Dead Chickens and American Lobbyists: Just Two Things 2017 Sask Budget Could Have Cut, but Didn’t

Even before the Saskatchewan budget came down last week, the cuts were coming down in full force.

Take the privatization of government janitorial services, a measure that put over 250 people out of work, while reducing the $1.2 billion deficit by…0.3%.

Sure – maybe you think janitorial services should have been privatized a long time ago. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you.

Except if this government really thought cutting these people loose was in the best interest of the province, they’ve had ten years to do it – and they didn’t.

But now that they’re broke and the heat is on, apparently the first folks the SaskParty figured were expendable were the ones who’ve been scrubbing their shitters for the last decade.

Post-budget, trying to filter through the long list of funding cuts and reductions is like drinking from a fire hose.

But what about what was not sliced or diced?

Today I’d like to offer up a few suggestions on what this government could have, or dare-I-say should have, gotten ridden of to save money. The dog-whistle optics wouldn’t be as good for the SaskParty, and like cutting the janitors, cutting these options would only to save a tiny fraction of a fraction of a few bucks (in the grand scheme of things), but just humor me, k?

We could stop paying for dead chickens.

It’s called the Saskatchewan Agricultural Stabilization Fund (SASF), and it operates outside of government agencies already in place to, you know, stabilize agriculture, like the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC).

According to the SASF’s 2015-16 annual report, its purpose is to “enhance or stabilize the incomes of Saskatchewan farmers or the returns from commodities produced by Saskatchewan farmers.”

(All other business owners out there with incomes stabilized by the provincial government, raise your hands.)

Funded jointly by the Government of Canada and the Province of Saskatchewan (aka: you and you), the SASF administers the Farm and Ranch Water Infrastructure Program, which is pretty self-explanatory, and used to manage the now inactive Canada-Saskatchewan Excess Moisture Program (CSEMP).

Under the SASF Wildlife Damage program, farmers receive compensation (100 per cent on claims over $150) via Saskatchewan Crop Insurance for crop and feed damage caused by wild animals, including ducks, geese, sandhill cranes, white-tailed and mule deer, antelope, elk, bison, moose, bear, wild boar, beavers and blackbirds.

What blows my mind, however, is the “predation compensation” program, rolled out back in the heady days of 2010, which issues “100 per cent compensation for the death of livestock or poultry due to predation and up to 80 per cent of the animal’s value to cover veterinary costs of an injured animal.”

The owner pays no premium, nor do they even have to have a Crop Insurance contract.

That’s right. As a taxpayer, you’re just straight-up writing a cheque when a fox gets into a henhouse.

Between 2011 and 2016, the Saskatchewan government paid out $3.6 million to farmers who lost animals to predators (in addition to the $5.4 million paid by the feds).

That’s enough money to completely restore Saskatchewan regional library funding for a year.

On an annual basis, that’s equivalent to what they cut from Saskatoon and Regina libraries.

Look, before my rural friends start sending me (more) hate mail, I understand that coyotes and other sharp-toothed carnivores can be a major pain in the ass for farmers (nevermind that of the sheep into which they’ve sunk their teeth).

I get that losing chickens or calves or sheep is crappy, but seriously, where the f**k is the line between stabilizing, and outright pay-rolling an industry?

Does the SaskParty understand the concept of business risk?!

Shoplifting is also a major pain in the ass for the retail industry, but last I checked the government isn’t cutting no-strings cheques for their losses, nor should they, because if you’re a retail business owner you understand, accept, mitigate and offset that risk as part of the cost of doing business.

If you live in rural Saskatchewan and earn your income off a giant pen of bait livestock, you’d think risk would also be part of the enterprise-equation.

But no, it’s backstopped by the taxpayer.

SASF also writes cheques to farmers for predator-prevention measures, including “compensation for guard dogs”.

REALLY?

There’s some serious irony in the fact that 93 per cent of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) voted to demand the right to shoot human intruders to protect their property, but meanwhile the government will buy them a guard dog and/or hand them a cheque when they fail to safeguard their property against a coyote.

Bottom line: since 2011, at least $3.6 million of taxpayers’ money has been handed out by the Saskatchewan government for things like dead chickens and Great Pyrenees puppies.

Let the sun shine in.

Specifically, let it shine on this government’s arms-length agencies, or as I like to call them, Black Holes, so we can see where the money is going.

Take Saskatchewan Trade and Export (STEP), for example, which according to its website, “champions the province’s export industry and assists provincial businesses in realizing global marketing opportunities”.

Since 2008, the province has transferred $28.5 million, or an average of approximately $3.2 million per year, to STEP, which has been around in some format or another since the late 1990s.

At that rate, the Saskatchewan taxpayer is paying $12000 per year to service each exporter on STEP’s membership list, which at 265 members, equals only 17 per cent of all exporters in Saskatchewan (Source:  Statistics Canada. Table  228-0079 –  Trade by Exporter Characteristics – Goods; value of domestic exports and number of exporting establishments, by country of destination, Canada, provinces and territories, annual).

There are between 20 and 25 employees working at STEP, including two veeps and CEO Chris Dekker, formerly of GTH fame. With a 2016 annual salary expense of around $2.4 million, arguably each STEP employee is earning an average of six figures.

The office rent for these folks? Approximately $430000 per year… or $1000 per day. According to their annual reports, STEP is locked into offices leases that will cost $3 million total between 2016 and 2020.

I’m questioning why they even need offices, given STEP’s travel expenses average half a million dollars per year, or $1400 per day.

Between 2010 and 2016, STEP shelled out $1.4 million to private businesses via the Market Access Program, which hands out cash for their members to travel, including “attendance at trade shows, business meetings, and industry conferences…”, or as I like to call them “things you should expect to pay for yourself when you open a business to turn a profit”.

A further quarter of a million dollars has been doled out via STEP’s Premium Member Incoming Buyer Program, which “provides a non-repayable annual contribution of up to $1,000…to introduce new buyers and prospective business partners to the region”.

That’s right, we’re even paying the travel expenses of STEP members’ customers.

STEP’s Premium Membership costs $2000 more than their regular membership, so I have a novel idea – how about these private entrepreneurs just keep their private money and use that to conduct their private business?

Does it occur to anyone inside this conservative government that this is not an acceptable use of taxpayer dollars?

Yes, Saskatchewan export numbers have been awesome.

They’re also arguably primarily driven by market conditions, which no matter how hard they try, STEP has zero influence over.

And Saskatchewan’s exports are really not that much better than across Canada, which have all been increasing nicely over the last few years (StatsCanada is your friend if you want more information).

But yeah, $3 million per year for STEP to service 17 per cent of Saskatchewan’s export market.

Pretty sure I know 100 per cent of Saskatchewan schools that could use that kind of cash.

In 2009-10ish this government launched Innovation Saskatchewan, which has since cost us almost $100 million.

Innovation Sask employees 13 people with an annual salary expense of $1.1 million, and spends about $100000 per year on travel.

Of its $30+ million in taxpayer funding in 2015-16, almost $27 million went out Innovation Sask’s door as “grants”, many of which ended up with Saskatchewan universities, ie funding for the Canadian Light Source, or the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation.

First of all, do we not have Ministries for this?

Couldn’t the government’s umpteen deputy ministers distribute money for “innovation”?

Why do we need thirteen people, again earning an average of six figures each, staffing an arms-length government agency to channel government funding into government-funded entities?

Even worse, IMO, is Innovation Sask’s vaguely named “Saskatchewan Advantage Innovation Fund”, or the even vaguer “Science and Innovation Fund”, both of which funnel millions of dollars per year to god knows where, because there’s no payee list anywhere on their site or within their annual reports.

In fact, unlike Ministries and Crown Corporations, there’s no payee list or salary reports for most government agencies.

SaskBuilds, which supposedly examines Saskatchewan’s infrastructure “priorities”, and schedules construction based on P3, or rent-to-own, funding models (ie the Regina Bypass, which you’d think the Ministry of Highways would be responsible for) has cost us $50 million since its inception in 2013.

Again, the Government of Saskatchewan has a number of Ministries staffing hundreds of capable civil servants, whose job it is to identify this province’s capital or infrastructure needs.

We have a Ministry of Finance and Treasury Board, which should be aggregating these needs and examining them from a financial perspective  – aka ‘Can We Afford This?’.

We have a Ministry of Central Services, which has one job – to purchase and manage what all government Ministries need, including construction.

Oh, and addition to yet another nauseatingly high salary expense, in 2015-16 we paid $400000 for rent for SaskBuilds, which employees 13 people.

I could go on. There are so many of these arms length agencies, developed under the guise of stimulating the economy, but the reality is they’re a black hole into which millions of publicly-provided dollars are sucked, and never seen again.

Get rid of the lobbyist.

“Brad Wall to meet with (two) Trump cabinet members when he heads to Washington” – ctvnews.ca, March 30, 2017.

I would hope so, and Saskatchewan’s US lobbyist had damn well better have arranged those meetings*, and be paying for the coffee and donuts in the boardroom.

Since former Cabinet Minister Bill Boyd signed the contract in late 2009, the Saskatchewan government has paid an American lobbyist $4 million, and continues to pay them a quarterly $100,000 USD retainer.

A Republican lobbyist, which up until a few months ago, was lobbying a Democratic administration, but okay.

Lobbying a Democratic administration primarily on “energy issues related to advanced coal technologies” or “the use of energy produced in Saskatchewan and North American energy security”, or some version thereof.

I suppose one could credit Saskatchewan’s lobbyist with somehow, after five years of lobbying, influencing Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan, which somewhat supported carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

How that helps Saskatchewan I don’t know, since we don’t own the technology… but for $4 million, let’s say it does.

Or, I suppose one could accuse Saskatchewan’s lobbyist of adding little-to-no value to US coal imports, which has remained flat, at best, since 2010, or to the construction, or lack thereof, of pipelines.

Reporting on American government websites also suggests they lobbied on things like the Raymond border crossing and country of origin labelling, which was finally rescinded last year.

Don’t get me wrong, lobbyists aren’t bad – unless they’re bad lobbyists. The latter is typically subjective.

What I do know for sure is that Saskatchewan taxpayers are paying this lobbyist $100,000 USD per quarter on a seemingly indefinite basis, which is:

  • twice as much as Google, which pays the same lobbyist $50,000 USD per quarter;
  • three times as much as Comcast Corporation, the largest broadcasting and cable TV company on the planet, which pays the same lobbyist $30,000 USD per quarter;
  • at least twenty times as much as Manitoba Hydro, which pays a different lobbyist under $5000 USD per quarter to lobby the same issues;

Even the Province of Alberta, which had them on retainer back in 2012, only paid $60,000 USD per quarter.

In fact, according to United States government’s 2016 lobbying disclosure reports for this lobbyist, whose other active clients include any number of multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporations from across the globe, the Province of Saskatchewan is this lobbyist’s highest paying customer.

By alot – the vast majority are paying less than half of that.

I know nothing about how their fee structure works, but I’d love to know how lobbying on behalf of Saskatchewan is soooooooooo much more work.

Otherwise, to me it almost feels as if a farmer from Kindersley might have had no f**king clue how to negotiate a contract with an American lobbyist, or what he was signing.

(But I bet it sure makes you feel powerful when you do.)

This handful of examples won’t pay for the deficit, or even make a dent in it, really.

That said, neither will the janitor cuts, or scrapping STC, or the cost of cutting the dignity right out of Social Services’ clients’ funerals.

The point of this piece is to highlight what wasn’t cut, and who that impacts, or more importantly…. who it does not.

*Just a week after President Trump obliterated Obama’s clean energy plan, Premier Wall is hustling down to DC and will meet with US Energy Minister Rick Perry, who is a big champion of carbon capture and storage. This is great, but Perry’s biggest challenge in ensuring that CCS has a future in the United States is White House Budget Director Mick ‘No-More-Meals-On-Wheels’ Mulvaney, who would have to greenlight the massive subsidies Obama initiated to prop up CCS south of the border.

For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Email me anytime at tammyrobert@live.ca

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4 comments

  1. […] Current economic situation notwithstanding, I honestly don’t understand how the same political party can flip so completely in less than a decade about the value of public libraries.  The $5 million a year they’ll save is literally a rounding error in terms of the overall Saskatchewan budget, especially when there are many other places to cut wasteful spending much more effectively. […]

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  2. As someone who works for an environmental group and as a rancher, allow me to explain why we are happy about wildlife compensation programs. It has to do with something you overlooked in your assessment of it, which is the public benefit and the public’s expectations around maintaining healthy wildlife populations. While I agree that all businesses need to assess and accept risk as part of their costs, offsetting risk is not why these programs exist. In many cases, they pay for the services farmers and ranchers are providing towards the public good of having wildlife as part of our landscape, while also providing opportunities along the way to educate ag producers and the public in general on wildlife and wilderness issues. I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs recently, and they are well researched. However, I feel I should point this out, as you missed the point of why these programs actually exist. Our organization generally does not support programs that promote the actual shooting of predators or other wildlife to offset agricultural damage (although we do support sustainable harvest via hunting or trapping as long as it’s done with the health of the wildlife population in mind), but we generally do support programs that fairly compensate ag producers for services provided for the public good, such as maintaining wildlife habitat or for losses incurred that support wildlife populations, including many species at risk.

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  3. Yes, Gord Vaadeland I agree with you. Folks don’t really understand the wildlife farming risk. Also, we farmed for 40 years and never once asked to paid out for a calve that was killed by coyote,etc. Most don’t.

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