Saskatoon

Ex-MLA Rob Norris puts Saskatoon mayoral campaign plans on 'temporary pause' amid pandemic

"There will be time to talk politics when and if this ends. But for right now, the top priority is public health," Rob Norris says.

'There will be time to talk politics when and if this ends,' Rob Norris says

Former Sask. Party MLA Rob Norris says he's put his 2020 mayoral campaign plans on 'temporary pause' amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  (CBC)

A former Sask. Party MLA with plans to run for mayor in the 2020 Saskatoon municipal election says he's put his campaign plans on "temporary pause" amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We haven't been doing any work relating to campaign preparation," Rob Norris said Wednesday of his volunteer team.

"There will be time to talk politics when and if this ends. But for right now, the top priority is public health, public safety and allowing everyone to do their very best work."

Norris previously said he would make an announcement about his mayoral candidacy in early 2020. That never happened.

But Norris said Wednesday he's still in the race.

"I call this a temporary pause," he said. "It hasn't changed my intentions. What it's done is certainly change the pace and the scale of activity and rightfully so. Let's put first priorities where they need to be."

Norris said he's waiting in part to see what Premier Scott Moe has to say about potentially easing some public health orders sparked by COVID-19. Details of a plan to reopen parts of the provincial economy are expected Thursday morning.

"We'll really kind of take the pulse and get a sense of what that blueprint for reopening [will] look like," Norris said, adding that politicking is "an inherently social endeavour."

Clark has eyes on COVID-19 crisis

Mayor Charlie Clark has not yet confirmed if he will seek a second term as mayor during the municipal election, which is slated for Nov. 9.

"I am totally committed to the health and well-being of the city, and I am doing everything that I can to provide leadership through this COVID-19 crisis," Clarke said in an emailed statement Wednesday.  

"This is my primary focus right now."

Mayor Charlie Clark says providing leadership during the COVID-19 crisis is his 'primary focus right now.' (Matt Garand/CBC)

All other city councillors, with the exception of Zach Jeffries, have told CBC News and other media outlets they will — or likely will — run for their seats again. 

The Atchison factor

Jason Friesen, a courier driver for Loomis Express, announced his intention to run for mayor back in January

A fourth potential mayoral candidate beyond Friesen, Clark and Norris still hovers in the background: ex-mayor Don Atchison, who was beaten by Clark in the 2016 mayoral challenge

"I took Atchison for lunch over a year ago and told him, out of respect, of my intentions," Norris said. "We had a really frank, friendly conversation. 

"I continue to hear rumours of his interest. But I haven't had a recent conversation with him."

When asked earlier this year if he planned to run for mayor again, Atchison declined to comment. 

He could not be reached on Wednesday. 

The mayor's advantage

Clark has been a vocal advocate of support for the homeless and other vulnerable segments of society during the pandemic.

Joe Garcea, a political studies teacher at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, said Clark's public perch gives him a leg up on Norris, especially if Norris is currently in quiet mode. 

"He [Clark] basically has privileged access to the podium to be able to speak to the community," Garcea said. 

A political studies teacher at the University of Saskatchewan says that, from an election challenge standpoint, Clark benefits from having a public presence during the pandemic. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"During the past year, there's been some direct and indirect critiques of the mayor by Mr. Norris. And under these circumstances, Norris has had to pull back and he has to be careful not to be seen as criticizing and engaging in politics at a time when we have to deal with the issues."

"Undoubtedly," Garcea added, the pandemic's effect on the Saskatoon economy will be "a major, major issue of debate and contention" during the election. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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