Saskatchewan·CBC Investigates

Bill Boyd says he can't remember who made the mysterious GTH land deal call

In question period the NDP’s interim leader asked Global Transportation Hub minister Jeremy Harrison who made the mysterious phone call to Boyd back in 2012. In a media scrum Harrison spoke on Boyd’s behalf saying “I spoke to him today and he informed me that he doesn’t remember who the phone call was from.”

Boyd sat in the legislature while others answered Opposition questions for him

The new minister responsible for the Global Transportation Hub,  Jeremy Harrison, has finally answered a question that former minister responsible for the GTH, Bill Boyd, has been refusing to answer for months. 

In the first question period of the fall sitting of the Saskatchewan legislature, the NDP's interim leader Trent Wotherspoon asked who made a mysterious phone call to Boyd back in 2012 — a call highlighted recently by a CBC iTeam report.

Following question period  Harrison spoke on Boyd's behalf, while Boyd sat in the assembly. Boyd resigned as minister over the summer.
The new minister responsible for the GTH spoke on behalf of Bill Boyd at the legislature, answering opposition questions about a mysterious phone call Boyd received.

"I spoke to him today and he informed me that he doesn't remember who the phone call was from," said Harrison. 

Rick Swenson, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan, said "That's a totally unbelievable statement." 

"And that's why I asked the RCMP today to look into the phone records — they have the ability — and determine who that individual was because it's in the public interest," said Swenson.

The mysterious call that Boyd 'doesn't remember'

In her June report on the GTH land deal, Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson said she learned through GTH documents that in April 2012 Boyd received a phone call from someone offering to sell the GTH 204 acres of land for $65,000 an acre.
Saskatchewan's auditor, Judy Ferguson, said her office learned about the phone call through GTH documents. (Stefani Langenegger/CBC)

This was surprising, because just that month cabinet confidentially told the GTH, led by Boyd, to go buy this land. The curious timing led forensic accounting expert from the University of Ottawa, Marc Tasse, to wonder if the mystery caller had been tipped off.

"Was there some confidentiality requirement that was breached?" Tasse asked.

Ruth Eisworth, president of McNally Enterprises, who used to own 87 of the 204 acres, thinks that "unsolicited call" must have come from Robert Tappauf or someone acting for him.

Tappauf is an Alberta land baron whose family owns more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He also has business connections to Boyd. His family has leased thousands of acres to Boyd's farming operation.

Eisworth pointed out that just one month before that phone call to Boyd, Tappauf signed option agreements to buy the 204 acres.

He signed a conditional agreement with Eisworth's company to buy 87 acres of her land and signed a similar agreement to tie up 117 acres owned by The Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, a Winnipeg based Catholic order. The two parcels add up to 204 acres.

Eisworth said given that she had signed the agreement with Tappauf he was the only one who could have legally offered her land for sale.

"I don't know who that would have been other than Tappauf or an agent on his behalf," said Eisworth.

Veronica Dunne, who represents the Catholic sisters, said the fact that Tappauf secured rights to the land just one month before cabinet told the GTH to buy it "just seems too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence."

"To me, it sounds like there was some kind of a plan involved."

Harrison said the one thing Boyd does know for sure about that call was that "it was not from Mr. Tappauf."

"He knows that he's never spoken to and never met Mr. Tappauf and I believe Mr. Tappauf has indicated the same thing," Harrison said.

Tappauf and Boyd have previously told CBC that they have never met.

CBC reached out to Tappauf in recent weeks for comment on this issue but he has not responded.

Did someone violate cabinet confidentiality?

The mysterious phone call was just one of the issues raised by Wotherspoon in the legislature. 

He also asked about another curious fact highlighted in the iTeam's recent reporting.

On Dec. 23, 2013 the GTH sent an offer to Regina land developer Anthony Marquart to buy his 204 acres of land.

It included one condition. The $103,000 an acre offer said it was subject to cabinet approval.

An email from the GTH reveals Marquart pushed back.

"The seller insisted on receiving an unconditional offer, asap."

The auditor found that Boyd supported Marquart's request, for an intriguing reason.

"The GTH Minister asked condition be removed after [Marquart] questioned condition given [Marquart's] understanding that Cabinet had previously approved the purchase."

In other words, Marquart said the deal didn't still require cabinet approval because cabinet had already given it the thumbs up. And Boyd appears to have agreed with him according to the auditor's account.

How did Marquart know about cabinet's approval?

Wotherspoon wanted to know how this confidential information got into Marquart's hands.

"It's been exposed through investigation that a confidential cabinet decision was leaked to a land speculator that government purchased land from," Wotherspoon said. "Who leaked this information?"
Interim NDP leader Trent Wotherspoon stands in front of a graphic that he says shows the "tangled web" of the GTH land deal.

Harrison said this section of the auditors report couldn't be describing a leak because, he said, the auditor didn't call it a leak.

"The auditor didn't characterize that as a leak. There was a negotiation that was underway and that's how I would characterize that."

In fact, Harrison pointed out that the overall conclusion of the auditor, from her news release, shows that when it comes to the GTH land deal, the government did nothing wrong.

"There was a thorough investigation by the auditor who had absolute authority to look into and question all of the parties to the transaction in question; who had absolute access to all of the documents to which she requested access," Harrison said. "And I know her conclusion was that there was no wrongdoing or no conflict of interest."

Wotherspoon pointed out that Ferguson's audit was a process audit, not a forensic audit. He said the latest revelations require a deeper look.

"If the premier of this province has nothing to hide he needs to start providing honest answers and ensure ultimate accountability," said Wotherspoon. "He should have no trouble answering questions, no trouble supporting a forensic audit, a judicial inquiry.  Saskatchewan people deserve certainly nothing less."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo is a Michener Award nominated investigative journalist and a Canadian Screen Award winning documentary producer and director. He has been covering Saskatchewan stories since 2001.

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