A year ago, the Saskatchewan government introduced a budget that continues to have enormous social impact on our communities.
A citizen’s group called SaskCrowns has contacted the Local Global Advocacy Network to ask for United Church assistance in circulating a formal petition calling on the government to respect its own legislation regarding public input in the sale of Crowns. Conference Executive has approved this request. This letter is your invitation to consider whether (and how) you might promote and distribute this petition.
SaskCrowns is concerned that government actions over the past year or more are not in the public interest. The group explains that “SaskCrowns is made up of Saskatchewan citizens who believe strongly that our Crown corporations provide us with valuable services and help keep our cost of living down. We think that selling or winding-up Crown corporations is short-sighted, and that other options to improve the provincial budgetary situation need to be considered. We are nonpartisan and are not directed by or affiliated with any other group, organization or political party.”
About the petition
The petition is a formal action directed to the Legislature. While it can be distributed online, it must be printed and signed, by hand, by residents who are of legal voting age. Its purpose is to use existing provincial legislation that is triggered when a sufficient percentage of eligible voters call for a referendum via petition.
The petition wording: “Should the Government of Saskatchewan be required to obtain the approval of the electors in a referendum before selling any interest in or winding-up any Crown corporation listed in The Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act such as SaskTel, SGI, STC, SaskEnergy, and SaskPower?”
Here’s the link to the printable PDF of the petition: http://www.saskcrowns.ca/Petition.pdf
In the Appendices below, please find more information on Crown corporations; Bill 40 and its relationship to this petition; and a short reflection on why we as Christian communities of faith might consider lending our support to a political action like a petition.
We commend this action to you, and ask that you consider sharing it with your pastoral charge. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to be in touch so that we can talk further.
With thanks for your prayerful consideration,
Linda Stumpf and Rev Catherine Christie, co-conveners, Local-Global Advocacy Network, SK Conference.
Appendices: further background on the petition to secure electoral approval for the winding up of Crowns
Background: What does faith have to do with Crown corporations?
A petition is political; why would a faith community be involved with politics? Yet a closer look at scripture reveals how often the prophets commented on politics. They did not hesitate to denounce the powers and principalities of their day when their actions oppressed the poor and marginalized. Jesus, versed as he was in the Law and the Prophets, reminds us frequently of our obligations to our neighbours. Throughout the Gospels, we hear how he centers those who have been pushed to the margins.
Publicly owned services have long been one Canadian way of expressing that centrality. We know too well, for example, that many rural, remote, and Indigenous communities across our province have limited access to transportation. At any time, we can find ourselves pushed to the margins by medical crises that require expensive and time consuming visits to bigger centres for care. At any time, loss of a job or other factors that push into poverty might mean that having our own vehicle is out of reach. In all of these cases, publicly owned and subsidized busses once made a significant improvement in the collective life of our province.
While the focus of this letter is Crowns, the closure of the SK Transportation Company must be seen in the context of the March 2017 provincial budget, which cut into common goods beyond Crown corporations. (Please see the SK Conference budget action for more details.) The impacts of these cuts on our communities continue to be deeply troubling. Have a look at the many stories on this blog, and consider contributing your own.
For example, spiritual care in our hospitals was cut; Conference Executive has approved a proposal from River Bend Presbytery which raises strong concerns about the impact of these cuts. In the same budget, libraries also faced significant cuts and threats of closure; only a strong public outcry prevented immediate cuts, though cuts are still on the table for 2018.
The Saskatchewan Transportation Company is a provincial crown corporation providing passenger and parcel bus service to the people of Saskatchewan. In the March 21, 2017 government budget, the Saskatchewan government announced the closure of this Crown corporation and the sale of its assets. The government did not consult the public before taking this action or any Crown-related action.
Even before the budget, the auctioning of environmentally important Crown lands had created alarm and anger amongst ranchers, First Nations, and environmental groups. These Crown lands are often among the only untouched Prairie that remains to us. They are an essential part of the Treaty Land Entitlement process; like all land in SK, they are under treaties signed by our ancestors. How does auctioning irreplaceable land respect the treaty covenants we are called to respect? (Please see the Conference President’s letter on this concern for further information.)
The Local Global Advocacy Network co-conveners agree that ending or eroding Crown corporations is not in the public interest, and would be of detriment to people of Saskatchewan, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized among us. We see that United Church people have contributed to building the society of Saskatchewan, and that our ethos, as described in the New Creed, “to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil…”, is damaged by this government action.
Background to Crowns and government cuts and changes
The union-related group SOS Crowns notes, “Crown Corporations are organizations that are owned and operated by the government. Income that is generated by Crowns is returned in the form of dividends to the government’s general revenue fund, which is then redistributed to a variety of areas including Saskatchewan libraries, highways, hospitals, schools, and many more.”
While many provinces have Crown corporations, the extent of SK’s network of Crowns is unique. Our land mass, low population density, and high number of rural or remote communities create unique demands and needs on our infrastructure.
SOS Crowns continues, “The operations of publicly owned enterprises is part of our Saskatchewan identity and in fact, have been around longer than Saskatchewan has even been an official province. Beginning in 1901 with hail insurance, and evolving to over 20 different organizations today, Crowns affect every citizen of the province every single day.
Whether it be a major centre, a town, village, hamlet, or First Nation settlement, the Crowns were formed with four guiding principles; to assure that essential services are reliable, high quality, reasonably affordable, and most importantly, universal. We may take for granted the government mandates that assure we have services like clean water, power, energy, communication services, and public transportation.” (Please see this article for more information.)
A word about Bill 40
An article from SaskCrowns explains that “In (the spring of) 2017, the Sask Party government passed legislation, Bill 40, which permits the privatization of 49% of a Crown corporation without the public process that would otherwise be required under another law. Bill 40 also says that winding up (ie, shutting down) a Crown corporation is not privatization.”
After public pressure, then-Premier Wall stated in October 2017 that the government would repeal Bill 40. However, the government is NOT repealing the part of the bill allowing them to “wind up” a crown without going to the public for a vote. And that’s what this petition is about. This is why it is still (unfortunately) relevant. Sask Crowns notes, “They are leaving in place the language saying privatization does not include a wind-up, which means they are giving themselves permission to wind up (close) a crown without going to the people, because they say that’s not privatization. This is how they closed STC without going to the people.”