Complaints over lack of consultation plague Regina's first public debate on mega-projects from catalyst report

A Regina resident views two information boards about the catalyst projects that could shape the city's downtown for decades to come.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
A Regina resident views two information boards about the catalyst projects that could shape the city's downtown for decades to come. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

City council has begun the process of deciding where and when it will build a series of mega-projects in Regina's downtown core, shaping it for decades to come.

Wednesday's meeting of the city's executive committee was the first time that the public could voice their views since the catalyst committee published its final report last week.

In the report, the committee recommends Regina construct four projects in the following order: a non-vehicular trail; a new aquatic facility; a new central library; and a replacement for the Brandt Centre located in downtown Regina.

On Wednesday, more than a dozen delegations provided feedback to the executive committee. One of the commonly heard complaints was that the entire process was moving too quickly.

The publication of the report was held up as a key example. Residents questioned how they were supposed to read and review the 700-page document that was only made available to the public on Friday afternoon.

Anyone interested in speaking on Wednesday then only had roughly 72 hours to submit their name to to city hall.

"I think we need to have more discussion on this," said Andrew Reist, a concerned resident.

Residents are not the only ones voicing concerns about the catalyst committee process. Experts have raised concerns as well.

"There was a lot of people that filled out the surveys and did presentations and it feels, reading the report, as though anytime that the public doesn't agree with the recommendations of the committee, that it's a matter of there being a need to educate the public," said Vanessa Mathews, an associate professor at the University of Regina's department of geography and environmental studies

LISTEN | Walking trail, aquatic centre and arena among the planned mega-projects for Regina:

She pointed to the limited public consultations held late last year by the catalyst committee.

In mid-October, there was one week of consultations for all of the proposed projects, when a single project would normally receive weeks of consultation, Mathews said.

With some of the projects estimated to cost $150 million or more, Mathews said it's important for council to slow down and ensure they're doing what residents want.

"Because it's setting us up down the road for projects that are going to to kind of take up the majority of our budget moving ahead, I think it's really important that we slow down and actually appropriately consult the population," she said.

'There are trade-offs'

Part of the reason for the catalyst committee's tight deadline is because of a desire to secure funding from the federal government and provincial governments.

Regina council has already voted to use $128 million of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program to help fund the aquatic centre project.

However, the city's application for that funding is due by the end of March, and it requires the city to have a confirmed location.

One of the requirements for that funding is that the the infrastructure being replaced — in this case, the Lawson pool — be decommissioned after the new facility's construction.

WATCH | Regina can't afford to build catalyst mega-projects all at once, but delays will also be costly:

Rylan Graham, an assistant professor with the University of Northern British Columbia's school of planning and sustainability, said that council should remain focused on the the bigger picture when it comes to planning.

"I think that there are trade-offs. It doesn't mean that building an event centre is bad, right? I think that there there is an amenity that comes with doing that, but it clearly means probably that we can't do other things that are also of importance to the community," Graham said in an interview this week.

Executive committee appears to have heard the complaints from the public.

Ward 2 Coun. Bob Hawkins, who also served as co-chair of the catalyst committee, moved an amendment to allow for appropriate public engagement opportunities related to the committee's recommendations.

The public engagement would be carried out the prior to finalization of the design on each of the four projects recommended by the catalyst committee.

Council unanimously approved the amendment.

More amendments to separate projects

Another amendment moved by Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens split the report's recommendations apart.

The recommendations on the new aquatic centre will be discussed at next week's meeting of city council.

The vote on the three other projects will be heard at the council meeting scheduled for March 22.

Stevens said he wanted to give people more time to digest the information and have a say, while acknowledging that council must move quickly to secure the funding for the aquatics centre.

Council approved a third amendment that requires city administration to conduct public polling on the location and priority of an arena in Regina's downtown.

Officials with the catalyst committee stressed that the public will not see shovels in the ground on any of these projects in the immediate future.

Once council approves the recommendations, city administration will use them as guideposts as each project proceeds through the development process.