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Future still Wide Open

There's a lot of 'tomorrow' in Saskatchewan

There's a lot of "irony" on this page

REGINA -- Premier Lorne Calvert says the government is still mulling what form its Wide Open Future campaign will take, but he expects it to be tied in to celebrations of Saskatchewan's 100th birthday.

The province's feel-good promotional campaign was originally planned for three years, wrapping up at the end of the 2004-05 fiscal year.

But Calvert has indicated recently the program will continue.

"I think the future of the Wide Open Future initiative will be aided much this year by virtue of it being our centennial and there'll be a great deal of attention on the province and within the province and there will be a sense of homecoming for many and I want people to come home and celebrate on it," said Calvert in a recent interview.

"But I want them to leave with a better understanding of the province to take where they live and work. There will be some national focus. So the centennial itself will lead to this and we want to be sure that all we're doing here is dovetailing."

Industry Minister Eric Cline said this week that Wide Open Future's future is part of deliberations for the 2005-06 budget.

"We will be putting forward a request through my department for a certain allocation from the General Revenue Fund for various activities. We actually haven't put that forward as of yet and even if we had, we wouldn't be discussing it until the budget comes out," he said.

The government projects it will have spent $7.8 million on the program in its three years, including $1.4 million this fiscal year. Much of the campaign has been focused on paid media advertising in Saskatchewan and Canada but this year saw it expanded to include activities such as attendance at trade and industry conferences outside the country.

Wide Open Future has at times been controversial, especially when it was revealed the government had set aside $12 million, including Crown corporation funding, for the three years. At its launch in 2002, the cost of the program was pegged at $2 million for the first year, with future costs to be determined.


Gov't set aside $12 million for Wide Open campaign

Lorne Calvert

REGINA -- Cabinet approved $12 million in spending for "Our Future is Wide Open" -- several million dollars more than the province indicated the campaign would cost at the launch of the feel-good, three-year advertising program a year ago, Premier Lorne Calvert confirmed Monday.

But Calvert insisted the final price tag for the Wide Open Future campaign -- which has already cost Saskatchewan taxpayers $5.5 million in its first 13 months -- will not be anything close to the maximum $12 million the government is approved to spend.

And while the Saskatchewan premier admits "I should have been clearer" with both the actual costs of the campaign and the fact that half the money to pay for it has been coming from the Crown corporations, he denies that his government was deliberately trying to hide anything when it unveiled the campaign in November 2002 as an initiative of the Department of Industry and Economic Development. At that time, the premier said Wide Open's first year would cost $2 million, and would include radio, TV and print advertising in Saskatchewan and across the country.

"There was no intention, or even any reason, not to disclose the funding was coming from both (government and Crown) sources," Calvert told reporters.

However, Opposition Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson was not buying Calvert's explanation that keeping the funding sources and the total campaign cost from the public was simply a pre-election oversight.

"It really causes a lot of concern that the government -- for all its rhetoric about being more transparent and being accountable -- is no more accountable from the days when Eldon Lautermilch was withholding the truth about Spudco," Hermanson said.

"I think people will be very skeptical of the premier's comments. The program was announced with a lot of fanfare."

And the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation offered even sharper criticism, calling Calvert's explanation a lie.

"It's pretty clear to the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation that these guys are lying," said CTF Saskatchewan spokesperson David MacLean, adding he now doesn't believe the program will only cost $12 million. "Now we know that they were lying about who knew what, when.

"This whole campaign needs to be scrapped."

Calvert -- who said last week he did not know until six months ago that the Crown corporations were contributing to the program -- explained Monday he had simply forgotten that the Crowns corporations had been scheduled to pay for half the campaign all along.

Saskatchewan Liberal Leader David Karwacki argued "a 13-month memory is quite a pregnant pause," and repeated the Liberals' call to scrap the program.

The premier's explanation also seems to contradict that of new Crown Corp. Management Board Minister Pat Atkinson, who said last Wednesday that government had gone to CIC for additional funding because the budget at Economic Development was extremely tight.

But quoting from a cabinet decision item from September 2002, Calvert told reporters Monday that maximum approved spending was only $8 million, with CIC paying half the costs.

However, Calvert would not release copies of the cabinet document, sighting cabinet confidentiality. Reporters challenged the premier on his interpretation of the briefing note that he was reading. Later Monday morning, the premier's staff released another briefing note saying funding for the campaign amounted to "a total approval in principle of $12 million over three years."

Calvert said the relatively small contribution from the Crowns to the Wide Open Future campaign shouldn't have an impact on the NDP election commitment to providing the lowest utility rates in the country.

And while he acknowledged his NDP Opposition also used to criticize the former Progressive Conservative administration for using Crown money to fund department spending, Calvert maintained "there is a difference in degree."

But Calvert did concede there may be a problem if the annual dividend the Crown corporations pay to the general revenue fund continues to exceed net Crown corporations revenue.

"Systemically, we do have a problem," Calvert admitted. "In the total funding of the public enterprise of Saskatchewan -- Crown activity and executive government -- we have been expending in the last several years more than we have been bringing in revenue.

"We cannot run on the savings account forever."


Atkinson insists NDP disclosed ad contract

The provincial government will provide more information to the media from now on when it launches important initiatives such as the Wide Open Future publicity campaign, says Crown Corporations Minister Pat Atkinson.

However, Atkinson stressed Wednesday the Crown Investments Corp. (CIC) did disclose last May that it paid $680,000 to Phoenix Advertising for work done by the Regina-based firm on Wide Open Future.

Frank Hart, the CIC president, provided the information during a Crown Corporations committee meeting on May 27. He was responding to a question from Saskatchewan Party MLA Brad Wall about CIC's contracts with consultants and other third parties.

This week, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) revealed the government has spent more than $5.5 million on Wide Open Future in just 13 months. The three-year promotional initiative, unveiled with great fanfare in November 2002, is intended to boost Saskatchewan's image at home and throughout Canada.

In an interview with The StarPhoenix Tuesday, an Industry and Resources official revealed CIC was a major contributor to the campaign, a fact the government had failed to disclosed to the media or the public.

So far, CIC has kicked in $2.6 million. Industry and Resources Minister Eric Cline said Tuesday it was always understood that the CIC would share the costs of the campaign with executive government.

The budget for the third year of the initiative -- the second year ends March 31, 2004 -- hasn't been set.

"Each year, members of the legislation, in proceedings that are taped and put on the Internet, ask government and the Crowns detailed questions about spending," Atkinson said in an interview.

"This is part of the accountability and transparency of the legislature. Mr. Wall went through the information provided the committee and asked a number of questions, including what was this amount for."

Atkinson said the premier and cabinet ministers don't always have the full details of an initiative when they announce it.

Premier Lorne Calvert said this week he found out CIC was contributing money to Wide Open Future six months ago.

"This certainly raises the larger questions that when we are making larger announcements, we, obviously, have to provide much more detail than what we have," said Atkinson.

"We have been dealing with general policy initiatives. Obviously, the media and the public want us to be very well briefed before we make more detailed announcements."

Wall took the blame for missing the reference to Wide Open Future during the committee meeting. He said he was focusing on other issues, mainly the decision by CIC to hire an underwriter to assess the value of SaskEnergy.

However, Wall stressed there is no reference to CIC's contribution in government documents or CIC's annual report. In the 2002 report, the $680,000 is buried in the expense category of "general, administrative and other."

"If this government has learned from Spudco (the failed potato investment) and all of the problems of the SaskTel investments, and if it's truthful when it says it wants to be more proactive in disclosing information, it shouldn't come down to a one-liner at a Crown corps meeting."

Wall said it speaks volumes that Calvert didn't know the program was being funded by CIC, and says even more that the NDP thinks it can dip into the Crowns every time funding for general programming gets tight.

"I think that's very troubling. I think that's part of the NDP's legitimate concern with what happened in the 1980s (under the Progressive Conservative government)."

Speaking to reporters at the legislature, Atkinson conceded the government tapped the Crowns to pay for Wide Open Future because money was tight.

Asked why the government didn't make it clear CIC would contribute to the campaign, she said: "I cannot answer your question because I was not there (in cabinet)."


'Open' future too secretive

There's something deliciously ironical about the Lorne Calvert government secretly siphoning money from the Crown sector to pay for a campaign touting the province as "wide open."

It only adds to the sense of the absurd that, on the very day the premier announced consultations with the people, two cabinet ministers were trying to justify the government's failure to disclose fully the spending on the ad campaign.

Why bother with the consultations, when the government's actions show that its accountability applies only to a portion of the public purse and when a Father Lorne Knows Best attitude dictates spending of several millions held within the family of Crowns?

Industry Minister Eric Cline reacted to a StarPhoenix story that revealed that the Crown Investments Corp. had been tapped for nearly $2.7 million to pay for the "Our Future is Wide Open" campaign by saying that it was the government's intention all along to have CIC carry half of the cost burden.

Meanwhile, newly minted Crown Management Board Minister Pat Atkinson stuck to a script that had her repeatedly claiming that it's clear the government had spent $5 million on the program, as if that somehow explained why Calvert, in announcing the three-year Open Future program in November 2002, failed fully to disclose its budget or funding sources.

That the government has categorized the ad campaign budget as a cabinet document and is using that as a grounds to prevent it from being opened to public scrutiny only underlines the crass politics and lack of accountability involved in the project.

Even though it was in the run-up to an election, many people gave the Calvert government the benefit of the doubt 13 months ago when it announced a feel-good promotion, touted to cost about $2 million in the first phase of its three-year run.

After all, given the province's poor national reputation, Calvert's idea of using local ads to "create a million ambassadors" of Saskatchewan citizens by imbuing them with a positive attitude made sense. So did plans to use upbeat messages in a 30-second TV spot, along with print ads, to "sell" Saskatchewan in selected nationalmarkets.

The trouble is, Saskatchewan residents are finding out only now, well after the NDP won the early November election, that the government spent twice what it had said it would on a promotion that undoubtedly benefited the party.

If, as Cline says, it was the government's intention all along to have CIC share the cost, why wasn't the fact publicly disclosed, along with the budget for Open Future? A $681,000 contribution to the promotion isn't a line item on CIC's 2002 budget but is rolled into general expenses. So far this year, the Crown sector has anted up $2 million to the campaign.

Perhaps, as Industry Department spokesperson Debbie Wilkie says, Saskatchewan indeed will benefit from significantly hiking its spending to polish its national image to match the efforts of other provinces. However, politicians who make that decision have a duty to be up-front with the public, and not low-ball their estimates and then shovel money into the program through the back door via the Crown sector.

Just as the Grant Devine Tories were wrong to bamboozle the public with financial shell games using the Crowns, the Calvert New Democrats are playing an odious game by using CIC money to get around timely disclosure of government spending.

Taxpayers trying to figure out how government officials can claim they weren't trying to hide anything might feel a bit as if they are trapped in the mind of U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who told a NATO press conference:

"There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know ... Each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns."

There you have it. As far as the Calvert government is concerned, Saskatchewan taxpayers are well served as long as they eventually get to know some of the knowns known to government as long as they remain unknown unknowns to the public until the least politically damaging time.

Steven Gibb, Gerry Klein, Les MacPherson, Sarath Peiris and Lawrence Thoner collaborate in writing SP editorials

"Democracy cannot be maintained without its foundation: free public opinion and free discussion throughout the nation of all matters affecting the state within the limits set by the criminal code and the common law." The Supreme Court of Canada, 1938


Calvert says he didn't know Crowns financed ad campaign

REGINA -- Premier Lorne Calvert said Tuesday he didn't know when he launched the Wide Open Future campaign that Crown corporation money would be used to finance the program, despite Industry Minister Eric Cline's contention that Crown cash was intended for the project all along.

Calvert also acknowledged that there is a "political" aspect to the campaign, which is intended to improve Saskatchewan's image and promote investment in the province, but has been characterized by critics as a component of the NDP's re-election campaign.

The government is under fire for going $600,000 over estimates and sinking $5.5 million into the promotional campaign over just 13 months, including $2.6 million in Crown Investments Corp. cash that was not disclosed until this week.

Calvert said there is no reason why the use of Crown money should not have been disclosed earlier and denied the government was trying to hide the allocation to the Wide Open campaign.

But he could not say when he actually learned that Crown money was used.

"The decisions were made within government. Not all decisions come to the premier's attention to decide where all funding choices will be made. We have a number of initiatives that will be funded by a variety of sources in government," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Cline said he had always known that the costs of the campaign would be shared by executive government and the Crown corporations.

"I don't know if the question was raised but certainly, if it had been raised, I certainly would have explained where the money was coming from," he said.

Brad Wall, the Crowns critic for the Opposition Saskatchewan Party, said there was never any indication that Crown money would be used and questioned Cline's statements, especially in light of Calvert's comments.

"I think it makes Mr. Cline's assertion even shakier. If the premier of the province who very, very much took this campaign into his personal purview . . . if he didn't know how it was being paid for, there's a couple of questions there. One, why didn't somebody tell him, why didn't Mr. Cline tell the premier and, in addition to that, why didn't the premier ask the question?" he said.

Wall said he was also concerned by some of Calvert's comments about the use of the Wide Open Future campaign.

Calvert denied that the Wide Open campaign's message was the same as the NDP's political message but pointed to comments by Opposition MLAs and criticisms from other organizations as negative messages the program counteracts.

"It is a political message, small 'P.' It's not a large 'P' partisan political message but it is a political message, a message that says we have a province that has tremendous opportunity and we need to spread that political message across Canada," he said. Wall said there is a major problem with Calvert's comments.

"The premier has to pick a reason for this program. Is it about growing Saskatchewan? Is it about selling Saskatchewan to our province and the rest of the country to increase investment or is it political to counteract the Opposition and what we may be doing? If that's the case, the NDP should have been paying for the ads and not the taxpayers of the province," he said.

QUICK FACTS

- Wide Open Future campaign went $600,000 over estimates.

- The government spent $5.5 million in about 13 months, including $2.6 million from the Crown Investments Corp.

- Premier Lorne Calvert admits there is a 'political' component to the campaign.

Ran with fact box "Quick Facts" which has been appended to the story.


"Wide Open" campaign has wide open budget

REGINA - A government publicity campaign is generating some controversy over its budget. The "Wide Open Future" program was supposed to cost $2 million per year; however, one year later, the government says it has spent $5.5 million on the plan.

David Mclean, from the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, says the program was launched to improve the political fortunes of the NDP and never had a clear budget.

He says the government has not been forthcoming about how much the campaign would cost.

But Premier Lorne Calvert says the government has been open about the plan and the cost.

"The fact is we've talked about this as being a government-wide initiative," says Calvert. "There's no sense of wanting to hide something from journalists or the public. We've talked about this campaign. We've had some good debate about whether we need this campaign. I remain firmly committed to the need for this kind of work."

Saskatchewan's Crown Investments minister is defending that agency's spending on the program-a contribution of $2.6 million dollars.

Industry Minister Eric Cline says the plan is over-budget, in part, because the government spent more on marketing at CFL games, in the lead-up to Grey Cup.


Wide Open taps Crown cash CIC spending angers critics

The provincial government's Wide Open Future campaign has spent more than $5.5 million in just 13 months, about $600,000 more than the Department of Industry and Resources had anticipated.

But thanks to the Crown Investments Corp. (CIC), the advertising effort characterized by the Opposition as NDP pre-election propaganda won't blow the department's budget.

CIC, the holding company for the government's Crown utilities, has quietly kicked in $2.6 million to help offset the costs of the program, government officials confirmed Monday.

The New Democrats, who won a fourth consecutive term in government in a close election last month, have never disclosed the fact CIC has underwritten the campaign to such an extent. Premier Lorne Calvert did not mention CIC's participation when he kicked off the initial phase of print, radio and television ads back in October 2002, even though the corporation had already made a financial commitment to the campaign.

In CIC's annual report for 2002, there is no mention of the $681,000 the corporation contributed to Wide Open Future during the year. The expenditure is accounted for in general expenses. So far this year, CIC has spent $2 million on the campaign.

According to officials at CIC and Industry and Resources, the government hasn't hidden anything.

"It's never been a secret," said CIC spokesperson Karen Schmidt, who stressed it's in the interests of the Crown-owned utilities to promote Saskatchewan and improve the province's investment climate. "I don't think anyone has asked for a (spending) breakdown. But we certainly have been well prepared to talk about what we've contributed. As far as I know, it's always been talked about as a government campaign."

Debbie Wilkie, a spokesperson for Industry and Resources, added: "I don't know that we ever said specifically that it was only coming out of Industry and Resources budget. We always talked about it being government spending. And we never hid the total amount of dollars."

The revelation of CIC's involvement opens a new chapter in the controversy surrounding Wide Open Future.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) provincial director David MacLean, who obtained the spending total on Wide Open Future after a long battle with the government, accused the government of playing a "shell game" with taxpayers by not fully disclosing its funding sources.

"There's definitely a transparency issue here. The more complicated the funding arrangement becomes, the harder it is for people like us to track the spending. It all comes down to accountability. When it comes to accountability and transparency, CIC is probably the worst offender in government."

Opposition parties were similarly outraged.

Saskatchewan Party MLA June Draude said the NDP should have been more forthcoming about who was paying for what. She said it's inappropriate for CIC to be kicking in money to the campaign.

"What's going to happen? Instead of raising taxes for this, are they going to raise utility rates instead? This is absolutely ludicrous. I can't believe they thought they could get away with this. CIC is not supposed to be spending money on this. I think taxpayers should be furious."

Liberal Leader David Karwacki said CIC's involvement symbolizes the government's problem with transparency and underscores the province's deteriorating financial position.

"I don't think it's appropriate at all. That's the frustration people feel with this government. They are cagey with the details and never tell the entire truth until they are caught."

Karwacki said the fact Wide Open Future is over budget and had to rely on CIC for financing is a symptom of how the government operates across the piece.

"They don't seem to have controls or discipline in place."

Eric Cline, minister of industry and resources, could not be reached for comment.

Wilkie said the government planned to spend $2 million on Wide Open Future in the fiscal year ending last March. In the current fiscal year, it forecast expenditures of $2.9 million. Spending was higher because the department decided to shoot another television ad this summer, a decision that will save money over time, said Wilkie.

As for next year -- it's a three-year campaign -- she said it's impossible to say how much will be spent because the government is in the midst of the budget process. So far, $2.5 million of the $5.5 million has been spent inside the province.

Wilkie said other provincial governments commit far more money for promotional campaigns. She said Wide Open Future is necessary because the province has an image problem.

"I see Saskatchewan's image (problem) outside and inside the province to be more severe than what Toronto faced with SARS. Ours is long-standing. We have almost no image outside the province that's positive. Unless you spend significant money addressing that, it's not going to change."

Draude said it would improve the province's image immensely if the government was interested in creating an environment that welcomes business.


Legislative Building - Regina, Canada S4S 0B3 - (306) 787-6281

News Release

November 6, 2002

Industry and Resources - 859

PREMIER TAKES ATTITUDE CAMPAIGN TO ONTARIO

Premier Lorne Calvert is meeting with business groups in Ontario for the next two days to promote Saskatchewan as a solid investment choice.

The Premier will address business people in the investment banking, marketing and communication industries at a luncheon in Toronto today to encourage them to take a new look at Saskatchewan's image. The luncheon is being held in partnership with Rawlco Radio Ltd. and sponsored by Elmer Hildebrand Communications, Golden West Broadcasting and Canadian Broadcast Sales.

Tonight the Premier will host a reception for tourism media where the province's tourism attractions will be on display. In Ottawa on Thursday, he will promote Saskatchewan's success in hosting major events and conventions to an audience of convention and meeting planners. Later he will host a reception for Saskatchewan university alumni and expatriates.

"The best way of convincing people to invest and do business in Saskatchewan is to speak to them directly and show them Saskatchewan's economic and cultural strength, as well as the natural beauty of our province," Calvert said. "I am looking forward to sharing the successes Saskatchewan has seen in the past several years and our innovative firsts in business and technology."

The Premier's tour is part of the Government of Saskatchewan's three-year marketing campaign, Our Future is Wide Open, aimed at improving Saskatchewan's image both inside the province and across Canada. The initiative is part of the government's ongoing commitment to improving attitudes about the province and promoting business and investment in Saskatchewan.

"Saskatchewan business leaders told us loud and clear during Partnership for Prosperity consultations held in 2000 that we need to raise awareness about the province's competitive strengths," Calvert said. The current campaign addresses these concerns and builds on in-province campaigns conducted in the past two years, including The Saskatchewan Dream and Only in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan is gaining economic momentum with increased development in the oil and gas industry, technological advancements like the Synchrotron project, and development of an ethanol industry. Last month, the province reached record employment levels for September.

"As we prepare to celebrate Saskatchewan's centennial in 2005, this province is heading into its second century with exciting prospects. Through our Investment Attraction Council, we are pursuing new investment partnerships, actively seeking out new businesses for the province, and spreading the message that Saskatchewan is a place of opportunity."

"Saskatchewan has great businesses, great people, and a future that's wide open. Now we need to spread the word," Calvert concluded.

For more information, contact:

Debbie Wilkie Industry and Resources Regina Phone: (306) 787-1691