Those crazy kids did it. Regina Water Watch collected enough signatures on their petition to force a referendum on how the city should build its waste-water treatment plant. They handed off their stack petition sheets to the city clerk’s office on June 20. According to Regina Water Watch volunteers, it contained 24,232 signatures.
Regina Water Watch wants the city to go with a traditional procurement process where the city seeks out companies to build the plant. The city has other ideas. It approved a public-private partnership (P3) whereby the city would give a 30 year contract to a private corporation giving them responsibility over the design, construction, financing, operations and management of the plant.
The clerk’s office now has 30 days to go over the petition to verify that the signatures are valid — only Regina residents who are eligible to vote are allowed to sign petitions, and you can only sign the petition once.
But seeing as Regina Water Watch only needed to collect a number of signatures equal to 10 per cent of the city’s population (based on the last census) — or 19,310 names — the clerk’s would have to invalidate 4,922 signatures. That’s more than 20 per cent of the names collected.
Jim Holmes, spokesperson for Regina Water Watch, doesn’t think that’s likely. His group has already gone through all the names and they were only rejecting about one to two per cent of the signatures — mostly due to illegible writing.
“We want to be very careful,” says Holmes. “Partly because we want to give [the petition] to the city in the best shape we can and partly, quite frankly, because we don’t trust the city.”
The reason for their distrust, says Holmes, was the city’s 11th hour attempt to move the goalposts on the threshold a petition has to cross to force a referendum. Provincial legislation sets the petition threshold at 10 per cent of the population based on the most recent census. One week before the petition deadline, the city wrote to provincial government relations minister Jim Reiter asking to use the Health Ministry’s population numbers instead. That would have raised the threshold by 1,432 names to 20,742.
Reiter turned down the city’s request.
If the clerk’s office says the petition is valid, city council will have nine months to call a referendum on the waste-water plant P3. /Paul Dechene [hr]
TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL: SASK. LABOUR PETITIONS CANADA’S SUPREME COURT
Having struck out in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in its bid to have two pieces of labour legislation related to essential services (Bill 5) and the Trade Union Act (Bill 6) declared unconstitutional, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and its plaintiff grouped announced on June 24 that it would seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The move was not unexpected, as in its late April judgment the Court of Appeal acknowledged that the issue of whether workers had a constitutional right to withdraw their labour was uncertain.
“There were a couple of statements where the court suggested that if the same questions were asked of the Supreme Court they would find that the right to strike is protected by the charter,” says SFL President Larry Hubich. “So we think that the next logical step is to take it to the Supreme Court.”
Since Bill 5 and 6 were first passed in 2008, the Saskatchewan Party government has gone on to develop a comprehensive Saskatchewan Employment Act. As part of that process, some discussion has occurred with labour about correcting what even the government admits are flaws in its approach to essential services.
“The minister has said that instead of having parties negotiate an essential services agreement ahead of bargaining they would wait until bargaining was at an impasse and then require the parties to negotiate an agreement,” says Hubich.
“We’ve always said there are legitimate [times] when workers’ rights can be infringed upon under the charter. But that involves a very narrow band of occupations and a very narrow band of duties and responsibilities in those occupations. And there needs to be a mechanism that allows those individuals who’ve had their right to withdraw their services removed to bring collective bargaining to a conclusion.”
The province now has until late August to respond to the SFL’s application. If the Supreme Court does grant leave, the case won’t likely be heard until the fall of 2014. /Gregory Beatty [hr]
SHERWOOD SHENANIGANS: A SUBURB REALLY TOO FAR
The council for the Rural Municipality of Sherwood voted at their June 24 meeting to move forward with their proposed 14,000 population residential development, Wascana Village. It is to be built by Great Prairie Development on Regina’s southern edge in a disputed zone called the rural/urban fringe.
The development still needs to pass final reading by the RM council and get approval from the province before construction can get underway. And it will also face stiff opposition from Regina’s city council who’ve announced their own plan to annex significant portions of the rural/urban fringe to accommodate future growth.
And seeing as the new development will be going up on Regina’s border, one has to wonder if it will mesh well with neighbourhoods built under Regina’s proposed Official Community Plan — which commits the city to building walkable, compact, sustainable new neighbourhoods.
In “A Suburb Too Far” from Prairie Dog’s June 13 issue, I spoke with urban planner Jeff Speck, author of Suburb Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, about Wascana Village. Since our interview, Speck reviewed the street layout that Great Prairie Development posted on the WascanaVillage.com website.
“Seeing this plan changes everything. It is third rate,” says Speck by e-mail.
“Oh, my goodness, this is the furthest thing from a walkable neighbourhood plan!” he continues. “The street network and land use mix only communicate certain aspects of the design, but what this layout says most clearly is that it was done by someone who has no idea how to build a walkable community. The loop roads, cul-de-sacs, limited intersection density, and oddly-shaped blocks (Ls and Us) are a hallmark of auto-dependent sprawl, and the opposite of what [one] finds in traditional walkable neighbourhoods.
“You do not have to be a planner to look at this plan and see how it resembles the least walkable residential precincts of any North American city,” concludes Speck. /Paul Dechene