Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Saskatchewan government selling casinos to First Nations: NDP

The Canadian Press

REGINA - The Saskatchewan government is looking to sell Casino Regina and Casino Moose Jaw to the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority.

The Opposition went public with the information Monday after getting a government briefing on the sale last Thursday.

The New Democrats say the government wanted them to agree to legislative changes this spring for the sale to go through. But the NDP says the government wouldn't immediately provide a copy of the three-page memorandum of understanding.

"Selling Crowns is an important matter because the benefits are for everyone in the province," said NDP Leader Cam Broten.

"And to fast-track, to be pressured to urgently pass legislation in violation of the Crown ownership act, that game's not on. I will not agree to do that. If this was the long-standing plan of this government, they needed to introduce that legislation in the fall sitting and then we'd be looking at it here in the spring sitting."

The Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act sets conditions for the sale of protected Crowns. Those conditions include public consultations and a minimum 90-day window after the next provincial election before the completion of a sale.

Premier Brad Wall said Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, raised the memorandum at a meeting Jan. 21. Wall said the government approved it in principle last week, then went to brief the NDP.

The deal "would be good for the province, good for First Nations," Wall said.

He also said that because his Saskatchewan Party campaigned on maintaining the act, it believes it can only move forward on changes with Opposition support — even though his Saskatchewan Party holds 49 of 58 seats in the legislature.

"The law was passed by unanimous vote of the assembly. In my view, the only way it can be changed, without an electoral mandate, is by unanimous vote of the assembly."

The premier sent a letter to Broten asking for an answer by noon Tuesday.

Broten said he's open to the idea of the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority having a bigger role in the economy, but he questioned the rush.

"I'm willing to look at proposals and I'm willing to be convinced," said Broten. "But that shouldn't be done in a secret, behind-closed-doors deal. It should be done in the open. It should be done in a transparent way. It should have the right scrutiny in the legislature and it should have the right consultation with (the) Saskatchewan public."

Aboriginal leaders in Saskatchewan have said for years that all the province's casinos should have a single operator and they want to be the ones at the table.

In June 2011, Guy Lonechild, who was the chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations at the time, said it could be more efficient to have all casinos under one banner. He said First Nations casinos also have better employment rates and profits.

Ken Cheveldayoff, who was the minister responsible for SaskGaming in 2011, said at the time that the province was "absolutely ... not interested in selling the casinos."

The Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority was created by the federation to operate six casinos: Bear Claw in Carlyle, Dakota Dunes in Saskatoon, Gold Eagle in North Battleford, Living Sky in Swift Current, Northern Lights in Prince Albert and Painted Hand in Yorkton.

The province, under SaskGaming Corp., owns and operates Casino Regina and Casino Moose Jaw.

The New Democrats said the government said the sale price would be between $100 million and $200 million.

Bellegarde said there "was no secret, back-door deal." He said he met with Broten on Jan. 24.

"It was a business transaction because SIGA's got a proven track record. Record profits of $84 million. In my mind, it made sense that SIGA should be given the opportunity to operate Casino Regina and Casino Moose Jaw," the chief said.

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