts of interest and backroom deals, after Conflict of Interest Commissioner Ronald Barclay’s 2019 annual report noted that the government has yet to implement any recommendations from his previous report.

“The people of Saskatchewan deserve a government they can trust, and that means an open and transparent government,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes. “People are rightly concerned about the effect that the Sask. Party’s wealthy donors and insiders have on their government.”

The Conflict of Interest Commissioner reissued many of his previous recommendations, including eliminating the 100-hour threshold that allows in-house lobbyists to avoid registering as lobbyists.

The Sask. Party has repeatedly opposed measures to increase transparency, including voting down a bill to get big money out of politics and not supporting another NDP bill that would have addressed the commissioner’s concerns

Meanwhile, the Sask. Party pushed through a sweetheart deal for their largest corporate donor to build in Wascana Park and orchestrated sketchy land deals at the GTHBill Boyd was found to have breached existing conflict-of-interest laws, using his office for financial gain while in China. Donna Harpauer accepted paid accommodations from a Northern Village council, while government was asked to investigate issues with the council.  

“The Sask. Party has a long history of skirting the rules and falling short of what people expect,” said Forbes. “By failing to implement these long-overdue changes, the Sask. Party government is letting people down again.”

NDP gives Sask. Party member another shot at transparency 

The NDP is calling on the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to take a deeper look into then-Minister of Government Relations Donna Harpauer’s undeclared personal vacations on the Village of Pinehouse’s dime. In December the Commissioner looked into the Village paying for her and her partner’s hotel accommodation. Recent Freedom of Information requests show that on the same two occasions, the Minister’s partner also had his guided fishing tours covered by the Village, but they were not declared or reimbursed.  

“It stretches the imagination to hear the Minister say she was unaware of these additional expenses – it didn’t pass the smell test then and it doesn’t pass the smell test now,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes. “Especially when she was asked point blank in the Legislature back in May if her trip entailed any other expenses beyond hotel bills.”

Forbes sent a letter to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner today requesting a more in-depth investigation of these undisclosed gifts. At the time of the trips, serious concerns had been raised about multiple infractions of provincial FOI legislation and financial irregularities at the Village office and, as Minister responsible, Harpauer had formally committed her Ministry to working with the Village to ensure compliance. In April, Harpauer recused herself from caucus discussions related to Pinehouse.

“It shouldn’t take multiple FOIs and several years to pass for the Minister to be transparent with the people of Pinehouse and the province about gifts she had failed to declare,” Forbes said. “We hope the Conflict of Interest Commissioner can get to the bottom of this.”

NDP vote in favour of getting big money out of politics

Sask. Party content to allow out of province corporations to influence Saskatchewan elections 

Saskatchewan’s outdated campaign finance laws have made this province the “wild west” of election fundraising, and despite the proposition of a bill by the NDP that is common sense and would bring the province’s laws in line with the rest of the country, the Sask. Party voted for more of the same.

“Our province has long had broken campaign finance laws that allow unlimited out-of-province donations, and the people of Saskatchewan have been calling for change,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “It’s disappointing that the Sask. Party want to continue to allow the election process in Saskatchewan to be influenced by large corporations, when it should belong to the people of the province.”

Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces that still allows corporations, unions, organizations and out-of-provinces companies to donate unlimited contributions to political parties. The NDP has listened to Saskatchewan residents’ concerns and put forward Bill 606 – The Election (Fairness and Accountability) Amendment Act. However, the Sask. Party voted against it.

Over the past 10 years, the Sask. Party has received $12.61 million in corporate donations and, of that, $2.87 million has come from companies outside the province.

This bill would have banned corporate and union contributions to political parties. It would also have restricted personal contributions so that only individuals who are residents of Saskatchewan can donate and those donations would be capped at $1,275.

“The Sask. Party seems content to stick to the status quo. By refusing to change these outdated laws, they are harming democracy and showing their true colours,” said NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes. “Our campaign finance laws are the worst in the country and, under the Sask. Party, we’re actually falling further behind. Our proposal is common sense, is fair and ensures that Saskatchewan politics stay in the hands of Saskatchewan people.”

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