Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Saskatchewan NDP Chooses a New Leader
February 19, 2013
Ryan Meili, Trent Wotherspoon, Erin Weir, Cam Broten

The Saskatchewan NDP will meet in Saskatoon on March 9 to select a new leader. They are in dire straits. Lorne Calvert’s NDP government was defeated in the election in 2007 and received only 37% of the vote. Under Dwaine Lingenfelter they were defeated in the 2011 election and received only 32% of the vote. With the disappearance of the provincial Liberal Party, they now have to win close to 50% of the votes to form a government.

Support for the party has dropped dramatically since Roy Romanow’s NDP government moved steadily to the right to embrace the neoliberal agenda. Membership has fallen from 47,000 in 1991 to 11,000 in 2013. The vote for the NDP has fallen from 275,000 in 1991 to only 127,000 in 2011. In addition, the total vote in provincial elections has fallen from 540,000 in 1991 to 396,000 in 2011. The drop in vote has been greatest in the safest NDP ridings.

Following their major defeat in the 2007 election, the NDP had the opportunity to choose a new leader who supported a return to the progressive social democratic tradition of the past. The fact that the party caucus and a number of key trade unions backed Lingenfelter, Roy Romanow’s Deputy Leader, then from Nexen Corporation, and the majority of the remaining members chose him as the new leader, reveals a great deal about the state of the party. 

The 2013 leadership candidates
Lingenfelter disappeared on election night in 2011. The party wisely took its time to select a new leader. In the end, four young men came forward. Not one woman stood for the job. Patriarchal traditions run deep in this province.

Trent Wotherspoon and Cam Broten are both elected members of the provincial legislature and are better known among NDP members. Ideologically, they have been in the mainstream of the party’s caucus. They have been seen as the front runners.

 The strength of these two candidates is demonstrated by the long list of supporters they both have, mainstream active members of the party,  members of the caucus and former members of the caucus. The vote for the leadership by all members is by preferential ballot. If most of the voting members rank these two candidates as either their first or second choice, I feel certain one of them will emerge as the new leader.

Ryan Meili’s energetic campaign

Ryan Meili is a progressive doctor from Saskatoon with a very good record of social justice activism. He has run a very good campaign with enthusiastic supporters. In the 2009 leadership race he finished second to Lingenfelter with 45% of the vote. His friendly and sincere way of dealing with people has won him high praise. His policy position papers have been very good.

Meili has had the support of the progressive wing of the party, those who have backed Nettie Wiebe from the National Farmers Union in recent elections. However, I can’t think of any case where the left in the NDP has received more than 45% of the vote in any major contest. In the 2001 leadership campaign to replace Roy Romanow, Nettie Weibe was only able to win 33% of the vote. Furthermore, as the vote in the 2009 leadership campaign demonstrated, the remaining NDP members are primarily the party loyalists. If Meili were to win, it would be a major upset.

The left and the NDP
Finally, there is Erin Weir. He has had the disadvantage of being the youngest candidate, and he has been working out of the province for a while. Weir is known as a progressive economist, has published excellent reports on natural resources, and is an impressive public speaker and debater. On the CBC and CTV as well as in the print media he has been a strong spokesperson for the United Steelworkers and the trade union movement. From the beginning it seemed to me his only hope for winning was to bring back the NDP members who had quit. That has not happened.

The trade union movement has supported the CCF-NDP since the beginning and formally became part of the NDP after 1962. But the movement has always been marginalized by the leadership of the party. In the past few years they have been preoccupied with the general attack on trade union rights by the Saskatchewan Party government. But in addition, the trade union movement has not been seriously involved in politics since the days of the Saskatchewan Coalition for Social Justice. In the current leadership campaign, the unions divided their support among the four candidates.  

It seems likely that with either Trent Wotherspoon or Cam Broten as leader, the NDP will be in the opposition for a long time. They may not ever form government again. Times are good, and the Saskatchewan Party government now has an approval rating in the polls of around 70%, the highest in Canada. A revival of the NDP would require the economy to collapse or for the Saskatchewan Party to be caught in some major scandal. But the NDP will not get support from the voters until they can present a clear alternative to the pro-business neoliberalism we have had since 1982.    

John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and political activist. He is author of Saskatchewan: The Roots of Discontent and Protest.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Saskatchewan As a Mineral State

In a new book on the mining industry in Canada, Alain Deneault and William Sacher conclude that the province of Quebec is the top “mineral state” in Canada. They argue that the mining sector in Quebec “stands totally outside the logic and effective mechanisms of democratic oversight.” The authors conclude that “In spite of the billions of dollars in revenues they earn, these corporations contribute virtually nothing to the common good.” An analogy is made with known narco-states, where the governments are effectively controlled by drug cartels, and law enforcement “is effectively non-existent.” Thus, Quebec is deemed to be a mineral state, “a state entirely dedicated to the interests of the extractive industry.”

My immediate response to reading this analysis was what about Saskatchewan? How different is our province? Couldn’t we challenge Quebec as the top neo-colonial province?

How mining companies view Canada

On the other side of the issue, we could ask how the mining corporations themselves view the different Canadian provinces. One good source of information is the annual survey of industry executives made by the right-wing Fraser Institute in Vancouver. They are financed by big business.
In February 2012 the Fraser Institute released its annual survey of mining company executives. They report that 5000 companies were sent requests for opinion and 802 responded. The institute then uses these responses to create a Policy Potential Index, based on whether or not a political jurisdiction “encourages investment.” This survey passed judgement on 93 political jurisdictions which have a significant mining industry.

The Policy Potential Index covers 10 key issues including state regulations, environmental regulations, taxation, infrastructure, labour issues, geological support, and political stability. Canada was ranked very high. Of the 93 jurisdictions surveyed the results seem to indicate that Canada is indeed a neo-colonial mineral state: New Brunswick (1), Alberta (3), Quebec (5), Saskatchewan (6), Yukon (10), Ontario (13), Nova Scotia (15), Newfoundland and Labrador (16) and Manitoba (20). Manitoba was ranked (9) the previous year. The movement towards state ownership and control of mining in Latin America was singled out for criticism, reflected also in its falling ranking.

In 2010 corporate executives gave the province of Saskatchewan a 10 out of 10, the only province to get this high rating, for having the lowest cost system of regulations for the mining and mineral industries.

The oil industry loves Canada
In June 2012 the Fraser Institute released their latest survey of the oil and gas industry. It included reports from 623 managers and executives from 529 oil and gas companies operating in Canada. These representatives ranked Manitoba (5) and Saskatchewan (13) of 147 political jurisdictions as good places to invest. The worst countries listed had National Oil Corporations (state-owned and operated), high royalties and taxes, as well as most of the remaining untapped resources. 

Manitoba and Saskatchewan were given high rankings because of their very low royalties and taxes, their overall pro-business policies, and their weak environmental regulations. In contrast, New Brunswick and Quebec were given significantly lower ratings, mainly because of broad public opposition to the relatively new horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracking for shale oil and gas. But all in all, executives from oil corporations love Canada and hate Venezuela. 

Identifying a mineral state
Deneault and Sacher have identified eight key features which are characteristic of a mineral state. Here are the categories as I have applied them to Saskatchewan:

(1) A strong geological potential for extractible mineral resources. This would certainly apply to Saskatchewan where the mineral, oil and gas sectors now dominate the productive economy. While their revenues totaled $21.8 billion in 2011, they employed only 4.8% of the province’s labour force. 

(2) Public institutions transfer public mineral wealth and profits to a minority of private owners and corporations. Royalties and taxes on the mining and mineral industries in Saskatchewan are minimal. In 2011 they totaled $2,413 billion, which was only 11% of industry revenues. This may be the lowest return in the world. It should be remembered that natural resources are owned by the people as a whole, a public asset.
(3) The state uses law and military force to guarantee that private investors have access to mineral deposits. The law in Saskatchewan emphasizes private property rights over public rights. Unions are relatively weak in the mining industry, and strikes are rare. There are few confrontations with local communities, and the necessity of using police power has been very rare. Since 1991 the major political parties and their governments have put business interest first. 

(4) There is a network of infrastructure which guarantees access to human and material resources and facilitates movement of product to export markets. The province has always put a high priority on providing air transport, roads and bridges, public utilities and direct support for local communities in its northern mineral strategy. The province has actively supported pipeline construction. Reservoirs and canals were provided to serve the potash industry.

(5) It is easy for corporations to send profits abroad with little interference from the local government. There is no evidence that any government in Saskatchewan has been concerned about the flight of capital abroad or the use of intra-corporate transfer pricing and offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes. They have all welcomed foreign ownership and control of the resource extraction industries.

(6) Regulations and standards for working conditions and environmental protection are kept to the minimum.
It is well known that the safety standards for workers in Saskatchewan are even weaker than in Alberta. Environmental regulation has always been limited. The history of the uranium industry is a good example of the determination of all the provincial governments to put economic development first.

(7) Extracting corporations are provided cheap access to energy and electrical power. A top priority of our Crown corporations, Sask Power and Sask Energy, has been to provide support to all resource developments. Rates for corporate consumption are set significantly lower than those for the general public, and they are secret.

(8) Mining industry has enormous influence over government officials and actions.
When public policy on the resource industries is changed, and when regulations, royalties and taxes are modified, this is always done behind closed doors in consultation with industry representatives. The general public is always excluded. NDP governments have been no different than the formally conservative governments. Business rules.

Seems pretty clear that Saskatchewan is a mineral state.