Saskatchewan’s Pirates

(For background music, click here)

ddkkpp via Flickr
ddkkpp via Flickr

This May I boarded the VIA train and rode west. As I passed through Toronto,  a problem with the GO Trains kept us marooned until dawn. Then we were off. After rolling through the rough and swampy Canadian Shield, armies of bleak birches finally rolled out flat into farmland. I saw Winnipeg from the train yards and museums of junk on display in the front and back yards in every exurb thereafter until I met the Assiniboine Valley. At sunset, I was struck by the eroding valley, the mud flats and thickets strewn in between and around the curving river. I woke up in Saskatchewan. I knew this because the first thing I saw in the morning was a pink mountain, the attendant made a bilingual announcement. Potash. In three hours, I had made it to Saskatoon, where I would live for the next 5 weeks.

Saskatchewan is a beautiful province and Saskatoon is a beautiful city with beautiful people. I am fascinated with its history. Most Canadians take pride in it. Everyone knows it. Tommy Douglas took over the drought-ridden, dustbowl province and socialized healthcare. Somewhere between the booms and busts of mineral extraction and the steady growth of wheat, the province’s population grew to over one million people. It boasts one of the last remaining state-run cell phone companies, SaskTel, which posts profits in the hundreds of millions and makes over $1.1 billion in revenue. The potash industry, Saskatchewan is the world’s largest producer, creates almost $13.1 billion in revenue in a good year. Things are looking good.

Things are also looking bad. Saskatchewan’s pirates are getting greedy.

Meet Brad Wall and Michel Fougere. Brad Wall is chipper. He’s the kind of guy you want to open Christmas presents with. He wears sports jerseys and makes videos of himself sitting in front of fire places. He’s also extremely conservative. He uses catch phrases and slogans that dumbfound rational people trying to make rational arguments. Of course, he is the leader of the Saskatchewan Party. Who can vote against Saskatchewan? His PR managers are brilliant.

Amongst many bad things the Saskatchewan Party does, in a series of new attack ads attacking the Leader of the Official Opposition, Cam Broten, the Saskatchewan Party bashes the NDP’s policy on revenue sharing with First Nations in the province. There is no rational discussion in the ads, just the reiteration of the fact that Cam Broten supports revenue sharing. The ad assumes the policy is bad and suggests the viewer be angry. It is an emotional appeal. It is clever Orwellian advertising, but it does more than play on subtle racism. It tricks viewers into not thinking. Wall, although intentionally absent from the negative advertisements, has been clear on the issue; he will not deal with “special interest” groups. To him, there is no First Nations claim to the land and the money made from it. And the land they do have claim to… who cares? The province can make revenue from the royalties and income tax from the workers. Brad and his billionaire buddies split the difference. Let Stephen Harper and the feds deal with it.

The other trouble maker in Regina is Michel Fougere. He is the city’s mayor. He privatized the city’s water supply. Why? Why not? It will make a private entity that probably supported his campaign rich. Michel has put the issue to referendum. Those citizens that are for the status quo that exists in most industrialized nations, publicly owned public utilities, have to pay for their “yes” campaign. The city is funding the “no” campaign. It sounds like a dystopia, but it is really happening. The referendum is a farce. Think about it again. You vote “no” to have the city sell off the assets to the mayor’s friends and you vote “yes” to keep them. The city itself is paying to run a very political campaign to which it sets the question.

The mayor tricked the citizens. Some people are going to get very rich on the public dime. Despite that, it is already projected to cost citizens more in the long run. Public-private partnerships (P3s) are consistently mismanaged and often go hundreds of millions over budget at the taxpayers’ expense. The contact is 30 years long. A whole generation will suffer. Regina, you’ll be stuck with expensive long-term contracts you’ll have no control over. If past experiences like the McGill University Health Centre have shown the services and products you’ll get will be more expensive at point of purchase, will cost you more in taxes and will be of lesser quality.

Saskatchewan may be beautiful, but it isn’t only the potash that stinks here.