Fougere vs. Holmes

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image: Emily Wright

image: Emily Wright

Debate tries to explain both sides of the referendum

Article: Taras Matkovsky – Contributor

One of my geography professors once told me about a student who wanted to run for an URSU position. The student said that he wasn’t trying to be political, and the proffesor laughed on the inside; the student ended up not winning the election. This memory came back to me when Dale Eisler, moderator of the Public vs. P3 Debate that took place Sep 18 at the U of R, said that this debate would be about facts, not politics.

With hundreds of people, mostly middle- to old-aged peple in attendance, both Mayor Michael Fougere and head of Regina Water Watch, Jim Holmes, made their cases for how a new water treatment plant should be paid for and built. This being a ‘factual’ debate, and both debaters came armed with several facts and statistics. However, on debates of this nature, it is impossible to entirely leave out politics. In particular, Mayor Fougere tried to frame the debate in terms of “facts, not fear”, and implying that Water Watch and CUPE were scaring the public by suggesting Regina’s drinking water would be privatized.

Jim Holmes, for his part, managed to bring more facts and statistics to the table than the Mayor could. The audience contributed to the breaking down of the “non-political” atmosphere as well by heckling both debaters, especially Fougere. But overall, despite the energy in the Education Auditorium, it was a rather dull affair. Neither candidate was convincing nor persuasive.

P3WrightJim Holmes opened the debate with ten points as to why people should reject the P3 model in favour of a Design-Bid-Build (DBB) process. Some of the points showed the success of the public approach, such as the overpass in Saskatoon and the water treatment plant in Yorkton. Others were meant to show that the city and the accounting firm Deloitte, hired to perform an analysis of the expected P3, could not be trusted to give an honest opinion.

The fact that Deloitte itself was a main advocate of P3s was one of his major reasons for not trusting them. He also brought in an environmental reason too, linking Regina’s wastewater plant debacle to watersheds from Calgary and Edmonton, setting the debate in the grand scheme of things. However, while he was attacking Fougere for not being honest, he was repeatedly attacked for being allied with dishonest union members. At one point during the debate, even the moderator asked Holmes about his relationship with the unions in a way that implied that this was a bad thing. To counter all that, Holmes repeatedly said that CUPE is not controlling Water Watch and that if union members are a part of their team, it is because they are volunteers. Many in attendance shouted “offside” at the moderator at this point.

When not defending Water Watch from accusations of union manipulation, Holmes was able to marshal a substantial legion of facts to back his position. Citing evidence from such sources as the UK House of Commons Treasury Committee and PPP Canada, Holmes appeared to be reasonably well informed. He also provided one well-paced dig at Fougere when he brought up a statement Fougere made in 2003, when the Mayor was president of the Saskatchewan Construction Association, about how private companies could not be trusted to offer good deals.

Fougere opened up his case by saying that Regina is booming and needs new infrastructure. He then proceeded to defend the P3 by both insisting that the City would remain in control of the rates, that no employees would be fired if a private company would be involved, something CUPE also says, and that this is the most cost-efficient way to build the plant because of the $58.5 million we are getting from Ottawa.

This was a figure often repeated by Fougere, along with the $276 per year that our utility bills would increase by. Fougere strove to remind people about these amounts and to tie them in with his “facts, not fear” message. However, he was not as equally devoted to the rest of his statistics. Unlike Holmes, who almost always cited his source after stating a point, Fougere did not cite the sources for such statistics as the 83% on-time completion rate for P3’s, until twenty or so minutes after he stated them.

P3Wright2Fougere was by far the more aggressive of the two; he openly questioned, to the point of ridiculing, Jim Holmes’ knowledge of what a DBB process was. He also asked Holmes exactly how Regina Water Watch would re-imburse taxpayers the $58.5 million that would be lost if the P3 was rejected. Fougere also outright dismissed a question Holmes asked about the costs of leaving the P3 deal, saying that Regina would never leave if it were approved. It also did not help his case that he could not say what the profit margin of this P3 deal would be.

Anna Dipple, an International Studies major, thought that Jim Holmes clearly won, because “[she] felt a little frustrated by Mayor Fougere,” especially when it came to the “patronizing way he answered some questions”. However, she appears to be in the minority with having such strong views.

Aaron Fritzler, a second-year Business major, also thought Holmes won, but barely; he “felt that the debate was a bit messy.”

Outside the university, it seems most are undecided. A CTV on-the-street interview revealed that people had no idea what was going on or even what voting No meant; one woman thought you voted No to stop privatization. Other people planned to vote No because they believed the city’s lines about saving taxpayers money. It seems the debate did little to clear up confusion.

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