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Mayor defends plan to run London Marathon during trade mission

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe oversees a city council meeting on Mar. 6, 2024. On Wednesday Sutcliffe defended his decision to run the London Marathon during a trip partly paid for by Ottawa Tourism.  (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe oversees a city council meeting on Mar. 6, 2024. On Wednesday Sutcliffe defended his decision to run the London Marathon during a trip partly paid for by Ottawa Tourism. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe is defending a trip to the United Kingdom that will see Ottawa Tourism pay his airfare for a mission to promote the city abroad while also allowing him to compete in the London Marathon.

Sutcliffe posted on social media on Tuesday that he will join a mission to the British capital that will also include Invest Ottawa.

"And while I'm there I'm looking forward to participating in the London Marathon," wrote the mayor, who is an avid runner and has participated in marathons in several other cities including Boston and Berlin.

I don't see any conflict here or any need to speak to the integrity commissioner about it. - Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe

The announcement prompted questions online about whether taxpayers are helping to finance a trip that allows Sutcliffe to pursue a personal hobby.

Sutcliffe responded to those concerns during a media availability Wednesday. He said Ottawa Tourism invited him to join a sports tourism conference last summer, and he subsequently noticed that it took place around the same time as the London Marathon.

He told reporters that he then reached out to see if he could get a spot in the race.

"I secured an entry into the London Marathon, which I am paying for myself, and any personal expenses or any extra time that I would spend in the U.K. as a result of this trip, I am paying the expenses for myself," he said.

"Ottawa Tourism is covering my travel there and back and my accommodation when I'm representing them on a very important mission for Ottawa Tourism."

Ottawa Tourism's director of public affairs, Jérôme Miousse, confirmed in an email that the organization invited the mayor to participate in the trip in May 2023.

He noted that the UK is Ottawa's top overseas market and confirmed that Ottawa Tourism will cover Sutcliffe's travel and accommodation expenses to allow him to "engage directly with key stakeholders."

Sutcliffe began running in his 30s and completed his first marathon in 2004. He has now finished 38 marathons and numerous other races. 'I don’t know how many times I’ve said to myself … when approaching a challenging task, 'If I can run a marathon, surely I can do this,'' Sutcliffe said.
Sutcliffe began running in his 30s and completed his first marathon in 2004. He has now finished 38 marathons and numerous other races. 'I don’t know how many times I’ve said to myself … when approaching a challenging task, 'If I can run a marathon, surely I can do this,'' Sutcliffe said.

Sutcliffe began running in his 30s and completed his first marathon in 2004. He has participated in several editions of the Ottawa Race Weekend marathon, as well as marathons in other cities including Boston and Berlin. (Submitted by Mark Sutcliffe)

No cost to taxpayers, mayor says

Sutcliffe said the trip will happen at no cost to taxpayers. While Ottawa Tourism previously received city funding to support its Major Events Office, that funding is no longer provided as of this year.

The large majority of the organization's funding comes from the Municipal Accommodation Tax, which is collected from a levy on hotel guests, not Ottawa taxpayers.

Sutcliffe also rejected any notion that having the organization pay expenses for the trip, if not for the marathon itself, allows him to secure a benefit that would place him in a conflict of interest.

"I run every single day, so on this trip to London, I'm gonna run every day," said Sutcliffe. "There happens to be a marathon going on while I'm there, so instead of running from my hotel and running around the streets of London myself, I entered the London Marathon.

"I'd be running either way," he added.

Sutcliffe noted the long history of missions to promote Ottawa's interests abroad, including to China and the Netherlands.

"There's a huge opportunity here to promote Ottawa as a tourist destination, as a destination for business," he said.

The mayor said that he has not sought an opinion from the city's integrity commission on the matter.

"I don't see any conflict here or any need to speak to the integrity commissioner about it," he said.