Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark took part Wednesday in a question-and-answer session hosted by a business lobbying group that has been blunt in recent criticism of city council decisions.
Calling the North Saskatoon Business Association’s lunchtime chat at TCU Place “a great forum,” he said it was a chance to spend more time discussing issues that too often get reduced to headlines or social media posts.
Clark spent just over half an hour taking questions from NSBA board chair Jackie Pilon on topics ranging from the city’s upcoming budget to proposed developments of a downtown event and entertainment district and a new downtown library.
Noting data suggesting some 14,000 people moved to Saskatoon last year — equivalent to the population of the entire city of North Battleford — Clark said it’s an “exciting time” of major investments, such as BHP’s recent announcement of more than $6 billion in additional investment for the Jansen potash mine, or the federal government locating Canada’s national pandemic research centre at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) on the University of Saskatchewan campus.
Since most new arrivals are either international immigrants or coming from Indigenous backgrounds, Clark said Saskatoon is “a very different city” than in years past, while noting the need for the city to embrace reconciliation and supporting newcomers to succeed.
He also cited population growth when discussing the prospect of a hiring freeze at the city; this could mean being unable to provide transit or street-sweeping in new neighbourhoods, he said.
The NSBA has been particularly critical of the Saskatoon Public Library board’s plans to build a new downtown central branch. Pilon on Wednesday said there was “a lack of confidence” among NSBA members surrounding the proposed project.
City council has no direct authority over the public library board, but can refuse to allow the SPL to raise its portion of the mill rate. The library board already has substantial sums under its control set aside for a new central branch; council has no authority over how that money is used.
Asked for his thoughts, Clark said he “refused to apologize” for wanting to bring an amenity that would deliver value for the community. He pointed to new downtown libraries in cities like Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Seattle, while noting such facilities act as hubs providing people like students and new Canadians with access to technology and creative spaces.
On the proposed downtown arena and entertainment district, Clark noted that nothing has gone out for bids yet; planning is being done using estimates in 2028 or 2029 dollars, with many years of planning work expected before any construction begins. Council expects to see a financing proposal early in the new year.
That said, he noted that inflation means any delay to the planning will add expense to the project.
Asked after the formal portion of the event whether he has any plans to announce his intention to seek reelection in 2024, Clark said there is still too much to do in his current term to make an announcement.
“I need to focus on being the mayor of this city right now,” he said.
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