Recently CBC investigative reporter Geoff Leo revealed, as part of his dogged scrutiny of Regina’s Global Transportation Hub (GTH), that it was SaskPower which provided the cash infusion to the GTH to pay Regina developer Anthony Marquart $21-million dollars, or up to five times the appraised value, for the land package that eventually kicked off this shitstorm.
Let’s take a few minutes and follow the money, shall we?
We’ll start with the obvious: the money SaskPower has in the bank is the money we give them when we pay our bills (grossly oversimplified, I’m aware, but you get it). Once it’s there, though, the money in SaskPower’s bank account is still your money, because the whole point is that as residents of Saskatchewan, we are simply reinvesting capital in a company we already own.
In 2013 and 2014, the Global Transportation Hub had virtually zero cash in their bank account.
To fully understand why, we’ll first consider their cash position at the end of their fiscal year 2012.
$3-million cash in the bank, and an $833,000 surplus after expenses, significantly lower than the year before thanks to increased payables, but overall it wasn’t terrible.
2012 – 2013 was worse.
$72,000 in the bank and a brand new $21.5-million loan.
That $21.5-mil loan was used to invest in infrastructure for the GTH:
There were $6-million dollars in land sales that year, almost half of which was to SLGA. The GTH had projected revenue for 2013 of $13.2-million; it actually earned $7.2-million, which was barely enough to cover its annual operating expenses.
So in other words, by the end of 2013 the GTH borrowed for and spent a lot of money on infrastructure construction, but the organization was still cash poor.
2013 – 2014: this is the fiscal year where it all goes down. In February of 2013, Robert Tappauf closed his land deal with the nuns and sold the land to Regina’s Anthony Marquart on the same day, netting a $6-million profit for Tappauf.
(BTW, sources in Alberta tell me that Tappauf unveiled his brand new multi-million dollar mansion earlier this year, then spent the summer at his brand new million dollarish cabin at a Saskatchewan lake. Coincidence, undoubtedly.)
In February of 2014, the GTH paid Marquart $21-million for that land, landing him a cool $5-million profit.
(A few weeks later, in May of 2014, Marquart and three other investors announced they were purchasing the Regina Pats; we don’t know for how much, but book value was $13-million. The process had started “over a year before”, according to what Marquart told blogger Phil Andrews. Coincidence, undoubtedly.)
Anyway – how did the GTH, an organization that had $72,000 cash in the bank and an outstanding $21.5-million loan, pay $21-million cash to Marquart?
Here’s the GTH’s financial snapshot as of March 31, 2014, one month after the Marquart deal closed.
Pretty vanilla, right? They had $18-million more in surplus than they expected, and had paid down $1.5 million on the loan, so that’s good. Okay, so they still only had chump change in the bank – $546 000 – and they owed roughly 9-times more in cash expenses than they had coming in, but… progress?
Seriously though, you’ll note that with the exception of the sudden appearance of an arbitrary $20-million worth of land, the GTH was positively hemorrhaging money.
WAIT A MINUTE…
The GTH sold $36.9-million in 2014, or $28-million more in land than it had budgeted for? That’s great news, right?!
…because they used that money to spend another $22.5mil to buy more land. And as we know, $21-million of that was bought from… altogether now…Marquart.
(Sorry, writing about this “goat show” – not my words – jacks my Sarcasm Meter reading up to Extreme and it’ll be a few days before it comes back down.)
So who bought millions of dollars in land from the GTH in 2013-14, conveniently injecting just enough cash into the otherwise broke as a joke organization to pay out Marquart?
If you’d been listening closely at the time, you might have heard it… the sound of a white knight named Bill Boyd riding a mighty cash-flow steed named SaskPower.
Yes, just a couple of months prior to paying Marquart, SaskPower purchased just enough land to cover the GTH’s land purchasing bills.
From the GTH 2013-14 annual reports ‘Management Discussion and Analysis’ section:
You know, that SaskPower “logistics warehouse complex” which began construction
in October 2015 never.
This project was referenced exactly once by SaskPower in their 2013 annual report:
It pops up again in SaskPower’s 2015-16 Annual Report as a quick aside noting that while pretty much everything else they had planned on doing had been done, the logistics complex had been shelved:
Did I mention your SaskPower rates are going up in a few weeks? Yeah. They asked, and the provincial government approved, a 5% rate increase. Thankfully today the provincial regulator jumped in and told SaskPower that’s a bit excessive, but still. Seems like that $25-million could have been better spent. I mean, if they’re not going to use the land, why not sell it instead of reaching into our wallets (again)? Surely it would move quick, given GTH land is such a hot commodity.
Now here’s the really strange part: the Global Transportation Hub never held the title to the land it sold to SaskPower.
The land “sold” to SaskPower for approximately $170,000 per acre was expropriated in 2011 from a landowner by the Ministry of Highways for $11,000 per acre. In 2013 the title was transferred directly from the Ministry of Highways to SaskPower, and the $25-million in cash went to the GTH.
Yes, there had been some servicing done to the land – but unless the roads were paved with gold and the sewer pipes encrusted in diamonds, I’m not buying that kind of markup. That said, presumably SaskPower did their due diligence, obtained their own appraisal based on nearby comparables etc etc.
Maybe there was some kind of option to purchase, a la Rob Tappauf and the nuns, between the GTH and MHI. Who cares, because either way the taxpayer has paid for the land twice, and it’s still a f**king empty field.
I’m told this is technically the foundation of the GTH’s business plan – that the Ministry of Highways
expropriates takes the land from the Saskatchewan landowner at whatever the hell price it wants to, because it can, then government services and sells it at a lift to new corporate occupants of the GTH, funneling the profit on the sale to the GTH, which supposedly will make money down the road by collecting property taxes.
I don’t care if this business made buckets full of money today or in the future, there’s no damn way the government should be in it. What the hell kind of free market government snatches away property from a person and sells it for themselves? That’s not what we do to each other in Saskatchewan. Or so I thought.
Now the cynic in me could theorize that back in 2013-14, Bill Boyd, the Minister of the GTH, went over and knocked on the door of Bill Boyd, the Minister for SaskPower, and the conversation went something like:
“Hi me, how am I today? Good to hear. So I’ve got this little cash flow problem out at the GTH, and I was wondering if I would consider transferring money – sorry, purchase land – for $25-million for SaskPower from myself at the GTH?”
“Sure, I would love to do that for me.”
“I would? That’s fabulous news.”
…but that would so ridiculous that even I, an eternal cynic, couldn’t just assume something like that could ever happen.
In fact, in the May 12, 2014 session of Question Period, Trent Wotherspoon brought up this issue in questions directed at Bill Boyd.
Wotherspoon: “….I often think it would have been an interesting conversation to watch the Minister for the GTH convince the Minister for SaskPower that he should place millions of dollars out there, Mr. Speaker.”
Boyd (emphasis mine):
“Mr. Speaker, once again the member opposite has his facts incorrect. The SaskPower officials, through the CEO, Robert Watson, approached the GTH themselves, asked for the opportunity to buy property out there.”
That clears that up. Boyd, in May of 2014, put it on the record that he had nothing to do with the super-convenient SaskPower cash deal. His executives at SaskPower did it all on their own.
It’s curious then, that a year later, on April 20, 2015, when Wotherspoon asked Boyd again, the story was rather different.
Wotherspoon: “Did you separate any of your responsibilities in representing the taxpayer or the public through the GTH as minister and then as Minister of SaskPower?”
“SaskPower officials approached myself as minister to take a look at it and say that they think this is a pretty good opportunity for them, a pretty good . . . It makes some sense in terms of their operational concerns and interests. Looking at it and assessing it with the SaskPower folks, it certainly looked like a good opportunity as well.”
Aaaaaaanyway. To round out the GTH’s financial picture, let’s have a peek at how they did in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Spoiler alert: not good.
2014-15 wrapped up with zero cash in the bank. The $10-million of credit was jacked up to $25-million, and now carried a balance owing of $3.5-million (presumably related to the fact there was no cash in the bank). Sales sat at $18-million, $3-million of which was the sale of topsoil, and a significant amount of revenue was driven by the Ministry of Highways. The bottom line was zero money in the bank, $27.4-million in cash debt, $50-million in non-financial assets (land, roads, sewer systems etc), resulting in an accumulated surplus of $25odd-million dollars.
2015-16 was abysmal. (And I’d like to point out that the oil economy is not to blame here, as the GTH was supposed to be an example of economic diversification – it should not be reliant on resource revenues.)
So yeah – the GTH is now $31-million in cash debt, thanks in part to the fact that it is still $3-million into its line of credit, and tacked another $7-million onto it’s RBC loan, which was at $17-million in 2015 and is now at $24-million.
Thankfully we’ve still got those sewer pipes to keep us afloat.
To me, though, the most troubling figure involves revenue projections:
On land sales specifically, the GTH came in at just around 25% of their projection for 15-16. They managed to cut their expenses significantly, but still garnered an annual deficit.
I appreciate that many refer to this development as being in its infancy, and that may be true, but those who are in this actual business (industrial development) tell me that this is a trainwreck.
On November 3rd, in a Seventy-Five Minute debate (a long-winded tradition that basically amounts to an opportunity for backbenchers to feel relevant) on the GTH land scandal, MLAs Nancy Heppner and Warren Steinley piously announced they would be supporting their “friend” and colleague, Bill Boyd, on the GTH.
The very best you can say, if you are trying really really hard, about the GTH to-date is that it is the by-product of stunning levels of professional incompetence – the buck of which stops with Bill Boyd… but Warren, Nancy, as this debacle continues to unfold, we’ll make sure to remember that kind of mind-numbingly partisan loyalty.