New police chief, transit at heart of Ottawa Morning mayoral debate

Just days before Ottawa voters head to the polls, four mayoral candidates debated the city's key election issues on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday.

Host Robyn Bresnahan moderated discussion with Bob Chiarelli, Catherine McKenney, Mark Sutcliffe, Brandon Bay

Four candidates for mayor, from left to right, Brandon Bay, Mark Sutcliffe, Catherine McKenney and Bob Chiarelli had a debate moderated by host Robyn Bresnahan on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Friday, Oct. 21. (Olivia Robinson/CBC)

Just days before Ottawa voters head to the polls, four mayoral candidates debated the city's key election issues on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday.

Bob Chiarelli, Catherine McKenney, Mark Sutcliffe, and Brandon Bay squared off in a discussion moderated by host Robyn Bresnahan. Ottawa residents head to the polls on Monday.

The candidates spoke about a range of issues from transit funding to housing, and their leadership styles to the selection of Ottawa's next police chief.

Mark Sutcliffe, Catherine McKenney, Bob Chiarelli and Brandon Bay joined us in studio for a conversation about policing, transit, housing, and leadership.

Both McKenney and Chiarelli are calling for the civilian police oversight body to review the police board's decision to hire a new chief before the new city council is sworn in on Nov. 15.

Sutcliffe supports the board's decision to appoint the next police boss Friday, a position that drew ire from Chiarelli during Friday's debate, in part because the police board chair, Eli El-Chantiry, sits as an honorary co-chair on Sutcliffe's mayoral campaign.

"Something stinks about the announced hiring of the new police chief," said Chiarelli during Friday's debate. "The hiring has been pushed through with unseemly haste on a Friday just days before the election."

Sutcliffe denied any special knowledge of Friday's police chief announcement and said El-Chantiry is just one of 24 honorary co-chairs on his campaign.

"I've never had any conversations with Eli El-Chantiry about the hiring of the next police chief," he said.

The appearance of a conflict, Chiarelli said, is enough to further damage the reputation of the Ottawa Police Services Board. The Emergencies Act inquiry underway this week revealed behind-the-scenes turmoil and dysfunction within the board and within Ottawa police itself.

"I think that we need to remember that what the illegal occupation did — and the response to it — was erode trust in all of our institutions," said McKenney, who also disagrees with the timing of the new hire. "Today, what is critical is we build back that trust."

Approaches to policing, transit

On the topic of policing, Bay argued more police need to be hired to meet the service's responsibilities in the city.

"Things like mental health responses and the increasing administrative burden on uniformed officers; it's a lot for them to bear," Bay said.

McKenney and Sutcliffe pitched different approaches to funding police and addressing crime in the city. Sutcliffe wants to increase the size of the Ottawa police budget.

"The population of Ottawa is going to expand by 500,000 people over the next 25 years. We're not going to keep the community safe by cutting the police budget," Sutcliffe said. "There are times when we only have something like 40 cars on the road in our city, in a city that's 2,800 square kilometres."

The convoy protest and the sense of "lawlessness" in Centretown has showed McKenney the importance of police, they said.

"Absolutely I understand the need for effective policing, but it needs to be effective," they said. "That doesn't mean that we don't increase the police budget, but it means that we have to know why we are [increasing it], and what is the evidence that that will actually keep communities safe."

The candidates also spoke about plans to review how the pandemic has changed how residents get around the city — and how transit needs to change to better serve riders.

"Both OC Transpo and the LRT need a complete overhaul," said Chiarelli, who has not made a commitment to freeze fares, which is in each of Sutcliffe's and McKenney's platforms. Bay is calling on the city to look at other revenue streams to invest in transit, aside from raising fares, which includes raising parking fees and looking at developing retail space around LRT stations.

"Making those stations into destinations in and of themselves is something we can do," he said.

Sutcliffe is calling for a review of OC Transpo bus service before increasing funding. He wants to see how routes could be made more efficient. McKenney believes an increase in the OC Transpo budget is required to improve transit and reverse cuts to bus routes made in 2011 and 2019.


Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at