In Municipalities of Saskatchewan's presidential election, incumbent's lone challenger seeks leadership, unity

·3 min read

The Municipalities of Saskatchewan (MoS) organization will host an election for its president's position at a virtual conference this year.

Incumbent Gordon Barnhart recently came under fire for travelling to Hawaii during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that trip spurred Naicam mayor and current vice-president of towns Rodger Hayward to run in this year's election for president of Municipalities of Saskatchewan — the only person to challenge Barnhart's presidency.

"I've been thinking about [running] for quite a while and just with the recent events, with our current president deciding to vacation in Hawaii and not show the leadership I felt our organization needs and wants, our members need to have a choice," Hayward said.

He said with both the Premier and the Prime Minister making recommendations to avoid non-essential travel, including vacationing, showed a lack of leadership on Barnhart's part.

He also cited comments Barnhart made on amalgamation, a topic Hayward said wasn't discussed at the board or membership levels and "went off on his own," as another lack of leadership on the sitting president's part.

"We're all elected to be leaders. We're not Premiers or Prime Ministers but we're still leaders in our communities," Hayward said.

"I've felt our organization needs and deserves better leadership."

In terms of how he'd bring that leadership about, he said he's seen MoS become "disjointed" over the last few years and Hayward hoped to bring back the sense of unity among the group.

Hayward acknowledged it would be a tough job, as the organization's members represent villages of up to 50 people all the way up to the province's largest cities in Saskatoon and Regina.

Submitted by Rodger Hayward
Submitted by Rodger Hayward

But regardless of the organization's size, he said a unified voice is the best way to approach the provincial or federal governments when it comes to advocating on behalf of the communities MoS represents.

"A lot of the needs of Saskatoon and Regina are the same as villages and towns, it's just the scale that they are," Hayward said.

"We all deal with water and sewer, fire protection, police protection, you know, all those things. It's just on a different scale, so we need to be a unified voice when we're dealing with the government on those things."

Hayward said he'd also like to get a better relationship established between MoS and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.

Platform online, campaigning from Hawaii

Barnhart was asked for comment for this article but no response was received by deadline. He was also asked for comment for a previous CBC News article when it was first reported he was vacationing out-of-country.

The sitting president's platform was published online, and he told other media outlets he would be campaigning for re-election from Hawaii.

Barnhart, the current mayor of Saltcoats, Sask., was elected as president of MoS — then the Saskatchewan Association for Urban Municipalities — in 2017.

His platform announcement online said he intended to be fair and neutral to all political parties, promised to listen to the concerns of municipalities and pass them along to all levels of government.

Barnhart also promised to be open, honest, a clear communicator and to be experienced in working with the media.

"I could make all sorts of promises on what I will be able to deliver from government but I can't and won't," the platform document said.

"We have to show government that our services are essential and that we are good stewards of public funds. We can show that we are achieving economies when our communities work together."

MoS members head to the polls on Monday during the organization's virtual conference to elect its president.