Rob Norris’ third mayoral campaign event was different from his first two: not once did he attack incumbent Charlie Clark by name.
“On another occasion, there will be time to speak specifically about some of the issues about Charlie Clark,” Norris said Tuesday — marking a noticeable shift from the tone of his earlier campaign speeches and remarks.
On both June 25, the day he launched his campaign, and July 29, when he spoke right after Clark announced his reelection bid earlier that day, Norris accused Clark of several missteps.
“I want to be constructive but I also want to make sure people understand that there is a very clear choice,” he said in July.
On some topics, however, Norris has provided no concrete evidence to back his claims and said he would elaborate later.
CBC News has looked further into four of Norris’ Clark claims to assess their accuracy and provide some additional context.
The farmers’ market
Norris spoke this past Tuesday at a park located kitty-corner to a once-popular building at River Landing. Until last year, the building was home to the three-day-a-week market operated by the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market Co-operative.
“This site should be thriving,” Norris said, later clarifying that he’d like to see the co-operative return there.
“I know there’s a lot of work to do,” Norris added. “I’ve heard from various stakeholders…. We need to make sure that city hall is in the business of helping to build and restore relationships.”
Here’s what we know happened.
Market alleges bias in RFP
The co-operative leased the space from the city until last year. The group left the building when its lease expired and signed a 10-year lease at a new location near the airport after alleging that the city had been biased against the co-operative when the city launched a request-for-proposals (RFP) process in search of a future building operator.
The city said it wanted more activities inside the building during more days of the week. According to the city, its lease with the co-operative called on the them to ensure “the Farmers’ Market building is being utilized at or as near capacity as possible during business hours.”
Speaking at city hall in September 2019, Erika Quiring, the co-op’s executive director, said that during the city’s first RFP process in 2018 — which was ultimately cancelled because of needed roof repairs — “we prepared and submitted a proposal that met all the conditions of that RFP and, whether formally or informally, were told that our proposal wouldn’t stand a chance again.”
City manager Jeff Jorgenson said Quiring’s claims were “very untrue.”
On Tuesday, Norris brought the issue back in the spotlight, saying the absence of a multi-day market in River Landing needs to be addressed with more “urgency or alacrity.” He said a scenario where different groups, including the co-operative, partner up at the building would also be “acceptable.”
“Citizens are requesting this,” Norris said. “They’re going across the city towards the airport and they have a number of questions. ‘We had something good. What in the world happened, Rob?'”
‘Don’t think vendors want to reverse course’
Adithya Ramachandran, the president and board chair of the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market Co-operative, said Wednesday that the co-op is unlikely to return to River Landing, given its new lease.
“Before signing this lease, I told the city that the toothpaste could not be put back in the tube once I signed it,” Ramachandran said. “I don’t think vendors want to reverse course. We are committed to Koyl Avenue now and it’s a nice location.”
The city is still actively working on bringing a market back to the building, according to a city spokesperson.
“Two roofs have been demolished…. and a new roof is being installed, with completion expected in October,” the spokesperson said this week. “Negotiations with the preferred proponent to operate and animate the building six days a week are continuing.”
In the meantime, Ideas Inc. is organizing an outdoor market outside the River Landing building on Saturdays until October.
Tuesday’s speech was not the first time Norris brought up the market during his campaign.
“Charlie Clark may aspire to be a unifier, but the people I’ve talked to about the farmer’s market don’t think Charlie Clark is a unifier,” Norris said during his second speech, in July. “The people I’ve talked to about how he treated board members at the Remai Modern don’t think that that’s a voice of unity.
“In fact, we’ll have more to say along the campaign trail on that.”
Norris declined to expand on his market-specific criticisms of Clark on Tuesday.
Norris’ campaign team later confirmed that, six days after Norris launched his campaign, Ramachandran approached Norris.
“Norris and I have had a conversation,” Ramanchandran said.
Ramachandran said the co-operative’s proposals were turned down by the city for “not meeting their threshold of business activity six days a week. Ours were too focused on community programming to fulfil animation.”
“When [we] met with Clark in 2018 to figure a way to solve these issues, he said, among other things, ‘This is not a negotiation!'” Ramachandran said.
‘Best decisions for the community’: Clark
Ramachandran also accused Clark of relying on third-party information about the co-op, which he found “extremely disrespectful.”
Clark has said he won’t actively campaign until September but responded to Norris and Ramachandran’s comments this week.
He said he met with the co-op twice, at their request, and when no RFP process was underway.
“[In] all of my actions that I have taken with regards to the farmers’ market, the integrity of the RFP process was absolutely critical and my overarching obligation was to help guide the best decisions for the community.”
Norris’ remarks about Remai Modern referred to the departure of a large number of people from the city-owned art museum’s board in early 2019.
Norris was asked in July to expand on his remarks about the museum.
“Charlie Clark has his fingerprints all over a very messy governance transition at the Remai Modern,” Norris said.
“We have a world-class art gallery that people across the city take pride in. World-class art galleries need world-class governance and we have a very peculiar governance system that magnifies the role of city council regarding the art gallery.”
Two city councillors sit on the Remai Modern board, but Norris did not clarify whether that’s the peculiarity he was referring to.
Some former board members, as well as former Remai Modern CEO Gregory Burke, said city council or city hall clashed with board members.
“[Council] saw a different vision than the Remai CEO and many board members,” former board secretary Alison Norlen said last year.
“I have found the governance model of the board, and therefore, its relationship with the City of Saskatoon, to be problematic,” board member Veronica Gamracy wrote in her resignation letter, which she CCed Clark on.
Burke, in a letter published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, said he faced “the relentless machinations of city hall, with many board members often commenting that I had a bullseye on my back.”
Clark denied the claims of political interference at the time.
“Any allegation that this is about political philosophy, differences, competing political visions of the gallery or anything along those lines are simply wrong,” Clark said.
On Tuesday, Norris was asked why he continued to make broad criticisms about Clark and the city without citing any specific evidence.
“I think what I’ll do is we’ll have another occasion where some evidence can be presented,” Norris said.
Crime and record arsons
In his June 25 campaign launch speech, Norris cited public safety as one of his top concerns.
He also held Clark, who sits on the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners, personally accountable “when it comes to making this city safe” and said Clark failed to do that.
“His tenure as mayor will be remembered by, in fact marred by, record cases of arson, senseless murders, violent crimes and families on edge,” Norris said, without providing any statistics about arson cases.
This year has, in fact, seen a record amount of arsons, according to statistics provided by the Saskatoon Police Service.
The force began collecting statistics on city-wide arsons in 2012, when 23 arsons were recorded between January and June. From 2012 to 2020, the number of January-to-June arsons averaged 47.
In the first six months of 2020, police recorded 73 arsons.
Clark, in the speech confirming his reelection bid, said “this year we have seen a drop in crime in our community and we’ve seen some turnaround.”
Clark had been asked about the record number of homicides in 2019 — 16 in all. This year the police has recorded eight homicides so far.
Solair and the Low-Emissions Community Plan
Norris launched his campaign one year and a day after a 2019 city council decision that Norris seized upon in his speech.
“Charlie Clark and company voted down a billion-dollar investment for a green community in Saskatoon,” Norris said.
Norris was referring to Vancouver-based Arbutus Development’s once-planned Solair green development in the city’s southeast corner.
In June 2019, city councillors voted 7-4 against amending and updating the Holmwood Sector Plan to include the Solair project. Clark was among those who voted against accommodating the project.
“Taking this approach in an ad-hoc way … creating another development path here, undermines the certainty and predictability of development in this area and it will invite other people to come forward and say ‘Well you did it over here so why don’t you do it in our case,'” Clark said at the time.
Norris, in his campaign launch speech, contrasted that decision with another made two months later.
“Instead Charlie Clark — and he put his name on this — he came out with a $19-billion carbon bill for the citizens of Saskatoon to pay for decades,” Norris said.
Series of investments
Norris was calling back to an August 24 city council vote on the city’s Low-Emissions Community Plan. The plan outlines a series of potential investments by the city, businesses and residents that would help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent over three decades.
The plan estimates that the city will need to invest $6.1 billion, with businesses, residents and third-party funders like the federal government providing the remaining $13 billion.
According to the city, this will result in savings and new revenues of $11.8 billion, and a net return of $5.7 billion.
The August 2019 vote, which was about approving public engagement on the plan, did not commit to specific project funding, a city spokesperson said this week, adding that each action item would need to be approved by city council.
“A good example is the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program, which is now being called the Energy Loan Program,” the city spokesperson said. “It received $80,000 in the 2020-2021 budget to fund research, engagement and program development.”
City council will be asked in early 2021 to decide whether the program will go ahead, the spokesperson said.
City council approved other projects “that align with actions in the LEC Plan” during 2020-2021 budget talks last November, the spokesperson said. Those include a $200,000 electric vehicle fleet strategy review and $10 million (the largest amount) for launching the city’s curbside organics program.
City council also approved putting $250,000 a year into an environmental sustainability reserve — down from the $610,000 contribution recommended by the city. The reserve has yet to be established, “so no initiatives have been approved for funding,” the spokesperson said.
“Our council was never in a position to make a decision about spending $19 billion,” Clark said this week. “Our council received a long-term plan related to a 30-year projection of energy costs and strategies to reduce our energy use.”