By Jonathan Hamelin
For Don McEwen, it was a $278 million vote.
McEwen, one of the Reginans who voted in the 2012 Regina municipal election Wednesday, admitted that the stadium was the main factor in who he voted for, especially when it came to selecting a mayor.
McEwen said he voted for Michael Fougere because Fougere was the only candidate ready to go forward with the city’s current proposed plan for a $278 million stadium to be built on the grounds at Evraz Place, completed by 2017. Many other candidates supported a new stadium, but felt that revisions needed to be made to the current plan, including more public input and re-examination of funding.
“The plan is good and a new stadium is needed,” said McEwen, who has held season tickets for the Saskatchewan Roughriders off and on for many years. “Also, it opens the other area for improvements, so I think it’s a no-lose situation.”
McEwen added that “pretty much everybody that I’ve talked to says the stadium is the issue they’re basing their votes on.” Indeed, the stadium – more so than housing, the economy, or any other issue – was the main issue on many citizens' minds during the lead-up to the election. Therefore, a number of people voted for the mayoral or city councillor candidate who best supported his or her stance on the stadium.
To some of the candidates, this fact was disappointing.
“The civic election should be about so much more than just the stadium,” said second-place mayoral candidate Marian Donnelly. “I mean, we have huge issues with housing, with infrastructure, with the pension plan, with transit, with recycling. There’s so many other things that we could be talking about.”
“I think that’s absolutely atrocious that that’s the only issue that was focused on,” said Dawn Thomas, who ran and lost in Ward 9.
Candidates who were involved in the election felt that, from early on, the stadium became the main platform point people were interested in, meaning candidates needed to keep reinforcing their stance on the stadium instead of talking about other issues.
“Anybody who had an idea that’s even slightly different from this current plan was tagged as being anti-stadium or anti-progress and that is horrible,” said Meka Okochi, third-place mayoral candidate. “Many candidates felt the same way as me – that the stadium is a good thing, but just not to be paid for in the way they’re proposing.
“The election is something that should unite the citizens of the city, not divide the citizens, and I think the stadium was used as a wedge issue to create divisions amongst people.”
“There was even a column Bruce Johnstone (of the Leader-Post) wrote that said, in plain English, if you want the stadium, vote for Fougere,” Donnelly said. “For me, that’s just not objective journalism. Granted, it’s an opinion piece, but it’s an opinion that is unfortunately read by 80,000 people in the city and I think that we were being unfairly painted.
“At every debate, we had to sort of restate our position.”
If this was an election solely about the stadium, and Fougere was the candidate most associated with the stadium, it appears that Reginans have voted in favour of the new stadium by selecting Fougere. However, he doesn’t think it was a vote for the stadium.
“People voted in this election for more than one issue,” he said. “While the stadium is an issue, the RRI (Regina Revitalization Issue) is an issue, many people talked to me about infrastructure, the state of the sidewalks, streets. They talked about affordable housing.”
Thomas still thinks the public can have a say about the stadium. She has been spearheading a petition to force a referendum about the stadium. The petition has nearly 8,000 signatures, needing 20,000 by Nov. 8. Thomas is uncertain if enough signatures will be obtained, but isn’t discouraged.
“If nothing else, it brought a lot of awareness to an issue that was coming to the forefront,” she said. “I think a lot of people are still pissed off that they are being asked to pay for something that they don’t necessarily support or they haven’t had a say in.”
McEwen, however, feels this election was a chance for people to let themselves be heard.
“Some people want to have a referendum on it,” he said. “This is the referendum.”