06/18/2013 07:15 EDT | Updated 08/18/2013 05:12 EDT

Sask. government rejects Regina's request to hike number of names for referendum

REGINA - It's a win for the group preparing a petition against the waste water treatment plant that could lead to Regina's first referendum in almost 20 years.

Government Relations Minister Jim Reiter confirmed he will not grant Regina's request to increase the number of signatures the Regina Water Watch group needs to collect in order to trigger a referendum on the costly project.

Reiter said it would be an unnecessary intrusion into a local issue.

Saskatchewan's Cities Act dictates a petition must have enough signatures to represent 10 per cent of a city's population to be deemed valid and binding.

The Regina Water Group had been operating under that assumption until last Friday, when news broke that Regina's city clerk sent a letter to Reiter asking him to allow the city to use health card information as the benchmark instead.

That would have increased the number of required signatures from 19,300 to more than 20,700.

Reiter says that just doesn't make sense in this scenario.

"I think it's important that municipal autonomy and democratic processes occur and I just didn't think it was appropriate for me to intervene.

"There would have to be some extremely unusual extenuating circumstances for me to do an order like this," he admitted.

Jim Holmes of RWW called it good news.

"It always seemed to us that the legislation was very clear and at some point that number, that 10 per cent of the population, is just arbitrary."

Holmes said the one final push for support will happen Wednesday and early Thursday before the petition is turned in to the clerk's office Thursday afternoon.

Mayor Michael Fougere says he won't engage in any speculation about what the petition could mean. He says he'll wait to see if it's validated before he figures out what his next move will be.

"This is all a democracy. Citizens have a right to petition the city for a referendum...I have no issue with that at all. If they've met the qualifications and they meet the threshold I welcome the opportunity to do that."

He still maintains that the public/private partnership model is the best option for taxpayers.

Fougere said he'd be concerned if the city lost out on almost $58 million of federal government support for the $224 million project because of a referendum.