LIBRARY WARS 2012: THE CITIZENS STRIKE BACK
With the Regina Public Library board operating behind closed doors on their Central Branch plan, the Friends of the Regina Public Library have announced that they have some plans of their own.
In a press release sent out just before we went to the printer, the FRPL, a citizen group that advocates for a strong library system in the city, say that they will soon be setting up opportunities for public input into the downtown library's redesign.
FRPL points out that since the RPL board announced their intention to refurbish Central Branch in 2009, decisions such as expanding the library into a cultural centre with retail and possibly a hotel and to apply for P3 funding have all been announced with almost no advance warning and have been taken with absolutely no public input.
"Why did the library board decide to enter into a P3 that would put the Central Branch premises under ownership of a private corporation?" they wonder in the press release.
"FRPL would like to see an inclusive and public approach used for planning the upgrade to Central Branch that will result in choices that are positive for all the residents of our city," the release continues. "Regina has choices to make. And because they are choices concerning a library service, FRPL wants to ensure that a well-informed public takes part in making these choices in an effective way."
Look for continued coverage of this issue online at www.prairiedogmag.com and in future editions of prairie dog. /Paul Dechene
SCHOOL NEWS ROUND-UP
It's been a busy month in school-related news. First, on Jan. 10 the Regina Public School Board voted to close both Haultain and Dieppe Schools.
School Board member Carla Beck voted against both closures.
"Up until now, we projected declining enrolment," says Beck. "We had too much building space for the number of students. But there's been a dramatic turnaround. The issue is we've seen an increase in enrolment."
She cites the future building of the Global Transportation Hub in the Dieppe area as an example of how the neighbourhood is growing.
As a possible solution to the closing of schools, Beck would like to see a return to an idea introduced in a policy paper released by the provincial government in 2000 called "SchoolPlus". It described a new concept of schools as community hubs, including daycare services, sports and recreation facilities and adult classes.
"Of course, this would include bringing in partners," says Beck.
Also in school news, some controversy was stirred when the Leader-Post reported that Regina Public School Board chair Katherine Gagne, who had advocated closing the two above-mentioned public schools, sends her kids to an unidentified religious school.
Some critics say it's a conflict of interest for a public school board member to decide the fate of a system that she's not participating in as a parent. But Gagne said that critics of her decision don't understand the relationship between the public and associate school systems.
Meanwhile, the provincial government announced that it would extend public funding to independent schools, including religious ones, at 50 per cent of the per-student provincial level, as long as criteria are met. The province already funds associate schools - which charge tuition but must follow a board-approved curriculum - and in December increased their public funds to 80 per cent of the provincial, per-student average.
In an increasingly diverse and growing population, is pumping up public funds for faith-based schools a divisive gesture? The province has stated that the money for independent and associate schools is not being taken out of the pre-existing school budget but is made up of extra cash in the province's coffers.
But could that extra cash be reinvested in the public school system? Beck thinks so.
"I think that we need to look at what would be best practice for funding education in the province," she says. "And I don't think that we're there." /Carrie-May Siggins
WE STILL MISS THE ACRONYM "GBLUR"
Students at the University of Regina have agreed to fund the campus UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity. After an historic vote last week, full-time students will now pay $1 per semester to the Centre, and part-time students will contribute 50 cents.
Of the 475 ballots counted, 86 per cent voted yes and 14 per cent voted no.
All students will have the option to opt out.
The new levy will amount to about $20,000 for the UR Pride Centre. In previous years, the Centre has had to apply to the U of R Students' Union (URSU) for funding.
"I'm super excited," says UR Pride Centre executive director Lisa Smith. "This will mean that we have stable funding, and what stable funding means is that we no longer have to worry at the end of our fiscal year whether or not we're going to be able to continue [providing services]."
This is the second time in three years that a referendum has been held on behalf of the UR Pride Centre. Back in 2008, the Centre asked full-time students for $3.50 per semester and $1.75 from part-time students. Then, 58 per cent voted "no."
As the only funded queer organization in southern Saskatchewan, the UR Pride Centre offers workshops, a youth group, peer support, referrals, social events, safe-sex supplies, a resource library and a drop-in lounge for students.
About $22,000 of UR Pride's budget comes from URSU, another $20,000 comes from the U of R, and the rest is dependent on grants and fundraising.
The new student levy will replace the money the Centre typically receives each year from URSU.
Smith says the results of the referendum are a relief, because URSU's board members change every year.
"If, for some reason, one of [the new board members] were against what we we're doing, or [weren't] as supportive, they could choose simply not to fund us," she says.
Prior to last week's referendum, the UR Pride Centre was the only student centre on campus that didn't receive funding from a student levy.
UR Pride has secured its funding in a very different era, culturally and politically, than past times.
UR Pride began as a social club in 1996 (under the name GBLUR Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity) and became a full-fledged centre in 2005.
Back in the late '80s, Lyndon Surjik, a former president and vice-president of URSU, tried to start a gay and lesbian club on campus. Nearly a dozen people showed up to the first meeting, but with no resources, the group didn't survive.
"There was no concept at that time [dictating] that the campus community needed to support gay and lesbian students," says Surjik, who is now the executive assistant of Qmunity, a queer resource centre in Vancouver.
"In fact, even at the time, we had to continue to defend the whole idea of a women's centre, if you can imagine. That's where the battleground was… So, any kind of support structure for gay and lesbian students was just not on the radar."
Surjik says the results of the recent referendum - especially the fact that it passed with an overwhelming majority - are a sign that times have changed.
"I think that tells you it's just a different world now from when I was [at the U of R]," he says. "Stable funding for a pride centre is a very important part of advancing rights and understanding and tolerance and acceptance for a community." /Evie Ruddy
ESCAPE FROM GAY MARRIAGE
A couple of weeks ago a federal government lawyer briefly blew up the world by arguing that an American lesbian couple who had come to Canada to get married couldn't get a divorce, because their marriage wasn't valid in the first place.
The global anti-Conservative shitstorm that followed was heated, angry and very gay.
Within a day, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the matter of gay marriage was closed, which only caused another mini-apocalypse for those who had fallen for the story in the first place.
"No! That's not what I meant!" said Harper, who then crossed his arms and refused to talk about it further.*
The federal government promises it will amend the law around same-sex marriage and divorce to fix everything forever.
What has become of the biggest non-story of the year so far? Last weekend, prairie dog braved a couple of the city's premiere art events to find out if the story still had legs, and if so, how shapely they were and what kind of nylons they were wearing.
"It was Stephen Harper's gay moment," said Brad Hunter, over a glass of wine at Edward Poitras' opening at the Mackenzie Art Gallery. Hunter, a well-known Regina divorce lawyer, said he wasn't surprised by the ruling. "Every lawyer in the country knew about the validity problem." Now, he says, it's just a matter of changing the law.
The real kicker is that a social conservative prime minister immediately accepts gay rights.
"It tells you a lot about Canada," says Hunter.
Over at the substantially gayer Queer City Cinema at Neutral Ground, the topic barely caused a ripple. "There was no fuss to make a fuss about," said one couple, who had been together - unmarried - for years.
The younger set was a bit more fiery. "I drafted up an angry letter to Stephen Harper," said artist Blair Fornwald. Then she read up on the issue a bit. "I decided that I still didn't like Stephen Harper," she said. "If you allow people to get tourism-married you should let them get tourism-divorced."
"In a perfect world," says Fornwald, "no one should feel the need to get married. Everyone should have access to those sexy-time tax benefits, not just the married."
The true test of whether a story is important to a nation - gay or straight - is what your taxi driver says.
Artist Cindy Baker, moonlighting as a gypsy cab driver for Queer City Cinema, said she hadn't even heard about it.
"Oh, weird," said Baker. /Carle Steel