Not a lot going on this week at city hall as far as meetings go except for the Environment Advisory Committee which gathers today at 5:30pm to discuss its annual report, work plan and conference travel schedule; and the Arts Advisory Committee which also meets today at 5:30pm and will discuss its annual report and work plan as well the city’s committee structure review and the Official Committee Plan visioning process.
So, in lieu of getting into detail about this week’s meetings, I wanted to mention the city news column in the monster awesome 20th anniversary issue. It’s titled, “Reds Everywhere” and in it I accuse city council of being a bunch of socialists. For my reasoning behind that, you’ll have to read the article.
But there was a bit in an early draft of that piece that I had to cut out because it was too long and it didn’t quite fit with the tone of the rest. It was an edit I regretted because I thought there was some decent information about past actions by council in there so I’m going to post it here.
And in light of the public money being spent on a entertainment facility, when not-for-profit groups come to city hall seeking aid with their community building work, council may find it can no longer say “No” in good conscience — such as it did when it turned Souls Harbour Mission away in 2009 when they sought a $113,000 tax abatement, or as it did when it turned the Saskatchewan Abilities Council away in 2011 when they sought a $30,000 tax abatement, or as it did when it turned Eden Care Communities away in 2011 when they sought a $133,000 tax abatement. In all three cases, council claimed its hands were tied. It couldn’t provide tax relief for these groups no matter how worthy their causes because there was no specific policy allowing it and it would set a dangerous precedent if council agreed to their requests. And yet, the precedent that’s being set with the stadium doesn’t seem to be a worry for anyone.
And, because I feel a little bad about taking some of Mayor Michael Fougere’s words out of context (ever so slightly) in the service of that satirical editorial about council’s secret socialism, I’m going to print a transcript of the bulk of the media scrum he did after the Jan. 28 council meeting after the jump. I wanted to use more of it than I had space for because it is actually very informative.
A couple side notes before I get into it: As usual, I didn’t transcribe questions verbatim. Only the mayor’s answers. Also, I didn’t take notes on which media outlet asked which question. But I think it is safe to say that all the really smart questions were asked by CJME’s Pat Book.
And now, here’ the media scrum transcript:
… missed question…
Mayor Fougere: We have a passionate city. People love our city. I meant it very much when I said people coming out tonight love our city they want the best for our city. We all share that in common. We have different perspectives on how to get there. The comments made today that we’ve heard before, and I think people on council have heard them, understood them and agree we want to move forward with this project today. It’s time to move forward. The timing is right. The financial package is correct. We’ve done our due diligence. It’s time to move forward. We’ve been talking about this project for a couple years on this particular project. Let alone when the Riders started in 2007. The topic of a stadium has been in the public domain for years. It really is time to move forward. We could look for and hope for another, a better project deal but this is the best one that’s possible right now.
Did you learn anything new tonight?
MF: Well, I had a lot of things confirmed. That there’s a lot of passion in our community. A lot of passion on both sides of the discussion. And there is a group of individuals that are here that are concerned about the future. They’re concerned about their priorities. And I think we wanted to give them assurances from council that we share their concerns about those issues, about housing, about the pools as an example, and the other issues that are facing us.
And I want to stress the fact that every member of council believes that we can do all of those things. We’re not going to close down pools. We’re not going to stop doing things because we’re doing a stadium.
This is a measured result. A financial commitment over time that will allow us to pursue this. I think it’s critical. We’re talking about the long term growth of and prosperity of our city here, where the downtown will be revitalized. And I think this is a once in a generation opportunity to do this. If we don’t it now, we’ll have people ask us years from now, why didn’t you do that? Why didn’t you take that risk and do this? And I think it’s a vision of the city and of this council and the previous council that it’s the right thing to do. In the same way we said deepening Wascana Lake was a risk at the time, can we do that? The Centre of the Arts, is that the best thing to be doing? The Brandt Centre. All these things we could say, well let’s not do because we just can’t afford it or we don’t want to do it.
The due diligence that’s been done by the administration on this is outstanding. And I’ve never seen anything like this in my 15 years on council, the amount of work that’s been done. And you all know this seeing the reports that came to council, because everything we’ve decided on, you see it. And there’s a tremendous amounts of reports. Very comfortable we can proceed and see this goal through and deal with the issues of housing, and I’ll be speaking very soon about the affordable housing issue. That’s coming very quickly. I’ll be making some public comments on that one. It’s not on the back burner. It hasn’t been forgotten.
As much as work isn’t going to stop, are you willing to concede that this money could go to other projects if we didn’t go ahead with the stadium now?
MF: It’s not an either/or situation. The money we’re putting towards this is actually debt. I think that Mr Sjoberg mentioned that tonight. So yes, we could do other things. We could do other things, yes, that’s for sure. We are choosing to do this project because we see the benefits outweigh the setbacks on this one. Yes, we’re making a choice. And by making a choice now we’re not doing something else right now. So the point I’m making is that we’ve made the choice. And the choice is we’ll proceed with this. But we will deal with these issues as we can.
Some of the delegations were saying this is a poor moral choice. Is some of the rhetoric getting a bit heated?
MF: I think it’s someone who’s passionate about their perspective. Inasmuch as other people on the other side on all sides are passionate. I don’t see this as a moral dillema. I see this as a business decision to improve the city. I understand where he’s coming from. I read his report and listened to what he’s had to say. I just respectfully disagree with him.
… question missed … later in the scrum…
MF: We have the budget coming up on February 19th, anybody can come up and talk about anything they want to. There’s no other place in Canada, municipal government that is, that allows this to happen. You won’t see it at the legislature across the pond, you won’t see that in Ottawa. It doesn’t happen. We’re very proud of that. We listen. We don’t just, “Don’t talk to us, submit your report and my staff will help you.” We listen to what’s being said.
Does this set a precedent, you mentioned in an earlier interview that we can’t use property taxes to pay for infrastructure but that’s what we’re doing here.
MF: In small measure. We’ve done this for buses, we’ve dedicated a small portion of our property taxes to purchase new buses. But we’re not shouldering the burden of everything through property taxes. The vast majority of this stadium is being paid for by the Rider Nation by buying tickets. $100million of that alone is being paid by them. $80 million by the province, we’re not paying for that. The money from the Riders, we’re not handling that at all. Yes, there is some property taxes. And we do that for most infrastructure projects, we do have some property taxes involved with it. We certainly do. I wouldn’t say it’s a precedent. I’d say it’s not in our capacity to do it.
How confident are you that this will be finished on time and on budget?
MF: I’m absolutely excited about this project. I’m completely confident and I think council is the same that the due diligence we’ve done on behalf of residents will show that we’ll be on time and on budget. Now, is there risk? There is risk. The report talks about risk being there. But on balance we’re very, very confident. This is an exciting day for our city. This is somehting we’ve been waiting for for a long time and we’re going to build our city and build our inner city for downtown. It’s good news.
We’ve had months of people coming forward to talk about the concerns about the stadium. And council has said they are listening. How has what they’re saying impacted the plan?
MF: I think it’s made a better project out of it because we listen to what people say. Just because we don’t agree all the time doesn’t mean we haven’t been listening. That’s an important point to make. I think it’s made it a better decision. It certainly helped me understand my community. I don’t have all the answers. And I’m not going to profess to that. That’s pretty arrogant. But I have my perspective having studied the report and talked to residents over a number of months and years about this one. But those who come in and have perspectives, it’s important to make the right decision for the right reason and understand their perspective. That’s how you make decisions. You listen to all sides of the argument and try to balance off their concerns with what you think is the right thing to do.
But the nuts and bolts of this project have been in place well before we heard what we heard tonight…
MF: Well, let’s go back to last year when we had submitted to the province a proposal to build the stadium on the Mosaic site and we [didn't have a] design but an idea for a partnership with the province. When they came back to us and said “This is what’s affordable to us. This is the best that we can do.” We accept that as saying, “We accept that.” This all unfolded, [this is] what parties negotiate. Once the parties say, “Look we have an agreement to how we’ll do this, then we go public and say this is what it’s going to be. Like any other discussion you have between governments, you talk and then you come forward, “This is our best deal.” And then we, the only order of government that’s subjected to, and very rightly so, scrutiny by the public day after day, meeting after meeting. You don’t see it at the Rider’s board of directors, you don’t see it at the Legislature. We’re the ones who bear that responsibility of public scrutiny. And we’re more than happy to go through that.
So you’re getting the scrutiny but you’re not necessarily altering anything significant in the plan because of what you’re hearing?
MF: No, because I think the deal is the best deal we can have. I want to hear someone give me an arguement to show me it’s not the best deal when it’s $73mil for a brand new stadium. And if we had to refurbish Taylor Field, it’s anywhere between $120 to $150 million. That alone says that why wouldn’t we do that? A brand new stadium. Anyone who looks into economics and business development would say that’s a great deal, outstanding. For me, show me why it wouldn’t work. I haven’t heard that yet. I’ve heard if you do this, you’re going to not do housing. I don’t think that’s the case. We’re going to close pools — well, no one said anything about closing pools. We’re not going to take care of homelessness — well some of these issues are other orders of government. But we didn’t say we’re not going to do that. We said we’re going to. And we will do that. No government would ever say I will put all my eggs in one basket, I’ll never do anything else, that’s all I’m going to do. You’d be out of office very quickly. So I think we have on balance the best deal possible. And we’ve been scrutinized for it. But give me an argument to show me this isn’t for the benefit of the citizens, I haven’t heard it yet.
One delegation pointed out that the city has spent $1.2million on housing in two years, the same amount that it’s spent on the stadium project so far. Does this investment in the stadium raise the bar on what the city has to do when approaching the housing crisis?
MF: I’d agree that it is a housing crisis. We have a one per cent vacancy rate, and it is a significantly a difficult problem. But we as a city will not solve the problem ourself. And that’s why I wanted to have my housing summit. And I will have that. Because we need to have the other orders of government talk to us about what they can do to help that and we want to see some innovation by the private sector.
Has it raised the bar? We have great expectations. We’ve always had that all along. And it won’t change now. I think people will say, “You put money in the stadium so now what’s next?” I agree with that. We’re open to public scrutiny. And we’ll do the best we can to deliver what we think is the best possible way to deal with the issue.
There’s a sentiment among some critics that the housing summit is no longer top of mind for you.
MF: It is top of mind. I can only say it has never stopped being top of mind. But I can also tell you you do not have a summit with senior levels of government by saying please come and talk to me. You talk to them about are you available. You talk about what the agenda will look like. You want to invite the partners to the table. It does take a bit of time. It’s only been three months since the election. It is a priority for me, for this council, it is an absolute priority. Just because we talk about the stadium tonight does not mean that housing is not a critical issue.
What can council do to avoid cost overruns?
MF: I think you’ve heard we’ve done a lot of pre-design work in our discussions with our architects and engineers about what it will actually cost to build a stadium. They’re out in the market pricing materials, pricing labour, all those components are there together. That’s why this due diligence is so significant. We’ve done that work behind the scenes. On balance, I’m hopeful and confident that we’ll be on time and on budget but if we’re not there are mechanisms in place in terms of withholding paying money back to looking at how we design the stadium to make sure it’s on budget. But we will not go over that budget envelope.
There was a lot of talk about other user groups using the stadium. SaskSport is going to be paying rent into the stadium. Will user groups like the Rams and high school football teams be covered by SaskSport’s $67million or will they see an increase in their user fees?
MF: I’ll leave that to the council when this comes forward. But my understanding is they will not be subjected to the $12 ticket fee that we have because they’re community and they’re high school football, what’re you going to do? But there will be a rental fee.
But it’ll be higher than what they’re paying at Mosaic?
MF: Don’t know. I honestly don’t know because I haven’t seen their modelling yet. From my perspective, we would not want to dissuade [them] from using it. The whole purpose is to have a community user and it wouldn’t be what you would pay for a concert or trade show. It’d be very very different.
Do we set that fee or does REAL do that?
MF: REAL will do that. But they’ve got a return on investment, they’ve got to pay things back, so it’ll be a market. But even with their ice rinks now at REAL they’re subsidized for others and for others they’re market. So we will definitely take into account that these are non-profit organziations and we want the public to use it all the time so we’ll set a price that’s below market I’m quite certain of that — well, I hope so, I haven’t seen the numbers.