Police budget should be priority as municipal election approaches

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Regina votes November 9

November 9, 2020 is election day in Regina. Although municipal elections are often low on the radar – only 20 per cent of eligible voters in Regina cast a ballot in 2016 – the people elected to city hall have an enormous impact on the day-to-day lives of citizens.

The municipal election is vital for all residents to know about because the municipal government runs many important services such as safe drinking water, public transit, garbage collection, sewage treatment, road maintenance, fire protection, and community policing.

Of these, one of the most critical is policing, which currently eats up 20 per cent of Regina’s municipal budget. With all that is happening across the world you would hope that the city would work on new strategies and move to defund policing services. However, a quick look through the 2020 budget shows the city has no intention of diverting funding away from the police and toward badly needed social programs. A total of $96 million has been devoted to the police for this year, a $3 million increase over 2019.

Michael Fougere, the current mayor of Regina, has been making claims about the “amazing quality of life Regina has to offer,” but Fougere has obviously never had to wait an hour for a bus, or try to find affordable housing in the city. Fougere, a former developer, has done little during his time in office to improve the lives of poor people, the working class, students, or the city’s large Indigenous population.

While the police budget has ballooned, community investments are listed at $9 million, less than a tenth of what is spent on police. Even transit, which many Reginans rely on daily, only makes up $40 million, less than half of what is spent on policing. Better transit is important not only for students and workers, it’s a critical factor in the fight against climate change. If Regina had a good, working, timely transit system, more people would use it.

Police should not be a catch-all response, and it shouldn’t be the city’s only response. Police chief Evan Bray himself has said that the police can’t arrest their way out of the social problems that Regina residents are facing, even as he defends the massive budget. Bray is the third highest-paid person on the city’s payroll. The city could put some of that almost $100 million dollar budget to good use in other ways, like low-income housing, substance-abuse programs, long term solutions instead of just ramping on extra policing and giving officers more weapons.

Under the highlights for what Regina has done for Reconciliation, the city has the “Reconciliation Wall” – a permanent legacy to the contribution of Indigenous Peoples in the development of our city – that was established on the main floor of City Hall on October 30, 2019 as well as hosting Regina’s 7th annual celebration of National Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

While these are both important in order to counter the erasure of Indigenous peoples and their contributions to Regina, there’s nothing to solve the inequality and structural racism being experienced by Indigenous people in Regina. Communities with large Indigenous populations are receiving more policing but no more funding for community services. It’s up to community groups like White Pony Lodge to pick up the slack where the city has failed.

The lead up to an election is an important point for activism, even in municipal elections. As RPIRG pointed out in their workshop on activism in an election, candidates want to secure support and votes. Bringing a contentious issue liking policing up is a good way to see where candidates stand and to force them to make changes. So get out there, be heard, and make a change.

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