Prairie democracy made a bit of a surprising comeback in Regina this week. Just over 49,000 people cast ballots in a referendum on how the city should build a wastewater treatment plant. That’s roughly 30% of those who were eligible, and it’s way above average for a civic vote of any kind in this part of the country.
The turnout was 32% when Michael Fougere was elected as Regina’s mayor for the first time last fall, and the referendum is being described as a validation of his leadership in the Queen City.
57% of those who voted were endorsing council’s decision to build the plant as a Private Public Partnership or P3, rather than a totally public project. P3’s are relatively new in Saskatchewan, and the move was strongly opposed by public sector unions who feared that jobs would be lost.
Stephen Harper and company played a huge roll in the process. They agreed that Ottawa would contribute $59 million to build the plant, but only if it was done as a P3.
Referendums on big spending items used to happen all the time on the prairies, but back in the day you had to own property to be eligible. Gradually the votes were replaced by panels of experts who were empowered to pass judgment on big spending.
Voter turnout has been gradually falling for all ballots of importance. The four federal elections that we’ve had to endure in the past decade have seen the turnout drop to not much more than 50%. There has been a growing sense that it simply doesn’t matter whether we go to the ballot box or not.
It’s a frustration that grew enormously after the 2011 election which included abuses like robocalls.
Winston Churchill put it best when he said “Democracy is a terrible form of government, but it’s the best we have.”
It’s nice to see that it’s not totally dead on the flatlands of Canada.
I’m Roger Currie