A former Prince Albert police officer and MLA is eyeing the mayor’s chair.
Darryl Hickie kicked off his campaign Tuesday at the Premier Best Western Hotel on 38 Street.
Hickie is the third candidate, after current Mayor Greg Dionne and Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky, to declare his intention to run for mayor.
Speaking to the Herald Tuesday, Hickie said that he began mulling a run for mayor when he heard repeated concerns about Dionne.
“I hear these same concerns. It’s time for a change. We need someone with a new perspective,” Hickie said.
“Dionne has lost touch with the fact that taxpayers are doing all they can to pay for all these upgrades.”
Hickie said the mayor is taking credit for projects funded by taxpayers and the city, and that people are fed up. More recently, Hickie said he’s tired of what he calls Dionne’s “antics” in city council meetings.
He accused Dionne of not letting councillors have an opportunity to have their voices heard, and how the current mayor is “running a dictatorship so to speak.”
He believes more needs to be done to have other voices and full democratic debate happen at council. He said he was having the same conversations with people who wanted a change in leadership.
“It always seems to come around to, what are you gong to do about it. Are you going to run for mayor?” Hickie said.
But what convinced him was the way the $6.25 million land deal in the southeast portion of the city was handled.
“The last nail was this strange land deal … which I don’t think is fully above board in my opinion.”
Hickie believes the reserve the city is using to fund the purchase needs to go towards infrastructure, not a land purchase. He also said the city should have done more to examine other sites, and used that $6 million in reserved funds to offset the cost of the $16 million loan that will be taken out.
The city has said that land was the only portion available where a surrounding development is taking place that could provide enough of a development levy to fund repayment of that $16 million loan. The city said a development levy on that 80-acre development, of which the city now owns 18, will fully fund the first stage of the improvement. That will leave taxpayers off the hook, decision makers said.
But while that decision was what made Hickie take the plunge, he’s not a single-issue candidate.
In a press release, Hickie said that for months, he has heard concerns about what he described as Mayor Greg Dionne’s “lack of focus on the high violent crime rate,” conduct during council meetings, statements that the city shouldn’t fear debt, taking credit for projects taxpayers are funding, lack of focus on local addictions issues and the decision surrounding the new aquatic and arenas recreation centre location.
“I’ve sat in the sidelines long enough watching with disappointment and decided it’s now time to announce that I am running for mayor,” Hickie said in a press release.
“People in Prince Albert are concerned for their own personal safety as they go about their daily business in town; they’re concerned about paying for ever-increasing property taxes with no relief in sight to pay off increasing city debt,” he said.
Hickie vowed to ask for an audit to get a picture of what the financial state of the city is and release that to taxpayers. He also promised to work to help make the city a better place for every person, family and business.
Some councillors have said addressing crime and addictions are a provincial matter and that the province needs to step up. Hickie doesn’t buy that argument.
“I won’t even accept the premise of that statement,” he said.
“There are things the government has an obligation to fund but the city also has the same obligation to help its citizens.”
He said the city should take a more proactive approach to engaging with not-for-profit and other organizations through an open-door policy and not wait for organizations to come to them. Working with those organizations, he said, which have the expertise to tackle problems such as homelessness, poverty and addictions, will help to reduce the city’s crime rate.
“As a former police officer working on the front lines, I’m not going to tolerate criminals in this city. I’m not going to allow that to be our downfall,” he said.
“If you can manage the addictions issue at a local level, the crime issue follows suite. The violent crime is also tied to increased use of meth and hard drugs and the police need to have more resources available as well and better direction from the mayor, I believe, to tackle those issues.”
It’s working together, he said, with police, social supports, health, education and social service that some of those root issues of crime go away.
“It’s not just the mayor knowing everything and coming out saying it’s his way or no way,” Hickie said. “I want to work with all the unions and associations in the city as well.”
In addition to his years as a police officer, where he served as a patrol constable and on assignment in the Internet Child Sexual Exploitation Unit, Hickie also served as head of the Prince Albert Police Association.
He’s also no stranger to politics.
Hickie was elected as the MLA for Prince Albert Carton in the 2007 provincial election and was re-elected in 2011. He served in then-premier Brad Wall’s cabinet as minister for corrections, public safety and policing and as minister responsible for municipal affairs. He was also on the treasury board for the first two years in cabinet and worked as the chair of the traffic safety committee, which began implementing tougher rules around drunk and distracted driving.
He also served as chair of the economy committee.
Hickie believes this experience, and the friendships he made, would benefit him in office.
As minister responsible for municipal affairs, he said, he oversaw communities, cities and other municipalities. He learned about infrastructure funding, governance and other municipal issues he says will give the city “a whole new perspective” on working as a city and with the province.
“I still have a lot of good friends who are in the Sask. Party government. It’s a good thing. We have relationships based on lots of things away from government. Having the background and understanding of how your provincial government works and how to bring those forces to bear on issues, you can get a lot more with honey than you can with vinegar. That’s the most important thing here.”
Hickie added that he also got to see conversations about topics such as health care in Prince Albert. He said that then-mayor Jim Scarrow was advocating for improved health care in the region, including a hospital, which is why he doesn’t like seeing Dionne take full credit.
Hickie also doesn’t believe his early resignation from provincial politics will drag him down. Hickie resigned near the end of his second term to return to his policing career.
“It was a very difficult decision. I was only going to do two terms. I never had a plan to make it a career because I always thought that after too long in office, it taints you and you lose perspective,” he said.
“I always wanted to come back to policing and finish my career. When I resigned in politics, it was done in tandem with the training cycle of the police service where I could come back, immediately jump into a training cycle, get fully retrained again and get back on the street.”
By doing it so late in his term, a byelection wasn’t called.
“It didn’t cost the taxpayers anything,” Hickie said.
“I was able to leave with the grace of the premier as well.”
Hickie believes he is the only candidate who provides an alternative to the city’s current leadership.
“It’s a clear choice the citizens have,” he said.
“You could have the same old, same old because you have two people from city council, or a whole new perspective.”
The municipal election is set for November 9.
The nomination window closes Oct. 8.