Experience. Change. Vision. Simplicity.
Those four words could be used to sum up the messages of each mayoral candidate in Wednesday’s forum at Prairieland Park.
Incumbent Don Atchison, running for his fifth term, defended his record against criticisms in turn from Charlie Clark, Kelley Moore and Devon Hein. He touted his experience in the mayor’s chair, pointing to his achievements in upgrading River Landing and managing the city’s population growth over the past decade.
“On October 26 citizens will have a choice,” he said. “Keep Saskatoon working, or risk your children’s future to inexperience.”
Both Clark and Moore threw several barbs towards Atchison throughout the forum, chipping away at his incumbency.
Clark criticized Atchison’s claim that he attends more than 1,200 events a year as mayor, saying the job is more than ceremonial.
He also suggested while he’s been pushing for a balanced growth plan to stabilize taxes and keep up services as a councillor, there’s been a lack of support from above.
“We cannot continue with leadership that continues to deny the reality of costs outstripping revenues,” he said. “At the same time as coming out with a wish list of mega-projects without a plan of how to pay for them.”
Meanwhile, Moore criticized Atchison for being reactionary. She suggested that instead of being proactive, he “pours concrete” on problems.
“The old approach has been to wait until there’s a problem,” she said. “Too much traffic? Build a bridge. Too much noise? Build a wall. Too much crime? Challenge the statistics. Too much discrimination? Deny it exists. This is not visionary.”
Downtown vs. Suburbs
While the style of Wednesday’s forum didn’t give candidates the opportunity to directly rebut their opponents, all four sparred when it came to their visions of how the city will grow.
Moore touted her experience as a former city planner, promoting her vision of growing the city “in and up” rather than continuing to expand into new suburbs. Clark echoed her, saying they can’t risk a development “doughnut” around the downtown area.
But both Hein and Atchison took a different approach, saying the city must allow private business to develop and operate where they see fit, whether that be in the suburbs or downtown.
Hein also criticized Atchison for engaging in mega-projects, repeating his campaign launch message that the city has to get away from “kingdom building” like the Remai Modern Art Gallery and focus on core issues: roads, crime and keeping taxes to a zero per cent increase.
“It’s very simple to do,” he said. “Businesses should be allowed to engage in big projects, but the city should be there to help. It shouldn’t be costing taxpayers money.”
Atchison drew applause from the crowd at in Hall B when he renewed his call for the removal of bike lanes from 4th Avenue and other arterial roads throughout the city. He also advocated removing rail lines within city limits.
He conceded after the forum that he has been out-voted by council on the issue of bike lanes, but suggested minds could change if it’s an important issue to voters in the election.
Down to business
Wednesday’s forum was hosted by the Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority, the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, and the North Saskatoon Business Association and was intended to take a business theme.
All four candidates expressed the importance of reducing red tape for businesses.
Moore stressed the need to streamline the city permit and licensing process, saying it could have a profound effect on the economy.
“Ten thousand of our businesses have 50 or fewer employees,” she said. “Imagine what would happen if each of those businesses added one employee or two.”
Clark echoed the need for removing barriers, adding that he would convene a Saskatoon economic forum to bring together ideas on how to move the city forward.
Hein repeated his message that the city needed to get out of the way, and allow business to do “what they do best.”
Atchison spoke to his record again, citing the decreases in the business tax rate over the past five years from over 2 per cent down to 1.75.
650 CKOM will be hosting each of the candidates starting October 3 from 7 to 7:30 p.m. for interviews with Brent Loucks.