Sask Party MLA won't examine how much money was lost in GTH land deal

The deputy chair of the Public Accounts Committee acknowledges the Provincial Auditor may have found the Global Transportation Hub overpaid for land from the private sector. Sask Party MLA Larry Doke admits he doesn't know how much money was lost if any and says he doesn't want to look into it.

Government used its majority to block key GTH land deal players from testifying

Larry Doke is a Saskatchewan Party MLA who serves as the Deputy Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. (Legislative Assembly)

The deputy chair of the Public Accounts Committee acknowledges the Provincial Auditor may have found the Global Transportation Hub overpaid for land from the private sector.

Saskatchewan Party MLA Larry Doke also acknowledges he doesn't know how much taxpayers money the GTH lost — if any — on the deal. 

But when asked if he thought the committee should try to answer that question he told reporters "Not at this point in time. No."

The committee met Tuesday morning to consider the Provincial Auditor's report on the controversial GTH land deal. That report concluded — among other things — the GTH bought 204 acres of land "at a significantly higher price and not in a financially responsible manner." 

NDP wants to question key players

The NDP opposition made a motion to call a series of key players in the GTH land deal to appear before the committee in order to shed light on what went wrong and the eventual consequences.
In 2013, Laurie Pushor was called on by then-GTH minister Bill Boyd to negotiate the purchase of 204 acres of land.

Specifically, they want to question the current and former CEOs of the GTH: Bryan Richards, Chris Dekker and John Law. They also have questions for Laurie Pushor, who is the special advisor who negotiated the GTH land deal for the government. Pushor is now the Deputy Minister of the Economy.

Doke and the Saskatchewan Party majority on the committee said no.

Instead they made a motion to call the current CEO of the GTH and the Deputy Minister of Highways.

Government denies request to question some witnesses

"The rationale would be that the audit was done on the GTH and the Ministry of Highways," said Doke.

"All the others were interviewed by the auditor," he said. A news release from her office said she found no evidence of fraud, wrongdoing or conflict of interest.

The NDP's Cathy Sproule said if the government truly has nothing to hide then it should allow these other key players like Laurie Pushor to testify.

"It's obviously very frustrating when we can't get [Deputy Minister] Mr. Pushor in front of the committee and ask the questions of him that we feel is appropriate for the official opposition to do," said Sproule.

"The auditor did her job. She did a very good job. Now it's our turn to do our job and we're being prohibited from doing that."
The NDP's Cathy Sproule says there are many unanswered questions about the GTH land deal that still must be explored. (Joshua Vogt/CBC)

Doke doubts there's much more to be learned by further questioning.

"The questions I think that were proposed today by the opposition were clearly answered in my opinion and I think all we have to do is deal with the recommendations."

The auditor made 10 recommendations to the GTH and the Ministry of Highways and the government says it's well on the way to addressing them.

NDP says many questions remain

But Sproule points out that the auditor's report was a process audit, not a forensic audit, and therefore didn't get to the heart of some issues.

"Our job is not limited to any words that come from  an auditor's report and certainly our job is to raise questions that result from an auditor's report," said Sproule. "So it is too cute by half for the deputy chair of the committee of public accounts to suggest that the auditor's word is the final word on anything."

For example, she pointed out that the auditor didn't talk to any of the private landowners involved in the deals. She also flags the fact that the auditor herself mentioned that the government often failed to document key parts of the GTH transactions.

The NDP said it will continue to push for the opportunity to question witnesses.

While both sides agreed to call the current CEO of the GTH and the Deputy Minister of Highways to testify, it's not clear when that will happen.