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P3 OR NOT P3?

Calling Public Private Partnership (P3) funding arrangements just one more tool in the city's toolbox, at their March 26 meeting, council passed a bylaw governing how such P3 deals would be handled in future.

Representatives of CUPE Saskatchewan, CUPE locals 21 and 7, and the Friends of the Regina Public Library gave presentations outlining their objections to the controversial funding scheme. Chief among their concerns being the city potentially losing control of a project to its corporate partners and the fact that many cities have had disastrous experiences with P3s and are backing away from them now.

In response, Councillor Fougere pulled out the oft-used toolbox line, then pointed out that by passing the bylaw the city wasn't committing itself to use P3s exclusively; its traditional forms of procurement remain in place.

"The fact that the federal government is now requiring under its own criteria [cities] be involved in P3 partnership is the way the world is going and we have to get on board to at least look at that," said Fougere.

And Councillor Clipsham argued that, "What we're doing here is putting forward a framework. And in my view that is always preferable to not having a framework. Doing things on an ad hoc basis can really result in mistakes."

After the meeting, CUPE Saskatchewan president, Tom Graham, countered, "Look at this financing scheme and say, 'Does this make any sense?' before you actually put it in there. There's no obligation to have this policy. It's a flawed system. The one thing I agree with them all on is the federal government is wrong to force P3s on municipalities, which they do.

"I think, councillors will find out that they're going to be forced to accept ownership by the private sector," concluded Graham.

Currently, the city already has several projects either in place or in the pipeline that can be considered P3s, including Leibel Field, Evraz Place and Paratransit. The delivery of recycling services under the new waste plan will also likely follow a P3 model. Also, at a meeting in December, council directed staff to examine the feasibility of using a P3 for the project to replace Mosaic Stadium. /Paul Dechene


LIBRARY WATCH: THE WATCHENING

By the time you read this, CUPE Local 1594 will have begun conciliation meetings with the Regina Public Library Board on behalf of its workers. On April 2, Regina Public Library workers voted 83 per cent in favour of a mandate to strike. This comes more than two years after their last contract expired at the end of 2009.

CUPE says among the library workers' grievances are the Board's plan to cut benefits to new part time employees, have workers put in longer hours on Sundays for less pay, and offer a smaller pay increase than their peers in other cities have received.

"The wage that they're offering is not on par with what all the other civic locals receive," says Debbie Mihial, president of CUPE 1594. "We don't accept that."

Mihail says that any potential strike action wouldn't happen until after consultation with CUPE members, after conciliation meetings draw to a close on April 10.

RPL Board Chair Darlene Hincks Joehnck said she couldn't comment on library workers' demands while they're still in negotiations.

Speaking of the library, how about that Central Branch?

The deadline for the RPL Board to submit a business plan to the P3 Canada Fund's Round 3 has come and gone. That deadline was March 31. Hincks Joehnck disputed that there even was such a deadline (there was), and confirmed that no business plan was submitted to the P3 Canada Fund for this date.

Hincks Joehnck said that the board is still in negotiations with the Masons to purchase their Grand Lodge (next door to the Central Branch), therefore no business plan could be presented.

In advance of the P3 deadline, the Friends of the Regina Public Library presented their ongoing concerns to the Board around potential plans for the Central Branch. These include P3 Funding - something the Friends charge should, along with any discussions around architectural plans, also be up for public discussion (see Paul Dechene's coverage of potential P3 projects around town for more info on why these may turn out to be disasters in the making).

The Friends say the next opportunity to submit a business plan to the P3 Canada Fund will be at the end of June. Stay tuned. /Vanda Schmöckel


ROBO A-GO-GO

The big news story in Ottawa on March 29 was the budget. But it wasn't the only important story unfolding on Parliament Hill.

While Conservative Finance minister Jim Flaherty was wielding his ax, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was testifying before a House committee on Elections Canada's investigation into the robocalls scandal.

Mayrand said that so far his agency, which sustained a $7.5 million cut in Flaherty's budget, had catalogued 800 complaints in over 200 ridings where Canadians received fraudulent or harassing calls prior to last May's election.

Typically, the calls targeted voters who'd previously indicated to Conservative campaign workers that they did not support the party. Some purported to be automated calls from Elections Canada informing recipients that the location of their polling station had changed. Others were live calls from competing parties in the riding, and seemed calculated to annoy and inconvenience recipients.

Since the scandal broke in early February the Conservatives have denied responsibility. No evidence has been uncovered implicating them. But in his testimony Mayrand described the attempt to mislead voters as "absolutely outrageous", and said his office was continuing its investigation into the identity of the client who contracted the Alberta automatic calling service RackNine to place the calls.

Two days earlier, the Council of Canadians announced its support for nine electors who have launched legal action in Federal Court under the Canada Elections Act to have the results in seven ridings annulled because of the scandal.

"[We] selected these ridings because electors came forward, and because the margin of victory in each was relatively small," said Garry Neil, executive director of the Council of Canadians, at an Ottawa press conference. "Thus, there's a reasonable basis to believe the irregularities affected the results.

"Being able to participate in elections is at the very heart of our democracy," Neil added. "It's a fundamental right enjoyed by every Canadian and it's protected by law. And the Council is committed to fighting to preserve that democratic principle."

The ridings are Don Valley East, Elmwood-Transcona, Nipissing-Tamiskaming, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Vancouver Island North, Winnipeg South Centre and Yukon. /Gregory Beatty