Regina’s mayor is optimistic about what future holds
Regina’s mayor is banking on a year of “growth and opportunity,” despite fears about an uncertain economic climate.
Michael Fougere took a look back at 2018 in a speech organized by the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. He pointed to millions of dollars in city infrastructure investment and celebrated a long list of major events before offering optimistic predictions for 2019.
“We have a really bright and prosperous future,” he said. “We have our challenges, but many things are going well.”
He based that view on statistics and economic forecasts. The Regina region has the second-highest population growth rate of any census metropolitan area in Canada, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data.
Fougere said he’s expecting GDP growth of about two per cent next year, and employment growth of 1.5 per cent. He said that should be enough to bring Regina’s unemployment rate — now at a comparatively high 6.8 per cent — down by half a point.
During his speech, the mayor did not expound at length on the “challenges” he mentioned. But he later raised concerns in a scrum with reporters about the continuing impact of steel tariffs and pipeline delays. He said both add to a climate of uncertainty for business.
“There’s a realignment of a lot of economic forces around the world and therefore a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “When you have uncertainty, you have less investment.”
Fougere said cities have been lobbying the federal government to get pipelines built. He said he has raised the matter with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I’ve said to him, ‘These are really critical building blocks for the future. You have to get it done now. We can’t wait,’” he recalls saying.
But he also had plenty of good to say about federal initiatives, particularly the Protein Industries Supercluster announced in February. He said it’s projected to create 4,500 jobs over the next 10 years.
“This is going to transform our city and our province,” he said. “It’s so big it’s sort of hard to get your mind around it.”
Transformation will also come from major city projects slated to begin next year, according to the mayor. He said he’s particularly excited about improvements to Dewdney Avenue along the rail yard lands, where he hopes to see bike lanes, transit stops and a “pedestrian-friendly place” spring up.
Fougere also recommitted to a transit hub for downtown, a project he first hinted at in an interview with the Leader-post in October.
“It will happen,” he said. “We need to make transit more and more relevant to our city all the time, and the issues on 11th Avenue downtown are difficult at best, and need to be resolved.”
Two other commitments earned resounding applause from the crowd of mostly business leaders: Better parking and faster building permits. Fougere said the city is going to fix parking issues downtown, notably through the pay-byphone app due to roll out in 2019. He noted that the number of parking tickets issued has dropped by 30 per cent. He said that comes in part from parking enforcement officers taking a more “diplomatic and understanding” approach with offenders.
“Clearly people are obeying a lot more,” he said. “But there’s less enforcement, there’s less tickets, and that’s good news.”
Mayor Michael Fougere discussed the city’s “bright and prosperous future” during his annual Year in Review address on Thursday.