The city official overseeing an upcoming referendum has reversed her position on rules respecting who can be present to watch the voting process.
On Friday morning, city clerk Joni Swidnicki told news reporters that she would only authorize an equal number of scrutineers from the two sides of the question. Swidnicki said if one side were to offer no one, she would not be able to allow anyone from the other side.
The referendum, set for Sept. 25, asks voters if they want a new waste water treatment facility built using a traditional financing and operating model, or a new approach — called a P3 — that includes a private sector component.
As city clerk, Swidnicki is the official returning officer for the referendum.
Late on Friday afternoon, after her initial position on scrutineers was reported — and criticized in some quarters — Swidnicki issued a statement to say she had reviewed the matter and changed her mind.
"The City Clerk ... has determined both sides to the referendum question will be afforded the opportunity to have up to two representatives present at each of the 30 polling locations," the statement said. "Therefore, an unequal number of representatives will be permitted."
Swidnicki's original view was a source of consternation for leaders of Regina Water Watch, which has led a campaign against the P3 model.
"It's just mind-boggling," Jim Holmes told CBC News, before Swidnicki's reversal was announced.
Holmes also said the city's advocacy for the P3 option has spilled over to areas that he believes should be neutral, such as the city's website where people might look for information about the referendum vote.
"People are going [to the city website] looking just for information," he said. "And they're not getting information — they're getting a partisan message there. And that's bad."
Additional details about voting in the referendum:
- The city will use 30 polling locations, all but two of which are the same as were used in the 2012 general civic election.
- There will be no special polls, such as mobile polls or polls in hospitals. Instead, people may use a mail-in ballot. The city is sending staff to places such as nursing homes (where residents may have mobility issues) to offer the mail-in ballot option.
- Advance polls will be set up in four Regina shopping malls, Sept. 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The locations are: Victoria Square, Golden Mile, Northgate and Normanview Crossing. (City Hall, which is normally a location for an advance poll, will not be used because of renovation work going on in the space they would have used.)
- The city hires, on a temporary basis, people to work at all the polls to check people in, provide ballots and look after the ballot machines. Usually about 600 workers are needed but the city will be able to conduct the vote even if they don't get that many people hired on. As of Friday, about 450 people had been secured.
Source: Regina City Clerk