Stealing The Spotlight

The provincial government has invaded my City Hall column and I don’t like it

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

The provincial government is really hogging the news spotlight this week. First off, crack-a-jack reporting from CBC and the Leader Post has revealed scandalous details about the planned CNIB-Brandt building in Wascana Centre. Scandalous, I say!

Turns out, not only had the CNIB and Brandt Developments been working on the project much earlier than had been previously indicated, but the Wascana Centre Authority had rejected the project multiple times, arguing the four-storey, glass-and-steel bird-killer didn’t fit with the Wascana Centre Master Plan.

One architect on the WCA’s Architectural Advisory Committee even resigned over the process. Ultimately, the project only got the go-ahead after the provincial government disbanded the WCA and handed authority over the park over to the provincial-government-dominated Provincial Capital Commission.

And all this information comes on the heels of Brandt’s late-January demolition oopsie where they kinda, sorta started demolishing the CNIB building without first getting a permit from the City of Regina. That’s a funny error for Brandt to make considering their vice-president of developments is former deputy city manager and COO Brent Sjoberg. When he was employed as Regina’s second-highest ranking city officer, Sjoberg oversaw several municipal megaprojects including the new Mosaic Stadium and the Wastewater Treatment Plant Public Private Partnership.

It would be surprising if he didn’t know the nuances of the demolition permit process.

It’s all very convoluted and mysterious.

But this Wascana Centre drama is right now being overshadowed by the province’s other big news thing: the provincial government’s lawsuit against the federal government’s carbon pricing plan.

Premier Scott Moe argues that the fed’s carbon pricing plan will kill the Saskatchewan economy. More important to his lawsuit, he alleges the plan is unconstitutional as it applies a carbon tax selectively on provinces that don’t meet a federal carbon pricing benchmark.

As this paper hits newsstands, the federal government will be arguing that imposing a carbon tax is well within their constitutional authority and, what’s more, dealing with climate change is a national concern.

“Carbon pollution knows no borders. Putting a price on carbon pollution is a practical, affordable way to reduce emissions,” read a statement from the office of federal environment minister Catherine McKenna the day before the case was to begin on Feb. 13.

“The Saskatchewan government is presenting this as a constitutional issue,” argued Mark Bigland-Pritchard of Climate Justice Saskatoon at a Feb. 12 press conference of non-governmental interveners speaking in favour of the federal plan. “To me, that is just a smokescreen. It’s a smokescreen to take attention away from their lack of a credible climate policy. If they really cared about the rights of provinces, they would be supporting British Columbia in its attempt to write its own environmental laws about pipelines crossing their territory. They intervened there on the other side. So, to me, this is hypocrisy on the part of the SK govt.”

The case is huge, and is likely to bring a national media circus to our fair city.

With a Brandt scandal and a quixotic court case dueling for everyone’s attention, how’s a city hall writer supposed to compete?

Well, to start: who wants to talk about garbage?

Gold For Garbage Gas

At a Feb. 12 press conference — just one day before Saskatchewan’s case against the federal carbon tax was to be heard — federal minister Ralph Goodale announced $1.3 million in funding for the city’s landfill-gas-collection system.

The system collects methane off-gassing from decaying garbage in the city’s landfill and burns it off to generate energy which is sold to SaskPower. According Regina Mayor Michael Fougere, the system currently generates about $1 million in revenue for the city and with this additional federal funding, 30 more wells can be drilled, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the landfill by up to 30 per cent.

SUMA Stuff

Oh man, cannot escape provincial newsmakers even talking city stuff as Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe spoke at the annual Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association conference in Saskatoon on Feb. 4. Moe announced that in the upcoming provincial budget, cities and towns can expect to receive an additional $10 million under the provincial revenue sharing agreement. Considering this will be divided up amongst all the provinces’ municipalities, it represents a very small bump in funding.

Still, municipal leaders were pleased with the increase as it indicated their revenue sharing would remain stable.

However, that tiny increase in funding obscures the fact that the province actually adjusted the revenue sharing formula downward to the detriment of municipalities. Under the old formula, cities and towns received one full point of the province’s PST revenue. Under the new formula, they will only receive three quarters of one point.

The provincial government rationalized the change saying their recent expansion of what the PST applies to means they’re collecting a lot more sales tax from Saskatchewan residents. To keep the old formula, provincial municipalities would get a windfall this year.

And you can’t have that, city folk. Windfalls are for provinces. Not city folk.

Capital Pointe, Kthxbye

Let’s end off on everybody’s favourite local news story: Capital Pointe. Apparently, the owners, Westgate and their backers at Fortress Developments, can’t even be bothered to show up to defend their project any more.

Last year, Westgate & co. were eagerly defending their tower-that-isn’t as the fate of Capital Pointe ping-ponged back and forth between the city, the provincial appeal board and court.

First the city, arguing the site was becoming unsafe, ordered Westgate fill in the pit at Albert and Victoria. Then, Westgate appealed to the Saskatchewan Building and Accessibility Standards Appeal Board who said the pit looked safe enough to them and allowed Westgate to carry on with the project if they wanted. Next, the city appealed that Appeal Board decision to the Court Of Queen’s Bench where the judge lobbed the project back into the Appeal Board’s court.

But, at this follow-up Appeal Board hearing in January, Westgate was a no-show. And, in their decision released Feb. 5, the Board agreed it was time to put the project out of its misery.

Thanks for finally catching on.

Westgate now has until March 31 to fill the hole. However, the city can step in and do the work if Westgate fails to do the work.

In response, the people who brought you last year’s “We all stare at the Capital Pointe Hole and say ‘Wow’ like Owen Wilson” event have planned a follow-up on March 23 at noon titled: “That time when we all said ‘kthxbye’ to the Capital Pointe Hole.”

As of this writing, the Capital Pointe sales site is still active. The headline on the welcome page reads, “IT’S TIME for Capital Pointe.”

Yeah, maybe not so much.