Regina's Misplaced Priorities

August 1st, 2012 - D. Stone 

Saskatchewan's crime rate, again, leads the country nationally while crime across the country is at its lowest point in nearly 40 years. Although Conservative MP, Vic Toews, is quick to take the credit for his Conservative government and its position on crime, statistically crime has been on a steady decline for over a decade – since long before the Tories implemented their omnibus crime bill.

Crime is also down in Saskatchewan, but questions still remain as to why the province has been consistently leading the country in crime for the past ten years and is still continuing this worrisome trend today.

The province's capital, Regina, has seen an overall reduction in crime since last year, however, the city remains in the top spot for car theft, assault, and breaking and entering. These unfortunate numbers released by Stats Canada have kept the Queen City at the top of the ranking.

The city's outgoing mayor, Pat Fiacco, has spent over a decade in his position – about as long as crime trends have been stuck at the top of the ranks – and everything but crime has been on his agenda. The mayor has shared significant rhetoric on the issue, but taken very little action over the course of his long term. The mayor has spent the past year negotiating plans for a new football stadium with the province's Premier, Brad Wall, who has also failed to exhibit much concern for his province's crime rate.

“All they do is talk. You don't really see them doing much else,” says Wendy McLean, a resident of Regina's Cathedral area. “The stadium is a joke,” she tells me. “I think people are concerned about other things.”

Wendy is fairly new to Regina. She followed her husband to the city from her home in Nova Scotia, two years ago, in hopes of a higher salary. “My husband got transferred for work. We heard it was booming here, so we thought it wouldn't be bad.”

“I don't regret it at all,” she says. “It's great here, but you see what goes on in other neighbourhoods and it really makes you wonder.” Wendy hasn't had many run-ins with shady characters in Regina's downtown core, or in her own neighborhood, but she knows people who have. “I hear their stories,” she chuckles.

Regina's proposed stadium is estimated to cost nearly $278 million. In Regina's Leader Post, Don Taylor criticized both Fiacco and Wall for the estimated costs of the stadium. “Taxpayers should be ready for quite a fright when cost overruns appear at the end of this project,” he stated in his piece. The city's approval of the stadium project was met with some boos and jeers from members of the public who opposed the plan.

Fifteen people spoke in opposition to the plan before council's vote on July 23rd. Among the top concerns was that the city may be rushing the plan. The city will be taking a $100 million loan from the province to help fund the project.

“It just seems like such bad politics,” Wendy says. “It's a bad decision and it makes you wonder if someone has special interests somewhere.”

Cost overruns, high crime, and affordable housing seem to be three significant concerns amongst most Regina residents – three concerns that have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Regina's police chief, Troy Hagen, told CTV that he believes most residents feel Regina is a safe community. “There's been significant progress,” he said. He did, however, acknowledge that there is much work to be done.

Regina saw an overall reduction in 'crime severity' from 2010, however, this drop seems consistent with Canada's overall decline in crime and crime severity. The continuing drop in crime is a nationwide occurrence, with Saskatchewan failing to see the same promising results that other provinces have seen.

Saskatoon's police chief, Clive Weighill, acknowledged his city's more fundamental problems when he told Postmedia that focusing on societal problems like poverty, poor housing, and unemployment is the real “game changer” in dealing with Saskatoon's crime. Saskatoon is ranked number two in Canada for violent crimes, behind Winnipeg.

2012 just happens to be an election year in Regina, giving some of its residents the ability to express their concerns, anger, and dis-illusionment with the city's crime statistics and poverty. The city's mayoral race will be one of the most contested in years, with five candidates vying for the top job. Councilor Michael Fougere is widely considered to be the frontrunner.

All five candidates were given an opportunity to cast their official reactions to the city's costly stadium project, which sees only a $25 million investment from the football team it is meant to house: The Saskatchewan Roughriders. The city itself is set to spend nearly $75 million of its own money on the project, not including the $100 million loan from the province.

Residents seem to be showing discontent with their city's co-called Revitalization Initiative. Mayoral candidate, Fougere, didn't seem to feel the same discontent when he said, “I fully support the project that leverages maximum benefits from our partners in the project.”

The old Taylor Field is to become a new neighborhood while the new stadium will be meant to host concerts, small sporting events, and Roughrider games. How this will affect the city's impoverished and crime ridden neighbourhoods has yet to be seen. The stadium's construction begins next year and is scheduled for completion in 2017.