Behind the Numbers

Entries Tagged as 'Saskatchewan'

Road to Ruin: Use of costly highways consultants has skyrocketed.

March 17th, 2015 · · Saskatchewan

If you love the feeling of cruising down a brand-new stretch of highway, the last few years have been full of good news for you.

And if you’re in the business of designing and overseeing the construction work on those highways, well, these are banner years indeed.

If you’re a taxpayer on the hook to pay for that roadwork, though, the picture isn’t quite as pretty.

Stack o' Documents 2

While the drop in oil prices is sure to take its toll, roadbuilding in Saskatchewan has been booming lately. The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure (MHI) had record high budgets in 2009 and 2010, and every budget since has been larger than 2009’s record-breaker.

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Stacking the Deck: Consultation or Manipulation?

March 13th, 2015 · · Saskatchewan

To paraphrase Leader-Post columnist Murray Mandryk, the government’s Liquor Retailing consultation process is looking more and more like manipulation and less and less like consultation.  University of Regina Business Administration professor Dr. Sean Tucker recently released an open letter he sent to Minister Don McMorris regarding the quality of the public liquor retailing survey. Dr. Tucker raises serious concerns about the design of those survey questions and argues that any results should be “interpreted with caution given the limitations of the survey.” Dr. Tucker’s central complaint with the survey is that the government represents public liquor stores as a drain on the public purse rather than the revenue-generating assets that they actually are. The survey questions at issue frame investment in public liquor stores as a zero-sum game, as if dollars invested in building stores are dollars that will not be invested in health care, roads, schools, etc. This is highly misleading, as no taxpayer funds are required to sustain the SLGA’s liquor operations – they are entirely self-sufficient through their own revenues. Moreover, given the massive revenue return that the SLGA provides to the government ($141.3 million from retail stores alone in 2014 according to Dr. Tucker) to pay for such things as schools, hospitals and roads, to represent public stores as a liability rather than a highly lucrative public investment is government spin designed to confuse rather than inform.

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High-priced help: Spending on consultants increases by 228%

December 11th, 2014 · · public services, Saskatchewan

I am not sure which is more alarming: the fact that the Saskatchewan government increased its spending on consultants by 228% in the last five years, or that Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson found that the government can’t even justify their need for consultants.

Ferguson’s report, released December 3, devotes an entire chapter to the surging use of consultants by the Ministry of Central Services. She documents that spending on consultants increased from $8.1 million to $21.7 million from 2008-09 to 2013-14. The total spending on consultants for all ministries shot up even more: from $36.7 million to $120.3 million, or by 228%. Such a meteoric rise in consultants must mean they are desperately needed, doesn’t it?

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An Initial Response to the Government’s Green Paper on Liquor Options

November 4th, 2014 · · Saskatchewan

Today, the Government of Saskatchewan released its’ Green Paper,“Future Options for Liquor Retailing in Saskatchewan” in anticipation of a province-wide liquor privatization debate. Firstly, the government is to be commended for what is a rather comprehensive document that gives the people of Saskatchewan a distinct set of options to consider for  the future of liquor retailing in the province. Unfortunately, the government’s obvious preference for the privatization option rears its ugly head again and again throughout the document. Most flagrant, is despite recognizing that arguments for and against privatization tend to focus on government revenues, price/selection and social harms, the government spends an awful lot of time on the first two and precious little on the third.

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Get back in line, Mr. Premier

October 17th, 2014 · · Health Care, Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall once again stirred the privatization pot yesterday when he took to social media to ask: “Is it time to allow people to pay for their own private MRI’s in Saskatchewan like they can do in Alberta?” The Premier’s twitter trial balloon suggests the government will argue that allowing private, for-profit MRIs will help reduce wait times in the public system. The Premier himself added: “It does make sense that the wait list is going to shrink because those who want to pay will come off that public wait list and they’ll get their MRIs and thereby shortening the wait list for all, whether they want to pay or not.”

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Uncorking the Liquor Lobby in Saskatchewan

July 2nd, 2014 · · Democracy, public services, Saskatchewan

As the debate over liquor privatization in Saskatchewan begins to heat up, a common refrain from the current government is that arguments for the superior social responsibility of the public system unfairly impugns the integrity of private sellers. Admonishing NDP leader Cam Broten on his twitter account, Premier Brad Wall asked why the NDP “insult hundreds in SK who serve/retail alcohol by implying they’re not as responsible as those in gov stores.” Now, there is ample evidence that the majority of public liquor stores exercise a more robust system of liquor law compliance and enforcement than that of private stores. This is not to argue that private stores cannot or could not implement the same sort of rigorous system of compliance as that of public stores given stringent government monitoring and enforcement. Rather it is an argument that private stores will always have the very powerful imperative of economic survival working against them. Private retailers have a very obvious self-interest in increasing alcohol consumption – that’s their business. Private liquor retailing creates a conflict between the individual retailer’s drive to increase sales and society’s desire to limit liquor availability to vulnerable populations. As Wayne Henuset – owner of Willow Park Wines and Spirits remarked in response to widespread violations in Alberta:

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Privatization and promises

April 7th, 2014 · · public services, Saskatchewan, Uncategorized

When it comes to privatization, it seems the Saskatchewan government has a tough time recalling past promises. Heading into the 2007 election, then-Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall stated unequivocally that “Crowns are not going to be privatized and (subsidiaries) are not going to be wound down.” Of course, we all know that once in power, Mr. Wall’s government sold off the Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN), privatized the Information Services Corporation (ISC), sold off a slew of crown subsidiaries  through the government’s Saskatchewan First Policy and has sought to privatize any publicly-delivered service not deemed a “core function” of government. So perhaps it should not be too surprising that Friday’s announcement by the government that it will privatize four rural liquor stores completely contradicts Mr. Wall’s promise in October of 2012 “not to privatize existing government-owned liquor stores.” This government has been remarkably adept at denying its privatization agenda, so I eagerly await the intellectual contortions necessary to justify how this latest broken promise is actually not further evidence of the government’s privatization agenda.

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The Unappetizing Record of Prison Food Privatization

February 13th, 2014 · · Criminal Justice, public services, Saskatchewan

In the United States, prisons and privatization have become as American as apple pie. Today, approximately 130,000 people are incarcerated by for-profit companies in the United States, an 1,664% increase over the last 19 years. Even those prisons that remain state-run have sought to turn over almost every conceivable service – medical, mental health, educational, food, maintenance and security – to the private sector. Indeed, the Americans have demonstrated an almost devout ideological commitment to prison privatization even in spite of the perverse incentives it causes, such as the reprehensible “kids for cash” scandal. With such a wealth of experience and dedication to prison privatization, we should probably pay close attention to the American experience – particularly when we seem determined to emulate it.

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PotashCorp Projects Low Royalties

February 1st, 2014 · · Saskatchewan, Taxes and Tax Cuts

The following commentary was quoted on page D1 of yesterday’s Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post:

Thursday’s fourth-quarter report indicates that PotashCorp paid “provincial mining and other taxes” of $194 million on potash sales of $3 billion in 2013. In other words, Saskatchewan’s resource surcharge and potash production tax amounted to just 6.5% of the value of potash sold.

Adding the basic Crown royalty (which PotashCorp includes in “cost of goods sold”) and subtracting New Brunswick potash suggests that Saskatchewan is collecting no more than a dime per dollar of potash extracted from the province.

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Fact-Checking Rock Stars

January 17th, 2014 · · Aboriginal Issues, Alberta, Environment, Media, Saskatchewan, Satire

Has anyone else noticed the explosive rise of fact-checking in the Canadian media as of late? This is certainly a welcome development. Instead of the usual “He said, she said,” muddle in the name of balance, we are in the throes of a renewed quest for pure facts and unadulterated veracity. Surely this sea-change in fact-checking must be in response to some scandalous claim by a major politician or some other Canadian that wields an immense amount of power over our daily lives.

Unfortunately, no.

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