The City of Regina’s Terrible Example

At 1pm today, Regina city clerk Joni Swidnicki announced that the Regina Water Watch petition to force a referendum on the City’s plan to finance, build and operate a new wastewater treatment plant under a P3 model had been deemed invalid due to insufficient “valid” signatures. According to Swidnicki’s report, of the 24, 361 signatures in the petition 4,289 were immediately stricken due to “incomplete or incorrect surname, given name or initial, (How would they know if someone’s initial was incorrect?), incomplete or incorrect street address, signature not witnessed and incorrect or incomplete date. A total of 3,416 signatures were struck based on date alone, with 2,634 of those signatures struck because they did not include the year 2013. After this culling of signatures down to 20,072, Swidnicki assures us that even with “extremely generous calculations” in regards to the random sample, they can only verify (valid) signatures at between 84.4% (16,941) and 90.4% (18,145). Of course, both numbers fall far short of the 19,300 required to force a city-wide referendum.

For those that have followed the City’s rather haphazard and panicked response to the petition, the city clerk’s decision is disappointing, but not at all surprising. The efforts of this clerk to move the goal posts and introduce last minute rule changes would be the envy of any Soviet-era hockey ref. The last minute attempt by the clerk to have the province increase the signature threshold along with the unprecedented (as far as I can tell from previous City petitions) decision to strike signatures for not including the year (which was clearly identified at the top of the petition in case someone forgot what year it was), would lead any semi-objective person to wonder whether the fix isn’t in. And regardless of the  inevitable court battles to come, it is this lingering suspicion that will haunt the City’s elected officials for years to come.

A recent, widely-publicized Samara poll shows that Canadians are more disengaged from politics than ever, with many Canadians seeing little use for political engagement beyond the requirement to mark a ballot every four or five years. The Water Watch petition was a reminder that we do not elect our officials and go to sleep until the next election; that we as citizens’ can still have a voice in what policies are decided in our name in the interim between elections. Certainly the threshold for these kinds of citizen interventions should be high, but when an issue – like this one –  garners more signatures than the Mayor received in votes, perhaps we should view this as a truly democratic moment, one that should be welcomed rather than squelched. At the end of the day, the City should have given it’s citizens the benefit of the doubt in regards to their intentions when signing the petition, rather than acting like a frenzied actuarial looking for any and every loophole. If this is the City of Regina’s idea of democracy, they have set a terrible example for all of us.

Simon Enoch

5 comments

  1. good to know that I signed all my legal documents (will, mortgage, insurance and even my deed) with a J rather than Jody. somehow those are legal but city of Regina has deemed it not valid to sign there petition… reasoning behind people losing interest in politics, they so easily lose there voice. (also I have a friend who’s legal name is TJ, apparently his voice will never be heard by the city of regina)

  2. This article is bias or doesn’t have all the facts. The city clerk called some of the names and numbers on this petition. My house was called looking for a person I didn’t know. When the clerk called she asked for several names that sound similar. She said something like, “Is Sarah there? No? well is there a Sandra or possibly a Samantha there?” Due to the fact that this conversion personally happened to me, I don’t believe that names were ‘immediately stricken’ as suggested.

    The article above also cites a link. Thank you but it is broken.

  3. Dear Robert,

    The City Clerk’s report clearly states, “during the initial counting phase, 4,289 signatures were stricken from the petition” for the reasons outlined in the article. This was prior to the random sample where the City began calling selected respondents to verify signatures. The City has removed the report, hence the broken link, but it can be viewed courtesy of the Leader-Post here: http://www.leaderpost.com/news/regina/Read+City+Regina+full+report+waste+water+petition/8683292/story.html

  4. In any case, this is a petition which is intended to allow a vote. It does not in itself decide public policy. Putting roadblocks in front of the public’s ability to become involved in the democratic process is a dangerous path.

  5. The rot I mean root of this is the P3 money from Ottawa only available to Regina for a P3 project. Are P3s the way to go? What is the track record of P3s?

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