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With a referendum now set, the debate over the waste water project will go to a new level. For the next four or five issues, Prairie Dog will continue to cover the referendum on tedious and boring procurement models with all the ferocity you’ve come to expect from the newspaper that not-at-all arrogantly calls itself Regina’s Only Alternative.
BLAME STEPHEN HARPER
Whichever side you’re on in the Waste Water Wars of 2013, a part of how you vote in the upcoming referendum will come down to your preferred method for dealing with extortion.
Do you prefer to surrender to blackmailers who have power over you, or do you fight the rats?
In the case of Regina’s next waste water treatment plant, the villain is the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. His hostage? $60 million in federal funds to build our new facility.
According to Wascana MP Ralph Goodale’s blog, the City of Regina will face the Wrath Of Harper — in the form of a $60 million penalty — if the City of Regina doesn’t use the P3 funding formula.
And why is that? Whether the funding for the project is done through the conventional route or through the P3 route, the government is still spending money: the difference is that through the P3 route, most of the money goes to the private sector (i.e. they make the money off of it).
This is why you never hear anti-tax groups complain about P3 projects — otherwise, any other form of government spending is a ‘waste of money’, in their opinion.
But there’s precious little evidence that a P3 run system will provide any better service or be cheaper in the long run than the current funding mode – and, according to the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives, a lot of evidence that it doesn’t. The money just moves from one ledger on the government’s books to another — which is why right-of-centre governments like it: it hides deficit capital spending.
But if the service is okay — and there’s nothing the matter with the way it’s running, the equipment and infrastructure is just worn out — then why change the service delivery system? It’s not the problem.
The P3 model may or may not be a more cost-effective system. Hell, it’s probably not, without the evidence of a lot more study that neither the City nor the federal government will provide. But it stands to make a few people in the private sector richer. Put it another way: if the P3 model is so good in this case, why would the federal government force a $60 million penalty on the project if another funding model is used?
If the P3 project can’t stand on its own financial and operational merits, something is really, really wrong with the project.
It appears as though the petitions’ organizers are going to have to fight Stephen Harper as much as they have to fight City Hall. /Stephen LaRose
NITPICKING THE NITPICKERS
All told, there were three hours worth of delegations at the special meeting of council on July 23. Twenty of those delegations came out to speak in favour of holding a referendum and to take issue with the method used to invalidate the waste water petition.
At the heart of many of those objections was the way that the city clerk’s office conducted two passes through the petition to verify the names. First they excluded petitioners who didn’t fill out the petition properly and 4,289 names were removed in this step — 2,834 of those were disappeared for the crime of not including “2013” when writing the date.
In the second pass, a phone poll of a random sample from the remaining names on the petition, another 3,131 were excluded because they were found to be ineligible to sign the petition or they had signed it twice.
Problem is, it turns that due to a quirk of the Cities Act, the clerk should only conduct one of the these verification procedures, not both in sequence.
I spoke with Jacklyn Demerse, a PhD candidate in political science from the University of Western Ontario who’s studying local government. She’s an expat Reginan who’s taught classes in municipal governance at the University of Regina’s Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and she’s been following the waste water petition closely.
She confirms that reading of the Cities Act.
“It clearly states in the legislation … that when you look at [section 108], you can validate the numbers by going through the list — so, the name, the date, the address, the witness. Or, instead of these things you can do a sample.
“So what happened was instead of the city validating the list or taking a sample from the large list what they did is they made that list smaller first and then they took a sample from that. And it’s pretty clear in the legislation that you do one or the other, you don’t do both.”
And you might say, “Well, that’s a pretty small point.” But, if city clerk Joni Swidnicki is going to be so rigorous in her application of the word of law that she’ll delete 2,834 names from the petition because they didn’t include a year with the date, I think it’s fair to expect she apply a similar rigid interpretation of the letter of the Cities Act. /Paul Dechene