It’s a good day for a journalist when s/he can write something that leaves a smile on the face. So I image Will Chabun was chortling like a department store Santa after his first plate of has brownies when he wrote about the latest gigglefest involving the Rural Municipality of Sherwood, which surrounds Regina like a doughnut.
In one way, the system reflects the drawback of the rural municipal governance system in Saskatchewan, largely unchanged from the days when my grandfather, Arthur LaRose, sat on the R.M. of Wellington council and hauled his grain by horse team four miles to Tyvan’s Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator. A tiny council, run by volunteers, maybe a half- or third-time administrator, a couple of high-school dropouts in their 40s or 50s running the graders, and that’s it. Such councils would be ripe pickings for flim-flam men and hustlers, which the proposed Wascana Village housing development appears to be.
It’s unfortunate Chabun never got hold of the entire report (which apparently is still embargoed), and that the Leader-Post no longer has either the resources or apparent desire to follow this story since it started about two years ago, because if and when the report is released I would bet the RM council members would be unable to show their faces in public without people on the street laughing at them.
In 2013 the R.M. of Sherwood pulled out of a joint planning committee with the City of Regina, while formulating plans, with a developer, for a development project called Wascana Village, a city (15,000-population) sized real estate development just southeast of the city boundaries. I don’t think you need to be a conspiracy theory buff to note the coincidence. The City of Regina wouldn’t like the development because (a) for all the promises the R.M. was making about a stand-alone project (it’s own water/sewer supply, for example) it would eventually have to tie into the city within a decade or two and (b) it’s a competitor to the city’s own developments, including Coopertown. The provincial Department of Municipal Affairs was caught in the middle. A year after Wascana Village was unveiled, the department ordered an inquiry.
Because the now completed report has still to be vetted by government lawyers and bureaucrats (that’s the stated reason why the report hasn’t been released, but the R.M. has responded in a fashion), the public doesn’t know whether one or two on the R.M. council, or the whole council, or somebody in the administration, or some combination of all three, either got in way over their heads on a project beyond their ability to understand, or they did this deliberately.
Many of these development projects in rural southern Saskatchewan come to a bad end, because those customers might desire country living, but they also want city services – libraries, transit, police, fire, doctors, shopping, a night on the town – without having to pay city-sized taxes. Once those small-town councils make people pay for big-city services, the tax advantage is lost, and, if you’re paying city-size taxes, you may as well live in the city.
Another problem is the small size of the R.M.s, where not only does everybody know everybody else but the people on council are often in conflict of interest due to real estate holdings or business deals with the R.M.
At a time when the Canadian economy is swirling the toilet bowl, I would imagine the Wascana Village project is in the same limbo as the old Plains Hotel development. The boom is over, nobody is interested in our one-trick-pony economy, and there’s already a glut of real estate on the market. At best for the R.M. of Sherwood, the report, and the provincial economy, will allow them to walk back from this silly project, re-establish the ties with the City of Regina that they slashed in this debacle, and start a proper regional planning commission. If that doesn’t happen, well, Chabun should have a good time.