Premier Brad Wall is not in a conflict of interest, despite the fact he owns shares in companies he's trying to lure to Saskatchewan using public resources, says the province's conflict of interest commissioner.
In a letter to Whitecap Resources, made public earlier this week, Wall tried to coax the company to move its head office to the province. His letter offered to cover relocation costs, as well as tax incentives, affordable office space and "help with other hurdles as you define them and as can reasonably be offered."
Whitecap CEO Grant Fagerheim said he would move only if it benefited his company's shareholders.
Wall is one of those shareholders, according to the premier's latest conflict of interest statement.
Wall and wife hold shares
An official in Wall's office confirmed that the premier and his wife have 1,826 shares in the company, valued at about $18,000.
The official also confirmed that Wall sent similar letters offering incentives to two other companies in which he owns shares: Crescent Point Energy and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.
When media outlets asked the premier about this, his office asked Ron Barclay, the conflict of interest commissioner, for his opinion.
"The only way for you and your wife to benefit from the offer is if the actual relocation of the three companies on the terms outlined in the offer actually increases the publicly traded share value of the three companies," Barclay wrote Friday.
"Simply put, there does not appear to be any evidence that such a relocation, if it even occurred, could plausibly increase the share price of the three companies."
Barclay also concluded that the estimated $36,000 in investments from Wall and his wife "is not a significant sum of money when compared to the total market capitalization of these companies. Therefore, this sum is clearly not to be considered enough to establish a conflict of interest."
Wall also sent letters to companies in which he has not invested.
Conflict of interest rules require reform
Duff Conacher, the co-founder of Democracy Watch, said the fact the conflict of interest commissioner has cleared Wall doesn't mean it's OK for Wall to lure companies he's invested in.
He pointed out that the federal government has rules that prevent this sort of thing.
"At the federal level, the prime minister and ministers would not be allowed to have investments that they control in any way. They would have to be in a blind trust and/or sold," he said.
"It's unusual that it's even allowed in Saskatchewan to have these direct investments."
There is one exception: Politicians are allowed to own mutual funds.
The premier's office points out that in Saskatchewan "there is no requirement for elected officials to put their holdings into a blind trust."
An official said Wall's investments are handled by an investment adviser, and the premier follows all conflict of interest rules.
Conacher said the only way to avoid both conflict of interest and the appearance of conflict is to require politicians to divest.
"If you want to have cabinet ministers and premiers actually serve the public interest, the rules should be you have to sell all your private investments; [instead] buy bonds, government investments and guaranteed investment certificates," said Conacher.
He added that politicians are well paid and he said the message to them should be "serve the public while you're in public service and then when you get out you can reinvest in things you're interested in reinvesting in."