newsbriefsLibraries, Friends And Cake

The Friends of the Regina Public Library’s 10th anniversary get-together, held April 26 at the Unitarian Centre, was the kind of political activism that no one could object to. There was cake.

As well, it was an opportunity for about two dozen local activists to celebrate the fact that a decade ago, they fought City Hall, and won.

Eleven years ago, the Regina Public Library’s board of directors approved a plan that called for closing three branches (Connaught, in the Cathedral district, Prince of Wales, in the Broders’ Annex district, and Glen Elm), as well as the Prairie History Room and the Dunlop Art Gallery. It turns out many Regina citizens didn’t want their library system to go gently into that good night.

During the winter of 2003-04, the Friends of the RPL gathered more than 26,000 signatures on a petition demanding a city-wide referendum on the cuts. During the meeting, Susan Birley, one of the activists behind the petition drive, told the story of one petition-gatherer who was confronted by Cornwall Centre security: they approached her with the idea of throwing her out of the mall, but by the end of the conversation she had earned the two men’s signatures to be added to the petition.

At an April 2004 meeting. Regina city council overruled the RPL board, and by a one-vote margin voted to draw down about $700,000 from its financial reserves to keep all facilities open. Four RPL board members resigned, three claiming that the city was interfering with the board’s operation. The four were replaced with new members in June.

Ironically, it appeared as though the shortfall that required the proposed cuts never existed: by the end of the 2004-05 fiscal year, the RPL didn’t need to dip into the $700,000 drawn from the reserves.

In the end, the call to repeal the cuts created the Friends of the RPL, which has now become a watchdog group that monitors and critiques the RPL board’s operations through its Facebook and Twitter feeds. /Stephen LaRose

Election Act Action Doesn’t Go Far Enough

After months of stinging criticism on Bill C-23, the Conservative’s Minister of Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre announced several amendments on April 25.

More needs to be done, though, say critics.

“The changes only go halfway to making the Fair Elections Act actually fair,” says Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher. “The biggest issue is voter ID. Now you can have your address vouched for, but not your actual identity. That’s a reasonable compromise, as there are 39 pieces of ID that can be accepted. If you have one of those, someone can vouch for you.”

Supposedly done to stop rampant (in Conservative minds anyway) voter fraud (which there’s no significant evidence of anyway), the tightened ID provisions would’ve potentially disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Canadians. To improve the bill further, Conacher says the voter registration cards Election Canada mails out should continue to be accepted as proof of residence to match with ID for voting.

Another plus is the closure of a campaign financing loophole tied to soliciting money from recent donors.

“It would’ve been the first loophole since spending limits were introduced 40 years ago and it would’ve been abused to hide millions of dollars of secret, illegal spending,” says Conacher.

Donation limits, though, are still rising: from $2400 to $3000 (and from $3600 to $4500 in an election year), and from $1500 to $5000 for candidates donating to their own campaign.

Who has that kind of cash lying around?

“That will benefit wealthy candidates and donors, and facilitate the type of corruption we saw in Quebec where businesses and other organizations funneled donations through their executives and other employees,” says Conacher.

Elections Canada also needs enhanced powers to investigate suspected electoral misconduct, and appoint all election workers independent of party affiliation, and automatically receive all party receipts and campaign documents to monitor them properly.

“I’d say there’s a 50-50 chance the government will be persuaded to make more changes,” says Conacher. “Yes, they’ve made some. But they don’t go far enough.” /Gregory Beatty