June 26, 2018
Letter to the Editor
All Fort Qu’Appelle area residents recently received an anonymous mailout telling them to vote against condo residents regaining public access to their property. This access was lost when the previous council “sold” land to Abaco without creating access easements, including to Town drainage. Those who plan to vote on the upcoming referendum will want to know why this mailout is unidentified. Anonymous sources are typically unreliable and can serve hidden vested or special interests.
The mailout is headed “The Town of Fort Qu’Appelle”, which could leave the false impression that it is official. It is filled with erroneous information. It claims Abaco’s marina project would be done “in an environmentally conscious way”, yet the land given to Abaco, all of Y and most of Q, is floodway marshland that is not to be commercially developed. Even the province withdrew its offer to sell Abaco lakeshore Crown land (Parcels W and Z) because it was floodway. It was the previous Town council that erred in giving this floodway land to Abaco for an ill-conceived marina project. The anonymous mailout also engages in personal attacks. Larry Schultz, rather than the previous council, is blamed for the controversy over regaining public access. At the June 21st public forum at the Legion we had the Town’s own records that show that Schultz originally proposed a six-unit condo complex with access off of Q. We had the minutes showing that the Town had stated that Q should never be sold because it was needed for drainage and emergency access to Echo Lodge. And we had the letter showing that Schultz was not informed by the Town, until August 11, 2014, that Q had in fact been completely privatized. This was long after his six-unit condo plan was submitted and 11 months after the land was privatized. Most of us didn’t find out what had been done until 2016, when Abaco placed the cement barriers blocking residents from their condos. Why so much secrecy about these land giveaways? Maybe the instigators knew what a mess they had created.
Where were the Abaco proponents, when the relevant facts were being publicly considered, so people could make up their own minds? No show at the June 21st public forum, of course. They would rather make their personal attacks from the shadows.
The mailout gets silly, saying that the QVEA was “formed in 2016 for private interests”. It even attacks me, implying that I am “looking to enrich Larry Schultz.” This is more than silly; it is stupid. Schultz wasn’t at any founding meetings of the QVEA. The QVEA got involved in the controversy over the land giveaways to Abaco because we are committed to protecting the marsh and creating a Marsh Interpretive Centre. This is why we exposed the toxic dumping in the old lagoon, which led the Minister of Environment to order the Town to remove 42 truckloads of contaminated soil from the marsh area. Another unnecessary expense for the ratepayers. If we don’t protect the marshes along the valley we won’t ever see lake water quality return. Plain and simple!
We are primarily concerned that the previous council sold off all public access to the marshland. They privatized Block V, with the road between the old Indian Hospital and the Nursing Home, where Blue Bill Bay Estates exist, which goes into the marsh area. They privatized all of Q, which is mostly flood plain, in spite of the council and Town engineer saying it should never be sold. They privatized all of Y, which has the Trans-Canada Trail into the marsh. And yes, in the process, the previous Town council took away legal public access to several condo owners. Shame on them, period. Over 600 residents saw the grave injustice when they signed the petition to create legal public access. The existing Town council has only acted on one item, negotiating access to its drainage. And it cost almost nothing. So why are Town officials, like the anonymous senders of the mailout, opposing condo owners getting legal public access to their property? Why are they, too, distorting what happened and trying to scapegoat Schultz? Why haven’t Town officials dissociated themselves from the anonymous mailout? Why indeed!
The Town should be a neutral and fair broker in this matter. But the Town’s mailout, like the anonymous one, tells you to vote against legal public access for these residents. Even the new administrator has taken this position, which suggests that Larry Davidson can’t be a neutral Returning Officer for the upcoming referendum.
Town officials want a “no” vote so they have an excuse to leave these roadways and trails into the marshland totally privatized under Abaco’s control. But even a hundred residents voting “no” won’t come close to the 600 plus that have already called for a just settlement to this political mess. The mess was created by the Town, when it gave away this marsh land to Abaco. The Town must now resolve the matter in a fair and just manner.
It is also time that those defending the Abaco deal and the privatization of all access into the marsh area came out of the shadows so their erroneous information and personal attacks can be exposed. I would welcome an independently moderated public forum and debate on all these matters.
Cheers, Jim Harding
May 23, 2018
Mayor and Council
Town of Fort Qu’Appelle
Dear Mayor Whiting and all Councillors:
Thank you for your March 28, 2018 letter. We wholeheartedly agree with your last statement that we all need to “seek to improve our community in a manner that is mindful of the environment.” That is the overriding objective of the QVEA. We are also encouraged that you state, in reference to our previous correspondence (and booklet “Serious Environmental and Governance Issues Facing Fort Qu’Appelle”) that “the specific items numbered 1, 2 & 3 are being addressed.” These items refer to: #1) declaring floodway areas in Town as environmental reserves, #2) lack of approval to dump beyond the old lagoon area and #3) continued dumping of toxic material in that flood plain area.
Let us start with #3.
When you sent your letter, the Town would have received the March 21st EPO from the MOE. QVEA members have been monitoring and complaining about this dumping since 2016, including with the previous mayor and council. And thanks to the FOI we have now seen the correspondence between the Town and MOE going back to 2015, after the Town approved Apex disposing of rubble from the old Indian Hospital in this marsh and flood plain area. (We remain concerned that we did not receive this information when we made our Access to Information request to the Town on August 31, 2017.) We now know that Town officials, including CAO Gail Sloan, had received warnings about this toxic dumping over the past three years, even before the QVEA officially complained in June 2016. And for the record, we remain concerned that MNP did not include these important facts in its audit, for this would certainly contradict its conclusion that the Town had environmental approval for all its actions, which was not the case. FYI we documented MNP’s major errors of omission in the May 11, 2018 Fort Times.
It is regrettable that Town officials, including during your term, did not respond positively to these concerns, and that it took an EPO to get action to clean this up. We hear it took 42 truckloads: is that a correct figure. And what will be the total costs? Can you please let us know? In our view these were unnecessary costs to the Town, had the Town acted proactively to protect the watershed.
We hope that we can all now turn a corner to be more “mindful of the environment”, as you say. This leads us to item #1, regarding floodways being protected as environmental reserves.
Parcel Y and most of Q are floodways. Y has the TCT on it and is declared a “greenspace” in the Town’s OCP. Neither floodway area can be developed so it remains disconcerting that the previous council gave this land away to Abaco for a marina. (It is clear in the Purchase Agreement with Abaco, to include Q with V for a $1.00, or the letter to purchase Y for a $1.00 that this land was “for a marina.”)
What is your council going to do to resolve this matter? We trust that you and the council are not pursuing the inappropriately-sited marina in this vulnerable area, and that you are going to act positively to protect all the vulnerable marshland along the shoreline of Echo Lake. There is no point waiting until the 2020 deadline for a Service Agreement on Y since Y cannot be developed if we are going to be mindful about the environment. And we also trust that you are not trying to purchase the adjoining WSA Crown land as a means for Abaco to end-run provincial regulations that led the WSA to withdraw Parcel W and Z from the market.
It would certainly help if the Town council made some clear statements about your intentions, and that you want to start to protect the lakes and watershed from further land-use degradation such as the toxic dumping by the old lagoon and inappropriately selling floodway land for a marina. Declaring Y and part of Q as environmental reserves will make your intentions clear. We would like to know what your plan is in this regard. Marsh Interpretive Centre: We are primarily writing to propose that we work together, in the spirit of your March 28th letter, to start to lay the groundwork for a Marsh Interpretive Centre, with a walkway and observation decks into the marsh. (A motion for the new QVEA board to pursue this initiative was moved unanimously at our April 7th AGM.) This would be a great fit with a housing development, perhaps ultimately even in Parcel V, that would be a real draw of new residents to the Town. Environmental education, partnering with Bert Fox; eco-tourism and recreational walkways for retired and other residents, would all complement each other. This would be a clear signal that the Town is going to “improve our community in a manner that is mindful of the environment.” As you will know, the most recent WSA State of the Watersheds report found the Qu’Appelle Watershed to be the “most stressed” in the whole province. With the gathering extreme weather that comes with the climate crisis we need to quickly alter practices that undercut the health and integrity of this vulnerable watershed. It is time that we all worked together to do things differently, including land use planning, to show that we want to restore and protect this watershed.
As part of your offer to work together towards this end, we would like to know whether the Town is willing to strike a Sub-Committee to work with us, and hopefully Trans-Canada Trail (TCT), Wildlife Federation, First Nations and marsh land private owners, to start to do the groundwork for such an important collaborative project. We know that there are granting bodies for serious marsh restoration projects. Such a project would be a good signal to the residents and to prospective residents that we are starting to do things differently here. Positive outcomes will follow.
We are willing to meet with you and the council, including at a Town council meeting, to pursue these discussions.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Lorna Evans, Randy Lebell, Jim Harding and Greg Van Luven - QVEA Directors
Nov. 7, 2017
Hon. Dustin Duncan,
Minister of Environment,
Province of Saskatchewan
Dear Minister Duncan:
Our organization, the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA), is committed to protect and restore the Qu’Appelle Watershed. We have established a network of hundreds of concerned people throughout the watershed. Lately we have received calls from farmers in the RM of Touchwood who are deeply concerned about the impact of the proliferation of open-pit gravel mining on the landscape, habitat and water in the area. Our group has travelled to the area, northeast of Southey, upstream in our watershed, and directly witnessed what is happening. We are now also deeply concerned.
We have contacted various officials in your government and it is becoming apparent that there is presently no regulation or political will to prevent this degradation of the land and the risks to the water.
Officials in Agriculture have informed us that they only regulate gravel pits on Crown land. And, if the escalating sale of Crown land by the Sask Party government is not curtailed, this ability to regulate and protect land and water will continue to decline.
Officials in Environment and the WSA have informed us that they can only regulate gravel pit extraction if it directly affects a watercourse (including shoreline) or, if any displaced water flows on to other people’s property, which would then require a drainage permit. (There apparently has been a successful prosecution where a gravel pit was located on the East Arm of Loon Creek, which flows into our watershed.)
We have also been informed that unless an RM has a land use policy to the contrary, private agricultural land owners can do pretty much whatever they want with open-pit gravel extraction, including no land remediation and no water quality or habitat protection, whatsoever.
One complaint that our organization received was that open-pit gravel extraction, including pumping off surface water, was occurring just across the road from the RM drinking water well. This is a shallow well in an area with a very high water table. Also, a huge tank, with toxic fuel for the heavy equipment being used, was within a stone’s throw. Also, all the heavy equipment is itself a source of contamination. We have seen, confirmed and photographed all this.
Another complaint was that the Reeve was himself extracting gravel from his farm land, which could suggest a conflict of interest. It would obviously not be in the interest of this Reeve, who is selling gravel off his land, to have the RM, which he heads, pass any land use policy that would protect the landscape and require remediation. He, like other land owners, can get a higher price for gravel if the contractor does not have to do any land remediation as part of the agreement.
We personally witnessed six areas where open-pit gravel extraction is creating huge piles of waste soil, reject gravel and till, often surrounded by now murky water. This can’t be good for the habitat or the wildlife. We have been told that there are as many as 14 such sites in this RM alone, some from earlier gravel extraction, including by the RM or the Department of Highways. This “out of sight, out of mind” approach fails the environment. The inability and/or unwillingness of those in the existing regulatory system to protect the landscape and wetlands from the impacts of such widespread open-pit gravel mining on private land raises serious environmental questions.
1) The Reeve may not technically be in a conflict of interest. But he is not obliged to ensure that the RM has a land-use policy that will protect the land and water. And it is clear that having an RM land use policy, which is discretionary, as the only way to ensure protection of landscape and water on private land, is not an effective way to protect the environment for future generations. Sustainability is about inter-generational justice. There will be new owners and users of this land in the future, and it is our generation’s responsibility to protect land and water for future generations. What is your Ministry and Government going to do about this?
2) We would also like to know whether environmental and watershed impacts were ever a consideration of your Government, when it planned the construction of the Regina Bypass, which, apparently is where most if not all of this gravel is going? Did you ever consider doing an Environmental Assessment which took into consideration the impacts of such mammoth gravel extraction and transport, far and wide, on southern SK’s, rural landscape, wetlands and water quality?
We will all have to alter our practices if we are to turn the corner in terms of protecting our vulnerable watersheds, wetlands and landscape. We would like to hear whether your Ministry and Government plans to become proactive about these matters.
Jim Harding, Randy Lebell and Lorna Evans - QVEA Directors
c.c. President of WSA, Minister of Agriculture, NDP Environmental Critic
PHOTO: Qu'Appelle River near Craven, SK
Report to Network, May 2016
The Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) met May 11, 2016 for its monthly public meeting. People came from Pasqua and Muskowekwan First Nations, Indian Head, Fort Qu’Appelle, Fort San and the RM of North Qu’Appelle. One of QVEA’s major objectives is to build networks throughout the Qu’Appelle Valley so several people attended the May 11th meeting of the Havelock group in Earl Grey. The Havelock Special Projects Committee (HSPC) was formed by local residents concerned about the impact of the Yancoal project.
PHOTO: Red-Winged Blackbird, Echo Lake
After going through several months of research, discussion and input, QVEA’s marsh protection policy was adopted. The QVEA takes strong exception to the province’s refusal to take seriously its responsibilities for marsh protection. The province is presently off-loading marsh protection to the municipalities, such as the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle. We know that rural municipalities typically don’t make environmental protection their priority and prefer to make incremental changes to expand local development without taking into consideration the cumulative damages on riparian areas and hillsides in the valley. There is therefore a need for provincial oversight, something like the Qu’Appelle Valley Implementation Board from the 1970s.
The QVEA policy calling for proactive marsh protection in the valley will be sent to the Water Security Agency and included in planned correspondence to all levels of government. The full policy will also be sent out to the QVEA network and local media.
Most of the May 11th meeting was concerned with the proposed Yancoal solution mine near Southey. A Water Protection Working Group has been collecting and updating information on this project and a draft policy was brought to the meeting for discussion. It was approved in principle and will be the basis of a QVEA initiative to bring this matter to the attention of all provincial parties.
A Regina press conference is being planned for early June to which leaders of all opposition parties – the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Progressive Conservatives, will be invited. The QVEA is not looking for the opposition parties to endorse all of its policies but it does think that the matter of Saskatchewan’s future water security and protection of the Qu’Appelle Valley is bigger than political parties. The QVEA wants all the opposition parties to show that they care about what is happening and to join the QVEA and other groups like the Havelock group to help bring this vital conversation to a province-wide level.
Concern was expressed about the government’s fast-tracking the approval process, having added only 15 days to a total of 45 days for public input, when the government had Yancoal material for up two years. There was great concern expressed that the province was seriously considering piping water, equivalent to 50% of the amount used by Regina, all the way from Buffalo Pound to the Yancoal mine, especially when the water supply to Buffalo Pound is from Lake Diefenbaker which will become more insecure with climate change. It is unacceptable that all this precious surface water will be taken out of the natural system.
There were many questions about the long-term impact of injecting solution mine waste water under the Hatfield Aquifer, especially since we are seeing catastrophic effects elsewhere from fracking and wastewater injection. There was also great concern that this Chinese state corporation would operate outside the commercial market and the marketing firm Canpotex and could undermine the province’s revenue-sharing system. And a lot of concern was expressed about the long-term effects downstream on the Qu’Appelle Valley. Not only would Yancoal’s project divert massive amounts of surface water which would then never flow through the Calling Lakes, but these Calling Lakes are also downstream from the inevitable Yancoal impacts from such things as salt drifting on the land, air and waterways.
QVEA’s policy on the Yancoal project includes five points which will be forwarded to the province:
1. Yancoal’s Southey Project should immediately be taken off the fast-track to allow public due diligence to prevail;
2. Until a credible sustainable water strategy which takes climate change into account is developed there should be a moratorium on all mega-water industrial projects;
3. As a minimum a panel of fully independent hydrologists should be formed to report on all the pertinent research about underground waste water injection before any serious consideration is given to approving this or other similar projects;
4. There must be full public disclosure of all agreements and obligations made by the Saskatchewan government regarding Yancoal or regarding the Chinese-Canada FIPA trade agreement which have any bearing on the long-term public interest in resource royalties and revenues;
5. Before this project goes any further there must be a full, informed public discussion of the implications of the Yancoal project for the quantity and quality of water passing through the Qu’Appelle Watershed.
It was decided that the QVEA would rent space to do information-sharing at the Farmers Market throughout the summer. Immediately a member stepped forward and offered a large donation to pay for all these costs. Watch for the QVEA table and feel free to come over and discuss your concerns about what’s happening to the Qu’Appelle Valley. Updated literature on marsh and water protection will be available.
Special Report to the Fort Times
The Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) has had a busy summer. We had to work hard to meet the government’s tight timeline to comment on the EIS for Yancoal’s potash solution mine. Our June 6th Regina press conference was a great success, drawing out all of the media. We raised the vital issues about water diversion, risks to the Hatfield aquifer, land pollution, potash royalties and downstream impacts on the Qu’Appelle Valley.
There was no response to us or other concerned groups prior to the government rubber-stamping the Yancoal project in early August. The province’s environmental assessment process is clearly broken and the QVEA will continue to work with opposition parties and grass-roots groups to get this changed.
The QVEA has been running an Information Table at the Farmers’ Market all summer. We have distributed hundreds of leaflets on our Mission, our work to protect the local marshes and on the Yancoal project. The Saturday after the Husky oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River we distributed 125 copies of our statement on the spill. We now know from Auditor’s reports (2012, 2014) that this was a preventable event and that the province must be held accountable to enforce pipeline safety regulations.
We have been collecting names of people throughout the Valley who want to be informed of our activities and our steadily growing contact list is now over 100 people. We continue with our monthly meetings (second Wednesday of the month), drawing an average of 15 people for educational discussions and planning further activities.
At the June meeting we decided to support Pasqua First Nation in their court case with the federal and provincial governments for not adequately consulting when they sold part of the Fort Qu’Appelle marsh to the US energy company Abaco. The QVEA was misinformed by the Water Security Agency (WSA) that this had been done.
At our July meeting the QVEA reported on its research on the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle dumping toxic asphalt in the marsh area by the old lagoon. The QVEA will continue to work for effective enforcement of provincial environmental and waste management legislation on all local governments in the Valley.
QVEA News for Our Contact Network
The QVEA decided to host an election forum prior to the October 26th municipal elections so that the serious environmental and other issues facing valley residents can be candidly discussed with candidates for mayor, reeve and councils. The QVEA hosted a similar forum prior to the provincial election which packed the local Legion Hall. The municipal election forum will be held at the Fort Qu’Appelle Legion Hall on Friday October 21st starting at 7 pm.
A range of questions will be provided to all candidates well in advance of the public forum. Questions will include: How to start to clean up the lakes? How to strengthen a local economy that builds on the historical, environmental and recreational significance of the Qu’Appelle Valley? Whether amalgamation would provide better governance and valley protection? How indigenous and settler communities could better work together to protect the valley? How to get local governments to protect hillsides, marshes and river banks? All members of the voting public are invited to bring their concerns about what is happening to the valley to the October 21st election forum.
On September 19th Lorna Evans and Randy Lebell presented at the Open Mike session and Jim Harding appeared as a Witness. The QVEA Brief “Environmental Protection and Electoral Reform” was discussed and amended at its September 14th monthly meeting before being taken to the Standing Committee. It calls for a system of Proportional Representation (PR) so that we no longer get majority-power governments with only minority support. The QVEA reminded the panel of MPs that the Omnibus Bill that deregulated the Qu’Appelle Watershed was passed by the Harper government which was elected in 2011 with only 24% of support among eligible voters. The QVEA Brief argued that the freedom of expression and equality principle in the Canadian Charter requires electoral reform so that every vote counts. Canadians should be able to vote on the basis of conscience; having to vote strategically undermines the principle of fair representation in our democracy.
The QVEA Brief argued that electoral reform was needed so that vital inter-provincial environmental challenges such as watershed protection got better attention. Our existing system not only polarizes regions but it undermines the cooperative federalism required to tackle long-term problems like climate change. It turns local representation into appeasing the special interest power base of MPs who are usually elected with less than majority support.
The QVEA presentations will be viewable on CPAC. It will also be sent out to our contact network.
PHOTO: Echo Lake
Special Report to the Fort Times
The QVEA formed in February 2016. In our first ten months, we held two well-attended election forums. We raised provincial awareness about the threats to our watershed from several upstream potash solution mines. These would permanently take billions of cubic metres of water out of the natural flow.
We distributed hundreds of leaflets on marsh and water protection at the local Farmers’ Market. We had hundreds of valuable conversations. We are in our third printing of the local Kairos-created “We Are All Waterkeepers”, which has sold 300 copies across the watershed. Our contact list continues to grow with each event; we now have 170 people who want to be kept informed.
In the Blofield Conservation and Development (C & D) District, 90% of all marshes under 10 acres can be drained in a 22,000 Acre area. The sediment and toxins will flow into the marsh area adjacent to Buffalo Pound lake, the source of drinking water for one-quarter of the Saskatchewan population and upstream from the Qu’Appelle Valley watershed.
We were invited to visit farmers in the Kipling area who are appealing the C & D District’s environmentally-destructive drainage practices. The C & D District levies costs to local farmers even if they don’t get any agricultural benefits.
The QVEA will continue to build networks with those working for marsh and water protection throughout our waterways.
The QVEA is working on a detailed political and legal chronology of the decisions which threaten our marshes. It will be released as a Public Interest Working Paper in 2017. A public forum on these vital matters will be organized in the New Year. If we want to restore clean lake water, we simply must protect the marshes.
At its December 2016 meeting the QVEA created a new Working Group to build relations with the Treaty Alliance which opposes Enbridge’s Line-3 pipeline. This pipeline will go right across southern Saskatchewan and will affect the Qu’Appelle Watershed. We plan to make links with First Nations in Minnesota, where Line-3 involves a completely new route through traditional territory, and in Manitoba where First Nations are opposing Line-3 in the Federal Court.
The QVEA is finalizing its statement on the failure of the Wall government to be proactive about the necessary shift away from the fossil-fuel and carbon economy. Wall’s grandstanding over carbon pricing will not distract growing public awareness about the need for enlightened energy and agricultural policies to protect water and the environment.
Our application for non-profit status will be approved in the New Year. We will be holding our founding AGM in 2018.
Everyone is invited to our monthly meetings, the second Wednesday of each month, alternating at 7 and 3 pm. The watershed needs your help. Happy New Year to everyone.
Lorna, Randy, Jim and Mike - QVEA Organizing Team
Photo: The Western Producer - Flooded farm in Quill Lakes area
Special Report, March 14, 2017
At its March 8th monthly meeting the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) discussed preventing the high-salt Quill Lakes’ water from threatening fish habitats in the Qu’Appelle Watershed. Members debated whether to support the province’s Bill 44 on regulating illegal drainage and heard a report from its Working Group on the Line 3 pipeline. The Line 3 Pipeline would bring nearly one million barrels of toxic tar sands oil per day through the Qu’Appelle Watershed.
The meeting was attended by eighteen people from Indian Head, Regina, Qu’Appelle, the RM, Pasqua First Nations, Fort San and Fort Qu’Appelle. Kerry Holderness, of the Quill Lakes Watershed Association and several Indigenous women, including Sue Deranger from the Mother Earth Justice Advocates in Regina, were special guests.
After lengthy discussion, a motion was passed on the Quill Lakes. It reads: “The QVEA supports a diversion of fresh water from entering the Quill Lakes (QL) because this can help reduce the chances of the more saline QL water overflowing into the Qu’Appelle Watershed (QW). The QVEA supports holding as much of this diverted water on the land to allow for evaporation, rather than directly diverting it into the QW. The diverted water will still have nutrients and agricultural toxins which will further degrade the QW. The QVEA does not support the injection of QL saline water into aquifers because aquifers must be protected and not become a repository for waste water.”
Another motion passed on provincial drainage reads: “The QVEA supports the provincial plan to require permits for any and all drainage because there has to be an accurate record of drainage for effective regulation and protection of the QW. The QVEA supports the increase in penalties for illegal drainage as there should be major consequences for actions that degrade waterways and the QW. The QVEA does not support the reliance on local ‘petitioners’ to initiate an investigation of drainage and possible enforcement because this will continue to make drainage regulation a matter of local politics. It would pit neighbor against neighbor. The QVEA does not support the province off-loading drainage regulation enforcement to RMs or the delegating of drainage planning to Conservation & Development (C&D) Districts because local conflicts of interest will continue to undermine the integrity and effectiveness of drainage regulation.”
The QVEA also supported exploring a Qu’Appelle Watershed Protection Buffer Zone along the sides of the Qu’Appelle Valley and to further investigate compensation for farmers who are protecting ecologically-valuable marshes or losing arable land for flood management. Thirty-three thousand (33,000) acres have been lost to flooding in the Quill Lakes area and this could expand to 87,000 acres if a flood management plan, including an organized drainage plan and wetland protection plan, is not soon forthcoming.
The QVEA endorsed the Treaty Alliance Against the Tar sands which already has 120 First Nations, including two from Saskatchewan, onside. The meeting approved a public information leaflet on the Line 3 Pipeline. It highlights the lack of transparency, noting that Line 3 will pump more toxic diluted bitumen than even the more high-profile Keystone Pipeline. The plan is to tunnel the new Line 3 pipeline under the Qu’Appelle River near Bethune.
The QVEA will encourage public information leafleting on April 22nd, Earth Day, at Saskatchewan banks that are funding Line 3. This will take place locally at the Fort Qu’Appelle CIBC bank, a financial backer of Line 3. The QVEA is encouraging Canadian banks to divest from fossil fuels and help make the shift to a low-carbon economy. At present Saskatchewan has the highest per capita carbon footprint in all of Canada, higher than even Alberta and one of the highest globally.
QVEA’s Line 3 Working Group is made up of Dan Bellegarde, Mike Bray, Lorna Evans, Jim Harding, Randy Lebell and Florence Pearpoint. They will soon announce a press conference on the threats that Line 3 presents to our watershed. Weekly newspapers within the Qu’Appelle Watershed will all be invited.
QVEA’s next monthly meeting will be on April 12th at 2 pm at the Qu’Appelle Valley Centre for the Arts. Everyone is invited to bring their environmental concerns about what is happening to the Qu’Appelle Valley. At that meeting we will hear a report on local land sales and marsh and riverbank protection. A tour of Environmental Hot Spots in Fort Qu’Appelle is being planned for May.
Special Report to the Fort Times June 14, 2017
Fourteen people attended the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) monthly meeting held June 14th. People came from Fort Qu’Appelle, Regina, Lipton, Fort San and the RM.
The main topic was the QVEA Public Interest Working Paper that was initiated after the municipal election. At the Nov. 9, 2016 meeting, it was agreed to start research on the Town’s land sales to Abaco, and to explore possible conflicts of interest, the duty to consult and the implications of the proposed marina for the local environment. Also, we agreed to look at “rights of access” when, on Nov. 3rd, Abaco and Apex officials blocked Willow Court residents from accessing their homes.
QVEA’s Working Paper outlines how all these land sales to Abaco were done without any public consultation. The WSA sold crown land to Abaco before it even informed Pasqua First Nations, which is a requirement under the Duty to Consult. It even misinformed the QVEA about this. The province also off-loaded its responsibility for the environmental assessment of the impacts of Abaco’s marina proposal. This responsibility was going to the Town, even though Fort Qu’Appelle had already sold and rezoned this land for a marina.
At its June 14th meeting the QVEA gave an update on its Power Point Project, which will show the extent of environmental neglect in Fort Qu’Appelle. It also announced that it was now a Non-Profit organization and that it would soon start a membership and fund-raising drive throughout the Valley.
The QVEA has enough factual information to issue its first leaflet on these matters, which will be available at its information table at the Farmers’ Market on June 24th. The QVEA will also be helping the Concerned Citizens group to collect signatures to its Petition.
PHOTO: Echo Lake
Submission by the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) to the Fort Qu’Appelle Council, December 19, 2017
On August 17, 2017 the QVEA made an official request for 33 Town documents related to land sales to Abaco Energy Services during 2013-15. We had been asking for documents since it was rumoured, in 2015, that a marina was proposed for the Blue Bill Bay Marsh area behind the old Indian Hospital site. That is when we set up our Marsh Protection Working Group, which issued its Public Interest Working Paper on August 31, 2017. This will soon be updated.
On Oct. 24, 2017 we received 136 pages of Town files. There were still many missing files, as well as a few that we were told we could not have or could pursue elsewhere. But what was provided allows us to factually piece together some hitherto unknown or confusing things. Here we deal with the dispute over these land sales not including public access easements.
Town documents confirm that on Sept. 13, 2013 the previous council decided to sell Block V, where the old Indian Hospital existed, to Abaco Energy Services of North Dakota. But they also threw in Block Q, on the east side of Blocks N and YY, where Blue Bill Bay Estates were built and other lots had been rezoned for residential use. Most startling, the previous council sold both V and Q to Abaco without creating any public or Town access easements.
Just why did they do this? The roadway on Block V was required for rear access to the fully-inhabited Blue Bill Bay Estates and Block Q had been used for decades, including by Town public works, various contractors, Echo Lodge Nursing Home, as well as for the general public’s access to the river and walking trails. It was also a historic trail for Indigenous people.They sold away access to their own drainage infrastructure, including to a culvert and drainage ditch. They privatized access to Echo Lodge’s rear entrance and also to the rear entrance to existing or planned condos. The Town documents show that the Blue Bill Bay Estates development had been approved in 2008-09, five years before Abaco was sold the adjoining land. Yet, when Block V was sold to Abaco the access rights of the Blue Bill Bay Estates residents to the rear of their property were completely ignored.
Some people, apparently now including the new Town mayor, Jerry Whiting, still try to justify the sale of all this valuable, lake-adjacent land (V and Q equal 11 acres) for $1.00. They argue that Abaco inherited the costs of demolition on Block V. However, there has been no disclosure on the actual demolition costs or the fair market value of this land. And a side-deal made by the Town with Apex, allowing Apex to dump demolition materials from the old Indian Hospital in the flood plain by the old lagoon, has to be taken into account regarding these costs. In Part 3 we’ll address what Town files reveal about these matters.
And, even if you accept this reasoning for Block V, it does not apply to Block Q, which had no demolition or other costs associated with it. Or to Block Y, that abuts the shoreline, which was hastily sold (given) to Abaco, also for $ 1.00 in August 2015. This brought the valuable land that Abaco got for $2.00 to 17 acres. And the wider public should be aware that there are no council minutes about this land sale.
Y was sold (given) to Abaco after their offer to purchase lakeshore Crown land from the WSA was challenged in court by Pasqua First Nation. This hastily-made deal, which members of the past council clearly did not fully comprehend, was to ensure that Abaco had access to the shoreline. And, as with V and Q, Block Y was also sold without any easements; there most surely should have been one to fully protect the Trans-Canada Trail. Now the local Lions Club will not rebuild its marsh observation deck along the Trail.
So, the publicly-used roadway on Block Q, and then Y, were completely privatized for business access to a hypothetical and highly-questionable marina complex in a vulnerable marsh habitat. This, even though this land had provided access to public works, the Nursing Home, land zoned for residential use and to the lake and river. There was clearly something fishy going on here, which we will discuss in more depth in Part 2 and 3.
It was not generally known that the previous Town council had even done all this. It was not discussed at QVEA’s October 21, 2016 public forum prior to the Oct. 26, 2016 municipal election. None of the candidates, including those who were on the previous council, brought up the specifics. Abaco director and councillor Brian Janz and councillor Lee Finishen did not attend and councillor Jeff Brown did not raise these details. Perhaps, with a Town election coming, they did not want the voting public to find out what they had done. But there was growing public suspicion in the air.
There has been a serious crisis in transparency and a failure of local democracy over these years, from 2013-16. And it increasingly looks like collusion and conflict of interest were at play in the decision making on the last council, which we will also look at, in more depth, at a later date. The independent audit required by the Concerned Citizens petition received by the Town in October 2017 will hopefully bring some more revelations to light.
It wasn’t until after the new mayor and council took office that what had happened became clearer. On Nov. 3, 2016, a few days after the Town election, when both Janz and Brown lost their seats, Abaco had local contractor Apex Enterprises, who had also done the demolition work for Abaco, install cement barriers to block the access to Willow Court condos, that were adjacent to Block Q. Only then did the broader public begin to understand what the previous council had done three years before.
We are only now starting to find out what happened during this dark period of local government. Town files show that during 2014, Blacktty Enterprises had initiated planning for the Willow Court condos on Lot YY, which were adjacent to Block Q. The previous Town mayor and council clearly knew that this plan was forthcoming. Town records show that on April 9, 2009, Block N, where the old Nurses Residence existed, was zoned as a Residential Subdivision. A section of N was later subdivided into YY, where Willow Court condos were to be built.
It is perhaps ironic that this motion (95-09) to approve residences on this property was moved by councillor Jeff Brown, for he later moved the motion to sell both Block V and Q to Abaco without any public easements for the previously approved residences. It is also noticeable that the Town could not find any records on the actual sale of Block N, but it is our understanding that it received $35,000 for this small area, which included the costs of dealing with the old Nurses Residence. We can legitimately contrast this sale to Blacktty, with how the Town later dealt preferentially with Abaco, which got 17 acres of prime land for $2.00. In Part 2 we will discuss the implications of the missing Town records about the sales to Abaco.
Town files show that Blacktty submitted front and rear view designs and floor plans dated June 3, 2014, followed by garage and foundation plans, dated July 30, 2014. These plans were all based on there being the public roadway, which gave the Town access to their drainage infrastructure and provided rear access to Echo Lodge.
However, Town files also show that it was not until August 7, 2014 that the Acting CAO, Kelly Schill, officially informs Blacktty that the Town had previously sold Block Q; she writes Larry Schultz of Blacktty, that the Town “no longer owns the property located next to your lot (Block YY, Plan 101994723)”. She continues, “The Town sold the property (Parcel Q, Plan 77R09773) in the fall of 2013.” She does not specifically say that the public roadway, also providing access to Town drainage and Echo Lodge, was completely privatized. Schill would know all these details, for she was the only person who signed the final Purchase and Demolition Agreement on behalf of the Town on Jan. 16, 2014. She does however, say that Blacktty can “contact Brian (a local contact for ABACO)”. Schill is referring Blacktty to Town Councillor, but also Abaco Director since 2008, Brian Janz.
This already raises serious matters of conflict of interest, which will be addressed in Part 2. For now, it is most important to note that the official communication to Blacktty Enterprises about this public roadway being privatized without any easements, came a full 11 months after the council decision to sell. We now have to ask whether some decision makers were trying to hide what they had done.
It is clear from the Town files that Blacktty, like most of the public at that time, did not know what the Town had done. The August 7, 2014 letter from the Town’s Acting CAO has a drawing attached submitted by Blacktty which shows six condo units on Parcel YY, with access from “joint use with nursing home”. It also shows the Town drainage system is in this roadway, so it is completely understandable that Blacktty would assume this is a public access.
Remember that in 2009 the Town had rezoned this whole area as residential. It had approved the construction of the Blue Bill Bay Estates, with public access to the rear using Block V. There was no reason to not assume that the public roadway on Block Q would not also be available for access.
The Acting CAO, however, informs Blacktty that access to their condos must now “be off of Broadway directly on to Parcel YY.” Schill says “the only option” may be disrupting “the trees on the rear of the lot”, and adds “should the trees be removed…you could then ask for a reduced set back from Council allowing for a larger frontage for a driveway.” It is clear from this that there was no serious consideration given, no due diligence by the Town’s previous mayor and council, or its Acting CAO or lawyer, about the implications for Town residents of the sale (give away) of Block V or Q to Abaco.
We need to be very clear what was happening at the time. Blacktty is in the middle of its planning-design process, on land previously zoned residential. There is a publicly-used roadway, in use for decades, adjacent to its property. Then, belatedly, Blacktty is informed that the public roadway has been fully privatized. It is noticeable that the Town’s Acting CAO fails to mention that this privatization of Block V and Q also detrimentally affects the Town’s own access to its drainage, and ends legal access to long-existing Echo Lodge, or to the rear entrance of the fully inhabited Blue Bill Bay Estates. The exclusion of this pertinent information enables Abaco proponents to try to confuse the public by narrowing the controversy over access to only Willow Court.
The ramifications of what the previous council did on Sept. 13, 2013 and the politics going on behind the scene at that time, are still being discovered. We still do not have full transparency. However, Town files received after QVEA’s August 17, 2017 official Access to Information request are helping fill in the gaps. As we will show in Part 2 and 3, the files that are missing may tell us even more.
After August 7, 2014, things went from bad to worse. Blacktty scrambles to alter its plan, first scaling down the six-unit plan to four, in hope that access can be provided off Broadway. This, itself, shows how the Town’s September 13, 2013 decision to privatize the publicly-used roadway, as part of selling (giving) Block Q to Abaco, had direct, negative financial implications for Blacktty.
Town files show that after receiving the August 7, 2014 letter, Blacktty submitted new construction plans and that on September 4, 2014 it applied for permits. This information was forwarded by the Acting CAO to Professional Building Inspectors (PBI) on Sept. 14, 2014. (See Permit Nos. 14-016-14-019). This created new costs for the developer. Town files also show that on Sept. 23, 2014, the PBI inspector reviewed a new four-unit plan, now showing two units off Broadway and two along the back of YY. It also shows a 11-foot driveway between unit B and Block Q. Town files also show that a Development Permit to “construct multi-unit dwelling”, which is “valid for a period of 12 months” was issued, dated July 16, 2015. This approval form permit, No 15-009, includes 8 conditions, such as # 4, that Blacktty “provide for the connection to the municipal sewer and water”, and # 8, provide “vehicle access and egress points”.
The confusion during this period and the conflict that was generated was fundamentally rooted in the Town’s lack of transparency. And the “solutions” suggested by the Acting CAO on August 7, 2014 were easier said than done. As it turned out the inspector, the Acting CAO, the Town foreman, as well as Blue Bill Bay owners and Blacktty had all failed to discover an error made about the location of the property line between N and YY. Blue Bill Bay Estates had previously installed a chain-link fence which turned out to be several feet inside YY, but no one had caught this. Utility survey pins may have inadvertently been used instead of those for the private property line.
This was discovered when the sewer and water lines were installed and the driveway poured to provide access off Broadway to YY. So, when the condos that were approved were constructed it was found that there was not room to the east of unit B for an 11-foot driveway.
A few people have erroneously tried to hang this mess on Larry Schultz, but Town files do not support this view. Even if this property line error had been discovered prior to building of the Willow Court condos, the decision made by the Town in Sept. 2013 would still have left Blue Bill Bay Estates residents, Echo Lodge Nursing Home and the Town without legal public access to their property. And there would still be a petition to the Town calling for it to create public access easements. There is now also some doubt whether the proposed 11-foot driveway would have been able to provide adequate or legal access to all vehicles that would have had to enter the property.
The vast majority of Fort Qu’Appelle residents were kept in the dark about what the previous council had done back in Sept. 2013. But Abaco director and past councillor Brian Janz, and past councillor Jeff Brown, who had moved all the motions to sell (give) this land to Abaco, clearly knew what the council had done. For, on Nov. 3, 2016, within a few days of losing their seats on the Town council, Abaco had Apex Enterprises install cement barriers to block access to all Willow Court residents. For well over a year now the barriers, blocking all vehicular access to people’s homes, have been a great burden to those living there.
And it should be clear that Abaco could have done the same thing at the back entrance to Blue Bill Bay Estates, or the back entrance of the Nursing Home, as they now own all this adjacent property. The targeting of Willow Court was clearly vindictive and personal, which has poisoned relationships within the community. Meanwhile, the new mayor and council have to date failed to take any serious or effective action to resolve the access issue.
The wider public knew that something was fundamentally wrong. And in early October 2017 a Citizens Group delivered a petition with 619 names calling for the Town to create easements on V and Q to ensure public access. It also delivered one with 743 names that requires the Town to have an independent audit done of its land sales back to 2007. Soon after, perhaps as its response to the petitions, Abaco installed a permanent chain-link fence along the property line between Q and YY.
Photo: Fort Times
Two of the four units built in Willow Court, first blocked by cement barriers and now by a metal fence, remain empty because you can’t sell condos that do not have access. This shows another financial cost resulting from the irresponsible decision made by the Town back in Sept. 2013 and the failure of the new council to quickly create an access easement.
On July 22, 2017 Willow Court owners requested that Blue Bill Bay Estates share their off-Broadway entry, which goes into their underground parking lot, to “allow temporary access” into YY. This was turned down and on September 29, 2017 Willow Court owners asked for Blue Bill Bay Estates to move its chain-link fence off of YY property to see if there was room for this access. But this would not only involve removing trees but having a SaskPower pole and SaskTel pedestal relocated, and curb cutting done, which would involve additional costs. It would not at all be fair for the burden of all the costs resulting from such irresponsible land sales, without easements, by a previous Town council, to be placed on to the Willow Court owner-residents.
Until now there has been a serious lack of transparency about this irresponsible action by the previous Town council. With our new revelations, the fair and cost-effective thing to do is create easements on V and Q that guarantee legal, public access for Echo Lodge, the Town, Willow Court and Blue Bill Bay Estates residents. Privately negotiating conditional access agreements with Abaco for Echo Lodge or the Town, but not for Willow Court, without addressing and resolving the fundamental issue, will not do.
The time for displacing responsibility and victim-blaming is over. The mayor and council were elected to serve the public interest, not to defend bad land deals, or protect a U.S.-based company that has not been acting, at all, as a good neighbour.
Politicizing and personalizing this has not helped solve the problem. This does not help the public gain the necessary understanding of what happened and why. The existing council has to take action that will start to restore public confidence in local government. It should not make a bad situation worse and waste money on a referendum. The 600 to 700 plus signatures that have called on this council to create legal public access easements and to have an independent audit of land sales, are almost double the number of votes received by the present mayor or any councillor. So, please, Fort Qu’Appelle mayor and council, get on with righting the wrongs; doing the right thing. Act now on the voters’ and residents’ petition calling for public access easements. There must be justice for residents, now.
Submitted by Jim Harding, Lorna Evans and Randy Lebell on behalf of the QVEA.
PHOTO: Tourism Saskatchewan
The Calling Lakes and the Qu’Appelle Watershed that feeds them are sick. Sewage, toxic agricultural run-off and extreme weather flooding are all contributing to the decline. Our area will not be a viable tourist or retirement destination if we don’t come to grips with this. We need an Action Plan to start to clean up the lakes.
If those of us who live here don’t initiate this process, who will? How do we expect others to care if we don’t show we care?
Regina has finally upgraded its wastewater treatment system after many decades of polluting the Lower Qu’Appelle watershed. Regina has been 20 years behind other prairie cities in modernizing its wastewater treatment system and our downstream recreational valley has paid a huge cost. We will have to watch closely to see if the upgrades put a complete end to downstream contamination. Pharmaceutics are also now entering the Lower Qu’Appelle.
We hope that this will be the beginning of a turn-around, so that our grandchildren along with the birds, fish and game get to enjoy cleaner water. But we can’t be naïve: new threats to water quality and lake health are already upon us.
1) With extreme weather flooding from climate change there will be even more pathogens and toxic run-off going into the watershed and lakes;
2) Plans are underway to divert massive amounts of upstream water for several potash solution mines and we will be downstream from toxic waste;
3) Lakefronts, riverbanks, hillsides and marshes in the Qu’Appelle Valley continue to be abused through poorly regulated or totally unregulated activities.
These present serious threats to the health of the Qu’Appelle Valley:
Flooding, run-off and poorly regulated drainage occur all along the Qu’Appelle Valley. A consortium of farmers in the Blofield Conservation and Development District now want to divert water from 22,000 acres of land directly into the marshland that abuts Buffalo Pound Lake. The WSA greatly underestimated the area to be affected and has almost no restrictions – 90% of all wetlands that are less than 10 acres can be drained without any mitigation for nutrient loading, habitat loss or impact of increased flow. This drainage will further contaminate Buffalo Pound, which can further degrade the source water. Remember that both Regina and Moose Jaw get their drinking water from Buffalo Pound. In May 2015 Regina faced a 50% decline in drinking water due to early spring algae bloom; this will increase with climate change.
Source water must be protected. Yet this increase in contamination of Buffalo Pound Lake is presently being seriously considered.
The Chinese corporation Yancoal will annually divert up to 13 million cubic metres (mcm) of water from Buffalo Pound Lake and the Upper Qu’Appelle for its Southey potash solution mine. The water consumption by just this one mine is one-half the amount Regina uses annually. This water will be permanently taken out of the watershed and the toxic wastewater will be pumped under the Hatfield Aquifer, upon which many Saskatchewan people already depend. Several potash solution mines already draw from Buffalo Pound (Mosaic), have been approved to draw from Buffalo Pound (K & S, Yancoal) or are in some planning stage to draw valuable water from Buffalo Pound (Vale, Western Potash, Karnalyte, and Encano-Muskowekwan). This will not be sustainable!
Water conservation and protection must become our new bottom line. This is especially true for our prairie region and the already highly stressed Qu’Appelle Watershed.
Marshes help filter and clean the water as it passes from one lake to another. Yet our marshes are being abused and threatened by environmentally-inappropriate projects, like the proposed marina at the mouth of the Qu’Appelle River which flows out of Echo Lake. Toxic asphalt has been dumped near the marshland by the old lagoon where the town is creating industrial lots. The riverbanks, which should be a destination for eco-tourism, are being neglected and abused. Beautiful hillsides are being cut into and even leveled without regard. It is hard to imagine a future with tourists and retirees being attracted here if this trend continues. We need to start to protect and reclaim special natural places, like the riverside area behind the Museum which leads into the marsh trail by the old hospital, and enhance the quality of life and attractiveness of the town and area.
Our future economy and the environmental health of the Qu’Appelle Valley are now intertwined. We need an Action Plan with solid local support to address and start to reverse the present counter-productive trends.
October 19, 2016
PHOTO: Tourism Saskatchewan
Municipalities, by law, are to “provide good government”. This means they are to “foster social, economic and environmental well-being”. In an era of extreme weather from climate change “environment means environment”; environmental well-being means preserving biodiversity, habitats and protecting our watersheds. Environmental well-being requires standing up for environmental health and for preserving natural beauty.
This is true even from a narrow economic perspective. With extreme weather the costs of maintaining municipal infrastructures will continue to skyrocket. Our overall quality of life suffers when the water quality and natural beauty of the Qu’Appelle Valley continue to decline. If we don’t make environmental protection a priority it’s going to be very hard to maintain or enhance social or economic well-being.
Saskatchewan has the most municipalities per population in all of Canada. We have 782 municipalities; with 13 times the population, Ontario has only 444. Though 40% of Saskatchewan’s population lives in the two large cities, we have an additional 460 urban municipalities. Two hundred of these are villages or resort villages with only a few hundred or less residents. Though in a few decades the number of farms has dropped from 100,000 to 30,000, we still have 296 rural municipalities. Something is out of whack!
Having all these municipalities makes it hard if not impossible to effectively respond to all the environmental and infrastructural challenges we face. Saskatchewan has 26,000 KM of highways. The way things have evolved, depopulating rural municipalities are always tempted to use high property assessments in new resort hamlets as a tax base to fund rural services. This encourages reactive, conflict-ridden and non-transparent local politics, when we desperately need proactive, accountable community-building policies and decision-making.
A study done for the province a decade ago concluded that we have a “fragmented and dysfunctional municipal government structure”. But the province, which controls legislation on municipalities, has not been willing to take any positive action. The main political parties see no political payoff from calling a spade a spade.
We’ve had our heads in the sand about climate change, extreme weather and Saskatchewan’s huge carbon footprint. Not only do we have the largest per capita carbon footprint in the country but one of the largest on the planet. It won’t do us any good to also keep our heads in the sand about our fragmented and dysfunctional municipal structure.
Perhaps the change must start from below, from where people can better see the need for such change, such as within the Qu’Appelle Valley.
Many areas like resort villages and hamlets might rightly be called “rurban”; they are neither rural or what we think of as urban. These areas are increasing with our growing retirement population. They are especially likely to develop in recreational and naturalist areas like the Qu’Appelle Valley.
Yet these growing areas typically slip between town and country. Neither traditional urban nor rural municipalities directly address their needs. These areas are sometimes even played off between traditional local governments. RM’s can ignore the need for amenities in these tax-lucrative sub-divisions, which then places an additional burden on nearby town infrastructures. We see this trend in the Qu’Appelle Valley where tax-lucrative RM sub-divisions at Pasqua, Taylor Beach or at Jasmine have not been developed as enhanced recreational communities. They lack common public boat launches and have few if any green spaces, which places more pressure on the towns and provincial parks. The way the RM governs these “rurban” areas do not get fair representation by taxation.
Could amalgamation lead to fairer, more proactive policies and decisions? Would it be better to have resort villages and hamlets electing representatives to a district council? Would it be better to reorganize RM’s so that they can do what they need to do to ensure rural services? Should the province step up so that local governments can start to focus on good governance and social, economic and environmental well-being?
Of course some elected officials who like their local turf and their often unaccountable local power are going to argue that amalgamation will lead to a loss of identity and local control. And some administrators, who may face conflicts of interest within the existing fragmented, highly politicized municipal system, may also try to save the sinking ship. But the proof is in the pudding. We not only see an embarrassingly low voter turn-out (as low as 25%) in municipal elections but many positions are being filled by acclamation. This is symptomatic of the deepening crisis in our local democracy.
In actuality these reforms would start to enhance community identity and participation in local governance. They would also help to make local administration more like a professional public service. All the widespread concerns that we collectively have about what is happening to our Valley, to the water and lakes, the hillsides, riverbanks and marshes, could be more directly addressed, as they should.
Under our antiquated municipal structure, the most vital issues easily get lost sight of in the highly partisan and personalized politics that comes with dysfunctional fragmentation. We can’t see or even talk clearly about the forest for the trees. Only the “trees” in our back yard seem to matter. Everything else, the watershed, the landscape, the quality of governance, falls between the cracks. Such fragmentation will never encourage us to care for the Qu’Appelle Valley as a whole and caring is what we need to start to do. Let’s start with a healthy and open-minded conversation about amalgamation.
October 19, 2016
NOTE: A future QVEA Backgrounder will look at the gap between the vision and the outcomes of the Calling Lakes District Planning Commission (CLDPC).
PHOTO: Qu'Appelle Valley Watershed
Published by Fort Qu’Appelle KAIROS
The Fort Qu’Appelle Kairos hosted the June 22, 2013 community forum “Water Equals Life”. This featured water scientist Dr. Marley Waiser who reported on her research on what Regina’s untreated sewage is doing to Wascana Creek and the Lower Qu’Appelle watershed. Research now shows that nitrites, phosphates, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals all pose a threat to water quality.
The forum brought together over one hundred people from a diversity of community, ecumenical, First Nations, municipal and provincial bodies. It received extensive news coverage in the June 18, 2013 Fort Times and the June 28, 2013 R-Town News.
After the forum Kairos held further public discussions to lay out the changes required to better protect the Qu’Appelle watershed. These discussions first pin-pointed areas of common concern; these are listed on the inside back cover. We then formed a Water Research Group which met over the winter. It posed the important questions that needed to be addressed and divided up the responsibility to get more solidanswers. Its report is now being released to serve the public interest.
Public interest in the water quality of the Calling Lakes continues to grow. The summer 2014 flooding, Regina dumping untreated sewage into the watershed, and beaches being closed due to high E.coli sparked a new level of public concern. Another forum sponsored by the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council and Friends of Katepwa Provincial Park was held August 20, 2014 at the Treaty Four Governance Centre. This was attended by around 200 people, including cottagers from several lakes who are concerned about the state of the watershed. This event received extensive coverage, including in the Regina media.1
It is hoped that our report will be of interest and helpful to the growing body of citizens who want to see the Qu’Appelle watershed
protected and its health restored. We do not pretend to have answered all the questions we have raised, but we believe that all these
questions must be seriously addressed if there is going to be a successful restoration of this watershed. Sept. 2014
Water is life and no matter what watershed we live within we
are obliged to protect water for future generations and for life
itself. Humans everywhere were empowered by the United
Nations 2010 declaration that there is a “human right to safe
and clean drinking water and sanitation”. Water protection
groups are expressing solidarity with the water rights
contained within the UN’s 2007 Declaration on the Rights of
We live within the lower part of the Qu’Appelle watershed,
which includes the Calling Lakes. All indigenous and settler
communities, fishers, farmers and cottagers alike, depend upon
and benefit from the protection of this watershed. The health
of the wildlife depends upon it. There is an urgent need for
a common call to action for this is one of the most stressed
watersheds in all of Saskatchewan.
A major source of the contamination building up in the watershed for decades is Regina’s poorly treated sewage. To enable water quality to begin to improve, so the Calling Lakes don’t become more of a green slime in the summer, the province must require that Regina’s upgraded wastewater treatment system provides full biological nutrient removal and removes additional chemical contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals that threaten the biological health of the watershed. The technology is available and in use elsewhere.
Regina must also immediately upgrade its lagoons and no
longer be allowed to rely on our watershed for dumping
sewage as it did in the summer of 2014. We can no longer
accept that “dilution is the solution to pollution”.
The growing use of fertilizers-chemicals in agri-business can also threaten the health of our watershed. Evidence is mounting that the insecticides called neonics widely used for treating seeds are already building up in our wetlands. These have been banned elsewhere because they are suspect in the rapid decline of bee populations. Without protection of pollination there will be no long-term food security.
Also the ongoing, unregulated destruction of ecologically valuable
wetlands has increased the threat of flooding, as we saw
again in the summer of 2014.
The provincial government and their creation, the Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards (LQWS), say that we must learn to accept the existing level of degradation in the Calling Lakes. We do not agree; water quality must be restored. Meanwhile the province carries on with its plans to greatly “industrialize” the use of our watershed. Government-commissioned studies project a 200% increase in demand for water in our upper watershed over coming decades, mostly for irrigation and mining. This would lead to three-quarters of the water being used for industrial purposes.
This is unacceptable. There is much uncertainty that the
proposed construction of an Upland Canal from Lake
Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound would provide a reliable supply
of the quantity and quality of water required for domestic use,
recreation and most vitally, to restore the health of the Calling
Increases in extreme weather, including droughts, and the steady decline in the mountain-glacial flow into our waterway will surely come with climate change. It is highly irresponsible to plan economic growth that depends upon the seemingly perpetual growth in the supply of water.
Water is a non-renewable and a sacred element which requires
our utmost respect. We abuse water at our own peril; water
cannot be treated as just another commodity. Massive amounts
of fresh water will be completely lost through the continued
expansion of solution mining and fracking under the
province’s corporate strategy.
Water protection and preservation therefore need to become our new bottom line. Conservation in Regina contributed to reducing water consumption until 2010. However, the city now loses one in five gallons of the water it brings from Buffalo Pound, and it considers it “uneconomical” to make further improvements in its infrastructure. The view that water has no intrinsic value unless it is used for economic growth is part of an obsolete, unsustainable view of economics.
We are moving towards an inevitable clash between the growing
corporate demands for water and the preservation of the health
of the watershed. The provincial government is already on
record that industry’s “water rights” based on licenses, will
trump human rights and ecological needs when water scarcity
occurs. The province must accept that water is a universal
human right, insist that Regina fully clean up its act and
that agri-business stop contaminating the wetlands and our
Federal and provincial de-regulation of water protection goes hand in hand with the industrializing of water and the threat to our watershed. Inter-provincial agreements need to provide even better oversight and protection. The globally-embarrassing degradation of Lake Winnipeg is the consequence of ongoing abuses all along the waterway, including in the Qu’Appelle watershed. Recreational and agricultural activities in our watershed have to become more ecologically responsible. Any successful ecological restoration will require grass-roots co-operation and governments providing proactive leadership to protect the complete waterway, from Alberta to Manitoba.
Watershed Steward groups can play a positive role if they are aware
of the larger threats and don’t act as a mouthpiece for the province’s
unsustainable policies. However, more independent monitoring,
including of cumulative impacts from all point sources and
tributaries into the Calling Lakes, with full public disclosure,
is urgently required. We must get to the bottom of the large-scale
2014 E. coli contamination to ensure this doesn’t occur again.
The public has a right and responsibility to become better
informed about threats to our watershed. No matter what interest
or identity - whether recreational, indigenous, environmental,
ecumenical and/or scientific - we must now all unite as waterkeepers.
Please join in however you can to protect and restore the
First Nations within the Treaty Four boundaries are greatly
impacted by the water quality in the Qu’Appelle watershed.
These include independent First Nations and First Nations
affiliated with Touchwood Agency Tribal Council, File Hills
Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, Yorkton Tribal Council and First
Nations affected by the waters flowing into Manitoba.
All of us depend upon the streams and rivers that flow
into the Calling Lakes - Pasqua, Echo, Mission, Katepwa,
Crooked and Round Lake, which were left from glacial
melt thousands of years ago. We all depend on this
magnificent watershed for our domestic health, for
agriculture, for recreation and the jobs and services that
water-based, water-dependent activities generate in our
local economies. Yet within just a few generations the
health and biodiversity of this grand watershed has been
denigrated and is now under further threat.
It’s a natural contract: we must take care of the water if the water is going to continue to nurture us. We have to treat water as sacred because water is indeed the wellspring of all life. It is the wellspring of our lives and the quality of life of future generations.
The UN General Assembly’s resolution on water as a Human Right is built upon previous resolutions, declarations, covenants, studies and proclamations. In 2007 the UN adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Declaration contains forty-six Articles that speak to the responsibility of states to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples worldwide. Article 25 refers to the right of Indigenous peoples “to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.”
Canada was one of the few countries that initially did not support or sign the Declaration. Among the Harper government’s concerns were references to traditional territories, appropriate redress, the requirements for “free, prior and informed” consent, as well as concerns that Canada would not be in a position to resolve land claims in its favour. Canada finally signed the Declaration with qualifications in 2010. However, its record on the tar-sands, potash, oil and gas exploitation and the environmental deregulation of waterways is what counts.
The ability of First Nations to protect and preserve water as one of the fundamental treaty rights remains in constant jeopardy. Meanwhile the Canadian population at large does not enjoy access to safe water and sanitation as a human right.
Both the federal Harper government and provincial Wall
government continue to treat water as a commodity to be
bought and sold as a resource. Trade agreements like NAFTA
and the coming European CETA agreement do not respect
water as either a human right or sacred element, but rather see
water as another exploitable economic resource. This crass view
will not engender the vision of a sustainable society.
PHOTO: Qu'Appelle River Pelican
Every five years Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency (WSA) is to issue a State of the Watershed Report, which evaluates the condition and health of all watersheds and the human impacts on these. It also proposes water management responses. Impacts on our Lower Qu’Appelle River watershed already make it one of the most stressed and unhealthy in all Saskatchewan.
In its 2010 report the WSA gave a health grade for all watersheds for a large range of stressors. The list of areas where the Lower Qu’Appelle gets a grade of “high intensity” stress is very long: surface water allocation and ground water use, roads, aquatic fragmentation and impact of landfills, livestock and fertilizer inputs, pesticide inputs and contaminated sites. 2
The 2013 report specifically on the Lower Qu’Appelle noted that surface and ground water as well as riparian areas are all “stressed”. The health of the overall watershed is “stressed”. The WSA still claims that our watershed “has no degradation in function or the service it provides”, but this is questionable, for the report admits that our stressed watershed “has lost resistance to change”.3
There is a slow and diminished overall flow as the Calling Lakes continue to accumulate more nutrients and toxins. This means this watershed is already very vulnerable. The “loss of resistance to change” means that the ecological system is no longer self-regulating. We are seeing ever more serious fish die-offs during winter and late summer, more oxygen depletion and more extreme algal and cyanobacterial blooms, all of which harm current high priority uses and the overall enjoyment of the Calling Lakes.
Agencies of the Sask Party government have unfortunately adopted a view that this state of degradation is the new norm which we should accept. In the watershed plan created by the WSA for the government-created NGO, the Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards (LQWS), the goal set for water quality was only to prevent “a decline in quality from current levels”.4 This is tantamount to accepting the high and sometimes dangerous levels of algae that can choke the Calling Lakes in the hot summer months. Even if stopping further degradation was an acceptable goal, which it is not, the WSA lacks the baseline and ongoing monitoring capacity and the preventative policy tools needed to even accomplish this.
Member groups at the first LQWS AGM rejected
this severely compromised and methodologicallybankrupt
objective and yet the positive changes
proposed by members have not been incorporated
into a revised watershed plan. Also, due to serious
summer flooding the LQWS cancelled its 2014
AGM; the serious flooding and contamination of the
watershed is precisely why that meeting was a high
priority. Clearly the LQWS has to be democratized or
Metal pollutants accumulate in lake sediment and eventually enter aquatic food webs. University of Regina biologist Peter Leavitt’s research suggests that small aquatic invertebrates in the Qu’Appelle system “may have been exposed to damaging levels of toxic metals for 100 years”. This research concluded that “overall, potential toxic metals from urban and industrial sources accumulate significantly within invertebrate diapausing (dormant) eggs, while less toxic metals preferentially accumulate in the sediment matrix”.5 The more toxic metals include cadmium, chromium and molybdenum.
Sediment analysis also suggests that perhaps as much as 70% of the nitrogen pollution in the Qu’Appelle watershed has come from Regina’s pollution. Much phosphorous also comes from agriculture. This elevated influx results in heavy algal blooms which can reach toxic levels. This excessive algal growth depletes oxygen levels in lakes and results in mass die offs of fish and other aquatic organisms.
Pasqua is the first Lake, 175 km downstream from Regina, and is the most heavily affected. In earlier research it was estimated that this fairly shallow lake contained about 300% more algae than in pre-colonial times; currently it’s estimated to be 500% or more. Most nitrogen gets sequestered in lake sediment but nutrients are also passed downstream when saturation occurs, first to Echo, then to Mission and on to Katepwa and the other lakes. This degradation continues on downstream in Manitoba, where Lake Winnipeg has become one of the world’s more polluted fresh water bodies.
At the August 20, 2014 water quality forum at the Treaty Four Governance Centre, Peter Leavitt again aired his warnings about Pasqua Lake, saying “…some of the toxin levels in Pasqua Lake are among the highest that I’ve seen in the country in a survey of about 100 lakes.” 6
Research done on the Lower Qu’Appelle watershed by retired Environment Canada scientist Marley Waiser shows the “widespread presence” of residues from pharmaceutical and personal care products flushed into Regina’s and Moose Jaw’s sewage systems.7 This includes everything from antibiotics to anti-infective hand soaps to birth control drugs. Older sewage treatment plants were not designed to remove these and there is now scientific concern that “chronic exposure of low concentrations” may alter the aquatic food chain. Waiser reports that studies have shown that some hormone-altering contaminants lead to sex changes within fish.
This pollution is spreading and the research site 105 km downstream from Regina has detected contaminants. Waiser notes that you can’t depend on dilution from high water flows to flush the system; sometimes effluent from Regina can be “100% of the flow in Wascana Creek”. She advocates stringent monitoring while noting that there aren’t even water quality objectives for pharmaceuticals. The Regina referendum decision in the fall of 2013 to build a P3 sewage treatment plant not only carries economic risks for the Regina taxpayer, but it may make it more difficult to ensure that high water quality objectives and standards are applied and enforced to restore the ecological health of our watershed.
Based on the WSA’s original plan for our watershed, it may
be acceptable for Regina to just meet minimum standards.
This would be unacceptable, in view of the lengthy period
required to begin to clear the contaminants that have built
up in the Calling Lakes for decades. We must do all we can
to ensure that the province requires maximum protection
from Regina’s wastewater releases.
At present Regina is the only major prairie city without full biological nutrient removal (BNR). The city now appears committed to developing BNR; it’s just not clear that it will fully “turn it on”. Full BNR can remove 95% or more of the nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) as well as organic carbon. It converts nearly all the dissolved N to N2 gas which can be released without harm to the environment. Any process that is proposed because it may seem to initially be cheaper, such as converting poisonous ammonia to slightly less toxic nitrite, must ensure removal of the N by denitrification, a microbial conversion of ammonia to an inert N2 gas.
Wascana Creek is very vulnerable to tiny amounts of these toxins both because it is such a small waterway and because it has an abundance of other nutrients. Overall, Regina’s effluent accounts for 52% of the flow in Wascana Creek and in winter and during droughts this can go as high as 100%. It contributes around 80% of the contaminants found in this waterway.8 As such, current limits for releases (e.g. 1 mg P/L) are inadequate and should be lowered by at least one half or more.
Furthermore, Regina’s new wastewater plant could collect waste products for recycling. Methane gas produced during the process can be harvested to provide more energy efficient power, reduce GHG emissions and also to heat wastewater for more effective microbial treatment. The nutrients collected can be harvested and sold as fertilizer to regional farmers, which in turn could reduce the importation of new nutrients and even help reduce total agricultural runoff. Recycling could also create additional revenue for the City to operate its water treatment system, a practice already used in other cities including Saskatoon which upgraded its wastewater treatment system back in 1991. 9
We need to ask why nearly a quarter of a century later Regina still has not accomplished such an upgrade. The Saskatchewan government must be held accountable and not be allowed to downplay regulations and the federal regulatory process has to be carefully monitored. Negotiations for Regina to sell wastewater to Western Potash or any other company cannot be used to downplay the need to fully upgrade water quality. Nor can any such diversion be allowed to reduce the flow into the Wascana and Lower Qu’Appelle system.
As an incentive to release clean water, some urban
centres in Europe are required to release their wastewater
upstream from their water intake systems. At the very
least the water quality coming out of Regina’s treatment
system should be equal to or better than that coming into
The effectiveness of encouraging agricultural “bestpractices” depends upon this larger strategy and needs to constantly be assessed and improved. For example, is continual cropping really an environmental safeguard, since it can involve more nitrogen and chemical use in an era of relatively cheap oil and gas?
Some farmers may be more sympathetic to helping with effective watershed protection when they realize the overall threat from the increased industrialization of water. However, in large corporate farms water is viewed much the same way as among industrial users. Recent research by University of Saskatchewan scientist Christy Morrissey suggests that industrial agriculture is already a threat to our watershed. She found that wetlands are being contaminated by a line of insecticides called the neonicotinoids or neonics in use since 2000. In 2014 the CBC reported that “virtually all” of the 8.5 million hectares growing canola on the prairies use seeds treated with these neonics. 10 Morrissey conservatively estimates that 44% of prairie crop land was treated with neonics during her study. 11
This could be an ecological disaster waiting to happen. Morrissey found that 80-90% of the wetlands she sampled had concentrations of neonics at least 3 to 4 times, and in peak concentrations of 100 times, what is “deemed habitable” for insects. She found these chemicals were persisting in the environment which could have a domino-effect on the aquatic food chain: a decline in mosquito and midge populations can affect the health of ducks and other bird populations.
The American Bird Conservancy is now calling on the U.S. EPA to ban neonics for seed treatment. They cite the work of Pierre Mineau, past eco-toxicity scientist at Environment Canada, who has written that existing concentrations of the neonics are “high enough to be causing impacts on the aquatic food chain.” Industrial spokesmen for Bayer CropScience and Syngenta are attempting to “green” the neonics, saying there is no hard evidence that there is any bioaccumulation. They also argue that the neonics are a better practice than spraying and that treating seeds can prevent over-spraying. Morrissey rebuts by reminding us that this standardized method contaminates even larger tracks of land that drain into our watersheds.
In 2013 the EU placed a two-year ban on these insecticides because they may be playing a major role in the rapid decline of bee populations. Bees are the real bottom line since without pollination there will be no canola or other food crops, and no fundamental food security. Health Canada has also expressed concern, especially about the use of neonics in Ontario’s corngrowing areas. It has reported that 70% of the dead bee samples in their research had a neonic residue. They are presently doing a scientific re-evaluation of these chemicals. The Lower Qu’Appelle watershed has one of the highest concentrations of canola cropping anywhere. The widespread insecticide contamination across the whole prairies, however, shows that it is not adequate to have separate watershed strategies; there must be an overall, integrated plan.
Even if Regina reduces its contamination of our
watershed, water quality could continue to degrade from
industrial agriculture. We therefore have to work with
any and all groups willing to work in coalition to protect
wetlands and ban chemicals such as the neonics that
threaten aquatic health and water quality.
With ten mines operating, as many as six more proposed and others in the planning process, Saskatchewan is at the centre of the global industry. From extraction to ore handling and from refining to waste disposal the potash industry degrades waterways. It draws down surface and ground water and can lower water tables while degrading water quality.
First Nations issued the warning call as far back as 1998 12 and we should all be listening. Chief Todd Peigan of Pasqua First Nation has noted that if the Western mine near Milestone uses Regina’s waste water, even more water may have to be diverted from Lake Diefenbaker to maintain the existing flow in the Qu’Appelle River. Most proposed new potash mines plan to get water from Buffalo Pound which is in the Upper Qu’Appelle. In March 2012 the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) held a summit on water and industry where they discussed the proposed new potash mines that would stretch from Moose Jaw to Regina and Melville. The Summit estimated that, excluding some “Mosaic requirements”, existing and proposed potash mines could use over “62 million cubic meters of water annually”. 13
The province is proposing a new channel from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound to increase the supply of water. There’s also talk of creating an irrigated agri-business corridor along this channel. But as Chief Peigan continually asks, “where is all this water to come from?”
Industry exploits water on a mammoth scale. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009 manufacturing industries across Canada consumed 355 million cubic meters of water. The amount had risen to 450 million cubic meters by 2011. Forty percent of this was used by the metal industries, which includes potash. The scale of the industrial uses of water can be unimaginable. The expansion of just one Alberta tar-sands project, the Southern Pacific project, will use another 2 million litres of water each day. If you include electrical generation, then coal and nuclear thermal plants would be right at the top of the industrial users of water in Canada. As such, the shift towards renewable energy is part of any water quality preservation strategy. Nearly 80% of the water used in mining comes from freshwater sources and 73% of this is discharged directly back into local watersheds. Overall, 60% of this water is not treated at all before discharge and only 11% goes into tailing ponds. In 2009 the Canadian mining industry spent only $166 million for all the water it takes from natural systems, which is a pittance compared to the huge profits it extracts from natural resources. Almost half of this was for treating effluent while water intake treatment accounted for 11%.
Water acquisition costs were only $ 28 million dollars or 17% of the total. In comparison to other costs, water is almost a free resource for the taking by the mining industry. Industrial profits are being made at the expense of long-term water quality and environmental health.
The WSA’s 25 year plan admits that the “South Saskatchewan
and Qu’Appelle River basins are experiencing the greatest growth
and development related pressure in the Province”. The extraction
of huge volumes of upstream water for industry will impact both
the quantity and quality of water flowing into these basins. Most
of the planned expansion of potash mining will affect the Lower
Qu’Appelle watershed which is already one of the most stressed in
PHOTO: Buffalo Pound Lake
Building pipelines from Lake Diefenbaker to Buffalo Pound, upgrading the existing channel, or building a new canal in or out of the valley have all been considered. An upland canal which would go near Tugaske, Eyebrow, Brownlee and Keeler is recommended in the Clifton report. It is estimated that this 6 to 7-year megaproject would cost $1.2 billion to build and another $4.5 to $11.5 million yearly to operate. Half of these operating costs would be for the energy to operate pumps.
At present the flow in the first 35 km of the Upper Qu’Appelle reaches 14 cubic meters per second (m3/s) but this can go down to 6 m3/s during the dry summer months. The proposed upland canal would hypothetically increase peak flow out of Lake Diefenbaker to 70 m3/s. With the uncertainties of climate change and all the projected industrial uses of this water, it remains highly uncertain what the flow would be by the time it reaches the Lower Qu’Appelle.
The Clifton report argues that without this new “conveyance” system we will face serious “water constraints”. However, it is important to ask who would face these constraints. Clifton refers to an earlier Saskatchewan Watershed Authority (SWA) report which concluded “Increased amount of irrigated area and expansion of the potash sector are the main forces behind the change in water demands”.
While municipal and recreational uses are listed as part of the projected “doubling of water demands…over the fifty years”, the report says that “The main source of water growth are to be found in the growth of irrigated agriculture and the expansion of industry and mining”. It continues, “Municipal water consumption was found to be static over the period in spite of a growing population.” It notes “the effects of municipal pricing in stimulating water conservation”. 14
The report includes projected demands for water by sector. Demand for municipal uses of water in the Qu’Appelle River Watershed would increase by 0% from 2010 to 2060; demand in agriculture, primarily for irrigation, would increase by 219% and in industry and mining it would increase by 172% over this half century.
The projected growth in volume is staggering. Whereas municipal demand would remain around 45,000 cubic decameters (dam3)15, in agriculture it would grow from 65,000 to 206,000 dam3 by 2060. The projected growth for industry and mining would be from 32,000 to 87,000 dam3 by 2060. Municipal uses of water would remain stable while uses for agriculture and industry and mining would grow three-fold. Notice how the term “water growth” comes into the language. But in reality, there is no growth in water, only growth in the availability and use of water. And depending upon the uses, this can degrade water, making even less available for the regeneration of life. And though there is some lip service to the impact of climate change on prairie water, this fifty year scenario is likely closer to industrial fantasy than ecological reality. But it clearly articulates the ambitions of corporations looking for the government to provide them with “water security”. It does not articulate a strategy of sustainability of water quality and quantity, which is what we so urgently require.
The report does, however, try to create a consensus for “water growth”. Section Six on Environmental Implications acknowledges that “Water quality declines throughout the system. In the upper reaches of the Qu’Appelle algae blooms, silting and farm chemicals reduce the purity of the water leaving the lake. When waters are returned from industrial or municipal use there are more chemicals and raw sewage introduced into the Qu’Appelle River, further reducing water quality, increasing algae bloom in the lower lakes and reducing the environmental purity of the rivers creating hazards for fish and wildlife.”
This is all true. But what is their perspective on how to deal
with these problems? They don’t mention the importance of
upgrading Regina’s wastewater treatment. Instead they write:
“The Conveyance will address some of these water quality issues.”
They claim that, “Lake Diefenbaker waters are remarkably pure”,
which is debatable,16 and that “The upland canal route will end
loading of farm chemicals from natural runoff”. It continues,
“Contaminants in the Upper Qu’Appelle from silting, algae and
other sources will no longer be added to the water supply. Waters
to be returned into the Lower Qu’Appelle lakes will have fewer
contaminants and limit downstream algae bloom for all of the
residents and cabin owners throughout the valley”. 17
The Executive Summary makes the goals quite clear by saying, “With higher rates of economic growth and in an era of climate change it has become clear that water security will be a priority for generations to come.” But the fundamental question is how to prevent the worst case scenarios of climate change and still try to adapt to early climate changes in an ecologically and socially sensible way? Or will it be “business as usual” and the denial that goes with this?
The proposals in this report bypass all the fundamental considerations about sustainability and simply assert that the benefits will include “improvements in the investment climate for the area”, which is clearly the bottom line. It then alleges without any serious investigation that there will be “water quality benefits for the Lower Qu’Appelle River and lakes downstream…” In other words the upland canal will simply be good for everything, for “wildlife habitat and recreational benefits” and apparently even for “drought and flood proofing”.
After the primary motivation becomes transparent, this seems like a lot of window dressing. The Executive Summary says “…there is some urgency to resolving the water supply issues. Existing levels of growth are already laying the water demand foundations for water deficits in the region in the next decade”. It continues: “with several billion dollars investment decisions looking for water security it will be important to secure a long term sustainable water supply”. Notice that “sustainability” has been altered from its intended meaning of inter-generational-justice, to mean sustaining profitable economic growth.
The motive is clear. The Introduction says, “Studies of water demands in the region suggest that by 2023 water supplies to the area from existing sources may become a constraint on industrial growth and agricultural value added development”. Earlier the report appealed to “a planet that needs more food and fertilizer to feed a growing population”. It continued, “These are all long projects with substantial water demands”. Then when it discussed the water supply project it comes right to the point, saying “…water demand in the Qu’Appelle Basin…will rise in the future as a result of the expansion of irrigation and potash mining that together could account for three-quarters of the total water use in the basin by 2060”.18 This project would perpetuate a short-term, unsustainable resource export economy that ignores that the rest of the world is presently being challenged to move towards more food selfsufficiency.
Expanding intensive irrigation in a drought-prone region facing the challenges of climate change is not going to resolve these.
If we wish to protect our common watershed we will need
to collectively steward a shift away from ideology premised
upon unsustainable economic growth that largely takes
water for granted, to one that makes a priority out of
sustaining the watershed itself. Water will have to become
the new bottom line.
From 1955 to 2010, water consumption from Buffalo Pound increased nearly ten-fold, from 4,000 to 37,000 megalitres (ML)19. Water purchased by Regina between 1966 and 2012 increased more than three-fold, from 9,000 to 29,000 ML.20The rate of increase started to slow in the late 1980s, partly due to some conservation programs, and the absolute volume used started to decrease in the late nineties. From 1995-99 the use of metered water peaked at 24.4 million cubic meters (MCM). It continued to drop until 2010, when it was 21.1 MCMs. However, in 2011 it went back up to 22.1 MCM and the projected total for 2013 was again up, at 23.1 MCM. Conservation measures to reduce the waste of precious water seem to have stalled. In 2006 Regina began to use the Infrastructure Leakage Index (ILI). The percentage of water unaccounted for is calculated by subtracting the amount billed to ratepayers from the amount purchased from Buffalo Pound. From 2007 to 2011 this continued to rise, from 16.8% to 18.25%.
This means Regina is close to wasting one gallon in every five gallons that it takes out of the watershed. In its Water and Sewer Utility Budget for 2013 the City admits “there is potential for marked improvements” but it adds “that further water loss reduction, although possible, may be uneconomical”. 21
The way Regina prices water shows disregard for the water itself. The water rate in 2013 was set at $225 for one million litres. Compare this to the $1.50 it costs for one bottle of water. The 4% increase over 2012 was reported as being due to the rising costs of electricity, chemicals, equipment and labour. The water itself is not mentioned and there is no intrinsic value placed on the watershed itself. The cost for the actual water from Buffalo Pound was only $6.4 million, a pittance of the overall utility costs of the City. 22
When the growing costs of supplying water are discussed the impression is sometimes left that this is due to the growth in residential sub-divisions. In other words these costs are the result of more people building homes in the city. Yet in 2013 nearly one-third or 7.1 MCM of the billable water was used for non-residential purposes. Commercial and industrial uses of water are a significant part of Regina’s growing water demand. Regina is still using an old-world view of the “economics of water”. Its approach ignores the coming challenges and costs of providing safe water through a reliable, conserving infrastructure. The City finally admits that its continued use of chlorination for disinfection creates toxic by-products that “are dangerous to human health”. 23 Their Long Term Water Utility Plan even recommends the increased use of ultraviolet light disinfection, something Saskatoon expanded years ago. It then admits that the need to control serious taste and odour problems with these toxic chemicals is on the increase.
This 2013 report also admits that Regina’s “wastewater lagoons are overloaded and under review”.24 So we now know that Regina knew its lagoons were problematic long before it dumped untreated sewage into the Wascana Creek and Lower Qu’Appelle during the 2014 summer flooding. How does the capital city get away with this?
The City report also says that the treated water is corrosive and leading to “slow deterioration of piping and fitting” as well as concrete tanks, though they displace this problem onto future generations saying it is not of “immediate concern”. Meanwhile there is evidence that full biological nutrient removal (BNR) can reduce the wear and repair costs of wastewater treatment technology. Finally they admit that the nine wells in and around the City that act as backup to the Buffalo Pound source are “less than the City’s typical needs” and that this water has levels of iron, magnesium and hardness that don’t meet what they call their “aesthetic objectives”.
Regina’s contributions of 10% of its general water charges to a Capital Replacement Fund are likely to be sorrowfully below the requirements to address all these challenges. We have already seen the rising costs resulting from Regina procrastinating for nearly a quarter of a century with its wastewater treatment upgrade. Had it been planned for when the need was first discussed in the mid-1990s, the costs to the taxpayer would have been many factors less.
The spending needed to reduce water waste and water demand
and to upgrade water quality, safety and the viability of the
infrastructure is considered “uneconomic”. Yet, according to
the Annual Report of the Buffalo Pound Administration Board,
the South Central Enterprise Region in consultation with the WSA is devising a very expensive “plan for a flow rate of up to
25 cubic meters per second in the Upper Qu’Appelle River; more
than three times the volume the current channel can presently
Climate change is already affecting our watershed and it will do so more severely in the future.
Studies of glaciers on the eastern slopes of the Rockies estimate that even if the climate were to somehow stabilize, from 31 % to 46 % of current glacier volume will be lost by 2100. A more realistic forecast of continuing global warming suggests that glacier volumes will decline 79% to 89% by then. 26
Between 1985 and 2005 the eastern slopes of the Rockies had a glacial loss exceeding 20%. The Bow and Red Deer River basins are major sources for the South Saskatchewan River. By 2100 the estimated losses of the current ice volumes that feed these basins will be 66% and 71%, respectively. “These impacts on the river systems will be concentrated in late summer”, after melting and runoff of seasonal snow which contributes the bulk of the discharge in the early summer.
Will this dynamic affect water quality and quantity in the Lower Qu’Appelle? To understand the effects of retreating glaciers on our watershed, we need to better understand how glaciers work. The bulk of the research uses methods that are not the most accurate; ground and aerial radar ice thickness mapping would give us more accurate results.
How can governments and industry make accurate projections of future water availability without more accurate assessments of future supply? And will this research be undertaken with the Harper government’s hostility towards science and evidence-based policies?
There are significant reductions in snowfall in the eastern slopes of the Rockies compared with those on the B.C. side. Alberta WaterPortal reports that “The precipitation gradient in the eastern slopes is dramatic”, ranging between 2002-2009 from 1900 mm at Haig glacier, to 430 mm over this period in Calgary. It adds that we tend to think that, “…runoff from the seasonal snow pack on glaciers is presumably ‘renewable’ - it will continue to feed the rivers even if the glaciers disappear. However, with the loss of glacier ice this snowpack contribution may also decline, as glaciers act as snow traps that encourage snow accumulation.” 27
It continues that, “…the cold environment on glaciers also preserves much of this snow until later in the summer melt season, while routing through the glacier can introduce delays of weeks to months in delivering of melt-water to the rivers, particularly in the early summer. Glacier retreat is therefore expected to result in earlier melting and runoff of seasonal snow from sites that are presently glaciated.”
“Glacier runoff is proportional to available melt energy, whereas runoff in non-glaciered catchments is governed by precipitation. This means that discharge from glaciered catchments is less sensitive to weather fluctuations, with a supply of runoff in periods of drought that is lacking in other non-glaciered catchments.”
“Glacier inputs to the Bow River at Banff can exceed 50% in the late summer of a dry year, although glacier melt constitutes only 2% of the average annual. Annual discharge statistics therefore mask the importance of glacier contributions to stream flow. In most summers in the Canadian Rockies, seasonal snow persists until July at low elevations on the glaciers, and until August at higher elevations. There is little seasonal snow remaining elsewhere in the mountains at this time. Once this snow cover is removed, glacier runoff is dominated by melt from the low-albedo glacier ice. 28. In summers of drought, groundwater recharge and ice melt are the sole sources of sustenance for mountain streams. ”With sustained glacier retreat, “long term water storage is being tapped to augment the runoff derived from rainfall and seasonal snow. This means that current and future runoff is likely to be less than mean historical runoff.”
The Saskatchewan River has seen its flow drop by 12% in the last century. Once it enters Saskatchewan, it receives only a 2% increase in volume in its journey through our province. Despite our relatively low population, existing demands consume about one third of its historically decreasing flow. With human induced climate change expected to hit hard in the Palliser Triangle, the semi-arid region in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, we can expect huge challenges.
One major challenge is undertaking accurate glacier volume research. Another is the lack of coordination between the many government, academic and stewardship agencies at federal, provincial and municipal levels. 29
The Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborativeor (PARC) has published findings about climate change impacts on the prairies, which have implications for the Qu’watershed. PARC’s Norm Henderson writes that, “Reduced winter snowfall in the latter half of the 20th century contributed to the observed trend of declining stream flows…Winter warming will reduce snow accumulation in alpine areas and across the prairies.” This is already a critical issue for many rivers including the Bow and Oldman Rivers which both feed into the South Saskatchewan River. “This will cause declines in annual streamflow and a shift in streamflow timing to earlier in the year, resulting in lower summer water supplies...Continued glacier retreat will exacerbate water shortages already apparent… during drought years. Drier soils result in decreased subsurface recharge, which will lead to a decline in the water table in many regions.” 30
PARC’s summary report continues, “In the Alberta Rockies, an increased frequency of landslides, debris flows, rock avalanches and outburst floods is probable… Current and projected trends… include increased rainfall, especially in winter, rapid snowmelt and shrinking glaciers… and decay of permafrost… at higher elevations.”
Henderson continues that, “…in agricultural areas, droughts could result in enhanced soil erosion and increased sand dune activity. Slopes and stream channels exposed to less frequent but more intense rainfall will also be more vulnerable to increased erosion and shallow slope failures. Erosion will increase stream sediment and the nutrient loads in local water systems could lead to eutrophication of water bodies and increased pathogen loadings in streams, especially during the summer…the joint effects of climate change and nutrient over-enrichment (are seen) as the major threat to agro-ecosystems. Phosphorus and nitrogen …impinge water quality and encourage eutrophication when run-off events move these nutrients into waterbodies.”
Models have shown that with climate change there will be a northern shift of plant species. Henderson writes that, “… drought conditions can weaken trees’ defenses to more virulent pathogens”. In the parklands “there will be the shrinking of aspen groves and decreasing shrub cover.” Could these changes and stresses limit the ability of plant species in the Qu’Appelle Valley to withstand the growing likelihood of erosion and fire? Henderson continues that, “aquatic eco-systems will be stressed by warmer and drier conditions. A large number of prairie aquatic species are at risk of extirpation. Many fish species and amphibians are sensitive to small changes in temperature, turbidity, salinity or oxygen levels. ..Larger algal blooms accelerate lake eutrophication...”
Most compelling, PARC’s research notes that “Drought can increase concentrations of pathogens and toxins in domestic water supplies.” Increasing water scarcity and water supply variability will also affect industries that want more access to more water, such as all the projected potash mines. Henderson continues, “Outbreaks of waterborne disease have been linked to intense precipitation, flooding and runoff from agricultural livestock areas.” Do we even know what happened in this regard after the 2011 flooding? We are already facing the convergence, as beaches throughout the Calling Lakes had to be closed due to elevated E.coli in the aftermath of the 2014 summer flood.
It is vital to know “…when, within the year, extra heat and water will be available… Most of the warming is occurring in the winter…most of the extra precipitation is expected in the winter and spring and increasingly in the form of rain as the climate warms. Scenarios of summer precipitation are less consistent but many include decreased summer precipitation falling in fewer and more intense storms.” Meanwhile “…the mid to later stages of longer, warmer summers will tend to be drier, possibly much drier.”
The conclusion is that “There is a huge gap in our understanding of the extent to which existing management practices and public policies either encourage or discourage the implementation of adaptive strategies. There is also a need to determine the relative importance of adaptive responses versus other priorities, and to develop approaches that incorporate climate change considerations into existing policy instruments.”
We do not see much evidence-based foresight in
Saskatchewan’s plans to industrialize the use of water.
Now is the time to build back capacities for policy research
and planning that have been squandered or downplayed
in today’s cavalier obsession with growth and unfettered
Yet, even without the effects of climate change our human right to safe, clean, affordable water is under threat. On the cusp of tremendous industrial mining expansion, our provincial government is treating water as an industrial property right. Are they perhaps preparing us for water scarcity in the name of corporate-driven economic growth?
In April 2013 the Environment Minister was asked by members of the Calling Lakes District Planning Commission “how will priorities be established in drought years?” His answer: “Licensed users will be accorded first priority to water”. He added: “However, municipal or community uses and the water needed to maintain the ecology of the river system are also considered…” But he ended: “During extreme drought years, lakes within the Qu’Appelle basin will fall below their desirable operating ranges for recreation.” 31
Sustainable development means that water quality and eco-system health can no longer be traded off for short term economic benefits. It means we must start to take the limits of growth to heart if we ever expect to restore and protect our watershed.
Industrial self-regulation resulting from deregulation and offloading goes hand in hand with the shift towards treating water as a commodity. The Harper government’s 2012 Omnibus Bill has already removed much federal oversight from our watershed. And the province is not providing the resources required to make up for the shortfall.
The Saskatchewan government created the Water Security Agency in 2010 primarily to oversee and implement its policy of greatly expanding the use of water as a commodity. This agency has the unenviable task of trying to balance the uses of water for industry, agriculture, recreation and domestic purposes, while paying some attention to protecting biodiversity and eco-system health. But can this be done? The numbers simply don’t add up. Nor do the policies and resources being provided.
The WSA is being promoted as a one-stop public agency to address concerns about water, but there continues to be split jurisdiction over water quality (e.g. Sask Water, Environment and Health). This can be confusing and leave cracks where there can be little or no coordination or integrated oversight.
Regina released untreated sewage and there was unprecedented additional agricultural and other runoff into the Lower Qu’Appelle during the flooding in summer 2014. Beaches had to be closed due to elevated E.coli. All the jurisdictions dealing with water should have been getting together to integrate their information as a basis for heightened public awareness and evidence-based water policy. But the coordination across these ministries seemed to have more to do with managing “spin”. 32
Outright deregulation is adding to the reduction of oversight.
The federal role in protecting eco-systems and fish habitats
has been steadily declining under the Harper government.
It’s debatable how much regulation actually occurs, for water quality objectives act more as guidelines than regulations.
Oversight with enforcement doesn’t occur except in blatant
cases and usually after the fact, which won’t encourage a
proactive approach to watershed protection. Nor does it
encourage public awareness about the kinds and levels of
ongoing contamination. We must ensure that this practice of
“out of sight, out of mind” self-regulation does not become the
new norm for Saskatchewan!
The inter-provincial prairie flow of water received some attention, especially after 1948. In 1969 the Master Agreement on Apportionment (MAA) was negotiated and in 1992 this was amended to include water quality. Recently the Canadian Council Of Ministers on the Environment also adopted a “multibarrier approach” which highlights protecting lakes, rivers and aquifers which are the source of our drinking water. This declaration of support for a more integrated, preventative approach is encouraging.
In contrast, the Saskatchewan government is presently taking a very different stance, attempting to normalize the present level of degradation in the Lower Qu’Appelle watershed and get on with quick expansion of the resource industry. They are not treating water as a human right and an ecological need. For them “water rights” has come to mean the property rights of industries who obtain water licenses.
And local politicians aren’t necessarily encouraging water quality protection. In his defense of a P3 waste water treatment plant, Regina’s mayor Fougere went completely against the good sense of the Council of Ministers, trying to separate and isolate the quality of drinking water from the adequacy of waste water treatment. He wouldn’t be able to do this if Regina’s poorly treated water was released upstream from the City. It’s ultimately all interconnected and it must all be protected.
How much can the public who cares for watershed protection count on inter-provincial oversight? The MAA is overseen by the Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB). According to Schedule E in the 1992 agreement the PPWB is to monitor the aquatic environment, issue reports on water quality, promote comparable quality objectives across the prairies and promote a preventive and proactive eco-systems approach that recognizes the interdependence of water quantity and quality. This is something that Regina and Saskatchewan politicians have largely ignored.
The PPWB can even propose measures to maintain water quality “…if the assessment of the impact of a proposed development indicates that water quality has been or may be significantly altered…” Surely these conditions apply to the already degraded Lower Qu’Appelle. But will federal and provincial policies wedded to unrealistic views of water supply encourage such a proactive approach? And how much does the public even know about these elusive protections?
Can we count on these wise objectives to protect our watershed? The PPWB has two federal members and one from each prairie province. All its recommendations, bylaws and budgets require unanimous approval, which means each party (the federal government and each province) has a veto. So the Harper government or the Saskatchewan Party government can stop any effective action if they think it will slow down their resource extraction agenda. Further, Environment Canada does the monitoring and the Harper government has already meddled in their affairs by shifting some monitoring resources to the higher profile tar sands projects.
Integrated science may be on the side of protecting ecosystems.
But before we can count on the PPWB to lead the way, we will need more politicians and governments that make decisions based on evidence. And the PPWB will likely become even more vulnerable if the Harper Conservatives are re-elected in 2015.
The planned reduction in Regina sewage nutrient releases can be expected to produce some level of improvement, certainly to Wascana Creek and perhaps even to the Calling Lakes. It is therefore not clear why the Lower Qu’Appelle River Watershed Plan did not refer to the potential for such improvements at the time the Lower Plan was announced in July 2013. Were they perhaps covering their bases?
One difficulty with setting any targets for the Calling Lakes in the Lower Qu’Appelle Plan, beyond Regina reducing its nutrients, is that there is inadequate knowledge on which to base any such objectives. Non-point nutrient sources have not been adequately measured through the monitoring of flow and concentrations coming from the major tributaries. These carry runoff from cropping, grazing and winter feeding, cottages, roads and other rural land uses throughout the watershed. WSA recently initiated a program intended to measure water flows and nutrient levels over at least two years, which includes the spring 2013 high snowmelt and the following lower runoff year. This is to be done at seventeen main stem and eleven tributary sites distributed over the entire basin. This information could provide nutrient loading estimates that could then be used to more precisely model the effects of both non-point and the Regina and Moose Jaw point sources on river and lake environments. This data could also begin to provide an independent basis for evaluating various strategies for improving lake water quality. But this research must be fully transparent and relevant to restoring the watershed.
Collection of this information is critical to assessing the sitespecific and cumulative effects of any new projects such as approved or proposed potash operations. But effective foresight and preventative management of cumulative effects requires more than monitoring. These research results can be used to rank pollutant sources and water users, to focus reduction measures on the greatest contributors to degraded water quality, and to prepare a management plan that identifies these measures and sets implementation schedules. Government policies, including pollution and water allocation management legislation, however, must support these measures. At present this is not the case.
There has to be regulatory and non-regulatory actions, such as education, financial incentives and the use of permits. Most vital, government assessment requirements have to include procedures for evaluating the cumulative effects of new impact sources; planning processes for any new development must be tested and amended to attain watershed protection and restoration management objectives. And there has to be interjurisdictional collaboration.33
It seems clear that much work by local governments and mobilization by non-governmental groups remains to be done before there will be any public confidence that further deterioration can be prevented and real improvements can follow. But we must get on with it.
This does not yet seem to be what the government wants. After its formation in 2012 the WSA absorbed the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority. Since then the WSA has been creating Watershed Steward groups to work with it to achieve the Saskatchewan government’s mainly industrial goals. In March 2013 it established the Lower Qu’Appelle Watershed Stewards. The plan it created for the community-based group to implement is seriously lacking. It concentrates on education, enhanced best-practices and self-regulation among farmers and individuals regarding their waste management, but it has hardly any plans or processes to address industrial uses of water, which will be among the biggest factors shaping our future water quantity and quality. It encourages volunteers to clean up debris along rivers and streams while industrial groups are laying plans to exploit the overall waterways. It gives little attention to protected areas including wetlands that have a huge function in sustaining and restoring watershed health.
Its approach boxes us in with a simplistic and poorly conceived “interest based model” that avoids facing some of the underlying conflicts of interest. It places the priority on the greatest set of interests, by which it surely means industrial uses of water. 34 This can take attention away from the whole watershed, which must be understood and approached from an integrated, ecological perspective.
For an integrated plan to develop there must be open access and sharing of information, including relevant federal research, among all stakeholders. We can’t have community-based groups expected to help protect their watershed while private information sharing and wateruse planning is occurring behind closed doors between industry and government. Both First Nations and settler environmental interests must be at the table. There must be transparency and true collaboration to effectively restore and protect our watershed.
Water in Saskatchewan needs to be respected as a human
right and a sacred source of all life. We will need more
than government-animated “community oversight” or
veto-restricted inter-provincial bodies to achieve this
goal. Indigenous and settler communities, ecumenical and
environmental groups, scientists and local governments will
need to become ever-more engaged with each other to meet the
common challenge. And this will have to take a long overdue
leap into ever-more respectful, post-colonial relationships
among communities. Perhaps it is time to consider a more
independent waterkeepers organization35 to fully and honestly
monitor, advocate for and protect our watershed for ourselves
and future generations.
Major SourcesUN General Assembly, Human Rights Council, 24th Session, A/HRC/RES/24/18.
1. This historical resolution 64/292 was passed on July 28, 2010.
2. State of the Watershed Report, 2010, pp. 32-36. 3. Lower Qu’Appelle River Watershed Plan, Water Security Agency, March 2013, p. 9.
4. Lower Qu’Appelle River Watershed Plan, p. 20
5. See B. Wyn et al, Historical Metal Concentrations In Lacustrine Food Webs Revealed Using Fossil Ephippia From Daphnia, Ecological Applications, 17(3), 2007, pp. 754-764; also see P.R. Leavitt et al, in Limnology and Oceanography, Volume 51, No. 5 (September 2006, pp. 2262-2277).
6. Breanne Massey, “Group Wants Solutions to Water Issues, Fort Times, August 29, 2014, p. 1.
7. Much of this information is taken from Waiser’s presentation to the community forum in Fort Qu’Appelle on June 22, 2013.
8. These figures have been double-checked with the WSA.
9. Saskatoon’s Nutrient Recovery Facility not only produces from 240 to 350 tonnes of fertilizer a year but this process also prevents damage and repair costs to the plant.
10. Pesticides Contaminating Prairie Wetlands, CBC News, Jan. 8, 2014.
11. One ongoing project is “Distribution and Impact of Neonicotinoid insecticides on wetland ecosystems of Prairie Canada”. More information at: Christy.email@example.com
12. This occurred when the Qu’Appelle Valley Indian Development Authority (QVIDA) was in existence.
13. FHQTC Summit on water, March 2012.
14. Clifton Associates, Upper Qu’Appelle Water Supply Project, 2012, p. 47.
15. A decameter is equal to 1,000 cubic meters (1,000m3).
16. This is disputed by researchers at the U of S’s Global Institute for Water Security who say there are large amounts of phosphorous coming into Lake Diefenbaker all the way from Alberta.
17. Clifton, op. cit., p. 53. The matter of the level of evaporation along the concrete conveyance and its deterioration are ignored.
18. Ibid., p. 6
19. A megalitre (ML) is equal to a million litres.
20. See Buffalo Pound Water Administration Board, Annual Report, 2012, p. 13.
21. Water and Sewer Utility Budget, City of Regina, 2013, p, 32. Other quotes in this sub-section are from pp. 29-33 of this report.
22. The City reports that this is only 13% of the total costs for utilities, excluding “debt and transfer to the General Operating Fund”. Ibid., p. 29.
23. Trihalomethanes (THM’s) are byproducts of algae and chlorine. Guidelines were established in 1993 and since then epidemiological research has found more associations with “bladder and colon cancer and adverse pregnancy outcomes.”
24. Ibid., p. 29.
25. Buffalo Pound Water Administration Board, p. 16.
26. See Alberta WaterPortal, Learn Glaciers: Alberta Glacier Inventory and Ice Volume Estimation.
27. Ibid., Introduction: Glaciers.
28. Albedo refers to the reflectivity of a substance.
29. This is paraphrased from Allan Casey, The South Saskatchewan River Runs Dry, Canadian Geographic, Oct. 2010.
30. Norm Henderson, Recent and Current Change Impacts and Adaption Research at PARC, Climate Impacts and Adaption Science, 2010, p. 174. Further quotes in this section are from pp. 175-185.
31. Letter from Minister Cheveldayoff to Calling Lakes District Planning Commission, April 5, 2013.
32. See Jim Harding, What Are We Going To Do To Protect The Water?, R-Town News, Aug. 27, 2014, p. 3.
33. Regina should continue to be encouraged to be proactive and participate in the Cumulative Impacts Assessment that came out of the Standing Buffalo First Nations court case on water.
34. Lower Qu’Appelle River Watershed Plan, p. 33.
35. The Waterkeeper Alliance, based in New York, started in 1999.
There are now over 200 waterkeeper groups around the world,
including Waterkeepers Canada at: waterkeepers.ca
Several people have contributed to the discussions, research,
writing and publication of this public report. We especially
want to acknowledge Terrina Bellegarde, Sharron and Randy
Bodnaryk, Mike Bray, Phillip Brass, Greg Chatterson, Alison
DuBois, Lorna Evans, Theresa Feist, Jim Harding, Murray
Krug, Randy Lebell, Terri Sleeva, Janet Stoody and Dave
Sutherland. We would also like to acknowledge the scientists,
especially Peter Leavitt and Marley Waiser, who have done
important studies about impacts on our watershed; First
Nations activists such as Pasqua Chief Todd Peigan and
others within the FHQTC who have been giving ongoing
leadership on the threats to this watershed; to Idle No More
for bringing new focus and urgency to the protection of water;
and the important work of the Calling Lakes District Planning
Commission and its chair Ken Hutchinson for its role in bringing
more mainstream attention to the regional water crisis. Finally,
we wish to thank Hazel and Gordon Jardine for keeping the
local Kairos alive for so many years.
By Jim Harding
In late February 2018 I was invited to present to a Grade 11 Environmental Education class at Bert Fox Community High School in Fort Qu’Appelle, SK. The teacher of the class was Ms. Tina Bowley. I am a retired professor of environmental and justice studies and was invited to speak as a director of the two-year-old Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA). I was joined by another local QVEA Director, Lorna Evans.
I emphasized two main topics:
1) a general overview of the climate crisis, and
2) related environmental issues facing us in the Qu’Appelle Valley Watershed. At the end I distributed file cards to enable students to provide some anonymous feedback.
I discussed #1 and 2 for about half of the class. Then we had a Q and A. The students had been asked to look at the qvea.ca website and to prepare questions which the teacher presented on their behalf. Their questions were:
- What kinds of things are on the QVEA’s agenda in the upcoming years?
- With open pit gravel mining what are some effects that could have against the ecosystem?
- What is one thing everyone could do to help the environment?
- What made you choose this career?
- What is the biggest challenge in trying to help the environment?
- Why does the water always seem so green?
- What does the future look like for our lakes within the area?
These were intriguing and compelling questions, which I answered as best I could. An additional question was about whether chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides) were needed to meet the growing global needs for food. Another was about the environmental issues right in Fort Qu’Appelle. I noted that most food was still grown by small-scale or peasant farmers and that chemical-industrial farming was constantly being re-evaluated in terms of sustainability, i.e. preserving soil health, water quality and conservation. I also briefly outlined our local March Protection Campaign. (See qvea.ca).
Then I asked the students to fill out the card: first to write down the two environmental issues which were of most concern; and then, on the other side of the card, to put down any solutions they could think of.
I got 23 cards back, which was from most of the students in attendance. There was a wide variety in how students answered. Some answers were very general, some highly specific: everything from waste management to polar bears. Some wrote out their answers in more detail, while others simply wrote down points. Most of the “points” related in some way to my presentation, which is what you would expect. This is a good sign that students were listening and processing the information presented. It seems that the issues raised resonated with the students and that there is lots of room for educational follow-up to their concerns.
I listed all the answers, separating the first from the second environmental concern. Seven (7) of the 23 students listed “global warming” as their #1 concern. If you add “carbon” and “atmosphere” in, this comes to 9 students. One student also listed “our ozone layer” as their main concern. Three (3) students listed “climate”, “fossil fuels” or “CO2” as their #2 concern.
Climate Change: In total, therefore, 13 of the 23 students, directly or indirectly listed “global warming or climate change” as a major environmental concern. This is likely due to a combination of influences: everything from my presentation being fresh in their memories, to them already having this concern before I came.
Water and Waste: The second most mentioned environmental concern was “water”. Water or “drinking water” was mentioned three times as the #1, and five times as the #2 environmental concern, so 8 of 23 of the students indicated that “water” was a major concern. “Waste” was the next most mentioned environmental concern. The term “waste” or specific waste issues (plastics, radioactive waste) were listed four (4) times as the #1 environmental concern. Another four (4) students listed waste issues (including Regina sewage, plastics or glass) as their #2 environmental concern. So, 8 of 23 students listed waste-related issues as major environmental concerns. I have ranked this lower than “water” because I had to group a wide range of waste-related issues into this category. Also, as we’ll see below, water-related issues were even more vital to these high school students than first indicated.
More About Water: The next most mentioned environmental concern had to do with water bodies, everything from lakes to lake flooding, to arctic melting and ocean health. Quill Lakes’ flooding was mentioned as the #1 concern by one student, as was contamination of our valley lakes. The Husky oil spill in the North SK River, polar ice melting, contamination of the Artic from our watershed and “ocean life” were all mentioned as a #2 concern. If you add these concerns in with those directly about “water”, you have a total of 14 of the 23 students expressing concern about watersheds, oceans, etc. which is greater than the 13 who mentioned the climate crisis.
This provides a great opportunity for follow-up education, to discuss how the climate crisis and the water crisis are so interrelated.
Concern About Habitats: A variety of terms can legitimately be used to highlight interrelated environmental issues and concerns. Two (2) students mentioned “extinction” as their #2 concern. One said “I’m scared all the animals will go extinct”. Another listed “animals/insects – extinction”, which could relate to what I said about the “neonic” pesticides threatening bees. Another listed “polar bears”, though not specifically mentioning extinction. It was clear that the erosion of habitats was the underlying concern.
There were some students who expressed their environmental concerns in very informative general terms. One simply listed as their #1 concern, “how the environment will turn out in 5 years” This was likely related to the climate crisis, as their #2 concern was about “the climate, how (much) worse will it get?” Another asked, as their #1 concern, “will we ever create a healthy way to live?” This student was also concerned about the climate crisis because they listed “fossil fuels” as their #2 concern.
Awareness and Neglect: Another student expressed their concern as “awareness”, explaining, “there are a lot of people who aren’t aware of the problems that are happening on our planet”. Their #2 concern was “negligence”, explaining, “There are also lots of people who know the bad things that are happening and they just don’t care about it.” This could lead to a very worthwhile classroom discussion, including about trust in the future.
There were other students who mentioned highly specific concerns. One listed “smoking” as their #1 concern; their #2 concern was “CO2 needs to go down”. Another listed “parks and campgrounds being dirty” as their #2 concern; their #1 concern was “our lakes being dirty and contaminated.” These show the unique ways that students can express themselves. It would be interesting to explore what lies behind these combinations. There is a lot of room for environmental education that links specific and general environmental issues.
Thirteen (13) of the 23 students wrote some solutions on the back of their file card. Most of them relate directly or indirectly to climate change (6) or to what is being done to water (4). Driving and travelling less, moving to electric cars, banning fossil fuels are all mentioned. One conscientious student listed“travel less, use less fuel, don’t waste energy, walk around (if possible), carpool, don’t litter.”Another said “switch to hydrogen or electric-powered cars, use less oil/plastics/everything made of fossil fuels. Use solar panels.” This student added, regarding population growth, “People should look at adoption before deciding to (have) their own kids.”
Regarding endangered polar bears, one student said “create a man-made habitat the polar bears can be safe in until their natural habitat is clear of the risks of driving them extinct.” This shows a sense of responsibility, while making a lot of ecological assumptions that could be discussed in class. While it is possible to use zoos or create animal sanctuaries or ecological reserves to try to protect endangered species, this will not compensate for the ongoing loss of habitat. Protecting biodiversity through reducing negative global economic impacts upon climate is urgently needed.
This could open up discussion about United Nations’ Conventions that relate to protecting the environment. And how Canada and Saskatchewan are falling behind in terms of creating Protected Spaces and changing energy, agricultural and urban policies and practices which endanger climate stability, watershed protection and habitat biodiversity. There could be an informative discussion about the threats to Prairie Grassland habitats and species.
Some solutions (4) related to concerns about water. This included “changing the ways…we treat our
water”, not throwing “away plastics in the water”, and banning “Regina…people from wrecking the water system.” Regina has frequently been in the news in recent years due to its sewage releases
into the Qu’Appelle River. One student felt a marina could be a good thing saying “if there (are) more people (spending time on the water) there is more motivation to keep our water clean.” In answering
one of the students’ questions I had pointed out that the province had recently withdrawn an offer to sell 19 acres to a U.S. company to build a marina because this land was in the flood plain and should be
zoned an “environmental reserve”. This could lead to a classroom discussion about the role of marshes as habitats, in cleaning lake water, and the importance of “ecology” in land use zoning and planning; all vital topics for environmental education.
i) The student responses indicate that, overall, these Grade 11 students were willing and able to discuss the main issues and points raised. And they did this in their own terms. The diversity of answers is a very good starting point to broaden one’s knowledge and understanding of these issues, and to be able to better link them.
ii) The concerns were expressed in a wide variety of ways. Students were able to go into different aspects of the issues and points. They could clearly learn a lot more from each other, if they had the chance to articulate their different perspectives. Learning and change can always come with deep conversations and sharing.
iii) It is understandable that all students were not comfortable proposing “solutions”. It is probably best to ensure that basic comprehension exists prior to proposing or embracing solutions. At the same time, it is good for students to start thinking about what needs to change and why. There were a lot of insightful comments made about solutions which provide a good starting point for further environmental education.
iv) There seems to be a fair amount of general and specific knowledge among these Grade 11 students, upon which more environmental education can be built. Excellent classroom discussion topics could be created out of the students’ responses.
v) It would be worth sharing this overview with the students so they can see what others in their class wrote. This could evoke more in-depth discussion about many of the major concerns. It would be worth exploring what students have been thinking about environmental issues before the class, or since the class, and whether and how their views may have changed.
vi) Sharing these findings is also a chance for students to learn more about research methods. Fact sheets could even be developed as part of a classroom project.
vii) It is always interesting to find out if, and in what ways, students are rethinking their futures, including their academic and/or vocational plans.
I hope this is of interest. I found this all very informative and encouraging and would be willing to follow-up at some future point.
Jim Harding, QVEA Director
September 24, 2018
Between 2013-15 the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle sold (really gave away) 17 acres of land adjacent to Echo Lake to Abaco Energy Services, allegedly for a marina. Abaco is into the deregulated energy market with headquarters in North Dakota. We understand that Peak Energy, with some of the same owners, recently signed a one-year contract with the Fort Qu’Appelle council to supply natural gas to the Town.
The marina project was cloaked in secrecy; in 2015-16 the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) was regularly told by Town officials that there was no information about such a project. In view of what we have since found out, we have to ask why Town officials tried so hard to keep details about these land deals out of the public light. Slowly details came out with the aid of some good investigative Fort Times reporting. A watershed event was the QVEA’s October 21, 2016 public forum prior to the municipal election, where these land sales were the lightning rod issue.
The two Town councillors most associated with the land sales, including Brian Janz, who was an Abaco director before and while he was on council, and now also runs Peak Energy, and his close colleague Jeff Brown, who moved all motions to “sell” this Town land to Abaco, lost their seats. In the aftermath of this defeat, Abaco physically blocked Willow Court residents from their condos. Their access and the Town’s drainage access (on Block Q) were privatized by the land deals, even though the Town had previously said that Q would not be sold. The roadway between the old Indian Hospital and old Nurses Residence (on Block V), which goes down to the marshland and provides rear access to Blue Bill Bay condos, was also sold to Abaco. Later Block Y, with the Trans-Canada Trail into the marsh, was also sold to Abaco for $1, meaning that all public accesses to this Fort Qu’Appelle marshland were now owned by a U.S. company. Two petitions were initiated by a citizens group (with support from QVEA). One calling for an audit of these land deals was signed by over 700 Fort Qu’Appelle residents. Another signed by over 600 residents called for re-instating legal access for the condo residents. Regardless of one’s view of the proposed marina, re-instating public access for residents seemed like the just thing to do. These petitions were delivered to the Town in October 2017.
In December 2017 Town officials hired Meyers Norris Penny (MNP) to do an audit and in July 2018, after the audit report was done, the Town held a referendum about reinstating legal access for condo residents. Town officials and other interest groups successfully lobbied residents to vote down reinstating public access on these privatized roads. The Town exaggerated that this would incur huge costs to the ratepayers and also failed to provide essential background information on the privatization of roads to private dwellings and to marsh trails. It is therefore debatable whether there was informed consent in the referendum vote.
MNP submitted its final report on March 25, 2018 and presented its findings at a public meeting held on April 26, 2018. The QVEA had previously done extensive research on the sale (giveaway) of this land to Abaco, which it had submitted to MNP. We were particularly concerned about the impact of a big-boat marina built in a vulnerable marsh and floodway area, but also had major concerns about public access, fair market value and conflict of interest. By August 2017 we had assembled 45 pages of relevant information and chronology and in October 2017 we finally received nearly 200 pages of relevant Town records after filing an Access to Information Request.
When we saw the final audit report we pointed out that there were several obvious and serious errors of omission. A summary of our findings can be found in the May 11, 2018 Fort Times. However, Town officials remained silent about the audit’s obvious shortcomings, perhaps hoping the issues would now “go away”.
But the issues didn’t go away. After the MNP audit, a FOI request was made for Town-MNP communications and we now have access to about 900 pages from this. We also have access to several hundred pages of federal records on the transfer by the Harper Conservative government of the PFRA Crown land to the province and another several hundred pages of previously secret files from the Water Security Agency (WSA) regarding land sale issues involving Abaco. We are therefore now in a position to identify the political actors and reconstruct the series of events. We have found that even Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, along with past Premier Brad Wall, were involved behind the scenes.
What we are finding will be of interest to everyone who cares about honest and fair government, and wants to see effective accountability based on full transparency, which is seriously lacking locally. Our findings will be of particular interest to those concerned about protecting the lakes, marshes and overall watershed. They show how important responsible land use zoning and planning is for watershed protection and how far we have to go to get past mainstream clichés about “saving our lakes”.
You would expect a forensic audit to be done at arm’s length from the Town that was the object of the audit. But the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle was also the client of MNP; the Town negotiated the conditions of the audit and paid for it. There were therefore structural contradictions that could jeopardize the audit’s independence from the start.
The democratic public interest would clearly be much better served if such audits were done under the auspices of the provincial authority – the auditor, as is the case with the Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner. This reform in how municipal audits are done is well worth pursuing.
Meanwhile, it remains in the democratic public interest for residents to know what actually happened behind the scenes between the Town and the MNP auditors. This will help determine how independent the audit was and whether the 700 plus Fort Qu’Appelle residents who called for the audit got their money’s worth. The cost of the audit quickly escalated from an estimated $40,000 to around $70,000, which itself should be investigated.
We now have located in the FOI files the notes taken at meetings and during conference calls between Town officials and MNP which occurred Jan. 8th and 25th and Feb. 8th, 2018. We have a copy of the Interim Report issued by MNP on Feb 12, 2018 and Change Order # 2, dated Feb 14, 2018, which lists further costs of $13,700 for the audit agreement with the Town. (Change Order # 1, issued Jan. 15, 2018, had already added $3,500 to the audit costs for MNP agreeing to do a public meeting on the final report.) We are still trying to get the full Engagement Agreement, which, interestingly, was not released in the FOI files. This would help determine the scope and depth of the audit that the Town and MNP negotiated.
There likely were other undocumented communications but we can’t say anything about these, without people coming forward. In a future posting we will look in depth at some rather astonishing emails between Town and MNP officials and consider whether there was any indication of collusion that could jeopardize the independence of the audit. There is an abundance of information in these extensive FOI files about which the voting public and taxpayer have a right to know.
The notes from the Jan. 8th face to face meeting of the Town with MNP, which was attended by all but two councillors, state that “We need to ensure we are on task achieving the objective.” They continue “no determination of fault or fraud will be identified. (The audit is) only a factual account.”
This reassurance that fault that may have occurred with the previous council, which sold this land to Abaco, will not be identified, seems very premature. The Ministry of Government Relations is very clear that a financial audit is to identify “instances of fraud…improper transactions…non-compliance with statutes and bylaws…” At this point in the audit, the assembling of facts hadn’t even started, so all the rhetoric about “fact finding” already seems a little shallow. Could this statement from the first documented meeting be seen as a pre-judgment, a mind set and even a bias operating from the start? Other information from the FOI files will help to more fully answer this vital question.
It is unlikely that Town or MNP officials thought the petitioners or QVEA would ever get access to these behind the scenes records. The notes from the Jan. 25th communications are even more revealing. They indicate that an assessor with Crown Appraisers “was contacted”, and add that he was “surprised of the sale price of $1 for each of the two properties.” (This refers to V with the old Indian Hospital on it plus Q, which were “sold” as a package to Abaco for $1; and Y, all floodway, which was also “sold” to Abaco for another $1.) Below this, in the notes taken at this closed meeting, it says that MNP “spoke to someone for (sic) the province – indication that properties sold for less than fair market value - needs public notification.” However, public notice was not given when the Town sold this land to Abaco. So why did the audit not do serious follow up on this failure in process?
These notes also state that there “may have been a duty (to consult) for environmental assessment for hospital property because of the Pasqua First Nation” and further that MNP “may have to talk to councillors about how values were calculated for sale of properties”. We now know from FOI files that the Town had previously asked another interested party for $302,000 for Parcel V, including carrying all demolition and disposal costs for the old Indian Hospital. This Parcel along with Q later went to Abaco for $1.00. Again, why did the audit not do serious follow up to investigate this discrepancy?
A little later the notes say “They still need to determine if/when they will speak to the community group.” The notes continue: “Need to understand their motivation for the petition.” In this regard, MNP is presumably doing an independent audit of the Town resulting from the 700 plus local citizen petitioners who called for the audit, which was their democratic right. MNP should be focusing on fact finding, not talking about the motives of the citizen-based groups.
And why would MNP even be considering not talking to the petitioners who initiated this audit? Unless, that is, it and the Town had political motives for not doing this! In view of these notes we need to consider whether at this early point in the audit the Town and MNP were already acting like they were colleagues working together to manage the perception of local politics. This would clearly compromise the independence of the audit.
In a future posting we will document how every communication between the petitioners or the QVEA, with MNP, is immediately forwarded by MNP to Town officials, which is hardly an arm’s length relationship. Nor does this suggest that the petitioners’ contact with the auditors, as part of MNP’s fact finding process, was being protected by confidentiality. Using the FOI files, we will also look further at what MNP and the Town say, in private, about the citizen petitioners and the QVEA.
The Feb. 8th communication between Town and MNP officials came after the interview of the petitioners and the QVEA, which did go ahead on Feb. 6th. The notes say MNP “spoke to petitioners – reviewing 100 pages of documents provided.” But, MNP then indicated that they had “no concern about concrete in lagoon or environmental concern.” Again, we see indication of pre-judgment, as, in the end, the most serious factual errors in the final MNP report had to do with covering up the Town’s breaches of environmental regulations by allowing toxic dumping by the old lagoon site. In late March 2018, while the MNP audit was concluding that the Town had followed all environmental regulations, the Town was being served an Environmental Protection Order (EPO) by the Minister of the Environment for not doing so. And MNP had access to all this information which it clearly decided to ignore or perhaps suppress. This put the credibility of the audit into serious question; a future posting will document this in detail.
It is worth noting, however, that the interview of the petitioners and QVEA did seem to affect MNP’s mindset regarding conflict of interest. The notes indicate that MNP did “searches in North Dakota and Sask via Brian Janz and Abaco.” In brackets the notes say: (Janz) “owns 25% of Sask Company”. The notes continue: “Looking at whether the report will have to go to Minister. Re: Brian Janz may have been in conflict of interest.” This indicates that MNP is reconsidering its original reassurance about not looking for fault. In a future posting we will track in factual detail how MNP went on to handle this matter and critically investigate the way the issue is addressed in its final report. It is noteworthy that though the final report concludes there was no conflict of interest, when pressed at the April 26, 2018 public meeting by a Fort Times reporter, the MNP official running the meeting admitted “maybe” there was a conflict of interest. This public admission after the final report was already submitted to the province is very problematic.
There is strong reason to believe that MNP’s audit did not do its due diligence on this matter. There is clearly an overriding public interest in carefully surveying all the evidence pertaining to conflict of interest to finally get to the bottom of this. This matter will be fully documented in the forthcoming Posting # 3.
The Feb. 12th Interim Report to the Town also has some revealing information in it. It acknowledges that “The Petitioners have done a good job at identifying the issues and the land sales under review.” This is not something that either MNP or Town officials were ever willing to publicly acknowledge. If anything, they did and said some things to try to delegitimize or downplay the concerns of the petitioners and QVEA. The Interim Report implies that MNP is going to seriously look at the issues that the petitioners and QVEA raised. The Report says, “A group of concerned citizens raised a petition under the Municipalities Act regarding these transactions and others. Specifically, the Abaco purchases were questioned as Brian Janz, a councillor involved in the sale to Abaco, declared his pecuniary interest (as a director of Abaco) after the land sale negotiations had begun. Mr. Janz is now a shareholder in Abaco.” Note that MNP unambiguously says Janz was “a councillor involved in the sale to Abaco”, which would certainly constitute a conflict of interest.
Actually, it is even worse than this, for, as we will discuss in Posting # 3, Janz did not declare his pecuniary interest until after the sale was made to Abaco. (The sale of Parcel V and Q was made on Sept. 13, 2013 and Janz did not declare his pecuniary interest until Dec. 21, 2013.) Even present Mayor Whiting admits in his Jan. 2, 2018 presentation to MNP, which we located in these FOI files, and will discuss at length in Posting # 2, that in 2013 “Abaco (Brian Janz) had informal meetings with Town”. Mayor Whiting is directly associating councillor Janz with Abaco. He is acknowledging that Janz was acting on behalf of Abaco in “informal meetings with the Town”, while he was a councillor, which would clearly constitute a conflict of interest. Janz tried to semantically side-step the conflict of interest by claiming that Block V and Q were initially sold to the Abaco Group, and later changed to Abaco Energy, but these are the same business associates who would benefit from the land acquisition.
MNP’s Interim report also states that “The Petitioners have sent several emails to…MNP with information on persons to be interviewed. MNP is conducting due diligence regarding whether these interviews are required for this review”. But below it then states that ”Mr. Janz should be interviewed in person. Mr. Janz should be provided the opportunity to provide an explanation of the circumstances of the sale of the Hospital and his involvement with Abaco Energy.” But it continues, “It should be noted that Mr. Janz is under no obligation to meet with MNP”, which shows that the audit does not have a lot of clout. And, in view of what information was included in, and excluded from MNP’s final report, you have to wonder whether the auditors wanted an interview with Janz, to provide “the opportunity to provide an explanation of the circumstances of the sale…and his involvement with Abaco” as a way around the issue.
If facts can’t be compelled, they can remain hidden from the public. Cal Tulik of Apex Enterprizes refused to give MNP an interview, so that crucial factual information about actual demolition and disposal costs for the old Indian Hospital, which were highly relevant to the calculation of fair market value (for Parcel V), were never disclosed. A future posting will investigate this major flaw in fact finding in the final audit report.
This Interim Report notes that 51 land transactions were identified, “which is greater than 30 identified”. It also says “We located Block Y in this review”, which is a little strange since Block Y, which was sold to Abaco for $1, was clearly identified in the original petition and was highlighted when petitioners and the QVEA were interviewed. Y is all floodway, which should never have been sold (given away) to Abaco by the Town for commercial development. A future posting will discuss how the audit stick-handled around this matter.
Two days later, on Feb. 14, 2018, MNP asks for another $13,170 for completing the audit. The issues which it claims require more analysis, to justify the added costs, are very noteworthy. Change Order # 2 repeats that MNP “identified 51 land properties including property Y (a property adjacent to the Fort Qu’Appelle Hospital property) which requires assessment.” The belated focus on Y is a bit puzzling for, as we noted above, the petitioners and QVEA had highlighted Parcel Y (along with V and Q) from the start. The sale of Y should clearly have been included in the original agreement and costing.
In the preamble to Change Order # 2 MNP says “Demolition of the Hospital was conducted by Apex Enterprizes (on behalf of Abaco) who subsequently acquired a three-acre parcel of land at the old Lagoon in exchange for services rendered to the Town”. While MNP is becoming aware that there was a side-deal between Apex and the Town, it is not linking this to Abaco reducing its costs for demolition by disposing of the rubble from the old Indian Hospital at and by the old lagoon. Nor is it considered how this would affect the calculation of fair market value for Parcel V. This is vital information for the audit to carefully consider since the justification for the Town selling V and Q to Abaco for $1 was that the demolition and disposal costs would supposedly be several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nor is MNP connecting this to the use of the old lagoon area as a dumping ground and the environmental issues that led to the March 21, 2018 EPO which compelled the Town to clean up the contaminated soil dumped there. (This apparently took 42 truckloads). This turns out to be typical of MNP’s “half-baked” approach; it only gets half of the picture before it draws its conclusions, which suggests a dumbed-down approach to “fact finding”. The standards of fact finding are nowhere near what is required in civil, let alone criminal law or even investigative journalism. If anything, they are closer to politicized fact selecting than based on anything that approximates serious social science.
Change Order # 2 also notes something that the QVEA had brought to MNP’s attention, after getting access to FOI files from the WSA. The Order says that “Abaco Energy attempted unsuccessfully to purchase two parcels of land from the Water Security Agency in Saskatchewan as the sale was challenged by Pasqua First Nation.” Actually, while it is true that PFN challenged the sale in court, the files given to MNP clearly showed that the province’s Community Planning branch interceded because much of this land (in Parcel W and Z) was in the floodway, and could not be sold for commercial purposes (a marina) and was therefore taken off the market. It also added that the floodway area probably should be declared an Environmental Reserve. This is another example, of many others that have come to light with the aid of our FOI research, of MNP having some but not all of the relevant facts in place when it drew its conclusions. There certainly was not comprehensive fact finding. Rather it is starting to look more like fact selection to shore up a particular viewpoint. Under the “Description of Change”, included to justify the added costs of the audit, MNP lists three issues: 1): “Block Y is a parcel of land which has been sold to Abaco and forms the lands which access the Hospital property. This land should be appraised.” As noted above, we wonder how this could have been missed in the initial assessment, as Block Y was always highlighted as one of the three parcels sold by the Town to Abaco. There is some kind of slip-up here, and yet MNP is using the sale of Y to justify further costs. And this is not even an accurate description of Y; it doesn’t “access the Hospital property”. Rather it was given to Abaco because Pasqua First Nation (PFN) was going to do a court challenge to the proposed sale of provincial Crown land (Parcel W and Z) to Abaco. This Crown land abutted the lake and Abaco needed Y to ensure that it had an alternative way to access Echo Lake, if a marina was ever to be possible. Furthermore, the audit makes no mention that Minutes approving the sale of Y to Abaco were never located, which would be a fundamental matter for any appraisal.
It is more than ironic that Y was sold to Abaco for $1, and yet MNP ended up charging the Town an additional $2,200 for the “Appraisal of Parcel Y”. However, Town officials likely would not want to squabble with MNP about costs, and risk these contentious matters getting more public attention, as they clearly wanted the audit to function politically to try to make the whole matter go away.
2): To justify additional costs to the Town the Change Order # 2 notes that there were “8 commercial properties identified in our testing and by the Town” and continues that “One of those properties was sold to Tulik Holdings (Cal Tulik who is the owner of Apex Enterprizes). We understand that this property was sold for below market value…” We wonder why it is that such follow up, based on the initial land sale assessment and forensic testing, wouldn’t be included in the initial audit agreement and costing, as that is what an audit would entail.
3) Most interestingly, the third reason for additional costs to the Town is: “Mr. Janz has a pecuniary interest in Abaco and given these latest revelations, MNP believes that an interview should be conducted in person with Mr. Janz if he consents.” It is very noteworthy that MNP refers to “these latest revelations”, which suggested a conflict of interest. In Posting # 3 we will carefully document from the FOI files all the revelations about this matter, including those MNP either ignored or obscured.
While MNP seems to be getting more interested in conflict of interest, it clearly dropped the ball in its final report. And we need to learn more about why this happened. In its final report MNP quotes one councillor, Jeff Brown, who was intimately involved in these land sales to Abaco, saying that Abaco director and Town councillor Brian Janz recused himself. But what happened to the contrary information that came from the previous mayor and councillors? And to a careful consideration of all relevant chronological facts, including that, as MNP itself says in its Interim Report, Janz was “involved in the sale to Abaco”. Or that Mayor Whiting acknowledges in his report to MNP that Janz was acting on behalf of Abaco in informal meetings with the Town? Or that Janz only declared his pecuniary interest after the sale of the Town land to Abaco had occurred.
All relevant information should now be carefully assembled, referenced, reviewed and probably forwarded to the province for reconsideration. Of course, it is always possible that the province, which was itself involved in behind the scenes dealings over potential Crown and floodway land sales to Abaco, may prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. Watch for Posting # 3.
It is very noteworthy that in Change Order # 2, right after stating more money is needed to interview Abaco Director and Town Councillor Brian Janz, MNP says “In the instance which the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle does not wish to proceed with aspects in this engagement, the Interim Report will be finalized with appropriate limitations as per our original engagement.” This may be one of the most pertinent statements in these FOI files on the MNP audit, for it suggests that the Town, supposedly the object of the citizen-required audit, is in effect being given a monetary veto over the depth of the investigation. This could be seen as an indication of collusion, which we will investigate more thoroughly with the aid of the full 900 pages of FOI documents. It is clearly in the public interest to see what the “appropriate limitations as per our original engagement” actually means. So far, we have not been able to get access to that part of the Engagement Agreement (Appendix A), which likely deals with this.
Also, it is curious that MNP is asking for additional money for interviewing Janz, when, right in the notes, from the first meeting held about the audit on Jan. 8, 2018, Brian Janz is listed as #2, after past mayor Ron Osika, under “who does council think MNP need to talk to”. Is this a form of double billing? What is going on here?
The Dec. 21, 2017 letter from the MNP to the Town re “Investigative Services”, gives an estimate of $40,637 for the audit. Other costs were also implied. Change Order # 1, approved by council on Jan 25, 2018, added another $3,500 for MNP to do a public meeting. And Change Order # 2, issued on Feb. 14, 2018, asked for an additional $13,170, which we have shown had questionable rationales. The voting taxpayers clearly have a right to know how a $40,000 audit turned into a $70,000 one.
The files we have obtained on the audit through FOI raise serious questions about the independence of the audit. They also raise some serious questions about the quality of the audit, and give reason to believe that some vital corners were cut. They also raise questions about whether there was sufficient local fiscal oversight over the rising costs of the audit.
A later posting will look at FOI communications between the Town and MNP, when the report was being finalized for public release. We will look at revealing communications about the planning and running of the April 26, 2018 public forum on the audit report, which will also add important information about what was occurring behind the scenes.
Oct. 23, 2018
What did he know about the loss of public access to the marsh area, private homes and public institutions resulting from these Town land deals? About the side-stepping of Fair Market Value? About the Conflict of Interest occurring? And about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to bypass environmental protections and get floodway Crown land into the hands of Abaco?
Our mission is to protect and restore the health of the Qu’Appelle Watershed. Part of this is finding out as much as we can about decision-making about land use in the valley that will detrimentally affect the health of watershed habitats and water quality in the lakes. And, most vital, in terms of public participation and the health of our democracy, we need to make what we find out available to the wider public who vote and fund governments at all levels. It is our view that a more vibrant democracy will lead to better environmental care. (See our Brief on Electoral Reform under “Campaigns” on this web site.)
It goes without saying that transparency is required for there to be accountability. But transparency can be very difficult to achieve, especially if politicians or administrators try to cover up what is happening. It would be ideal if we were able to take elected officials at their word, but we know that there can be a wide gap between what is said and admitted in public and the “whole truth and nothing but the truth…”
So how do we get closer to the truth, and, in the process enhance local democracy?
Since 2016 the QVEA has steadfastly compiled information from records and files on the land deals with Abaco. From the start we knew that proposing a big-boat marina in a vulnerable marshland was not a good idea. Thankfully, along with Pasqua First Nation (PFN), we helped to stop the sale of old PFRA Crown land, transferred to the province, to Abaco for a marina. And due to our whistle blowing, thankfully the province enforced its environmental regulations and on March 21, 2018 issued an Environmental Protection Order (EPO) to the Town to clean up the contaminated soil it had allowed to be dumped in the old lagoon area, in the aftermath of Abaco demolishing the old Indian Hospital.
However, a huge environmental injustice remains. It is unconscionable that an energy company based in North Dakota still owns all access roads and trails into the marsh area. And it should be clear that this unacceptable situation is totally the result of the Town’s land deals with Abaco. The province, so far, has appeared to follow its Community Planning regulations.
Parcel V, where the old Indian Hospital existed, had a public road for nearly a century which led into the marsh area. Parcel Y has the Trans Canada Trail to the marsh on it. Both were totally privatized when the Town sold this land to Abaco. And Parcel Q, also given to Abaco, was not to be sold because it provided access to Town drainage, the Echo Lodge Special Care Home emergency and supply entrance, and was to provide access to condos planned prior to the land deal. We will document this all below.
On June 13, 2017 we wrote Mayor Whiting stating five concerns about the land deals with Abaco (selling of V and Q, of Y, public access, fair market value and toxic dumping by old lagoon). Writing in the June 23, 2017 Fort Times, likely in response to this letter, Mayor Whiting stated, under the heading “Who speaks for past councils”, that “It is doubly unfortunate when the facts that are known and duly recorded concerning transactions continue to be inaccurately related…” We share Whiting’s stated commitment to facts and evidence. But what facts were allowed to be “known and duly recorded” at the time? What facts were being withheld from the public about what Whiting referred to as “the applauded project”? And, what facts do we know about now? An objective chronology will show that the Town was not voluntarily providing full disclosure about these land deals and it took some good Fort Times investigative reporting and our and other citizens’ digging to bring things into the light.
Mayor Whiting continued: “The pursuit of truth and the righting of wrongs is admirable…” We would like to take this at face value. Whiting continues “but in our time of continued acceptance of political ‘spin’ and half-truths it is important to be a critical listener/reader and form your own opinions.” We agree there has been a lot of “spin” about these controversial land deals, and that spin and half-truths are never acceptable, but let’s locate where the spin is coming from. Whiting ends his piece calling for “well-informed approaches”. We trust that the Mayor will be pleased that we continue to become better informed with the help of information from Freedom of Information (FOI) files.
What new facts have come to light, which will strengthen a well-informed approach? We now have 900 pages of FOI files from the Meyers Norris Penny (MNP) audit. In this we found Mayor Whiting’s Jan. 2, 2018, 23-page document, entitled “Old Hospital Time Line”. This is a fairly comprehensive chronology of the land deals with Abaco, presumably done to help the audit. It includes 102 entries, with dates of decisions and important events. However, it is noteworthy that 21 of these entries have been “severed”, i.e. excluded, due to various references to the Privacy legislation: (13)(a)(b), 13(1)(a)(b), 15(1)(b), 18(1) and mostly 21(a)(b)(c).
Were this information publicly available this would have been a much larger document than 23 pages, and we would know much more about the behind-the-scenes background to these contentious land deals. The missing parts not only restrict what the voting and taxpaying public can know. But, if these documents were also unavailable to the MNP, this would greatly undercut its ability to do comprehensive fact finding.
WHITING’S OLD HOSPITAL TIME LINE:
What can we learn from the entries that were not severed? Please read on. The FOI files on the audit contain a Jan. 2, 2018 email from Mayor Whiting to CAO Larry Davidson which says: “Attached is a copy of my rough timeline notes relating to Town’s acquisition of the Old Indian Hospital through to the sale to Abaco and beyond”. This email continues: “Notes are based on the review of documents on file”. As such, we can conclude that all this information was available to the new mayor and council, and that the information is a reliable basis for gaining new insights into and creating more public transparency about these land deals.
We don’t know whether to take the phrase “my rough timeline” as an indication that there is much more information, besides the 21 severed documents, that is available but not included. Because we also now have hundreds of pages of Town files, we are in a position to assess the completeness of the entries. So, even with its apparent limitations, Whiting’s document allows us to take a “well-informed approach” and consider several questions:
1) First, we can now find out what Mayor Whiting actually knew about these land deals with Abaco;
2) Second, we can now compare this with public positions he has taken on these matters;
3) Third, we can consider the implications of the information he provides for gaining a fuller understanding of the controversies and clash of opinion over the land deals; and
4) Finally, we can now determine whether any information that Mayor Whiting includes in his document was withheld from us after we made our Access to Information request to the Town on Aug. 17, 2017.
Like us, you will find what follows to be very enlightening. Please read on.
The controversies over the land deals with Abaco have clearly polarized parts of the Fort Qu’Appelle community. For some, the issue has become the cost of dealing with the fallout from these land deals, and there is little doubt that the Town was overcharged for the MNP audit. (See Posting # 1.) For others, there is still an interest in getting to the bottom of what actually happened. If you consider what information was provided to MNP and compare this to what ended up discussed intelligently in the final report, there’s really no other conclusion than that they cut big corners when fact finding and made some glaring errors of omission. We document several examples in our ongoing Postings.
But the polarization left in the wake of the inadequate and costly audit doesn’t advance the ability to better protect the marshes, lakes and watershed. Nor does it mean that the wider public, that perhaps hasn’t followed this closely or ever read the MNP report, is going to get a better understanding of what actually happened. Polarization can mean that the opinions of vested interest groups, which can opportunistically select on “facts”, gets taken for the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This never gets to the truth and hardened opinion always stands in the way of getting the bigger truth. Nothing has polarized Fort Qu’Appelle more than the dispute over public access, particularly the lack of legal public access of residents to their condos, which were built between the old Indian Hospital (Block V) and the road to Town drainage and Echo Lodge (Block Q). It is vital to remember that when V and Q were sold to Abaco for $1, the roads were all privatized without creating any easements to guarantee legal public access. This fundamental flaw in past decision-making has never been honestly admitted by Mayor Whiting or the majority of council.
Consequently, on Oct. 2, 2017 the Town received a petition signed by 619 fair-minded ratepayers calling for re-instating legal access for all condo residents. But rather than acting on this, Town Officials decided to hold a referendum which was held in July 2018. And the Town and some interest groups successfully mobilized to get out a negative vote. Town officials should have at least remained neutral, and provided balanced information; they did not. But, that referendum, though not the matter of public access, is now water under the bridge.
However, the bigger truth still waits to be discovered. And with the information provided in the Freedom of Information (FOI) files on the audit, we can now determine what Mayor Whiting and other members of Council knew about the background to the controversy over public access. We can also determine, from this newly released information, whether Mayor Whiting and other Town officials have kept any pertinent information from the voting and taxpaying public.
There is some very interesting information about this in Mayor Whiting’s Jan. 2, 2018 document. Please read on.
Q NOT FOR SALE:
Mayor Whiting’s May 13, 2008 entry states that there was a letter to the Town from someone (two names are redacted) inquiring about “acquiring Lot Q”. This is the lot with the road between Echo Lodge and Willow Court condos, which the Town used for drainage purposes and which provides access to Echo Lodge’s east rear supply entrance. Whiting’s entry goes on to quote from the Town record that, “Lot Q said to be unavailable due to Town Engineer stating it was required for snow removal”. From this entry we know that Mayor Whiting definitely knew that a previous Town council had decided not to sell Block Q.
Mayor Whiting knew this from several Town records. Under Oct. 18, 2010, when the Town was negotiating with Pellaway Bay Resorts over the sale of the old Indian Hospital land (Block V), Whiting’s entry refers to a Town record that, “Parcel Q is reserved for expansion to Echo Lodge and/or extension of storm sewer requirements in the future…?” In the actual document, entitled Pellaway Bay Proposal, there is no question mark. Why Mayor Whiting never admitted any of this in our direct discussions, in public forums, or to the Fort Times, only he can say. But we now know for certain that he knew that prior to Abaco being given Q, which led to the contentious problems and polarization around public access, the Town had consistently stated that Block Q was not for sale.
Under Mayor Whiting’s Nov. 4, 2010 entry, he refers to Pellaway’s attorney meeting with Town officials, including Mayor Osika. Whiting’s entry from the Town record states “…first issue was availability of Parcel Q. Gerry (of Blue Sky Management) pointed out that there was a storm channel which the town would be reluctant to give up as well as a consideration from several years ago to perhaps utilize that parcel of land for an extension to Echo Lodge…”
Mayor Whiting does not include all documents that indicate that Q is not for sale. He fails to note that in the April 28, 2011 letter to the Town, on behalf of Pellaway Bay Resorts, Q has been taken off the table, in the continuing land sale negotiations.
Based on what Mayor Whiting found in Town records, we can definitely conclude that the Town was consistent over these three years, from spring 2008 to spring 2011, that Parcel Q was not for sale. The reasons were clear – the Town needed this for drainage, snow removal, etc. and this land might even be used for expanding Echo Lodge.
Why, then, has Mayor Whiting not publicly acknowledged this? And, most vital, what happened so that Abaco was treated differently and was given this Town land? We will pursue this in Posting # 3 on Conflict of Interest.
BLOCKING WILLOW COURT RESIDENTS:
What made this matter of public access so polarizing was Abaco physically blocking Willow Court residents from accessing their homes off Block Q. This was done on Nov. 3, 2016, just after Abaco Director Brian Janz and his colleague Jeff Brown lost their seats on the Town council. This mean-spirited act not only showed the wider community that Abaco now controlled these public roads but what kind of neighbour it was going to be.
One confusing aspect of this controversy has been over whether Willow Court condos should have ever relied on Block Q for access. Abaco supporters, especially past councillor Jeff Brown, have consistently blamed developer Larry Schultz for the mess, whereas Schultz has stated that he had designed the condos based on access off Q. And, with the Town consistently saying Q would not be sold, you can see his point.
What do Mayor Whiting’s entries tell us about this aspect of the controversy?
Under his July 15, 2014 entry, it says “Initial drawings show a 6 + unit oriented north/south on the lot.” The submitted drawing shows access off of Q. This confirms what Schultz has always stated, that Willow Court condos were designed with access off Block Q. Yet when we have directly raised this with Mayor Whiting, with past CAO Gail Sloan or present CAO Larry Davidson, they will not acknowledge this, claiming Schultz simply failed to ensure that the scaled-down 4-unit design had direct access off Broadway. This scapegoating has become the official “party line”. But why would they want to keep it a secret that Willow Court condos were originally designed to have access off Q? Why wouldn’t they admit that the Town made a huge error in selling Q, which it said it would not do, and doing this without creating any easements? To what end?
On Oct. 24, 2017, we received Access-to-Information, Town records on these land deals with Abaco. These files clearly showed that Schultz had done what he said he had done. On Dec. 19, 2017 the QVEA presented an 8-page brief “Why the Town Needs to Act on the Petition to Create Easements” to the Town council. We documented in detail what their own records showed. This was reported in the Jan. 11, 2018 Fort Times; see story “QVEA Wants Council to Right Past Wrongs”.
The silence of the Mayor and other councillors was deafening; they simply would not respond, at all, to any of this information which all came from their own files. It seemed like they had privately decided not to say anything publicly about the matter. Were they being so mum for a reason? Were they given any legal advice to not discuss these facts in public? From Mayor Whiting’s own entries, we now know that he knew about this background, but has chosen to continue to keep quiet about it. Again, to what end?
Town officials, including Mayor Whiting, along with past councillor Jeff Brown, have tried to divert attention from this and make the lack of access issue all about Schultz and Willow Court. But, as we’ve already documented, and Mayor Whiting fully knows, the reason why Q was not to be sold was because of public drainage and Echo Lodge; Willow Court condos weren’t even built at the time the Town refused to sell Q to Pellaway. Because the Town had consistently stated that Q was not going to be for sale, it would make perfect sense for Willow Court to also use this public land for access. And we now know from Mayor Whiting’s own document that he and his council colleagues knew that the initial drawings submitted to the Town proposed just this.
Mayor Whiting can also be politically selective about what he includes in his document. And something very pertinent to this matter is missing. We brought this to the attention of Mayor Whiting and Council, when we presented to them on Dec. 19, 2017. We showed them that their own files indicated that the Town’s CAO Kelly Schill had not officially informed Schultz that Q had been given away to Abaco, until Aug. 7, 2014. This was eleven months after the land deal was made. This was several weeks after Schultz had submitted plans for the Willow Court condos to be built off of Q. In this letter, it is noteworthy, regarding the matter of conflict of interest that we will take up in Posting # 3, that CAO Schill refers Schultz to “contact Brian (a local contact for Abaco)”; this is Brian Janz who is on Town Council at the time. This conflict of interest was clearly something that the audit should have explored, but instead ignored. We know that Mayor Whiting was aware of this important information, for this letter was included in the Access-to-Information package that he sent to us on Oct. 24, 2017. So, why did he not include this in his document?
Knowing that Mayor Whiting was fully aware of this background is what makes the statement in the Town mailout prior to the referendum so difficult to fathom or accept. Town officials say, as “background” to the vote on Willow Court residents getting legal access to their property, that: “The developer of the condo failed to provide access from Broadway St. to the condo parking lot along the eastern side of the property…Access from Broadway St. was being taken across adjacent private lands until the property owner refused passage.” This is not at all an honest description of what happened. Note that “Abaco” isn’t even mentioned. There is no mention that Q was not to be sold. There is no mention that legal public access was lost to the Town’s own drainage and to one of Echo Lodge’s emergency entrances. There is no acknowledgment that the Town completely bungled this matter by failing to create easements, which is all that the 619 fair-minded petitioners were asking the Town to do.
BLUE BILL BAY ESTATES:
Focusing on Willow Court has always been a ploy, presumably to cover up the past Town Council giving Q away to Abaco, and doing this completely irresponsibly, without any protections for public access. The Town’s own records, which Mayor Whiting has seen, indicate that drainage and Echo Lodge access were both involved. A big-boat marina being built in a vulnerable marshland and the loss of legal public access to the incredible marshland were always our major concerns. But, the legal access for Blue Bill Bay Estate condo owners was also undercut when the Town sold Parcel V to Abaco without any easements.
Does anything in Mayor Whiting’s Jan. 2, 2018 document address this?
Sure enough, under the Oct. 5, 2014 entry, Whiting refers to an email from the Blue Bill Bay residents “Re: Effective access for Blue Bill Bay Condominium…clarification regarding effective traffic access for residents of Blue Bill Bay Condominiums.” These residents would obviously be concerned that the road between the old Indian Hospital and Nurses Residence, off of which they had their rear access, all approved by the Town when these condos were built, had been totally privatized without easements. There was at least one other communication between these condo residents and the Town about their concerns about losing legal access to their rear entrance. The Jan. 12, 2017 Fort Times reported that 13 residents had sent the Town a letter of concern about the possibility of Abaco blocking their access.
It was therefore quite disingenuous for the councillors who attended the June 21, 2018 public forum, to claim that they were unaware of the Blue Bill Bay condo owners’ concerns. The Dec. 2, 2016 Fort Times reporting on the Town’s Nov. 24, 2017 Council meeting, states that this matter was discussed. It reports that Councillor Doug Blatter said “I’m very confused. I’m worried about the condos because (Blue Bill Bay access) could be blocked off tomorrow.” It was also very hypocritical for Mayor Whiting not to include, as an entry in his document, that on Mar. 17, 2018, the Town passed Motion 2018-0104 which directed “…the administration and mayor to negotiate an easement with Abaco for our storm sewer drainage on Parcel Q.” It is most noteworthy that this was one of the three actions that the 619 ratepayers called for when they submitted their petition to the Town. The question remains why the Town wouldn’t act on the two other issues involving residents regaining access.
The Dec. 2, 2016 Fort Times reported that at the Nov. 24, 2016 Town meeting then CAO Gail Sloan stated, “We need to ensure we have a relationship with Parcel Q owner…That drainage is functional and we need to go on that site when it’s required. That would be our priority…” It is noteworthy that the lawyer’s comment was relayed by the CAO as “know that you’re dealing with a corporation…Tread carefully.” Apparently in Fort Qu’Appelle, at present, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
The “no” vote on the referendum over re-instating public access means that Blue Bill Bay residents are now completely beholden to a North Dakota company, Abaco, to guarantee access to the rear of their homes. The loss of legal public access for Blue Bill Bay residents will also likely have repercussions for the resale and market value of their property. And we know what Abaco is capable of, after it built the physical barrier that has blocked Willow Court residents from their homes since Nov. 2016. The broader public is also now beholden to Abaco when they walk to the lakeshore over the road on Parcel V, or on the Trans Canada Trail on Parcel Y, as all of this land was completely privatized when the Town made their land deals with Abaco. Simply put, the Town gave “the commons” to this corporation.
In their mass mailout to sway the referendum, Town officials stated: “Should the need arise, there is adequate space on the west side of the Blue Bill Bay lands to construct a driveway from Broad St. to the north parking facilities.” Such a road would go across and destroy their front lawns and yards, further depleting property values. This would likely also breach the Town’s own setback requirements. But, Town officials were completely willing to throw the condo owners under the bus. This is a stark example of a local government defending the interests of a corporation, a foreign one to boot, over the public interest or environmental interests, of valley residents. This is indeed a sad time for the reputation of the Town.
Mayor Whiting’s entries indicate that he knew all about this background. It is well documented in the Town’s own records. However, Whiting and the majority of council have chosen not to be candid with the public about the factual background to the controversy over the privatization of public access. They are not only trying to cover up what the past council did, but what they have also now done.
Shame on them!
REFLECTING ON THE REFERENDUM:
After the referendum, which voted down creating legal public access on these privatized roads, Mayor Jerry Whiting posted the following message on Fort Qu’Appelle’s Facebook (July 11, 2018):
“The referendum was not about a win or a loss for anyone. It was about hearing directly from informed residents who have a vested interest in the response to, and outcome of, an unusual circumstance facing our community.
The majority opinion on the matter is clear and it is now up to Council to move forward in a manner that respects the direction provided.
While not everyone will welcome the outcome, on behalf of Council, I wish to thank all of the residents who turned out to vote.”
How does his political posturing stand up in view of what we factually know about the “unusual circumstance facing our community”? If Mayor Whiting was at all accountable, in a factual context, he would be asked the following:
1) How can he say there weren’t winners and losers, when Abaco got to keep its privatized roadways, and citizen ratepayers remain totally beholden to this corporation for accessing their homes and the marshland? Ask the condo residents, whose properties will have lower market value, whether they think there were any losers. Certainly, those who made this into a referendum against tax hikes would consider themselves winners.
2) How can Mayor Whiting say, with a straight face, that this was about citizens being informed, when he and other Town officials have kept vital facts that bear upon this matter of public access from the very people who were voting?
3) Just what vested interests is he referring to here? For sure the “no” campaign upheld the interest of Abaco when it successfully changed the focus from the public interest (“rights of access”) to the “no tax increase” lobby in Town. (We fully recognize how MNP’s steadily increasing audit charges, ending up over $80,000, played into this reframing.)
4) Is Mayor Whiting actually claiming that the 400 residents who, for a variety of reasons, voted “no”, reflect a “majority opinion”? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that this was a majority of those who voted, which was actually not a majority in any sense of the word? There is simply no way of saying from this referendum what a majority opinion would be about the right of public access.
5) And just what does Mayor Whiting mean when he says that the Council can now move forward respecting the direction provided? This was simply a “no” vote, on creating legal access for condo residents. What about the direction provided by the larger group of 619 fair-minded residents who signed the petition calling for reinstating legal public access? No one is disputing that in the short term it worked politically for Town officials to ignore the petition, call a referendum, and limit the information provided to the voter. Town officials clearly helped to reframe the issue into one of taxes. (Some might call this a conservative populist campaign). But does this really provide direction for what Town Council should do about the outstanding issues, including what will happen with this land, how to protect the lakes, etc.? Or, about, something that won’t seem to go away: whether there was a cover-up on the handling of conflict of interest, etc.? (See D below). What we are finding in the FOI files shows that, if anything, the importance of issues about democracy, transparency and accountability is growing.
6) Certainly, Mayor Whiting is right about one thing, that not everyone will welcome the outcome of the referendum. Anyone who truly cares about where this community is heading, and about really protecting the watershed and lakes and public access to them, will not be very happy, especially as they continue to learn more about the back story which has been kept from the public.
Mayor Whiting’s document reveals the political mindset that went along with resorting to the referendum tactic. His entries help to clarify what he knew, compared to what he has publicly said. We still need to find out what happened between 2011 and 2013, when the Town ended up giving Abaco Block Q, which for three years it refused to sell to other interested parties. This is what laid the groundwork for the heated controversy about the rights of public access in our community. The most obvious thing that happened in this period was the 2012 election, where Abaco director Brian Janz became a member of the Town Council. We will pick this matter up in Posting # 3, on Conflict of Interest.
There is more, revealing information in Mayor Whiting’s document. Please read on. There has been an ongoing controversy as to whether the Town side-stepped regulations regarding Fair Market Value (FMV) in its land deals with Abaco. We saw in Posting # 1, from the FOI files on the audit from Jan. 25, 2018, that when MNP went to a Crown Appraiser, the Appraiser was “surprised of the sale of $1 for each of the two properties”; i.e. that Block V and Q, and later Block Y, were each sold to Abaco for only a $1.00. MNP also stated that, according to the province, land that was sold below market value should be publicized, which did not happen with these land deals. This requirement is right in The Municipalities Act. In private communications with Town officials on Jan. 25, 2018, MNP also said that it would have to talk to councillors about “how values were calculated for sale of properties.” But there is no indication that they did any serious follow up to this. Why not?
Does Mayor Whiting’s document add any background to this controversy over FMV? His entry for Sept. 19, 2008, when Pellaway’s Letter of Intent about a marina was submitted, states that the Town will “…contribute Parcel Y & Q and V & leasing Marina & Conference Centre back to Pellaway for management...” From this we now know that the three parcels of land that Abaco ended up getting for $2.00 in total (V, Q and Y) were all discussed in prior negotiations with Pellaway. FOI information from federal records about the transfer of PFRA land to the province will likely add insights to this. But we already know that, even at this early date, there is no attention being paid to the fact that all of Y and most of Q are in the floodway and therefore should not be commercially developed. We will pick up on this matter later in this Posting. Mayor Whiting’s Oct. 22, 2008 entry mentions the public meeting held at the local Legion about the Pellaway Bay proposal. There is nothing about what happened, but we already know, from other Town records, that the Town ended up outrightly rejecting selling Q to Pellaway (see section above).
There are other entries through this period (e.g. May 13th and 28th, 2008) that show other discussions about selling the old Indian Hospital land. Another one for April 15, 2010 is of particular interest because it was an offer to the Town to buy V for $1.00, which is what finally happened with Abaco, with Q thrown in. It is important to know what happened with this offer: was there, as Whiting mentions, as unconfirmed, an “offer of $75,000 for the property in return for demolition of the buildings”? If so this would be a much better deal than was later struck with Abaco. So, did Abaco end up getting any insider, preferential treatment?
DEMOLITION-DISPOSAL COST ESTIMATES:
The public justification for selling V to Abaco (with Q thrown in) for $1.00 has always been because Abaco had to bear all costs of demolition and disposal of the rubble from the old Indian Hospital. Two entries from Mayor Whiting refer to estimates that the Town got for demolishing and disposing of the old Indian Hospital. The one for June 24, 2010 indicates that North West Express of Regina gave a “Quote on proposal…Hospital demolition $236,706.” It also says “Power house & stack $19,850”, which is actually incorrect. If we go to the original document it shows that the $236,706 included “tear down old hospital and power plant, crushing of materials (concrete/bricks) and material removal costs.” The crushing costs were $37,872.98 and the removal costs were $56,809.46 of the total estimate of $236,706.10. The original document shows that the $19,850.40 figure was on top of the $236,706.10 and was for “Burn Stack Removal (Behind Power Plant)”.
Mayor Whiting’s Aug. 18, 2010 entry indicates that R.J. Tulik and Son also gave a quote “to demolish the Old Hospital, and Powerhouse and Incinerator…demolish and haul away to either old lagoon site or old nuisance ground by Treaty 4…$374,000.” The Tulik estimate, unlike that of North West, however, included “demolishing the Incinerator”. If you add the $19,850.46 that North West estimated for doing this work, this brings its comparable figure to $236,706.10 plus $19,850.46 or $256,556.56. The Tulik estimate therefore was about $117,443.44 higher than the North West Express estimate.
They weren’t completely comparable, as the Tulik estimate included “excavate pit for debris at old nuisance ground site…”, which Tulik gave as one option for disposing the demolition rubble. This land ended up in Tulik’s hands after March 2013. In addition, Tulik’s proposal, unlike that of North West Express, did not include crushing of materials after demolition, which clearly was the best environmental option, as it could involve recycling of materials.
What is laid out in the full documents shows that Mayor Whiting’s sparse entries are confusing and can be misleading. For one thing, Mayor Whiting includes North West Express’s reference to “Lagoon site $142,400”, which he adds to the $236, 706, along with $19,850 for removing the burn stack, to get a grand total of “$398,956”. But this is not at all comparable with the figure of $374,000 from Tulik. North West’s quote to demolish, crush and dispose of the old hospital rubble was $256,556.56 TOTAL not $398,956.00 as stated by Mayor Whiting.
The $142,400 refers to a matter separate from demolition and disposal of the old Indian Hospital, i.e. for the costs to “Reclaim the Lagoon Site”; i.e. filling in the 4 acres area where the old lagoons were. This can be confusing as in Tulik’s proposal, one option for disposal of the old Indian Hospital rubble was at the old lagoon site. The North West proposal was “for hauling rubble to the landfill site” though it did include “hauling crushed material” to what it referred to as “the lagoon reclamation site”. But the actual reclamation would involve additional work and additional costs, for stripping topsoil, removing clay and placement and packing of crushed material. But this isn’t the whole story, for Apex’s Apr. 2, 2014 letter to the Town, proposes that in exchange for using the demolition rubble in the old lagoon, and also filling in the larger area beyond the old lagoon for industrial lots, it receive 3 acres of the industrial lots in Parcel F; in its words it would “exchange the rubble for the 3 acres”. The costs for disposal of the old Indian Hospital rubble at the old lagoon site would therefore involve an additional cost, not shown in the Aug. 18, 2010 estimate, i.e. the fair market value of 3 acres of industrial-zoned land.
Apex also gave a separate estimate for filling in the much larger area in Parcel F, dumping beyond the old lagoon to create industrial lots. Its Apr. 2, 2014 letter to the Town says “If the town did not want to exchange the ruble (sic) for the 3 acres…I could fill Parcel F with all clay at a cost of $7.00 per yard which would include supply of clay, load, haul, dump, level and compact. Parcel F comprises of 18 acres at min. 4 feet to build up would equate to a cost of…122,419 yards times $7 = $856.933.” This substantial figure may or may not have been intended to encourage the Town to take the side-deal exchanging 3 acres for the rubble and work. But, any way you cut it, this work included some work (disposing of demolition rubble) that under the original demolition estimate and final land deal was to be borne by Abaco.
Whiting did not include any of this vital information from the Apr. 2, 2014 document, even though it was definitely in the Town records. Nor was this important document provided to us by Whiting on Oct. 24, 2017 to comply with our Access to Information request to the Town. It is very noteworthy, regarding the matter of conflict of interest, that Abaco director Brian Janz attended this Apr. 2, 2014 meeting and that after this the Town CAO informed Cal Tulik that “At a special meeting held April 2, 2014, the majority of the…Council approved for you to commence hauling rubble from the old Indian Hospital site to parcel F.” There was a clear breakdown of governance accountability here, as the approval did not actually come until the April 10, 2014 Council meeting. It is noteworthy that the Town still does not post any Minutes for this April 2, 2014 meeting. We have them.
The MNP audit report also got the demolition figures wrong. They used a demolition cost estimate of $379,106 for North West Express (see p. 22 and 23) which mistakenly combines the demolition and disposal costs with estimates for reclaiming of the old lagoon. Meanwhile the Town itself, when negotiating a price for the old Indian Hospital land with Pellaway Bay Resorts, used the much lower and accurate North West figure of $256,556 for the demolition and disposal. (See Oct. 18, 2010 below). So, why are all these inflated figures being used for demolition and disposal costs, other than to artificially lower the estimate of the FMV of the land that Abaco got for $1.00?
There are other entries in Mayor Whiting’s document that further inform us about FMV. His Oct. 13, 2010 entry confirms that according to Crown Appraisals the market value for V was “$99,000” and that this “includes the estimated cost of removal of the existing structures”. However, Whiting does not mention that they took the highest estimate, of $374,000, from Tulik, in making their calculation. If the lower one of $256,556 from North West Express had been used, then the appraised market value of V would be closer to $220,000.
Mayor Whiting’s entry for five days later, on Oct. 18, 2010, confirms that the Town believed that Parcel V had high market value. This entry says the “Town offers parcel ‘V’ to Pellaway Bay Resorts for $302,000, as is”, which means that Pellaway would have to pay $302,000 and still carry all the demolition costs. But, there is no mention by Whiting that the document brought to that meeting, called “Pellaway Bay Proposal”, stated that the total costs for demolition and disposal, which they take from North West Express, would be “$256,556.10”. Whiting also fails to mention that the Town document says “The total cost for the demo is $161,873.66 plus the crushing and removal at $94,687.44…”, which is clearly a lot below the Tulik estimate.
This is also when the Town tells Pellaway that “Parcel V is the only available land” and Q is not for sale, which Mayor Whiting also does not mention in his entry. If Q was included in the fair market value assessment, the figure would be much higher. The fair market value of Q is totally ignored when the case is made that it was fair to sell this land (both V and Q) to Abaco for $1.00 because it was incurring the costs for demolishing and disposing of rubble from the old Indian Hospital on Parcel V.
The Feb. 10, 2011 entry gives us further information of how this land, that ultimately went to Abaco (with Q) for $1.00, was valued by the Town around that time. That entry from Town records says “perhaps serious consideration should be given to second option of demolishing the old hospital…would result in approx.. 54 lots that could be sold for approx. $45,000 each ($2,430,000) which could pay for the site clean up & infrastructure upgrades…”
Mayor Whiting’s entry for April 28, 2011 refers to “Pellaway counter offer for purchase of Parcel V of $200,000…” Q is no longer in the picture. The entry says that this assumes “demolition costs of $256,000 & contribute $84,000 towards infrastructure…” So, at this point in the negotiations, Parcel V alone, without Q included, taking the estimated demolition costs into account, is considered to have a market value of at least $450,000.
Mayor Whiting’s May 12, 2011 entry says that “Town rejects Apr 28, 2011 proposal by Pellaway…” We don’t know the full back story to this, as this whole period of land dealing was cloaked in secrecy, but it seems that there was not a consensus on Town Council about the financial obligations that the Town could incur under this joint development proposal.
Whiting’s June 26, 2013 entry redacts (blackens out) the names of four people who “had visited Fort Qu’Appelle seven times since April and had visited the old hospital site and liked it very much”. It is important to know more about what happened here. What was this party told about the cost of Parcel V, as is? Was the party offered this land for $1 plus carrying the costs for demolition and disposal? Was Q thrown in for the same price? And, if not, why not?
There is then an Aug. 22, 2013, entry about the Town saying “it will work with the company (Apex) should the proposed demolition project proceed”. Whiting then has an entry for “2013” which says “ABACO (Brian Janz) had informal meeting with Town”. This is where the controversy begins, and it is notable that in Whiting’s entry, Brian Janz, who is a Town Councillor at the time, is clearly acting on behalf of Abaco. We will pick up on this below and in Posting # 3, on Conflict of Interest.
Whiting’s entry for April 10, 2014 is about the Town accepting an Apex proposal “to haul rubble into the old lagoon site (SW portion of Parcel F)…In return the Town will transfer 3 acres of said parcel to said company…” Mayor Whiting clearly knows that the side-deal is directly related to his Old Hospital Time Line because it involves disposing of rubble from the old Indian Hospital. Whiting, however, does not explain that this side-deal with Apex, which did the demolition work for Abaco, would have a direct bearing on reducing Abaco’s actual costs of demolition and disposal. It would not only cut travel costs but the costs of taking the rubble to a regulated dump with dumping fees.
This is something that even the MNP final report acknowledged; on page 24 MNP says “the market value of the property would increase or decrease in accordance with the actual disposal costs.” This side-deal is therefore highly relevant to the validity and credibility of the public justification that the $1 price (for V with Q thrown in) was fair because of the demolition costs. Whether it was “fair”, of course, depends on what the actual (still hidden) costs actually turned out to be. But there is no doubt that the side-deal that the Town made with Apex would not only reduce the disposal costs of Abaco, but add costs (the market value of the 3 acres) to the Town.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that MNP could not get Apex owner Cal Tulik to do an interview, and therefore never got the actual costs of demolition and disposal as part of its fact finding. There, therefore, were no empirical facts available about this vital information when the audit considered the issue of FMV. However, MNP’s audit report ends up ignoring this and using highly inflated demolition and disposal costs (of $390,000, see p. 24) to make its absurd argument that Parcel V only had a market value of $2,000. If Abaco ever sells all the land it got from the Town for $2.00, plus the unknown costs of demolition and disposal, we will actually see what the market value of this land is. We cannot substantiate rumours that offers of $750,000 have been turned down by Abaco.
Mayor Whiting simply side steps this important issue. The land, however, continued to have high assessed value. Mayor Whiting’s Jan. 11, 2015 entry includes the Tax Notice for Parcel V and Q which states “V assessed value $479,500 ($8,618.03) and Q $167,100 ($3,235.25).” It is noteworthy that councillor Jeff Brown, who moved all the motions to make these land deals with Abaco, also called for the Town to give Abaco a tax abatement in 2016. (See Aug. 19, 2016 Fort Times).
It is clear from Mayor Whiting’s entries that up until Abaco got involved in land negotiations with the Town in 2013, that Parcel V was seen to have high market value, even accounting for the purchaser carrying all costs of demolition and disposal. When the Town was dealing with Pellaway, the asking price for V alone was $302,000, with Pellaway carrying all demolition and disposal costs. The shift of the price to only $1 within a few years (with Q now thrown in) therefore remains highly problematic, and even suspicious.
The fact that no actual figures for demolition and disposal costs have ever been produced, taking the effect of the Apr. 10, 2014 side-deal between Apex and the Town into account, leaves a cloud hanging over the Town. The added fact that the Town CAO told Apex it could proceed with the side-deal on April 2, 2014, when no Council motion had yet been passed, and that Abaco director Brian Janz was at this April 2, 2014 meeting, makes this a very big cloud, indeed.
From his Jan. 2, 2018 document we know that Mayor Whiting was aware of vital facts regarding the controversy over the fair market value of the old Indian Hospital land. To our knowledge, however, he has never acknowledged this fundamental problem in a public setting. When this information was raised at our public forum held at the Legion on June 21, 2018, prior to the Town’s referendum, Whiting did not acknowledge that he knew the price that the Town asked Pellaway for the old Indian Hospital land, prior to its dealings with Abaco, with Pellaway carrying all demolition costs, was $302,000. Most interesting, the records about the Town’s asking price of $302,000 to Pellaway Bay Resorts were not included in the Access to Information files that we received from Mayor Whiting on Oct. 24, 2017.
The process of getting to the whole truth and nothing but the truth (like Whiting’s “well-informed approach”) can be arduous, but this is necessary for the voting taxpayers to be able to hold elected officials accountable and to have the depth of information required for informed consent.
Mayor Whiting’s document on Town land deals with Abaco acknowledged the conflict of interest issue. However, his selections, which pre-judge the matter, are more telling than his care in assembling all relevant facts. We will assemble all the known facts that pertain to conflict of interest, including those brought out by the audit and missing or obscured in Mayor Whiting’s document, in Posting # 3.
As already stated, Mayor Whiting’s entry for “2013” acknowledges the conflict of interest issue by stating, and we quote, “Abaco (Brian Janz) had informal meeting with Town.” The Fort Times had previously reported the same thing. In its Oct. 28, 2016 story “Abaco marina an issue at forum”, it reported that Osika had stated “Councillor Brian Janz suggested a meeting between the town and the company.” The article also stated “In 2013, Janz and Abaco representatives had an informal discussion with the town.”
There is no room for interpretation here; Brian Janz, who was a Town councillor at the time, was acting on behalf of Abaco. This contravenes Section 144(1)(a) ofThe Municipalities Act, which states that “if a member of council has a pecuniary interest… the member shall declare the pecuniary interest before any discussions of the matter.” Below, we will outline the relevant dates, which clearly show that Janz did not abide by this or some other legislative stipulations.
Mayor Whiting can’t pin down a date for this or any other meeting where Janz was acting for Abaco while a councillor. This itself shows that the relationship between Abaco and the Town established by Janz was “informal” and undocumented, which should already be a red light. In view of what we now know, and what MNP itself acknowledged (see Posting # 1), not only should Janz have declared his pecuniary (conflict of) interest from the start, but then never acted on behalf of Abaco in any regard. We will see below, however, that even though Whiting’s 2013 entry clearly signals a conflict of interest, Whiting tries to downplay this.
Mayor Whiting has another 2013? (sic) entry about “Undated letter from Darrel Webster (CAO) to Abaco Group indicating council is interested your proposal…do wish to bring to your attention some of Council expectations with regards to the project”. Webster mentions some of the conditions required for a demolition permit and the need for a servicing agreement. According to Whiting’s entry, Webster’s letter ends “…any further information that you have about the project would be appreciated.”
Was CAO Webster perhaps trying to assert some administrative control here, over what may have become a highly politicized process of negotiation, with Councillor Janz being an Abaco director. Webster was later terminated at a crucial point which, perhaps coincidentally, was at the same meeting where the council was deciding “in camera” whether or not to take action on Janz’s failure to declare his conflict of interest. (See Dec. 21, 2013).
Mayor Whiting’s entry for Sept. 9, 2013, is a “Letter from Abaco Group…Re: Proposal to Purchase ‘Indian Hospital’…Lots V and Q…” Is this the same Proposal that the March 25, 2018 MNP report says “we were unable to obtain…Sept. 9, 2013 proposal letter from Abaco Group to purchase lots V and Q”? Mayor Whiting must have had a copy, for he includes details, such as “The proposed hotel would have 80 + units…” It is also interesting that this entry says “…the design of the marina will have to be determined as some of the land required is owned by the Crown and Abaco will have to work with them on the appropriate design…” From this we now know that back in 2013, Abaco is already trying to arrange to get ownership of the floodway land that the federal government is planning to transfer to the province (Lot Z and W). Later in this Posting we will look at Whiting’s entries that bear on this.
It should be noted that this information about conflict of interest from Town files in 2013 was not given to the QVEA by Mayor Whiting after our Access-to-Information request. In response to our Aug. 17, 2017 letter requesting any information on Brian Janz’s involvement in “any preliminary discussions or arrangements that led to the selling of Town land to Abaco” (Question # 29), Whiting stated, in writing, on Oct. 24, 2017, “There are no records of which we are aware which would indicate this to have been the case.”
Yet we know from Whiting’s own Jan. 2, 2018 document that such information was available; otherwise how could Whiting’s 2013 entry state that “Abaco (Brian Janz) had informal meeting with Town”? Also, we now know that Brian Janz for sure attended the April 2, 2014 meeting that discussed the side-deal with Apex, which would have a direct bearing on reducing Abaco’s costs for demolishing the old Indian Hospital. As such, as an Abaco director, Janz would directly benefit. We have to again ask: why was this information not included in Whiting’s document? And why was it withheld from us when we made our Access to Information request in Aug. 2017?
Mayor Whiting’s entry for Sept. 30, 2013 says that the Council “accept the offer of Abaco Service Group of $1.00 for Block Q and V…” Notice here that Whiting says “Abaco Service Group”, which combines Abaco Group and Abaco Energy Services, which is an understandable mistake, as they include the same business associates. This suggests that Whiting, like the MNP audit, may not have seen the distinction as being significant in regards to the conflict of interest issue. They would be right about this.
Mayor Whiting’s entry for Oct. 3, 2013 refers to a “Letter from the Town of FQ” to someone in (name is redacted) “…Abaco Group…advising the TOF at a special meeting held Sept. 30, 2013 passed…” the motion to accept Abaco’s offer. Whiting’s Oct. 11, 2013 entry refers to the press release about “Town and Abaco Group enter into tentative agreement for hotel/marina development.” There are then several entries about finalizing the purchasing agreement, including some material (Oct. 24, and Nov. 22, 2013) that is “severed”. During this period Janz is publicly acting on behalf of Abaco (See Oct. 28, 2018 Fort Times).
Mayor Whiting’s Dec. 17, 2013 entry is about Janz’s belated letter to council. It is noticeable that Whiting simply quotes Janz from his letter, as though it is self-evident that he had advised “council of his pecuniary interest prior to the Special Meeting of Sept. 30, 2013…” There are several known facts that need to be carefully considered as background to this. For one thing, this date is factually wrong, for Janz’s declaration of pecuniary interest was not prior to the Sept. 30, 2013 council meeting, as his letter says, and Whiting apparently takes for granted. It was three months later, just prior to the Dec. 21, 2013 council meeting.
All Janz did before the Sept. 30, 2013 meeting, which passed the resolution to sell Parcel V and Q to Abaco, was absent himself, as the Minutes clearly state. This wouldn’t stand as any sort of divulging of an interest. It is clear in the Town’s Minutes that it is only during the Dec. 21, 2013 council meeting, after the council terminated Darrel Webster as CAO, for which Janz was present, that “Brian Janz declared a pecuniary interest and left the room at 9:08 as he is a director with zero shares in Abaco Energy Services Inc.” It is after this that the Town changed the wording of its motion to sell land to “Abaco Energy Services Inc, not Abaco Group”. Mayor Whiting would know all this as these Minutes were included in the package he sent to QVEA on Oct. 24, 2017. So why did Whiting not accurately report this in his document?
Rather than carefully addressing all the known facts, Whiting simply includes the position taken by Janz to defend himself from the charge of being in a conflict of interest. In his Dec. 17, 2013 letter, Janz stated that “…he did not disclose that he was a director of Abaco Energy Services as Abaco Group was the company purchasing the property.” Whiting makes no mention of the fact that in this same letter, which Janz wrote as a result of the lawyer’s Dec. 3, 2013 letter to council about conflict of interest, Janz actually claims that he “was incorrectly noted on the Minutes (of Sept. 30, 2013)…as absent, when in fact I had recused myself and was abstaining from discussing and/or voting as I had a pecuniary interest”. If this error had actually been made and not corrected by Janz at the next meeting, which there is no reason to believe, then Janz wouldn’t even need the excuse, that Whiting quotes, about the Abaco Group not being Abaco Energy. Also, if it was true that Janz had recused himself back on Sept. 30, 2013, then there would not have been any reason for the Town lawyer to write his Dec. 3, 2013 letter on conflict of interest. Janz simply can’t have it both ways. Nor can the Mayor.
Janz used this excuse from the start. In its Oct. 28, 2016 article the Fort Times states that Janz “told the Fort Times that when the deal was initially proposed that it was by Abaco Group, a company which he does not have business interests in – which is why he never declared a conflict.” Again, what he says here contradicts what he wrote on Dec. 17, 2013. And this was always a phony excuse, for Abaco Group is not a company, but the term used for a group of companies, which includes Abaco Energy Services; so, the semantics don’t absolve Janz for covering up his business association and conflict of interest. And Mayor Whiting would know this, as the Town’s lawyer stated this in his Dec. 18, 2013 letter to the Mayor and Council, where he wrote, “Abaco Group is not a corporation in its own right but rather refers to a group of associated corporations, eight of which are American corporations…one of which is the Canadian corporation, Abaco Energy Services Ltd.” So why didn’t Mayor Whiting include this vital information in his document which, presumably, he prepared for the audit?
In dealing fully with the conflict of interest issue it is therefore vital to remember that Janz’s declaration of a pecuniary interest in Abaco came three months after the Town agreed to sell this land to Abaco, whichever name it used. Janz clearly had a pecuniary interest in this Group, as it includes Abaco Energy, of which he was and remains a director. Furthermore, The Municipalities Act (see Section 143(1)(b) is quite clear that a pecuniary interest includes “a closely connected person” who can benefit from a decision, and this would definitely include those in the Abaco Group. It is also noteworthy that Janz’s Public Disclosure Statement of his business interests didn’t actually come until March 9, 2016, long after all sales to Abaco, including of Parcel Y, were made.
Mayor Whiting notably omits this information from his document. He, however, does have one entry for Dec. 18, 2013, which simply states “Various correspondence and emails regarding Abaco Energy Services and Pecuniary Interests of members of Council”. But Whiting does not give any details about these. He does not specifically mention the letter from the Town lawyer, dated Dec. 18, 2013, which gives the council the option of asking for Janz to resign. Nor was there any entry in his document for the lawyer’s Dec. 3, 2013 letter to council, which is referred to in the lawyer’s Dec. 18, 2013 letter.
This important Dec. 3, 2013 letter, which Whiting excludes from his document, lays out in detail what constitutes a conflict of interest. It even suggests that “given the sensitivities of the matter the remaining members of council may wish to have these discussions in camera” to decide “whether Mr. Janz had a pecuniary interest in respect of the ABACO resolution and, if so, whether he breached the requirements of section 144 of the Act in relation to the same”. But this and all the other information, other than Janz’s own letter, with his contrived excuse, is excluded from Whiting’s document. It certainly looks like Mayor Whiting was trying to cover over some of the most pertinent factual information about this matter.
Again, we note that the information that he did not include in his document from Town records was also kept from the QVEA, when its Access to Information request was addressed on Oct. 24, 2017. Again, we ask: to what end?
In his Dec. 21, 2013 entry Mayor Whiting states that at this Council meeting the Council “change motion 183/13 to read Abaco Energy Services Inc. not Abaco Group.” This is the same meeting that, prior to this motion being carried, Darrel Webster was terminated as the Town’s CAO. In Posting # 3 we will assemble all the factual background to this motion that has come to light. This will include several documents, including the Dec. 3rd, and Dec. 18th, 2013 letters from the Town’s lawyer, that Whiting notably omitted from his document. We will also look at the obviously sloppy and contradictory handling of all the facts assembled about conflict of interest in the MNP audit.
There are some other entries pertaining to the Town’s sale of V and Q to Abaco that are noteworthy. Whiting’s Sept. 30, 2013 entry noted that “All demolition must be completed within one year of the sale of the property.” His entry for Jan. 16, 2014 reiterated this and specified that Abaco must “complete the required demolition, waste disposal and rough grade/landscape work by January 30, 2015.” Mayor Whiting’s entry also included the statement that should Abaco fail to do this “Abaco shall forthwith transfer title to the Property back to the Town.”
We know that Abaco did not meet this requirement, as the demolition and other work was still being completed more than two years after the Jan. 30, 2015 deadline. However, though Mayor Whiting considers it relevant to include reference to these conditions of the sale, he does not refer to Abaco’s breach of the agreement. Why not? The new council, with Whiting as mayor, clearly had the option of initiating action to enforce this stipulation, which could have started to get the Town out from under this expensive mess. We don’t know whether Town officials ever discussed this option, and if they did, this information has clearly been kept out of the public light.
Mayor Whiting has been quiet and sometimes evasive every time we have raised the matter of the Town giving land (part of Q and all of Y) to Abaco that should have been protected as floodway and marshland. His Jan. 2, 2018 document, however, shows that he was quite aware of the issue and what had gone on behind-the-scenes.
Whiting’s entry for Aug. 22, 2007, reveals that this matter of floodway land was even raised for the old Indian Hospital land (V). It states that under the Planning and Development Act 2007, the rezoning by the Town has to have a “caveat that as area is subject to periodic flooding all permanent buildings and structures are to be flood proofed up to an elevation of 481.60 metres…”
Mayor Whiting’s Sept. 2, 2010 entry is about the Sask Watershed Authority’s response to Town inquiries about decommissioning the old lagoon. The entry states that the provincial approval “does not address any potential environmental issues.” And, in retrospect, some serious environmental issues were ignored. This is when the QVEA became an environmental whistle blower. And on March 21, 2018 the Town was issued an Environmental Protection Order (EPO) to clean up contaminated soil (asphalt, etc.) that, since the demolition of the old Indian Hospital, it had allowed to be dumped by the old lagoon, to create industrial lots. We now have, from FOI files, correspondence that shows that the Town was not complying with the wishes of the Ministry of Environment. MNP’s audit report erred factually on this matter when it stated that the Town had followed all Environmental regulations having to do with these land deals. It did not!
Mayor Whiting does not include any of this information on Town non-compliance from Town files in his document. (There were made available by us to MNP and are dated Jan. 19, 2015, June 23, 2016 and March 21, 2018). Both the Town and MNP appear to have tried to cover up this matter from the public.
We noted above that Whiting’s Sept 9, 2013 entry included the statement from Abaco that “the design of the marina will have to be determined as some of the land required is owned by the Crown…” Whiting however does not mention that on Oct. 18, 2010, in the Town’s “Pellaway Bay Proposal”, it stated that “The Town is prepared to participate in the acquisition of Parcel W and J (Z) when AgCan makes their decision to render it surplus.” All this land, which the province withdrew from the market on Nov. 20, 2017, turned out to be mostly floodway. Whiting has never acknowledged the importance of environmental protection of the floodway and marshland, though he told us that he worked on the Trans Canada Trail, which is built on floodway marshland, on Parcel Y, which was given to Abaco in 2015.
Mayor Whiting’s entries, however, indicate that he is quite aware of the behind-the-scenes timeline to get the Crown, floodway land into the hands of Abaco. His Apr. 30, 2014 entry states “Parcel Z transferred to WSA from Crown.” His entry for July 10, 2014 is about “letter from WSA to Mayor Osika”, but all information is then severed. His Oct. 2, 2014 entry refers to an “Abaco-WSA meeting”, but all information is again severed. There is also an entry for Nov. 19, 2014 which just says “meeting”. Again, all information is severed. We have to ask why there was so much secrecy around these behind-the- scenes land dealings with Abaco? We asked local MLA, Don McMorris, about this just prior to the 2016 provincial election, but never got a straight answer. We will document what happened more thoroughly when we analyze the FOI files from the province.
Mayor Whiting is definitely aware of all the Town lobbying of federal and provincial governments to get this floodway Crown land into the hands of Abaco. His Nov. 20, 2014 entry is about a letter from Osika to local MP and now Conservative leader Andrew Scheer “re inquiries with Agri-Food Canada on Town’s behalf regarding the timelines on land transfer to WSA.” Even before the federal PFRA land has been transferred by the Harper government, or any notice of this has been issued, the Town is trying to ensure that the land goes to Abaco. We have even seen a map from Agri-Food that already had a diagram of a marina on this Crown land.
Whiting’s Feb. 10, 2015 entry refers to a letter from Osika to the WSA to “allow right of access or lease to developers for project.” Whiting’s Feb. 11, 2015 entry is about Osika writing Aboriginal Affairs about the “possibility of the province retaining the rights to retain the property…(yet allow right of access for project).” For Feb. 18, 2015 Whiting refers to an email, but all information is severed. Whiting has a Feb. 20, 2015 entry about “Mayor Osika requests a meeting with Minister Scott Moe resp (sic) for Environment, Water Security & Sask Water.” There is another entry for the same day saying “Mayor Osika requests a meeting with Minister Docherty (Sask Parks?).” Was the Town trying to get the marina approved as part of a provincial park?
There’s a March 3, 2015 entry about another letter, but all information is severed. Whiting’s March 6, 2015 entry says “Minister unable to meet with Mayor”. The entry for Apr. 4, 2015 states “Abaco makes an offer to purchase to WSA”. And the entry for Apr. 10, 2015 refers to an email but all information is severed. Another entry for that same day refers to a “Tele conference”, but all information is also severed. Whiting’s entry for Apr. 17, 2015, about a typed note, also has all information severed.
Whiting then has an undated entry about “Abaco Energy Services Offer to Purchase Parcel Y from TOF (Town of Fort Qu’Appelle)” (We have this letter and it is dated Mar. 5, 2015.) His entry continues, (for) “$1.00…Rezoning for marina+…TOF to assist in obtaining local, prov & Federal permits as necessary for marinas.” We now know, from other sources, that Abaco wanted Parcel Y to ensure it had an alternative access to the lake. And something else that Mayor Whiting fails to mention in his document, and which the MNP totally ignored in the audit, is that Town officials have never found the Minutes of the meeting which agreed to sell this land, Parcel Y, to Abaco. Hmmmm!
At that time, negotiations between Abaco and the WSA over purchasing the Crown land (Z and W) were facing difficulties, partly due to Pasqua First Nation (PFN) going to court over a failure to follow the Duty to Consult. This undated (Mar. 5, 2015) entry is quite telling as it indicates that the Town was directly involved in the attempt to end-run zoning, environmental protection and First Nations rights, to get commercial development in this floodway and marshland.
Whiting’s entry for May 14, 2015 is about an email from Osika to a redacted name “with copy of note he sent to Sask Water seeking update on status of land transfer…” Then there is an entry for May 14, 2015 regarding another email, but all information is severed. Whiting’s entry for May 25, 2015 refers to a “WSA counter offer” but the information about this is all severed. Whiting has an entry for May 31, 2015 about “Letter from Mayor Osika to VP Water Security Agency.” It continues, “…imploring to ensure the team’s efforts remain focused on urgency for meeting timelines…(delays could put development at risk).” After that there is an entry for June 30, 2015 about a letter, but all information is severed. Later there is an entry for July 28, 2015, regarding a letter from Mayor Osika to a lawyer, whose name is redacted, asking for “options available given Treaty Land Entitlement action by Pasqua FN”.
Mayor Whiting’s entry for Aug. 28, 2015 states “Block Y sold to Abaco”, but, as noted above there is no mention that the Town has never produced the Minutes that document this sale. After this the entry says “…(that property went from PFRA to Sask Water to Town?) for $1”. The entry also refers to the agreement that “Town to enact a new zoning bylaw and the zoning of the property as CS2 Passive Community Service by Jan. 1, 2016.” Whiting clearly knew that Town officials were working directly with Abaco to make this floodway land available for the marina. Also, we need to find out if it is true that the Town got Y from the province, without the province ensuring that this floodway would be protected? The MNP audit ignored vital facts and mishandled this whole matter.
The entry for Sept. 14, 2015 is about Pasqua First Nation registering “Treaty Land Entitlement interests on the two parcels”. It continues that “title can not (sic) be transferred until those interests are removed…” This entry refers to a Mar. 3, 2016 “letter from Minister for WSA”; this suggests that, at this point, the province is still willing to sell this Crown land (Z and W) to Abaco, after they deal with Pasqua First Nation. We know, however, from FOI files from the WSA, that this land was later withdrawn from the market, on Nov. 17, 2017, primarily due to environmental and floodway regulations. The Town has never respected these environmental concerns during this whole land ordeal.
It is interesting that the Town has a CLEM (Calling Lakes Eco-Museum) poster about “Saving the Water” on its from door. It is doubly interesting that CLEM has never said a public word about the Town’s disregard for the lakeside marshland.
Whiting’s Jan. 4, 2016 entry is about the “land transfer of Parcel Y to Abaco”. At this point the Town and Abaco apparently think that they will be able to go ahead and use this floodway marshland for the marina. But since then, with all the public attention, and accumulating revelations, the planning seems to have petered away. Though Town officials continue to defend Abaco’s interests, the marina project may be dead in the water. In this regard, we will have achieved our overriding environmental objective.
There was obviously a scurry of activity over this period, in early 2015, to get this provincial, floodway Crown land transferred to Abaco for its proposed marina. When this ran into regulatory and political troubles, Abaco was given Lot Y as a back-up plan. There is still a lot of missing information, including council Minutes for when the Town gave Abaco Parcel Y for $1, which would tell us much more about the deal making. We will do a future Posting based on all FOI files, including those from the WSA, about these matters.
From these entries in his Jan. 2, 2018 document we are now much more “well-informed” about what Mayor Whiting knew about the land deals with Abaco. Mayor Whiting clearly knew far more than he has ever let on when these matters were being publicly discussed. His document was likely not produced for public eyes; but it tells us that Mayor Whiting knew much more than he has publicly divulged. It is also now clear that under his leadership the Town has withheld some of the most pertinent information, even though this information is supposed to be available under the province’s Freedom of Information legislation.
Mayor Whiting and other councillors should be held accountable for their actions as elected officials. We realize that the whole truth and nothing but the truth is not always the primary concern in local politics. But when a community faces such contentious and potentially divisive issues, it is vital for elected officials to respect and facilitate full transparency so that everyone can get to the bottom of the issues.
This has not occurred in Fort Qu’Appelle, but the truth will continue to leak out. After more than two years of dealing with the new Town Mayor and Council, which were elected to clean up this mess, we have had to conclude that their commitment to truth-telling, to date, has been no better than we saw with the previous, highly secretive council.
We are committed to watershed protection as a public interest, and will carry on. If there is a need to correct any statements in this report as more information comes to light, we will be more than pleased to do so. We realize that the pursuit of the truth and nothing but the whole truth involves a process of bringing more information into the public realm. This is posted to help move this process forward. Much still has to change and much more has to become publicly known if we are going to get honest, above-board governance that is committed to protect and restore the Qu’Appelle Watershed.
Was Anything Covered Up in the Conflict of Interest Investigation?