Three Saskatchewan political parties that aren’t represented in the Legislative Assembly want answers from the provincial government about a discontinued public-private partnership.
The Progressive Conservative Party is teaming up with the Green Party of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Progress Party (formerly the Liberal Party of Saskatchewan) in calling for the provincial auditor to review the now-defunct Communities of Tomorrow (CT).
“We may be competitors on some aspects, but at the same time, when it comes to what’s best for the province, this is something we can all agree on and this is in the spirit of co-operation,” said Rose Buscholl, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.
CT launched in 2003 and ran until 2013.
CT’s mandate was to position Saskatchewan as a global leader in the field of municipal infrastructure innovation by creating the country’s first innovative hub, according to its website.
At a media event on Monday, the parties asked for greater clarity around CT, which was to receive an investment of at least $30 million along with the National Research Council of Canada’s (NRC) former centre at the University of Regina.
Buscholl said the details in the original 2003 news release announcing the investment were vague but went on to explain that the NRC produced 10 studies about asbestos cement water pipes.
Green Party Leader Naomi Hunter said CT had been described as a think-tank or a non-profit at various times.
“Five million dollars of provincial money was originally invested in this and then the federal government put in $30 million as well. There was another $2 million in seed money,” Hunter said.
Hunter said the parties sent a formal request to provincial auditor Tara Clemett earlier Monday but were waiting to hear back.
She also said the three parties wanted to know just how much public money was used by the partnership as well as if the provincial government ever acted on information from CT’s studies regarding asbestos pipes — which said required “urgent” and “immediate” steps.
“Our big question for the auditor is what happened to $34 million that was supposed to be invested?” said Michael Medby of the Saskatchewan Progress Party.
“Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The government was going to invest some and then a hub would pop up to make us the centre of infrastructure renewal in the world. Obviously that has not happened and we want to know where the money went.”
In the group’s request for an audit, they also said they were seeking to learn the following:
- How much of the $34 million given to CT was spent investigating asbestos cement water pipes?
- Why was Regina selected as a “living laboratory” for asbestos cement water pipes? Does it have anything to do with the fact that the city is home to 600 kilometres of old asbestos cement water pipes?
- Who sits on the Communities of Tomorrow Advisory Committee?
The group is also requesting a comprehensive list of CT’s leadership.
The research centre had a short-lived partnership with the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) in 2013. It lasted just five months before its closure in June of that year.
“Given the time that has passed since this program ended and the number of organizations involved, we have limited information immediately available and would need time to review,” the provincial government said in an email to 980 CJME.
“Should the auditor choose to review this file, we would comply fully with that work.”