REGINA – “And finally ladies and gentlemen, let’s just say it’s no secret that there are some opponents to this project,” concluded Tom Lukiwski, MP for Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre after his announcement at city hall Friday morning that the federal government is kicking in some money for Regina’s new wastewater treatment plant.
But there weren’t any opponents at the news conference: doors were locked as the mayor and Member of Parliament made the joint announcement.
“We weren’t allowed in. it was only for invited guests,” said Jim Holmes, spokesperson for Regina Water Watch, a citizens group which has been collecting signatures for a petition calling on a referendum on the P3 model the city is pursuing.
“We just wanted to have a media conference so we can talk about the good news today,” said Mayor Fougere of the apparent invite-only nature of Friday’s announcement.
The city is receiving $58.5 million from the P3 Canada Fund for Regina’s new waste water treatment plant. The federal dollars are expected to save the city $79 million over the 30 year project – a point the mayor wanted to drive home.
“We are saving the tax payers 25 percent of the cost of this project. This is the announcement today. That’s what’s key here,” he said.
Tom Lukiwski added, “It reduces risk to the tax payer. If there are any cost overruns, if this project goes over budget, the private sector firm will be paying those costs.”
But like the MP mentioned, not everyone agrees.
“The financing, the operating and maintaining it – that’s where the higher borrowing costs come in. That’s where the profit taking comes in and that’s what we think is a totally avoidable cost for the citizens of Regina,” said Holmes.
Regina Water Watch has collected over 19 thousand signatures, only several hundred shy of what’s needed to push a referendum vote. But Thursday, just one week before the petition deadline, the city has requested the Minister of government relations, Jim Reiter, change the threshold. Instead of using ten percent of the population based on the 2011 census numbers, which is outlined in The Cities Act, they’ve asked to use Saskatchewan Health information, which would bump the required signatures from 19,301 to 20,750.
“We think it’s like changing the goal posts in the middle of a game. It just doesn’t seem right; it doesn’t seem fair,” said Holmes.
He added, “We think we’re going to get way past that number anyway, but it just seems like a rotten way to do it.”
The petition is due on June 20th.