Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is defending his government's agreement to give Canadian Pacific Railway 300 acres of serviced land at Regina's Global Transportation Hub for free.
Back in 2009, when the deal was signed, CP's rail yard was on Dewdney Avenue, just north of downtown Regina.
Wall said the City of Regina made it clear to the province that it wanted the rail yard moved.
"The City of Regina wanted this," he said. "They wanted the removal of CP."
He said getting that facility out of the heart of the city made some sense.
"It's good for the City of Regina to be able to get that traffic at that rail facility out of the city and on to the GTH," Wall said.
According to the agreement, CP was to pay for the new buildings and railway infrastructure while the government would cover the cost of the land, the servicing, the paving of internal roads and parking lots and the moving of power lines.
Regarding negotiations with CP, Wall said "this work was ongoing prior to us getting elected," in 2007.
He said the previous NDP government was working on this deal and "talked about $30 million worth of money already approved. So, when we decided to continue with the GTH from the previous government, we knew that should be part of the arrangement."
According to a 2007 NDP briefing note provided by the government, the NDP cabinet had approved $33 million toward a $100-million project that would see CP's facilities move to the GTH. The document doesn't say anything about giving CP free, serviced land.
'Nonsense' to point to NDP: Wotherspoon
The NDP's Trent Wotherspoon said it's true that the NDP was involved in early stage planning of the GTH. But he pointed out that the Saskatchewan Party government's agreement with CP — to give free land — was signed in late 2009, more than two years after being elected.
"It's nonsense to suggest this was put together ... by the previous administration," said Wotherspoon.
He also criticized the agreement giving CP free, serviced land.
"This is a government that for years has tried to hide this deal with CP and the GTH," he said. "This would appear to be a massive rip-off, where you have a large profitable corporation being gifted something that's worth upwards of potentially $50 million, with real tax dollars that have been invested in it."
Regina Mayor Michael Fougere has confirmed that the city was interested in having CP's rail yard moved out of the downtown core.
However, he also pointed out that "the deal that the province put together was outside of the jurisdiction of the city. They didn't involve us in those conversations at all."
Government won't say how much CP deal cost
In the 2009 agreement, CP agreed to cover the cost of building a new facility west of Regina in what is now the GTH. It also agreed to upgrade the rail infrastructure.
The government said it would pay for the land, the cost of servicing the land, internal roadways and parking lots, and the moving of power lines.
In addition, the government agreed to improve the surrounding roadway. That was to be funded by a contribution arrangement between the province, the federal government, the City of Regina and CP.
Todd MacKay with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation wonders how this deal was beneficial to taxpayers.
He pointed out that SaskPower bought 145 acres at the GTH in 2013, the same year CP opened its new facility. The Crown corporation paid $25 million for its land, or $172,000 an acre.
"Like, why did CP get this land for free — apparently — when taxpayers, through SaskPower, got the privilege of paying $170,000 an acre?" he asked.
"Right now, with this document, all it shows is that [CP] got the land for free while taxpayers had to pay 25 million bucks for less land than that."
Minister of Economy Jeremy Harrison defended the SaskPower deal and charging it for land but not CP.
He said it's not uncommon for governments to give free land to rail companies as an incentive to move out of the city.
As for SaskPower, he said the Crown corporation looked at other locations and "they made a business decision to locate at the Global Transportation Hub."
Since that 2013 decision, the land has sat idle. SaskPower has shelved its plans for the property for the foreseeable future for economic reasons.