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Sask. government's deal with CNIB allows for 'almost anything' on Wascana Park land: Regina Councillor

A newly released document shows that the government of Saskatchewan has agreed to allow CNIB and Brandt to lease their new Wascana Park building to a far wider range of businesses that park rules allow.

Newly released agreement between government and CNIB raising questions and alarm

The building at 2550 Broad Street will be available in 2020. (Colliers International)

A newly released document shows that the Saskatchewan government has agreed to allow CNIB and its partner Brandt Developments to lease their new Wascana Park building to a much wider range of businesses than existing park rules allow. 

The Wascana Park master plan says Wascana Centre is to be preserved exclusively for five purposes; the seat of government and the promotion of culture, education, recreation and the environment.

It looks to me like they're they're prepared to go beyond or ignore the Wascana Center Authority objectives, which is wrong, which shouldn't be allowed, which threatens the park.- Bob Hawkins, Regina City Councillor 

But the document, released by the government Wednesday, shows that Brandt/CNIB would be allowed to lease the new building to any "general office" or other tenants provided they don't "unduly detract from the activities of other tenants." 

Regina councillor Bob Hawkins says this signals a fundamental change for the park. 

"That [list] could allow for almost anything," said Hawkins. "I mean it could allow for a restaurant. It could allow for if it was a law office. It could allow for computer services for the law office. It could allow for things that have nothing to do with the objectives of the Wascana Center Authority." 

He said this is alarming. 

"It looks to me like they're prepared to go beyond or ignore the Wascana Center Authority objectives, which is wrong, which shouldn't be allowed, which threatens the park."

Regina city councillor Bob Hawkins says the government's deal with CNIB allows the organization to violate the rules that govern Wascana Park. (CBC News)

Secret list revealed

Brandt has torn down the old CNIB building in Wascana Park to make way for a commercial facility four times its size. 

It plans to donate 4,000 square feet of the 77,500 square foot building to CNIB for a new office. Most of the rest of that space will be leased out at market rates. 

Until now Brandt, CNIB and the government have been unspecific about what sorts of businesses will be allowed to operate in the four-storey commercial building. 

Last month CBC revealed that in July 2016, the government signed a 99 year leasing agreement with CNIB. That document contained a two-page list of permitted uses for the new building.

However, that list was entirely redacted. The government said it couldn't release the information because it contained commercially sensitive details. 

But on Wednesday, Minister of Central Services Ken Cheveldayoff said in the interest of transparency, he has decided to make it public. 

"When I looked at it I thought there's nothing here that in my opinion that can't be released," Cheveldayoff told reporters Wednesday afternoon. "You will find that there's not really anything that will astound you there." 

Hawkins takes quite a different view.

Minister of Central Services, Ken Cheveldayoff decided to release a list of permitted tenants for Brandt/CNIB's Wascana Park office building that government had previously concealed from the public. (CBC News)

'You can't contract out of legislation'

The document begins by saying businesses in the building should comply with established park rules for permitted uses. 

But then it says "notwithstanding the foregoing, the following list shall prevail as permitted tenants."

In other words, this new list, which until now has been secret, is the rule for the Brandt building—not the legislation governing the park or the master plan. 

The document allows Brandt to lease to "tenants whose purpose is the provision of amenities and services to tenants of the lands" and "including but not limited to general office tenants the nature of whose activities does not unduly detract from the activities of other tenants." 

You can't contract out of legislation... The government is bound by that legislation- Bob Hawkins - Regina city councillor

Hawkins, who in addition to being a city councillor, teaches law at the University of Regina, said the message here is "anything goes" and this cannot be allowed. 

"You can't contract out of legislation," said Hawkins. "The government is bound by that legislation. It can't say 'Notwithstanding the authority this list shall prevail.'" 

He said by making this move, the government is undoing the long-established purpose of the park. 

"The "following list" is so general that it allows almost anything.  However what's allowed under the Wascana Center Authority are the five objectives of the authority."

Minister defers to Brandt and CNIB

In a news conference Wednesday, CBC asked Cheveldayoff if these new rules would allow retail stores. 

He was non-committal, explaining that it's difficult to define what retail is. 

"I've seen some of the splitting hairs, 'Well this could be considered retail, this couldn't be considered retail,'" he said. 

The new Brandt building has four floors available for lease. The footprint of the building will be about 22,500 square feet. (Brandt brochure)

The minister said the plan is to make the Brandt building a "Wellness Centre" with tenants that will be complementary to CNIB. He said he will leave the details and definitions to Brandt and CNIB. 

"I take a step back from that and say 'If it's going to be a wellness facility, I'm hoping that the tenants will be complementary.' But that's really up to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and Brandt to figure out."

Hawkins disagrees. 

"It's not up to them at all. Any tenant that they allow in their building has to be approved by the Provincial Capital Commission."

However, Hawkins points out, because the provincial government took over the running of the park in 2017 by establishing the PCC, that organization is ultimately an arm of the province. Previously the park was run by the Wascana Centre Authority (WCA) which was a partnership between the city, the University of Regina and the province.

"The fact that the Provincial Capital Commission is in complete control of the government undermines the protection [of the park] even further," he said. 

PCC board member raises concern

Regina councillor Barbara Young is the city of Regina's representative on the five person PCC. Prior to that, she served on the WCA.

City Councillor Barbara Young says the board had never seen this list of permitted tenants in the CNIB contract. (Cory Herperger/SRC News)

In an interview last week, she said she first learned of this secret list through CBC's reporting last month. 

She said she had never seen the leasing document, which is formally between the Ministry of Central Services and the CNIB. 

"The Central Services and CNIB agreement was not brought to the board table and I'm not aware of that," she said. 

CBC asked, given it is the PCC's role to approve which organizations are allowed to be in the park, how could the board not have seen this document?

She said she didn't know but "that document has not been at the board table and it would not influence my decision."

"Any tenants that go into that building would have to be approved by the Provincial Capital Commission board, not by the government on its own," she said. 

Last month, Hawkins issued a call for a public inquiry into the Brandt/CNIB project. 

He said this newly revealed document makes that call more urgent than ever. 

"I think these are exactly the kind of facts that we have to get out on the table and I think that this is exactly the kind of the thing that an impartial inquiry has to comment on," he said. 

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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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