Divisive struggle for mayor of Ottawa


Clans are forming behind the two main candidates for mayor of Ottawa, Catherine McKenney and Mark Sutcliffe, who are multiplying their support. On one side, several political personalities formerly associated with the Liberal Party of Canada; on the other, almost all the Liberal MPs from the Ottawa region currently in office. A dynamic that would be partly motivated by the desire not to give oxygen to the NDP in Ottawa, according to some observers.

On October 24, Ottawans will likely choose between Catherine McKenney, a non-binary person who sits on city council, and former journalist Mark Sutcliffe. Polls indicate it’s a two-way fight. Catherine McKenney’s considerable lead this summer has narrowed lately, however.

It’s been fifteen years since the political class has been so invested in a municipal campaign in Ottawa, notes Tyler Meredith, a former adviser to Chrystia Freeland who supports Catherine McKenney. Pierre Cyr, a former adviser to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, says the « machinery » of Ottawa-area provincial and federal Liberal caucuses is behind Mark Sutcliffe. Stephen Blais, MPP for Orléans, says the party’s Ottawa caucus has not discussed common support for the candidate, but the MP has personally spoken with Mark Sutcliffe about the possibility of him getting into the race before he officially does.

According to three observers, if this support is accumulating among the Liberals, it is partly because they do not want to give a platform to a mayor associated with the NDP in Ottawa, which could encourage the New Democrat vote, already in vogue in provincial. The NDP won two downtown ridings in the last provincial election. One had never been a New Democrat; the other was a Liberal between 1995 and 2018.

A former Liberal councilor who prefers to remain anonymous because he is involved in another municipal campaign says these New Democrat gains are problematic for the Ontario Liberal Party, which has three of the eight seats in Ontario’s parliament in Ottawa.

Catherine McKenney never ran for the orange banner, but served as former leader Ed Broadbent’s legislative assistant between 2004 and 2005. According to the former Liberal adviser who wishes to remain anonymous, the reds don’t want « put the wind in the sails » of a potential future adversary. Catherine McKenney, he says, could one day covet the job of leader of the federal or provincial NDP. Cam Holmstrom, a former NDP strategist, however, believes that this is not in the candidate’s plans in the short term.

Support from alumni of the Liberal Party of Canada

Despite her former ties to the NDP, Catherine McKenney has attracted several political figures associated with the federal Liberal Party to her ranks, including Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Catherine McKenna, former Minister of the Environment. . Tyler Meredith, who recently stepped down as economic adviser to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, is co-chairing the campaign. Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, who was expected to succeed Justin Trudeau, also gave his support.

In interview with The duty, Tyler Meredith says it’s « absolutely wrong » to say it’s a fight between New Democrats and Liberals. « It’s been three weeks since I retired from my job as a Liberal Party adviser, » he notes. The one who worked for the Minister of Finance maintains that his decision to join the team of Catherine McKenney was mainly motivated by the inaction of the outgoing mayor, Jim Watson, during the convoy of truckers.

The reaction of the two candidates to the demonstration became the subject of attacks during the campaign. Catherine McKenney, who represented the Somerset district, downtown, argued that on February 14, weeks after the occupation began, Mark Sutcliffe was writing a column sympathizing with protesters instead of supporting residents. The column, published in theottawa citizenblamed the federal government for the protest.

The protest and the reaction of the two main candidates to the convoy somewhat divided voters and highlighted the gap between the urban vote and the rural vote. in Ottawa. « People who have been terribly affected by the convoy are more on Catherine McKenney’s side, » says Pierre Cyr. These people live mainly downtown, where Catherine McKenney would have a lot of her support. On the other hand, Mark Sutcliffe would be more popular in the many rural suburbs of the capital.

Opportunity to have a new image

Pierre Cyr thinks that the support of the liberal machine will have a beneficial effect on Mark Sutcliffe’s campaign. The result of the election will confirm this. The Liberal source says supporters of Mark Sutcliffe will be canvassing for his campaign more and more over the next few days. “The Liberals no longer want to leave municipal land to the NDP to gather support,” notes Pierre Cyr.

If Catherine McKenney wins, the NDP could have a new image, thinks Cam Holmstrom, who chairs the public relations firm Niipaawi Strategies. For better or for worse, he says, Catherine McKenney could become the example of what a leader associated with the New Democrats in Ontario can do. The province hasn’t had one since Premier Bob Rae, who only served one term in the 1990s. « Having a leader like Catherine would be very beneficial, » says the strategist.

This story is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.

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