Ottawans head to the polls in a few short days and I feel compelled to get something out there.
Two things to start.
First, this is a personal opinion column. It is distinct from OBJ’s municipal election news coverage, which is fair and balanced. Check for yourself. (Note, OBJ isn’t in the practice of officially endorsing political candidates and this column does not suggest an endorsement from our newsroom.)
Second, Mark Sutcliffe and I have worked together for many years, about 10 years as business partners. He hired me as OBJ’s editor in 1999 and we still enjoy a close business and personal relationship. So what follows will not be a surprise. If I didn’t state my position on Mark’s mayoral bid, it would be disingenuous and lack transparency.
Mark has my unequivocal support in this mayoral race. He should be Ottawa’s next mayor.
Let me give you five reasons why this is such a clear choice for me.
AGENT OF CHANGE
When OBJ was authoring its annual economic report for 2022, one phrase came to mind. Ottawa stands at a crossroads. It’s true in terms of local political leadership, it’s true in terms of Ottawa hitting one million in population – bringing more infrastructure, social and environmental challenges – and it’s absolutely true as the city emerges from the pandemic, with questions about the city’s massive public-sector workforce and the future of downtown.
Times of great change require new perspectives. Anyone who has ever worked with Mark can attest to this: he will question the status quo, re-examine the facts and push for a better outcome. This is one of his defining qualities. Ottawa needs someone who will examine problems from fresh new angles and find innovative approaches to our challenges.
Building on the previous point. It’s hard to get things done and solve problems, especially at a city level, with competing priorities and a complex bureaucracy. Even when solutions are identified, you’ve got the people equation, meaning building consensus and getting people to act differently. It’s far easier to tackle local problems and achieve real change when you don’t approach everything through a partisan political prism.
Mark can’t be pigeon-holed when it comes to politics. He advocates for ideas across the political spectrum and genuinely bonds with people across political boundaries. On this point, not only does Mark excel, but I think Catherine McKenney falls short.
This last city council was so divisive and dysfunctional that almost half of the councillors tossed in the towel. Think about that.
For a particular group on city council, all the blame rests with the so-called “Watson club.” Let’s get real. It takes two to tango. McKenney stoked the fires of partisanship and often adopted an all-or-nothing approach when they couldn’t advance their agenda. Is this effective leadership? How does this approach work as mayor? It doesn’t.
RESPECT FOR MONEY
Like many other fiscally conscious Ottawans, I was shocked to hear McKenney say, “There is just no more fat to be found at city hall.” How could someone who wants to be mayor give up on efficiencies and savings? How could the leader of a billion-dollar operation fail to grasp that innovation, automation and good old belt-tightening are always on the table?
Of this I am certain, as Mark’s business partner for 10 years: he doesn’t spend a penny when it’s not needed. It’s core to his management style. In this campaign, Mark has consistently shown that he understands it’s taxpayer money, not city hall’s money.
Mark has been targeted by McKenney for, in their words, a lack of experience. I completely disagree.
Mark has a broader range of experience than his main opponent. Years working as a CEO, board positions on some of the city’s key institutions and almost 30 years of journalism, talking to political leaders of all stripes and digging deep into issues. This diverse experience is, for me, the key ingredient for Ottawa’s next mayor.
Oh, let’s be clear on this point. Mark isn’t Larry O’Brien. Larry was mistaken (and has stated this publicly) that city hall could be run as a business. Mark fundamentally gets the difference.
McKenney points to their city council experience to suggest they are qualified for this promotion. Being a city councillor and being mayor are two very different jobs. Many mayors, including Toronto’s John Tory and Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, never worked as city councillors. The same is true for Vancouver’s new mayor, Ken Sim, whose experience looks a lot more like Mark’s than McKenney’s.
This one is obvious. As a founder of OBJ, a business owner, former chair of the Ottawa Board of Trade, coach to entrepreneurs with TEC Canada and a board position at Invest Ottawa, Mark could be the best prepared mayoral candidate in decades when it comes to economic vision.
And don’t discount what a mayor can do when it comes to the local economy. Perhaps the best example of this is Jim Watson’s work on the sesquicentennial celebrations. He rallied the entire city to the opportunity and it paid dividends in the tens of millions of dollars.
Let me wrap up with this.
One of the questions, I believe, you should ask yourself before supporting a candidate is this: what is their personal motivation for getting elected?
In 23 years of working with Mark, he never once mentioned to me his desire to run for office. I am quite certain this was not his endgame. However, with the upcoming vacancy in the mayor’s seat, Mark started to listen to his friends and colleagues, reflected with gratitude on what Ottawa has given him and his family and came to the conclusion that perhaps his unique combination of experience and considerable ability were leading up this mayoral race.
On Oct. 24, I will cast my vote for Mark.
Michael Curran is the publisher of the Ottawa Business Journal.