Vowing to bring “new leadership” to city hall, well-known Ottawa entrepreneur and broadcaster Mark Sutcliffe has officially thrown his hat into the ring to become the city’s next mayor – adding star power to an already crowded race to succeed Jim Watson.
The longtime community leader announced his candidacy at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at Kanata’s Brookshire Park, hours after officially registering. He becomes the eighth person to seek the city’s top job, which has been filled for the past 12 years by Watson, Ottawa’s longest-serving mayor.
Flanked by his wife Ginny and three children, Sutcliffe pledged to take a non-partisan approach to making life more affordable for Ottawa residents as inflation soars and the threat of recession looms over the economy.
“Many, many families are falling behind, finding it increasingly difficult to afford the basics like food and shelter,” he said. “We must make life more affordable for everyone by keeping taxes, recreation fees and other costs as low as possible.”
While he lacks the beefy political resume of some of his fellow candidates, the Ottawa native said he brings a deep understanding of the issues confronting the city after years as a broadcaster and business leader.
"I’m the one person who can bring new leadership to city hall."
“I’m the one person who can bring people together from across the city,” he said. “I’m the one person who can bring new leadership to city hall.”
Sutcliffe’s decision comes as city council looks set to undergo a major shift in the next term. Watson announced late last year he won’t be running for re-election, and several other current council members have also said they won’t be returning to the table this fall.
A founder and former publisher of OBJ, Sutcliffe has deep connections to Ottawa’s business community. The father of three hosted a successful talk show on Newstalk 580 CFRA and 1310 News and has served on the boards of multiple non-profit organizations, including a stint as chair of the Ottawa Board of Trade. He has also hosted a national political program on CPAC and currently hosts a podcast, Digging Deep.
While he’s best-known to the public as a broadcaster, Sutcliffe is a seasoned entrepreneur and business mentor. In addition to being an adviser to startup founders at Invest Ottawa, Sutcliffe also chairs a local chapter of TEC Canada, a peer advisory group of small business owners and CEOs in the Ottawa area.
Other candidates who’ve already entered the race include Brandon Bay, former mayor and MPP Bob Chiarelli, Bernard Couchman, Graham MacDonald, current city councillor Catherine McKenney, Ade Olumide and Param Singh. The election will take place on Oct. 24.
Whoever heads Ottawa’s next council will be overseeing an agenda top-loaded with city-building initiatives and issues that are laden with controversy. The next set of councillors will be grappling with complex topics such as the next phase of Ottawa’s light-rail project, the $330-million proposal to renovate Lansdowne Park, the Ottawa Senators’ bid to build a new arena at LeBreton Flats and the ongoing push for more affordable housing among other hot-button issues.
'Crisis of confidence'
Citing the ongoing public inquiry into Ottawa’s troubled light-rail system, Sutcliffe said the city is facing a “crisis of confidence” in its public transit network.
“We need a fresh set of eyes to restore confidence in public transit with a safe, reliable system,” he said.
While Watson’s final term in office has been marked by division, longtime Ottawa business leader Doug McLarty – a former partner in the Ottawa office of accounting firm MNP who is now serving as chief financial officer of Sutcliffe’s campaign – told OBJ the broadcaster and businessman will be a “centrist” leader who will attempt to seek input and support from all sides of the council table.
“He understands all aspects of the city,” said McLarty, who’s known Sutcliffe for more than 30 years. “He’s been involved with many organizations, from the business community through to the non-profit community. He’s very sensitive to all sides of the political equation.
“He is not someone who is full of himself. He’s willing to listen and understand different points of view.”
Still, Sutcliffe, a relative neophyte in the world of municipal politics, will be going up against a slate of candidates that includes seasoned City Hall veterans such as Chiarelli – a former regional chair who served two stints in the provincial legislature totalling nearly 20 years and was the first mayor of the amalgamated city of Ottawa from 2001-2006 – and McKenney, who was first elected as councillor of the downtown Somerset ward in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018.
Sutcliffe acknowledged his relative lack of experience, but said he’s kept his finger on the pulse of the community as a broadcaster and business leader.
“I have tons of experience in this community,” he said. “I’ve been listening to the people of Ottawa for 30 years or longer. I know the city; I know the issues. I’ve been writing about the issues, talking about the issues, I’ve worked with so many different community organizations. I can bring people together.
“I actually think it’s a good thing that there is someone coming from outside city council who can step in to this and take on some of the challenges that we face.”
McLarty said Sutcliffe’s lack of political experience is more than offset by his business acumen and strong ties to the community.
“Although he doesn’t have that experience at the council table or in politics, I honestly believe that the experience that he’s had in life will allow him … to get the confidence of the other councillors,” he said.
“He’s going to go into (the campaign) with a lot of goodwill. I cannot tell you the number of people that I know that have been looking for this type of candidate and … be in a position to support him or her. I think his campaign will be extremely well-supported in the community.”