The government body that oversees Wascana Park has decided to suspend further consideration on the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)/Brandt development.
The suspension is because the provincial auditor is doing a review of the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC) as part of her annual review of various government agencies. This review will include the approval process of the CNIB/Brandt building.
The PCC board made the decision at their March 7 meeting. The CNIB was informed of the decision Monday morning according to PCC board chair Michael Carr.
In a letter written to the CNIB’s local executive director Christall Beaudry from PCC board chair Michael Carr, the PCC said they will revisit the suspension decision once they can fully consider the auditor’s report when it is published in December.
“The board is taking a cautious approach and wants to ensure the Office of the Provincial Auditor is able to conduct its review with no further action taken until the audit is finalized,” Carr wrote.
“At that time, the board will review the report and any recommendations made by the provincial auditor regarding the CNIB/Brandt project.”
Beaudry responded in a statement, saying although disappointed, she respects the decision made by the PCC.
“For more than 60 years, CNIB has been proud to serve Regina’s blind and partially sighted community out of Wascana Centre. The park has been, and continues to be, an ideal location from which to provide our vital services,” Beaudry wrote.
“We look forward to the outcome of the auditor’s review, and to resuming discussions about this project at the appropriate juncture. In the meantime, we thank our partners and the community for their valued support of our mission.”
After meeting with the auditor’s staff to discuss the scope of the review, Carr said the board felt it was prudent to put a pause on this project. He noted the controversy played a role in the decision.
“I think it’s fair to say that the controversy around the project is what informed the decision making by the board,” Carr said during a Monday news conference.
“I would say that having had the opportunity for the first time to meet with representatives from the provincial auditor also provided an opportunity for us to look at the process.”
The development of the new CNIB building has garnered controversy, mostly associated with Brandt being the developer of the proposed 77,000 square-foot building. The CNIB would occupy approximately 4,000 square feet. The rest of the space would be rented out to other tenants.
At their old building, the CNIB had a $1 per year lease with the province for 99 years. That lease will be extended to the new building, once it is built on the footprint of the former structure.
The Opposition NDP and other critics have raised questions about a “sweetheart” deal with Brandt, the Saskatchewan Party’s largest corporate donor. According to Saskatchewan Party donations data submitted to Elections Saskatchewan, Brandt donated $16,000 to the party in 2017.
An open tender was issued for the construction of the new CNIB building. Six companies request information and Brandt was the only one to put in a proposal.
Central Services Minister Ken Cheveldayoff has said that he is confident all processes were properly followed in approving the build.
“It’s a good project, I think it’s followed all of its processes, but I respect the decision of the Provincial Capital Commission board,” Cheveldayoff said.
Carr echoed Cheveldayoff in saying he felt all decisions made followed the proper process. He added that he sees Wascana Park as an ideal home for the CNIB. However, the board wants to be transparent and there is a perception that is not the case.
“The board, like all boards, wants to be seen as doing its work with the authority and license of public support,” Carr said. “So board members were very – I think – moved by some of the commentary around lack of information. So, we felt this was an opportune time to hit reset to ensure that the CNIB, as the proponent of the project, had an opportunity to consider that and then to consider what next steps we might take once we hear from the provincial auditor.”
Provincial auditor Judy Ferguson previously said this is a routine audit, and will include looking into whether decisions made in the approval process line up with legislation.
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said the project should be scrapped, so CNIB can start again without the current cloud hanging over their building. He took issue with the formation of the PCC, saying it changed old Wascana Centre Authority rules to allow a major commercial development.
“This was done wrong from the beginning. We’ve got the minister out here saying the process worked. The process didn’t work, the process was cooked,” Meili said.
“Part of what this government did along the way was not just not follow the law, but they changed the law so that this would be allowed.”
This will be the first time the auditor reviews the PCC, which was created in 2017 to take the place of the Wascana Centre Authority. The audits for the former authority were conducted by a separate third party.
The next phase in the CNIB/Brandt development was a report from the PCC’s Architectural Advisory Committee on the planned building. Carr said they were expecting to receive that report any time in the next few weeks. Now, that report will not be considered by the PCC board until the auditor’s report is published in December.
Carr said that this suspension will not have an impact on any other PCC projects, like the proposed new location for the Regina Floral Conservatory.