Regina Cracks Under Pressure And Bad Leadership
As Regina experiences growth unlike what it has experienced in over 50 years, the city's infrastructure suffers and a new water supply problem has emerged to exasperate the city's growing pains. About five years ago, when city council and management expected growth to surge due to Saskatchewan's growing energy sector, they chose to build a new stadium. Outgoing mayor, Pat Fiacco, was replaced by his fraternal policy twin in the last civic election and the city continued with its agenda to advance a series of misplaced priorities.
Economists have been almost unanimous in saying that publicly funded sport stadiums are a bad idea. But we shouldn't expect the advice of experts or statistical data to deter Regina's oblivious city council and mayor, Michael Fougere. The stadium was given the green light in 2012 and construction has been ongoing. At this point, cancelling the project would be unfeasible, as it's due for completion in August of next year. The new stadium is a part of the "Regina Revitalization Initiative".
Anyone who has lived in or spent time in Regina knows that the city is in dire need of revitalization. The city's centre core is riddled with vacant storefronts that no businesses seem willing to fill. The city's crime and congested infrastructure are putting a strain on commuters, residents, business owners and tourists. To this day, Regina has remained in the top three for most violent Canadian cities and city traffic has been steadily rising, creating a barrage of complaints to local council offices. Yet, with all of this, Michael Fougere and city council have remained openly and vocally stubborn.
To make matters worse, a growth in algae at Buffalo Pound (the source of the city's water supply) has slowed treatment efforts and created a shortage of clean running water.
Since 2012, Regina's population has grown from roughly 193,000 to roughly 230,000. This means that 30,000 new residents have begun to call themselves citizens since 2012. All of this was predicted in 2011 when Saskatchewan's economy began to surge. At the time, the city put a priority on building a new stadium to house the province's CFL team. Much of the cost was covered by the province, but up to $73 million is funded by Regina taxpayers. This $73 million will be made up with annual increases in property taxes.
Before 2011, crumbling roads and pot-holes plagued up to 35% of Regina's roads. Four years later, residents are paying higher taxes to fund a stadium while their city faces rapid growth. To top it off, residents now report that city roads are in worse condition today than they were in 2011. With no major new road projects in the works to ease congestion, no substantial increases to the roads budget and a $73 million tab for a stadium, there doesn't look to be much relief on the horizon for residents frustrated by their city's deterioration.
As Regina welcomes pool season, most pools will remain closed due to the city's water shortages. City street cleaning has also been put on hold and dry pipes have caused an increase in water main breaks.
The city of Regina is literally cracking and crumbling under the pressure of rapid growth and bad leadership. By now, the $73 million investment in a massive novelty project must be turning Regina taxpayers sour. I spoke to Wendy McLean in 2012 when I wrote Regina's Misplaced Priorities. I gave her a call last week and asked her how she feels today, after moving to Regina from Nova Scotia in 2010.
"What can we do, really," she says. "We saw this coming. We bought a house here in Cathedral and our taxes have gone up every year since. It's funny, because my husband's car has been in the shop changing tires twice this year. When you call the city, they come fix pot holes, but when you try to have them pay for the damage, they put all this red tape in front of you."
When I asked her if she regrets moving to Regina yet, she told me she still doesn't.
"I really like it here. It's a beautiful city. There are just things that make you angry like in every place. It would be nice if the city listened. I never supported that stadium. They never asked us. There was no vote on it."
Water shortages, crumbling infrastructure, rampant crime, misguided leadership, a vacant downtown core and money going to a lost cause makes Regina sound like a dystopian hell hole. Describing Regina's predicament to anyone without naming the city would sound like a description of Detroit. Sadly, this is Regina we're talking about.
To make Regina's geography or membership in the province of Saskatchewan the driving cause of its failure would mean denying the success of Saskatoon. Sure Saskatoon has high crime and some crumbling infrastructure, but the city's spending and infrastructure priorities are suited to accommodate the city's rapid growth. Saskatoon's North Commuter Parkway project is designed to accommodate the city's growing number of commuters by linking the city's industrial sector with northern neighbourhoods. The project includes a bridge and the twinning of Central Avenue, a major commuter route. The project is expected to reduce city-wide traffic by 10%.
Saskatoon's already vibrant downtown core will see more investments via the "North Downtown Master Plan", which seeks to create an addition to the downtown community. These are things Regina can't afford to do, for obvious reasons.
Unlike Saskatoon, Regina's downtown community consists only of low-income apartments, old folks homes and vacant storefronts. As of today, no major improvements are planned to revitalize Regina's core. The campaigns that exist are mainly motivated by advertising and promotion, rather than viable investments in community improvements and infrastructure. Instead, the city has prioritized a single stadium. This is equivalent to putting all of your eggs in one basket and disbursing a majority of your resources into one, single project with little benefit.
While Regina suffers, Saskatoon thrives. The Queen City's suffering has nothing to do with Saskatchewan and everything to do with city council, city management and Michael Fougere. When it comes to management, prioritizing and leadership, Saskatoon and Regina are wildly different. The only thing the two cities have in common is Saskatchewan. Until Regina voters do something about it, their city will continue down this path of failure and embarrassing deterioration.