Pellerin: Mayor Mark Sutcliffe can combine business and pleasure

Pellerin: Mayor Mark Sutcliffe can combine business and pleasure

When your business is funded by someone else and you’re the mayor of the capital city of a G7 country, be careful, transparent and open about what you’re doing, and at whose expense.

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This week I’m trying something new and unexpected. I’m going to defend Mayor Mark Sutcliffe’s jogging business trip to London. And because he’s an old friend, I’m also going to give him a few pointers so he doesn’t get himself embroiled in controversy next time he goes marathoning someplace else.

My faithful reader will recall that I endorsed his opponent in the race for mayor. I’m sure he’ll be as surprised as you are to read what follows. But really. Give the guy a break.

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When he announced he would join a trade mission to London and would also run that city’s marathon, I didn’t get overly fussed. True, participating in a marathon is not a last-minute decision and someone somewhere must have known it’d be convenient for a certain “M.S., Mayor” to be in London on April 21, 2024. Was the scheduling of Ottawa Tourism’s trade mission affected by that? Maybe. And?

It’s not a problem to combine business and pleasure. I do it myself every chance I get, as many of you do, too. The trick, when your business is funded by someone else and you’re the mayor of the capital city of a G7 country, is to be careful, transparent and open about what you’re doing, and at whose expense.

First free tip: Next time, instead of denying that running a marathon while on city business requires a consultation with the ethics folks, be proactive and seek clearance before the announcement. Not a single downside.

Tell taxpayers that the portion of the trip that’s personal is paid out of your own pocket and when in doubt, don’t bill the city anything that might look questionable. It’s way cheaper than the alternative.

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Don’t be luxurious and work hard. On that, I am confident Sutcliffe did well. First of all, because he is very disciplined and hard-working, but also because I know he’s not into the high life. I’ve never seen him partying, not even at parties.

The extent to which any mayor should use their time to promote their city abroad is a question to which there is no perfect answer. We all have different levels of comfort with such things. No politician gets it right all the time, so here’s the second free tip: Don’t try to be a unicorn. Make the best decision you can and trust the voters to evaluate it fairly.

Some people have criticized the mayor for taking advantage of a made-to-order junket to indulge his personal hobby, and as a runner, I object. It’s not just a hobby. Having a marathon-runner as a mayor is very much a positive. And it only took him four hours to run the thing (not that I’m jealous), which left plenty of time for the main business of the trip.

Will the meetings that were held while on that trip result in economic or other benefits to Ottawa? Maybe. Does Ottawa need more direct flights to interesting destinations? Good grief, yes. I fly reasonably often and “avoiding Pearson” has become a life goal. In any case, he’s the one who’ll be judged on the results of this trade mission.

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We don’t have to nickel-and-dime politicians all the time. And we especially don’t have to expect politicians to work without breaks and never do things that are good for them. It’s not healthy. In fact, it borders on the toxic. Would you tell someone you care about to work themselves to the bone just because their remuneration comes from the public purse?

Whatever you think of his performance (and generally speaking he knows I’m not a huge fan), Mark Sutcliffe works to be the best he can. So he likes running marathons while abroad doing business for the city. I think we should not just tolerate that but welcome it.

Run, Mark. Run.

Brigitte Pellerin (they/them) is an Ottawa writer.

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