Picky With Petitions

Regina’s city clerk is a self-appointed stickler for correctly-written dates

by Paul Dechene

The saga of the waste water treatment plant petition keeps getting more convoluted. The latest development since Regina Water Watch dropped off their list of 24,000-plus signatures for verification with the city clerk’s office is that the city clerk is striking names off the petition if the date accompanying the signature isn’t written properly.

And by properly, city clerk, Joni Swidnicki means that it has to include the day, month and year. Just writing June the something-or-other won’t cut it.

“That is what’s going on,” says Swidnicki. “And what it is, is that the Cities Act doesn’t define date. So what I did was I went with what’s in the dictionary, which is day, month, year.”

As anyone who’s been following this story knows, Regina Water Watch is not a fan of the City of Regina’s decision to go with a public-private partnership (P3) model to build the next waste water treatment plant. The City’s plan would give a 30-year contract to a private corporation to design, finance, build, operate and manage the plant. RWW wants the city to go with a traditional procurement process, where the city seeks out companies to build the plant but manages it in-house after that.

Hence the petition, which is intended to force a public referendum on the issue.

Back to the petition dates: it seems odd that the year could be in any way ambiguous considering there wasn’t even a waste water public-private partnership (P3) in the cards until February of 2013. But Swidnicki says that she’s seeing dates listed on the petition as 2012, 2015, and 2017.

Swidnicki says that when she is verifying the petition, just as when she’s acting as returning officer in an election, she is acting completely independent of council and administration and her role is spelled out in the Cities Act. And while the Act allows her some latitude during an election to interpret a voter’s intent on a ballot, it doesn’t grant her such latitude when verifying a petition.

“So I’m only validating on what’s in front of me,” she explains.

For Regina Water Watch, having all the signatures that lack a year in the date column come off the petition is a cause for worry. According to Jim Holmes, spokesperson for the group, when they checked over the petition for incomplete dates, they rejected about 14 per cent of the names.

Considering the threshold that will force a referendum is about 19,300 names, to invalidate the petition, the clerk would have to reject roughly 19 per cent of the 24,000 names collected.

Fourteen per cent is getting close to that.

In addition, it turns out that the clerk’s office is also phoning people who’ve signed the petition to verify whether they’re eligible to vote in Regina — if you aren’t, then according to the Cities Act you don’t count on petitions about city policies and bylaws.

The Act, however, doesn’t require the clerk to go through this additional step of phoning up petitioners. It doesn’t even mention it, in fact. What’s more, the petition doesn’t include a box for phone numbers so city clerks are actually looking those up.

They’re certainly going above and beyond. And this isn’t the first time. A mere week before the petition’s deadline, the City Clerk’s office attempted to have the referendum threshold raised by 1,432 signatures.

Jim Holmes wonders if all this extra rigour is necessary. He points out that the petition isn’t an election. There are no secret ballots and no returning officers. Lawyers aren’t collecting and notarizing the signatures.

It’s a social act.

On the one hand, that means errors are a natural by-product of the process.

“People tend to follow what people above them have done on that sheet,” says Holmes. “Often what you’ll see is if someone makes a mistake filling the thing out, people will often follow that mistake all the way down.”

Also, he notes that the petition itself doesn’t have any real authority.

“The petition doesn’t do anything,” Holmes says. “It doesn’t say when we get to 19,300 signatures we have to stop the waste water treatment plant. No. It gets us a vote.”

Whether or not Reginans will get that vote will be decided on July 22 when Swidnicki presents her findings to city council. And if the petition survives a process this vigorous, it’s legitimacy will be that much stronger.

Over 24,000 people signed Regina Water Watch’s petition. That’s more than the number of people who voted for Mayor Fougere, and more than the combined votes for all the sitting councillors. If a referendum does get called on the P3, that’s a hell of a lot of people who are going to need convincing that a waste water P3 is the way to go.

But if 19 per cent of those names get thrown out — that’s one in five — and the petition is rejected, that’s going to be a hell of a lot of pissed off voters.

2013-07-11

4 thoughts on “Picky With Petitions”

  1. Please forward to all your contacts. Please also circulate on social media.

    City officials are going to unprecedented lengths to invalidate signatures on the Waste Water Treatment Plant petition and thus to deprive citizens of their right to vote.

    They are eliminating signatures that do not contain the year as part of the date, even though the petition only existed in 2013.

    They are making inappropriate telephone calls and leaving inappropriate messages. (If you received one these calls or messages could you please get back to me with the details.)

    This is not the first time the City has attempted to roadblock the petition. One week before the petition was due, the City asked the provincial government to increase the number of signatures needed to force a referendum.

    We need to let the Mayor and our City Councillors know EVERY PETITION SIGNATURE COUNTS. Ask them to uphold the democratic process and to respect the wishes of Regina citizens.

    Attached is the Mayor’s and Councillors’ contact information. It is also pasted in below.

    We also need folks to distribute flyers in public places, such as Saturday’s Farmers’ Market, asking citizens to contact the Mayor and their City Councillor. If you are available for this work, please let me know and I’ll arrange to get flyers to you.

    The Waste Water Treatment Plant petition was delivered to City Hall on June 20. It had 24, 232 signatures on it. The minimum number of signatures needed to force a referendum is 19, 310 signatures. The petition thus has 4,922 more signatures than required for a referendum. City officials are looking for ways to eliminate your signature.

    CONTACT INFORMATION FOR CITY COUNCILLORS

    Mayor Michael Fougere 777-7339 or mayor@regina.ca
    Ward 1: Barbara Young 539-4081 or byoung@regina.ca
    Ward 2: Bob Hawkins 789-2888 or bhawkins@regina.ca
    Ward 3: Shawn Fraser 551-5030 or sfraser@regina.ca
    Ward 4: Bryon Burnett 737-3347 or bburnett@regina.ca
    Ward 5: John Findura 536-4250 or jfindura@regina.ca
    Ward 6: Wade Murray 596-1035 or wmurray@regina.ca
    Ward 7: Sharron Bryce 949-5025 or sbryce@regina.ca
    Ward 8: Mike O’Donnell 545-7300 or modonnell@regina.ca
    Ward 9: Terry Hincks 949-9690 or thincks@regina.ca
    Ward 10:Jerry Flegel 537-9888 or jflegel@regina.ca

  2. I just spoke to the City Clerk’s office. I was “randomly selected” for verification.

    These were the questions:
    1. Did I sign? Yes
    2. Did I sign more than once? No
    3. Am I a Canadian Citizen? Yes
    4. Was I 18 years of age when I signed? Yes
    5. Do I reside at 1650 Toronto St? Yes
    6. Was I a resident of Regina for 6 months prior to signing? Yes
    7. Was I a resident of Saskatchewan for 6 months prior to signing? Yes

    My questions to Ashley (lady calling):
    – Would she like me to verify other residents at my residence? No that was fine.
    – Where did you get my phone number? Petition verification sheet she was given.
    – Who gave you the sheet? Through Deputy City Clerk and City Clerk’s office.
    – Ashley indicated at this time that she knew they used the phone book and possibly “other ways”.
    – I then asked if I could speak to the person who gave her the petition sheet or someone at the City Clerk’s office. She deferred me to Joanie.

    My questions/comments to Joanie:
    – Reason they are wasting time and taxpayer dollars to “verify” these signatures. She said they were required under the Cities Act to do this. They don’t have a voter’s list to verify against.
    – I asked how they got my contact info – she said “mySask411.” I indicated that not everyone would be listed on there. She said they discovered that about 1 in 5 were not on there.
    – I asked again why they were doing this. She said the Cities Act specifies that the City Clerk’s office verify “everyone or a random sample” and because it was not realistic to cover everyone, they were choosing a random sample that would result in “a 95% confidence rate”.
    – I asked her if I could verify the other residents at my residence. She told me that I could not verify other people for them.
    – I expressed my disgust with them questioning the validity of this petition. The signatures were collected and they should respect that. I then thanked her for her time.

  3. Thank you so very, very much for posting your conversation Dawn. PLEASE keep that on a document because that will become very important in the Courts. For anyone that is curious, you can read SS 108(3) & SS 108(4) of the Cities Act (http://www.qp.gov.sk.ca/documents/english/Statutes/Statutes/c11-1.pdf), about what I am about to talk about. It is clear as day that is states:

    “the Clerk may use a random statistical sampling method with a 95% confidence level to determine the sufficiency of the petition INSTEAD OF VERIFYING that the requirements of SS(3) have been met with respect to each petitioner.”

    It is pretty obvious to me that they are doing BOTH SS(3) AND SS(4) which is in clear violation of the Cities Act. Yes, it’s a technicality – who knows how BIG of a technicality – but certainly one that I would expect would hold up in a court of law. If they feel that they can find a loophole to void the petition, you bet your ass I’ll find a loophole to ensure the petition is VALID and their “due process” is violating the Act.

    Section 107 is pretty clear, as well, that, by signing the petition, you are attesting that you are indeed a valid voter, and you have not signed the petition before. I’m no lawyer, but to me, this would mean that simply the act of signing the petition should be deemed enough evidence by the Clerk’s office that they meet all requirements. All they should be allowed to do – if they are ignoring 108(3) – is calling to verify people actually signed the petition, or better yet, mailing them. ONLY IF THEY HAVE A LEGAL CONCERN should they be applying to the COURTS to challenge if a signatory is invalid. Also, interesting to note, I’m not sure if they’ve been striking signatures because an address isn’t “complete” (I’m assuming they’ve tried this based on other dirty actions), but if they have, it should be noted that an address is deemed “complete” by entering the Street Address only (no City or Postal Code required that I can interpret), or alternatively a Post Office Box Address.

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