20 unanswered questions about the GTH land deal
The government says all questions have been answered — critics disagree
The NDP and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation say crucial questions about the GTH land deal are still lingering, despite the RCMP announcing it would not be laying criminal charges.
RCMP announced the end of its investigation on July 25. The government of Saskatchewan said all of the questions have now been answered and it's time to turn the page.
But Todd MacKay with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation disagrees, arguing "some of the most basic questions remain unanswered."
"The police did a good and thorough job in terms of investigating the situation from a criminal perspective," said MacKay. "But we still need to see work done to answer the questions as to why we got into this mess."
He said a 2016 review by the provincial auditor highlighted a host of problems and found the government overpaid for the land.
"I don't think there's been any explanation as to who made the mistakes specifically and to my knowledge nobody's been held responsible," said MacKay. "That's just basic accountability."
The NDP's Cathy Sproule agreed. She said the government has been dodging questions ever since CBC reported how two politically well-connected businessmen made millions on land that wound up in government hands for far more than it was worth.
"They have not answered the questions in the legislature, they have not brought forth key witnesses to the public accounts committee which is where witnesses should be provided to answer questions," Sproule said.
Forensic audit would clear the air: expert
The government says that in addition to the RCMP investigation, Saskatchewan's Provincial Auditor did a review of the land deals in 2016. In an email to CBC, the Premier's office said it's a "very thorough recounting of the events" and that the auditor "identified areas where the government could have handled these transactions better and made a number of recommendations" which the government says it accepted and acted on.
University of Ottawa professor Marc Tasse, who specializes in ethics and corruption, said the auditor conducted a "process audit," which examined what administrative systems were in place and whether they were followed.
In an email to CBC, Tasse said the auditor conducted her review "without digging into the money flows and questions of either ethics, common practices, transparency and the appearance of conflict of interest."
He said in order to clear the air, more digging would be required.
"A forensic audit would determine in greater depth and details than the process audit where the flaws are."
20 unanswered questions
Sproule said the NDP opposition hasn't been allowed to question the key players in the transactions:
- Former GTH minister Bill Boyd.
- Former special advisor Laurie Pushor.
- Then-CIC Minister Donna Harpauer.
- Then-Minister of Highways Don McMorris.
- Former GTH CEO Chris Dekker.
- Anthony Marquart and Robert Tappauf, the private businessmen who profited from the land deals.
The NDP says it wants a judicial inquiry in order to get answers from those people and others.
Sproule and MacKay provided CBC with dozens of questions they say remain unanswered.
Over the past week, CBC sent the following questions to the relevant people involved, asking them to do an interview or offer written answers to the questions. Other than the government of Saskatchewan, none of them accepted that offer.
1. Who made a mysterious call to Bill Boyd in May 2012, offering to sell the 204 acres?
Shortly after Boyd received cabinet approval to buy the 204 acres, he received a phone call from an Edmonton lawyer representing a company called Blackstone, offering to sell the GTH that very land. Boyd said through government spokespeople that he can't remember who that was. He has never been questioned about this call publicly.
2. How did Robert Tappauf buy the 204 acres at just the right time?
In February and March 2012 Alberta businessman Robert Tappauf snapped up the 204 acres of land through his company 139 Land Corporation. In April 2012, Boyd received the approval of cabinet to buy it.
Critics have wondered how Tappauf was able to have such impeccable timing in his purchase. Tappauf's family has rented thousands of acres of farmland to Boyd for years. In an email, Boyd has insisted he did nothing to assist Tappauf in acquiring the land. The RCMP says it reviewed all of the GTH land deal transactions and concluded no crime had taken place.
In his only media interview on the topic, Tappauf told CBC he's always looking for opportunities.
- Businessmen made millions on Regina land that wound up in taxpayers' hands
- The GTH land deal you've never heard of — and Bill Boyd won't talk about
3. Why was John Law dismissed?
In May 2012 GTH officials advised then-GTH CEO John Law that it would be best if the Ministry of Highways purchased the 204 acres rather than the GTH, even if that meant Highways would expropriate the land. Three weeks later, Boyd announced that Law had been dismissed as CEO.
At the time Boyd said, "We feel that there appears to us to be a great opportunity for further growth that we feel is very important and we want to make a change to facilitate that."
Critics would like to know more about Boyd's motivation for the change in leadership.
4. Why did Boyd authorize the GTH to offer four times more for the land than it was worth?
In October 2012 the GTH decided not to buy the 204 acres, in part because it was too expensive. An appraisal showed it was worth $15,000 to $20,000 an acre. But the very next month, November 2012, Boyd asked then-GTH CEO Chris Dekker to buy the land.
The GTH offered $78,000 an acre — four times more than the land was appraised at. The auditor found "the GTH did not keep documentation of its due diligence or support for this offer."
As an explanation for the high price, the government has pointed out land values were rapidly rising. However, critics doubt they increased four-fold in a few months. In her report, the auditor also notes the GTH didn't believe the land owner would settle for the appraised value. Critics point out the Ministry of Highways was standing by ready to expropriate based on the land's appraised value.
Neither Boyd or Dekker have spoken publicly about this decision.
5. Why did Donna Harpauer tell the Crown Investments Corporation to help pay for this land?
The other reason the GTH had decided not to buy the land was that it didn't have the money. But in November 2012, to the surprise of Crown Investments Corporation (CIC) officials, Minister Donna Harpauer asked them to come up with options for buying the land.
Harpauer has never explained why CIC was considering this, what specifically it was considering doing and how she justified this decision.
6. Why didn't the government learn who owned 139 Land Corporation?
During their brief period of due diligence in November 2012, CIC officials raised concerns about the fact the GTH's proposal to cabinet didn't say who owned 139 Land Corporation. Despite this issue being red-flagged, the deal proceeded to cabinet, according to emails obtained by CBC.
CBC obtained a June 2012 email that showed a Highways official had learned from a realtor that Robert Tappauf owned the corporation. That information was passed on to senior GTH official Blair Wagar. It's not clear if he ever passed that information along, but the government said "the information was based on hearsay and independent verification could not be obtained."
Technically Tappauf didn't yet own the land he was selling to the GTH. He had an option to buy from the actual owners, the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions and McNally Enterrprises. Both of those organizations said they knew Tappauf owned 139 Land Corporation and they wondered why the government never asked them.
7. Why didn't Robert Tappauf reveal he was the owner of 139 Land Corporation?
In November 2012, Boyd and Harpauer asked cabinet to approve a $23-million land purchase from 139 Land Corporation. Minister of Justice Gord Wyant said he asked who owned this company when the matter came before cabinet, because he was worried about the possibility of conflict of interest. Apparently, no one was able to answer that question.
The government asked 139 Land Corporation's lawyer for the name of the owner was but the lawyer refused to say. As a result, the $23-million deal died. Critics wonder why Tappauf would let such a lucrative deal fall apart rather than reveal his name.
8. How did Robert Tappauf and Anthony Marquart connect?
After the November 2012 deal fell through, Tappauf sold the 204 acres to Regina businessman Anthony Marquart. It's never been clear how the two men connected. In Marquart's only media interview on the topic he told CBC that he reached out to Tappauf after he heard about the opportunity to buy Tappauf's land "in the real estate world." He wouldn't be more specific than that.
An appraisal of land in the area, obtained by CBC, seems to tell a different story. The appraiser reports that the "vendor [139 Land Corporation] approached purchaser [Marquart], the land was not listed for sale on the open market."
9. Why didn't Laurie Pushor tell cabinet or the GTH board about the Ministry of Highways lower value appraisal?
When Pushor provided information about the potential purchase to cabinet and the GTH board in December 2013 he referenced the GTH's appraisal of the land, which said it was worth $51,000 to $65,000 an acre, and Marquart's appraisal, which said the land was worth $129,000 an acre.
Pushor didn't provide copies of those appraisals to cabinet or the board. He also didn't tell them about the Ministry of Highways appraisal which valued the land for far less — $30,000 to $35,000 an acre.
Saskatchewan's Deputy Premier Gord Wyant was on the cabinet committee scrutinizing this proposed purchase in November 2013. When asked about this in 2017 when he was running for leadership of the Saskatchewan Party, Wyant said its one of the issues he would like to have explored by a public inquiry.
"It's an important point and certainly needs to be considered by the commission as its doing its work," Wyant said in 2017. "At the end of the day that's kind of the whole purpose of having this public inquiry — get all that information in front of independent people to make independent recommendations to us."
Since losing the leadership race and being appointed Deputy Premier, Wyant has abandoned his call for a public inquiry.
10. Why did Marquart pay so much money for land in the path of the Regina bypass given the risk of expropriation?
Marquart paid far more for that 204 acres than any other local developer would pay, according to a longtime Regina appraiser. The appraiser said one of the reasons developers wouldn't touch that land was because the government was building a highway through it and would likely expropriate, as it had done with much of the other land in the area. But Marquart told CBC he wasn't concerned about the possibility of expropriation -- he just saw the land as a great place for him to build an industrial subdivision.
11. What role did Marquart's high-value appraisal play in the land transactions?
In his December 2015 interview with CBC, Boyd justified buying the 204 acres of land for $103,000 an acre by pointing to an appraisal Marquart had ordered which said the land was worth $125,000 an acre — two to three times more than government appraisals. Premier Brad Wall repeated that claim, saying the high appraisal proved the GTH got a good deal.
When Boyd's right-hand man Laurie Pushor presented the sale to cabinet and the GTH board, he justified the price with Marquart's appraisal. But Pushor told the provincial auditor that appraisal was "irrelevant" to the negotiations.
12. Why did Pushor tell Boyd and the Premier's chief of staff that Marquart's appraisal "makes a case for our position."
Just as Laurie Pushor was beginning negotiations with Marquart for the land in November 2013 he emailed Boyd and Joe Donlevy, then-premier Brad Wall's Chief of Staff. Pushor forwarding Marquart's high-value appraisal to them. Pushor wrote this appraisal "makes a case for our position."
The NDP's Nicole Sarauer said, "It looks like a decision had been made prior, as to what the range of price was to be."
The NDP says Boyd, Pushor and Donlevy have never offered a plausible explanation for this email.
- Email shows Bill Boyd and premier's office were 'concocting a scheme' to pay too much for GTH land, NDP says
13. Why did Boyd and Pushor negotiate directly with Marquart while leaving the Ministry of Highways and the GTH in the dark?
The provincial auditor found that Boyd and Pushor were working together to buy the land from Marquart without telling the Ministry of Highways or the GTH. It turns out both of those agencies were working to buy the same land at the same time.
The government insists none of them knew about the activity of the others. Highways officials were planning to buy the land for $30,000 to $35,000 an acre. The GTH was planning to buy the land for $50,000 to $65,000 an acre and Boyd and Pushor negotiated the price of $103,000 an acre.
The government says there was a failure to communicate. Critics say a more plausible explanation is required.
14. Why did former Premier Brad Wall tell a pre-election audience that the GTH land deal was not politically directed when emails show Boyd directed the purchase?
Just before the 2016 election, Premier Brad Wall told the public the decision to buy the GTH land was not political.
Wall told the media that he knew exactly how the GTH land deal went down. "I was there through this whole process I know what was intended and what wasn't."
In March 2016 he told the media "we don't, at the political level, get involved and say, 'Hey GTH, or Highways, let's do this manner of negotiating with this person and this manner with another' ... We just don't do that. The GTH came to this decision to acquire a lot more land because of the interest — because of the growth there."
But internal emails show Boyd directed the GTH to buy the land. The provincial auditor confirmed this in her report.
15. Why did Boyd decide to purchased the land from Marquart on a "willing-seller, willing-buyer" basis when all other GTH land to date had been acquired at appraised value under threat of expropriation?
Prior to this purchase the Ministry of Highways had assembled all of the land for the GTH and determined its cost based on a market-value appraisal. In his December 2015 interview with CBC, then-GTH minister Boyd acknowledged this deal with Marquart was a "one-off" in which he decided the negotiations would be based on a "willing-seller, willing-buyer" approach.
"It was felt this was one we needed to get done," Boyd said.
Pushor told the auditor the government was worried that if it didn't buy this land it wouldn't be able to build the bypass.
Critics say that makes no sense. The government had the power of expropriation which it had used many times before and they wonder why Boyd and Pushor decided to abandon that standard approach.
16. Why did Pushor write to Marquart, "I wonder if we should meet face-to-face just so we can say we did!"
In November 2013, as Pushor was preparing to pitch the purchase of Marquart's land to a cabinet committee, he wrote the following to Marquart: "I wonder if we should meet face to face, just so we can say we did!"
University of Regina professor of public administration Ken Rasmussen said it's likely Pushor never intended for that email to get out.
"You kind of destroyed the optics of it if you say it's all about the optics in an email and that becomes public," Rasmussen said.
Pushor has never publicly answered questions about this email. A government spokesperson wrote on his behalf, "this was just a casual comment made in passing as all negotiations took place over the phone."
17. Why did Pushor present incomplete information to the GTH board after the purchase decision had already been made?
The provincial auditor found that when Pushor provided the board information about the potential land purchase it was incomplete, there was little time for the board to review it and it came after provincial cabinet had already approved the purchase. The auditor also found Pushor provided incomplete information to cabinet.
Pushor has never addressed these issues publicly. The NDP attempted many times to call Pushor as a witness to the public accounts committee but the government never made him available.
At one point, the government did allow GTH CEO Bryan Richards to interview Pushor and report back to the committee. He reportedly said "he cooperated fully with the Provincial Auditor, disclosed every detail and record regarding this transaction with the auditor and he believes her report accurately reflects the events that occurred."
18. Why was Laurie Pushor discussing the possibility of buying another parcel of land from Marquart despite the fact Marquart didn't own the property?
While Pushor and Marquart were putting the finishing touches on the GTH land deal, they were already discussing the possibility that the government might buy another parcel of land from Marquart, even though he didn't actually own that piece of land at the time.
The government has acknowledged the discussions took place but has never said why it wanted that land or why it would be negotiating for it with someone who didn't own it. When asked for this story, the Premier's office said "the GTH did not make any further land purchases so is not able to comment."
19. Why did Saskpower buy $25 million worth of land at the GTH in the same month that the GTH needed $21 million to buy Marquart's land?
Boyd was simultaneously the Minister responsible for the GTH and for Saskpower.
Todd MacKay with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has described this deal as a bit too convenient.
"Perhaps that's a coincidence, perhaps it was orchestrated. But I think you have to ask the question," MacKay said.
Saskpower has assured the public that a detailed site-selection process was used, but MacKay said it is incredible that the Crown was in such a hurry to buy land that has sat idle and empty ever since.
20. How much money did taxpayers lose on the GTH land deal?
The provincial auditor concluded that the GTH paid too much for the land, but no one has ever told the public just how much taxpayers lost.
The matter was made even more convoluted when, after the GTH bought the land from Marquart, it sold about half of it to the Ministry of Highways.
The ministry paid millions for land that was to be used as "borrow," a source of soil, gravel and sand for the West Regina Bypass. It turns out that land was never used for that purpose and now the GTH has to pay the ministry back.
The deputy chair of the public accounts committee, Larry Doke, acknowledged to CBC in Nov. 2016 that the provincial auditor said the GTH paid too much for the land.
When asked if he thought the committee should try to find out how much money taxpayers lost he said, "not at this point in time. No."
'There's some people we're never going to satisfy'
While critics are calling for a public inquiry, Don Morgan says the RCMP and the auditor have done thorough work and it's time to move on.
But he's not surprised that critics still want to know more.
"I think that there's some people that we're never going to satisfy on it," said Morgan last week.