Sutcliffe says ‘clear choice’ for voters; McKenney warns opponent will hike fees as mayor’s race enters homestretch

Catherine McKenney and Mark Sutcliffe stepped up attacks on their opponents financial plans as the race for mayor of Ottawa entered the homestretch.

“Mark is cutting services and hiking user fees, and his financial plan still doesn’t add up,” McKenney said on Friday, one day after accusing Sutcliffe of having a “significant hole” in his financial plan.

“This is a critical election for Ottawa, and you have a clear choice,” Sutcliffe said in a new television ad.

“To me, it’s about priorities. There’s an expensive path, that spends a quarter of a billion dollars on bike lanes and more free transit. Or, you can choose change that puts your priorities first, and makes your life, more affordable.”

The increase in attacks on opponents came as voters headed to the polls for the final Advance Vote Day on Friday ahead of the Oct. 24 election.

During the CTV News Ottawa mayoral debate Thursday evening, McKenney said Sutcliffe had a “significant hole” in his financial plan by not accounting for inflation on the full $5 billion budget.

“When you calculated for inflation, you, in fact, left it off half the city budget. You know that this leaves a multi-million dollar hole in your plan, correct?” McKenney said.

McKenney’s campaign says Sutcliffe’s plan to account for $75 million to $100 million in inflation costs at 3.5 per cent only looks at spending through property taxes, and not on the full $5.1 billion budget that also accounts for government funding and user fees.

“Mark Sutcliffe’s financial plan focuses on how budget pressures impact the property taxpayer. He is the only candidate that has provided an estimate of the pressures that will impact property taxes ($75-100 million),” Sutcliffe’s campaign said in a statement Thursday night.

“Going into 2023, the total budget pressures from inflation and growth are the same for Mark Sutcliffe as they are for Catherine McKenney.”

On Friday, McKenney’s campaign said that statement from Sutcliffe is an admission, “that he’s going to hike fees, which will make life more expensive for you.”

McKenney’s campaign says some examples of what will become more expensive if Sutcliffe is elected include parking fees and traffic enforcement tickets, certain recreation programming and building permits.

“In other words, Mark is planning his tax increases at 2.5 per cent — but making up the difference through charging taxpayers more for the services they use,” the McKenney campaign said.

McKenney said in a statement, “Mark is cutting services and hiking user fees, and his financial plan still doesn’t add up.”

Sutcliffe’s financial plan calls for the city to find between $35 million to $60 million in efficiencies.

Sutcliffe’s campaign called McKenney’s suggestion of a $100 million hole in the budget a “debate night stunt”, attempting to “distract voters from a “$650 million spending spree.”

“Their plan will raid the city’s reserves, jack up city debt, and would hike taxes beyond their stated 3 per cent commitment.”

During the mayoral debate on CTV News Ottawa, Sutcliffe said his financial plan accounted for inflation and contingencies, adding, “I will not cut programs and services; that’s a promise.”

Sutcliffe’s campaign suggested Thursday evening that McKenney’s campaign promises would result in at least a seven per cent tax hike in the third and fourth year of the mandate to balance the books.

In a statement, the campaign said that McKenney is promising to increase spending by $546 million, but after funding from other sources and using reserves, there is still $253 million in unaccounted spending.

“Catherine McKenney’s spending plan will require 12 per cent in additional property tax dollars on top of the proposed 3 per cent annual tax hike that is already in McKenney’s plan,” Sutcliffe’s campaign said in a statement.

“Those additional tax hikes will occur in years 3 and 4, after McKenney has depleted the city’s reserves by $90M. Because their spending plan ramps up in the final two years, that translates to a property tax increase of at least 7 per cent to balance the books.”

McKenney has promised to cap property tax increases at 3 per cent for the four year term, and freeze transit fares. 

PARLIAMENTARY BUDGET OFFICER

Both McKenney and Sutcliffe have cited the approval of former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page as proof their fiscal plans are sound.

Page was asked about his support by Newstalk 580 CFRA on Friday, and says that both the McKenney and Sutcliffe campaigns need to budget for higher inflation.

“Regarding inflation assumptions … both candidates ( McKenney and Sutcliffe) would need to reiterate how inflation assumptions are built into the city budget 2022; what revised assumptions they would use for budget 2023; how they would incorporate the revised assumptions into their revised outlook; and what measures they are prepared to take to address the new inflation assumptions ( spending review, reserves, revenues …),” Page said in an email.

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