Privatization Poker: Monday’s Medium-Stakes Fight Over Casinos Regina And Moose Jaw

Politics-casino privatization scrum_small
Photo by Darrol Hofmeister, sharpshooter photography

As reported on CBC, in the Leader-Post and CJME, and mentioned earlier on Dog Blog, a plan by the provincial government to sell Casino Regina and Casino Moose Jaw fell apart today.

Fell apart? More like fell off a motorcycle, landed on a banana peel, bounced over a hedge and face-planted in a pile of yellow snow.

It was an epic wipe-out, and it left everybody mad at everyone else.

The drama started this morning after the Opposition NDP sent out a media alert saying that the Saskatchewan Party government had negotiated a memorandum of understanding to sell the casinos to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations — and that the NDP had been in the loop on this development for a couple of weeks.

NDP leader Cam Broten said that because the M.O.U. between the government and the FSIN was only brought to the Opposition’s attention two weeks ago; and because details of the sale are not yet determined; and becauuuse the whole affair gave him an icky feeling in his tummy (that’s just a guess); the NDP would NOT give the government the pass it wanted on following privatization rules laid out by the Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act.

“We were given a very clear ultimatum,” said Broten at a 1 p.m. press scrum. “We needed to support this legislation being fast-tracked in the spring sitting in order for this M.O.U. to go ahead. And that’s a position in violation of the Crown Ownership Act, which has been supported by Mr. Wall — when he voted for it, and in two elections.”

“Selling Crowns is an important matter, because the benefits are for everyone in the province,” added Broten. “And to fast-track, to be pressured to urgently pass legislation in violation of the Crown Ownership Act — that game is not on. I will not agree to do that.”

In a second scrum just over an hour later, Premier Brad Wall painted a different picture of the NDP’s role in l’affair casino incroyable.

“I’ve listened to Mr. Broten’s scrum; it is full of things that frankly aren’t true,” said the premier. “And you don’t have to take my word for it, because Chief [Perry] Bellegarde was dealing with him and his party as well.”

Well, nyah nyah nyah!

All righty then. We have one political party feeling pressured, uneasy and suspicious, and another feeling rejected and exasperated. It’s a lot of resentment for a Monday.

Is there any way to bridge this gap? Because to me, selling the casinos to FSIN doesn’t sound like an inherently terrible idea. They’re not SaskTel, after all.

“I hoped that Mr. Broten would see the merits of it,” said Wall. “I heard his scrum… I also heard him say he’s open to it, but it’s rushed, and it’s this, and he needs a chance to [have his questions answered].

“Why wouldn’t he pick up the phone on Sunday and call me?” said Wall, a slight quaver in his voice.

“Mr. Wall voted in support of the Crown Ownership Act, saying that he supported this process that Saskatchewan people would be a part of, if, in fact, government decided to sell a Crown,” said Broten. “He agreed with that when the legislation was in the house, and then he ran on it in two elections, very clearly. So in no way — in no way — am I going to provide a carte blanche for this government to do whatever it wants in this spring sitting.”

“I don’t know what else I can do,” said Wall. “As far as I’m concerned we’re going to have to move on, and we’re prepared to do that.”

As for FSIN Chief Bellegarde? “I’m extremely disappointed and disheartened by the way the leader of the NDP  has approached this. There was no secret back-door deal. Everything was transparent and open.”

Yeah, except to an entire public that first heard about this idea today, and will now have to try and figure out for themselves if the complicated and risk-fraught sale of two publicly owned casinos would’ve been a good idea.

Hopefully they’ll have a bottle of aspirin handy.

Author: Stephen Whitworth

Prairie Dog editor Stephen Whitworth was carried to Regina in a swarm of bees. He's been with Prairie Dog since May 1999 and will die at his keyboard before admitting his career a terrible, terrible mistake.

5 thoughts on “Privatization Poker: Monday’s Medium-Stakes Fight Over Casinos Regina And Moose Jaw”

  1. Seems like too big a venture for the FSIN to handle all by themselves, w/o the oversight of the government.

    I love when politicians start to pretend they’re hurt, like “why can’t everything just be handled over the phone?” Wall would love that, no public debate, just daddy telling son why he’s having to put the family dog down today.

    Good job daddy Wall.

  2. I agree with Talbot’s first thought. SIGA doesn’t have an unblotted copybook, and then there’s First Nations University; enough said.

    Stefani Langenegger had a pretty good analysis of the situation on CBC Radio yesterday after 4 p.m., and oddly enough, it coincided with what I’d been thinking. The NDP campaigned on revenue sharing; this was an opportunity to walk the walk; the circumstances caught the NDP between a rock and a hard place; the NDP now looks wrongfooted and less credible on the revenue-sharing file. Political gamesmanship.

  3. I’m not sure this has a lot to do with whether the FSIN or SIGA are capable of running 2 more casinos, although it’s fair for some people to have questions about that aspect. I think this latest government scandal has more to do with the unusual and dangerous process the government seems to have used in its attempt to sell the casinos, an important public asset that provides revenue to the province on an ongoing basis. Maybe selling the casinos is a test case, and something of a slippery slope. Many people suspect the Sask Party will one day sell off one or more of the major Crowns. After all, we’ve witnessed the sell-off of bits and pieces of some of the Crowns already — mostly quietly and unknown to the general public. Some would argue it’s only a matter of time before a major Crown is sold.

    The NDP did get caught between a rock and a hard place with this casino sale. Trust the Sask Party and support this secret deal without having any meaningful information, hoping it MIGHT benefit the First Nations communities in Saskatchewan. Or, do the right thing by exposing the Sask Party government for breaking its election promise (to not sell the Crowns unless they followed the legislation in place to protect the Crowns) and for trying to make a special deal by using pure political gamesmanship to do it. And, the NDP chose to DO THE RIGHT THING. Good on them! It’s actually refreshing to see a political party do the right thing rather than the politically expedient thing.

    I read online and newspaper coverage and watched most of the TV coverage on this story over the last 24 hours. Chief Perry Bellegarde looked like a desperate man who is leading an organization that has lost the vast majority of its funding and is struggling to stay alive. Of course, he was going to be upset when a potential source of revenue is pulled out from under him. I must say Brad Wall looked VERY uncomfortable and had few concrete, rational answers for why he had pressured the NDP to get on board with his ridiculous scheme. Nor could he properly explain why he didn’t just forge ahead with this sale if he thinks it’s such a good deal. He has 49 MLAs to the 9 MLAs in the NDP. He can pass any legislation he wants. Goodness knows he did that with the ridiculous and damaging labour legislation the Sask Party rammed through the legislature. The government doesn’t seek or want the NDP’s support when they deal with anything else. So, I think they were looking for political cover on this one. They wanted to hide behind the NDP. And, maybe they thought the NDP would fall for it. After all, it’s the NDP that has traditionally been an ally of the FSIN. For Brad Wall to suddenly try to appear the saviour of the FSIN is ludicrous. This is the man who was behind some of the most racist and divisive TV ads this province has ever seen. If my memory serves me right, I’m sure these ads were running day and night at half hour intervals not more than a year ago. A leopard does not change its spots that easily.

    I wonder how sincere Wall has been in his discussions with the FSIN. If he truly wanted to sell the Casinos to FSIN, he would forge ahead and do what his government can easily do with its vast majority of MLAs.

    Good for the NDP for NOT falling into a political trap. It appears the NDP did what it was supposed to do — stand up for every taxpayer of Saskatchewan and ensure the actions of government are scrutinized in a public and transparent manner. Why isn’t the government willing to allow that kind of scrutiny if they think this deal is so important?

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