'Our city is changing': Mayor Charlie Clark talks economy, climate change and dangers of divisiveness
Clark says the idea of Saskatchewan separating from Canada 'does not make sense'
When Charlie Clark moved into the Saskatoon's mayor office in 2016, one of the items he hung on his wall was a ball of rope.
"A monkey's fist," Clark says of the item, a gift from a sailing friend. "You tie the end of the rope into a very large fist so that it has a lot of weight to it so that you can throw the rope from one boat to another."
The rope is not merely decorative. For Clarke, it's "a reminder of how you build a city."
"How do you reach out across a divide and throw a rope of co-operation and find a way to work together?"
Won't confirm return bid
Let's get the standard end-of-year-interview question out of the way: Clark didn't confirm whether he will seek a second term as mayor in next year's Nov. 9 municipal election. He said he would declare his intentions in the new year.
That's despite the fact that eight out of 11 city councillors have confirmed their re-election bids, not to mention that one likely candidate for Clark's mayoral seat — former Saskatchewan Party MLA Rob Norris — is expected to announce his entry into the big race in early 2020.
Clark said he wants to remain focused on issues that are important to him during the final 10 months of his term.
Helping to diversify Saskatoon's economy and create meaningful jobs for everyone — including the city's growing Indigenous and newcomer populations — is one of them, he said.
"The sectors that we have relied on and that are, I believe, still fundamental to what the world needs — the food, fuel and fertilizer [industries] — are changing and our city is changing," Clark said.
"The challenge and opportunity we have is to adapt our economy and take our resources [and] create good jobs now in the areas of technology and in value-added manufacturing of [our] agricultural products and mining products."
Clark holds city council's portfolio on reconciliation and pointed to several successes on that front this year, including the approval of a new urban reserve and a new city procurement policy that grants points to companies that integrate Indigenous participation.
"This is really important because reconciliation can't be just about words," Clark said.
'Not just stomp our feet'
Clark is big on working together. He said he was discouraged by some of the discourse following the 2019 federal election.
The day after the Conservatives claimed all 14 of the province's seats in Parliament, Premier Scott Moe tweeted a letter citing the "frustration and alienation" felt by Saskatchewan voters and calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cancel the carbon tax.
In the days that followed, Moe was criticized for not denouncing the idea that Saskatchewan could separate from the rest of Canada.
Clark acknowledged "the election results reveal that feeling of alienation," but expressed strict opposition to any talk of separation.
"If we tried to create a nation of Saskatchewan and Alberta as a way of resolving the fact that we can't get our resources to market, then we're a landlocked country," Clark said.
"Personally, I love Canada."
Clark spoke by phone with Trudeau a week after the election.
"When we have challenges and disputes, I'd much rather we sit down and figure out a way to address them, make sure Ottawa is understanding what the reality is out in the [west] and come up with answers, not just stomp our feet and say we're going to leave," Clark said.
Clark said he's witnessed first-hand the effects of climate change.
"It's not abstract. It's real," he said.
Clark cited his experience, including this past summer, standing in Saskatoon's residents' flooded basements.
"The stormwater system that was designed in the 1960s cannot handle the kind of rainfall that we're seeing in our city," he said. In once case, "there was cork floor floating at our ankles that had just been laid down because they had two storms in one month. Then they renovated the basement and got hit again through no fault of their own."
The city is investing $20 million to tackle the wider problem, Clark said.
"You need to take action and you need to take responsibility," he said.
A full menu
Clark pointed out some positives putting Saskatoon on the world map: the growing tech sector, the "two-song commute," the long menu of new restaurants.
The latter spike has contributed to the city's younger population, Clark said.
"When I first got elected [as a city councillor] in 2006, the feeling in the city was that the young people would grow up here, get their university training and then leave. And what we see, just using the restaurant industry as an example, is this incredible generation of people now who are deciding, 'I'm not going to leave. I'm going to start a business here and push the limits of cuisine and cooking.'"
Does Clark have a favourite Saskatoon restaurant?
"Our family loves walking down to Taverna and having a great big Italian meal. My wife and I love going to Primal," he said.
"This is such a dangerous question."