Clarification and criticism dominated the evening as Saskatoon’s mayoral candidates participated in the final public forum of the campaign Thursday.
Kelley Moore, Don Atchison, Charlie Clark and Devon Hein answered questions from a media panel and members of the public during the hour-long broadcast from CTV Saskatoon’s studios.
The main themes of the debate involved each candidate’s positions on taxes, crime and roads.
The forum kicked off by asking candidates what their target for property tax increases is for the next city budget.
Moore wouldn’t provide a percentage target, but instead spoke of creating a new approach to reduce the tax increases seen in Saskatoon in recent years. She suggested negotiating a better revenue-sharing agreement with the province could be a “tool” to keep taxes down.
However, she was criticized by both Atchison and Clark on the claim that if her opponents win, taxes could increase by 10 per cent or more.
“That’s just not going to happen,” Atchison said. “[That claim] shows her inexperience in being a bureaucrat.”
Moore said while administration had projected a 3.89 per cent increase in their preliminary numbers, that data didn’t include the police budget or growth costs for the city. That led her to believe the increase could be far higher.
Atchison said he “hoped” the increase could be kept around 3.89 per cent, or “even lower.”
Clark, like Moore, didn’t provide a specific target.
“I’m not throwing out scary numbers like a 10 per cent increase,” he said. “I know what it will take – based on my experience – to make this city more affordable.”
MAKING SASKATOON SAFER
Candidates were also asked how they would deal with Saskatoon’s crime problem.
Clark stressed the need for better coordination with mental health services to ensure “the right people are responding to the right call at the right time.”
Atchison echoed Clark, saying those with alcohol and drug issues don’t belong in jail cells. He also said under his leadership, the crime rate has gone down by nearly 40 per cent.
Moore renewed her call for a “mayor’s task force” which would tackle the severity of crime in Saskatoon, with a goal to make it the safest city in Canada.
Hein criticized the plan.
“We already have a crime task force, and that’s the police,” he said.
He said he would allow the police to “arrest their way” out of Saskatoon’s crime problem, adding that he believed Clark and Atchison have been “interfering” with police operations through their work on the police board.
Asked how they would tackle potholes along residential streets, candidates offered varying solutions.
Atchison said residential roads are already being re-paved as city crews continue to work on replacing lead water pipes throughout Saskatoon.
Moore said she would change the way crews tackle road repairs, making them more efficient and effective.
Meanwhile Clark said that by focusing on more inward development, rather than continuing to build new roads on the city edges, resources could be devoted to maintaining existing roads and sidewalks.
MISCONCEPTIONS: CHARLIE “BIKE LANE” CLARK, REMAI MODERN, BUSINESS TAXES
650 CKOM’s Brent Loucks, a member of the in-studio media panel, asked each of the candidates to pick a topic they believed had been “misconstrued” by either the public or media.
Clark said he had been unfairly labeled by another News Talk host, John Gormley, as “Bike Lane Clark.”
“I did not invent the bike lanes, I did not design the bike lanes,” he said, adding all of city council voted on the issue.
— John Gormley Live (@JohnGormleyShow) October 21, 2016
Loucks followed up by asking Clark if he would bring more bike lanes to the city. The candidate said he would look at expanding the network along secondary roads throughout Saskatoon.
As for Atchison, he cleared the air when it came to the Remai Modern Art Gallery.
He said while his opponents have told voters the City is on the hook for $100 million for the project, the municipal contribution was closer to $30 million. The rest of the money comes from donors, as well as the provincial and federal government.
“It would be like you going out and buying a gift certificate and pooling your money with others,” he said. “If you put in $30 for a $100 gift card, you didn’t pay $100.”
Moore said her comments on lowering the business tax ratio were misunderstood.
Clark has criticized her support to lower the dollar amount businesses provide for every residential tax dollar collected, saying it would shift more of the burden to homeowners and result in a tax increase.
“It’s not about making one benefit over the other,” she said. “It’s about helping Saskatoon be a more affordable city.”
The evening also featured a flurry of attacks from Hein, who’s been polling in with single-digit support throughout the campaign.
He warned in his opening statement that many of his remarks would be “unplugged.”
Most of his wrath was directed at Clark and Atchison, saying they’ve made the same promises since they were first elected.
“You two have to go,” he said. “It’s not fair for you to stick around city hall.”
The most surprising attack was when Hein took aim at David Hutton, who was also part of the media panel, and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
He took issue with the paper’s editorial which clarified the city’s debt position, disputing numbers provided by the candidate. He called the daily a “rag” and pointed directly to Hutton, the paper’s executive producer, calling him and his staff “hacks.”
The attack was repeated near the end of the debate, and Hein exited the studio immediately after his closing remark.
A final wide-shot of the candidates displayed his empty podium.
— Brynn Harris-Hamm (@Brynn_H) October 21, 2016
For live coverage of election results and reaction, tune in to 650 CKOM on Wednesday, Oct. 26.