Regina’s mayor is op­ti­mistic about what fu­ture holds

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - ARTHUR WHITE-CRUMMEY [email protected]­media.com

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.”

BRAN­DON HARDER

Mayor Michael Fougere dis­cussed the city’s “bright and pros­per­ous fu­ture” dur­ing his an­nual Year in Re­view ad­dress on Thurs­day.

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