By Charlie Senack
Local journalist and business owner Mark Sutcliffe is running for Mayor of Ottawa. He hopes his decades of community service will peak voters’ interest.
Sutcliffe, who was a popular radio show host, columnist, and founder of Great River Media, never had a life-long ambition to run for office. He’d been asked about the idea before, and always said no, citing the time wasn’t right.
With Mayor Jim Watson not seeking re-election, Sutcliffe said Ottawa residents were in need of a candidate with centralized political leaning.
“I think a lot of people want to see change at Ottawa City Hall. They want to see the right kind of change, change that works for them,” he told the Barrhaven Independent. “I’ve been working and living in this community my whole life, I’ve worked in the media, I’ve been a small business owner, a volunteer, and I want to help deliver the change people want.”
Making Ottawa a safer, more affordable, and reliable city is what Sutcliffe is campaigning for. He said people are concerned about rising costs and possible cutbacks to city budgets if other candidates win.
On the topic of safety, Sutcliffe says we need to modernize and invest in police services. In Barrhaven West last year, the community saw a 20.7 per cent increase in crime — more than any other ward in Ottawa.
“I’ve spoken with residents who have had their car taken from their driveway,” said Sutcliffe. “We can’t defund the police at a time like that when people are worried about their safety and there has been a convoy in Ottawa. We can’t reduce police resources, cut their budget by hundreds of millions of dollars like some people are saying.”
Sutcliffe said hiring more police officers will also ensure they have a stronger presence in suburban communities.
“We need more police in communities enforcing the speed limit,” he said. “If we are having an issue with racing on certain streets, then maybe we need to put some (speed) cameras on targeted streets, which don’t take up police resources which could be used in another area. I want to work with community associations to look at those ideas.”
Barrhaven has long been known for its struggling public transit system. Some days upwards of 300+ routes are being cancelled across the city due to a shortage of buses and drivers.
All three main Mayoral candidates are campaigning on fixing the transit system, focusing more on localized routes to get riders from their door to work, shopping or school.
Sutcliffe hasn’t emphasized much on what he would do to fix the system, but says people don’t feel like they are getting value for their money.
“I use public transit all the time. I hear from people that they aren’t happy with the service they are getting,” he said.
“I talked with a resident in Barrhaven not long ago who works in Kanata and said that just to get to work everyday by bus would be about an hour and a half each day. By car it’s about 20 minutes,” Sutcliffe added. “We can’t expect people to take the bus if it’s not a fast and reliable service and it doesn’t get them to where they need to go as quickly as they need to get there.”
Public transit shouldn’t be free, says Sutcliffe, noting the funding will be crucial to reinventing the system.
With Phase 3 LRT out to Barrhaven, Sutcliffe believes the city should still go ahead with the plan, saying the full light rail service won’t be complete without it.
“We are going to get the rest of the funding from the provincial and federal governments and get the rest of the system built,” said Sutcliffe. “But we still need to improve the bus system in addition to that.”
The Mayoral candidate’s view is not in line with the thoughts of many Barrhaven West and East council candidates, who believe plans should be revisited following the COVID-19 pandemic. Ridership levels are still drastically down and park and rides sit empty with many suburban workers no longer commuting downtown.
The current price tag for light rail transit out to Barrhaven sits at $3 billion. The cost is expected to go up before any contracts are signed.
Catherine McKenney and Bob Chiarelli, the two other high profile Mayoral candidates, have both vowed to revisit the plan, saying Barrhaven is served by a transitway which works well when serviced properly. Still, Sutcliffe says he believes it will be worth it in the long run.
“A lot has changed because of COVID, but in the long run I think people are going to be going back to work in larger numbers,” he said.
The future of the downtown core will certainly be a topic the next term of council will debate. Many federal office buildings sit empty with ideas circulating to turn at least some of them into affordable housing.
Sutcliffe says the city will have to think of innovative ways to make downtown an attraction for residents again.
“We need to look at downtown and change the way we approach the area. We need to revitalize it,” he said. “I don’t think we are going to see the same numbers of people working downtown as often, so we need to look at other solutions. Maybe more destinations, maybe more attractions and events. Also having more people live downtown which would be great anyway.”
A total of 14 people have registered to be the next Mayor of Ottawa, only three are seen as serious contenders. The city election will be held on Oct. 24.