Sutcliffe and McKenney spar over services and cuts

The rhetoric around spending, cuts, and city services is heating up as Ottawa’s mayoral election quickly approaches.

With 13 days to go until Election Day, the two front-runners, Mark Sutcliffe and Catherine McKenney, are sparring over their respective visions for the city, and money is at the heart of the discussion.

McKenney has ramped up their criticism of Sutcliffe’s financial plan in the past week, which includes $35 to $60 million in “strategic review and efficiencies,” which McKenney says means service cuts.

“Until last week, my opponent was running on continuing the status quo,” McKenney said at a campaign announcement Tuesday morning, “but last week he committed to a more dangerous idea: up to $80 million worth of cuts right across city services.”

McKeneny’s $80 million figure includes the top-end figure of $60 million in review and efficiencies cited as “savings” in Sutcliffe’s financial plan, as well as half of the $40 million in revenues Sutcliffe is estimating will come from growth, some of which he says he would direct toward policing and “areas where the incremental growth costs can be clearly demonstrated, such as new roads and parks.” McKenney has framed that as cutting services to fund police.

“My opponent has been prioritizing the needs of the wealthiest among us – and ignoring everyday people who rely on city services,” McKenney said. “He’s done that by holding cash for access fundraisers, at a whopping $1,200 per ticket, and then unveiling his plan to decimate city services.”

McKenney’s plan vows no service cuts.

According to documents released by McKenney’s campaign, the major commitments in McKenney’s campaign equal $343 million in operation spending and $315 million on capital projects over four years, including an additional $288 million for “reliable and affordable transportation.” 

Sutcliffe has challenged McKenney’s framing, disagreeing with a previous comment in which they said there is no fat to be trimmed at city hall.

“At a time when households throughout Ottawa and across the country are tightening their belts and trying to find ways to spend more wisely and make ends meet, Catherine McKenney’s approach would not only spend more, including $250 million on bike lanes, it would not attempt to find any savings,” Sutcliffe said in a news release Tuesday. “Instead, they are proposing to add hundreds of millions to the city’s debt, and raid important financial reserves we need for times of crisis and emergency.”

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Patricia Boal, Sutcliffe said McKenney is misrepresenting his plan.

“I’m disappointed to hear this message from Catherine McKenney’s campaign,” he said. “They’re deliberately misrepresenting my plan to distract people from their own plan.”

Sutcliffe said Ottawa needs to find savings at city hall and it can.

“I’ll give you one example: The city spends more than $300 million a year on consulting fees. I think there’s room for us to save a little bit of money in that area without impacting the important services we’re delivering to Ottawa residents,” he said.

He also cited travel expenses for city staff as another example on areas where savings might be found.

“Catherine McKenney is ready to give up on the people of Ottawa, in terms of finding value for money for their investments. I’m not ready to give up on that.”

Sutcliffe vowed he would not cut services, but would “find efficiencies” in areas such as consulting, travel, conferences, and training.

“I will not cut any services that impact Ottawa residents. Pointe finale. I’m not going to cut any services,” he said. “I think the people of Ottawa know that on a $5 billion budget, it’s realistic to find $35 million in savings.”

Both McKenney and Sutcliffe released their financial plans last week.

Election Day is Oct. 24. There is one more day of advance voting in all wards on Friday. To date, approximately six per cent of voters in Ottawa have already cast ballots.

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