Regina to hold referendum on sewage treatment plant

City council in Regina has voted unanimously to hold a referendum on its plan to build a new waste water treatment facility.
The public gallery of Regina City Council was packed for Monday night's meeting. (CBC )

City council in Regina has voted unanimously to hold a referendum on its plan to build a new waste water treatment facility.

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said Monday a referendum was needed based on the feedback he received over the weekend, following a determination that a petition on the issue was invalid.

"The voice of residents has been heard," Fougere said just prior to the vote by council. "And this council listens."

Fougere said the issue of how to finance the sewage treatment facility has generated a significant amount of discussion and he spent the last few days taking phone calls and reading emails about the issue.

The wording for a Referendum:

"Be it resolved that the council of the City of Regina publicly finance, operate and maintain the new wastewater treatment plant for Regina through a traditional Design, Bid, Build (DBB) approach."

Fougere said he wants to move quickly to a referendum, possibly as early as August or September.

At the council meeting, Fougere introduced a two-part motion to hold a referendum and to set the question using the same wording proposed in the petition.

Fougere said many citizens have told him they want more information about the waste water project and a direct say on how it is built and operated.

"Governing by referendum is difficult," Fougere noted. "This motion is in response to several thousand people."

Petition rejected

A month ago Regina Water Watch submitted a petition, which had more than 24,000 signatures, calling for a referendum on the city's plan for a $224-million waste water treatment plant. The petition suggested the city's plan to build and operate the facility using a private sector partner was ill-conceived and the sewage plant should instead be built and operated by the city.

However, on Friday the city clerk issued a report saying the petition was insufficient to force a referendum.

For one thing, the clerk ruled that 4,289 of the signature were invalid.

Petition organizers expressed concerns over the city clerk's analysis. She rejected some signatures where the date didn't include the year.

Fougere said the city cannot overturn the clerk's decision.

Petition organizer 'delighted'

Petition organizer Jim Holmes had said his group would consider going to court if council votes against a referendum.

Holmes said the decision to go ahead with a referendum was "wonderful" and "overwhelming".

"I'm delighted," Holmes said about the city choosing to use his group's wording for a referendum. "It should be a clear question and we think it is."

Holmes added he will participate in the debate leading up to a vote, but said the city should release more information about its studies on the financial plan.

Clerk criticized

He was also critical of the city clerk's role in rejecting the group's petition. Holmes said the process that led up to Monday night was full of problems.

"Everything the clerk did was an attempt to make it less fair," Holmes said. "Someone needs to sort them out."

According to the Cities Act, if 10 per cent of the city's population signs the petition and the signatures are valid, a vote must be held.

According to the 2011 census Regina's population was 193,100 so the group would have needed 19,310 valid signatures.