Wall called hyp­ocrite over law­suits

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - ALEX MACPHER­SON amacpher­son@postmedia.com twit­ter.com/macpher­sona

The last per­son to suc­cess­fully chal­lenge Saskatchewan Party leg­is­la­tion in court says the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to pre-emp­tively quash any le­gal bat­tle over its con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to strip $33 mil­lion from mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties is “hyp­o­crit­i­cal.”

It makes no sense for Premier Brad Wall to threaten to sue the fed­eral gov­ern­ment over its car­bon pric­ing plan while curb­ing the abil­ity of lo­cal gov­ern­ments to fight the grant cuts, Saskatchewan Fed­er­a­tion of Labour (SFL) pres­i­dent Larry Hu­bich said.

“What is the po­si­tion of the Gov­ern­ment of Saskatchewan? That it’s okay for them to sue the feds if they’re do­ing some­thing they don’t like, but it’s not okay for mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments to hold the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to ac­count?”

Ear­lier this month, the Sask. Party in­tro­duced Bill 64, which redi­rects into its gen­eral rev­enue fund the $33 mil­lion that would other­wise have been paid to 109 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties by SaskPower, SaskEn­ergy and Tran­sGas this year.

The bill — which re­ceived its sec­ond read­ing on April 12 and is ex­pected to pass this ses­sion — in­cludes a clause that pro­hibits any “ac­tion or pro­ceed­ing based on any claim for loss or dam­age” against the gov­ern­ment or the Crowns.

Gov­ern­ment Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Donna Harpauer told the Saska­toon StarPhoenix on Wed­nes­day that the prov­ince chose to in­clude the clause “be­cause (mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties) were go­ing to” launch a le­gal chal­lenge.

Each piece of leg­is­la­tion is eval­u­ated sep­a­rately, but the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to pass bills with­out be­ing “hand-tied” is part of the prov­ince’s demo­cratic foun­da­tion, Harpauer said.

“Is it rea­son­able for the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment and a mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment to spend money to fight each other in the courts? Is that rea­son­able?”

The SFL’s seven-year court chal­lenge of pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion — Bills 5 and 6, which dealt with trade unions and the def­i­ni­tion of es­sen­tial ser­vices — cul­mi­nated in the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2015 rul­ing that the leg­is­la­tion had to be amended.

“If your leg­is­la­tion can’t stand with­out you ac­tu­ally in­vok­ing a clause like that, then maybe your leg­is­la­tion is flawed,” Hu­bich said. “And maybe what you’re try­ing to do as a gov­ern­ment is ac­tu­ally a vi­o­la­tion of what we re­ally see as be­ing a free and demo­cratic so­ci­ety.”

A spokes­woman said Premier Brad Wall was not avail­able for an in­ter­view Thurs­day.

How­ever, he has said on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions that the prov­ince could chal­lenge the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s plan to in­tro­duce a price on car­bon by 2018.

In an emailed state­ment, the spokes­woman said a law­suit over a sys­tem that “isn’t fair to all Saskatchewan com­mu­ni­ties is noth­ing at all like” a law­suit against the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s car­bon pric­ing plan “that would harm our econ­omy.”

The pos­si­bil­ity of le­gal ac­tion against the now-elim­i­nated Crown cor­po­ra­tion grants emerged late last month, when Saska­toon city coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to pur­sue an in­junc­tion aimed at restor­ing about $11.4 mil­lion in grants to its bud­get.

While that ac­tion may not be pos­si­ble, Mayor Char­lie Clark, as well as the CEO of the Saskatchewan Ur­ban Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion (SUMA), con­tend that the prov­ince does not have the right to uni­lat­er­ally elim­i­nate the grants.

Clark and SUMA have said the grants paid by SaskPower, SaskEn­ergy and Tran­sGas are based on his­toric deals made when mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties gave up their rights to dis­trib­ute gas and elec­tric­ity, whereas other Crowns pay grants in lieu of prop­erty taxes.

Harpauer in­sisted this week that the de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate the grants in the 2017-18 bud­get is part of the gov­ern­ment’s plan to re­duce its $1.3 bil­lion deficit while at the same time rem­e­dy­ing an “in­equitable” sys­tem.

Saskatchewan NDP in­terim leader Trent Wother­spoon said he takes a dim view not just of Bill 64, but also of the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to “rip up (SaskPower’s) decades-old con­tracts with cities and towns” — a choice he said could be in vi­o­la­tion of the law.

“He’s a hyp­ocrite,” Wother­spoon said of Wall. “Chang­ing the law to sim­ply get his way? It’s in­de­cent, and it’s re­ally run­ning roughshod over the rights of peo­ple and of our cities and our towns.”

Wother­spoon de­clined to spec­u­late on whether pas­sage of Bill 64 will leave SUMA and the prov­ince’s mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with any le­gal re­course.

How­ever, he added, “it’s about ris­ing up, speak­ing out and work­ing to stop the dam­age right now.”

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