The Urban Development Institute’s political forum-for-one proved to be a popular Thursday afternoon event, despite the controversy it sparked for excluding all but one of eight mayoral hopefuls.
The lunch-hour meeting, which was supposed to see candidates Sharon Shepherd and Coun. Colin Basran face off on issues, drew a full room of UDI members. And they offered thunderous applause at the end of Basran’s speech, where he laid out his idea to be a “connector” on economic, community and leadership issues, rather than a politician.
Basran told the receptive audience he believed development to be a key aspect of a community’s health, and that he planned to be the type of leader who worked to set a business friendly tone among his peers at the council table.
He also hammered home the message that he could offer “clear, decisive leadership” and make “timely decisions.”
It’s a style he claimed to have learned from current mayor Walter Gray, who he named as a mentor.
Basran also emphasized that Gray, as well as outgoing Coun. Andre Blanleil, had endorsed his bid for the mayor’s seat.
In an apparent show of support, Gray was in attendance at the UDI meeting.
Mayoral candidate Mark Thompson and council hopeful Laura Thurnheer were also present, along with incumbent councillors Luke Stack, Gail Given and Mohini Singh.
The three incumbents in the room got Basran’s nod of approval.
“They are three people worthy of your support Nov. 15,” Basran told the room of developers.
While Basran was keen to share endorsements, Given and Singh were more circumspect, both noting they were there to learn more about what the candidates had to offer. Stack was not reached for comment.
It all raised the ire of mayoral candidate Mark Thompson.
In the days leading to the forum, he’d sent out letters to media and UDI heads, asking for a chance to speak at the forum as a candidate as well-qualified for the role of mayor as either Shepherd or Basran.
Thompson can boast nine years on council in Saskatoon, and said that experience raises his profile among candidates.
UDI members didn’t agree, and when he made one last bid to gain inclusion at the doors leading into the event, it fell on deaf ears.
The format was set, and would stay that way. He was however invited to listen, given a seat at the media table in the corner.
“I’m really quite offended,” he said. “The fundamentals of democracy require equal opportunities for all citizens.”
That sentiment was expressed in an open letter from mayoral candidate Sharon Shepherd. While she was invited to the event, she declined after realizing that only she and Basran were included.
“I lead by example, and being inclusive has been a driving force for me. How else can we look at being an inclusive community if the leadership of this city does not value this?” she wrote in a letter.
“I have always held UDI in high regard in representing the important and active development industry in our city and during my time on council I have worked effectively with the board.”