Saskatchewan·CBC Investigates

6 new revelations from hidden emails about the GTH land deal

In the wake of Global Transportation Hub land deal, revelations published by CBC and ongoing NDP questions in the legislature, the Saskatchewan government is now offering new information.

Ministry of Justice flagged about concealed identities, land ownership concerns

In the wake of Global Transportation Hub land deal revelations that CBC published, and ongoing NDP questions in the legislature, the Saskatchewan government is now offering new information.

A government spokesperson has revealed more about who made a mysterious April 2012 phone call to then-GTH Minister Bill Boyd. The unnamed mystery caller offered to sell the government 204 acres on the east side of the GTH, near Regina, for $65,000 an acre.

The government has also confirmed that the Minister of Justice had concerns about the first GTH land deal that Boyd submitted to cabinet in 2012 — concerns that led cabinet to kill the deal.

Recently, CBC's iTeam asked the government about a couple of emails it had obtained through Access to Information. They were written by the Ministry of Justice and relate to concerns about 139 Land Corporation and its connections to the 204 acres at the heart of the GTH land deal.

139 Land Corporation is owned by Robert Tappauf, whose family has business connections to Boyd. For years, Boyd has rented thousands of acres of farmland from the Tappaufs.

Until now, Boyd and the Premier's Office have refused to answer the iTeam's questions on these issues.

That's changing.

While the emails were heavily redacted, a government spokesperson has helped fill in some of the gaps.

Here's what CBC can report as a result:

  1. We know more about who made the mystery call to Boyd.
  2. The GTH asked the Ministry of Justice for advice about the mystery phone call and 139 Land Corporation.
  3. GTH was surprised to discover 139 Land Corporation beat it to the punch by purchasing 204 acres of land first.
  4. Shortly after the GTH asked the Ministry of Justice for advice, a senior GTH official was dismissed.
  5. The lawyer for 139 Land Corporation would not provide cabinet with the name of the owner of the company.
  6. Because cabinet couldn't learn who owned the company, the deal was killed and the Minister of Justice asked his deputy minister to take action. That's when the premier's deputy was brought into the loop.

The mysterious phone call: a primer

The mysterious phone call Boyd received in April 2012 was one of provincial auditor Judy Ferguson's findings in her June report on the controversial GTH land deal and Boyd's role in it.

Saskatchewan's provincial auditor Judy Ferguson conducted an audit of the GTH land deal. (CBC News)
One of the emails CBC obtained through Access to Information was the source of Ferguson's revelation about that phone call. The email enabled the auditor to confirm Boyd received a call from someone offering to sell the land for $65,000 an acre.
Intriguingly, Boyd received that call the very same month cabinet confidentially told the GTH to buy it.
Sister Veronica Dunne's Catholic order the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions used to own some of the 204 acres. (Submitted by Veronica Dunne)

That led a forensic accounting expert to wonder if cabinet confidentiality had been breached.

That's not the only bit of curious timing.

A month before cabinet told the GTH to buy the land, Tappauf's company 139 Land Corporation swooped in and conditionally purchased it.

That led one of the former owners of the land, Sister Veronica Dunne, to say, "it sounds like there was some kind of a plan involved."

At first, Boyd refused to answer any questions about the call.

Then, he said he couldn't remember who called him but he was sure it wasn't Tappauf.

Now new information is available that was previously buried in a redacted email.

1. 'Blackstone,' a mysterious lawyer and Boyd's memory

On May 25, 2012, a senior official in the Ministry of Justice wrote an email to the CEO of the GTH regarding questions about who owned the 204 acres.

According to a government spokesperson, the email says Boyd received the "unsolicited" call from someone claiming to be an Edmonton lawyer representing a client named Blackstone.

The individual said he was interested in selling the government the 204 acres for $65,000 an acre.

I can't believe he wouldn't get a contact number or anything. That doesn't sound right to me.- Ruth Eisworth , McNally Enterprises

Even though the caller was offering to sell the very land which Boyd had been authorized by cabinet to buy, he doesn't remember the name of the person who called him.

The spokesperson also acknowledged Boyd failed to write down any contact information for the lawyer or Blackstone. He doesn't remember if Boyd had any plan to follow up on the offer.

Ruth Eisworth, president of McNally Enterprises, which sold some of the 204 acres to 139 Land Corporation, said, "I can't believe he wouldn't get a contact number or anything. That doesn't sound right to me."
Ruth Eisworth, president of McNally Enterprises, said she was surprised Boyd didn't get contact details for Blackstone. (Submitted by Ruth Eisworth)

"He can remember Blackstone but he can't remember anything else?" said Eisworth. "It sounds fishy to me."

A search of corporate records in Alberta shows more than 200 entities with "Blackstone" in their name.

The government spokesperson said Ministry of Justice officials searched the land titles records and determined that no company with "Blackstone" in its name had any connection to the land.

Todd MacKay with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said there's a simple way to figure out who called Boyd.

"Certainly those phone records should be available, whether it's the minister's cellphone, whether it went through his office; there are ways to find out," he said.

For the sake of transparency and accountability, MacKay said the government should figure this out.  

2. Ministry of Justice researches 139 Land Corporation

While the email says the mysterious call came from a lawyer representing Blackstone, 139 Land Corporation appears to play a significant role in it as well.

The May 25, 2012, email shows that the week prior, then-GTH CEO John Law had a conversation with the executive director of the civil law division of the Ministry of Justice, Rick Hischebett.

That conversation led Hischebett to run searches on 139 Land Corporation and Blackstone, and follow up with advice to Law. That advice was redacted.

But the subject of the email provides further information: It was "McDougall Gauley," which is the name of a Saskatchewan-based law firm.

Tappauf's lawyer at the time, David McKeague, worked for McDougall Gauley.

According to the government spokesperson, the email shows the Ministry of Justice did a corporate search of 139 Land Corporation. It showed McKeague was the company's only contact and only director. Tappauf's name didn't appear in the corporate registry.

The government spokesperson said that's likely why McDougall Gauley is the subject of the email.

This shows that in May 2012, the Ministry of Justice and the GTH were uncertain about the real ownership of 139 Land Corporation.

3. GTH discovered 139 Land Corporation beat them to the punch

In early May 2012, the GTH and a team of government officials started working on buying the 204 acres, as requested by cabinet.

At the beginning of May, the government ordered an appraisal of the land. Then it made a surprising discovery that caught officials off guard.

It learned 139 Land Corporation had a conditional sale on the very 204 acres they were trying to buy.

The land purchasing team pressed forward.

The appraisal showed the land was worth $15,000 to $20,000 an acre.  

The GTH concluded that was more than it could afford.

At the same time, the GTH had discovered that the majority of 204 acres would be taken by the Ministry of Highways for an interchange it was planning to build on the West Regina Bypass.

So, on May 31, 2012, a senior GTH official said Law should recommend to Boyd that the GTH not buy the land. Instead, he said all the landowners, including 139 Land Corporation, should be told the Ministry of Highways will be buying the land and expropriation is a possibility.

The auditor indicates Law did just that.

4. Government dismisses Law

Three weeks later, Boyd announced Law had been dismissed as CEO. He said the GTH was moving in a different direction and needed someone new at the top.
John Law was dismissed as president and CEO of the Global Transportation Hub Authority in June 2012. (Global Transportation Hub Authority)

The move appeared to come rather suddenly. Law was a longtime bureaucrat who had served under the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP in roles ranging from deputy minister of highways to president of the Saskatchewan Property Management Corporation.

Boyd explained: "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."

The government appointed Chris Dekker as interim CEO.

Dekker had been a senior official in Progressive Conservative premier Grant Devine's office and had previously served as the CEO of Enterprise Saskatchewan. 

5. Lawyer keeps Tappauf's name concealed

The GTH concluded it couldn't afford the land and it made more sense for the Ministry of Highways to purchase the property. Then, in November 2012, a whiplash-inducing flip-flop.

The GTH made a $78,000-an-acre offer to Tappauf's company, 139 Land Corporation. That was four times more than the appraisal said it was worth.

Boyd and Crown Investments Corporation Minister Donna Harpauer jointly submitted a request to cabinet that the government immediately buy the 204 acres at that price.

You need to know who you're buying things from so that you can ascertain whether or not you have a conflict of interest.- Judy Ferguson, Saskatchewan's auditor

They did so even though the documents submitted to cabinet didn't say who owned 139 Land Corporation.  

According to the government spokesperson, on Nov. 28, 2012, cabinet discussed the multimillion-dollar deal and was concerned they didn't know who actually owned the company.

MacKay said it's surprising that this was still a mystery in November, when the Ministry of Justice had flagged the issue to the GTH back in May.
Todd MacKay of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"Obviously, cabinet had a big concern with that specific question," MacKay observed. "It is strange that it took so long to bring that question to the fore."

In an interview with CBC, Ferguson explained it's crucial for government to know who it's dealing with.

"You need to know who you're buying things from so that you can ascertain whether or not you have a conflict of interest," she said.

The government spokesperson said cabinet asked someone to contact McKeague to ask who actually owned 139 Land Corporation. According to the spokesperson, McKeague did not provide the name; a name we now know was Tappauf.

Since his name was not revealed, the deal died.

6. Minister of Justice raises concerns about concealed identity

Six days after that Nov. 28, 2012, cabinet meeting, the Ministry of Justice was once again involved in this GTH land deal and concerns about a hidden identity.

The iTeam has obtained a heavily redacted copy of a Dec. 4, 2012, email from Deputy Minister of Justice Gerald Tegart to the Deputy Minister to the Premier Doug Moen and the president of Crown Investments Corporation.

"Minister [of Justice Gordon] Wyant gave me some information yesterday morning which we've acted on," wrote Tegart. "I understand that Minister Wyant wants to be able to update cabinet tomorrow."

The more redactions, the more questions are going to be raised.- Todd MacKay , Canadian Taxpayer's Federation

The government spokesperson has confirmed the email related to the fact that the government didn't know who owned the company that it had just negotiated this multimillion-dollar deal with.

The government won't say what action the deputy minister of justice took because the email was deemed to be legal advice.

The iTeam has filed a complaint about the redacted emails to Saskatchewan's Information and Privacy Commissioner. His office is now reviewing these matters.

MacKay said, "given the seriousness of the questions being raised, it seems to me the government would do well to consider proactively releasing that information, or at least part of it."

"The more redactions, the more questions are going to be raised."

The iTeam contacted Boyd and Tappauf. Neither of them responded to requests for comment.

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.