Some Random Thoughts on the Regina Waste Water Treatment Plant Referendum

I decided not to use the #yqr and #wwtp hash tags in my post title as I’m mostly writing this one for my own reflection and as a place to collect my thoughts after a tough loss by the “Yes” side tonight (it ended up being 57% – 43%) rather than adding to what I suspect is already a madhouse on those tags on Twitter.

Also, some of the things I might write are likely going to hit very close to home for some of the folks I know who were involved on the “Yes” side of the Referendum.  I know what it’s like to have someone piss in your cornflakes right after you lose a close election which is definitely not my intention.  In fact, I stopped reading the #wwtp thread as soon as I saw the first person point out that the “Yes” side winning the social media game was meaningless! 🙁

With that said, I hate to say it but I had a bad feeling all along that the “Yes” side was going to come up short – perhaps that’s a bit of a hangover from the extremely close loss Ryan Meili had in the NDP Leadership race after we thought we’d done everything needed to win, maybe it was seeing the various shenanigans of the City before the Referendum was ever approved, maybe it was also realising that there was nothing they wouldn’t do to try to get a victory as the campaign went on, maybe it was because I made the mistake of reading the P3 thread on! 😉

Here are some random thoughts on various aspects of this whole campaign…

When was the last time a progressive cause or candidate won in Saskatchewan?  We haven’t elected an NDP MP in a decade or so, we haven’t elected an NDP government provincially in nearly as long, we didn’t even elect the most progressive candidate to *lead* the NDP provincially in the last leadership race.  And now this Referendum loss – so very disappointing.  I know the famous quote says “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice” but it definitely doesn’t feel like that lately.

When Shea and I moved back to Regina from Calgary in 2001, we met with our realtor, a guy I already knew a bit from before we moved away, and he said “Oh, you guys have to live in the Cathedral area.  You’re totally Cathedral people!”  We looked at a few houses in Regina’s “artsy” neighbourhood but in the end, decided to buy a house in the suburbs (the inner suburbs where at least the trees are taller than we are and I could walk home from downtown if I wanted although it’d take an hour to do it – but yeah, still the suburbs.)  I’m generalizing hugely but it’d be interesting to know how many people involved with the “Yes” side live in or close to Cathedral?  It hit me when I drove through Cathedral the other day – literally *every single house* along Victoria Avenue had a “Yes” sign in the yard.  If you lived in that neighbourhood (much like the similar criticism that if you only paid attention to social media), you’d have thought “Yes” was going to win in a landslide.  And yet, out here in the suburbs, I only saw a small handful of “Yes” signs (and it’s a separate topic as to whether lawn signs mean jack shit – I’m increasingly of the opinion that they don’t.)  But anyhow, I think “the Cathedral Effect” is a real thing – whether it happens on social media sites or in an NDP Leadership Race or wherever, you don’t want to get yourself into an echo chamber situation where a lot of your team think/live/feel the same way.  Instead, find a way to think like your opponents and more importantly, how you can reach their supporters and convert them to your side? Here’s a couple real life examples: one person who should be a slam dunk “Yes” supporter for all kinds of reasons told me she was voting “No” because she thought the City made a clearer argument.  When I posted something on my Facebook page about the Referendum the other day, my middle-aged second cousin who also lives in the suburbs was mainly concerned with the pocketbook issue being pushed by the City.

Which leads to my next point…

Of course it’s all hindsight now but I wonder if the messaging of the “Yes” side was particularly effective in reaching low information voters and/or voters in the suburbs and/or voters who aren’t seen as “progressive” and familiar with those tropes and therefore, may not be as receptive to messages like “Keep Water Public” that almost sound like they come from a different era?  Whether it was accurate or not, the City was brilliant with their essentially one note message – vote for our side and we’ll save you $276/year.  Period.

So I wonder if, similar to a person in Contestant’s Row on the Price is Right picking a value that undercuts all the other bids, what would have happened if the “Yes” side had focused their messaging on saying that their approach would save taxpayers just a bit more than the city’s approach?  “Our numbers show that our way will actually save you $358 a year over the life of this contract.”

It’s part of a larger trend in our society but the demonization of unions continues and so the fact that Water Watch was seen as a front for CUPE made an easy target for the “No” side’s attacks which was probably more effective than it would otherwise be, given our current political and economic climate.

I don’t know how much, if any, this was a factor but the way the question was worded was weird in that you had to mark “Yes” to say “No” to the city’s P3 proposal and “No” to say “Yes” to it.  I’m sure there was some voter confusion but again, it’s hard to tell how much of a factor this was, especially with the amount of advertising both sides did.  If anything, I would’ve thought that the backwards wording may have worked to the advantage of the “Yes” side but obviously not.

I think Jim Holmes represented himself incredibly well as the spokesperson for Regina Water Watch and wonder if he’ll make another run for the Mayoral seat in our next civic election as he did in 2006?  (How ironic that the first story I find mentioning Jim’s 2006 run is a story where the sitting Mayor is acting in an unethical fashion?  The more things change…)  But perhaps that CUPE boogeyman aura is too strong with him which is really too bad – nice, smart, well-spoken guy – who’d be a great Mayor.  

After pouring so much of myself into Ryan Meili’s Leadership campaign, I made a promise that I’d back off on all of my volunteer commitments – political and otherwise – as much as possible and focus my attention at home since Sasha was born almost exactly one month after the NDP Leadership Race ended.  With one small, non-political exception, I’ve held true to that. I was approached about helping with Regina Water Watch and said “no”.  I turned down a couple approaches to serve in some capacity with our union local at work.  Speaking of Ryan, he has an exciting new endeavour in the works and while I wish him and his team all the success in the world, I’ve enjoyed quietly watching things develop from the sidelines.   What’s my point?  There were many times during the campaign where I was feeling like I should be doing *something*.  But then I realised that whatever was going to be was going to be and my minimal involvement wouldn’t likely make much difference either way.  There will also be other battles to come, I’m sure – and ones where the progressive side will have a good chance to finally get on the winning side!

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