Monday, 29 October 2012

A New Football Stadium for Regina?

To: The Mayor and City Council   
October 29, 2012

RE: Memorandum of Understanding on the proposed new stadium

Dear members of the City Council:

The Memorandum of Understanding on the financing of the proposed new football stadium adopted on July 19, 2012 was not final and needs to be re-assessed by the new City Council. There are a number of important reasons to revisit the issue of whether to build a new stadium or renovate the existing Mosaic Stadium. These are as follows:

(1) Some have stated that the recent municipal election settled the issue in favour of building a new stadium. However, the citizens of Regina were not given a clear choice on the issue. The three leading and serious candidates for Mayor all supported the building of a new stadium; there was no choice for the alternative. The same problem carried over to voting in the wards. Even in ward 3, where I live, there was no candidate who openly stated that they opposed the proposal for building a new stadium. There was no referendum. The election did not resolve the issue.

(2) The previous City Council did not make a serious effort to look at the option of renovating the existing stadium. The public was kept in the dark about this option. It was often stated that a renovation would cost $150 million. This was the figure supposedly put forth by a consultant’s report done for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But both the football club and the City Council have refused to make this report public. We have no idea how the consultant came to this conclusion.

On February 8, 2008 members of the City Council, meeting as the executive committee, received a report done by Santec Architecture on the state of Mosaic Stadium. This report was not released to the public. But it has been obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which posted it on their web site. After a careful examination of the stadium, the technical consultants concluded that it was in pretty good shape, and with the expenditure of $3.4 million, it could be made to last at least another ten years. The report detailed the renovations that were recommended.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are currently carrying out significant renovations to Mosaic Stadium, which is to cost them $14 million. Among other things, this will expand the seating capacity to 50,000. There is no reason why these renovations cannot be maintained with some additions, which could include new seats, more washrooms and more refreshment sites.

(3) The previous City Council asked Praxis Analytics to survey public opinion as to what they think is the single most important public issue facing Regina as a community. Their survey found that 30.4% felt that the question of the availability of affordable housing was the most important issue. Only 3.2% indicated that they thought the issue of the stadium was the most important issue. The City Council did not release the results of this public opinion survey until after the Mayor and City Council had signed the Memorandum of Understanding.

These reasons may explain why there was such a low turnout in voting in the recent municipal election, only 33% of eligible voters.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Regina Municipal Election: A flood of candidates is one sign that residents are fed up

Act Up in Saskatchewan

The Regina municipal election will take place on October 24. In contrast to the election three years ago, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of candidates running for seats on City Council. Furthermore, there are nine candidates running for the position of Mayor. We may see a much higher turnout of voters this time and perhaps a different city administration.

Regina used to be a solid NDP town. But in the last municipal election the turnout of voters fell to 25%, which always benefits those with higher incomes. As a result, the political right re-elected Mayor Pat  Fiacco, a known Stephen Harper and Brad Wall supporter. Judging by their voting record on key issues, it quickly became apparent that the political right also swept City Council. However, a revolt against the incumbents began in 2011 when the Mayor and his business friends produced a plan to build a new football stadium.

The fallout from Regina’s boom economy
Over the past five years Regina has experienced a major boom, a reflection of the fact that people  have flooded into the province to work at the major expansions being undertaken by the existing potash mines and the new Bakken oil play. This has resulted in a serious housing shortage. The market price of existing single family dwellings has doubled over this time period. New houses are being build in new subdivisions, but almost all of them are in the range of $500,000, which is unaffordable for the majority of families and individuals.

Furthermore, rental alternatives are virtually non-existent, with the city having the lowest vacancy rate (0.6%) in the country. With virtually no direction from city planners, builders have constructed very few apartments over the past 20 years. Many existing apartments have been converted to condominiums. As a result, rental rates have skyrocketed, and it is now virtually impossible to find a one-bedroom apartment for less that $850 per month.

On top of this, the number of social housing units available has been declining for a number of years, as both the provincial and city housing authorities have been selling them off. There is now a desperate need for social and affordable housing. But this crisis situation has not led the Mayor and his passive supporters on City Council to take any serious action.
The media has named the stadium design "The Toilet Bowl."

We Need a New Football Stadium!
On the other hand, the Saskatchewan Roughriders want a new football stadium. Mayor Pat Fiacco needs a legacy project as he is not seeking re-election. The builders and developers want more land on which to build houses. Realtors want more houses to sell.

On April 19, 2011 Mayor Fiacco surprised everyone, including planners at City Hall, by announcing his own project, the Regina Revitalization Initiative. This was to include a replacement for Mosaic Stadium, expected to have a retractable roof. It would be built on the CP Rail lands on Dewdney Avenue, with links to the downtown area. Mosaic Stadium would be torn down, and the private sector would begin to build market housing on the Mosaic land sometime within the next fifteen years.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Ailing NDP Must Return to Its Historic Roots


The Saskatchewan New Democratic Party is facing the most crucial decision in its history when it chooses its next leader. They have gone from being the “natural governing party” to a weak opposition party. Without a serious change of direction, it is doubtful if they will ever form the government again.

The vote in support of the NDP has fallen from 275,000 in 1991 to 127,000 in 2011. They are now down to only nine seats in the legislature. With the collapse of the Liberal Party in the 2011 election, their share of the votes cast fell to 32% while that of the Saskatchewan Party rose to 64%.  NDP membership has fallen from 46,000 at the time of the 1991 election to around 8,000 in 2011. The party is no longer even dominant in Regina.

The disillusionment of the population with the NDP is reflected in the turnout in the elections. In the 1991 provincial election, where the NDP received a majority of the votes, 83% of those who were enumerated went to the polls. This fell to 66% in 2011. But many people are no longer enumerated. Of those eligible to vote in 2011 (citizens 18 and older), only 49% voted.

This is not an unusual development. Similar trends can be found in all the advanced industrialized countries. Many former supporters of the social democrats are refusing to vote or shifting to new parties of the left, the Greens, and neo-fascist parties of the right.

The most important reason for this is the shift to the neoliberal right by the social democratic parties. Almost all of them have abandoned their historic social justice agenda for the free market and free trade policies advocated by big business.

Under the leadership of Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert (1991-2007), the Saskatchewan NDP led the political change of direction in Canada. The new policies included cutting taxes on corporations and those in the higher income brackets, lowering the royalties and taxes paid by the corporations extracting our resources, privatizing state owned enterprise, deregulating the economy, and cutting and eliminating social programs.

The NDP surrendered the vote in rural Saskatchewan when they supported rail line abandonment and the closing of grain elevators, closed 51 hospitals under the “wellness model,” cut grants to municipalities and school boards, abolished the Gross Revenue Insurance Plan, and shifted their support from the co-operative movement to corporate agribusiness.

Secondly, they adopted an authoritarian, liberal party system. The leader set the policy agenda, and everyone else was to toe the line. Open public debates on important issues were no longer tolerated. The platform for elections was set by the leader and professional spin doctors. There was a strong move away from the democratic process.

The NDP was ready for a serious renewal following their defeat in the 2007 election and the resignation of Lorne Calvert as leader. Instead, the party’s caucus and a few key trade unions brought back Dwaine Lingenfelter from Nexen Corporation and mobilized to get him elected leader. Everyone knew that he represented the old neoliberal order. The results were a disaster for the party.

If the NDP is to seriously try to win enough votes to form the government it must make a clean break with the Romanow-Calvert years. We already have one party representing big business, the Saskatchewan Party. The NDP must once again become a broad democratic party pushed from the bottom up. It must return to a policy agenda that represents the interests of the large majority, the “Saskatchewan Way,” which was the co-operative social democratic agenda.

John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and political activist and author of Saskatchewan: The Roots of Discontent and Protest.