GTH renting office space to company owned by Sask. cabinet minister's son at a loss
Christine Tell has asked conflict of interest commissioner to ensure no rules have been violated
A Saskatchewan Technology company owned in part by the son of Christine Tell, Minister of Corrections and Policing, is now leasing the former corporate offices of the Global Transportation Hub.
The flyer advertising the almost 10,000 square feet of space describes it as having "a light industrial look and feel." It boasts 48 parking stalls, 14 large workstations, a customised kitchen and a large boardroom.
Since 2013, the GTH was run by government employees who administered the transportation and logistics facility and attempted to sell land. However, the organization was deep in debt and had been unable to sell land for years.
So at the government's request, on October 1, 2019 Colliers International, a private commercial realtor, took over the operations of the GTH which had ten years left on its office lease at $110,000 a year.
That same month, Colliers signed a 10 year lease with the space to sMedia, a Saskatchewan company that helps auto dealers target buyers online. sMedia is paying significantly less than what the GTH owes every month.
"Signing this sub-lease will result in a loss on the lease of $278K over the next 10 years," says an email from Premier Scott Moe's office.
However, the government says that space was costing taxpayers money by sitting empty so this situation is preferable.
It also points out that the demand for commercial office space in Regina is down significantly from when the GTH originally signed its lease.
Conflict of interest concerns
sMedia is partly owned by Regan Hinchcliffe who is the son of Christine Tell, Saskatchewan's Minister of Corrections and Policing.
The government says she is not involved in sMedia and has no decision-making role related to the GTH.
It says the deal was negotiated between the Acting CEO of the GTH, Colliers and sMedia and was approved by the GTH board. Cabinet, the government says, had no role in reviewing or approving the deal.
"As the agreement did not require Cabinet approval, and [Tell] has no involvement with the company, it was not believed that this matter would qualify as a conflict of interest," the email from the Premier's office said.
However, in light of questions raised by the media, Tell has requested a review.
"In order to ensure the public's confidence, Minister Tell has been in communication with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, and has asked him to review this matter to ensure there is no conflict of interest," the email said.
NDP calls for change, investigation into deal
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili called for better conflict of interest rules as he criticized the Sask. Party for what he sees as a disturbing pattern.
"It seems that every time you turn around there's another friend, donor, family member or business partner of the Sask. Party that's getting a sweet deal on the taxpayers dime," Meili told CBC News.
Meili said any potential conflict of interest in the rental agreement should have been flagged immediately.
He said he wanted to know how Hinchcliffe learned of the opportunity to lease the property and if any other parties were given an opportunity to lease the office space.
"Was any information shared from the minister to her son?" Meili asked. "Those sorts of questions need to be answered."
Meili called for an investigation into the agreement and a full judicial inquiry into land deals that have been done at the GTH property.
He also called for a strengthening of conflict of interest legislation in the province.
"We've made suggestions in that direction already; that our conflict of interest rules are too lax, as are our lobbying rules, it's really one of the worst situations in the country," he said.
With files from Bryan Eneas