Council tackles smoking bans, transportation plans and railyards

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

It can be tough guessing which council agenda item will be the super-controversial one.

Take council’s expanded smoking ban. Everybody knows that smoking is dangerous and disgusting by now (even the smokers). So you’d think that when council decided to expand their smoking bylaw, protest would be limited and unconvincing.

But that wasn’t the case.

The new bylaw council debated at their May 29 meeting expands all smoking prohibitions to include vaping while also extending the buffer zones near doors, windows and air exchanges of public buildings to 10 metres (up from three metres). Smoking and vaping are also now prohibited in all city-owned outdoor spaces and on the patios of restaurants and bars.

Based on comments from the city’s consultation, the new bylaw provisions were popular and so should have been a slam dunk. But Nathan Markwart, president of the Gay and Lesbian Community of Regina (GLCR), came out to request an exemption from the smoking ban for the GLCR’s building — more commonly known as Q Nightclub. And his request threw council for a loop.

Markwart argued that requiring GLCR’s members and Q Nightclub patrons to smoke 10 metres from an entrance would dangerously infringe upon their safety and privacy. Already, the club opted to protect their patrons by erecting tall wooden walls around their patio. Forcing those patrons outside this space to smoke puts them in a dimly lit surface parking lot or down a sketchy alley.

“In the shadow of the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando Florida, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, we believe that this accommodation is timely, reasonable and justified,” argued Markwart. “Furthermore, our members have historically faced outright and indirect discrimination in Regina which, unfortunately, continues to be a concern.”

Councillors Andrew Stevens, Jason Mancinelli and Jerry Flegel found Marwart’s request reasonable and attempted to build an accommodation into the bylaw but in the end, the smoking ban passed unaltered. Mayor Fougere, however, did instruct city administration to work with the GLCR and the Regina Police Service to find ways to make the area around the building safer for its patrons.

A side note: Several councillors justified their vote against the GLCR exemption with stories of friends or loved ones who’d contracted lung cancer. None however offered stories of the violence, harassment or prejudice that many LGBTQ people have faced.

That no one on an 11-member council had been personally touched by the prejudices and dangers Regina’s LGBTQ community encounter, speaks volumes.

Council will have an opportunity to learn the stories of the city’s LGBTQ community during Regina’s Pride Week, June 9 to 18.

And incidentally, no Regina mayor has ever marched in a Regina Pride Parade.

Traffic Jam On The Transportation Master Plan

While the smoking ban got snarled up in debate at city council’s May 29 meeting, the final draft of the Transportation Master Plan sailed through with unanimous approval even though it deserved a few pointed questions.

Such as, why did it take so long?

The TMP has been in the works since 2011, meaning administration has had six years to put it together. And granted, the TMP process involved several rounds of public engagement and the final document is pretty expansive. It calls for a massive expansion of the city’s bike lane network, increases the prominence of public transit in our transportation mix and calls for changes to everything from parking lots to development approvals.

But even so, the substance of the TMP was completed 18 months ago and has seen minimal revisions since it was presented to Public Works Committee in November 2015.

According to Jeff Brown, manager of infrastructure planning, administration took the feedback from that Public Works meeting in 2015 and focused on making the plan clearer and more readable.

Did all the various planning projects on the city’s plate right now — massive developments like Coopertown and the Southeast Lands, or projects like the upcoming infill guidelines — put a personnel pressure on administration that contributed to the TMP’s delay?

“People capacity is certainly part of it,” says Brown. “It was a combination of getting it right but also just having overall staff capacity to deal with it all.

“That being said, even though we had a plan that was waiting in the wings to ultimately seek approval by our council, that doesn’t mean we didn’t use that plan in its draft form to help inform the planning work we did with those developments like Coopertown,” Brown says.

Railyard Renewal Chugs Along

To the strains of “Summer of ’69” and “Sunglasses at Night,” Bryan Adams christened the new Mosaic Stadium on May 27, meaning phase one of the Regina Revitalization Initiative is nearing completion.

Meanwhile, phase two — the Railyard Renewal Project — took a big leap forward on May 30 as Mayor Fougere unveiled the final, draft concept plan for the site at an event in Queensbury Centre.

According to the final draft, the Railyard project will be a mixed residential and retail neighbourhood with some light office space, parks and public facilities as well. There will be space for 1,200 households — meaning a population of around 2,000 people once completed.

There will be a large community facility that the designers envision can become a new 12-season home for the Regina Farmers’ Market. And there will also be a pedestrian bridge over the railway tracks, linking the new neighbourhood to downtown.

Barring major changes when the “draft” becomes an actual “plan”, of course.

Never Say Never Ever

After protestors refused to leave an STC bus following the service’s destruction by the Saskatchewan government, Ward 3 councillor Andrew Stevens remarked that he supported the protesters and tweeted that “Civil disobedience is important.”

Mayor Michael Fougere responded that Stevens’ position was not that of council and then went on to say, to the dismay of many, “There is never, ever a time for civil disobedience.”

Ironically, Mayor Fougere works at City Hall, a building with a bust of Mahatma Gandhi right outside its doors.

Gandhi is widely praised as one of history’s most successful practitioners of civil disobedience. ❧