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Design approval for major Wascana Park projects unclear on master plan compliance: auditor

The Provincial Capital Commission suspended further consideration of the new CNIB/Brandt building pending a report from the provincial auditor.
The Provincial Capital Commission suspended further consideration of the new CNIB/Brandt building pending a report from the provincial auditor. Sean Lerat-Stetner / Global News

Saskatchewan’s auditor is calling on the Wascana Centre Authority to improve its approval process for major projects, like the Conexus and Brandt/CNIB buildings, and make the approval process more transparent.

Auditor Judy Ferguson looked into the approval process as part of her annual audit of provincial government function.

She found the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC), the government body that oversees the Wascana Centre, does not have clear procedures or expectations to consult the public on major developments in Wascana Park.

READ MORE: PCC suspend CNIB/Brandt development in Wascana Park pending audit

The report says the PCC could not demonstrate how the board approved conceptual designs for the Conexus and CNIB/Brandt buildings conform to the Wascana Master Plan. It is the responsibility of the PCC and its board to make sure major developments conform to this plan.

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For the Conexus building, the report said the PCC board approved the conceptual design despite knowing it did not fit the Wascana Master Plan.

When it comes to the CNIB/Brandt building, the board’s minutes did not contain information from the architectural advisory committee or how the board was satisfied the building would conform to the Wascana Master Plan.

READ MORE: Conexus unveils plans for Wascana Park building

Under the Provincial Capital Commission Act, clearly documenting in minutes how major developments fit into the master plan is a requirement.

The CNIB/Brandt building was put on pause while the auditor conducted her review. Ferguson said the future direction of the project will be up to the PCC.

“Whatever decision you make, you should act in a transparent manner and be prepared to defend that thinking,” Ferguson said.

Government Relations Minister Lori Carr, who is also responsible for the PCC, said she has asked the commission to review the auditor’s recommendation and bring forward ways to get in compliance with the auditor’s recommendations. While the PCC completes this report, the CNIB/Brandt project will remain on pause, according to Carr.

“I’m not going to guess what they’re going to say. I’m going to let them bring that work back to me,” Carr said.

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The minister said she will make an informed decision on the future of the project once the report is complete. Carr said she hopes to see the report in weeks, not months. The report will also be made public.

Despite the PCC board not following rules set out in legislation in its two major project approvals, Carr said she is confident in the board.

“I don’t think they intentionally did that. I think because of the recommendations the auditor has brought forward and the gaps we have in some of our processes, maybe something like that happened, but as we move forward we’re going to make sure that’s taken care of with the plan they bring back to me,” Carr explained.

Deputy NDP leader Nicole Sarauer said the government should stop, not pause the project, due to the PCC board not following its own legislation in the decision-making process, including a lack of meeting minutes being taken and little public consultation.

“I think we know enough that this project can’t go forward with any level of confidence that this was done in the right way,” Sarauer said.

“If minutes aren’t taken, and proper documents aren’t tabled, it’s almost impossible to know what happened.”

The NDP have been critical of the current PCC board being made up of a majority government’s members, while the University of Regina and city each have one representative. They have also wondered why the old CNIB’s building lease, $1 per year, will extend to the new property that is expected to have a commercial component.

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The auditor noted the PCC appropriately shared details about their review and approval procedures, but did not provide the public “sufficiently understandable” information about the procedures or information about what stage in the review process each project was in.

The auditor said the PCC needs to enact the following recommendations to ensure project approval is in line with existing legislation:

  • Develop written expectations for public consultation on major amendments to the master plan;
  • Publish design review steps for major developments in Wascana Centre, and keep the public informed about the status of these developments;
  • Clearly show in board minutes how major developments fit into the Wascana Master Plan; and
  • Establish agreements with building owners in Wascana Center to ensure building use conforms to the master plan.