Friday November 21, 2014

Birdie chirps on SaskPower plan


The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) regularly investigates the government based on whistleblower tips and other activities we observe.

Sometimes the information we dig up makes for a big headline, other times it makes its way into a column like this; a buffet of interesting tidbits that taxpayers might like to know.

Let’s start with SaskPower. A little bird told us a while ago that the crown corporation had been working on a $100 million refurbishment to its head office in Regina.

The tip seemed odd – how could a crown corporation plan to spend so much without any trace of media coverage? Nevertheless, we investigated and discovered the tip to be true. In fact, it’s a $142.6 million refurbishment and the lack of media coverage is understandable. The only public mention we could find from SaskPower was a single short line in its 130 page 2013 Annual Report: “In 2013, refurbishment of our company’s 50-year old head office also began.”

We asked for additional details from SaskPower to learn more about what exactly they planned for the headquarters, but they’ve since indicated publicly the project is on hold.

On a more positive note, we found some good news in SaskPower’s Annual Report – partnerships it struck with businesses to start running its service desk and handle some caretaking duties. The crown corporation noted in a response to the CTF that the new partnerships are saving ratepayers over $450,000 annually. Thumbs up to SaskPower for looking at ways to save the public money.

Speaking of partnerships, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation looked into the revenues from speed enforcement in construction zones; commonly known as “photo radar.”

Last year the government hired a private company to start snapping pictures of people speeding through construction zones. Yes, it’s not the police who run the program and no, the private firm doesn’t actually pull dangerous drivers over. The company just snaps pictures of alleged speeders and then sends a ticket to the owner of the speeding vehicle; who may not have been the driver committing the infraction.

Regardless, the program is all about “safety” right? As of May, 2014 the government had collected $529,478. Once expenses are accounted for, it looks like the government likely pocketed a couple hundred thousand dollars from the new arrangement. No word yet on how those funds were spent in the name of improving safety – we were told most of the money goes into general revenues.

Speaking of law enforcement, data obtained by the CTF from the Ministry of Justice shows the number of accidentally released inmates is down in Saskatchewan. Between 5 and 7 inmates were accidentally released each year from 2010 to 2012. Yet, for 2013 there was just one. Why should taxpayers care? Well guess who foots the bill for having to rearrest those released accidentally? Hopefully the drop off in 2013 is the start of a trend.

Finally, the CTF has discovered high-income earners (some earning $100,000+) living in social housing in Manitoba and Alberta. We tried looking into the issue in Saskatchewan, but hit a brick wall – a $20,218 estimate to get the data. As a not-for-profit, we can’t afford such a big bill, but perhaps the government could look into things. A CTF-prompted investigation by the Manitoba government led to them identifying an extra $108,288-$316,975 in annual revenue from those who were discovered to be paying too little.

That’s it for this information buffet. We’ll let you know when dessert is ready.

Colin Craig is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation



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