The Q&A: Mayor Mark Sutcliffe
People & Places

The Q&A: Mayor Mark Sutcliffe

This transcript of an interview on Oct. 31, 2022 has been edited for length and was originally published in the Winter 2022-23 issue of Ottawa Magazine

You and counsel are all fairly new at this and there are a number of serious issues needing to be solved. How have you prepared for when things get tough?

Well, there’s first of all, there’s lots of experienced people on council who have been reelected. And none of these issues are new or surprising. We’ve been working on them for a while, and I’ve been following them as a resident, as a journalist, and just spent the last four months talking about them pretty intensively as part of the campaign. It’s not like as a mayor or a city councilor you walk into a room and you’re entirely by yourself and you have to come up with all the answers. You work with other people, you gather the best ideas, you consult, and you collaborate. Council has got to make some tough decisions, but we’re going to make them with the support of a lot of very experienced people, and a lot of research and evidence and information that we can rely on to make those decisions.

You’ve promised a lot of change, especially in the tone of how you want to govern things. Is that going to be enough to tackle the challenges facing the city?

I think it’s a big start. I’m ready to work with everyone on city council. All of us who were elected heard over and over again from members of the community during the campaign that there’s a different expectation for this council. The public wants to see civility and collaboration and consensus-building. It’s a fresh start, it’s a new council, it’s a new term, and I think everybody is ready to turn the page on the last four years and start working together. I think there’s a huge opportunity for this council right now to collaborate. And frankly, that’s the message that I’m both delivering to and hearing from every city councilor I’m talking to.


Photo by Marc Fowler/Metropolis Studio

How are you going to build trust with people who didn’t vote for you?

I think the first thing to remember is that an election is a competition. Just by the nature of how elections are structured in a democracy — at the end of that competition, there’s a winner. But governing doesn’t have to be a competition, right? Governing can be about bringing people together. I intend to represent everyone throughout the city, not just the people who voted for me. 

Was there anything that you learned from the convoy occupation?

As a journalist, with most of the stories I covered, I tended to remain detached from the story and not get emotionally involved in whatever story I was covering. But I found with the occupation that I was emotionally involved in it; I was very upset that had happened and that it was allowed to continue. And felt that it was a failure of leadership, that we basically surrendered the downtown core to a group of people who just came in and took over. The lesson we learned is sometimes we think because we’re little old Ottawa that those kinds of things happen in other capital cities, and don’t happen here. I think it’s time for us to acknowledge that these kinds of things can happen in our city and will happen in the future if we’re not prepared for them. Going forward, it’s really important that we are prepared for these kinds of events, because they’re probably more likely now than they were in the past.

We’ve got some pretty big transit issues in the city. What’s it going to take to fix them?

I think ultimately, it’s going to take delivering reliable service to people. We’re not going to fix it with talk and we’re not going to fix it overnight. What we need to do is fix the trains, adopt the recommendations of the inquiry, and make sure the next phase is implemented properly. In the post-pandemic world, I think people’s travel patterns have changed. The time of day that they’re traveling and the places they’re traveling to have changed. We need a bus service that reflects that. It’s going to take a bunch of incremental changes. 

The province just announced a plan that would waive many development fees and allow multi-unit buildings in areas currently zoned for only single-family homes. What is your initial reaction to the plan?

I’d like to understand more about the legislation and the impact it’s going to have — it’s all pretty new. I’m working my way through that and consulting with experts. Ultimately, my focus is on building more homes. The population of Ottawa is expected to grow by half a million people over the next 25 to 30 years and I’m open to whatever ideas there are out there to build more homes, especially more affordable ones. And I’m ready to work with the province on that. I don’t have the full picture of that yet, but I’m interested in anything that’s going to help us build more homes over the next 10 years.

Usually, in these pages, it’s you asking the questions. What’s surprised you most about being on the other side of things?

I made a joke on election night that it’s a lot more challenging to participate in a televised debate than to moderate one. I probably moderated 150 debates over the last 20 years. On election night, I had my back to a wall and there was a scrum of 25 journalists around me. It was kind of funny for me because I was always on the other side of that and I never really pictured myself being the subject of the questions. It’s been fascinating. I think I appreciate the job of journalists more than most people would, because I’ve been in that role. Frankly, it all still feels a little bit surreal.