Seven of Regina’s nine mayoral candidates squared off in the city’s first debate of the campaign Monday night.
The Regina and District Chamber of Commerce hosted the two-hour televised event at Access Communications, with chamber CEO John Hopkins as the moderator.
The first several questions surrounded the candidates’ plans for economic recovery, tax rates and affordability for residents.
Incumbent Michael Fougere touted a 10-year, 19-point plan for his economic vision that includes diversifying the economy and building the renewable energy and agriculture sectors.
“No other candidate has an economic vision for the future. They talk about spending a lot of money and they talk about this being a public purse so we can expect to see tax increases (from the other candidates),” said Fougere, adding that he’s the only one promising a tax freeze in 2021.
Ward 10 councillor and mayoral candidate Jerry Flegel argues that “zero tax I don’t believe is the way to go.” Instead, he says the creation of jobs through new builds will kickstart the economy.
Jim Elliott says he has an economic vision for the future, and part of that is making the city’s energy use 100 per cent renewable by 2050. It’s a plan Elliott says will work hand in hand with economic recovery.
“Part of my plan is to start the economy and build that green recovery through putting thousands of people in jobs, putting solar panels on roofs (and) renovating houses,” Elliott said during the debate.
Many candidates, including George Wooldridge, Sandra Masters and Darren Bradley, say working with the provincial and federal governments is key to a strong economic recovery. Wooldridge argues council needs to be cognizant of the money taxpayers are giving to all levels of government, which means the city needs to carefully choose the projects it funds.
“We can’t afford ‘pie in the sky’ megaprojects,” Wooldridge said.
“If we’re going to put money into projects: drinking water. If we’re going to put it in infrastructure: roads and streets need repair. There’s no point in building new if you haven’t fixed what’s already there.”
Tony Fiacco agrees with Wooldridge, saying existing infrastructure needs to be fixed, instead of building new.
Part of Fiacco’s plan to increase economic activity involves revitalizing downtown, as well as the Heritage and North Central neighbourhoods, to bring new businesses and residents to the area.
“We’ll do that through a property tax initiative as well as removing the red tape that developers are currently experiencing,” Fiacco said.
“We need to promote the city better than what we have done.”
Masters pointed out the hospitality and tourism industries have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
“We need a vibrant community with things to do. We have world-class artistic assets … We have world-class sporting facilities. We should grow upon that,” Masters said.
She also brought up her plans to build an $85-million aquatic centre to replace the “crumbling” Lawson Aquatic Centre. She says after public engagement and the planning and design process next year, the construction phase could begin.
“The lack of shovel-ready projects right now is indicative of a lack of planning at the city,” she said.
Defunding the police
When it came to a question about defunding the police, Flegel and Fougere were quick to express opposition.
Flegel says the city needs to look at reallocating funds to different sections of the police force. Fougere said it was “not a fair question to ask,” and pointed out that 80 per cent of police calls are not related to the criminal code.
Like most candidates, they agree police shouldn’t be the ones responding to mental health and addictions calls.
“We have a world-class trauma research facility at the University of Regina,” Masters said.
“We could bring all the parties together and we could create a model for how it could be done elsewhere.”
Fiacco has been vocal since the beginning of the campaign on his promises to fund more Police and Crisis Team (PACT) members.
“With the police and crisis team, currently there are only two team members on that team available five days a week for only the day shift. That needs to be increased,” Fiacco said, adding that he will ask the provincial government for a minimum of two more PACT members.
“We need 24-hour patrol downtown, we’ve been asked to put full-time patrol also in North Central.”
In perhaps the most controversial question of the night, Hopkins asked the candidates what their positions are on removing Victoria Park’s John A. Macdonald statue and renaming Dewdney Avenue.
Jim Elliott said he is fully in favour of the removal and name change, adding that it’s necessary to engage First Nation communities in the decision.
Most other candidates agreed with Indigenous community consultation. Fougere and Masters say if the statue stays, there needs to be historical context given for people to understand Macdonald’s role in residential schools.
“Any emblem of colonization in the absence of the Indigenous story can’t continue on,” Masters said.
“To leave it up or take it down, what matters is that statue exists, wherever it exists, in the context of the full history for what occurred in our province and in our country. To do anything less than that is extremely disrespectful.”
Bradley was the only candidate to fully oppose the removal and name change, comparing it to the likes of Second World War sites.
“That is our history. That would be to me like removing Auschwitz,” Bradley said.
“We need to remember all that stuff. That is crucial for our children to learn history.”
Wooldridge disagreed with Bradley’s comparison, saying his grandparents fought in the Second World War. He thinks the decision should be put to a plebiscite.
“There was a genocide against our First Nation people, there were decisions made by John A. Macdonald that were reprehensible, but I think we need to ask the people,” Wooldridge said.
Mitchell Howse and Bob Pearce chose to not take part in the debate.
Regina’s civic election is Nov. 9.