Charlie Clark re-elected as mayor of Saskatoon

·8 min read
Charlie Clark re-elected as mayor of Saskatoon
Charlie Clark re-elected as mayor of Saskatoon

Charlie Clark has won a second term as the mayor of Saskatoon.

In the face of a snowstorm, a global pandemic and an historic election that saw voters have to wait four days after the scheduled polling date, Saskatoon has re-elected Clark, bringing the veteran Saskatoon politician back to the council table.

Clark beat five others vying for the city's top job: former Sask. Party MLA Rob Norris, former mayor Don Atchison, Zubair Sheikh, Cary Tarasoff and Mark Zielke.

Clark earned 27,377 votes, putting him ahead of Norris (15,261), Atchison (11,722), Tarasoff (2,650), Sheikh (721) and Zielke (639).

It was a heated campaign centred around infrastructure, campaign etiquette, character and the direction of city council.

Clark spoke to media as results rolled in Friday, thanking the citizens of Saskatoon, his volunteers and his campaign staff for their work.

"I really want to thank every single citizen who trudged through snow, who got a mail-in ballot ... who took the time to vote in this very challenging and unusual election."

Clark said it "means a huge amount" as a candidate to see how much work people did to cast ballots.

WATCH: Clark spoke to media after his win Friday night

Clark a city council member since 2006

Clark was first elected to city council in 2006 when he defeated Elaine Hnatyshyn in a tight race for Ward 6. He held on to that seat for the next decade.

Clark's first term as mayor saw the advancement of some of the major projects he helped lay the foundation for during his time as a councillor.

This included the construction and opening of Remai Modern, the development of River Landing and plans for a new downtown central library, which became an issue in the campaign after sharp criticism from Norris of the estimated $134 million price tag.

During his political career, Clark has supported active commuting, started a larger — and sometimes controversial — conversation about protected bike lanes and focused on sustainable transit in the form of a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

In his victory speech Friday, Clark thanked his family for the support they've given him throughout the campaign and said he's ready to get back to work and focus on flattening the COVID-19 curve.

He said he plans to meet with business leaders, faith leaders and other community stakeholders to discuss how the spread of COVID-19 can be slowed at the local level while keeping the economy going.

"There are so many businesses that are just surviving right now," said Clark.

"We need to make sure we're doing everything we can to find that balance between getting the right restrictions and practices … while also keeping people working."

Clark said he doesn't see the city as especially divided coming out of the election and that it's important to have a diversity of opinions.

He said he was proud to see Saskatoon voters choose a politician focused more on unification than division.

"I believe that is the spirit of our city," said Clark.

The 2020 election has been intense for all mayoral candidates. Clark decried "politics of fear" and said a council led by former Sask. Party MLA Rob Norris would create "political gridlock'' on for Saskatoon.

Throughout the campaign, Clark defended the previous council's decision to borrow $67 million for a new library in downtown Saskatoon, a move Norris and others criticized heavily. Now, with Clark's second term secure, it appears plans for the library can continue.

Norris focused on fiscal responsibility

Norris ran a campaign that was critical of the current council and mayor. He promised to shelve the library project, which he continuously called "gold-plated," and said he would press pause on the BRT.

Norris, who conceded to Clark shortly after polls were tallied, said Friday night that he was disappointed in the election outcome, but congratulated Clark on a "hard-fought" campaign.

He said it was obvious as the night went on that there was a "very significant vote split" between himself and Don Atchison, which Norris said prevented his campaign from gaining momentum.

Guy Quenneville/CBC
Guy Quenneville/CBC

Norris, who called the campaign spirited and inspired, thanked all of the candidates for their efforts, saying he hopes to have added a new layer to municipal politics in Saskatoon.

"I hope it serves as a catalyst for others to say, 'You don't need to serve on council before running for mayor.' There's an opportunity to influence the agenda," he said.

He focused on fiscal responsibility, saying he'd reduce the mayor's salary and communications budget by 10 per cent and keep the city's property tax increases to one per cent annually. Norris voiced firm support for the city's police service and said issues at the Lighthouse Supported Living Inc. were contributing to deteriorating downtown safety.

Norris's campaign came under fire during the last week of the election after a Halloween-themed Facebook post accused Clark of mistreating women who served on the board of Remai Modern. Norris apologized and took responsibility for the allegation, but said he did not approve the post.

Norris said he plans to return to his job at the Canadian Lightsource. When asked if has any regrets about the type of campaign he ran, Norris said it's important for challengers to separate themselves from the incumbent.

"I tried all along the way to make the distinction between Charlie Clark's public record, what he has made decisions regarding, without in any way impugning his character," he said. "Mr. Clark is a good man. He's a family man. He's a hard working man and tonight he's been re-elected as mayor."

Norris said he would reserve any advice for council, but that he'd offer it up if asked.

"All I can ask the mayor and the council to do is really consider the stresses and strains of families, of businesses, of employers and employees as we continue to work our way through this very, very challenging COVID-19 crisis."

Many familiar faces on city council

Incumbent councillor Darren Hill managed to keep his seat in Ward 1, winning by only 56 votes after a close race with challenger Kevin Boychuk and beating out other candidates Aron Cory and Kyla Kitzul.

In Ward 2, Hilary Gough maintained her spot on council, taking 66 per cent of the vote to defeat her only competitor Rose Kasleder.

Ward 3, which was up for grabs after the departure of Ann Iwanchuk, went to long-time radio broadcaster David Kirton who beat out six others in the ward.

Kirton, the only new face on council, said he was grateful for this campaign team, his volunteers and everyone who came out to cast their ballot in election 2020.

"I'm going to come in and start running right off the back," he said, noting there are a number of "big-ticket items" the city has to deal with.

Kirton said he plans to focus on some of the big infrastructure items, but that the big thing he heard from constituents was a desire for a focus on crime, safety specifically safety around traffic in his ward.

"Those aren't the sexy items, but those are the items that are really, really affecting the people," he said.

Incumbent Troy Davies was acclaimed in Ward 4.

In Ward 5, long-time councillor Randy Donauer, considered a fiscal watchdog, beat out Flow Magazine publisher Paul Miazga for a second time, surpassing him by more than 3,000 votes.

In Ward 6 incumbent Cynthia Block, a former journalist and communications consultant, won with 62 per cent of the vote, beating out Lee Cormish and Jonathan Naylor.

Mairin Loewen retained her seat in Ward 7, earning 47 per cent of the vote to beat Jim Rhodes, Carol Reynolds and Darcy Warrington.

Ward 8 went to incumbent Sarina Gersher, who was elected first in 2016 and is a strong proponent of public transit. Gersher got 50 per cent of the vote, beating out former police officer Brian Shalovelo and Ron Mantyka.

Incumbent Bev Dubois secured her seat in Ward 9 with 61 per cent of the vote, defeating Carla Shabaga.

Ward 10 incumbent Zach Jeffries held his seat with 71 per cent of the vote, defeating AJ Itterman and Anjum Saed.

Unprecedented election

The 2020 municipal election was historic, as a massive snowstorm days before the election led the city's chief returning officer Scott Bastian to postpone the proceeding four days.

Bastian said the seven available polling stations opened on time Friday and some saw a steady flow of voters throughout the day.

Five polling locations were originally planned for Friday, but that number was increased to seven after election officials heard from both the public and candidates.

"It was a combination of feedback and stepping back and looking at the location and the distribution," said Bastian. "We were able to get two extra locations and increase the spread over the city and that was great to see."