City of Regina, we need to talk

Regardless of the outcome in the City of Regina’s wastewater referendum being held today, there is one thing that is certain. We need to establish very clear rules for how City-wide referenda should be conducted in the future and we need very specific rules on how the City communicates with the voters on the referendum issue. The catalogue of controversial and borderline unscrupulous practices by the City during the entire life of the referendum are almost too numerous to list. Before the referendum was even confirmed we had the attempt by the City Clerk to raise the petition threshold, the disqualification of signatures that did not include the year in the date, and the strange use of two verification procedures for the petition signatures that appears to have contravened the Cities Act. Once the referendum was underway, we had city staff promoting the Vote No side, splash pages on the City’s website advocating for the No side, the City twitter feed used to promote the No side and even voter information cards emblazoned with arguments for the Vote No campaign. (Paul Dechene has an excellent run-down of the various incidents here).

Through all of this, the City has claimed that its actions are legal and merely designed to impart objective information to voters. (Objective information apparently being a euphemism for information that contains absolutely no mention of any critique of the P3 model). Legality aside, the seemingly cavalier attitude of the City to use public resources to promote one side of the referendum and be oblivious to the perceived impropriety of this seems to demand that we need to get some very clear rules in place to ensure that this sort of fiasco does not occur again in the future. Indeed, the provincial rules governing province-wide referendums gives much clearer directions on how governments are to communicate with voters during the referendum campaign:

During a referendum or plebiscite period, no department, board, commission, Crown corporation or agency of the Government of Saskatchewan shall broadcast or publish in any manner any information or particulars of the activities of the department, board, commission, Crown corporation or agency that pertain to the question or questions put to electors in the referendum or plebiscite.

If this summer has taught us anything, it is that we desperately need the same type of legislation that governs provincial referenda to be adopted for municipal referenda as well. Regardless of the outcome of the vote today, perhaps the one positive we can derive from this campaign is to leave the citizens of Regina and other Saskatchewan municipalities with a much more clear, transparent and fair process for future referenda.

Simon Enoch

6 comments

  1. CCPA keeps us aware of what is going on by giving us info that’s needed and often not available else where – helping us
    weigh the pros and cons of hot issues affecting our lives.

  2. Very will said Mr. Enoch! I have commented about this on more than one occasion, and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one demanding that we see some serious changes to the apparently “grey areas” of the Cities Act and Local Government Elections Act. I strongly encourage you and others to send your feedback and suggestions to the Municipal Affairs department, as they are currently reviewing this exact legislation. I will be posting the information to my website http://www.Chad4Regina.com this evening in order to encourage everyone to do the same.

  3. While I agree that the province does need to look at how referenda are conducted the province, I side with the province on this one. This is a case where the government had already made a decision through the democratic process. The referendum call placed them in a situation where their decision fell in direct opposition to a well-funded group of coalition players who were not exactly objective in their own information sharing activity. For instance, CUPE is listed as the owner of the reginawaterwatch.ca domain name: http://who.is/whois/www.reginawaterwatch.ca.

    Governments are permitted to share information justifying their own decisions, and especially on a highly technical issue like waste water treatment, they need to be able to share the reasons that they selected this option. In fact, it would be less than democratic to permit an interest group (non-local one even) promote their position while purposely handcuffing our elected officials from defending theirs.

  4. Ryan,

    I do not at all take issue with the City defending its position. It has every right to do that. My concern is the forums they are using to voice their opinions. The City website and voter information cards should not be venues for political advertisements. The City’s actions are akin to the federal government promoting Tory candidates every time you checked the weather on the Environment Canada website. These should be neutral forums and not used to advance any political arguments.

  5. I’d agree with you Ryan, except on the fact that the City of Regina simply wasn’t being forthright with any of the true information to inform the electorate. All they kept doing was beating the same drum of “We will lose $58.5M” and “It’s not water” and “It’s not getting privatized”. Personally, if they had come out with some hard facts that backed up their case, then even I may have Voted No. I can see benefits of P3 in given situations, but for me, I just didn’t see it in this case. Especially when you consider there are other federal monies available, even more than the $58.5M.

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