Thu. Aug 18th, 2022

At its best, politics is about bringing people together to find solutions. That’s not what we’ve seen at Ottawa city hall over the last few years.

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At last, Ottawa has an interesting mayoral race. The candidacy of broadcaster, entrepreneur and community volunteer Mark Sutcliffe provides an attractive choice for those for those who either do not share the worldview of progressive city councilor Catherine McKenney or think that former mayor Bob Chiarelli, 80, is past his political prime.

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After years as a talk-radio host, Sutcliffe is familiar to many Ottawans who know him as a fair-minded and well-informed interviewer, but he’s much more than that. A serial entrepreneur, Sutcliffe has started a number of businesses, including the Ottawa Business Journal. He has been on many community boards, and has chaired the United Way and the Ottawa Board of Trade. While he is new to politics, Sutcliffe has been fully engaged in the city’s life for decades.

Now, Sutcliffe wants to add mayor to his resume. His decision to run, he said in an interview, was one he did not expect to take. Sutcliffe assumed that several city councilors would vie for the job left open by departing Mayor Jim Watson. In the end, they did not, and Sutcliffe felt there was a need for a sensible centrist in the race.

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Sutcliffe’s apparent weakness is that he has never been elected to political office and now he wants to start with the top city job. The new candidate points out that while he does not have electoral experience, he has leadership experience in business and the voluntary sector. He has followed city issues in detail for years, interviewing politicians and running election debates.

At its best, politics is about bringing people together to find solutions. That’s not what we’ve seen at Ottawa city hall over the last few years, as the mayor inflamed a divided council rather than trying to constructively engage those not on his team.

Sutcliffe wants to change that tone. It’s long overdue. He casts himself as a non-partisan leader willing and able to work with any councilor. It’s almost a definition of the mayor’s job. With his upbeat, middle-of-the-road style, Sutcliffe has often been a hometown booster during his journalism career. That’s not a bad quality for a mayor.

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While he does not have a detailed platform yet, Sutcliffe has identified some key areas of interest. He wants a city that is safe, reliable and affordable. That’s a short way of saying he’s concerned with the causes of crime, wants the LRT to actually work and doesn’t want big tax increases.

Just how he would achieve those goals is not yet clear. Crime is a complex problem and the mayor does not run light rail. Keeping taxes down will be a real challenge since inflation affects the city’s costs too, and some areas, such as road repair, are underfunded.

Sutcliffe’s campaign announcement displayed a degree of political savvy. While he lives in the West Wellington neighborhood, the candidate chose to make his announcement in Kanata, stressing that he will listen to suburban and rural voters. Support from those areas is a key to victory in October’s election.

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Sutcliffe has always struck a good balance between optimism and realism. Yes, the city has problems, but Sutcliffe thinks we can solve them by working together and that’s what he wants to do if he’s elected mayor. It’s a refreshing change from veteran councilors telling us the city hall operation is so screwed up it will take eight years to fix.

Sutcliffe represents an important demographic in Ottawa, a city well supplied with reasonable people who are not particularly partisan. That is particularly true when it comes to the municipal level. We all want a city that functions efficiently and a leader who can bring out the best in us.

If Mark Sutcliffe is able to convince voters to support him, he has the potential to restore people’s faith in city politics. That’s desperately needed.

Randall Denley is an Ottawa political commentator and author. Contact him at randalldenley1@gmail.com

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