Regina’s waste water referendum to be held this fall

REGINA – A referendum on the City of Regina’s proposed waste water – sewage – treatment plant is expected to be held sometime in the fall.

The decision to hold a referendum was made at a recent special city council meeting, which was held to discuss the issue and whether a referendum was warranted. The council meeting was the result of a failed petition that had been circulating around Regina since March.

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The petition, created by a group called Regina Water Watch, called for city council to reject the proposed Public-Private Partnership (P3) method of building the treatment plant and have the city build/upgrade the facility itself. From March until the end of June, the group managed to attract around 23,000 signatures, more than enough for the petition to be deemed valid.

In Regina, in order for a petition to be deemed valid, two things need to happen first. One, the petition needs 10 per cent of the city’s population to sign. Two, after all the signatures have been collected, the petition needs to be vetted and validated by the city clerk.

When it was submitted, the petition achieved the first requirement with ease. On the second requirement, however, some chicanery and skullduggery took place vis a vis the city clerk. First, the city clerk attempted to have the provincial government increase the required number of signatures based on a different set of criteria. That action failed. The city clerk then went through the petition and rejected almost 4,000 signatures based upon the fact some of names either didn’t have the date or didn’t have the year.

Since 4,000 names were rejected, the petition thus failed – was found to be “invalid” – due to an insufficient amount of names. This caused considerable outrage among both the Regina Water Watch group and those who believed that democracy had been impugned by the nefarious city clerk, who is supposedly independent from city council and can only make recommendations.

After the petition was submitted and found to be invalid, city council held a special meeting to address the issue. After many presenters spoke about the issue and councillors had the chance to speak as well, the vote among councillors was held. The result: a unanimous decision of approval to hold a referendum on this issue.

There are some interesting pieces of information about this referendum. First, Regina Water Watch. This group is led by a former prairie director for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), a union bankrolling and supporting Regina Water Watch. CUPE is apparently the biggest and most powerful union in Canada and supposedly has more money than some small countries.
What some commentators are saying about Regina Water Watch (RWW) – and by extension CUPE – is RWW is more concerned about protecting union jobs than about the waste water treatment plant itself. Recently in the local newspaper, CUPE put an advertisement in saying Regina’s drinking water is important and needs to be kept in public hands. Basically, RWW and CUPE are attempting to influence Regina residents into believing the issue is potable drinking water, not poop-and-pee waste water. Just a little underhandedness by the union.

The city, on the other hand, is saying a P3 would ensure Regina doesn’t rack up more debt and wouldn’t be on the hook if the project went over budget. The construction firm building the treatment plant – which needs to be upgraded by 2016 due to federal requirements – would be on the hook for cost overruns. Furthermore, if a P3 were used, the city would receive roughly $70 million from the federal government.

While drinking water is important to live and should be kept in public hands, if a private company were to build and operate a waste water treatment plant, I don’t think I would worry over that. It’s water filled with excrement. Drinking and sewage pipes are separate and don’t connect.

Over the next few months, Regina residents will be bombarded with ads and information from the city and Regina Water Watch/CUPE as to why a Public-Private Partnership method of building/upgrading the waste water treatment plant is a good or bad thing. Time – and the results of the referendum – will tell how effective the propaganda will have been.

Jason Antonio is the Regina correspondent for Spectator Tribune.