Don Atchison is a man of big ideas and huge ambitions. He's an entrepreneur and a successful business owner who has served Saskatoon well for 13 years. He once suggested building a giant glass dome to enclose a part of downtown and he required anyone visiting his city hall to be properly dressed – two ideas that were lampooned by the media. Despite the criticisms, Atchison pressed on and turned Saskatoon into Saskatchewan's main economic hub. Unfortunately, the lag and complacency that usually come with long-term incumbency have started to catch him. This inevitable incumbent's lag catches everyone who serves in public office for too long and Don Atchison is no exception. With the lag comes a clouded view of reality.
Atchison has often been the target of
social justice warriors, like Saskatoon councillor, Zack Jefferies,
who pretended to be offended by Atchison's reaction to the Orlando
nightclub shooting. In June, Atchison's office released a statement
that said, “Everyone should be safe in our communities, regardless
of their lifestyle choices, religion, or ethnicity.” Somehow, this
triggered Jefferies to reply with an indignant attack claiming that
Atchison's comments were insensitive because he used the phrase
“lifestyle choices”. Being the gentleman that he is, Atchison
later apologized for the statement, even though the outrage was
One of the reasons for Atchison's
weakening popularity might have to do with his constant
back-pedalling and catering to social justice warriors. Unlike the
Don Atchison from 2003, the Don Atchison of 2016 seems more concerned
with appeasing the electorate than standing up against every inkling
of phony outrage the media throws at him.
Atchison's detachment from reality
became most evident this year, when Saskatoon's most insufferable
councillor, Ann Iwanchuk, proposed one of the most ludicrous laws to
ever be proposed in Saskatoon's history. In March, she proposed a new
bullying bylaw that would have outlawed gossip and
“rumour-mongering”. Rather than oppose the bylaw outright,
Atchison said, “We need to move on something like the bylaw.” By
the sounds of it, had it not been for the outrage and constant
ridicule brought by the absurd bylaw, Atchison might have supported
it. In the end, the bylaw never made it into law, but Atchison's
support for “something like it” tells us a lot.
In all of his 13 years, Don Atchison
has never seemed so out of touch and eager to keep his job as he has
in 2016. The Don Atchison of 2003, who brought Saskatoon into the
forefront of prosperity, is no longer with us. In fact, that Don
Atchison might have left us years ago.
In 2015, Saskatoon's operating budget
made history. For the first time, the budget
was radically outpacing the city's growth and costing Saskatoon
taxpayers $439 million. This was up from $224 million in 2006. Since
2006, Saskatoon's tax revenue has increased 95%, with at least 60% of
that increase resulting from perpetual tax hikes. The scariest part
of this is the radical increase in Saskatoon's debt that has happened
under Atchison and the current city council. Between 2006 and 2014,
Saskatoon's debt has more than quadrupled by 477% from $41 million to
Saskatoon has successfully outpaced
Regina in prosperity with its vibrant downtown core and bustling
shops, but that prosperity has come with a new sense of entitlement.
Under Don Atchison's leadership, Saskatoon has ballooned into a
provincial success story, but with one major problem: the spending
and debt haven't stopped. By 2010, Saskatoon was exploding
economically and culturally, which should have allowed the city's
council and mayor to slow debt growth and flat-line tax rates.
Instead, under Atchison and the current council, Saskatoon's
operating budget has significantly outpaced the city's growth and
taxes have continued to rise.
Under Don Atchison and the current city council, government growth is out of control. Saskatoon's dynamic growth and prosperity have been squandered and the city's enormous debt threatens to undo a decade of progress.
As a business owner, Don Atchison
should have clued-in early on. Unfortunately, his time in public
office (where salaries come from an endless supply of tax revenue)
has made him forget the importance of low debt, low taxes and hard
work. If we count his time as a city councillor, Don Atchison has
been relying on a publicly funded salary for almost 20 years. In that
time, he seems to have forgotten the lessons he learned in the
private sector, where debt and high taxes only act to stifle free
enterprise and investment.
With Don Atchison now being past his
best-before date, who does Saskatoon have to choose from? Unlike
Regina's moribund mayoral race, Saskatoon's race has at least two
viable contenders capable of taking on the city's debt and taxes.
Moore is the newest contender and the
municipal election's only outsider. She isn't a councillor, but she
has experience in urban planning, runs her own business and has the
freshness city hall needs. Unlike Charlie Clark, who has been a
defender of Saskatoon's status quo on council since 2006, Moore
hasn't served on council and has more experience than Clark in the
private sector. Unlike Clark, Moore hasn't spent the last decade
being a part of Saskatoon's problem. Unlike Clark, Moore is an
entrepreneur who co-owns Prairie Wild Consulting.
When she announced her mayoral run,
Moore mentioned her unique blend of government and business
experience, as well as the fact that she is not a politician. These
are two important traits that Saskatoon needs in city hall now more
Clark is the councillor for Ward 6 and
has done nothing in his decade-long tenure to curb Saskatoon's debt
and high taxes. Besides Don Atchison, Clark is the other candidate
who has pushed the damaging status quo that's driving Saskatoon down
the wrong road. If Saskatoon voters think that Charlie Clark is
offering change, they're mistaken.
Clark sat on the board of Saskatoon's
expensive $110 million art gallery, he helped hike this year's
property taxes by 3% and he advocated for most of the city's massive
budget increases. Clark is just as out of touch as Don Atchison, but
he has virtually no real background or experience in the private
Dayday was mayor of Saskatoon once
before...and he wasn't really that bad. The focus of Dayday's
campaign will be the city's growing debt, as he outlined in his press
conference to announce his run. During his tenure as mayor, for 12
years between 1988 and 2000, Saskatoon's debt was a fraction of what
it is now and Saskatoon was still outpacing Regina in growth.
After being booted out of city hall in
2000, Dayday entered the private sector and has served on the board
of directors for the Saskatoon Airport Authority. Now, at the age of
77, Dayday wants to take back city hall and erase the city's massive
debt and out-of-control spending. Whether Saskatoon voters will want
to give him another chance is yet to be seen, but up against a fresh
new face like Kelley Moore, his chances might be dismal.
Five consecutive terms in the mayor's office are rare in Saskatoon, so Don Atchison's time might be reaching its end. The real question then becomes: who should replace him? Saskatoon voters will decide who their next mayor will be on October 26.