Saskatchewan

Sask. NDP seeks answers from investment fund manager, questions millions in losses

The Saskatchewan NDP wants to know how taxpayer-invested money was lost, and wants the fund manager to appear before a government committee.

Minister responsible says he can answer questions regarding government investments

NDP MLA Cathy Sproule, right, called for the CEO of a Saskatoon-based investment firm to appear before a government committee, saying two funds the firm managed have lost between $15 million and $16 million. Joe Hargrave, left, the minister responsible for the Crown Investments Corporation, said he'd be happy to answer questions about the funds. (CBC)

The Saskatchewan NDP wants to know how taxpayer-invested money was lost, and wants the manager for the investment funds to appear before a government committee.

The government paid Westcap Management a combined $10.7 million to manage two investment funds — the First Nations and Métis Fund (FNMF) and the Saskatchewan Immigrant Investor Fund (SIIF).

On Wednesday, Opposition NDP MLA Cathy Sproule put forward a motion to have Westcap CEO Grant Kook appear before the standing committee on Crown and central agencies. The motion was defeated, with the vote split along party lines.

In her motion, Sproule requested the committee hear details from Kook about the funds as they were winding down, but did not say there were financial losses.

"He manages a significant amount of taxpayer dollars and has been paid over $10 million to manage those funds, so he has the direct knowledge of what is in those funds," Sproule said to the committee.

The NDP calculated the total deficit between the two funds as of 2019 at between $15 and $16 million.

Kook is the founder, president and CEO of Westcap Management, a Saskatoon-based venture capital and private equity investment firm.

He is also the chairman of the board of directors of SaskTel and the vice-chairman of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

The province paid Kook's firm $7.6 million to manage the SIIF and $3.1 million to manage the FNMF.

"These public funds can and should serve as important community development tools, but the losses piling up under the management of a well-connected Sask. Party insider raise very serious questions the CEO should be made available to answer," Sproule said in a news release.

"Mr. Kook is managing public dollars on behalf of Saskatchewan people, and we deserve answers on what happened to our money. Yet again this government is letting Saskatchewan people down by blocking transparency and accountability."

Programs 'successful': Hargrave

According to the 2018-19 annual report for Crown Investments Corporation, the First Nations and Métis Fund "was established in 2006 to provide venture capital to qualifying First Nations and Métis businesses in Saskatchewan. FNMF is winding down and has two investments remaining."

The same report outlined the mandate of the Saskatchewan Immigrant Investor Fund and its outlook.

"SIIF delivers the government of Saskatchewan's HeadStart on a Home program, which assists developers in building affordable housing in Saskatchewan," the report said.

"SIIF will not advance any further funds to builders under the HeadStart on a Home program. Loans receivable will decline as SIIF's focus remains on managing and monitoring the loan portfolio as the program continues to wind down.

"SIIF will continue to repay funds to the government of Canada for the balance of its mandate."

Joe Hargrave, the minister responsible for the Crown Investments Corporation, said the HeadStart program, which spread roughly $500 million across 19 communities in Saskatchewan after being created in 2011, was "successful."

One "loss," Hargrave said, was a 74-suite condominium building in Prince Albert. He said a developer went bankrupt and the government is trying to recover those funds through the courts.

"The losses amount to 2.9 per cent, of which some … will still be recovered," Hargrave said. He said the total losses amount to $14.1 million, a number lower than the NDP's figure.

Hargrave said any bank "would be really happy" with a loan loss amounting to 2.9 per cent.

Hargrave said he would be happy to answer questions the Opposition may have because Crown Investments is his file. Sproule says that's not good enough.

"I'm not sure that the minister would have those answers because he hasn't been actively managing those funds. They outsourced it to a private individual. I think we should be able to ask him questions," Sproule said. 

Responding to the allegation the government was helping a "Saskatchewan Party insider," Hargrave pointed out that in the case of the FNMF, Kook was selected through a request for proposal process under the NDP government.

The SIIF contract was awarded through a similar process, under the Saskatchewan Party government.

CBC contacted Westcap Management but has not received a response to its request for an interview.

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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