Do we trust gov­ern­ment to pro­tect Crowns?

Full re­peal of Bill 40 forces prov­ince to be more open,

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION - writes Tim Quigley. Tim Quigley, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of law, Saska­toon

The ci­ti­zens of Saskatchewan know that Crown cor­po­ra­tions act in the pub­lic interest to pro­vide ser­vices and rev­enue to the prov­ince that pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions do not al­ways do.

SaskTel pro­vides in­ter­net and cel­lu­lar cov­er­age to pretty much the en­tire prov­ince at com­pet­i­tive rates. SGI pro­vides car in­surance that is cheaper than pri­vate in­surance. Nat­u­ral gas to heat our homes and busi­nesses is de­liv­ered by SaskEn­ergy and elec­tric­ity by SaskPower. With­out these pub­licly owned cor­po­ra­tions, many Saskatchewan res­i­dents, es­pe­cially in north­ern and ru­ral ar­eas, would ei­ther have to pay a great deal more for these ser­vices or do with­out al­to­gether.

But our Crown cor­po­ra­tions are un­der threat. In the spring, the Saskatchewan Party gov­ern­ment passed leg­is­la­tion, Bill 40, that per­mits the pri­va­ti­za­tion of 49 per cent of a Crown cor­po­ra­tion with­out the pub­lic process that would other­wise be re­quired un­der an­other law. Bill 40 also says that wind­ing up (shut­ting down) a Crown cor­po­ra­tion is not pri­va­ti­za­tion.

Bill 40 was also used to wind up the Saskatchewan Trans­porta­tion Com­pany. As Saskatchewan res­i­dents are find­ing out al­ready, this has de­prived many peo­ple of the means to travel from one com­mu­nity to an­other, in­clud­ing for med­i­cal ap­point­ments and the like. The end of STC has also com­pli­cated send­ing lab sam­ples for test­ing, li­brary ma­te­ri­als for in­ter­li­brary loans, and the ship­ping of count­less goods such as farm ma­chin­ery parts.

Saskatchewan res­i­dents have such strong sup­port for the Crown cor­po­ra­tions be­cause they know the valu­able ser­vices the Crowns pro­vide — ser­vices that would cer­tainly be more ex­pen­sive through the pri­vate sec­tor, but per­haps not avail­able at all. That is why there has been a great deal of con­tro­versy about Bill 40.

That is likely why Premier Wall an­nounced a cou­ple of weeks ago that his gov­ern­ment has lis­tened and will re­peal the bill. How­ever, the throne speech open­ing this ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture in­di­cated that the re­peal will not in­clude the re­peal of the wind­ing-up por­tion. This means the gov­ern­ment will re­tain the legal power to shut down all or part of a ma­jor Crown cor­po­ra­tion with­out the pub­lic in­put re­quired un­der The Crown Cor­po­ra­tions Pub­lic Own­er­ship Act.

Some might say that the par­tial re­peal is re­quired be­cause the Saskatchewan Trans­porta­tion Com­pany (STC) was shut down in ac­cor­dance with Bill 40. How­ever, that is not true be­cause, un­less the re­peal bill was made retroac­tive, the STC shut­down would not be af­fected. In other words, if the premier was truly lis­ten­ing to the peo­ple, a com­plete re­peal of Bill 40 is called for.

The pos­si­bil­ity of a par­tial re­peal is very sus­pi­cious. Re­cently, new leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced in the leg­is­la­ture that would change the law gov­ern­ing SaskEn­ergy. Some will re­call that the Devine gov­ern­ment (for which Brad Wall was a func­tionary) split SaskEn­ergy off from SaskPower and was go­ing to pri­va­tize it un­til op­po­si­tion from the pub­lic and the op­po­si­tion NDP forced it to back off.

At the mo­ment, SaskEn­ergy and Tran­sGas, both Crown cor­po­ra­tions, have ex­clu­sive ju­ris­dic­tion over our nat­u­ral gas dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem. A change to that has, un­til now, re­quired pub­lic scru­tiny and de­bate in the leg­is­la­ture. The pro­posed amend­ments, how­ever, would al­low the cabi­net to make these changes by reg­u­la­tion with­out pub­lic de­bate and scru­tiny. If the leg­is­la­tion passes in its present form, it means that the gov­ern­ment could (a) wind down the gas dis­tri­bu­tion network; (b) quickly pass a reg­u­la­tion to per­mit pri­vate own­er­ship of the gas dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem; and (c) sell off the dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem as­sets to those pri­vate own­ers. Much the same could hap­pen with other Crown cor­po­ra­tions: sell­ing off the fi­bre op­tic network for SaskTel, for ex­am­ple.

This would be pri­va­ti­za­tion in an un­der­handed way and very con­trary to Premier Wall’s state­ments about lis­ten­ing to the pub­lic and de­cid­ing to re­peal Bill 40.

That is why there should be a com­plete re­peal of Bill 40. Pri­va­ti­za­tion could still oc­cur, but the gov­ern­ment would have to do it openly with full scru­tiny and de­bate and with the sup­port­ing vote of the peo­ple of Saskatchewan.

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