It’s time to voice your election issues says Saskatoon Express’s Elaine Hnatyshyn

 Elaine Hnatyshyn

Elaine Hnatyshyn is a columnist at the Saskatoon Express a  truly local community newspaper in Saskatoon – In this blog post we share her article from Volume 14: Issue 37 – September 19th 2016

Who gets to decide what the civic election issues will be — the incumbents or the voters?

Recently it was reported that the transit contract is a labour issue, not a political issue. I beg to differ. Every incumbent is accountable to the public for the illegal lockout of transit workers and the resulting cost to taxpayers.

Although the exact figure has not been substantiated, we can expect it was well over a million bucks, factoring in not just the wages owing to drivers, but loss of revenue and associated administrative and consulting expenses. Clearly council had bad administrative advice, but who in City Hall owns up to that advice and what were the consequences for that “oops”?

According to the labour lawyers I know, the error was so elementary it is embarrassing. And what about the inconvenience to the public? Thousands of students heading back to classes, along with seniors and workers dependent on public transit, were left stranded. Then there is the contract itself and the lengthy bargaining process. Even though council has negotiators working for them at the bargaining table, it is council that makes the final decision on what the package will be.

Moving along, the police have recently reported job injuries. The good news is that injuries reported were down in 2015, but it is interesting to note where some of the injuries occurred. Our over-built police station boasts a workout gym for officers to use, but apparently not all officers know how to properly use the equipment.

The solution was to hire a wellness co-ordinator for fitness training and nutrition. In this year’s police budget they hope to make this position a full-time job. While I understand police officers need to be physically fit, I don’t understand why they can’t figure out how to use state-of-the art equipment.

Another cause of officer injury in the new police station is the slips and falls resulting from the floor surface in the new police parkade. Apparently that is being remedied by resurfacing the garage floor. No one could argue with fixing a problem that will prevent future injuries, but who pays for that fix — the contractor who put in the original floor, or taxpayers?

Clearly the public supports expansion and maintenance of the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) conservation zone, and clearly there is public concern about the provincial government’s threat to cut funding for the MVA. Mayoral candidate Kelley Moore vowed that if elected, she would tackle the provincial government on this issue. When that proposed provincial budget cut first came to light, Mayor Atchison said, “Sometimes there just isn’t any more in the cookie jar” and then more recently followed up that the city is in discussions with the MVA as to how it can expand its services and thus be eligible for increased city funding.

The point the mayor misses is that the MVA was created by provincial legislation, that city taxpayers already pay at least one-third of the cost of developing and maintaining the MVA’s 60-kilometre zone and any mayor should strongly advocate that the provincial government should not blithely abdicate its responsibility and leave Saskatoon taxpayers holding the bag for all costs.

Mayoral candidate Charlie Clark calls Moore’s campaign pledge to deal with the province on the funding issue “naïve.” Apparently her approach doesn’t fit with the governance processes, protocols and strategic initiatives that are underway. In other words, same-old, same-old should continue. Frankly, I want someone who is willing to take on the government over the MVA funding.

Much to my disappointment came the response from mayoral candidate Henry Dayday, who said Moore’s comments on the MVA funding was just “picking up points” in an election campaign by criticizing the mayor.

“This is not the time to criticize anybody,” he said.

What do we do? Wait until next spring and if the provincial funding is cut, then criticize everyone? Although I agree with much of Dayday’s position on taxes and debt, wouldn’t his vocal concerns over the city’s budget be considered criticism?

At a recent council meeting, after debate about the early release of budget numbers, the decision was made by council to have an administrative budget update. Oh well, something is better than nothing isn’t it? It was interesting to note that incumbent Darren Hill, in trying to validate his earlier attack on Moore, prodded city manager Murray Totland to acknowledge that there had been no secret or closed door meetings with council about the budget. Really? Then how did Hill come out with his earlier pronouncement that the budget increase for 2017 would be between 3.25 and 3.5 per cent, inclusive of all status quo services?

And of course there was the April closed door meeting when council unanimously agreed to delay any budget numbers until after the election. Sadly, Clark said he didn’t understand the implication of what he was voting for at that April meeting. (I wonder how many other votes he cast without understanding what he was voting for.)

Atchison asked how you can come out with budget numbers when you don’t know what they are. It is a sad comment on all of council if the message they are sending is, in the six weeks before a budget is normally tabled, that they have no idea where the budget is at. It would be sadder yet if administration, at this point in time, didn’t have a good idea as to what the city’s financial needs are for the year 2017.

I have flagged only a few matters of concern to me in this election and no doubt each of you will have your own issues. Every four years voters have a very small window of opportunity to evaluate and critique the performance of their elected civic leaders before deciding whether to re-elect or punt them. We should not be told by anyone what we can or can’t consider to be a pertinent election issue.

Screen Shot 2016-09-20 at 4.21.00 PM

The team, volunteer and supporters on my Saskatoon mayoral campaign have a tremendous impact. Whether contacting voters by phone or in-person, driving voters to polling stations, researching issues, attending events, or delivering lawn signs, volunteers add energy and support to every aspect of the campaign. If you would like to get involved please find out more here.