Saskatchewan

Conflict of interest commissioner to investigate the lease of GTH office to cabinet minister's son

Saskatchewan's conflict of interest commissioner has launched an investigation after the NDP complained that a company partly owned by a cabinet minister's son is leasing the corporate offices of the scandal-plagued Global Transportation Hub. 
A company partly owned by the son of a Saskatchewan cabinet minister has leased the former corporate offices of the GTH. (Colliers International)

Saskatchewan's conflict of interest commissioner has launched an investigation after the NDP complained that a company partly owned by a cabinet minister's son is leasing the corporate offices of the scandal-plagued Global Transportation Hub. 

On Oct. 1, sMedia, which is partly owned by Regan Hinchcliffe, the son of Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell, began a 10-year lease of the almost 10,000 square feet of space, after GTH staff moved out.

Last year the government laid off all but one of the GTH staff and hired Colliers, a private sector commercial realtor, to run the transportation and logistics hub instead. 

The GTH was paying about $110,000 a month to lease the office from a private landlord. sMedia, which is subleasing the property, is paying significantly less.

That means over the next decade, the Saskatchewan government will lose $278,000. 

Minister Tell was made aware of this agreement after it had been signed, when her son had mentioned it to her in passing.​​- Premier Scott Moe's office

In a Jan. 13 letter to the commissioner, NDP MLA Cathy Sproule wrote: "I request your office investigate whether there was any involvement in these discussions by [Tell] or other government members. I further request you investigate whether the current lease agreement involving the member's relative constitutes a conflict of interest." 

In a telephone interview, the commissioner, Ron Barclay said he intends to do just that. 

"I'm satisfied that she's complied with the legislation requesting me to do an investigation that there's probable grounds," said Barclay. 

He said as part of that investigation, he'll interview Hinchcliffe, a GTH official, Colliers representatives, and Minister Tell. 

"I want to do a full scale investigation and everything I receive I will give that information to the opposition," he said. 

Christine Tell's son, Regan Hinchcliffe (third from right), poses with his mom, his sMedia business partners and former Premier Brad Wall.

Did Christine Tell play a role?

Barclay said he wants to find out if Tell had any role in the decision to lease the property to sMedia. He also wants to know whether the company got a special deal of some sort. 

"I have to talk to real estate experts to see what if somebody else came to lease the property," said Barclay. "So you're looking at fair market value and you have to look at the economic conditions." 

Barclay said ultimately the legislation requires that he evaluate the actions of elected members and whether they acted to benefit themselves or their family. 

He said he's had an initial conversation with Tell and "she indicates that she knew nothing at all about the lease until it was signed and her son wasn't involved at all."

An email from Premier Scott Moe's office relays a similar account. "Minister Tell was made aware of this agreement after it had been signed, when her son had mentioned it to her in passing," the email says. 

Barclay said when it comes to matters like this, he and his fellow commissioners across the country are starting to think about conflict of interest in a broader way. They are also considering public perception.

"There may not technically be a violation but then you have to look at what a reasonable person would conclude when he looks at all the facts," he said. 

The timeline of the deal

On Jan. 23, 2019, the government signed an agreement with Colliers to market the GTH's corporate offices. According the the province, the company began promoting the space in February. 

The Global Transportation Hub is attempting to lease out its office space to new tenants in an effort to reduce costs. (Colliers International)

sMedia started negotiating with Colliers and the GTH for the property on August 20. They signed a deal Sept. 23 and took over the space Oct. 1. 

At that time, Colliers was not only marketing the GTH's corporate office. It was also in the process of bidding to take over the operations and marketing of the entire GTH itself. 

According to the Premier's office, Colliers won the bid in July. That was formalized in a contract in mid-September. 

Colliers took over operations of the GTH on October 1; the same day sMedia took over the GTH office space. 

This timeline is of interest to the NDP. 

"Given the lease was signed ... the same month that the management of the Global Transportation Hub was transferred to Colliers International, it is reasonable to expect that discussion related to the lease would have taken place while the GTH was still under control of the government." 

The province says two other organizations toured the GTH office space during the seven months it was on the market. 

One didn't make an offer. The other leased part of the building for a short period of time. 

The government emphasizes that Tell and cabinet had nothing to do with this decision. It was negotiated by Colliers and the acting CEO of the GTH and it was approved by the GTH board. 

 

About the Author

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo has been a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan since 2001. His work as an investigative journalist and documentary producer has earned numerous national and regional awards.