Internal emails claim Regina mayor delayed report critical of province before spring election
Michael Fougere denies directing staff to stall report, says he doesn't have that authority
Weeks before the recent provincial election, Regina City Hall staff put the finishing touches on a report that was critical of the provincial government's new plan to pay for school sites.
But before the report became public, it was put on ice.
In our communications meeting this morning with the Mayor he has asked that the above noted report be deferred until after the provincial election.- Email from Erna Hall, Deputy City Clerk
"In our communications meeting this morning with the Mayor (Michael Fougere), he has asked that the above noted report be deferred until after the provincial election," wrote Deputy City Clerk Erna Hall on February 8, 2016.
City Council asked for the report last year after the provincial government asked developers to provide new serviced school sites for free. In the past, the province paid for the land and servicing.
In February, the city's completed report concluded that the provincial government was passing on risk to the city and jacking up the cost of new homes. It was eventually released in the spring, well after the election was over.
Critical report 'deferred' by Mayor, wrote City staff
The critical report was set to be released publicly at a council meeting in late February, on the eve of the March provincial election campaign.
On February 10, Executive Director of City Planning and Development Diana Hawryluk emailed senior city managers explaining that that even though the report was complete, it was being delayed.
"As noted by Erna in an email to myself, the mayor has removed it from the upcoming agenda and has requested it not come forward until after the provincial election," Hawryluk wrote.
Mayor says misunderstanding based on 'mischaracterization'
Fougere denied telling Erna Hall to delay the report.
"I would just say that what I saw in the email that was referenced — that was a mischaracterization of the process," Fougere said.
He explained that as mayor, he would never get involved in directing the timing of a report.
I don't micro-manage. We don't get involved in the day to day affairs of the administration.- Mayor Michael Fougere
"I don't micro-manage," Fougere said. "We don't get into the day to day affairs of the administration."
He acknowledged that in his meeting with Hall, the upcoming election may have been discussed.
"I might have expressed, 'You realize there's an election happening right now,'" Fougere explained. "Now that may be interpreted many different ways. But again I want to stress to you that even though I express an opinion, that doesn't mean that's what's going to happen because I don't have the authority to delay or stop a report."
The iTeam asked to speak with Hall. City Clerk Jim Nicol said the city manager asked him to respond to the call in her stead.
City Clerk defends mayor
Nicol said ordinarily he's the one who does the communications meeting with the mayor, but Hall took his place because he was out of town.
"He didn't direct anything," said Nicol. "He might have inquired."
He took issue with Hawryluk's statement that the mayor took the report off the agenda.
"I don't think she used appropriate language there," Nicol said. "The mayor hasn't removed it because the mayor doesn't remove things from the agenda. That largely falls to my office."
He explained that Hawryluk had been very busy and "may have fired this off very quickly without choosing her words particularly well."
"The clerks did confirm with me that it was their decision to remove the item. I will defer to clerks as it is their process they own regarding agendas," Hawryluk wrote.
Delaying the report helped avoid 'tongue lashing' by province
Nicol says if Hall hadn't sent her note delaying the report he would have put it on hold himself.
He said while council has been critical of the province's new approach to school funding, it's not necessary to take shots right before an election.
"This is one of those sensitive issues," Nicol explained. "We don't want council or administration to be drawn into any kind of discussion about the election."
Nicol pointed out that the consequences of publicly criticizing the provincial government before an election can be significant.
"Look what happened at that school district north of Saskatoon. I believe the Minister of Education came out with a scathing criticism of them having inserted themselves into a policy area immediately preceding the election," Nichol said.
During the March election, Prairie Spirit School Division claimed a provincial government funding shortfall forced it to lay off staff.
"We're deeply disappointed with Prairie Spirit for having chosen to do this," Don Morgan said on March 22. "Sadly, this makes a political issue out of something that ought not be a political issue."
"That's why it came out after the election," said Nicol, of the critical City of Regina report. "I would stand by that thinking that was a prudent decision."
He suggested that Prairie Spirit officials were likely "licking their wounds from the tongue lashing they got" long after the election.
Nicol said in politics it's important to maintain good relationships.
- A previous version of this story misspelled Jim Nicol's name.Oct 03, 2016 8:45 PM CT