Pinehouse Village Council: Multiple breaches of the Northern Municipalities Act

SASKATOON, October 4, 2017 — On September 1, 2017, D’Arcy Hande, a freelance writer based in Saskatoon, received a (late) response to an Access to Information request submitted to the Northern Village of Pinehouse in June. In that letter from Pinehouse Mayor Mike Natomagan, the mayor confirms that the Village administration has failed multiple times to comply with provincial legislation regarding the governance of municipalities in Saskatchewan.

Mr. Hande has received no response to his letters to the Minister of Government Relations, or to the Premier himself, asking why the government is not taking these violations of the law more seriously. He also speculates as to why the Provincial Government seems so indifferent to the many infractions at Pinehouse. It looks as though the Saskatchewan Party-friendly leadership in Pinehouse believes they are virtually immune from consequences.

Multiple examples of provincial law being broken

To summarize the many breaches in provincial legislation by Pinehouse Village that have been discovered through applications under the Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act over the past two years:

• The Village Council has failed to adopted a Code of Ethics or an Employee Code of Conduct, as required by The Northern Municipalities Act, section 107.2 (this would trigger automatic adoption by the council as the code of ethics pursuant to section 107.1 on the day after the date set by the regulations by which the code of ethics was required to be adopted by the council).

• Only one member of Village Council (Conrad Misponas) has completed a Public Disclosure Statement as required under The Northern Municipalities Act, section 160. It was dated 4 July 2017, long after the time it should have been completed upon his election last fall. Incredibly, no other councilor has completed the required declaration, including the Mayor himself. These failures constitute a violation of Section 160, and should therefore lead to disqualification of the members in question according to Section 165(1)(e)(ii) of the Act.

• According to the one Public Disclosure Declaration filed by Councilor Conrad Misponas, he has failed to disclose that he is the secretary-treasurer of Kineepik Development Inc., which operates out of Saskatoon, Sask., but conducts business in Pinehouse.

• Records indicate that Walter Smith, a member of council elected in a by-election earlier this year, is an employee of Pinehouse Business North Limited Partnership, a controlled corporation owned by the Northern Village of Pinehouse according to the Village`s audited financial statement. This would appear to be in contravention of Section 128 of The Northern Municipalities Act and should disqualify him from sitting on Council.

• The Village Administrator advised on 17 January 2017 that there is no Records Retention and Disposal Schedule in place at the Village, contrary to a requirement set out in The Northern Municipalities Act, Section 132(1). Copies of minutes were provided indicating that situational approval of destruction of routine documents had been provided by Village Council. Meanwhile, the Village has been unable to locate records requested by the public and has been seen destroying records in burning barrels outside the Village office at least three times.

• In his 2016-17 annual report the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner cited the Northern Village of Pinehouse for failing to respond appropriately to Freedom of Information requests on seven (7) separate occasions in that fiscal year alone.

Three successive Ministers of Government Relations (Reiter, Harpauer and Doke) have been asked to launch an inquiry into the state of affairs in Pinehouse under Section 418 of The Northern Municipalities Act. So far no action has been taken.

At present the Provincial Ombudsman is investigating the situation, but there has been no resolution more than a year after concerned Pinehouse citizens met with the Ombudsman’s staff in their Saskatoon office in August 2016.

Why the Provincial Government MIGHT NOT be taking this matter seriously

In the face of so many flagrant violations of the Northern Municipalities Act, why might the Saskatchewan Party provincial government be so reluctant to step in, when clearly the Minister of Government Relations has the authority to do so? After the Municipal Conflict of Interest Amendment Act was proclaimed in 2015 to address just such situations, why no action?

An exhaustive search has not been made, but these few examples indicate a cozy relationship between the Saskatchewan Party and Pinehouse village leadership:

• In 2011 Pinehouse Mayor Mike Natomagan made a personal donation of $310 to the Saskatchewan Party.

• From 2013 to 2015, the Northern Village of Pinehouse donated nearly $1200.00 to the Saskatchewan Party.

• In November 2014, Pinehouse Business North, a corporation owned by the Village, was a major sponsor for the Saskatchewan Party Youth annual convention in Regina.

• In August 2016, then Minister Donna Harpauer and her husband were given an expense-free holiday weekend in Pinehouse. Their accommodation was covered by the Village treasury, and sources allege a paid fishing guide was provided as well.

Other supporting documentation and further information available upon request.