Could the city hold a referendum on the proposed downtown plaza?

Civic Plaza

Councillors are elected to make decisions for the people who elected them to their roles.

Usually that means listening to the public and voting according to what they believe best reflects what the public wants.

Most items which they vote on would be considered mundane to most. Those items help the city without causing too much uproar on social media or bombard councillor’s email boxes. 

Over the past 11 months , there have been numerous decisions which did not seem to bode well with the public, with general consensus that these decisions were not in the best interest of our community.

The latest are in regards to what some believe is Mayor Provenzano’s legacy project, an $8.4 million dollar plaza to be located downtown. Although much of the social media chatter and many emails to councillors are not in support of this, it seems as though it will most likely come to pass, even if the fundraising goal of $2 million isn’t met. 

One reader asked SaultOnline to look into if this matter could be put on a ballot, in a referendum of sorts.

A quick search didn’t yield many occurrences where any similar matters were sent to the public in this way, although Sault Ste. Marie has seen one revolving around Boxing Day and a plebiscite on the hospital.

The arguments made for not putting an item such as this up on a ballot/referendum are plentiful and include warnings on how you would need to be careful when asking/wording the question. Councillors are meant and elected to represent the people, so the choice should be made by them.

Moving the bus terminal out of the downtown core despite significant objection from the public, purchasing a piece of land for in excess of five times its appraised value and closing a campground are all instances in which segments of the public feel they weren’t heard by those they elected to represent them.

In 2011 a multi-year, multi-million dollar transit decision which changed the face of Waterloo region went to a referendum.

In 2007 the province of Ontario asked voters about changing the voting system, which ultimately didn’t pass.

In 1997, 65% of voters chose not to have a casino in Peterborough.

With that in mind, what would the city have to do in order to have a referendum on one or all of the matters in our community mentioned above?

According to Matt Carter, media relations for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, it’s governed by the Municipal Act.

“A municipal council can pass a by-law to put a question on the ballot in a municipal election or by-election subject to certain limitations. A council that is considering putting a question on the ballot must give notice to the public and hold a public meeting before passing the by-law,” said Carter. 

 “There are some pieces of legislation that provide the wording for certain questions (e.g. The Fluoridation Act, The Liquor Licence Act). If a council wants to put a question on the ballot that isn’t set out in legislation, the question must be about a matter that the municipality has authority for and can implement.”

If council chose to have an referendum on any issue or matter, the deadline for a single-tier, or lower-tier, municipality to pass a by-law to put a question on the ballot for the 2022 municipal elections was March 1, 2021. The deadline for an upper-tier municipality is May 1, 2022.

Is there any recent council decision you would like to see go to a referendum? Vaccine policy, Downtown Plaza, Bus Terminal Relocation, or others?

Let us know in the comments.


  1. Mayor Pumpkinhead needs to step down now. He has taken far too many liberties without the proper input or approval. He is not what the people want or need, he is obsolete and must go along with the rest of the desperate Fiberals.

    • Could you maybe grow up and stop calling our elected officials names? Such nasty behaviour only hurts us by preventing good people from running for office.

  2. This downtown plaza reminds me of the large tent on the waterfront; it looks nice on a postcard, but has no other redeemable value. This plaza will not cure the problems of attracting people to the downtown, in my humble opinion. The private sector has to make the 1st move. If you don’t have a variety of business establishments opening down there, most people will stay away. Connect that with the problems of the negative conditions that persist in the downtown core, this plaza will not succeed. Like the tent, more tax dollars not being well spent. As things stand today, I would not vote to spend the money. Like a good friend used to say, “we should not put the cart before the horse”. Good luck to all of us who want the best for this wonderful community.

  3. I for one think that referendums are good for everyone. at one time politicians truly ran for council and mayor to make the city better. Not anymore they run to pad their resume to run provincially or federally, and they do not listen to the taxpayers it is lets just spend to brag about what they did. Remember the last election we had candidates who said they would be different, they won and where are they did they quit. No they are just like the old boys club only now they have women in the club too. There should be a referendum for raising taxes every budget. Yes they should have to prove to us why they need more money where it is going and where did the last money go. The way it is now they spend millions foolishly then say they need more money to cover the cost of collective agreements, so we get upset with the city workers, firemen police officers and so on. If they are elected and paid to make decisions why do they spend so much on consultants.

  4. Sad part is the city is run like they own us all and we will bow to their demands… if they want something they will build it… if they want to slap us with more taxes then they will… and from what I see, there’s not a dang thing anyone can do about it. People like this cause riots, look around the globe.. riot after riot… and yet these paid politicians do what they want.
    Anyhow, before I get rude… if anyone knows how to stop them from wasting dollars then my hats off to you..

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