Referendum system for a SaskTel sale is 'unworkable': chief electoral officer

Saskatchewan's chief electoral officer says the existing system for a plebiscite or referendum relating to any potential sale of SaskTel is 'out-of-date and largely unworkable'.

Minister responsible for SaskTel says 'We may never get an offer'

Dustin Duncan is the provincial minister responsible for the Crown corporation SaskTel. (CBC)

Saskatchewan's chief electoral officer says the existing system for a plebiscite or referendum relating to any potential sale of SaskTel is "out-of-date and largely unworkable".

The view of Michael Boda was provided in a letter to provincial politicians in September.

"I am concerned that the province's current legislative and regulatory framework would not allow Elections Saskatchewan to administer a referendum/plebiscite in an efficient and economical manner or at service levels that citizens would expect," Boda said. He included a discussion paper on the topic that provided some suggestions for how to manage a referendum question.

When asked about the logistics associated with a referendum question, provincial officials said it was not a pressing concern when it comes to SaskTel, the provincial Crown corporation that provides telecommunications services in Saskatchewan.

"We may never get an offer," Dustin Duncan, the minister responsible for SaskTel, said Thursday. He added that if anything worthwhile arose, citizens would be given a say.

"There's a variety of ways you could operate a referendum, especially with technology today," he said. "I just haven't thought about what a referendum would look like."

Mail-in ballots suggested

According to Boda, Elections Saskatchewan would need about five months to set up a referendum that used a mail-in ballot system, should the province update the legislation to provide for that style of voting.

Boda's discussion paper examined four voting options and suggested a mail-in ballot was the best way to go. He estimated it would cost about $4 million.

Premier Brad Wall has said he doesn't sense any interest among voters to promote the sale of the Crown corporation. He added, in August, that he is open to offers.

"If we get an offer and we think it generates a significant amount of money for the province, maybe enough to eliminate our operating debt, if it takes care of the jobs question in Regina, if it provides better coverage, we are at least going to take it to the people," Wall said at the time, noting that Duncan would take the lead on that process.

Duncan noted he is not the minister responsible for legislation relating to the holding of plebiscites or referenda and the mechanics of any vote would be addressed as needed.

"That'll have to be a discussion that we'll have to have as a government," he said. "If we ever do get that far, to actually have an offer that is deemed to be even worthy of presenting to the people of Saskatchewan."

Opposition seeks answers

Warren McCall, from the opposition NDP, said the government's handling of the future of SaskTel has been troubling.

"There are folks working for SaskTel and folks that count on the services that SaskTel provides that need some firm answers," McCall said Thursday. "We get no answer from the minister other than wait and see. [That] just doesn't cut it."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.