By Creeson Agecoutay
If there is not one combined voice for mayor in Regina’s next civic election, then expect voter turnout to be low yet again in 2015. This year’s civic election saw nine people running for mayor and 41 candidates running for city council. The incumbent councilors and mayor are calling it quits. It is only natural for new candidates to come into the picture and run with high hopes of getting in.
Unfortunately, many of the candidates hopes were unrealistic and if many did not run, the results of election night would have been much different.
On Oct. 24, Michael Fougere won the mayoral race with 42.4 per cent of the votes. Marian Donnelly came in second with 31.8 per cent. Meka Okochi came in third with 17.5 per cent while Liz Brass came in fourth with 5.1 per cent. The remaining candidates all had less than one per cent of the overall vote (Jim Elliott 481, Chad Novak 413, Charles Wiebe 341, Tim Siekawitch 195 and Tom Brown 172.)
Five days before Election Day, the Regina Leader-Poster published the results of a poll conducted by the independent polling firm Insightrix Research, which showed Fougere running in the lead with Donnelly in second. At that point, it would have made sense for many of the candidates to realize that the odds were not in their favor, and to drop out. But it is not as simple as it sounds.
Nominations opened Sept. 4 and closed Sept. 19. After Sept. 19, candidates had one day to withdraw their nominations. Unfortunately, the campaign’s only poll was conducted and released on Oct. 19, after this narrow window closed.
If candidates were able to withdraw any time, the entire outcome could have changed. For example, if the bottom six candidates, after realizing they had no chance in becoming mayor had dropped out, the race for mayor would have been much closer and more interesting.
As it turned out, the high number of candidates made it difficult for voters to understand all the issues and what each candidate stood for. High-profile names like Fougere were relatively easy to follow because their experience was well known in the community. On the other side, names such Siekawitch or Brown were relatively unknown.
Now that that the new mayor and city council have been elected, the city will go ahead with many pre-planned projects such as the Regina Revitalization Initiative, which includes a $278 million dollar stadium in the immediate future and 700 affordable housing units, to be built a decade from now. The only thing that could slightly rust the wheels of the RRI’s well-oiled locomotive is if the petition on stadium funding reaches 20,000 signatures before Nov. 8. This will force the city to hold a referendum on moving forward on any discussion involving the stadium. To fund the project, taxes will climb in a market where food, gas and the cost of living are constantly on the rise. And the mayor and city council have several other challenges to face. They include the aging infrastructure, affordable housing and the ongoing pension dispute for city workers.
As of July 25 the city owed $293-million to its employees’ pension plan, likely creating much friction between city workers and city council. Although the pension plan was not front and center during the campaign, each of the candidates voiced their solution to the fiasco. Mayoral candidate Jim Elliott, for example, told the Leader-Post, “We have to assess where pension funds were invested and perhaps select other investments in the future. We also have to review our legal commitments to our pension recipients.” It remains to be seen when and how the new mayor and council will address the shortfall.
In the meantime, city workers are still looking for answers while their future of retirement hangs in limbo. The new mayor and city council have their work cut out for them. They will be taking their oath of office on Nov. 5. Residents of Regina will soon know whether the issues like the stadium and housing are really the top priorities. Will the new executive address other issues like the city pension and infrastructure in a timely manner? Advocates for change and candidates who were not successful in this election will be watching their every move.