Norris attack accusing Clark of mistreating women on Remai Modern board 'crossed a line,' Clark says

A Halloween-themed post by Saskatoon mayoral candidate Rob Norris accuses incumbent mayor Charlie Clark of mistreating female Remai Modern board members. Clark says the post crossed a line and shows "a reckless treatment of a very serious issue."

Mayor Charlie Clark calls Rob Norris's Halloween post 'a reckless treatment of a very serious issue'

A Halloween-themed social media post by Saskatoon mayoral candidate Rob Norris, left, accuses incumbent Mayor Charlie Clark, right, of mistreating female Remai Modern board members. (Chanss Lagaden and Don Somers/CBC)

With just over a week left to go until voters head to the polls on Nov. 9, Saskatoon mayoral candidate Rob Norris has waged a new, Halloween-themed attack accusing incumbent Mayor Charlie Clark of mistreating women on the board of the Remai Modern Art Museum.

Clark says the post "crossed a line." 

"For someone who is a candidate for mayor, in the context of the #MeToo movement, to make this kind of libelous claim in a Hallowe'en joke post shows a reckless treatment of a very serious issue and significant questionable judgement," Clark said in a statement issued Sunday night. 

The ad-like post, which appeared on Facebook on Saturday as well as on Instagram, listed some of Norris's by-now-familiar criticisms of Clark's "spooky record," including a "scary" $134-million downtown library and a bike lanes "nightmare."

But the list concluded with a fresh line of attack, just as the civic election season enters its final week. 

"Terrifying treatment of female Remai Modern board members," Norris's post said of Clark. 

"While essentially wrapped in wrapped in the spirit of Halloween, the issues are serious," Norris says. (Rob Norris/Facebook)

Norris said the accusation, "while essentially wrapped in the spirit of Halloween," reflects a "serious" issue and is based on an April 2019 Saskatoon StarPhoenix article in which two former Remai board members, Alison Norlen and Veronica Gamracy, said Clark downplayed city hall's alleged interference in the museum's work. 

In that article, Norlen said she felt bullied by Clark during a meeting in which Clark cited workplace issues at the city-owned museum. "We were scolded," Gamracy said of that meeting in the same article. 

Norlen and Gamracy could not be reached for comment Sunday. 

Norris said he has not spoken to either woman but that he has heard from three other former board members (whom he declined to identify) who expressed concerns about how the museum is governed and "the political presence, if not interference of, Charlie Clark and some members of city council." 

'Playing a dangerous game' 

In his statement, Clark said Norris is "deliberately playing a dangerous game by taking a media story's representation of how I talked to an entire board about a serious workplace safety issue that wasn't being dealt with, and turning this into an accusation about how I treat women."

Clark said Norris's Remai Modern accusation is the latest in a series of manipulated facts, including Norris's claim (also contained in the Halloween post) that the city's low emissions community plan is a "carbon tax plan."

"In this moment, the city needs leadership to pull us together through a difficult time, not leadership that sows divisiveness," Clark said. 

It's not the first time the city's relationship with the museum has come up. 

Norlen previously told CBC News she was not reappointed to the board last year after voicing opinions that differed from city council's. Gamracy resigned her seat with regret and cited a "problematic" relationship between the board and the city, according to an email she shared with CBC News.   

At the time, Clark denied any allegation of competing visions for the museum and said the city stepped in "to ensure the integrity and the health of the gallery and to ensure a safe workplace for our employees."

Clark poses for a photo during the October 2017 opening of Saskatoon's Remai Modern Art Museum. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

'It sounds desperate and risky'

Norris's Halloween post wasn't the first time he has brought up the museum during his campaign, but it was his first mention of alleged mistreatment of female board members by Clark. 

CBC News has reached out to several past and current female Remai Modern board members for comment, including Cynthia Block and Mairin Loewen, the two city council representatives on the board in recent years. None could be reached for comment on Sunday. 

David Williams, an associate professor specializing in marketing at the Edwards School of Business in Saskatoon, said Norris's accusation at this stage of the campaign, in a tongue-in-cheek ad, is "very bizarre" and "has a U.S. presidential election feel to it."

"It sounds desperate and risky," Williams said, adding that Remai Modern is a non-issue for voters. "It feels like it was thrown in as the last thing on a list."

Norris said he's heard concerns about the museum, including its cost, from citizens on the doorstep too. He said he has lingering questions about the gallery's past behind-the-scenes turmoil, how it was handled and the impact on the city's reputation.  

"Is Charlie Clark an expert in human resources or are there other tools at the city's disposal, both internally and externally, that could and should be deployed to help address any governance issue?" Norris said. 

"Charlie Clark is connected with really turning a story of transformation and optimism in Saskatoon, including for the arts community, into a problem regarding the profile and prestige of Saskatoon." 


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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