State of the City
Each year, I am tasked with giving a speech on the moment that we find ourselves in as a community—the State of the City. We have much to be proud of in Saskatoon, I am confident that much more can be accomplished if we work together. You can read the full text of my speech below.
Thank you for coming down today for my State of the City Address.
Here at Saskatoon’s own TCU Place, on Treaty 6 Territory and the Traditional Homeland of the Métis.
Why do we make this land declaration? Because it ties us back to the spirit and intent of the signing of Treaty 6, 143 years ago. By being in Treaty as people on this land, we made a commitment to strive to live as relatives here.
I want to recognize all of you who are rolling up your sleeves and opening up your hearts in the process of rebuilding the Treaty relationship here in Saskatoon. This has been a meaningful journey so far and we have much further to go yet.
Thank you also to Darla and your board and your team at the Chamber for being the hosts again for the State of the City, and congratulations on the great success of the SABEX Awards on Friday night.
I walked away energized.
Dr. Nasser’s induction into the Hall of Fame put smiles on everyone’s faces, as did the one-two punch of Trent Sereda from Nutrien talking about Saskatoon becoming the global epicenter of food production and the proclamation by Rick Wingate from Sherpa that Saskatoon is becoming the center of the ‘Silicon Prairie.’
These were great statements about this moment we are in as a city as we position ourselves in the world.
The exciting thing is these aren’t statements of false boosterism or some naïve niceties that we tell ourselves in isolation. The building blocks are coming into place in Saskatoon to make these statements a reality.
This address is an important touchstone in my calendar, to share what we have accomplished together in the last year and also to talk about the important work we have ahead to build a successful community for our children.
On that note, I would like to recognize my wife Sarah who is here with us today. It is hard to describe what it takes for my family to make it possible for me to serve this community as Mayor.
Sarah, you are an amazing woman, and the bedrock of strength and love and logistical ingenuity that you bring to our family and to life is something I am deeply grateful for. All of this is on top of the incredibly important work you do with your own career as a law professor and mentor to so many.
I also want to recognize my colleagues from City Council who are here today, the team from the City of Saskatoon administration, and my colleagues from the Mayor’s Office.
I want you to know how hard this group of people has been working on your behalf for this community.
We have faced some tough issues. This has meant bringing about change, and as you all know bringing about change can be hard work.
I am so grateful for my Council colleagues, our administration, and the team in my office for your determination and passion for this city in your efforts.
Which leads me into the question I want to talk about today…
There was no Facebook, no Twitter, the smartest phone was a green screen BlackBerry.
I had been working on projects related to mediation and community economic development, trying to bring different stakeholders together to address challenging issues that faced the community.
People I worked with started suggesting I that run for City Council.
My first reaction? Hell no.
There were serious tensions in our community. The issues were complex and didn’t lend themselves to easy answers.
So I said: no thank you.
Did I really want to be the guy on the front page of paper, in the public spotlight, and with the expectations of the entire community on the decisions I was making?
I knew it was safer to stay on the sidelines and criticize from there.
And a few more people asked.
And then a mentor of mine said: What are you afraid of?
And I realized that I had very strong feelings about this community. I have lived in 14 communities in my life. This is the place where Sarah and I chose to call home.
While there were tensions and polarizations there was also a quality about who we are in this city that is rare.
A quality that is important in a world changing quickly.
We also had a son, Simon, and he was one year old. I wanted it to be a good home for him.
So I talked it over with Sarah, and with her parents Jake and Louise, who were necessary parts of the business plan to making this work.
And I put my name forward.
Today Simon is 14. And Sarah and I have two more kids, Ben who is now 10, and Rachel who is 8.
On occasion, now I get up, go downstairs, get the paper out of the mailbox, sit down and read it. And I’m the guy on the front page. Facing issues that are tough sometimes.
And then some mornings, when I haven’t left too early, my daughter Rachel stumbles down the stairs. Half awake, messy hair, sweet as can be. And I am reminded of why I am doing this.
We live in a time where we are being pushed out of our comfort zones.
And as a city, we have to determine what position we want to have in the world.
These are difficult and uncertain times for many people.
Every month, over half the population of Saskatchewan is $200 away from insolvency. Economic inequality is growing. The OECD reported just last week about how in Canada the middle class is in decline, and fewer millennials will achieve the middle class than in previous generations.
We are seeing increasing signs of mental health and addictions straining families and neighbourhoods.
Industries are being transformed, technology is changing our world at an increasingly fast pace, people and capital are more mobile than ever.
And daily we learn more about how the impact of climate change is growing, creating more uncertainty for the future.
We have to decide how we deal with this uncertainty.
To be in politics—to be in leadership of any kind today—is to figure out how to grapple with the tension we are facing between people’s fears and hopes for their future.
Some leaders around the world are exploiting that fear and directing it towards hate and discrimination.
Do we choose to be a divided community and turn against each other?
Or do we build on the legacy of community leaders of our past, who have worked to collaborate and find ways through the tough times that bring us together?
When we are at our best, collaboration has run through the veins of Saskatoon just like the South Saskatchewan River. The founders of the city talked about the ‘Saskatoon Spirit’ as core to the ambitious formation of this community.
We saw that same ‘Saskatoon Spirit’ emerge again in the face of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
Last year when I gave my State of the City Address it was only 11 days after the crash had taken place. In the past year, the families affected have taught us so much about resilience and courage. I am still hearing stories about how people have stepped up throughout the province in incredible ways.
One story that has stood out was Barry Tolmie, a STARS Ambulance pilot with 30 years of experience in the coast guard and military working around the world. We sat together for supper at an event and he shared with me his awe at how the fire, ambulance, police, volunteer, and health systems worked together in the response to the crash.
In the face of a tragedy of such a scale that there was no playbook or training that could have prepared them for this.
Barry said: “I have faced difficult emergency situations all over the world, and what I want you to know, Charlie, is that what I saw happen in response to the Humboldt bus crash could have only happened in Saskatchewan.”
Everyone put their egos, their titles aside and became a human being on a team—and collaborated to come up with a coordinated response to something they had never faced before to help people as quickly as possible.
A spirit unique in the world according to Barry Tolmie.
When I talk with people involved in different sectors of our economy, I hear that “collaboration is our competitive advantage” in Saskatoon.
I was in a roundtable with members of the manufacturing industry just a couple of weeks ago where this was a predominant theme.
We talked about how the creation of SIMSA, the Saskatchewan Industrial Mining Suppliers Association, was adding tremendous value to our existing world-class manufacturing sector. It is a network of partnerships where different companies share insights, experiences, and identify opportunities to collaborate on bigger projects to be competitive with the larger industrial players in other regions.
Jim Novakowski from JNE Welding said: “Thirty years ago we mostly thought our competition was across the street. Now we realize that our competition is in other parts of the world, and we have to work together locally to compete against them.”
I had a tour of the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre a few weeks ago. I learned that right here in Saskatoon we have the global leader in the development of plant-based protein food solutions to help feed a hungry world.
I heard from Shannon Hood-Niefer, the VP of Innovation and Technology, that one of the main reasons that the centre is successful is due to a level of collaboration between the university, industry, government, as well as the different agricultural associations.
Collaboration is helping ensure we grow our manufacturing industries. It is adding value to our agricultural sectors. And I know that in other sectors it is giving us a competitive advantage in a changing economy.
There is another important dimension that is critical to our success.
We know we need to diversify our economy. We are seeing promising signs of this diversification.
Take for example, the remarkable growth of the tech sector in the past few years. Seven Shifts, Coconut Calendar, Vendasta, Solido Automation, Sherpa, to just scratch the surface.
I love visiting these companies and hearing why the talent and quality of life in our mid-sized city is helping build this new sector with hundreds of jobs and growing.
We always talk about diversification of the economy in terms of what we are producing. Today I want to talk about diversification of our economy in terms of who is producing it.
Because the more we diversify who is involved in creating opportunity, the more we will be able capitalize on the potential of our community.
A strong and resilient economy must reflect the growing diversity of our population. Saskatoon is a global city—the two fastest growing parts of our city are the Indigenous population and the newcomer community.
It is just as important that we ensure diversity of opportunity as we do diversity of economic outputs.
This requires us to build relationships within workplaces, within business networks, within neighbourhoods and schools.
And like collaboration, we also have a history that shows how diversity strengthens us all.
Last fall we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the creation of the Muskeg Lake urban reserve in Saskatoon, the first commercial urban reserve in Canada.
That day included a ground breaking ceremony for the creation of the new 50,000 square foot, $14M head office for SIGA.
SIGA employs 1,800 people in this province. Sixty-five per cent of their employees are First Nations or Métis.
During a pipe ceremony to recognize this thirtieth anniversary partnership, former Chief and now Band Councillor Harry Lafond spoke of how the creation of the urban reserve was a case of both the City and the First Nation deciding to take a risk to do something different for shared benefit.
Think back to what that would have been like 30 years ago. This had never been done before anywhere in Canada.
Councillor Lafond said: “They could have chosen to be mistrustful or cautious, but instead they chose to see strength in one another.”
See strength in one another.
That is the opposite of discrimination.
That is the opposite of fear.
Seeing strength in one another opens the doors to partnerships that can offer benefit far beyond the partnership itself.
Last year we moved forward with two new urban reserve agreements with Thunderchild First Nation and Yellow Quill First Nation. The Métis Nation of Saskatchewan has opened new offices in Saskatoon and is coming forward with renewed plans for education and economic development. We are building stronger and stronger partnerships with the Saskatoon Tribal Council and the Métis community to address housing, addictions, incarceration, and economic development.
Over 90 organizations and businesses have signed up to be a part of Reconciliation Saskatoon.
Many people say that Saskatoon is leading the way in reconciliation in Canada.
The question is: What does reconciliation really look like? For me, it looks like people building a future together, in concrete ways, having good jobs, safe homes, kids in schools—this is what we all want.
If we can do this in a good way, this will benefit everyone.
Last week I visited Bob Behari’s Ecologik office and factory last week.
Bob Behari came from India in 1976 with a degree in biochemistry and eight dollars in his pocket.
He fell in love with his wife Sonia and with the community, and together they began building relationships in the hotel industry, with First Nations communities, and with municipalities.
He developed a pioneering formula in green chemistry cleaning products, and built an export market around the world. Now from right here in Saskatoon he produces the cleaning products used on the massive Indian rail system, services over 60 First Nations across the Prairies, and exports to 17 countries.
He is building opportunity here, employing a diverse workforce of 50 people and growing.
We have more and more entrepreneurs like Bob moving here every week.
And let me be clear, this isn’t Pollyanna thinking about ‘let’s all just get along.’ The fastest way for division and tension to grow in a community is to have any group of people be left out of the economy. We are seeing this with the loss of jobs in the resource sector today and in struggling economic regions across the continent.
Given the transformation of who we are as a city in the last ten years, now is the time to get this right. We can build on our history of people working together to get there.
When I go to schools I am blown away by the diversity of the classrooms in our community today. The more we create an economy that harnesses the talents of every one of those children, the stronger our community becomes.
Another example I want to highlight is related to my last State of the City Address. I spoke of our need to address the tragic level of Indigenous youth incarceration in our community.
The community has rallied behind this with our application to the federal Smart Cities Challenge.
The challenge statement we submitted to the federal government is: “To break the cycle of Indigenous youth incarceration and replace it with a new cycle based on opportunity, belonging, security, and identity.”
We are now finalists for the $10 million grant that we will use to develop technology that will connect Indigenous youth and their families with programs and services in real time.
Core to developing this proposal has been a group of Indigenous youth advisors who have shared their experiences and knowledge of what the real barriers are and what would make a difference in their lives.
Over 40 institutions and groups have come together to share what they are currently doing, what would make their work have a better impact, where they can learn, where they want to grow.
We find out in three weeks whether we win the grant.
Regardless of whether we win, our partners have said we need to find a way to do this, because the risk of not doing anything is far greater.
In addition to the Smart Cities Challenge, I want to talk about a number of the important initiatives that City Council and the community have been working on since my last State of the City Address.
We have opened two new bridges, two new overpasses, two new ice sheets at Merlis Belsher Place, a new speed skating oval and track, an almost complete indoor training facility at Gordie Howe Sports Complex, and on June 28 the Nutrien Wonderhub Children’s Museum will add another great family destination to the already buzzing Kinsmen Park.
We have passed the Low Emissions Community Plan, providing a comprehensive practical framework for playing our part in addressing climate change. It took a bit of time, but we now have a path forward to fix a broken waste management system, including the implementation of a curbside organics program to preserve valuable landfill space and avoid huge costs for future generations.
The Alt Hotel at River Landing is open for business and the condos will be occupied shortly. Two weeks ago I joined Dr. Nasser to help cap the 12 story East Office Tower at River Landing. The Nutrien Tower is underway, as an anchor to their work making us the global centre for food production.
Our memorandum of understanding with the university has intensified our land use planning, built research partnerships, and identified shared infrastructure and renewable energy opportunities.
Wanuskewin Heritage Park is undergoing a transformational expansion and is shortlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Remai Modern has become a living room for the community, created an incredible event space to host the world, and brought thousands of children into contact with Picasso and Prairie art. I welcome Lynn McMaster to the helm as Interim CEO, and I thank the staff, board, and donors for all of your contributions building the success of this gallery, and weathering the challenges we have gone through to get there.
We have also launched the Safe Community Action Alliance—an unprecedented collaboration of over 30 community institutions and organizations focusing on breaking the cycle of crystal meth addiction and chronic homelessness.
On top of all this, you can also now legally take an Uber to a local cannabis outlet to buy a joint.
All of these projects are signs of a growing, dynamic city.
And much of this work wouldn’t have been possible without our incredible community partners who are bringing hard work, vision, and donor support to build quality of life for our citizens, and the provincial and federal governments have been instrumental as well.
We are becoming a city the world is paying attention to.
I also want to talk about the important work underway to strengthen our whole region.
I also want to talk about the important work underway to strengthen our whole region.
To ensure we have predictable, organized growth in the region around the city, we are involved in an unprecedented partnership with the Saskatoon North Partnership for Growth, made up of Corman Park, Martensville, Warman, and Osler.
This is essential work for planning future servicing in the region and ensuring future developments fit into an efficient and well-organized future urban form.
We are building common ground between rural and urban communities because our futures are intertwined. The level of regional cooperation we are seeing now was unheard of even five years ago.
Let’s zoom in from the region and talk about our downtown, the heart of our city. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape the downtown for the generations to come.
Our Downtown Cut the Red Tape process has brought together multiple city departments with the homebuilding industry to identify the barriers to development in the city core, and to come up with solutions to reduce uncertainty. Since this has happened we have over 500 units of residential housing in the queue in our City Centre.
Midtown Plaza has invested in an 80 million dollar renovation because they saw a place for themselves in our vision for a thriving downtown.
Later this month we will be determining the routes for Bus Rapid Transit, later this year Council’s goal is to identify the locations for the future entertainment district including a downtown arena and convention facility, we hope to have the site identified for a new downtown library, and there will be decisions around the next phases of River Landing and the future of the City Yards.
We have a chance to put the pieces of this puzzle in place, and make sure they all complement each other. And once we do, other parts of the downtown can be filled in to build more housing, build on the great restaurant and retail scene, and maybe even get that grocery store!
We are not building these projects all at once. Much work remains to figure out how and when to pay for them and where we can leverage other dollars to minimize the burden on property taxes.
How we build demand in the downtown requires us to ask the same kinds of questions we need to ask in all of our work at City Hall.
City Council hired Jeff Jorgenson as the city manager with a mandate to modernize our growing city and bring best practices in leadership and organizational change to equip us to respond to a changing world. To break down silos between departments and build a problem-solving staff that navigate uncertainty and think outside the box.
We are not holding onto the status quo and not afraid to rethink how to do things, and this can be disruptive.
If we don’t get in front of this change, the change will control us.
Jeff is building a leadership team that brings new people to the City from the private sector and promotes proven leaders from within the organization to lead this transformation.
This has been hard work involving many staff and it is coming together, a great team equipped to guide Saskatoon as we take our place in the world.
In the past 5 years, we have added 187 kilometres of roads, 52 kilometers of sidewalks, and 118 hectares of parks.
We need to keep up with the demands of a growing city. We must provide services while keeping costs down, do it in a way that actually improves our quality of life and gives everyone a chance to see a future for themselves and their families here.
So this is the moment we find ourselves in as a city. A city in transformation—punching above our weight in a changing world.
But also facing unprecedented challenges and pressures, where collaboration is our competitive advantage.
Back in 2006, I ran for office in this city because of a firm belief in the spirit of our community, and a concern that polarized thinking threatened to hold us back.
For twelve and a half years I have approached each issue we have faced with a belief that the answers we seek to build a resilient, productive, safe, inclusive community do not lie exclusively somewhere on one side of a debate or another.
I can tell you, this has been a rich and intense master class in how difficult and important this work is.
Because leadership at the local level means making decisions that affect people’s lives on an everyday basis. We are closest to the ground.
We don’t make our decisions in a cabinet room and then announce them to the public. We make them one member, one vote—and we do it out in the open.
What you get from me—and what I always promise to deliver—is that I will always seek the common ground and to not let divided thinking hold us back.
One day last fall, Sarah and I were on a walk on the new Traffic Bridge, and she said something that has really stuck with me ever since.
She said: “You know, it is so much easier to tear things down than it is to build them up.”
I’ve thought about that sentence a lot, as I think it says a lot about the times we live in today.
In Saskatoon we are benefitting from so many people who have worked very hard and chosen to work together to build up this community to make us who we are today.
I am so grateful to be part of this city and to have a chance to work with you to help shape its future. There is so much potential for what we can achieve together to give Saskatoon a strong future in a changing world.
A strong future for my three children, and for all of the children growing up here, relying on us.
It is up to all of us to take it from here.
Thanks to Shaw Spotlight for use of their video footage