Bob Chiarelli’s serious platform but strange campaign

The deadline to register for municipal election is almost upon us. Only three candidates are resonating with the electorate among the thirteen competing for the top job in Ottawa. 

As it stands, the campaign of mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney hits at the heart of their support base — young people, university educated, and inner-city voters — in the city’s downtown core, while Mark Sutcliffe is bringing an outside politics, business-based perspective to the race. But one of the first candidates to announce his intention to run, Bob Chiarelli, is hard to find.

Mayor from 2001-2006, Chiarelli announced his intention to once again run for the city’s top job in 2021 and registered in early May 2022. The former Regional Chair of Ottawa-Carleton and MPP came back onto the municipal bend relatively strong, appearing on the Rob Snow Show to discuss why he’s running and what issues motivate him. However, since then, Chiarelli hasn’t been active on the circuit. Residents living in the neighbourhood around his west end campaign office have yet to have their doors knocked on, and there has been little visible sign of Chiarelli.

Ottawa Life Magazine has reached out to Chiarelli’s campaign several times to set up a long-form interview, a courtesy extended to and accepted by Catherine McKenney and Mark Sutcliffe. His campaign has yet to reply. Interestingly, Chiarelli seems to have outsourced his campaign messaging to an associate, Mike Patton.

Patton appears in multiple @Bob_Chiarelli campaign videos. To date, they have all been filmed at the bottom of a staircase with Patton sitting in informal clothing, describing Chiarelli’s campaign platform. The videos lack any campaign banner or graphic and are roughly done. Perhaps the Chiarelli campaign is looking for “authenticity,” and the poor quality is intentional, but it seems unlikely.

The bigger question is: why isn’t Bob Chiarelli speaking for himself? Chiarelli appears to have a serious platform and is no stranger to articulating his own points of view. Wouldn’t a stronger online presence help him to connect with those younger voters who don’t know him?  

@Bob_Chiarelli’s Twitter feed does include campaign videos featuring Chiarelli discussing significant issues, but the reach of these posts is questionable because the videos are often dropped within hours of each other.

Aside from lackluster production, the videos are missing a spark, some energy, something to give them life.Much has changed since the last time he ran for mayor of the city, but you still must excite voters. Outsourcing your campaign Twitter videos to a third party is bizarre.

All this may be hurting Chiarelli in the polls. A July Mainstreet Research poll showed that he has only 7 per cent support while front runner Catherine McKenney has 34 per cent. But there is still hope for the second-time mayoral candidate; 30 per cent of residents remain undecided.

Chiarelli has stated some substantive policies that should be popular. His position to “freeze taxes, fees and non-discretionary spending in the first year of my mandate” will be well received by suburban residents like those in Stittsville, Kanata, Carp, and Orleans. His proposal to delay the Lansdown 2.0 development will strike a chord with city inhabitants: “Now is not the time to add another $330 million to the city’s debt load.” Surprisingly, Chiarelli might find that this sentiment is shared by Ward 17 Councillor Shawn Menard, who is also firm in his opposition to the project. Menard and Mayor Jim Watson have repeatedly butted heads over Lansdown.

Chiarelli may also win the support of the residents and businesses of the ByWard Market, even if a more progressive councillor replaces the outgoing Mathieu Fleury. Chiarelli has stated that the market has “deteriorated dramatically.” He said it is “dumpy, dirty, and not tourist friendly” and that solving the market issues will be a priority for him to “recover the market to where it is acceptable for tourists and business.” This is music to the ears of the merchants of Murray Street, who have long advocated for action to counter the addiction and crime in the area. Chiarelli will likely get their votes.

Bob Chiarelli has a few hang-ups. He’s tied to the Ontario Liberal party, having served for eight years in the McGuinty and Wynne governments. This, however, was never a problem for Jim Watson, who also served in the McGuinty government. At 80 years, some people might think he is too old, but maybe a little age and experience could be a good thing for the city at this time -given the debacle of the past two years of this council. It never hurt Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, who stepped down at the age of 93 and, in April 2022, at 101 years of age, extended her contract with the Greater Toronto Airport Authority for another three years.

If Chiarelli can get his social media and in-person campaigns in order, his opponents won’t be able to write him off. He has a serious platform with ideas that will interact with a broad spectrum of Ottawa’s relatively wide political compass.His candidacy has something to offer -as does Chiarelli himself.

PHOTO: @Bob_Chiarelli