Saskatchewan

Regina councillor says auditor's 'devastating' findings will force PCC to start over with Brandt/CNIB project

Regina city councillor Bob Hawkins says the provincial auditor's report into how the government-controlled Provincial Capital Commission handled the proposed Brandt/CNIB building in Wasana Park is "absolutely devastating."

Provincial auditor says the organization running Wascana Centre needs to be more transparent and follow rules

Auditor Judy Ferguson's report, released Thursday, considered two recently approved and controversial projects in Wascana Park. (Daniella Ponticelli/CBC)

Regina city councillor Bob Hawkins says the provincial auditor's report into how the government-controlled Provincial Capital Commission dealt with the proposed Brandt/CNIB building in Wascana Park is "absolutely devastating."

Auditor Judy Ferguson's report, released Thursday, critiqued the PCC for its handling of two recently approved and controversial projects in Wascana Park: the Conexus building and the Brandt/CNIB building. 

She said the Conexus building, now under construction, was approved by the PCC board, despite the fact it "knew the project did not conform to the plan when it approved it at the conceptual design stage." 

As for the Brandt/CNIB project, which has not yet received final approval, Ferguson said the province also failed. 

She said the PCC is required by law to either receive formal recommendations from an advisory committee approving the project, or to document how the proposed building is consistent with the Master Plan governing the park. 

She said the province failed to do so for both the Brandt/CNIB project and the Conexus building. 

"That means that those approvals are illegal. It means that they have no legal force," said Hawkins, who is also a law professor. 

He that said while nothing can be done about the Conexus building because construction is well under way, the PCC is now obligated to start over with the Brandt/CNIB project. 

"They're not minor problems that can be fixed by tinkering. This requires a root-and-branch review by the commission of its processes," Hawkins said. "To put it another way, not a shovel can legally go into the ground in Wascana Park in connection with the Brandt proposal until the whole of the process is revisited and strengthened."

The NDP's Nicole Sarauer goes even further. She says that, based on the auditor's findings, the Brandt/CNIB project should be scrapped. 

"I think we already know enough that this project can't go forward with any level of confidence from the public that this was done in the right way," Sarauer said. 

The provincial auditor announced she would be conducting a review of how the province approves projects in Wascana Park after a series of revelations about how the government had handled the Brandt/CNIB project. 

Saskatchewan's Auditor Judy Ferguson says the Provincial Capital Commission approved a building in Wascana Park that it knew did not conform to park rules. (CBC News)

At that time, in March, then-Minister responsible for the PCC Ken Cheveldayoff said there were no problems with the way the project had been handled.

But he said because there was a "perception problem," the government decided to put the Brandt/CNIB project on hold. 

"I think all processes were followed. There may be some perception issues out there," Cheveldayoff said in March. "All the review, all the work that I've done shows that to me that the proper processes were followed." 

Ferguson appears to have a different perspective. 

Criticism and recommendations

She noted in her report that the Wascana Centre Master Plan lays out specific rules about what sorts of projects can be built in the park. They have to conform to the five pillars: education, environment, recreation, culture or the seat of government. 

The auditor said the PCC isn't doing enough to ensure those rules are followed. 

"The commission has not set or communicated requirements of owners of buildings in Wascana Centre or their tenants to ensure on an ongoing basis conformity of the building and its use with the master plan," she wrote. 

Brandt is proposing to build a four-storey office building in Wascana Park to replace the old CNIB building. (Colliers International)

In addition, the report says the PCC doesn't have formal agreements requiring "building owners to seek its approval in instances of proposed changes to exterior design, changes in use, (such as significant changes in types of tenants) or change in assignment of control (such as change in building ownership.)"

She said that while the PCC is obligated to control development in the park, it "does not have mechanisms to ensure conformity of those buildings and their use with the five purposes outlined in the master plan." 

A lack of rules and transparency

Ferguson said there aren't clear rules around public consultation about proposed developments. 

"The commission has not established expectations and procedures for public consultation it expects proponents to undertake for major developments in Wascana Centre," she wrote. 

The auditor said that has led to a disparity in the extent and nature of the consultation done for the projects she reviewed.

She noted that in the case of the Conexus building, the proponent "did a good job" of consultation which "included numerous forums to allow for public input," while the Brandt/CNIB project held, "a one hour public consultation… with about 50 people in attendance." 

This is an artist's conception of the new Conexus building, which is currently being constructed on Broad Street in Wascana Centre. (Supplied/P3A )

Ferguson said the PCC needs to do a better job of keeping the public informed about the status of any project in the park. 

Her report calls on the PCC to "publish its design review steps for major developments in Wascana Centre and keep the public informed about the status of major developments." 

She noted that there are 19 steps in the approval process. 

The Conexus building is at stage 19: construction. 

As for the Brandt/CNIB building, it's much earlier in the process. 

"As of June 2019 one project (Brandt/CNIB) was at step 12 of 19 — architectural advisory committee preliminary and detailed design submission by the proponent." 

She said a failure to clearly communicate "can lead to confusion and misunderstanding." 

The minister responsible for the PCC, Lori Carr, said the Brandt/CNIB project will remain on hold while the PCC board reviews the auditor's report. 

"I think we actually need to wait for the Provincial Capital Commission to look at the recommendations fully and think about them seriously as they bring back the report to me and have a plan moving forward."

She said that PCC report will take "weeks not months" and will be made public. 

In a news conference Thursday, Ferguson had some advice for the PCC. 

"Whatever decision you make you be transparent in that decision and you be prepared to defend why you made that decision," she said.

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.

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