Citizen’s Denley Serves Up Whoppers Galore: GRAY


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You could call this Whoppers Watch with emphasis on the plural.

Long-time Citizen columnist and two-time failed provincial Progressive Conservate candidate Randall Denley served up quite the helping of them recently in his unreserved praise of new Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

Denley makes himself out to be the eminence grise of Ottawa local politics and to some extent this is true. He does have influence but the flaw is that is opinions are often way off-base.

In particular what comes to mind first was his support of former mayor Larry O’Brien’s move to kill the original light-rail contract created by Denley’s two time electoral opponent Bob Chiarelli. This mattered and Denley, through his pumping for this in his influential column at the Citizen when it mattered much more, played a big role in breaking the first contract for light rail. By the time that was over, Siemens, a very reputable builder who gave the city a great price, was dismissed at a cost of about $100 million in work already completed and the contract-smashing charges.

So we got Alstom instead of Siemens and you know the consequences.

With all that said, let’s look at the puff piece Denley wrote in support of Sutcliffe.

The rookie mayor made it look easy, even though sticking to his election promises, keeping council onside, and working with a large and complex bureaucracy are anything but.

Easy? LRT? Nuff said.

As for the bureaucracy, many press releases say something along the lines of “interim general manager” since good people don’t want to come here because the City of Ottawa is perceived as career Armageddon. A well-deserved name. Also council and the mayor have gone with internal candidates because they know them and will continue the developer-centric culture on Laurier Avenue. The current city manager (an internal promotion) called her predecessor “a great leader.” Did she not read the report of the provincial LRT inquiry? Has she not noticed the problems with light rail?

City staff, in short, is woefully incompetent. The City of Ottawa is a challenged bureaucracy. Witness the Vacant Unit Tax. Some cities who instituted it are now killing it. It’s a waste of time and money. It is bureaucracy creating more bureaucracy which is good for bureaucracy, less so for the rest of us.

In the process, Sutcliffe upended the local conventional wisdom that choosing a mayor without prior political experience was bound to be a disaster. It was encouraging to see someone governing with a balanced, rational approach, quite a rarity in today’s politics.

Bulldog colleague Ron Benn said Sutcliffe would not have passed a three-month probation.

There were some controversies, including most recently council’s decision to limit this year’s tax increase to 2.5 per cent, the same figure as 2023. That delivered a key Sutcliffe election promise and it did so in a time when inflation far exceeds the tax-rate increase.

Debt. And the reserve fund needs replenishing.

The tax increase was kept in line by a combination of finding ways to operate more efficiently and new tax money generated by growth.


Sutcliffe also faced some resistance to moving forward with required upgrades at Lansdowne Park, including new north side stands and a new Civic Centre. One can certainly criticize the specific plan, with its high-rise housing, but the need to replace these aging city assets should have been self-evident. The mayor correctly determined that opposition to the deal was narrowly based and got his plan through with some modest compromises.

The Lansdowne deal creates $419 million of debt at a time of high interest rates. Now is not the time to renovate Lansdowne.

Furthermore, the new Lansdowne doesn’t solve the problems of the old Lansdowne … namely location, location, location among other woes. And where is the city revenue from this so-called “partnership”? Debt and a pittance of cash.

Taxpayers were rightly outraged. As for “narrowly based”, that’s a good description of Denley’s outlook.

Sutcliffe’s election promise to “fix our transit system” proved predictably challenging.

Yes. But perhaps “predictably” makes that all right.

The successes that Sutcliffe has had are due in significant part to his ability to get along with people.

This is not a glee club. Former mayor Jim Watson, who Denley supported, got along with people until he didn’t. Remember collegiality? Remember throwing councillors under the bus? Remember the LRT inquiry?

Fans of rationality in government generally have little to cheer about, but so far the Sutcliffe administration is an example of what can be done when a government focuses on practical matters and real outcomes, not ideology and scoring political points.

So if you don’t support Denley’s position, you are irrational. A tad myopic. And you want irrational? Try to explain a good reason for Lansdowne 2.0 if you are a taxpayer. Denley thinks its a wonderful idea. Pathetic.

So far, so good, for the new mayor.


Bulldog editor Ken Gray has been a journalist at five major Canadian newspapers over a career that has spanned four decades.


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