News Briefs

DEADLINE LOOMING

City hall will likely have to respond to another petition soon. No surprise: council’s plan to go with a 30-year, public-private partnership (P3) for the construction and operation of their new waste water treatment plant has more than a few people angry.

So says Jim Holmes, spokesperson for Regina Water Watch, a local group that’s been gathering signatures in the hope of forcing a referendum on the plan.

“The petition basically says the city should do [the waste water project] the way they’re typically done,  which is figure out what they need, the expertise they need, [then] put it out to tender for both the design and construction,” says Holmes.

Over 15,000 people have already signed, and Regina Water Watch volunteers have been collecting around 400 signatures a day. That means they’re on track to reach the 19,300 name threshold by the June 19 deadline. That would require council to put the question to the public.

“If you say ‘privatization’ and ‘waste water’ in the same sentence, people say they want to sign, and they will give you a little talk about how they don’t like privatization,” Holmes says. “People know about privatization and they don’t like it.”

Chief among the group’s concerns is that there’s evidence that P3s can wind up being more expensive in the long run. Even though the city can expect financial support through the P3 Canada Fund, those federal dollars may not offset the extra expense.

One criticism Regina Water Watch may face is that their initiative is supported by CUPE. Is this less about protecting the city’s interest and more about protecting union jobs? Holmes points out, though, that there are only 25 CUPE employees at the plant in a bargaining unit of about 1,500.

“Most of the people who are working on this have no connection to CUPE. They’re people from the community,” he says.

“The union is a community organization. And there’s no reason that something it does should be discounted any more than [the Chamber of Commerce]. They did a P3 conference to educate us about them. They have their point of view, and that’s legitimate. Nobody’s screaming that that’s Chamber brainwashing.” /Paul Dechene

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HOUSING STRETEGY IMPLEMENTED

Regina’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy passed a major benchmark when council unanimously approved an implementation plan at its June 10 meeting. That means, a little more than a year after engaging a consultant to help draft a strategy, we have a framework to encourage the development of housing.

Chief among the plan’s targets is to boost the city-wide vacancy rate to three per cent by 2017. It also strives to increase the percentage of rental units being built as a proportion of total housing starts to 30, increase the number of multi-unit dwellings, increase housing diversity, and improve the condition of our housing stock.

To get there, the plan lays out 34 specific strategies — 11 short term, 20 medium term and three long term. Among the strategies staff will immediately get to work on are things like refining the city’s incentive programs to target affordable and rental housing, direct funds generated from the development of city lands towards programs that support affordable housing, and establishing a bylaw and incentive framework that will encourage secondary suites.

That same night, council approved a pilot project for laneway suites in Greens On Gardiner. If the pilot works out and can be adapted for other areas of the city, it could be an easy way to boost housing density.

However, the issue of what qualifies as “affordable housing” continued to be a stumbling block for many of the delegations that addressed council.

While lauding much of what was in the plan, local housing researcher Marc Spooner expressed concern that the plan continues to refer to “affordable housing” as “housing with rents at or below average market rent.”

Spooner says that under that definition, grants and incentives that should be supporting housing for low-income earners could wind up supporting market-rate rental suites that aren’t remotely affordable to many renters. Calgary, he noted, has a housing plan that specifically aims to support units that rent for $500 per month and even lower.

Council opted not to adjust the definitions used in its implementation plan. Instead, it will review the definition in the plan’s first two years to see if it’s working. /Paul Dechene

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BOUNDARY BATTLE NEARLY DONE

It now seems certain that when the next federal election is held in 2015 Saskatchewan will have a dramatically redrawn electoral map. The most prominent change will be three urban ridings in Saskatoon and two urban ridings and one blended urban/rural riding in Regina. That comes after the parliamentary committee studying objections raised by 12 Saskatchewan Conservative MPs to the proposed revamp declined to recommend that the boundary commission consider further revisions to meet their concerns.

Federal ridings are revised every 10 years in response to changing census figures. For veteran Regina Wascana Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, though, the amount of politicking that occurred this time was unprecedented.

“The appointment process for the boundaries commission is laid out in legislation,” he says. “The chair is selected by the Chief Justice of Saskatchewan. And it was the Speaker of the House, [Conservative MP] Andrew Scheer, who picked the other two. So it was not a process that the Conservatives, in any way, could say was biased. Yet they launched a robocall campaign in January to attack the commissioners and discredit the new boundaries, saying they were out of touch with Saskatchewan.

“Originally, they denied they were responsible,” he adds. “Only when reporters traced the calls upstream did they finally admit they were authorized by the Prime Minister’s office. Never before has there been that kind of attempt by a political party to pervert the results.”

The same underhanded tactics were on display during the Parliamentary hearings in March, Goodale notes. “Some of the Conservative MPs were very aggressive in the language they used, accusing the commissioners of bias and bad faith. It was completely in bad taste and out of place.”

The parliamentary committee, which contains a majority of Conservative members, agreed. In its report it rebuked the MPs for the tenor of their remarks — although it did pass on a recommendation made by MP Tom Lukiwski that the boundary commission consider moving Regina’s Cathedral area from the new urban riding of Regina Lewvan to the split urban/rural riding of Regina Qu’Appelle.

The boundary commission will submit its final report to the Chief Electoral Officer in early July. /Gregory Beatty

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WOLFCOP WINS

Regina’s team WolfCop devoured the competition at the Banff World Media Festival on June 10, loping away with the grand prize of $1 million in financing in a competition organized by CineCoup. Described as a “disruptive model for indie filmmakers to develop, market and finance their feature films”, the competition started last December.

Based on Internet votes and jury selection, the original list of over 90 teams who submitted trailers for proposed film projects was gradually whittled down until only one was left.

Reached by text, Levi Carleton, president of Queen City-based Echolands Creative, the production company behind WolfCop (a well-made, fun-looking genre project about a cop who becomes a werewolf), said, “I really believe most people knew the strength of this project was a great fit for this competition.

“But since it was [CineCoup’s] very first year, it made the final moments of deliberation completely dizzying.”

As part of the CineCoup contest, the winning entry will be screened at 1400 Cineplex theatres in February 2014. Pre-production, says Carleton, will begin immediately, with filming likely to begin in September.

One question remains to be answered, though. Now that Saskatchewan no longer has a film employment tax credit, where will WolfCop be filmed?

“I truly hope we can embrace our local economic and creative advantage [and] harness the support we’ve gained in this contest, and find a way to make it here, where it belongs,” Carleton says.

Hopefully that dream will also be realized. Awoo! /Stephen Whitworth

2013-06-13