Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is defending his use of a Washington law firm that does lobbying work for the province and also makes donations to various U.S. politicians.
Wall first announced the contract with Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in 2009 and since then, the province has paid the company $400,000 to $600,000 per year.
Today, Saskatchewan and Nelson Mullins was the focus of an article in the Toronto Star, which calls Saskatchewan one of Canada's best-represented governments in Washington's halls of power.
The article said the province has paid $3 million to the firm, and has used it to broker various meetings between Wall and U.S. senators and congressmen.
The article also noted that Nelson Mullins made donations to some of the politicians Wall met with.
For example, during a trip to Washington in March of this year, Wall had a meeting with North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to discuss the Keystone XL pipeline and carbon capture and storage technology.
A few weeks later, on April 16, Nelson Mullins donated $1,000 to a group called "Heidi Heitkamp for Senate," according to disclosure documents filed with the U.S. government.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Wall said as far as he knows, there's no connection between the law firm's payments and the meetings.
If there had been a quid pro quo, that wouldn't be something he'd feel comfortable about, Wall added.
The law firm later issued a statement saying the donations had "nothing whatsoever to do with any meetings in Washington".
Wall said the provincial government has received a lot of value over the years from its contract with Nelson Mullins — on the carbon capture file and other matters.
"We appreciate the work they've done," he said. "We don't plan on changing. We're not going back to the days where Saskatchewan is not engaged promoting the province or trying to get access to decision-makers that affect the lives of Saskatchewan people."
However, the provincial New Democrats were highly critical of what they called a "huge payout of public dollars" for an unknown benefit.
In a news release, the NDP said there's little evidence Saskatchewan got its $3 million's worth from Wall's "hobnobbing" and "photo ops".
The NDP compared the $3 million expenditure to the $200,000 that the government failed to spend to prevent a 48-unit low-income housing deal from collapsing.
"The bottom line when it comes to public dollars is that they should be spent to benefit Saskatchewan families," NDP Leader Cam Broten said.
"I think he's got a lot of explaining to do."