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Sutcliffe accepted developer donation during campaign despite vowing not to

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe says he was 'disappointed' to learn that his campaign team accepted a $1,000 donation from an executive with Groupe Katasa. (Melanie Campeau/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe says he was 'disappointed' to learn that his campaign team accepted a $1,000 donation from an executive with Groupe Katasa. (Melanie Campeau/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa's mayor has acknowledged receiving a donation from a local developer during the 2022 municipal election despite campaigning on a pledge not to accept such contributions.

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said Wednesday he'd only just become aware of the donation, and that had it been caught earlier the money would have been returned.

The $1,000 contribution from Groupe Katasa executive Tania Chowieri came to light in a news release issued Wednesday by Horizon Ottawa, a local lobby group that advocates for progressive voices around the council table.

Horizon Ottawa sent out the release in response to comments Sutcliffe made Tuesday on CBC Radio's All In A Day during a broader discussion about Groupe Katasa's decision to offer — and then withdraw — a $300,000 donation that would have gone toward affordable housing and traffic calming measures in Capital ward.

The company is planning to build a 22-storey tower at Bronson and Carling avenues.

"As you know, I did not accept any contributions from developers during my mayoralty campaign, and I thought that was the right thing to do," Sutcliffe said during the interview.

"I didn't accept donations from the development community, and I don't think the city should either."

'Frankly shocked,' says board member

Those comments left Horizon Ottawa "frankly shocked," said board member Meaghan Burden in the group's news release.

"Other candidates who did promise not to accept developer donations managed to do so. Sutcliffe promised to do so, didn't, and is now hoping we won't notice," she wrote.

If I had known about it previously, it would have been returned immediately. - Mayor Mark Sutcliffe

CBC also confirmed independently that the $1,000 contribution from Chowieri was included in the financial statement filed with the city by Sutcliffe's campaign team, although her name is misspelled.

Both Sutcliffe and his main rival in the 2022 mayoral race, former downtown councillor Catherine McKenney, vowed during their campaigns not to accept any money from developers.

In a statement to CBC on Wednesday, Sutcliffe reiterated that he made that point "frequently" during the campaign, and that his team not only reviewed all the contributions that came in but also sent several back.

"I was disappointed to learn today that despite these efforts, a donation from the executive of a development company was processed and not returned," Sutcliffe wrote.

"This is the first I have heard of this contribution, and it was not identified when the media and others reviewed the list of contributors that was filed with the elections office. If I had known about it previously, it would have been returned immediately."

In Ontario, individuals are allowed to donate to any candidate running for municipal office.

But when those donations come from developers, there's an element of controversy as council decisions around planning-related matters can be lucrative for their companies.