July 19, 2013 - 1:17pmUpdated: July 20, 2013 - 12:05pm
Regina Water Watch delivers it's petition to City Hall on Thursday, June 20 2013. Patrick Book/CJME
Frustration was clearly evident moments after the City of Regina announced its decision regarding a petition of those opposed to a public-private partnership to fund the new sewage treatment plant.
“The city clerk has, in accordance with the requirements of provincial legislation, determined the petition to be insufficient,” announced Jim Nichol, the city’s Executive Director of Governance and Strategy.
“That’s an attack on democracy,” shouted Bill Clary, who was clearly disheartened by the decision.
A total of 24,361 signatures were collected over the spring from those concerned about the implications of a new $224 million dollar plant at Buffalo Pound. Those signatures were presented to the city on June 20. According to the Cities Act, if council receives a petition signed by 10 per cent of the city’s population, a referendum would be triggered. The latest census data in 2011 puts Regina’s population at 193,310, therefore at least 19,310 valid signatures were needed.
However, thousands of signatures were thrown out, as outlined in the report. Most notably, more than 2,800 were called invalid for not including the year in the date. That deeply disappointed the group behind the petition in the first place, Regina Water Watch.
“Quite frankly I’m horrified by this,” said the group’s Jim Holmes. “It is outrageous. It is an attempt for the city to have this program go ahead."
“It is probably the largest example of voter suppression in Canadian history.”
The group claims that if the P3 funding model goes ahead it will end up costing taxpayers $60 million more than if it were to be done solely by the city, adding the city could lose control of the plant if a private company maintained it. The city disagrees and says this option of financing will actually be $79 million cheaper.
“Why is it so important that people not get a vote on this? Why is it important that citizens not get an answer to this question,” Holmes said.
The group had previously accused the City Clerk of going out of her way to try and invalidate names on the petition. The city also tried to convince Government Relations Minister Jim Reiter to increase how many names were needed on the petition a week before it was due. Ultimately, the minister turned down that request.
“It seems to me at every point when the city had a choice between trying to listen to what its citizens were saying and trying to stop the petition, they chose the one to stop the petition,” said Holmes.
The city was quick to inform the media that no questions would be taken after the decision was announced. Mayor Michael Fougere did address reporters but said he’s reserving comment until Monday night, when council will hold a special meeting to discuss the issue. But Fougere insisted the city clerk is, “independent of council”.
Still, Holmes doesn’t seem to be very fond of the mayor and claims part of this decision is on his shoulders.
“It doesn’t matter if more citizens want to vote on an issue than vote for the mayor. If the mayor doesn’t want the vote, there will not be a vote.”
Holmes said there’s some hope left though, as Council has the power to conduct a referendum of its own volition. He adds that any decision by city administration can be subject for a judicial review for reasonableness.
“I don’t think we’re prepared to let this decision of the city clerk go unchallenged.”