SASKATOON -- Incumbent Saskatoon mayoral candidate Charlie Clark defended the city’s planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route at the North Saskatoon Business Association candidate forum Wednesday night.

The $150 million BRT project would be on the chopping block under a Rob Norris mayoralty in an effort to bring property tax increases down to one per cent.

Clark said that taking one-time BRT capital revenue off the table, which includes contributions from the federal and provincial governments, is poor fiscal management.

“You’re just going to push a bigger problem off down the road. And frankly, the BRT is one of the main projects we have to create jobs.”

The exchange came after Norris was asked how his one per cent plan, which calls for a hiring freeze at City Hall, would be sustainable as the city grows and what systemic changes he had in mind.

Norris said he would reduce by 10 per cent the salaries of the mayor and chief of staff, as well as the mayor’s communication budget; implement a hiring freeze; and pause the BRT project.

“Since COVID-19, ridership is down about 80 per cent - it fluctuates. Now is not the time for more investments in buses,” Norris said.

“Now is the time for us to make sure that busing is safe, both for our drivers and for those that are riders and other participants operating in and around the bus system. Now’s the time to have a second look. That frees up significant capital, frees up millions of dollars of money.”

Clark said that Norris would need to find $7.2 million in operational savings to achieve his property tax goal - with a hiring freeze accounting for just $1 million, not counting the resulting increase in overtime.

“You need to tell people what you’re actually going to cut. You can promise a one per cent tax increase. The answer you just gave, Mr. Norris, does not add up to $7.2 million.”

Clark also criticized Norris’ plan to find $5 million by the cutting vehicle fleet budget, which Clark said would reduce the city’s ability for snow clearing, keeping existing transit on the road and street sweeping.

“This is a dangerous plan that is taking down a dangerous path.”

“Let me tell you what’s a dangerous plan - following Charlie Clark’s status quo - 3.7 and 3.9 per cent,” Norris countered.

“I haven’t met a person yet at the doors that’s seeing a three per cent increase in their salary. We are going to find some savings in the City of Saskatoon.”

The BRT plan is meant to improve capacity and reliability compared to conventional bus systems. It has been in the works since 2017.