Cash-For-Access Fundraising Is a Massive Problem in Saskatchewan

We need to talk about the SaskParty selling access to the Premier, because it’s out-of-f**king-control.

In spring 2016, the Globe and Mail ran a series of stories on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her provincial Liberal party’s cash-for-access fundraising schemes, which entailed selling tickets for exclusive, high-priced, elbow-rubbing events to that province’s well-heeled individuals, corporations and lobbyists.

The ensuing scandal dogged Wynne for the rest of the year, in part contributing to her plummeting approval ratings. By fall her party had tabled a new Bill outlining changes to campaign financing laws, but was then forced to resubmit it when stunningly, the first draft didn’t include banning fundraisers.

The Globe and Mail struck again late last year, when they blew the lid off of Justin Trudeau’s cash for access fundraisers. Within weeks, Trudeau’s Liberals introduced reforms, addressing the fundraisers, to Canada’s already stringent federal campaign financing laws.

In January 2017, the New York Times set its sights on British Columbia’s Liberals, led by Premier Christy Clark, for their exploitation of BC’s weak political donation laws – which are virtually identical to Saskatchewan’s. The Globe and Mail followed up last month, blasting Clark’s Liberals for their fundraising and cash-for-access scruples, or lack thereof.

With the pressure on, especially in advance of BC’s May 9th provincial election, Clark responded by mirroring Wynne’s gaffe almost completely, first introducing weak legislative changes, then a week later scrambling to do better, promising an independent commission would reform campaign financing…after the spring vote.

That’s three examples in the last year of entitled, insulated Canadian politicians and parties conducting ethically-questionable fundraising activities.

Do you really think it’s any different in Saskatchewan?

Spoiler alert: hell no.

Let’s have a look at the SaskParty’s 2017 events calendar.

In just a few short weeks Saskatoon will be graced with a Premier’s Dinner, held at Prairieland Park. Single tickets are a steal at $250 each, or as I like to call it, a week’s paycheque for a full-time employee earning minimum wage.

That $250 gets you a seat at a table (near the back, trust me), and the luxury of basking in the Premier’s glow – you’ll be in the same room, after all. If you’re lucky you might even be able to talk to a backbench MLA. The good news is you’ll be able to brag on Facebook that you were there.

$2000 gets you a table of eight, but toss in an measly extra $3000 and the Premier’s Dinner perks really start rolling in. For $5000 your party will be granted entrance to the pre-dinner “Committee and Sponsors Reception”, your company logo will be “displayed prominently on sponsor boards and digital displays”, and the pièce de résistance: someone will say your name from the podium.

Possibly the emcee, but who knows? Maybe Brad himself.

Think about that.

For $3000, the SaskParty will give you exclusive access to a cocktail party to bend the ear of the Premier and his Cabinet Ministers.

For $3000, your company’s name could cross the Saskatchewan Premier’s lips in front of a room full of people.

Don’t have $3000?

Out of the way, peasant.

If you can’t make Saskatoon’s Premier’s Dinner, the event is replicated all over again in Regina at EVRAZ Place on June 1, 2017. Remember though, there are no limits on political donations in Saskatchewan, so why not go twice? Hard to say if one private party with the Premier is enough to get your agenda across.

Like to golf? For $275 you can golf in the Premiers’ Northern Golf Classic, held on June 22, 2017 at Elk Ridge Resort. That price will get you your green fees, a golf cart, dinner, prizes, and a guaranteed handshake and commemorative photo with Brad Wall at the Challenge the Premier hole.

Want to up the ante, but not too much? For an extra $225 each, you and a friend can get all the advantages of a single tournament entry, plus your name on one tee box.

Feel like splurging? For an extra $725 each, you and a friend will not only get your single entries, but the stone door will slide aside and you can enter the ‘Sponsor Reception’, aka another one of those cozy cocktail parties with the Premier and Saskatchewan Cabinet Ministers.

Oh, and you’ll get your name on a tee box.

Want more? Cause there’s more.

For $5000, you and three friends will get your tournament entries, the secret password to the cocktail party, plus your name or your company name in big letters on a banner at the cocktail party (so everyone is absolutely clear that you’re a big deal), as well as on each golf cart and tee box, and a room in the hotel.

It doesn’t stop there though. Your $5000 also gets you entry to a super-special pre-golf-tournament golf tournament where you can be certain you’ll be paired with Saskatchewan Cabinet Ministers, or who knows, maybe the Premier himself.

In August the Premier holds his annual Premier’s Golf Ball* (get it?), which is always held the night before the SaskParty’s Regina Golf Tournament, which is the week before the SaskParty’s Saskatoon Golf Tournament. 2017 ticket prices and sponsorship levels for these three events aren’t posted yet, but I’m pretty sure by now you get the point.

(*Yes, the proceeds from the Golf Ball go to charity, and no, I dont have any f**ks to give where they go (unless it’s schools and libraries, which is an idea), because it still boils down to paying cash for access to the Premier of Saskatchewan. If he is really that concerned about what he can do for those in need outside of the Legislature, Wall can write a cheque himself, ask his friends to do the same, or hold a private, unadvertised event with his friends and family.)

And if none of these options work for you, perhaps some of these opportunities will crop up again in the future:

  • New in 2016 was the late-November Premier’s Reception in Saskatoon and Regina. These holiday fetes, complete with “hearty hors d’oeuvres” must have been particularly exclusive, as tickets weren’t even available for any old Saskatchewan resident to purchase – one had to email the SaskParty directly to get screened the information required, including price, to purchase your tickets;
  • up until at least 2015, satellite Premier’s Dinners have been held in smaller urban centres like Prince Albert;
  • in 2015, a cool $75 would have got you a ticket to Saskatoon MLA and Cabinet Minister Don Morgan’s Christmas Party… featuring guest speaker Brad Wall.

Cash-for-access to the Premier and Ministers is still perfectly legal in Saskatchewan, and with no election on the horizon for another three years, I’m guessing it will be for a while.

Further, the SaskParty has legitimized the Premier’s Dinners, and the expectation of power and influence brokering that accompanies them, by allowing media access to his speech – because if they’re news stories, obviously everything’s kosher, right?

Let’s also not forget, however, that the Criminal Code of Canada says anyone commits an indictable offence who (emphasis mine):

“…having or pretending to have influence with the government or with a minister of the government or an official, demands, accepts or offers or agrees to accept for himself or another person a reward, advantage or benefit of any kind as consideration for co-operation, assistance, exercise of influence or an act or omission in connection with the transaction of business with or any matter of business relating to the government.”

Of course, there’s no proof that anyone paying tens of thousands of dollars a year to attend these events is actually getting any co-operation, assistance, or exercise of influence out of the Premier or his Ministers, or anyone else with any power inside the Saskatchewan government.

That begs the question, then – what exactly are they paying for? What is the exchange of goods in a $3000 transaction… a few pre-dinner rye and Cokes in the beige backroom of a convention centre?

Come on. Nobody is doling out that kind of cash for their health. You’re not going to find it in writing anywhere, but there is absolutely an expectation between politicians and their donors, especially the big ones.

This isn’t about saying lobbyists, corporations, unions and even non-profit organizations shouldn’t be working hard to influence government decisions – the government needs feedback to do its job properly. Nor is it about begrudging or demonizing the rich and powerful, which is the other accusation lobbed by SaskParty blowhards the moment you question this issue.

Truth is, all of those things are great, as long as they’re considered within the legal, and just as importantly, ethical boundaries of the legislature.

You can check the donor rolls for yourself, but it shouldn’t surprise you that the vast majority of tickets to the Saskatchewan Premier’s events, which are considered tax deductible donations, are purchased by corporations, unions and wealthy private citizens – people who have a financial interest in the Saskatchewan government’s decisions.

The changes in Ontario and British Columbia, which follow similar patterns across the country, are about putting all voters on at least a somewhat more equal playing field. Banning union and corporate donations, and setting low limits on personal donations limits the risk of the wealthy having grossly inflated influence over governments and politicians.

Yes, ticket prices to Ontario and British Columbia are often significantly higher than some of the prices for the Premier’s fundraisers. That’s meaningless, nor an excuse for the validity of the events in Saskatchewan.

First of all, no one should have to pay one dollar specifically for access to the Premier or anyone else in government. Ever.

Secondly, we have no evidence that private, invite-only cash-for-access fundraisers with much higher price tags are not happening in Saskatchewan. They too would be legal, and they too would be sketchy as hell.

And I don’t know about you, but my middle-class family with two elementary school-aged kids doesn’t have $500 lying around for Mom and Dad to go to dinner. $250 is a lot of money for one plate of food, and I refuse to buy into the mentality that it’s not a lot of money. It is.

Finally, the sheer volume of these events – both in frequency and sales – more than makes up for the higher tickets prices for smaller events in other provinces. It’s the exact same crap… different sales model.

Saskatchewan’s laws are archaic, allowing this province’s wealthiest – many of whom have done very well off government contracts – and biggest corporations and unions to have exponentially more influence over elected officials than the average voter.

No thinking person – anyone who isn’t blinded by some kind of cult-like adherence to partisanship – thinks this is fine, because it’s not. Selling high-priced tickets to all kinds of political events hosted by the Premier of Saskatchewan sounds like influence-peddling, because it is influence-peddling.

And it’s wrong. It’s being banned across the country because it’s wrong.

Premier Wall, if you’re reading this (and I know you do): you must impose limits on political donations, and cash-for-access to you and your government needs to be banned in Saskatchewan because it’s wrong. It sends a terrible message to the vast majority of this beautiful province’s residents, many of whom don’t have $250 to spend on groceries in a month, nevermind on one meal.

Brad, you can lead the SaskParty by example, through ideology, and to election victories, but you cannot and should not be leading its fundraising.

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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7 comments

  1. I checked the referred document and it looks like only the Regina Firefighters union is listed as a donor to the Sask Party for that year. Am I missing something? I’m just not sure why “unions” are pluralized if there’s just one donating.

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  2. Oh I see- you weren’t just talking about the Sask. Party. The way it was written, I had to check, and that’s when I only found the Firefighters donation in there. Now I understand! Thanks.

    Like

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