Boyd, GTH have done little to make government wary of conflicts
It might be possible that even Premier Brad Wall’s government has little understanding of the breadth of potential conflicts of interest within its caucus and cabinet ranks.
This would be rather astounding, given the daily reminding from the NDP Opposition of former economy minister Bill Boyd’s business relationship with Edmonton businessman Robert Tappauf as it relates to the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) land purchase of 204 acres.
As we know, Tappauf — whose family rents a sizable amount of land to Boyd’s farming operation — made a $6-million profit on the land he bought while it was under threat of expropriation by the highways department. He sold it to Regina businessman Anthony Marquart, who made a $5-million profit on it when he eventually sold it to the GTH in a deal negotiated by Boyd’s former chief of staff and now deputy minister Lawrie Pushor.
When asked about this arrangement back in December 2015 by CBC reporter Geoff
Leo, Boyd immediately went to Saskatchewan conflict of interest commissioner Ron Barclay who ruled, separately, these deals did not constitute a conflict.
The government ordered provincial auditor Judy Ferguson to report on the deal. In her report, Ferguson declared the land was bought at a significantly higher value than what it was worth. And while Wall and the government have repeatedly said Ferguson found no wrongdoing, she told a legislative committee last December that her “audit did not conclusively state that there was not evidence of fraud, conflict of interest or wrongdoing” and that only a forensic audit could do that.
Not only has the Wall government refused to hold such an audit, but its own MLAs on legislative committees have repeatedly blocked Pushor and others from testifying.
This suggests that either Saskatchewan’s conflict laws are inadequate or the government isn’t taking what conflict of interest laws we have very seriously.
Not every perceived potential conflict is a conflict. Recently, Barclay ruled Wall’s ownership of shares in various Alberta-based oil companies that he is trying to attract to this province was not a conflict because the premier’s investments were small and it is unlikely these companies would become more profitable if they moved to Saskatchewan.
Executive council officials also note that beyond Barclay’s review of all MLAs’ annual disclosures, any newly appointed cabinet ministers or ministers getting new portfolio assignments are required to meet with a separate lawyer before each cabinet shuffle to discuss potential conflicts.
Sometimes this has worked, somewhat. For example, Energy Minister Dustin Duncan had shares in three different oil companies, but sold them on Aug. 23, 2016, when he was moved to that portfolio.
Health Minister Jim Reiter sold his shares in a pharmaceutical company on March 29 — eight months after assuming the portfolio and a week after the budget. The government may be moving to bulk buying as the province moves to a single Saskatchewan health district.
Similarly, Gord Wyant, minister responsible for SaskBuilds, had until recently owned shares in International Road Dynamics (IRD), which has a large contract with the Regina Bypass that Wyant oversees. Executive council officials said Wyant “recused himself from discussions.”
Joe Hargraves, minister responsible for the Saskatchewan Transportation Company has financial interest in auto dealerships. He, too, recused himself on matters of conflict, executive council claimed. But what happens if Hargraves’ company (or any other Sask. Party MLAs with interests in car dealerships) starts selling vans to companies hoping to replace STC bus routes?
What about the fact that, until Feb. 13, Finance Minister Kevin Doherty held 2,194 shares in Western Potash? Should we not also be concerned that Doherty also owns shares in an investment company owned by highranking Sask. Party supporters?
While Boyd and the GTH would seem to demand greater conflict-of-interest vigilance, the Sask. Party government is doing very little to change the way its MLAs conduct business.