Privatization cleansing won’t get rid of lingering stench around GTH
The scent of scandal at the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) will linger long after its sale.And given how near impossible it will be for the Saskatchewan Party government to unload the stench, it could be around for a very long, long time.Justice and GTH MinisterDon Morgan announced Friday the unsurprising-but-nonetheless-stunning news that his government would begin the process of divesting itself from the GTH.That process began with dismissing the inland port’s president and CEO Bryan Richards and replacing him with a private-sector consultant to run things. It also includes redefining the GTH’S governance structure and hiring a private realtor.Finally, a key element appears to involve fanatical optimism in the notion that there is suddenly going to be an illogical demand for overpriced land that the GTH hasn’t been able to sell for three years and that this demand will be such that the government will be able to overcome the port’s $40-million debt.Admittedly, Morgan was realistic enough to make it clear Friday that the government anticipates there will be no single buyer. This was always a massive unlikelihood, given that the GTH is a Crown corporation that functions more as a municipality on its own.This also means the provincial government (or some other government entity — most likely, the City of Regina, if the province ever gets its way) will have to continue to maintain the utility servicing costs.As such, costs of the GTH will continue to be borne by taxpayers — even if the government does manage to sell all the land at what most anticipate will be dimes on the dollar. (As previously mentioned, the stench of the GTH is likely to linger long after any land is sold ... very much in the same way that the previous NDP government never quite cleansed itself from the smell of Spudco’s rotten potatoes.)Mostly, what all this does is best suit the government’s political goal of limiting the GTH damage as much as possible.This has been the government’s modus operandi for three years now — since the original pre-2016 election CBC story that revealed two Saskatchewan Party-connected businessmen made a total profit of about $11 million from flipping the sales of 204 acres of land that were under government expropriation.Last Friday’s announcement wasn’t especially well-crafted because you can’t really craft a brilliant GTH media strategy anymore. No amount of spin on the GTH can avoid the reality of the political mess it is and will likely continue to be when you have run up a $40-million loss and aren’t selling any land.But that doesn’t mean Morgan — a rather crafty politician — wasn’t plying his considerable skill as best as he possibly could. That means getting the Sask. Party through the next election while minimizing the political damage the GTH will do to the government.What Morgan and the government started Friday was the tomato bath after the skunk spray, in the hope GTH smell wears off by the 2020 vote.He repeated earlier admissions that his government had no business in this business in the first place, but without any commitment to a thorough legislative committee review, a forensic audit by the provincial auditor or even a cost-benefit-analysis of taxpayers’ dollars — any of which would likely reveal more about the GTH deals.Instead, Friday was a pre-emptive strike to allow the government to attempt to reveal as little as possible.Run by a private third party, we might expect even less response to legitimate inquiries or freedom of information requests — all in the name of “private commercial transactions” which we supposedly have no business knowing about even though it’s taxpayers assets being sold.Expect Morgan and company to even scold those making inquiries because bad publicity over how much the land sales are worth only hurts further land sales.The problem for the government, however, is none of this will necessarily eliminate the GTH odour from our nostrils. The smell will still linger.
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