Last night Regina City Council held a special meeting to consider holding a referendum on the finance model for its upcoming wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) project. The meeting was called in response to a petition filed last month by advocacy group Regina Water Watch, and saw presentations by 22 delegations, almost all in favour of a referendum. When all had spoken, Mayor Michael Fougere announced that he would be moving a referendum on the P3 funding model for the WWTP, and would use the question outlined in Regina Water Watch’s petition. The motion passed unanimously.
I was able to attend the meeting (which was filled to capacity and beyond with Regina Water Watch supporters) and was utterly embarrassed by the behaviour I witnessed from this group. Shouts, boos, curses, skoffs, cheers and applause frequently interrupted what should have been a serious discussion of public policy. The majority of delegations appeared to be far more concerned with grandstanding to the crowd and fitting in as many “zingers” as possible than actually having a discussion. To be honest, while I did not entirely agree with or sign the petition, I did respect what Regina Water Watch was doing and believed they did have some ground to stand on. However after last night, I now offer a defense of City Hall, and the hypocrisy of Regina Water Watch.
Here are some FYIs (or frequently yelled insults - like FAQs only meaner and louder) from Regina Water Watch:
Claim: City hall has provided no/biased information on this project to taxpayers!
Defense: This project has been in the works and on Council and Executive agendas since June 2012. The report for the procurement stage alone is over 20 pages long, not including a 27 page summary of the benefits of the P3 - DBFOM (Design, Build, Finance, Operate, Maintain) model compared to others from Deloitte. All of this information is publicly available online, and has been since February.
Hypocrisy: The vast majority of Regina Water Watch’s counter-reports come from CUPE resources. How on earth is a union suppose to give unbiased information on public-private partnerships? They also cite a report from self-proclaimed “progressive” economist Hugh Mackenzie who uses a bathroom pun in the title of his report. I mean, come on.
Claim: The City Clerk’s office used underhanded tactics to remove signatures from the petition, making it invalid!
Defense: This statement lacks any ounce of proof. The biggest complaint seems to be that the City Clerk decided dates without years shouldn’t be counted. The wording on this is pretty ambiguous in the Cities Act, (it just says to include “the date”) so the City Clerk sought legal counsel and was told that the year should be included. You know, like when you date ANYTHING official. Contracts, cheques, invoices - I have to date forms with the year when I want to send a package. Is this not common knowledge? Also, if the organizers from Regina Water Watch read the Cities Act beforehand and saw this, why did they not inquire about it right away?
Hypocrisy: I was approached on three separate occasions to sign the petition. The first lady told me that a private company was going to own and control the new facility, full-on privatization style. This is not true. Another guy was convinced this was about drinking water. I mean, why shouldn’t he be? RWW’s logo is a bunch of pristine water drops, sometimes inside what appears to be a clear, very drinkable-looking tub of water. Their mission statement includes the fact that water is: a human right, a common good, a public service, an essential human need. All of this would suggest we’re talking about drinking water right? Wrong. This is about wastewater. This is about poop and how we deal with it. This group seems to thrive on ambiguity and misdirection.
It would appear that a number of petitioners had only a vague idea of what they were petitioning for. If this is the case, underhanded tactics of misinformation were most certainly used to ADD signatures to the list. Conrad Hewitt
Claim: The Mayor, Council, and the City Clerk don’t believe in democracy!
Defense: The funny thing about democracy is that it doesn’t always work in your favour. Sometimes you lose, and when this happens you cannot automatically claim a subversion of democracy because you’re unhappy with the results. It is quite possible Regina Water Watch simply did not get enough legitimate signatures. Despite what some may think, we do not live in a situation akin to the Arab Spring or early Nazi Germany. All of us have rights and freedoms that many in the world do not, and we should be extremely thankful for that. Crying wolf when democracy is not actually being subverted undermines this freedom by desensitizing many to real examples of injustice.
Hypocrisy: Apparently many Regina Water Watch supporters (at least those at last night’s meeting) only believe in democracy and the right to “their say” when it’s in their favour. Two delegations actually spoke in favour of the P3 funding model, and were loudly booed and heckled from the gallery. The lady beside me actually flipped one speaker the bird in the middle of his presentation and mumbled a number of profanities. Regina Water Watch’s apparent philosophy: “If you don’t agree with us, shut up and get out.” To try and champion “democracy” in the next breath is utterly backwards.
At the end of the day, this is a fairly straightforward debate of fiscal ideology. Everyone has an opinion and nobody is necessarily right or wrong. That is politics. The way we choose to express our views says far more about us than the views themselves. “Us vs. Them” fights do not make for good publicly policy. Respectful, open and safe discussions are the cornerstones of democracy. I sincerely hope in the lead up to this referendum, there are more people having those discussions, and fewer people giving the finger and swearing at self-made “opponents”. Extremism and hyperbole belong only on the farthest fringes of the political system.