Monday, November 12, 2007

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Key to Wall's vision

It is not clear that the government will not still be setting economic priorities but it will be doing it indirectly through choosing board members that it trusts to implement the sorts of policies that it approves. If the board were to be chosen by the groups that are to be represented it would have more independence and could set policy that was less in line with the government desires but that is not too likely to happen. The Chambers of Commerce could elect their representative or representatives and the Sask Federation of Labour could also probably arrange some sort of election as could First Nations. Municipalities could do the same. I expect though that the representatives appointed will be appointed because the government sees them as adopting the sort of policies that the government desires. It is clear for example that there is no one going to recommend a new crown corporation that would compete with the big natural gas and oil companies. One good thing is that Enterprise Saskatchewan does involve co-operatives.

Monday » November 12 » 2007

Enterprise Sask. key to Wall's vision

Bruce Johnstone
The Leader-Post

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Enterprise Saskatchewan, Premier-elect Brad Wall's vision of how to manage the province's economic development, could be the biggest achievement of his administration. Or it could be his biggest flop.

It all depends on who Wall chooses to sit on Enterprise Saskatchewan's board of directors and, more importantly, how narrowly or broadly he defines its mandate.

For non-policy wonks, Enterprise Saskatchewan was first proposed by Wall after becoming leader of the Saskatchewan Party in 2004.

As the former business development officer for the City of Swift Current, Wall has given a lot of thought about how the province can best manage its economic development function. And Wall believes government should not be setting the economic agenda as it has for the past 60 years.

In a paper called "The Promise of Saskatchewan: A New Vision for Saskatchewan's Economy," Wall wrote "governments of three different political stripes have allowed public sector solutions to eclipse the potential of private investment, innovation and entrepreneurship as sustainable economic development options for growth.''

Instead, he said, "the private, co-operative and non-government sectors must be the engines for economic growth, if it is to be sustainable, meaningful and avoid past failures.''

Enterprise Saskatchewan will operate as an "economic development partnership between government (provincial, local, First Nations), and the private, co-operative and non-government sectors,'' he said.

Wall described Enterprise Saskatchewan as "bold and innovative'' because "for the first time in Saskatchewan, government will cede significant control over the formation and implementation of economic development strategies to a broad partnership of economic stakeholders, with the full support of the premier and executive council (cabinet)."

One of the goals of Enterprise Saskatchewan would be to "identify and remove barriers to growth,'' including "non-tax barriers,'' such as "direct competition to business from various government agencies and Crowns.''

Naturally, this was seized upon by the NDP as a tacit admission that Wall will use Enterprise Saskatchewan to "privatize Saskatchewan'' by removing Crowns that are competing with the private sector.

This, despite the fact that the Saskatchewan Party's own policy manual says that a Saskatchewan Party government will "retain public ownership of our major Crown corporations.''

But Wall faces other challenges in implementing his economic development vision.

Even if Wall doesn't appoint "friends of the Saskatchewan Party'' to the board, as the NDP claims, a board made up of representatives of business, labour, municipalities, First Nations, and post-secondary education institutions will be, of necessity, a diverse group with competing, often conflicting interests.

While it may function well as an advisory group or sounding board for government policy, it will likely not function well as a decision-making body. And it will decidedly not function effectively as the manager of economic development policy.

What makes Tourism Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP) effective as public-private partnerships is the industry focus of those organizations, specifically their boards of directors.

Most of the directors of STEP and Tourism Saskatchewan are drawn from companies in the exporting and tourism sectors. They, not politicians or bureaucrats, know best how to invest scarce resources in their respective sectors.

Having said that, the notion of any government "ceding significant control'' over the formation and implementation of economic development strategies raises some fundamental questions.

After all, whose money is it anyway? It's the taxpayers' and the government, as the elected representative of the people, is steward of those tax dollars.

Taxpayers have the right to be represented on the boards of directors of any agency that spends tax dollars. And having a director, preferably the chair, with a seat at the cabinet table is the best insurance that tax dollars are being invested in the public's interest.

- Bruce Johnstone is the Leader-Post's financial editor.

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007

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