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Thursday, 27 April 2017 04:06

Unions rally in Swift Current raises concerns about Bill 40

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Union members rally in front of the office of Premier Brad Wall in downtown Swift Current, April 21. Union members rally in front of the office of Premier Brad Wall in downtown Swift Current, April 21.

A town hall meeting and rally took place in Swift Current to create public awareness about a new bill under consideration by the provincial legislature.

The Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) Local 397 hosted the events in association with a number of other Saskatchewan unions. The town hall meeting took place at the Holiday Inn Express on Thursday evening, April 20, and the following day there was a rally at the office of Swift Current MLA and Premier Brad Wall.
COPE Local 397 officials have been hosting a series of town hall meeting and rallies in the province to discuss concerns over Bill 40 with Saskatchewan residents.
“This is our 13th town hall to educate the public on the effects of Bill 40, the cuts and privatization that’s going on,” COPE Local 397 President Kim Wilson said after the town hall meeting. “We want to educate them, we want to get them understanding how important a Crown corporation is and how important it is to keep this in Saskatchewan.”
Bill 40, an act to amend the Interpretation Act of 1995, was introduced and read for the first time in the Saskatchewan Legislature on Oct. 26, 2016. The bill’s second reading took place on March 21 and it is currently at the committee stage. It will then return to the legislative assembly for a third reading and final vote.
The bill will add a new definition for the term “privatize” with regard to a Crown corporation to mean the transfer of all the assets, controlling interest or operational control of a Crown corporation to the private sector. The bill specifies a number of methods for the privatization to take place, including a public share offering or a sale of shares through a negotiated or competitive bid. Additional methods for privatization can also be determine in the future through regulation.
Opponents of Bill 40 are concerned this legislation will make it easier for the government to sell off a minority interest in a Crown corporation.
“In all of the polls that have been done the support has been very strong for not selling off our Crown corporations,” she said. “So, it’s very evident that the people of Saskatchewan do not want our Crown corporations gone. The other option was to introduce Bill 40. It’s just to redefine the definition of privatize. It means that they can take 49 per cent, they can wind down, sell off or dispose of without it being considered privatized”
According to Wilson these town hall meetings and rallies have been making a difference to raise public awareness about Bill 40 and COPE Local 397 will continue to organize such events.
“We’re not done,” she said. “We’ll go wherever we have to; we’ll continue this fight. I do believe that they are understanding now. In the beginning, when we first started talking about it, there wasn’t a lot of knowledge out there.”
She noted there are still many unanswered questions about the potential implications of Bill 40 for Crown corporations in Saskatchewan.
“It’s 49 per cent, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be one company,” she said. “We don’t know how that will be done. Chances are it’s not going to be done with people from Saskatchewan.”
She does not see any long-term benefit for the province when the government sells off a minority interest in a Crown corporation to the private sector.
“When you take your Crown corporations and you lose 49 per cent of them, you look at that profit that’s going to be taken away from them,” she said. “Yes, they’re going to make money selling it, but that’s a one-time lump sum. It doesn’t carry you over year to year.”
She is also concerned this legislation might be the first step towards future changes that will make it easier to privatize a Crown corporation.
“So it starts at 49 per cent,” she said. “Who knows what happens after that. I mean, if they can pass this legislation, what else can they pass?”
Once a minority interest in a Crown corporation is sold to a private company, it might be difficult to reverse the process.
“People of Saskatchewan need to realize that we need to keep our Crown corporations in the province,” she said. “We need to keep that money in the province, we got to stop letting it go out, because anything that’s sold off, chances are it’s not going to be coming back into the hands of Saskatchewan. It’s going to go to private companies.”

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Matthew Liebenberg