Information obtained by Regina Water Watch through a freedom of information request to the City of Regina reveals that the city-run “Vote No” campaign overspent its $340,000 budget by 20%, racking up $408,594.96 in costs during the referendum on the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
“With the city moving ahead with its P3, this is just the first instance of what will likely be a long list of cost overruns on this project,” says Regina Water Watch member Florence Stratton. “We’re afraid it’s going to be a long and costly 30 years for the citizens of Regina.”
According to statements made in August by city communications manager Deb McEwen, funding for the “Vote No” campaign was allocated from the city’s budget for the wastewater treatment plant upgrades, meaning the P3 privatization project has seen its first cost overrun before even selecting the consortium that will run the plant.
The City of Regina revealed in mid-October that the total cost to run the referendum was $356,000, well short of the $550,000 council set aside in the general reserve fund in August for the referendum. The budget for non-partisan voter information was originally set at between $100,000 – $120,000, but the actual amount spent on communications was under $80,000.
“It was bad enough that the City of Regina budgeted three times more taxpayers’ dollars to tell citizens how to vote, rather than where to vote; it’s even worse that it went way over the budget it gave itself without the democratic oversight of council approval,” said Stratton. “It’s a sad day for democracy when the city spends $50,000 more on a campaign of half-truths than it spends to run the entire referendum. It’s money that should have been spent to set up proper polling stations at seniors’ homes and to ensure that every resident received information about where to vote, something the mayor claimed the city couldn’t afford.”
In all, the ‘Vote No’ campaign spent almost three times the amount spent by the Regina Water Watch-led campaign to keep the plant public. In addition to the city’s campaign, the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce says it spent approximately $130,000 to support the city council-led campaign, and other organizations – including the Regina & Region Home Builders’ Association, the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, the Saskatoon Home Builders’ Association, and the North Saskatoon Business Association – spent undisclosed amounts on advertising during the campaign. The Canadian Union of Public Employees revealed it contributed $180,000 in support of the “Vote Yes” campaign.
You can view the city clerk’s breakdown of the city’s “Vote No” campaign costs here.