Regina Water War - Referendum 2013There sure are some crazy notions about the referendum swirling about the Regina rumor-scape these days. I thought it might be worthwhile putting a couple of them to rest.

The latest I’ve heard (last night at recreation program sign-up) is that the city clerk’s office has declared that for a Yes side win to be binding, they would need to capture 60 per cent of the vote and there would have to have been a 50 per cent voter turnout — an impossible threshold.

But that rumour is 100 per cent false.

I just spoke with Jim Nicol, executive director of governance, and he says some people may have read the provincial Referendum And Plebiscite Act and assumed it applies to the City of Regina. It doesn’t.¹

“Ours is a strict 50 per cent plus one [vote],” says Nicol.

And that means that if only 10,000 people show up to vote, the question of whether to P3 or not P3 could be decided by as few as 5,001 people.

Another rumour I’ve heard is that the result of this referendum won’t be binding because it was called by council. If the referendum had been forced by a petition then it would have been binding. But because the clerk’s office declared the petition invalid, council won’t have to abide by a Yes side win.

Again, this is false.

First of all, at at least two press conferences, Mayor Michael Fougere has been asked if council would abide by a Yes vote and on both occasions, Fougere said that the majority would rule and if Reginans voted against the P3, council would abide by their wishes.

I’ve got that on tape here somewhere.

Also, the Saskatchewan Cities Act is pretty clear on this. Check out sections 105 and 111:

Referendum initiated by council
105(1) A council may submit any proposed bylaw or resolution, or alternative proposed bylaws or resolutions, to a referendum. (2) If a referendum approves the proposed bylaw or resolution, the council shall proceed to pass the bylaw or resolution. (3) If a council submits a proposed bylaw or resolution to a referendum pursuant to subsection (1), the council is bound by the result of the vote for a period of one year from the date of the vote, except to the extent the council’s subsequent intervention is required to deal with an imminent danger to the health or safety of the residents of the city.

Result of referendum
111(1) If a proposed bylaw or resolution is approved by a vote at a referendum by a majority of the electors voting whose ballots are not rejected, the council shall pass the bylaw or resolution within four weeks after the date of the vote.

So, if the Yes side wins, council will have to pass a bylaw conforming with the language of the referendum question within four weeks of the end of the referendum and will be bound by that for a minimum of a year. (Conversely, if the No side wins, council can just carry on with their plans as if nothing happened.)

Now, I imagine some of the confusion may have arisen due to section 104 which says the results of a plebiscite aren’t binding:

104(1) A council may submit to a vote of the electors any question on any matter that the council determines affects the residents of the city. (2) A vote of the electors pursuant to subsection (1) does not bind the council.

But after spending the last six weeks calling this a “referendum” in all of their public statements, on their website and in all their promotional material, it would be pretty difficult for council to claim after the fact that this was in fact a plebiscite all along and not a referendum.

¹ But, while tangential, I think it is newsworthy that that Referendum And Plebiscite Act does apply to any provincial level referendums.