Therefore, if Fougere and his fellow city councillors will indeed be “going forward with the stadium,” as Fougere said shortly after being elected, they would be wise to incorporate more public involvement in the process, or else risk losing the respect of the people over the stadium, which has recently happened with a fellow prairie city, Winnipeg.
The question of public input regarding the new stadium was brought up from the beginning, shortly after Premier Brad Wall, alongside outgoing Mayor Pat Fiacco and Saskatchewan Roughriders board chair Roger Brandvold, announced a new $278 million stadium would be built on the grounds of Evraz Place and be completed by 2017. Later on, the initial promise of private funding fell through and the City of Regina revealed that it would be contributing $73 million to the project, meaning an increase in property taxes by 0.45 per cent a year for 10 years in Regina.
The fact that money would be coming out of the people’s pockets caused a greater outcry for public consultation. Dawn Thomas, who ran and lost in Ward 9, went so far as to circulate a petition to force a referendum on the stadium. The petition has around 10,000 signatures but, with 20,000 needed by Nov. 7, it seems like an almost insurmountable goal. However, while a referendum on the stadium likely won’t happen, the city’s leaders need to realize that there are ways they can, and should, better involve the public.
After all, as University of Regina sociology professor Robert Biezenski noted, the new stadium will be primarily used for the Roughriders, so it won’t be an issue that the public is going to forget about.
“The Roughriders tie Saskatchewan together culturally really more than anything else,” he said. “In the old days, religion used to tie together society, but those days are gone. So, bizarrely enough, sports has become, in effect, the new religion in Saskatchewan and, since you only have one major professional team, the Riders are it and they have come to sort of define the cultural identity of Saskatchewan.
“It has become an emotional issue because it touches on the cultural identity of Saskatchewan.”
The question remains how much people are willing to pay for that identity.
Shaun Augustin, a sessional lecturer for the department of economics at the U of R, said the city could run a cost-benefit study on the stadium.
“In economics, there’s something that we call consumer surplus,” he said. “The way it works is that fans and people who take in a game occasionally, both season ticket holders and occasional ticket holders, plus people who don’t necessarily attend games but listen on the radio or watch on TV, get some sort of benefit over and above the ticket price. We call it a willingness to pay, or the value of the existence of the team locally.
“The government could get a sense of how much that is worth in terms of dollars to determine if it’s big enough to warrant the subsidy.”
Augustin, whose major thesis involved doing a cost-benefit study, guesses that such a study focused on the Regina stadium would show that the subsidy is “reasonable.” Either way, this study would be a prudent act to show citizens the proper steps are being taken for a large project involving public money.
If a study like this isn’t done, it could be Winnipeg all over again.
Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' new stadium, Investors Group Field, began quickly, with the city not realizing how much it was going to cost or how it would be paid for. The original estimate for the project was $115 million, but this number ended up rising to $190 million, with an unexpected $127.5 million burden falling on the taxpayers. The stadium is to be ready for play in 2013.
“In Winnipeg, there was an utter failure to consult with taxpayers and get the approval of taxpayers,” Craig said.
“What Regina should learn from Winnipeg is that you have to go to the people (who) are going to pay for the facility and get their approval for it. Lay out your plan and say this is how much it’s going to cost … and this is the due diligence that we’ve done to show you that we haven’t come up with these numbers on the back of the napkin.”
It’s advice Regina would be wise to follow.