No audit into taxpayer spending 

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An abandoned building sits empty. Graffiti can be seen inside of it, and paint is peeling off of the ceiling. 
Nothing to see here folks, just taxpayer dollars in good use Tama66 via pixabay

Decision an issue of transparency and accountability for Communities of Tomorrow

In a letter released by the Saskatchewan Green Party, the Conservative Party, and the Saskatchewan Progress Party on February 12, the three parties called on the provincial auditor to conduct an investigation into the performance of Communities of Tomorrow. 

Communities of Tomorrow was, at one point, a government-industry research incubator. It ceased operations in 2013. The coalition of unelected parties asked for transparency and accountability regarding the funding that Communities of Tomorrow received while it was still active.  

Communities of Tomorrow was a public-private partnership incepted in 2003 with the aim of becoming the new National Research Council of Canada (NRC) centre in Regina.  

In a press release in May of 2003, Public Works and Government Services Minister Ralph Goodale – on behalf of Industry Minister Allan Rock, Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert, Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco, NRC President Arthur Carty and the University of Regina (U of R) President David Barnard – announced that the venture would focus on testing and assessing the applicability of existing, new, and emerging technologies and applications to sustainable community development as a “community environmental laboratory.” 

Approximately $30 million were invested in the venture.  

The initial focus of Communities of Tomorrow was to coordinate with the City of Regina and researchers at the U of R while focusing on innovative practices in municipal water management.  

Communities of Tomorrow was supposed to also investigate and promote further municipal sustainability initiatives that the City of Regina had emphasized, including waste management, energy conservation, and affordable housing. 

“The establishment of this research centre in Regina will position our city as a recognized world leader in the area of sustainable municipal development,” former mayor Pat Fiacco said. 

The organization published ten papers on asbestos cement water pipes during its operating period. It eventually formed a partnership with the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) in January 2013. 

Communities of Tomorrow shut down only five months after entering into its partnership with SUMA. 

In the statement released by the coalition it was highlighted that, according to the Communities of Tomorrow website archives, there was activity in July 2023 even though the organization ceased operations a decade earlier.  

This activity prompted demands by the coalition for an audit into the operation in order to account for taxpayer funds that it received.  

“What exactly was this entity?” asked Saskatchewan Progress Party official agent Michael Medby. “At least [$34 million] of taxpayers’ money was funnelled through Communities of Tomorrow. What benefit did we receive?” he pressed. Progressive Conservative Party Leader Rose Buscholl agreed, adding that “We have seen some money-losing fiascos in this province. This could turn out to be the topper.” 

“The plan was to have a permanent [NRC] presence in Regina. The research centre is long gone. Communities of Tomorrow is gone. This feels like the old shell game, and Saskatchewan taxpayers are the big losers,” said Saskatchewan Green Party Leader, Naomi Hunter. 

A June 2013 SUMA news release claimed that the organization would house a variety of important documents created by Communities of Tomorrow. There is no mention on the SUMA website of studies undertaken by Communities of Tomorrow related to asbestos cement water pipes. 

“Let me be very clear. Communities of Tomorrow was created to help fund the study of asbestos cement water pipes. Those studies referred to asbestos fibres in the water as a health concern. Communities of Tomorrow is gone. The Research Centre at the [U of R] is gone. The only thing left is a lot of old asbestos cement water pipes,” stated Hunter. 

The coalition hoped that the provincial auditor would look into the use of taxpayer funds, particularly as taxpayers ought to know how public money was utilized. Taxpayers also deserve to know what benefit they received in exchange for the investment of millions of dollars into a venture such as Communities of Tomorrow. 

Progressive Conservative Party Leader Rose Buscholl also claimed that both the Saskatchewan Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have been aware of this issue for decades and have done nothing about it. 

“It’s time to get to the bottom of this issue, and solve it so it never happens again,” she said.  

“It’s time Saskatchewan taxpayers got some answers about Communities of 

Tomorrow, what appears to be a failed plan to turn the province into an innovative 

infrastructure powerhouse,” the demand read. 

The coalition’s demand for an audit was denied by the provincial auditor. On February 18, the provincial auditor announced that it would not perform an audit on the public-private organization. 

The auditor’s office claimed that their mandate “does not include assessing the appropriateness of government’s policy decisions,” but that rather, they “focus on the government’s administration of public policy.” 

The claim that the auditor’s office makes with this is that they “do not see significant risks around public money being provided by the provincial government as a portion of the partnership back in 2003 and not being used for the purposes intended.” 

The coalition was “bitterly disappointed” by the auditor’s decision to not investigate the Communities of Tomorrow.  

The decision not to look into Communities of Tomorrow “means Saskatchewan taxpayers may never know how $34 million in public money was spent, and why nothing was ever done about old asbestos cement water pipes.” 

“What could possibly be more important than reports saying the water pipes that people are using might cause cancer?” questioned Naomi Hunter. 

The decision is “an issue of transparency and accountability,” according to Rose Buscholl. “Taxpayers shelled out at least $34 million to find solutions, and all we got was a word salad.”  

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