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photo: Darrol Hofmeister
photo: Darrol Hofmeister

Ciao, Fiacco

Housing sucked, infrastructure was worried over and Regina was hella-loved by its outgoing four-term mayor

by Paul Dechene

On Feb 14, Pat Fiacco announced that after nearly 12 years as mayor, he won't be seeking re-election.

And even though he's the man who brought us the "I Love Regina" slogan, he swears the Valentine's Day timing of his announcement was just a coincidence.

And however you feel about that civic motto - like it, love it, hate it, write it off as derivative or confess that at least it's not as vague as our other motto, "Infinite Horizons" - you have to admit that his "I Heart It Here" sentiment has been the centrepiece and driving force behind Fiacco's four terms.

In his speech at the downtown Ramada Hotel, Fiacco said he decided to run for mayor way back in 2000 because he hoped to chart a new future for Regina that was full of hope and prosperity.

"I was tired of seeing our future head west, opportunities diminish and I'd had enough of our city being the punch line of jokes," he said.

"With the help of legions of supporters and dreamers who wanted a better Regina, I believe today we have only scratched the surface of what we can become."

And many of those supporters came out to show their appreciation for the mayor's years of service. Among them was John Hopkins, CEO of the Regina Chamber of Commerce, who agreed that the mayor had definitely accomplished his mission.

"Pat Fiacco's probably been the greatest mayor Regina's ever seen," said Hopkins after the mayor's speech. "If you look at it historically, over the course of the coming decades that's something that will be shown. In many ways, he's responsible for a lot of what we've seen in this community over the years."

"He's been a great leader of this community, no question about it, and I would say the best mayor in Canada over the last 10 years."

And considering in the last municipal election he won 85 per cent of the vote, it seems Regina voters also appreciate what Mayor Pat has accomplished.

Meeting with press after his speech, Fiacco spoke about his legacy. He pointed to the city's much improved financial position and noted that, while work still needs to be done, he believes the city employee pension issue is on the verge of being solved, thus relieving the city of a potentially disastrous funding burden.

"And of course the revitalization of our inner city," he continued. "The foundation is all in place for that to take off. And I know that everybody thinks that they want me to cut the ribbon on a new stadium. And that will happen in 2016 but it just won't be me cutting the ribbon."

One thing prairie dog will give Fiacco credit for: he sounded the alarm across Canada over the crumbling state of municipal infrastructure and he helped initiate the country's first National Infrastructure Summit last year, the second of which will be held again here this September.

And it was on Fiacco's watch that development really took off in this city and in recent years the population has been growing faster than it has in decades.

But there is another side to Fiacco's legacy that needs some scrutiny: that so much of it amounts to a series of unfinished plans.

Downtown revitalization, for instance. It comes up often when talking about this mayor and council's achievements. And yet the downtown plan they passed in 2009 still hasn't been entrenched as a bylaw. Until that happens, the plan is essentially toothless.

And as for the new stadium - the centrepiece of the nebulous Regina Revitalization Initiative - that project is barely off the ground. We don't even know if the city will be able to buy the CP land on which they want to build it.

Then there's that Waste Plan that's been moving along at a snail's pace. A city-wide recycling program is at least another year off.

And, of course, there's housing. It seemed to be a priority at the outset of the mayor's time in office, but 12 years later it's clear we were caught completely off-guard by the population pressures that come with growth. Our vacancy rate is the worst in the country and our housing market is in crisis.

I could go on. Our residential roads are a mess. The Recreation Facilities Plan seems chronically underfunded. The RPL tried to gut itself back in 2003, apparently with council's blessing. And when's the last time anyone heard "boo" about the Transit Investment Plan?

Oh, but we do have that "I Love Regina" slogan driving our civic pride.

During the mayor's Valentine's Day speech, he said, "We are a city of dreamers and big believers, and we have to be. This place is truly born of nothing. Nothing but bones and bald Prairie."

And maybe he's right. But I seem to recall that the people who built the farms and villages and cities of Saskatchewan needed more than dreams.

They had to get busy.

And frankly, the jury is still out on whether many of the big dreams birthed during the tenure of Pat Fiacco will actually be brought into action.