LATEST NEWS Water & Wastewater
October 2, 2013
Regina votes in favor of P3 sewage plant
Regina citizens voted to construct a new sewage treatment plant using an alternative procurement process, but some are disappointed in the result and concerned about alleged irregularities in the referendum process.
“Obviously the stuff about irregularities in voting only came in the last days before the referendum, because of the advanced polling,” said Scott Harris, Prairies-NWT organizer with the Council of Canadians. “We were in touch with the Regina city clerk when we started hearing this. The polling clerks are supposed to hand out the ballot and not interpret it. In some cases, the information given was incorrect and in other case it was about costs of funding.”
The citizens of Regina went to the polls in a referendum on Sept. 25 and the official results show that 27,988 or 57 per cent voted No and 21,025 or 43 per cent voted Yes.
The slight majority of citizens casting a ballot that said No means a proposed wastewater treatment plant will be constructed using a public-private (P3) partnership model. If the majority of citizens had voted Yes, the new waste water treatment plant would have been built using the traditional DBB model.
Harris believes the City of Regina is in a conflict of interest because city officials ran the referendum and were also advocating for the No side.
Regina Water Watch spokesperson Jim Holmes is concerned about irregularities in the advance polls.
In particular, Holmes pointed to the case of two seniors, who claim they were incorrectly advised by a poll clerk to “Vote No to keep water public.”
In addition, he claims poll clerks were advising people to vote Yes for Regina Water Watch and No for City Council, but clerks were instructed not to use the words public or private.
For this reason, Holmes sent a letter to Minister Jim Reiter on Sept. 23 requesting provincial oversight of the referendum.
Despite these concerns, Harris does not think the alleged irregularities changed the final result of the referendum.
“We came out at an early stage saying we have some reservations about the public-private partnership (P3) model,” said Simon Enoch, Saskatchewan director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “But the people of Regina have said they don’t give the same reservations as much weight as we have. This is a democracy and the evidence was put to the people. They made their decision.”
However, Enoch is concerned about the conflict of interest that seems to exist during the assessment process of all P3 projects.
“There is so much confusion on both sides of the issue and people don’t know who to trust,” he said. “So, I think the Value for Money statement should be audited by the provincial auditor. This is the only way to ensure there is a modicum of independence.”
City Council’s decision to use the P3 model is based on a value-for-money assessment by Deloitte, which estimates the total construction, operation, and maintenance cost of the P3 option is $479.2 million, which is seven percent less than the $514.5 million cost of the traditional public sector approach.
The P3 cost estimate excludes the $58.5 million the project will receive in federal funding from the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (PPP Canada).
Regina Water Watch and the Council for Canadians are also appalled with the City of Regina for using taxpayers’ money to hire a Republican-linked US strategy firm on their campaign.
Harris said that during Mayor Michael Fougere’s Sept. 16 telephone townhall meeting an apparent mix-up left residents hearing the following automated message: “The Front Porch Strategies teleforum powered by Broadnet is currently in progress.”
Front Porch was involved in the 2011 federal election in which fourteen Conservative MPs signed on with the company, contrary to the party’s claims.
“Out of everything that came out of the election, this was the most troubling,” said Harris. “It’s not that they are based in the United States. They are unabashed about what they do to support the conservative political agenda.”
Front Porch collects data from automated telephone surveys (robocalls) on behalf of the Conservative and Republican parties.
“We don’t know what happened to the data and where it is going,” said Harris. “The people of Regina have the right to know due to the political ideology of the firm the city chose to use for this campaign. It seems odd that a mid-sized city council for no compelling reason would use a firm tied to the highest levels of the Republican Party in the U.S.”
City council also spent $340,000 in taxpayers’ money to run pro-P3 advertisements and initially ruled that a petition by Regina Water Watch calling for a referendum had an insufficient number of valid signatures.
The office of Mayor Fougere did not respond to several requests to comment on the referendum and the allegations of election irregularities.
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