By Jordan Halkyard
Regina has a new mayor and a new city council. However, Michael Fougere and his new city council will more than likely not be bringing a new attitude toward infrastructure funding with them. A focus on big infrastructure projects and major construction projects is likely to continue under the new mayor.
According to University of Regina economist Jason Childs, it is unlikely a new council will bring a change to the City’s policy direction.
“The former council was very interested in major infrastructure projects and major construction projects, in particular the stadium, and that is going to continue to be the focus of this new council. And let’s face it, building something as big and exciting as a stadium is fun, repaving a small crescent isn’t. It’s not the same photo op, it is not the same for public relations and that really matters for politicians. If that makes sense economically is another question, but politically it makes a ton of sense,” Childs said.
Although the City may not be tackling small infrastructure projects in the near future, these projects are still important to Regina citizens. In Regina’s south end, potholes, crack sidewalks and water main breaks have become common place. The deterioration of the areas infrastructure has made it an important issue to the area’s voters when they go to the polls. However, Hillsdale resident Ray Fichter became disillusioned by promises of improvements to the south ends streets and sidewalks with little results.
“(All the candidates) said they were going to fix (the infrastructure here) but nothing ever happens,” Fichter said.
Though infrastructure concerns are an important issue to voters, according to Childs the City is unlikely to go through on these problems until infrastructure reaches a crisis point.
“Are people going to move out of (south end neighbourhood) Whitmore Park because the roads are bad? The roads have been bad in Whitmore Park for as long as I have known about it. (Neighbourhoods like this) are not going to become ghost towns because of the infrastructure, so it is very easy to ignore that problem until it reaches a crisis point. Like with the (natural gas explosion on Shannon Road) a couple of winters ago, suddenly that’s a crisis. Until it hits a crisis point it is very easy to ignore infrastructure,” Childs stated.
Childs said in an ideal situation the City could utilize a model of funding known as “smoothing” to make sure it is prepared for any future infrastructure problems. The smoothing model is similar to the Keynesian economics theory of economics, where capital is saved during economic strength and spent during times of economic weakness. Smoothing would see the City perform its major infrastructure renewal and construction projects when growth in the City has slowed and save and prepare for projects when growth is more rapid, as it currently is. However, the electorate seldom looks glowingly at their elected officials pinching pennies during times of economic strength.
“It is very, very difficult for politicians to save when they have money because people look at it as ‘you have money, why aren’t you spending it?’ And spending money is fun, not spending money and saying no is not fun. That is very difficult and tends to make (a politician) unpopular,” Childs explained.
“The realities of infrastructure funding in the 21st century require a significant change in the government's role and its funding pattern. In particular, government funding should be transparent, performance-based, sustained and long-term,” according to a 2009 study into Ontario's infrastructure funding, authored by Tamer El-Diraby, Tammy Wolters and Hesham Osman .
Childs would like to see a more clear budgeting system. This would entail the City putting aside a clear amount of money for infrastructure to prepare itself for another building boom.
“(It) is tough to do and people want to spend. When cities sit on money, either they want to spend it our build something shiny,” Childs explained.
Regina’s greatest asset in attracting new citizens to the community may end up being its greatest curse when it comes to its infrastructure. Regina’s strong economy has brought new workers, companies and capital to the community. However, if the new mayor and council are not patient with their new funds, the Queen City’s infrastructure may end up stuck in the past.