My side lost the great water war of 2013 and I’m kind of relieved
by Paul Dechene
Phew! That was close. It really looked like the Yes side could have won that sewage referendum. Granted, when the city clerk announced the official results, the No side was victorious with 57 per cent of the vote, which translates into 27,988 ballots cast versus the 21,025 that the Yes side received.
It’s a 7,000 vote difference and that’s a significant margin.
But in the lead up to polling day, September 25, an Insightrix poll gave the No side a much narrower eight point lead and that had me worrying that we might see a come-from-behind win for Regina Water Watch and the Yes forces.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. As I indicated on Dog Blog in the post, “Why I’m Voting The Way I’m Voting,” I voted Yes. And I stand by my reasons for doing so.
But that doesn’t mean I was rooting for a Yes-side win. Not with all my heart and soul.
I mean, if the Yes side had won and the city had to shift gears and begin a Design-Bid-Build procurement for the sewage plant expansion, can you imagine the jackals that would be watching that project? They’d slaver over every line in that budget and howl for blood the second it went a penny over expectations. They’d have called for class action lawsuits against Regina Water Watch volunteers to offset the costs, then threaten to run CUPE out of town on a rail.
It would have been a bloodbath. Metaphorically speaking.
Think I’m kidding? You must have missed what No-side boosters were saying on Twitter in the aftermath of the referendum.
Oh, I know there were trolls on both sides of the debate. But the vitriol from the No side wasn’t the impotent sour grapes you got from the Yes. It was more like bullying that served to prop up the Powers That Be — and occasionally it even came directly from those just steps away from the levers of civic control.
Take this gem from a provincial employee who’s also a former senior advisor to a former mayor:
“I would like to see #cupe send a cheque to the city for the cost of this referendum. Bravo @MayorFougere”
Or note how one P3 supporter — who also happens to be a former Roughrider and former councillor — responded to a P3 opponent during a testy exchange about the referendum:
“wow! Couldn’t think of anything better than that. What are you 5? Go in the closet and kick the chair out!”
This is the kind of overheated, juvenile rhetoric that’s coming from public figures after they won the referendum. Hate to think about the depths to which they’d sink if they hadn’t gotten their way. It’d have been a hell of a tantrum.
But they did get their way and while I won’t go so far as to say it’s actually the “best” result for the Yes side — and we’ll have to wait decades to find out how it works for the city — but for those of us who openly opposed the city’s DBFOM P3 plan it should spare us from being talk radio scapegoats for every overdrawn municipal account over the next 30 years.
That said, I do wonder how things would have turned out if the city hadn’t outspent the Yes side by almost two to one. After playing coy all through the referendum cycle, CUPE finally confessed that they invested $180,000 in Regina Water Watch’s campaign. Of course, city hall sunk $340,000 marketing the No side. Could it have been all the extra billboards that carried the day?
But no matter. The referendum is done. Planning for the sewage P3 has restarted in earnest and I’m free to write about… I don’t know… unicorns?
At least I did come away with one more file to add to the time capsule I’m leaving for whatever sucker has this job 20-plus years from now. It’ll read, “Hey, Future City Hall Schlub! It’s 2043! Time to have a look at the Sewage Consortium’s books!” And it’ll sit next to the “Has the city kept up maintenance on the stadium?” file, the “Did the downtown live up to the promises made in the Downtown Plan?” file and the “Did we get that route revamp promised in the Transit Investment Plan?” file.
I think I might need a bigger time capsule. One that leaks smoke and plays ominous music when it opens.
Because, with this triumph behind city hall, I expect to see many more 30-year public-private partnerships in Regina’s future.
The referendum didn’t just reveal a city deeply divided over private sector involvement with public utilities, it also exposed a rich vein of mistrust for city hall. And city hall didn’t help their case any as a series of PR gaffes over the handling of the referendum and the petition that precipitated it left many on the Yes side wondering if city hall wasn’t using ethically questionable tactics to guarantee a win for the sewage P3.
For posterity’s sake, here are four of the more noteworthy examples. /Paul Dechene
THE MISSING YEAR MYSTERY The city clerk’s office deemed Regina Water Watch’s P3 petition insufficient to force an election because even though it contained 24,000 names to start, the clerk disqualified over 6,000 signatures for various reasons. Of those, 2,800 were removed because the signees hadn’t included the year when writing the date.
THE CITY TWEETS AT MIDNIGHT Many social media users were surprised to see that the city’s Twitter feed was being used during the referendum to promote the Vote No side. This meant that not only was city council putting $340,000 towards their referendum marketing campaign, city staff were also using paid work time to promote the No side.
THE IMPRUDENT POSTCARD INCIDENT Close to referendum day, people received Vote No postcards that included information about where they should vote. Considering the cards had the city’s logo stamped on them, many assumed they were official voter information cards and that the clerk’s office was telling them not just where but also how to vote. The clerk’s office denied having anything to do with the postcards, saying they didn’t have time or resources to send out polling location information to voters. And yet, the No side — which, Mayor Michael Fougere stated repeatedly, was separated from the clerk’s office by a “firewall” — not only had the time and resources, it also had a list of voters cross referenced with polling stations. Handy!
THE CASE OF THE RETAINED REPUBLICAN Many people received calls to participate in telephone town halls in which Mayor Fougere answered softball questions from generally supportive callers about the sewage P3. So much for a public forum. And turns out the No side purchased the technology for those town halls from Front Porch Strategies, an American communications firm with deep ties to the Republican party.