New Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe, rookie council face big challenges ahead

OTTAWA — After a tumultuous four years, Ottawa’s city council is starting a new term with a fresh slate and a whole lot of challenges ahead.

Local broadcaster and entrepreneur Mark Sutcliffe won the mayor’s seat handily with more than 51 per cent of the vote Monday after former mayor Jim Watson announced that he wouldn’t put his name on the ballot.

Sutcliffe will be joined by 11 new councillors and 13 incumbents following a municipal election that saw no upsets in any of the ward races.

No one lost a seat that they hadn’t willingly walked away from, even after a turbulent four years that included two major natural disasters, the calamitous debut of a new light rail system, a global pandemic, an occupation of the city’s downtown by protesters and a few council meetings that brought elected officials to tears.

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The mayor-elect told reporters on election night that he’s not daunted by those challenges.

“I’m excited by that opportunity,” he said after his victory speech. “It’s very exciting. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to work really hard till we get it done.”

Read more: Mark Sutcliffe elected next mayor of Ottawa

Sutcliffe ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, affordability and improved services. He listed 40 priorities he plans to accomplish within his first 100 days in office, including a line-by-line review of the budget to weed out $35 million in inefficiencies.

At the same time, he plans to cap tax increases at two to 2.5 per cent for the next two years without any cuts to programs. He also says he’ll reduce recreation fees for kids and freeze transit fares.

But before he can get to work fulfilling his promises, he has to get help from the federal and provincial governments to crawl out from a projected $12-million deficit.

Cities are not allowed to run deficits, so that money will either need to come from higher levels of government or the new council will need to make room for the expense.

The latest city fiscal update shows the City of Ottawa is still on the hook for some of the costs brought on by the “Freedom Convoy” protest that occupied downtown streets for nearly a month last winter. Businesses in the area were forced to close, and city services were either disrupted or completely cut off until the protest ended after a massive police operation.

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Not counting the cost to the police service or lost transit revenue, the city is still holding the bag for $1.7 million in costs, which it hopes to recover from the federal government.

City finance staff are also left wondering how to pay for the cleanup of the massive derecho storm that ripped through the capital with 100 km/h winds in May, leaving downed trees, damaged power poles and destroyed buildings in its path.

Click to play video: 'Interim Ottawa police chief: Force learned lessons from convoy protests'

Interim Ottawa police chief: Force learned lessons from convoy protests

As of the end of the second quarter, the cost of the cleanup totals about $9 million, a bill that the province has so far not offered to pay.

“It will be a challenge, there’s no question,” outgoing three-term councillor Scott Moffatt said of accomplishing Sutcliffe’s goals during a budget crunch.

He said council is also going to have to deal with four major files in very short order: an overhaul of the way the city deals with waste and zoning, and redevelopment plans for a new hospital and entertainment district.

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“Those are four pretty significant files over and above the budget,” Moffatt said, and most of them are expected to come up in the first year of the term.

Sutcliffe will be leading a relatively inexperienced new council through those challenges. But the fresh lineup could also signal an opportunity for the council to move past old divides.

Over the last several years, the council became increasingly fractured, with votes tending to split along urban and suburban lines.

Progressive inner-city councillors such as Catherine McKenney, who was the runner-up in Monday’s mayoral campaign, found themselves on the outs with those who aligned themselves with Watson.

The mayor-elect says he is intent on leaving those divides in the past.

“There’s room for everyone around the council table,” he told reporters Monday. “We’ll work together. We’ll find common ground.”

&© 2022 The Canadian Press

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