Article: Sean Wilson – Contributor
This has been a very busy summer for municipal politics in Regina. Headlining the drama at City Hall was the group “Regina Water Watch” who were successful in forcing a referendum on financing and operation of the waste water treatment plant. For those who don’t know, the city plans to finance the project through a P3 (Public Private Partnership) model, which sees a private company build and operate the plant under municipal regulation and supervision. This model is highly effective and has a strong record of coming under budget and finishing projects ahead of schedule. Along with the 53 million dollar federal rebate for following the model, the project would literally save the city millions of dollars. Enter Regina Water Watch, a group that spent the last 3 months collecting signatures from the people of Regina in order to hold a referendum by telling them their water is going to be privatized. This referendum is going to cost the city between 200-400 million dollars. Once the petition was submitted, the city clerk ruled that it did not meet the signatures required to force a referendum. It seemed that council, and Fougere, had gotten their way.
The public outrage that took place due to the rejection of the petition was limited but the “anti-democratic” stigma was strong on the mayor. On the weekend after the rejection of the petition I got a call from a polling firm asking me if I supported the P3 model for the waste water plant, and then on Monday to the shock of the public they announced plans for a referendum. The city doing polling on the issue of the P3 days before announcing they would hold the referendum after the petition was rejected tells me the poll was most likely in their favour. If so, this was a brilliant political move by Fougere. He has been able to dispel any accusations of hindering democracy and will get his P3 project directly approved by the people. The attempt to stop it will likely fail because there are simply not enough people who share their point of view.
Regina Water Watch is on the wrong side of this issue, and it is hard to convince enough people you’re right when you’re not. The opposition to the P3 by Regina Water Watch is firmly based in ideology and they can name few examples or studies that shows a P3 is not optimal. On the other hand groups like the Chamber of Commerce can list literally thousands of examples and studies where a P3 has done wonders. The referendum on the issue will likely fail, as the pro P3 side will be voting “No” to the traditional publicly funded model. If and when it does there will likely be cries from Regina Water Watch that it was money and influence that caused their referendum to be defeated, as the radical left does when they lose. They can complain but the fact is Fougere has managed to take this issue and gain the upper hand. Looking good in support of direct democracy and getting his P3 at the same time means Fougere Wins.