Regina's Brass Solution?
October 1st, 2012 - Exclusive Q & A
With Regina's Civic election around the corner, Poletical asked one of the city's most educated and qualified candidates, Dr. Liz Brass, a few questions.
Poletical: Regina's new planned stadium seems to have taken the spotlight in this upcoming civic election. Many say the plan was rushed. What would you have done differently?
Brass: While the plans to build a new stadium have been discussed for 5 years, people feel that the current plan was rushed because the plan changed significantly and the citizens did not feel that there was adequate public consultation. During the Design Regina public consultation process as part of the development of the Official Community Plan, the public was consulted and said that they support a stadium as long as it is affordable and economically viable. There was also consultation with 120 representatives of stakeholders (e.g., community associations, business groups, developers) who discussed life-cycle costing and said they were cautious about “shiny new things”. The public perception is that financing for the stadium will primarily be paid for with debt and public funding and that the process has not been transparent enough and the deal was made “behind closed doors”.
Some of the information has not been shared with the public. There is $80 million of the total projected revenue sources to pay for the stadium that is claimed will come “from some other revenue”, but the source of revenue has not been disclosed to the public. Details of the construction costs have also not been disclosed.
As Mayor, I would be fully transparent. Also if we’re going to build a new stadium, we need to spend taxpayers’ money wisely and explore all options. I believe that we can secure private funds—how much we are able to secure will depend on the ability of the Council, administration, citizens, the private sector, and other organizations to work together. We know that for the current stadium plan, private investment will not get a return of profit. The money will in effect be a donation. The current plan is to build a stadium that has more conveniences, but from a business perspective and a citizens’ perspective, the new stadium does not sound like an innovative project. The consultants’ report indicated that the private sector will not invest in an open-air stadium, but they may invest in a domed stadium.
If I am elected Mayor, my first step would be to gather all of the information and explore options and opportunities. I would look at other potential partnerships, a bond issue, another location, and innovative stadium designs. I believe that we are able to build a domed stadium at less cost than the current plan and with significantly lower operating costs. The stadium is a generational decision and we have to do it right.
Calgary recently voted to have fluoride removed from its water system. What is your position on the fluoridation of city water and do you believe fluoridation is a direct violation of an individual's right to choose?
We only need trace amounts of fluoride. Regina has never fluoridated the water supply. Laboratory water testing completed in 2011 indicates that there are traces of fluoride that are naturally occurring, but are well below recommended levels from the Saskatchewan Environment Water Quality Objective (annual average is 0.10, objective amounts are <1.50). In the 1950s, city council approved fluoridation, but voters rejected fluoridation via referendums in 1954, 1958, 1965, and 1985. While there may be a rationale to add fluoride to city water for the benefit of at-risk populations (particularly children of lower socioeconomic status), research on the benefits and risks is not conclusive. The cost to Regina would be over $120,000 annually. At this time, there is not sufficient information to suggest that city council should revisit water fluoridation. If new research findings were presented that were significant enough to consider fluoridating the water, then the information provided would determine if a referendum may be in order, but at this time fluoridation is not an issue.
Is urban sprawl something that concerns you? If so, what solutions would you present to city council that would slow the sprawl and promote urban and central living?
We must plan carefully rather than sprawl across the land just because it’s there. I would prioritize brown development, such as infill housing and continue to fulfill the recommendations of the Regina Neighbourhood Downtown Plan, such as to make an effort to increase the number of residents downtown by 2,000 to 5,000. I would explore the expansion of downtown onto the CP lands with multi-use zoning (residential, commercial, recreational/cultural). I would collaborate with the private sector, community organizations, and citizens to enhance the vibrancy of downtown. For greenfield development, I would work with developers to encourage strategic planning for complete, sustainable communities to minimize infrastructure costs such as diversity in housing (apartments and homes) and plan streets on the grid and to be pedestrian- friendly. Attainable, affordable housing and fewer oversized lots would be encouraged and is already a market-driven phenomenon.
How would you revitalize Regina's downtown? Or, do you think Pat Fiacco has been successful at such revitalization initiatives?
I would protect heritage buildings and strive to make traffic flow as efficient as possible to support businesses, residents, activities, and festivities in the downtown area. As Mayor, I would strive for efficient project management. The downtown plaza was originally estimated to cost $7 million, but the final cost was $13 million, $6 million over budget because of poor management and construction delays. Portions of the consultant’s review of the report were not released because of litigation initiated by contracted companies.
Regina has crumbling infrastructure and growing traffic problems. Where on your list of priorities would fixing these problems be?
Infrastructure and traffic problems are high priorities. We have a $2 billion deficit and have been deferring infrastructure renewal and rehabilitation from one year to the next. People are waiting two weeks for water main breaks to be fixed. There are plans for infill development, but the infrastructure (e.g. water pumps) is insufficient to support the development. Citizens express concern that streets are not safe for seniors or seniors to walk because they have to walk off onto the street as there are many unfinished sidewalk repairs. To improve traffic problems, sustainable initiatives such as more walking and bike paths, cycling lanes, more efficient transit system (e.g., express bus), will reduce traffic congestion. The infrastructure is an urgent priority. Improving traffic flow is also a priority because the traffic problems are significant.
Do you think the current City Hall is polluted by favouritism, elitism, and special interests?
Citizens and businesses have stated that there is favouritism, such as with contracts and land sales. Citizens also expressed concerns that the interests of developers are prioritized over citizens’ interests. I do not have access to the information to verify the complaints. As Mayor, I would ensure fairness and equal opportunity.
Regina's crime rate still tops the ranks in Canada's national crime index. Why do you think this is?
Trends in crimes have changed over the past decade since I was an appointed member of the Regina Crime Prevention Commission and co-chairperson of the Vehicle Theft Strategy. In review of the 2011 police reports, break and enters are high, but in 2012 there have been only 3 homicides this year and no violent incidents in public places. Generally, Regina citizens feel safe. According to Statistics Canada, Regina’s crime severity index decreased from a decade ago by 40 per cent in comparison with a decrease of 25 per cent in the rest of Canada. As a forensic psychologist, my experience with young offenders is that factors such as supervision, mentoring, positive peers, and extracurricular activities can reduce risk to reoffend.
Is building urban First Nations reserves a good idea for Regina? Why or why not?
The existing urban First Nations in Regina have been successful both in terms of generating revenue for the First Nations, employment of First Nations members, and other Regina citizens are able to purchase items.
Regina residents will cast their votes on October 24th. To learn more about Liz Brass, visit her official website at brassformayor.ca