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Emails show Sask. government delayed report of Crown losses before key byelection

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The Saskatchewan government prevented the release of an unflattering earnings report from a provincial Crown prior to summer byelections, the opposition NDP alleges.

NDP Crown Investments Corporation (CIC) critic Erika Ritchie released a series of government emails obtained through a freedom of information request that show the ministry worked to coordinate a new release date for the Crowns’ annual reports.

In Question Period on Tuesday, Ritchie argued the move effectively broke the law around when these public accounts must be released and withheld information showing the Crown Investments Corporation’s earnings dropped by $354 million.

The CIC is a holding company used to manage the province’s government-owned commercial enterprises, including SGI, SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy and others, so the earnings drop represents a net decrease in earnings from those Crowns.

“The government cannot weaponize the release date to create an unfair advantage over a political opponent,” Ritchie said.

“Can the minister think of any reason why his government broke the law governing tabling dates other than to bury an expensive failure during the byelection?”

Dustin Duncan, who took over responsibility for the Crowns from Don Morgan in August, said efforts were made to get the reports out earlier.

“We were advised by a number of the Crown corporations that they couldn’t move up those deadlines in order to be able to deliver those earlier than when the by-elections would need to be called,” he said in Question Period Tuesday.

The redacted emails released by the NDP confirm the ministry had asked the Crowns to table their annual reports a week ahead of schedule, around June 26, but the CIC pushed back on the rushed deadline.

“CIC … cannot be ready to table the annual reports by last week of June. In particular, CIC doesn’t get auditor and board approvals until June 22, and following that we have print processes to complete and need five days for printing,” CIC communications director Joanne Johnson wrote to the minister’s assistant.

“We are obligated through legislation to table by July 27, 2023.”

The same day, Morgan’s assistant Michael Aman responded.

“I’ve talked the minister out of the last week in June, now he’s considering either the first or last week of July. I’ll let you know tomorrow what the verdict is.”

The writ for the three Regina-area byelections dropped on July 13.

The Crowns indicated they were ready to release before the write was dropped, but it was Morgan’s call to release everything together weeks later on July 28 and judging by the emails, the Crowns fell in line.

“This allowed the government to release the reports while an election-time publication ban was in effect and notify neither the opposition nor the media,” the NDP said in a news release.

Duncan defended Morgan’s actions on Tuesday by saying that Saskatchewan people would already have known earnings would be down.

“I think we were very clear with the people of Saskatchewan as it relates to the expected earnings of the Crown corporations. I know the previous minister in committee in the spring would have indicated that, for example, SaskPower would have been on track for a loss.”

In the Regina ridings of Coronation Park and Walsh Acres, the Saskatchewan Party was on track for a loss in 2023. Both former Sask. Party seats went to the New Democrats.

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