Saskatchewan

Brandt/CNIB project in Wascana suspended pending provincial auditor's review

The Provincial Capital Commission (PCC) Board has decided to halt the CNIB/Brandt project in Wascana Park until a provincial auditor's report has been completed.

Auditor's report scheduled to be released in December 2019

The building at 2550 Broad Street was set to be available in 2020. (Colliers International)

The Provincial Capital Commission (PCC) Board has decided to halt the CNIB/Brandt project in Wascana Park until a provincial auditor's report has been completed. 

That decision was made at the March 7 meeting, according to a letter sent by PCC board chair Michael Carr to Christall Beaudry, executive director of CNIB.

Carr told reporters Monday that he is confident the report will show processes were followed correctly and that the project will go through.

"I think the board's processes in and of themselves are fine. Our thoughts around that as a board is that we don't have a process problem. We have, if you will, a perception problem," Carr said.

"I think it's fair to say that the controversy around the project was what informed the decision-making by the board."

The executive director of the Saskatchewan division of the CNIB, Christall Beaudry, issued a statement that read, in part: "Although we're disappointed about the delay, we respect the decision by the Provincial Capital Commission to place our project on hold pending the completion of the provincial auditor's review."

The auditor will not do a special audit only focused on the Brandt/CNIB project. The review will be included in one of the regular reports the office puts out in June and December of each year. Those reports look at various issues facing the provincial government. The Brandt/CNIB issue is expected to be covered in the December 2019 report.

The PCC said it will "review" the report and any recommendations made.

'A sweetheart deal'

Provincial legislation and the park's master plan prohibit commercial development in Wascana, but the Brandt building concept was approved, in part, because it was deemed philanthropic.

Brandt offered to donate 4,000 square feet of office space to CNIB, provided Brandt was allowed to build a 77,000 square foot building on this site. The rest of the space, in excess of 70,000 square feet, will be leased out by Brandt at market rates.

Last month, CBC's iTeam learned the province is charging $1 a year for the 2.52 acres of Wascana Park land the building would stand on.

The opposition NDP called for the project to be reset and started over. NDP leader Ryan Meili said it was "a sweetheart deal" for Brandt and that the company could generate $2.2 million a year leasing out space in the building.

Meili referenced several controversial aspects of the development process, including the provincial government changing the laws around who governs development in the park and the removal of architects who had called Brandt's proposal inappropriate under the park's mandate.

"There must be some level of problem if they're going to pause it," Meili said Monday. 

Meili called the pause a bare minimum positive step and said the auditor is limited in saying if the government followed the law. 

Minister of Central Services Ken Cheveldayoff disagreed, saying "it's followed all of the processes." 

"It's being done in an abundance of caution," Cheveldayoff said. "I think at the end of the day we'll have a better project for it." 

Audit focus: financial statements and governance controls 

Provincial auditor Judy Ferguson said the scope of the audit will be the normal look at an organizations. 

"We look at the reliability of financial statements. We look at their control processes and we focus really primarily on their financial related and governance controls," Ferguson said.

Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson says health officials were receptive to the suggestions put forth in the 2018 report regarding mental health and addictions care in the north. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

The audit is a part of the normal process of looking at significant projects, including the recently announced floral conservatory.  Ferguson said she does not really feel pressure because of the scrutiny on the Brandt and CNIB project.

"We're independent of the government," she said. "We do what we need to do in terms of that, you know, in terms of our audit work."

Asked about the example of the GTH audit, and how her report in that instance became the subject of much debate, Ferguson says that's part of the process.

"Our office respects that ... there is an accountability process that goes on in the Legislative Assembly," she said.  "And people have the right to discuss our reports and discuss our findings."

Secret reports released

The Brandt project wasn't the only matter on the PCC board's agenda last week.

It also was faced with questions of transparency related to a series of reports that had been commissioned about the future of Wascana Centre.

In 2011, the Wascana Centre Authority (WCA), which ran the park at the time, commissioned a comprehensive review of how to deal with increasing financial pressure and conflict between the WCA partners. The authority was a partnership between the City of Regina, the University of Regina and the provincial government.

Some of the reports had been publicly released over the years, while others remained concealed.

CBC asked for those reports to be released. Now the PCC has done just that:

With files from Adam Hunter and Geoff Leo

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