Public in the dark about what Sask. cabinet ministers' numbered companies are up to
Expert says taxpayers should be told what assets their politicians own and control
In several cases, Saskatchewan cabinet ministers who are directors or shareholders in numbered or holding companies haven't publicly revealed what assets those companies actually hold or what those companies do.
It's a black box of wonderful; I have no idea what's in it.- Ian Stedman , lawyer
Saskatchewan's conflict of interest commissioner says, by law, they don't have to.
But an expert in political ethics thinks that's a problem.
"It does the public no good to know that the minister owns a holding company and not know what it's holding," said Ian Stedman, a lawyer who specializes in political ethics at Osgoode Hall Law School.
"It's a black box of wonderful; I have no idea what's in it."
MLAs following the law, says commissioner
By law, MLAs are required to disclose any investments, assets or income sources held by them or their immediate families to the Saskatchewan conflict of interest commissioner.
Every year, commissioner Ron Barclay meets with the members, discusses the disclosure, prepares a summary and posts it online.
- EXTERNAL LINK |Sask. MLA disclosure statements
In an email, Barclay said, "I was satisfied that each member was aware of his or her statutory obligations to avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interests in the carrying out of their legislative and executive responsibilities, and each was desirous of observing the letter and spirit of the [The Members' Conflict of Interest] Act."
Barclay added that he knows exactly what assets are contained in MLAs' holding companies but "the legislation does not require this information to be disclosed in the public statement."
He said there's no point in making all of this information public because it "would not assist me in making that determination [of whether they are in conflict or not] as I already have the information."
In addition, he points out that the legislation requires MLAs to disclose the name and address of the companies they're connected to.
Stedman said that's not much use when the name of the company is a number and the address is a lawyer's office.
He agreed that the commissioner and MLAs appear to be following the law. But he said it's not just the commissioner that has an interest in that information.
"The reason that we do these public disclosures is because we want someone other than just the conflict of interest commissioner to be able to hold us to account," Stedman said.
More than two weeks ago, CBC's iTeam asked the Premier's Office to reveal what assets are held in these companies owned by cabinet ministers.
The Premier's Office declined to provide that information. Instead, it referred CBC's questions to Barclay.
In an email from the Premier's Office, an official echoed Barclay, writing "our members meet all the disclosure requirements prescribed by the law and each member meets with the conflict of interest commissioner annually to review their disclosure statement and ensure they are meeting all of the requirements."
What does that 'holding company' hold?
He said the public demand for transparency and accountability has been getting louder in recent years.
"They want to know that the ministers are making decisions about the public purse that benefit the public — that are in the public interest. And you want to have trust that those decisions aren't benefiting the minister through their personal business holdings."
He said a lack of public information can lead to a lack of trust by the public.
"If you're a minister and you have a numbered company, well, then the public needs to know what the numbered company is doing. And if it's a holding company, what the heck is it holding?"
He said politicians should take the lead and respond to the growing demand for transparency by disclosing more information about their business interests.
A review of the MLAs' most recent disclosures, from 2015, reveals several cabinet ministers are connected to numbered companies or holding companies. In many cases, the disclosures don't indicate what these companies do or what assets they hold.
Here are a few examples:
In December 2010, before he was elected but after he had been nominated as a Saskatchewan Party candidate, Doherty became a director and shareholder in 101175686 Saskatchewan Ltd. The disclosure doesn't say what this company does or what assets it holds. The corporate record shows the company's address is in a residential neighbourhood.
In August 2011, just weeks before being elected to the legislature, he became a director and shareholder in 101190336 Saskatchewan Ltd. Once again, the assets and purpose of this holding company are unclear. The company's address is a law office.
There are companies with similar names: GWB Holdings I Ltd., GWB Holdings II Ltd., GWB Holdings III Ltd. However, the corporate registry doesn't list Wyant as a shareholder in any of these firms.
Wyant is listed as an officer and director in a couple of other companies, along with his wife. It's not clear what assets Christine's Holdings Ltd. or Hrudka Holdings Ltd. hold. Both companies are at a residential address.
- JD Morgan Investments Ltd.
- Morgan Holdings Ltd.
- 620881 Saskatchewan Ltd.
- 101013627 Saskatchewan Ltd.
- 101154864 Saskatchewan Ltd.
- 101154865 Saskatchewan Ltd.
The companies' addresses are listed either at a lawyer's office or in a residential neighbourhood. The corporate records describe them as either holding, investment or real estate development companies. It's unclear what assets the firms hold.