The temperature of Saskatoon’s mayoral race is rising.
Kelley Moore, Charlie Clark, Don Atchison and Devon Hein all provided heat to Tuesday’s debate at Broadway Theatre in front of a “sold-out” crowd nearing 450 people.
The candidates sparred on a range of issues including taxes, police carding and their visions for Saskatoon’s future.
Moore was the focus of several attacks from all three of her opponents. After criticizing Atchison and Clark for leading the city to $250 million in debt over the past decade, she claimed the city was paying $30 million a year in debt interest.
“When I hear things like that, it is a bureaucrat with no experience at all,” Atchison responded.
He said the interest payments were far lower at $7.6 million.
Clark also raised the question as to whether Moore would be able to adjust to making decisions in public, something he says she wouldn’t be used to as a city planner.
“It’s different to be in the public eye,” he said. “It’s hard work changing the culture of how you do things.”
Devon Hein went in swinging on all of his opponents. First he suggested Moore would constantly be in a conflict of interest as mayor due to her planning business’ involvement in some city projects.
Moore responded to him after the debate, telling reporters her firm did business all around Saskatchewan and would “rarely” be an issue with Saskatoon. She did say she would recuse herself in any matter directly related to her business.
Hein also accused both Clark and Atchison of “ignoring voters” during their tenures on city council.
Following Atchison on most answers, at one point Hein responded by saying all he was hearing was “blah blah blah.”
WHO IS THE ‘CHANGE’ CANDIDATE?
The three challengers to the mayor’s chair all tried to position themselves as the agent of change in city hall throughout the night.
Clark, Hein and Moore all suggested a change in culture was needed at city hall, laying blame for the current state of affairs on Atchison.
“We have seen in too many case when some of the most difficult issues have arisen, Don Atchison has not stepped up to address and carry forward,” Clark said. “When the going gets tough, roll up your sleeves and tackle it.”
He added he would be more hands-on as a mayor, doing more than just attending 1,200-plus events throughout the year.
Moore, who led last week’s mayoral poll by a slim margin, tried to position herself as the only candidate who could bring about change.
She says Clark can’t be the change the city needs because of his involvement on council, while Atchison is too close to decisions made and “has his head in the sand.”
Meanwhile Hein criticized his “co-candidates” for focusing on their own vision for the city, saying they would continue to raise taxes on residents who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“City hall needs to be entirely focused on respecting the taxpayers and voters,” he said.
Following Atchison’s closing statements where he pitched the removal of cargo rail lines from city limits, Hein quipped “and imagine all the butterflies” before criticizing all of his opponents for wanting to “build kingdoms down by the river.”
POSITIONS ON CARDING
A pivotal question arising in the debate was where each candidate stood on the police practice of “carding,” where citizens can be stopped and asked for I.D. by patrols.
Clark made it clear he didn’t support police stopping residents, saying it’s an issue of making minorities, including indigenous people, more comfortable in the city.
“There should be no arbitrary police stops for information,” he said. “The only time police should be stopping people and gathering information is when there’s a legitimate investigative purpose.”
Atchison’s position was the opposite, as he reminded everyone the police categorize them as “street checks.” He suggested the scenario of a young teenager being on the street at 2 a.m., and whether people would want them stopped.
“Don’t you think it would be important to ask them why they’re there?” he asked. “Who’s going to look after them?”
Moore said she was initially against the practice, but came to a more compromised position after meeting with Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill.
“I recognize that we need to have street checks, but we can’t be profiling people,” she said.
She continued by saying she would engage the indigenous community to include them in the process of coming up with a better street check process.
Hein said council needed to stop taking away budget from the police in favour of “art galleries and sports stadiums” so they can find violent criminals and take them off the streets.
He also chose to add levity to the carding question, saying Clark’s concern was based on the fact he was receiving red cards for “speaking too long.” Andrea Hill from the Star-Phoenix, hosts of the debate, was using yellow and red cards to indicate response time allotments.
While Hein’s jabs were ignored by the other candidates, they worked hard to distinguish themselves.
That attempt was in clear focus during the debate on taxes, where Clark criticized Moore and Atchison for wanting to lower the ratio paid by businesses vis-a-vis homeowners.
He said the burden was already shifted more towards homeowners during his time on council, something he opposed, and it had detrimental effects on the tax base.
“This is one of the reasons we have not got the resources we need to pay for everything that’s already been built,” he said. “We will not attract businesses to this city or grow our economy if we cannot take care of the infrastructure we already have.”
Neither Moore or Atchison responded to Clark’s comments on the business tax ratio.
Moore also claimed Clark and Atchison had tried to “withhold” preliminary budget data to hide what tax increases were already set to occur in the next council sitting. That data showed a 3.89 per cent increase, but without police and fire requests incorporated.
Moore said once those factors were brought in the tax increase could be over six per cent, something Atchison disputed.
“It’s easy for someone to fear monger and say it will be six per cent when not all the income is there, not all the expenses are there,” he said. “No-one even knows what it will be.”
Another major topic of discussion was how opportunities could be created for indigenous people in Saskatoon.
Atchison mostly pointed to past accomplishments, including the 99-year lease for Wanuskewin Heritage Park and the Pleasant Hill revitalization project. He noted great relationships were forging with the city, police and indigenous community and said those relationships would continue to grow if he became mayor.
Moore said the indigenous community needed more opportunity for employment, education and inclusion in matters at city hall.
“We have a young indigenous population that is underrepresented in the labour force,” she said, adding there’s a need to partner “nation-to-nation” on creating employment for the community.
Clark echoed Moore, saying indigenous youth deserved the same opportunity and support his own children receive.
“The role of the mayor is to set the tone,” he said. “I will work closely as mayor with those groups to build those relationships and build the ways forward to make sure they feel a sense of an opportunity to participate and shape the future of this city.”
Hein criticized his opponents for wanting to create more “dependencies” on city hall, saying they wanted to spend more money to provide better access.
“There’s already enough access to the mayor,” he said. “There doesn’t have to be more money spent on it.”
You can tune into John Gormley Live on 650 CKOM throughout the week to hear from each of the mayoral candidates. Atchison was interviewed Tuesday, while Clark is set to appear on Wednesday morning, followed by Hein on Thursday and Moore on Friday.