Opinion: The referendum had to be flawless


The cloud of uncertainty that hung over Estevan's downtown revitalization project appears to have lifted. There will be no referendum on the project.

The cloud of uncertainty that hung over Estevan's downtown revitalization project appears to have lifted.

There will be no referendum on the project. A report on insufficient petitions filed last Wednesday for a special Estevan City Council meeting showed the petition had 1,491 signatures, more than the 1,085 needed to trigger a referendum.

But after reviewing every line, the city and its legal team decided that 485 signatures should be excluded for various reasons, bringing the document below 1,085 valid signatures.

Members of the Concerned Citizens Estevan SK group, which started the petition, were understandably angry, and one person swore loudly at the meeting after the report was read. They assume there were enough legitimate signatures to allow a public vote.

But you have to remember that even if an issue had arisen, the city would have had enough ammunition to say, “Sorry, no referendum.”

Long-term residents will remember that in 2008 there was a long debate about residential trash collection. The council voted to move the city to automated front yard pickup. The decision sparked widespread outrage and a petition garnered more than 2,500 signatures. This petition was also rejected due to formal wording in the petition text.

Eventually a compromise was reached and waste would still be collected from backyards, but with an automated service using a standardized cart. And of course, a few years later, garbage collection was moved to front yards, curbside recycling was finally introduced, and it's hard to find communities with manual pickup.

There have been many changes since 2008, with a different city administration. Mayor Roy Ludwig is the only remnant of this council. (He was a city councilor at the time). But the end result was the same: a petition calling for a referendum on a controversial project was rejected.

You can say this is an Estevan thing, but other communities would probably do the same thing.

The lesson from 2008 and 2024 is the same: If you have a petition calling for a costly referendum or even a plebiscite, and you don't want it to take place in the context of an election, then the petition absolutely must be flawless. You might think that small mistakes wouldn't be enough to throw out all the signatures, but it is possible.

If there is a signature from someone who lives outside the city limits, a signature from someone who is not authorized to sign, or an incorrectly signed line, then that could be enough to throw out all the signatures.

If you submit a petition demanding change or action, or expressing your frustration, it will not be scrutinized as much. But if you're calling for a public vote outside of an election or by-election, perfection is the only option.

It is unlikely that we have heard the last of the concerned citizens on this front. You can be assured that they will monitor this project closely and intervene quickly if any problems arise. You still have the right to raise your concerns in a respectful manner.

The revitalization of the city center will progress. Once this is complete, we will have a very different looking downtown core on Fourth Street. It will be more attractive and pedestrian-friendly and encourage people to spend more time in the city center. It will be better for visitors.

The city was required to continue work on this project while the petition was reviewed. There is only a limited amount of time available to complete the work. While the city has until March 31, 2025 to complete the project, the reality is that the work must be completed by the fall of this year because not much work will be seen during the fall and winter.

But only time will tell whether it will bring the desired economic benefits.