State of the City: Building a Stronger Community, Together
As I reflect this year on the state of our city, I do so in the shadow cast by the tragedy of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
This tragedy has sent shockwaves through our city, our province, and our world.
We hear of events like this happening elsewhere and we sense the devastation, but we don’t have the connections to the real lives and the people to make it real. And then it lands right in our own backyard.
The Friday evening that the bus crashed and the news was coming in about just how terrible this accident was, I happened to be out with the Saskatoon Police Service on a ride along.
As I went to calls and visited members in dispatch and detention and talked to different members of the C Platoon, I heard over and over again about connections that officers and staff have to the Broncos. Within moments of the event happening the way that this team is intertwined in our province was being revealed.
What can you say about a tragedy like this, and where does it leave us now?
I don’t think I can say it any better than Curtis Camrud, father of Brayden. I contacted him a couple of days after Brayden came home from hospital and I asked how I could help.
This was his response:
“Last Friday was the worst day of our lives… we pulled up to the scene and it was a catastrophe. When we got news our son survived we cried endlessly. We are so blessed. Our son is home. However our pain and hearts are broken… we lost some beautiful friends and teammates. Charlie if I could ask for anything at all it would be only one thing…Please hug your beautiful wife Sarah and your children—1 second longer every day. Hugs have helped us get through this. Our community, province, country have been nothing less than amazing… we are blessed to live among the kindest people in the world.”
I’ve read this message many times.
I have received similar words of assurance from other Saskatoon parents Scott and Laurie Thomas on the night of the memorial in Humboldt and at the memorial for their son Evan Thomas where thousands of residents of our community gathered. Another reassuring message came from Tanya and Paul Labelle who are with their son Xavier on a long road to recovery.
These parents have given us a reminder to cherish what we have, and to recognize the remarkable community that we call home. The community has rallied to support these families in this terrible tragedy. I want to thank everyone who has helped—from first responders, to health care workers, counsellors, and those raising funds. You have brought out the best in our community.
We are blessed to live here.
And now is our time to make the best of what we have and build a good future for Brayden and Xavier and all of the young people growing up in our community and our province.
Three dimensions of a strong community
The most important work of city building is to put our children in the centre and ask what we can do as a community today to ensure a good future for the generations to come.
I get four chances to make a State of the City Address as Mayor. This is number two. I don’t take this lightly.
This is my chance to take stock of where we are at this moment—and what the key challenges and opportunities are as we look to the horizon.
There are many issues we are facing and many other initiatives underway and I won’t be able to touch on all of them today. What I do want to focus on are three dimensions of our community that I believe are critical to ensuring we are successful into the future. Sorry to disappoint, but fire pits is not on the list.
The first dimension is the bricks and mortar—the importance of planning and building a thriving prairie city for the 21st century.
The second is the economy—ensuring we position Saskatoon to create good jobs in a changing world.
The third dimension is our people—ensuring that the opportunities of that economy can be extended to include everyone.
Smart growth: Our shared city
There is a lot of talk in the urban planning world about mid-sized cities. Jennifer Keesemat, former Chief Planner in Toronto, recently wrote an article in Maclean’s magazine about how cities like Halifax and Saskatoon are uniquely positioned in Canada to innovate in urban design and liveability, given the unaffordability and traffic issues in cities like Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto.
“Mid-sized Canadian cities present a new possibility for urban living. Reworked and redesigned, rather than struggling to retain and attract young people, they too could be exploited to serve the aspirations of 21st-century living.”
Keesemat challenges cities like ours to be aspirational in curbing urban sprawl, to strategically redevelop the city core, to create diverse mixed-use districts, to invest in convenient and efficient transportation systems, and to have a strong and creative vision for design.
As Mayor, I have seen that the way we can build this kind of city is to first build relationships and then build partnerships. We need to reach out to people who think differently, we can’t be afraid of unexpected alliances, and we must focus on the common ground. This is what we are doing and what we will have to continue to do to solve the challenges we face.
We didn’t allow an assumption that the RM of Corman Park and the City of Saskatoon would disagree to stop us from starting a regional plan together.
We are now leading the province in regional planning through our partnership with Corman Park, Martensville, Warman, and Osler. Five years ago a partnership like this seemed impossible—and now it is laying the foundation to allow us to drive thoughtful, innovative, and sustainable growth toward a region of 700,000 people.
We knew there were growing frustrations in the development community about how long things were taking and how complicated it was to get projects completed.
So we reached out to them through the Home Builders’ Association and we now have a better understanding of the barriers within the City’s processes that can be improved and a plan to address them through our Cut the Red Tape initiative. The key to this work has been breaking down barriers to communication and being willing to think outside the box, and I want to thank our staff, our partners, and the builders involved for their work on this effort.
We wanted to work more closely with the University of Saskatchewan so we invited the administrators and department heads from both institutions to come together and identify opportunities to partner. They came up with dozens and dozens of ideas, and we now have a formal memorandum of understanding to frame our future work together.
We know that we are at a crucial stage of growth in our city.
The rubber is hitting the road with our Plan for Growth that has been several years in development. In the weeks to come, we will be discussing detailed design options for a Bus Rapid Transit system. We have been engaging with businesses and the public in a comprehensive way to get this right.
With the Remai Modern Art Gallery, investment in River Landing, the opportunity for a new downtown Library, the possibility of a School of Architecture, the rejuvenation of Riversdale, and a renewed interest in the North Downtown, there is tremendous potential for a strong and vibrant city core.
I know many of you are probably wondering what I am going to say about a downtown arena—I will say this: We need to see all of these pieces as fitting together. We need to see the building of an arena and convention facility as part of an integrated understanding of a thriving downtown.
We won’t have a successful downtown arena without a more efficient and convenient transit system—the BRT will be crucial. An arena won’t be successful if it is not part of a downtown district that has activity 365 days a year throughout all seasons. And of course, we need to figure out how an arena and convention centre can be paid for in a way that doesn’t put an undue burden on property taxes.
This is the challenge I put to our community. Our city building has to be ambitious and practical at the same time.
We are going to need the same kind of collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving to tackle the challenges of building a more sustainable city.
It’s time to get over this false dichotomy of environmentalism versus the economy. We need to be ambitious about finding the intersection between the green economy, job creation, and technological innovation.
To become a more sustainable community, City Council is focusing on building new partnerships in renewable energy development, building efficiencies, waste diversion, and conservation.
We have a tremendous opportunity to build a thriving and sustainable prairie city by inviting the best ideas and collaborating to bring them to life in our community.
Creating good jobs: A resilient economy
We can build all of the roads, arenas, and bridges we want, but it won’t matter if we don’t have a resilient economy that is creating good jobs for residents.
We have to apply the same approach of innovation, problem-solving, and collaboration to position Saskatoon in the rapidly changing global economy.
We have shown resilience through some rough years of a downturn. Forecasts predict that our annual job growth will average two per cent per year over the next couple of years. Our population is forecast to grow by an average of 2.3 per cent next year.
Today, our economy is worth about $18 billion and almost one-third of the entire provincial economy.
Thanks to the resilience and confidence of many in the business community, we have weathered some tough times, whether the business is long established in Saskatoon or a new entrepreneur who sees the potential of this city.
The eyes of the world are now on us like never before. We are now number 18 on the New York Times list of 52 places to visit in 2018. We were named Canada’s hottest new food city in Food & Wine magazine. Even Family Fun Canada, when they asked which Canadian prairie city is all the rage in 2018? It’s us.
Why do I think are we all the rage? Because we are punching above our weight.
Here in Saskatoon, we have companies and researchers focused on solving some of the biggest and most complex problems that the world is facing.
We have our agricultural sector with companies like Nutrien and AGT Foods leading innovations in crop sciences. It is a priority for me as mayor to ensure Nutrien maintains a home base here in Saskatoon—and to see that the future of the company is well rooted here, from head office jobs, to research and development, to everything throughout the supply chain.
The announcement of the protein supercluster in Saskatchewan is another sign of this global relevance. We are providing the plant-based proteins that will become increasingly necessary in a hungry world. As Murad Al-Katib likes to say: As the world approaches ten billion people, not all of those people are going to be able to eat hamburgers every day.
Companies and scientists working here are also driving innovations in water security, health care, and energy development, drawing the world’s attention to our community like never before. At the City we are working with companies and the research and education sector to build on this advantage and continue to foster growth in these important fields.
We know that a big part of the future is in the tech economy and we are seeing promising signs in this field. We can look at the examples of tech company acquisitions and investments that have been garnering attention from across the continent in the last year alone: Solido Design’s acquisition by Siemens; International Road Dynamics acquisition by Quarterhill; and significant investments in Vendasta, Coconut Calendar, 7Shifts, and Skip the Dishes.
I hear over and over again in discussions and forums about Saskatoon’s role in the tech sector that our quality of life, the quality of our talent, and the spirit of collaboration here is what is helping us punch above our weight and grow these companies.
This approach has helped many of us succeed and has built a strong community.
Opportunity for all: An inclusive society
This leads me to the third dimension of building a successful city into the future: We can have all of the right infrastructure and we can position ourselves well in the global economy, but we won’t be successful unless we ensure that this opportunity extends to everyone in our increasingly diverse community.
We have work to do.
Every city has to figure out how to build societies where people come together instead of being torn apart. Saskatoon is no different.
People have moved to our city from all over the province and from all over the world seeking opportunity.
As mayor, I get to meet with many groups and I see the hope that exists that people will be able to build a good life in Saskatoon. If we can make progress on inclusion, it will help us solve many other challenges we are collectively facing.
Today I want to focus on one area in particular where we are failing and what we could do to turn this around. We need to commit—as a community—to support more youth to graduate high school and to break the cycle of youth incarceration.
Because for all of the gains we are making in Saskatchewan, we also have the highest number of young people in jail rather than participating in the community.
In Saskatchewan our youth incarceration is about twice the national average. Right now graduation rates for Indigenous youth from high school are half of those of non-Indigenous students. Roughly 90 per cent of inmates in our correctional facilities are Indigenous.
I had a chance to go and visit the correctional centre in Saskatoon with Tribal Chief Mark Arcand. We sat and talked with groups of young men about their lives, their experiences, and their prospects for when they got out of jail.
The more we talked the more clear it was how their circumstances were formed early in life, and once the cycle began it becomes very hard to escape it.
A cycle fed by addictions, family breakdown, racism, marginalization, and a broken treaty relationship.
The cycle of crime is resulting in us collectively spending millions of dollars to warehouse people in facilities where instead of rehabilitating, they become hardened and in many cases involved in increasingly serious crime.
The system isn’t working. It is failing all of us.
This is our time to turn this around.
University of Saskatchewan economist Eric Howe says a more educated and skilled Indigenous population would mean billions saved by the provincial justice, health, and social services ministries. Additionally, improving the levels of education and employment for Indigenous people would boost the provincial economy by up to $90 billion.
More importantly, we would have a chance to benefit from all that these young people have to offer.
Young people like Michael Linklater, who just recently led the Saskatoon 3x3 basketball team to victory in South Korea over the world champions, and where he was named the tournament MVP.
Or Summer Schofield, a 14-year-old Métis squash player who is ranked second in Saskatchewan in the under 19 age group, and who schooled me 3-1 in a match on the weekend at the YMCA.
Or young Steven Littlepine from One Arrow First Nation, a budding entrepreneur who sold me his creation when I met him at the FSIN Youth Assembly in March. He developed a residential rooftop sewer vent extension kit to protect vent stacks from being covered in snow and trapping sewer gas in our houses. It may not be the sexiest of ideas, but he saw an opportunity in the market and developed it as part of the Almighty Voice Education Business Club, and he is pursuing this idea with vigour.
There is so much potential in our communities. All of the young people have the potential to become like Michael, Summer, and Steven.
Let’s just think about what would happen if we together addressed youth incarceration, what this would mean for our community.
The answers won’t be found in one program or by fixing one part of the system—they will be found in a whole community approach. We have the right conditions to turn this around, because of our culture of innovation, problem-solving, and collaboration.
Our community is becoming a recognized leader in the journey of reconciliation. Many groups have been part of these efforts, and 72 organizations have signed up to be a part of Reconciliation Saskatoon.
For example, just last week the Rotary Club invited Kevin Lamoreux from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to engage in a discussion about how to move forward as part of the Badge, Shield, and Star event. This is a tangible example of making progress and changing the conversation in our community.
One way that we can move forward from words to action with reconciliation is to tackle youth incarceration rates together.
We have a new premier, a new police chief, a new Tribal Council Chief, and a new Saskatchewan Health Authority. I am going to be meeting with many of these leaders and other decision makers in the coming weeks to find new ways of working together on this issue.
We have a chance to make progress in this area, and to do so we will need to work with the business community to figure out the barriers in place to employment for people and create successful pathways to get there.
Building a stronger community, together
Saskatoon is a city that has been gaining attention and making a place for itself on the international stage. We can continue to thrive if we are ambitious about being a great city on these three dimensions:
- building a well-planned city with great quality of life,
- creating a thriving economy positioned to succeed in a rapidly changing world, and
- ensuring that everyone shares in the opportunities.
It is invigorating to be the Mayor of Saskatoon at this time. This community inspires me every day.
At Evan Thomas’s memorial the family handed out miniature hockey sticks, and the saying that they chose as a message for the thousands of people who attended the event is: “Play for the name on the front, not the one on the back.”
The only way we will achieve our potential as a city is to work together to build the strongest team possible.
I invite all of you to build relationships with people who think differently, to create partnerships with unexpected allies, and to focus on the common ground.
Let us all together build our city’s future for the generations to come.