Not On My Sidewalks

Reginans rise up against the nanny-state’s Stalinist shovels

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

February ended on a big, one-two council punch with back-to-back meetings on the 26th and 27th — the first to clear up the usual city stuff like cannabis rules and a sidewalk shovelling bylaw study, and the second to wrangle the 2018 municipal budget.

As I write this, the first meeting is done and I’m steeling myself to head to the second (which happens after Prairie Dog goes to press — so, no budget update this issue, gang. Sorry).

Before I get to the meat of what’s gone down so far, some spoilers: council reluctantly passed their cannabis preparedness plan and council shovelled the Safe Sidewalk motion into the street.*

According to Ward 3 Councillor Andrew Stevens, one of the co-authors of the Safe Sidewalks motion, certain provocative media headlines may have contributed to the massive public outcry against the motion that was instrumental in getting it killed like a rat hiding in a basement.**

“Interestingly enough, if you look at what [the public] were saying, those who read the article, those who read the motion, those who were paying attention to what this means here and in other cities, were in support of this,” said Stevens. “People who read a headline and said, ‘I don’t want to be fined for this,’ no dice.

“So people who were more involved and understood the issue and maybe understood how these bylaws work, they were more supportive. Go figure.”

Okay. Irresponsible headline writing can influence council policy. Got it. Here’s hoping Prairie Dog can do better…

“Council’s Chronic Kush Concerns Blunted” or “You Bet Your Grass We Have A Pot Plan” or “Regina Wanna Marijuana”

The writing’s been on the wall*** for a couple of years now: the smoking and growing of the humble marijuana plant will soon be legal in Canada — by the end of the summer, in fact.

Council responded by passing the “Cannabis Legalization – Municipal Preparedness Plan,” the key provision of which is council’s approval of six cannabis retail store licenses the province will be granting via the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.

The plan also instructs city administration to develop options for pot regulation such as business licenses and zoning rules, and determine how pot smoking should be integrated into the Smoking Bylaw.**** The plan also requires the Mayor to write the premier requesting cannabis revenue be provided to the city so that they can recoup the costs of regulating legal pot.

As for the costs, that was all a big guessing game. City administration pointed out that once the six licenses are issued, Regina’s lucky new pot retailers will have to go through the zoning and business licensing process, but that thanks to fees the city charges, these processes recover all their costs. Additional costs associated with enforcing pot bylaws and additional policing work are the big question mark, however. Police Chief Bray estimates the costs to the Regina Police Service of handling legal pot could be $1.2 — $1.8 million.

The number sounds crazy. Nearly $2 million to deal with something that’s legal? How’s that possible? Well, turns out regulating a substance is more costly than doing what the police have been doing with cannabis for a while now — which is, not very much.

“Marijuana enforcement right now is not a very big part of what we do,” said Bray. “In fact, it’s a very small part. If you look at our overall drug enforcement, marijuana enforcement is small. Methamphetamine is big in our city. Cocaine is a problem in our city. We tend to really focus on that.”

The problem, according to Bray, is that with marijuana going mainstream, use may spike and then the RPS will, for instance, need to invest more resources in bringing in drivers impaired from smoking pot.

He also notes that the RPS will now have to monitor the cannabis black market more closely than they have been doing. In fact, a motion from Councillor Joel Murray calls on the RPS to prepare a report over the next two years on how legalization has impacted black market cannabis in the city.

In the end, while cannabis legalization will make life safer and more stress-free for cannabis users, it brings with it a host of costs and headaches for cannabis regulators.

But you know what’s really good for dealing with headaches?

Cannabis!

Council Says “Shovel It” To Safe Sidewalks

Most of the Feb. 26 council meeting was absorbed with a discussion of the Safe Sidewalks motion brought forward by Councillors Stevens and Lori Bresciani. In fact, council went so deep into the weeds on the sidewalk issue, it was like they hadn’t trimmed their rhetoric lawn all season.*****

The proposed Safe Sidewalk Motion called on administration to prepare a report on how to implement a bylaw requiring residents to shovel snow off their sidewalks. The bylaw, as Stevens and Bresciani imagine it, would be complaint-driven and when bylaw officers were called out to an unshovelled walk, they’d issue warnings or help the property owner find a shovelling solution such as volunteers who could clear the offending snow.

Last resorts under the hypothetical Stevens/Bresciani Bylaw: the city would be able to hire a contractor to clear chronically snow-covered walks and charge the property owners for the work. And fines could even be levied for long-term sidewalk neglect.

Both Bresciani and Stevens stressed, however, that fines would be the most-last of last resorts, and that bylaw officers would be empowered to find creative solutions and show discretion and leniency for property owners who are incapable of clearing their walk for good reasons.

The threat of fines, however was the big stumbling block for council, and it was the thing most cited in the many e-mails and phone calls councillors received from Reginans furious at the notion of a sidewalk clearing bylaw.

“I had so many calls and people e-mailing me and phoning me and talking to me in the streets when I’m going to events, they would say the problem is the punitive side of it, ‘You’re going to fine me for not clearing my sidewalk off.’” said Mayor Michael Fougere. “I just think the punitive side of [the motion], and council agreed, is not the way to go at this point.”

But how is a sidewalk-clearing bylaw that addresses a safety concern different from already extant bylaws that fine residents who don’t deal with aesthetic concerns like overgrown lawns or untidy yards?

“Well, I think they’re completely different in terms of how you take care of your property,” said Fougere. “It becomes a nuisance with noxious weeds that cause big issues with lawns and all those issues. So I think we’re talking about a different kind of issue here. And it’s only part of the year in any case. So I think I’ll just reflect what the view of council was: the idea of making it punitive or having it fine-driven was just too far and people don’t want to see it.”

In the end, the Safe Sidewalks motion failed with councillors Stevens, Bresciani, Murray and Young voting in favour while councillors Hawkins, Flegel, Findura, O’Donnell, Bryce and Mancinelli voting against.

Regina’s slippery sidewalks of death are once again safe from the nanny state’s meddling claws.


Footnotes

* Incidentally, there’s a bylaw prohibiting Reginans from shovelling stuff like snow onto the street, contravention of which is subject to a fine of up to $2,000.

** Incidentally, there’s a bylaw requiring all Regina residents to destroy any rats they may find on their property. If they don’t clean up their rat problem, the city will do it for them and charge the property owner for the work.

*** Incidentally, there’s a bylaw requiring property owners to clean up graffiti on their property. Failure to do so can lead to fines of up to $2,000.

**** Incidentally, the Smoking Bylaw requires owners of bars and restaurants to prevent Reginans from smoking or vaping within 10 metres of their business’ doors, windows or air intakes. Failure to do so can lead to fines of up to $2,000.

***** Incidentally, there’s a bylaw requiring all Regina property owners keep their lawns trimmed to a maximum of 15 cm. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to $2,000.