Thursday, September 26, 2013

On democratic exercises

The results are in from Regina's wastewater treatment referendum. And unfortunately, the combined forces of the City and the corporate sector (with an assist from far too much of the city's media) were able to carry the day.

But there's still plenty of reason to think we're better off for having had the vote.

For one thing, we can now confirm that Reginans can be motivated to participate even in a single-issue referendum - with nearly as many total voters casting a ballot on a single decision as did in electing our entire slate of city leaders just last year. And the referendum represents both an important exercise in democracy and compelling evidence that people are far more interested in having a say in municipal decisions than the current administration gives them credit for.

And the actual votes cast may be even more significant.

The gap between a city establishment lining up (and putting its thumb on the scale) in favour of one side and the 21,000+ voters who nonetheless voted for accountability and public control will hopefully result in greater recognition of the public interests at play in the wastewater procurement process to come - helping to avoid some of the real concerns the Yes side has raised about cozy, closed-door decision-making. And the possibility that other major choices will be subject to public attention should result in more thoughtful analysis of future projects.

Ideally, I'd also hope to see a few councillors whose constituents were particularly inclined to vote Yes start to develop some sustained questions and criticisms about city decision-making - rather than going along with the mayor by default and offering the "unanimous!" cover to genuinely contentious issues.

Obviously, those possibilities are on the speculative side compared to the concrete possibility of retaining public control of our water treatment system. But there looks to be plenty of room to build on the work done by Regina Water Watch - and if we end up with the public keeping a closer eye on municipal government in general, that's a result well worth the effort.

Update: Jason has more.

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