Boyd, GTH have done lit­tle to make gov­ern­ment wary of con­flicts

Regina Leader-Post - - OPINION - MUR­RAY MANDRYK Mur­ray Mandryk is the po­lit­i­cal columnist for the Regina Leader-Post. mmandryk@postmedia.com

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.

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