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Overlooked on the campaign trail? A peek at how Ottawa’s top mayoral candidates could impact sport

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By Charlie Pinkerton

Ottawa residents will vote in a new mayor next Monday.

While sport and recreation promises don’t tend to be mayoral candidates’ top-line platform items, we at the Ottawa Sports Pages felt it was our duty to explore how those likeliest to takeover the big seat at City Hall could impact the sports community.

The frontrunners are Catherine McKenney, councillor for Ward 14 (Somerset West) since 2014, longtime Ottawa journalist Mark Sutcliffe, and Bob Chiarelli, a past mayor and Ottawa West—Nepean MPP.

We asked each of their campaign teams for an interview about their plans for sport and recreation, but only Sutcliffe accepted.

City of Ottawa sport commissioner Mathieu Fleury, the outgoing Ward 12 (Rideau-Vanier) councillor, and Ottawa Sport Council executive director Marci Morris also lent some input on what the city’s next mayor is getting themselves into when it comes to sport.

Catherine McKenney

Catherine McKenney. Photo:

McKenney is a long-distance runner, Fleury told us. They’ve also long been a proponent for cycling as a means of transportation in Ottawa.

While not exactly sport-focused, a plank of McKenney’s platform is dedicated to cycling. Specifically, it’s their plan to spend $250 million over four years in the mayor’s office to build “25 years” worth of bike lanes and multi-use pathways throughout the city. This’ll be financed by issuing $250-million in green bonds — debt securities used to pay for climate-friendly projects, McKenney has promised.

“As Mayor, I will transform Ottawa into one of the best cities in the world for cycling,” their website says.

McKenney has also promised to expand the length of time that public beaches and pools are open, and to hire more life guards. Last month, the City of Ottawa said 11 per cent of its registered aquatics classes this fall had to be cancelled because of a shortage of lifeguards. With McKenney in the mayor’s office, the city would “sponsor youth” to become lifeguards and review how much they’re paid to retain them, their platform says.

McKenney has also voiced support for the Ottawa Senators’ latest plan to build a stadium at LeBreton Flats, which the National Capital Commission, rather than the municipality, is the lead on developing.

They voted against giving city staff the go-ahead to spend $8 million working on the next phase of the Lansdowne redevelopment plan. The incoming mayor and council will have to decide whether or not to finish the $332.6-million project on the city-owned land.

When the Sports Pages requested an interview with McKenney, her campaign team said she was too busy.

“Thanks for your message. Catherine’s schedule is back to back in these final days before the election and there isn’t a spot for this interview. Sorry,” said McKenney’s spokesperson.

Mark Sutcliffe

Mark Sutcliffe. Photo:

Sutcliffe said in an interview that his priorities for sport and recreation as mayor of Ottawa would fit into two categories.

The first is, collectively, what’s contained in his platform. Sutcliffe promises to: cut fees for the city’s children’s recreation programs by 10 per cent, which would cost the city $2 million in revenue each year; overhaul the city’s “broken” online booking system for recreational programs, including by allowing registrations 24/7; and increase recreation programming offered by the city, including in French.

The second, he said, is to partner with event organizers, including Ottawa Tourism, to create and attract more sporting events to the city.

Sutcliffe wants to continue Lansdowne’s redevelopment, and said he “in principle” supports the current plan. “I think there are probably some things we can do to improve that plan, and make sure that residents are more comfortable with what the final product will look like,” he said.

On LeBreton Flats’ future, Sutcliffe said he “thinks there’s an exciting opportunity” for the Senators to play downtown, as well as sufficient planning complements the team has proposed for its future home. The city will need to consider transit changes and how to accommodate residents who live near LeBreton Flats, along with Kanata’s residents.

Asked if he has interest in completing any other specific sport or recreational development projects in Ottawa, Sutcliffe said he’s keen on adding a “really good cricket pitch” in the city at some point. “We would have, potentially, the opportunity to attract some cricket events to the city and serve the people of Ottawa — the growing number of people who play cricket,” he said.

Sutcliffe, himself, is a dedicated runner and triathlete. In the early goings of his journalism career, he was a sports reporter, as well as a play-by-play announcer for the long extinct Ottawa Lynx Triple-A baseball team.

He was also previously a member of and chair of Run Ottawa, which organizes the annual Ottawa Race Weekend.

“Sports have been a big part of my life, and I’m a sports fan, and obviously recreation and fitness is a big part of my life,” Sutcliffe said. “So these things are important to me and I’m well-connected to the people in the community who are promoting fitness and a healthy lifestyle.”

One of Sutcliffe’s sport community connections attracted flack early in the mayoral campaign.

In mid-September, Sutcliffe was criticized for holding a campaign event at a Lansdowne condo during a Redblacks game where attendees were invited to donate $1,200 (the campaign maximum). Jeff Hunt, president of Atlético Ottawa and a past owner of the Ottawa 67’s and Redblacks, was one of the event organizers.

Sutcliffe said his relationship with Hunt is similar to relationships he has with thousands of Ottawans, which stem from his three-decade-long career in media in the city. Hunt simply offered to host the fundraiser, and Sutcliffe accepted, the candidate said.

“There’s no special influence that either of us has over the other person’s life… My job when I go to work every day as mayor — if I’m lucky enough to get elected … is going to be to look out for the people of Ottawa and not any specific person or group,” Sutcliffe added.

Bob Chiarelli

Bob Chiarelli. Photo:

Chiarelli’s lifelong enthusiasm for sport is well known. Long before his political career, he attended Clarkson University on a hockey scholarship.

While speaking to the Sports Pages, Morris recalled that Chiarelli championed Ottawa as a host city for a portion of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup during his 2001 to 2006 stint as mayor.

“He was absolutely incredibly supportive of the event and in fact helped us to secure quarterfinal games,” the Ottawa Sport Council executive director said.

Neither sport nor recreation are mentioned in Chiarelli’s platform, with the exception of a part dedicated to opposing the current Lansdowne redevelopment plans. “Now is not the time to add another $330 million to the City’s debt load for an improved sports and entertainment complex,” it says.

In a series of tweets this week, Chiarelli said if elected he’d slow down the project, allowing for more consultation.

On the other hand, he has said he “fully supports” the Senators and NCC’s plan for a new NHL arena to be built at LeBreton Flats, and has promised to “work co-operately” with them if elected mayor.

When the Sports Pages first contacted Chiarelli’s campaign team, his campaign manager said he may be up for an interview, but then didn’t return a follow-up call and text.

Ottawa Sport Council director worried sport won’t be a priority for next term of council

Something “a bit unusual” about this campaign, as Morris, who leads the Ottawa Sport Council, explained was that no candidates — for mayor or council — tapped her for input on their plans for sport. However, it was only Fleury, who elected not to seek re-election, who made a habit of this in the first place.

Read Related Story: City council set to lose its strongest voice for sport as Mathieu Fleury departs

Morris expressed concern about this election’s crop of candidates’ interest in sport.

“Sport is a huge community builder… And it does not appear that anybody at that level (in the mayoral race) has an understanding of the heartbeat of community sport,” she said.

Morris worries that if the importance of sport isn’t properly recognized at City Hall, then some sports in the city could run aground because of the burden put on community sport organizers, and their leaders, who are oftentimes volunteers.

Gaining a better understanding of sport’s importance to the community is something she said all candidates would benefit from. If she had their attention, Morris said she’d also highlight to the mayoral contestants the need to improve Ottawa’s sport and recreation facilities.

“Certainly we have enough outdoor rinks, but we’re sorely lacking in gyms. We’re sorely lacking in other facilities to provide sport at all levels,” she said.

Though their platforms don’t specifically detail related plans, Fleury suggested from his knowledge and experiences with the frontrunners that Sutcliffe’s strengths would be around economic development and sport event hosting, while McKenney would make an impact at the neighbourhood level by encouraging participation for health benefits, and Chiarelli has a very long record of public service that can speak for itself.

While Fleury indicated that he’s keen to continue helping the local sports community from many angles, he encouraged residents and groups who believe in the importance of sport to make their voices heard, and to take a close look for council and school board trustee candidates who are involved in sport and who understand issues like barriers individuals face to access sport.

“Don’t be silent. The sport community is either too silent or not organized enough in its message, generally,” Fleury said, noting the importance of engaging with the Ottawa Sport Council. “That alone would go a long way to streamline our efforts.”

– with files from Dan Plouffe

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