The Saskatoon municipal election is coming up on Oct. 26. To help University of Saskatchewan students make up their minds, I spoke individually with the mayoral candidates about their platforms, their relationship to students and the importance of university voices in civic politics.
I reached out to all four mayoral candidates for interviews, hearing back from all but incumbent Mayor Don Atchison. In the interest of non-partisanship, I’ll introduce and discuss the candidates in alphabetical order.
First up is Charlie Clark, a Saskatoon city councillor for the last decade. Next is Devon Hein, a self-described political consultant. Third is Kelley Moore, a urban and regional planner.
When it came to attracting U of S students and young voters, the candidates all offered an assessment of their strengths and strategies.
Student engagement and interaction are key to the Clark campaign.
“I’ve valued having a close relationship with the [U of S Students’ Union] and with students in my time as a city councillor,” Clark said. “I’ve come to the university repeatedly and tried to engage and push students to get involved and I really see how crucial it is that the university and university students feel more connected to what happens at the City, because it’s so crucial that graduates from the U of S decide to choose Saskatoon as the place to live.”
Clark’s plan to engage students also involves maintaining this direct contact.
“I’ve already talked to a number of students about having biannual meetings with the mayor — or quarterly or whatever it might be — so that the Mayor’s Office and the student body are in dialogue and talking about how we can build a stronger, better city,” Clark said.
When it comes to attracting young voters, Hein takes a hardline stance on taxes and student wallets.
“Primarily, I’m offering to make sure that the city’s taxes are not going to go up and result in about a $50 a month increase in their rent or condo fees or property tax,” Hein said. “A lot of students are affected by rent, and when the city’s property taxes go up, inevitably the landlords will have to pass those costs along to the people that are renting.”
Connection with students is also an important aspect of the Moore campaign.
“I will be on the ground with the students, listening to their concerns,” Moore said. “As mayor, you need to represent all of the people and understand their circumstances, needs, hopes and aspirations. We invest in the students because, one, they are our future, but we’re all our present and we need to be including all of the ideas, all of the experiences from different age demographics, different socio-economic and different professional backgrounds to come up with better plans. That has really rooted our company, Prairie Wild Consulting, for years in the university and in the student population, so I’m not trying to engage the students. I’m just being who I am.”
I offered the candidates a chance to outline the broad strokes of their campaigns and the goals they had set for themselves.
“I really believe Saskatoon is at this very crucial tipping point where we’re at a quarter of a million people and we’re growing later than a lot of other cities and we’re becoming much more diverse as a city,” Clark said. “The whole conversation about inclusion, reconciliation and figuring out what it’s going to take to create a city that creates opportunity for everybody regardless of your background, who you choose to love, which country you come from, what faith you have — Saskatoon has a chance to really lead in showing how you can build a truly diverse city.”
Taxes are one of the issues dearest to Hein.
“My co-candidates are all offering big spending plans, even though they’re suggesting they’re fiscally restrained in their programs and that they’ll try to manage City Hall better, all of their plans are very, very expensive,” Hein said. “By holding the line on taxes and being fiscally restrained and practicing sound economic practices at City Hall, there’s no need to raise taxes.”
Moore spoke to the importance of growth management.
“We need to fundamentally change how we grow in this city and by doing that, we’ll be able to invest in transit, we’ll be able to create a more sustainable city, and it’ll create more efficiency at City Hall so we can free up more tax dollars so we can invest in more services,” Moore said.
Issues of crime in Saskatoon struck a chord with all candidates.
Charlie Clark explained the complexity of crime in the city.
“What we’ve learned is there are better ways to organize our systems to address mental health, addictions, homelessness, crime and safety,” Clark said. “We just have to focus on getting that done. The mental health and criminal justice system and social services and police are all siloed in the way they are dealing with things, and when you have silos, people just fall in the cracks between them. I’ve seen, through the plan to end homelessness, that when we actually co-ordinate this expertise and take a case management approach to people that are struggling.”
Hein noted that crime reduction is vital.
“Making sure that crime is reduced in the city, that the city’s focused on issues like that will help students as well, who at times I think are vulnerable on campus,” Hein said. “Focusing on those issues can help the students and the campus directly. Everything from bicycles to people that are looking for opportunities to take something from someone.”
Moore explained her prior experiences in reducing crime.
“I’m trained in crime prevention through environmental design, looking at how to change the design of a community — even built environments — to prevent the opportunity for crime,” Moore said.
Moore is also calling for a crime commission.
“In terms of the severity of crime index, we are the highest and we have been for a while now. We also have high property crime. In 2003, when Mr. Atchison became mayor, we were the crime capital of Canada and in 2016, when he’s seeking his fifth and record term, we’re still the crime capital of Canada.”
When the subject of transit was brought up, the candidates showed divergent goals and concerns.
Clark cited his prior successes with active transit as a city councillor as evidence of his commitment to transportation in the city.
“I’ve learned a lot about the city and I know what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are, and I’ve learned what it takes to actually create change,” Clark said. “I’ve done it on active transportation. We’ve moved those conversations a lot in the last 10 years. So I decided I wanted to run for mayor to build on that and build on all the work I’ve done.”
Relating his goal of no tax increases, Hein seemed focused on minimizing costs surrounding transit.
“My co-candidates have plans to manage or create new studies and committees to deal with transit but they don’t really want to take any action,” Hein said. “What I’m suggesting is, for things like transit, is we make sure we focus the city’s budget on taking care of those kinds of infrastructure issues properly and not just waste money on big projects that are going to cost lots of money that are unnecessary services.”
Moore mentioned her commitment to bring a swift end to contract negotiations between transit and the city.
“At the end of the day, the only people we’re hurting by not having a resolution is the people that rely on transit — students, seniors, people with disabilities, those with low income,” Moore said.
Being that he never got back to me, I gleefully gave candidates a chance to take pot shots at Mayor Atchison — something that came as a challenge to none.
“The reason I’m running against him is I’ve seen that he’s not engaged on the issues that we need to be engaged on to make sure Saskatoon succeeds, and he’s shown that recently on a number of different cases where tough situations have arisen, like that Meewasin Valley Authority funding cuts, like the transit negotiations, like crime statistics,” Clark said. “In each case, rather than saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to help lead the way of making sure we address these challenges,’ he’s passed the buck or shirked responsibility.”
Hein criticized Atchison’s insider nature, as well as that of Moore and Clark.
“The big thing that’s going to become obvious is I’m promoting a respect for voters, for taxpayers that my co-candidates aren’t doing. They’re really representing a lot of spending, creating a lot of dependencies on City Hall. Being a dark horse gives me that ability to release a plan at a later date and respond to the platforms of the other candidates,” he said.
Moore challenged Atchison’s re-election goal of increased population downtown.
“He’s had 13 years to make his dream of seeing the population of downtown increase to 10,000 and he has fallen way short,” Moore said. “We haven’t even reached 1,000 in that time. Instead, we’ve been growing on the outskirts which makes it extremely difficult to see the investment, both in the downtown and in other infill areas. So I’ve released my plan for growth, which includes incentivizing development downtown. That is what I’m really disappointed with, both Mr. Clark and Mr. Atchison, is they really missed the point and now want to fix it.”
When it came to closing remarks, the candidates offered optimistic goals and sentiments.
Clark cited his eagerness to continue to serve the city.
“I’m offering a very different approach based on a track record and I’m excited about taking to the next level a lot of the things that I’ve worked very hard to have come to pass, like the active transportation plan, like the growing forward plan and bus rapid transit, like homelessness and expanding our addressing of crime and safety, like reconciliation and building a much more inclusive city,” Clark said.
Hein spoke of his plans to share more about his candidacy as the election nears.
“What I’m going to do in the next roughly three weeks here is release the details of the plans that I have and those details are going to benefit people like students directly,” Hein said. “The biggest closing remark I can have is students represent very important future residents of Saskatoon and I really would like to express the fact that my co-candidates will cost people who are attending university in very dear ways because of the increase of cost they’re proposing.”
Moore said making Saskatoon a viable place to live for students is of high importance.
“Predominantly, we’re seeing talent that is coming from this university leave our province and leave our city and I am committed to changing that. I believe how you do that is by investing in entrepreneurship and business opportunities. The city has land, the city has spaces and what people need are nooks and crannies to foster creativity, to foster ideas, to give people incentive to say, ‘Before I leave, I want to stay in Saskatoon because I know my ideas, my creativity, my innovations are valued here.’”
Students can learn more about the candidates and their platforms at Charlieclarkformayor.ca, Hein4mayor.ca and Moore4mayor.ca. Students can also vote in advance on Oct. 17-18 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Lower Place Riel.
Zach Tennent / Opinions Editor
Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor
Devon Hein / Supplied
Infographics: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor