The Bad, the Ugly, the Really, Really Ugly – And the Just Plain Stupid

Maybe we can blame some of the ugliness witnessed at Ottawa City Hall last week on COVID grumpiness.

Hard to say.

But whatever the reason, none of it is okay and frankly, we’ve seen this kind of behaviour from Mayor Jim Watson and his band of loyal followers in the past. 

A quick status update before we get into the nitty gritty: Watson is still acting like a dictator, light rail still isn’t working, Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder is getting meaner by the minute and West Carleton Coun. Eli El-Chantiry is vying to seize her title. (Yes, I was shocked too!)

Here are some of the lowlights from this last week after about 19 hours of public consultation on the expansion of the urban boundary over two days, a city council meeting on Wednesday, followed on Thursday with yet another city committee.

For the record, while Harder thought they could get through the entire meeting in one day (with more than 100 delegates scheduled to speak) that was just never going to happen. In fact, the third day is happening today, with no guarantees they won’t need to take a fourth day sometime this week before the issue goes to city council at the end of May.

Here’s the real problem with roughly 24 hours of public consultation (by mid-Tuesday) on expanding the urban boundary. It’s sadly already a done deal, while there could no doubt be some minor changes to the gist of the staff recommendation, it’s going to happen.

The city will expand its boundaries.

And all the effort from the public didn’t change minds. Watson wants it to happen and what has now become his merry band of followers will vote as he wants. They’re too afraid not to. It’s sad, it’s wrong, but it’s going to happen.

What was equally as frustrating, if you listened in on the presentations and if you’re anything like me living in the suburbs, you would have heard very little about how it will effect your lifestyle. How will my public transit be effected? Will it it be stretched even further to accommodate for the next growth? It appears so.

REALLY, REALLY UGLY: When resident Sam Hersh addressed the committee, El-Chantiry asked him what he did for a living. Hersh replied he was unemployed, to which El-Chantiry then asked if he’d ever worked for a city councillor. Clearly, El-Chantiry knew he had. Hersh said he had, but didn’t understand the relevance.

Turns out that Hersh worked for a period of time for a couple of left-leaning city councillors. But when he questioned the relevance of the question, both El-Chantiry and Harder, (the chairs of the meeting) could be hear dissing his response and joined in with Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney who actually guffawed at the member of the public.

El-Chantiry sunk even lower, calling Hersh “a joke.” Apparently, El-Chantiry later sent Hersh a private apology to a public dissing. And while we’re at it, while Harder felt just fine ridiculing Hersh, she got her back up when a city councillor asked former city hall staff John Smit who he was representing at the committee. Harder questioned the relevance, yes the same Harder who laughed in the face of Hersh. The list of delegates had Smit down representing GBA Consulting Group, a real estate development company. Sadly, Smit tarnished his previously stellar reputation saying he was there on his own. 

SEE NO EVIL: Asked how he felt about El-Chantiry’s outburst last week, Watson said he hadn’t heard it, but added it wasn’t his role to discipline a councillor. Right. Watson has no problem disciplining councillors he despises. Proof in point, he quickly jumped on College Coun. Rick Chiarelli – without any proof of the allegations against him.

F-BOMB: The brightest point of last Wednesday’s council meeting was when a city staffer uttered an F-bomb just when Watson called on him to answer a question from council. The well-liked staffer was suggesting the online system wasn’t working well, and he used the Bomb to describe it. And yes, clearly, I get that using the F-bomb really shouldn’t be the brightest point of a meeting.

And while that might have been the most fun of the mishaps last Wednesday, there was of course some hideous behaviour yet again. from Watson. Having worked long and hard at finding alternative housing for the homeless, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney was literally shoved aside when Watson took her ideas and moved a motion with Kanata Coun. Jenna Sudds to use McKenney’s own ideas and her hard work to take the credit for the idea moving forward. That wasn’t the end of Watson’s dictatorship. And really, there’s no other word for it.

Instead of working with McKenney and Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, our egotistical mayor drew up his own motion on providing street parking in the downtown core, without so much as an acknowledgement to the work his downtown councillors had done.

REALLY STUPID: When Ottawa Health posted a video with some light-hearted ideas to keep safe doing the pandemic, the full-of-herself Harder tweeted: “Very stupid.” Now it was a bit unclear whether Harder thought Ottawa Health was stupid for the post or that perhaps she was dissing the residents who might need such information. Either way, she’s last week’s biggest loser.

AND DID I MENTION?: The city’s light rail system still doesn’t work.

Please: No More Screen Kissing

Like most of us, I find it incredibly difficult to think of our seniors, having worked so long and hard all their lives, banned from seeing their families.

We have to do better than that. I have an elderly aunt, in her 90s, who lives in such a facility in Hamilton. Now confined to her room, she sometimes wonders if she’ll die cooped up in her room, never again seeing the outside world, and sometimes it sounds like she’s stopped caring about the answer to that. As part of her family, it’s incredibly difficult to hear the sadness and loneliness in her voice.

So I can easily imagine how families with loved ones in the long-term facilities must have felt when they heard Ottawa had decided there would be no more window-waving.

It’s hard to imagine a message more badly handled locally during these COVID19 times than the directive to stop waving hello to loved ones through the windows of the city’s long-term care homes. Imagine. The city runs the Garry J. Armstrong, Peter D. Clark, Carleton Lodge and Champlain homes. Our seniors, who’ve worked so hard and long in their lives, were being cut off from a small loving and welcome wave from friends and family at their window during this seemingly never-ending seclusion.

The story of this evil edict went viral, of course. It even made international news, and had Ontario Premier Doug Ford crapping all over Ottawa. (Perhaps our local MPP Lisa MacLeod was advising him!)

I’m not really a big fan of politicians lashing out when another one fails, and Ford would have been wise to check his facts before spouting off. But again, back to the horrendous messaging. Dean Lett, the city’s director of long-term care, told the media the ban on window waving wasn’t supposed to upset anyone, but it was felt the city needed to protect the approximate 700 who live in Ottawa’s long-term care homes. I’ve always had a bit of problem when people suggest they didn’t intend to be callous or hurtful. How about you consider your actions and think what the reaction might be.

For reasons that are still hard to understand, Lett didn’t talk to either our medical officer of health Vera Etches or Ottawa Public Health. It’s all really too bad, which makes me feel bad for Lett – who I’m sure was shocked at the visceral reaction from the seniors stuck in isolation and the people who love them.

It would seem Lett simply overreacted, no doubt after being in contact with management at the city’s long-term care facilities. Seems some family members were actually kissing their loved ones either on the window or actually trough the screen. Seriously? Even without a pandemic – and I’m not a germaphobe – but that should appear to all of us to obviously be a really bad idea.

And following the public announcement, of course, the public and many city councillors were all too willing to jump all over the decision.  Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has ordered staff running the long-term care facilities to find some better solutions which should allow seniors and their families to see each other once again.

Of course, the kissing through the screens or on the windows wasn’t the only issue.  When some family members people visited, and residents went outside, families weren’t social distancing. And that really should have been the message.

Keep your distance. It’s as simple as that.

In the World of COVID, Families Being Torn Apart

Imagine worrying that your job could put your child’s life at risk. It’s unthinkable really. But for frontline workers, COVID-19 isn’t just putting their own health at risk, it’s actually forcing some of them to literally tear their families apart to protect their children.

Sean Skinner and his wife Chloe are one such Ottawa couple who felt forced to make the gut wrenching decision to have their three-year-old son Keegan move in with Sean’s parents to keep their son safe.

He’s a produce manager, his wife Chloe is a nurse. Initially the couple talked about doing what others are doing – taking off their clothes immediately after getting home and heading to the shower. (Having returned from a trip south, the family was in isolation when they had to decide what to do to keep Keegan safe. And while he theoretically could have gone to his grandparents in the day, Sean and Chloe had to consider both Keegan’s health and the health of Sean’s parents, particularly his father.)

His mother Jill Skinner told her son and daughter-in-law that young Keegan could come live with her and husband Tony Skinner (And if those names sound familiar to you, they’re both retired members with the Ottawa Police Services).

“It’s been awful, it’s probably one of the worst decisions I’ve had to make, it’s just terrible,” Sean Skinner told On the City, From the Burbs. “He is so young.”

His pain, his tears, were obvious during the phone interview.  As a mom, as a human being, it certainly was one of the more difficult interviews I’ve ever done. While some of us get frustrated with the restrictions this pandemic has placed on us, that’s absolutely nothing compared to what the Skinners have felt forced to do. Mom Chloe was too emotional to take part in the interview.

The couple FaceTime with Keegan everyday, but some conversations are better than others. At three-years-old, the young boy clearly doesn’t understand exactly what’s going on or why. He’s been told there’s a bad cold that he needs to be protected from, he seems to accept that.

“But he doesn’t really understand and sometimes he just gets mad,” Sean Skinner said. Jill said there are also times Keegan just seems to get upset during the FaceTiming.

Son Ryan 11, (Sean’s stepson) spends every other week with them, But he’s able to understand the importance of social distancing and the ramifications of the virus.

Jill Skinner said she immediately told her son and daughter-in-law that she and her husband Tony would take Keegan if it would help.

“It’s heartbreaking for them,” she said. “They FaceTime, but it’s all very difficult. And it can sometimes set Mom and Dad off. But they know (Keegan) will be safe. But they can’t stop thinking about how much they’re missing, so much is changing for a child when they’re just three.”

Despite the very difficult situation, Jill said she feels very fortunate to be in a position as a grandmother to help, and knows not everyone can do that.
“A lot of people don’t have options, all they can do is worry, and given what’s going on, that’s a real stress people don’t need,” she said.

And as much as Keegan and his parents have seen their lives disrupted, so too have Sean’s parents undergone  a huge lifestyle adjustment. They’ve gone from retirement to full-time caregivers. She retired mid-2018, Tony retired in 1995.

“It’s taking some getting used to, we’re not used to having a three-year-old with us all the time. We’ve needed to find out what schedule works best for him, his nap times, for his grandfather and him,” she said.

She now spends time making sure her grandson has nutritious snacks, limits his screen time and gets outside. And with a large, extended family, they’re all finding it hard not to be getting together.

“We’re a pretty large family, and we usually had people in and out of here all the time. We had someone dropping off groceries recently, but they couldn’t come in. Keegan asked, “Do they have a cold too? And he’s a hugger, so it’s all very hard to understand. But again, I can’t stress enough that I know how fortunate we are.”

Sean is anxiously waiting for the day his son returns home – and they can be a family able to live in the same house once again.

Stop The Fear Mongering

Seriously?

Does anyone really think our civic politicians are trying to take away our rights or freedoms? Not a great campaign slogan.

Those that want to suggest that Mayor Jim Watson and the city are trying to force us to give up our freedom to the state are just fear-mongering. Or perhaps are foolish publicity seekers trying to strike fear in our hearts just for kicks. Neither is a good look either way.

And it’s not working.

Let’s be clear. As the leader of the city, Watson felt forced to implement stricter rules about social gatherings. That wasn’t his first option. The city made it clear that social gathering wasn’t safe. And it couldn’t happen, that we had to stay out of the parks, we had to social distance while walking and we couldn’t gather in groups.

And when that didn’t work, when people ignored that message, bylaw was told to ticket, instead of simply issuing a warning.

Now I’m about to put words into Watson’s mouth, I have to, since he doesn’t speak to me and doesn’t return my calls. I’m okay with that. But Watson is doing what he believes to be the right thing for the city – and all right-thinking people agree with – we can only stop this deadly virus by staying away with each other.

And as a 61-year-old single woman siting alone in my basement (there’s an ugly picture for you), I start to lose my mind when I see people ignoring some pretty basic and simple rules of behaviour. And as much as I love Zoom cocktail parties, I absolutely don’t want to spend another forced minute in my basement simply because others are too selfish to abide by the rules – and are risking the health of me and the rest of us.

The media, of which I still consider myself part of, love an outrage story. And as such, we hear about some poor mom sitting in a park with her child – social distancing – yet ticketed. Oh, the horror. Tough.

Truth is, if it’s okay for her, it’s okay for everyone else. And while as many know I’m not always a fan of Watson’s, he knows that two people in a park can multiply. And that’s the problem. Do you want Watson to say two people can gather in a park? Of course, ridiculous. Many others will follow.

There was a story in the Citizen today, by some lawyer named Michael Spratt, who apparently would love to whip us all into some sort of liberty-based frenzy. Shut him down. If self-isolation doesn’t work, many of us will have the freedom to mingle and die. And that’s the truth.

Here’s a little bit from Spratt, who clearly is gunning for regular space in the paper.

“But we must be careful when we surrender our rights not to rush headlong into an Orwellian dystopia. And make no mistake, we are talking about fundamental civil liberties: the right to move freely; the right to associate; and the right to be free from unwarranted detention,” Spratt spouts.
Sounds touching. I prefer for the right to live. Civil liberties don’t mean a lot six feet under.

Spratt states the obvious. “We all know we should stay home. For some, staying at home is simply not an option. For many essential workers, an expansive category that includes thousands of minimum-wage and working-class individuals, staying home means losing their home. And urban populations, particularly apartment dwellers, who can’t stretch their legs in a large backyard or play with their kids at their double-garage basketball hoop, suffer disproportionately under the new COVID-19 reality,” he writes.

Truth is, if people were staying home, bylaw couldn’t shut them down.
Sure he’s heard about apples and oranges. And this is where he really loses me. Has he heard of someone going to work and receiving a ticket from bylaw? Absolutely no one has suggested you can’t go outside. No one has suggested you can’t play with your kids in your backyard or play basketball with your family. The entire column should simply be deleted. 
It’s simply fear-mongering. And thankfully, Ottawans are just too smart for this plop.

Enough.

An Ottawa Icon Passes

There was no one who could work a room like former Tory cabinet minister Claude Bennett. It was like seeing a master at work. He loved it, and the crowd loved him back.

Bennett could glad handle like no one else as he schmoozed throughout a crowd, remembering everyone’s name, and often their family’s names. “How’s your mom,” he asked, and he wasn’t bluffing. He knew the mom. He was the real political deal. I saw it myself, first hand and marveled at the ease he worked a group. Sadly, Bennett passed away early this morning from heart issues which he’d battled for years. A deeply religious man, Bennett was still walking up to three hours a day, as recently as Thursday. And of course, during these trying times, the family can’t hold a funeral for him. That’s difficult.

Bennett leaves behind two children, Winston (yes, named after Winston Churchill) and his daughter Natalie. When I met them, about 40 years ago, they were so little, just adorable. And now they’re adults, trying to deal with the death of their father, their mother Deborah has are already passed.
Bennett was a mentor to many politicians in Ottawa. “He was very instrumental in helping me get elected (to city council). He would come door knocking with me. Ans I spent a lot of time with his family,” said Michael McSweeney, a former city councillor and now president of the Cement Association of Canada. (For the public record, I covered McSweeney when he was a city councillor and have recently worked for him on contract with the CAC).

“He was an Ottawa guy, through and through,” McSweeney said. “He was a very giving man, a very religious man, cover to cover. He wa friends with everyone, all of the mayors going right back to Charlotte Whitton, George Nelms, Laurie Greenberg, Jim Durrell, Bob Chiarelli. He was just a vey special person,” McSweeney said.And like so many other of his friends, McSweeney had just spoken to him recently. “We were talking about the federal leadership, who we should be supporting and how we were going to deal with the massive deficits. And this was before Covid and how that would impact the future generations,” he added. “He was so looking forward to the opening of the Hunt Club (golf course), we were supposed to go golfing in a couple of weeks.”

Claude’s wife Deborah passed away in 2018. They leave behind two children, Winston, named after Winston Churchill and Natalie.


Bennett was born in Ottawa, Ontario. He  served as an alderman and city controller in Ottawa from 1961 to 1969, having first been elected to city council in 1960. He was the city’s acting mayor in the period from 1970 to 1972.Bennett was elected to the Ontario legislature in the 1971 provincial election, an election he won soundly. He became a Minister without portfolio in Davis’s government on September 28, 1972 and was promoted to Minister of Industry and Tourism on January 15, 1973.

He was re-elected by a reduced majority in the 1975 election and again with a majority in 1977. On January 21, 1978, he was named Minister of Housing. He remained with the Davis government for the remainder of the Davis years.And he continued to be part of cabinet under Frank Miller’s reign.He didn’t run again in the 1986 election.From 1990 to 1995, Bennett served as chairman of the board for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

He has been president of the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada since 1998, and has also served as chair of the Ottawa Transition Board and the Ottawa Airport Authority. On June 29, 2007, Bennett was appointed to sit on the board of directors of the Royal Canadian Mint for a four-year term.
During his reign as the key Ontario cabinet minister, he was as I would describe him, the godfather of Eastern Ontario. He was in charge of this area, and he served the region well. But nothing happened that he didn’t approve of.

In a horrible twist of fate, his brother Thom Bennett lost his wife Susan on Thursday.

No life isn’t fair.

“He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked for, always respectful, and in any discussions, he always made sure you always had input, and he had such a sense of humour, he was just so good,” said former Ottawa city clerk Pierre Page.Page worked with Bennett during the amalgamation of the Ottawa’s region different municipalities.

“He was just so respectful, and one of the sharpest guys I knew. I used to see him regularly for lunch, we tried to meet once a month,” Page said.In fact, the last time I saw Bennett was a a lunch with Page.

Former regional councillor Andy Haydon admits the two didn’t always see eye-to-eye with each other. Who does? But Haydon always had respect for Bennett.”How can you not be a fan of Claude, not because he was a Conservative, but because he was Claude Bennett,” Haydon said.Bennett was also in charge of the process to amalgamate the city’s of Ottawa into one city.

Larry Malloy, who first let me know Bennett had passed, was very close to Bennett and his family.

He worked on former premier Bill Davis’ campaign and supported Bennet. He also served as his chief of staff, suffice to say the bond was tight.”We didn’t fix any world problems, bu we talked about them.”

Fighting Like a Girl

Diane Deans has been taking on cancer by ‘fighting like a girl.’

And on the eve of her last cancer treatment, Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans held her annual Women’s Day Breakfast with several hundred there to celebrate not just Women’s Day, but Deans herself. It was her first public appearance since announcing she’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Looking healthy and strong, Deans – in a wide-ranging talk – spoke about her constant support of women, her love for her friends and family and her tough battle with ovarian cancer. At times, it seemed the speech could well be her opening salvo in what many expect will become her entry into a mayoralty race.

The event was co-hosted by CBC anchor Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld, a fellow cancer survivor.

There were plenty of laughs and more than a few tears as she addressed the crowd.

In one of the most heartwarming moments, Deans said the most difficult part of her diagnosis of ovarian cancer was telling her daughter Megan and life partner Ron. Tearing up as she spoke, as did much of the audience, Deans said her family already knew something really bad was going on. “They knew, they really did. They’d seen the number of tests, seen me,” she said.

And while she brought audience members to tears, she also had the crowd laughing out loud, suggesting as she was feeling the effects of the undiagnosed disease, she only fully realized how sick she must be when she couldn’t finish a glass of wine! (A woman after my own heart!). She also opened up about her hair loss, something she admits she really struggled with.

In a really lovely story, she spoke about her grandson Evan, who was worried she’d be picked on if she was bald, so he asked to have his head shaven as well. Just so incredibly sweet. And when she had to accept wigs were her best option, Evan, just 10, tried one on to show her that the wig she was considering suited everyone! He was right. When friends commented that despite the fact the wig wasn’t her own hair, but looked great, Deans disagreed.

“What do you mean it’s not my own hair, I paid for it,” the councillor said. “The thing about hair is that it’s part of your identity, And now I don’t ask anyone how my hair looks, I ask if it’s on straight. Hair is part of your identity. But hair comes back. If it’s your hair or your life, you choose life.”

But as she was struggling to deal with her own reality, her daughter Megan became very ill, eventually being diagnosed with colitis and had emergency surgery at Christmas. So instead of being able to take time for herself, she was back at the hospital, spending eight hours a day by her daughter’s side. Their routine included bi-weekly get-togethers watching Ottawa City Council.

“It’s the best drama in town,” Deans joked.

Her last treatment is on Friday. There’s no set date for her return to council, but she will follow her doctor’s recommendation to take several months to recuperate. She’s anxious to get back, to work on the light rail transit file and get back to being the head of the Ottawa Police Services Board. 
“I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done, proud of the fight that I’ve put up along the way and serving this amazing community that I love. You can see the fruits of your labour. You see the difference you make, I’m proud of the fight I’ve put up along the way,” Deans said.

Deans has been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from the community.

“It really does warm your heart, I’ve heard from so many people. I believe I’m going to make it, I’m going to be fine and I’m going to  fight like a girl.”

One Random Bullet, So Many Lives Changed Forever

For many years after the senseless, violent death of Nicholas Battersby in 1994 and the following murder trial, I would receive Christmas cards from his parents Gay and Charles – who lived in England – but had been here during the trial which I’d covered.

Somehow, it was at times hard simply to look at them, their pain so apparent, their bewilderment understandable and their love for their son almost physically tangible.

An electrical engineer, Battersby, just 27, had just left England for a new life and a new job at Bell-Northern Research in Ottawa.

This perfectly normal, seemingly as average as the rest of us, Gay and Charles Battersby hugged and waved their son goodbye as he left to create a life for himself in a different country. And on a simple stroll down Elgin Street  on a Sunday in late March, 1994, with a light rain coming down on the city, their son Nicholas was shot in the back by a single bullet. His life was over, the lives of his parents forever altered and always sadder.

So yes, there was something incredibly jarring – after all of these years – reading that Reubens Henderson, convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Battersby, has just been released from jail.He was 16 at the time of the crazy, senseless murder which rocked this city back in 1994. And he’d been in jail for about 25 years.

As most anyone would, I tried to show the Battersbys some kindness as they struggled to get up everyday to attend the trial. Always in the back of my mind was the wonderment of how they could even manage to put one foot in front of the other to attend the trial, to face another day. And as a new mom of a beautiful one-year-old baby boy, his sweet life was always in my heart.

In fact, it seemed the entire city wanted to help the Battersbys. Many of us somehow felt a sense of responsibility – feeling a collective guilt that this young man who’d come to our country with the promise of something good – was gunned down.

At the time, the death of the the city’s visitor from England was described as the loss of the last vestige of Ottawa’s innocence. (In fairness, the same thing was essentially written a couple of years after that when CJOH sportscaster Brian Smith was gunned down in the station’s parking lot.)

That being said, there was absolutely a sort of collective guilt felt by many of us, that a young man from a different country could come here to our city to start a new life, only to be murdered. It was so horribly random, it was senseless and it was violent, and Ottawans struggled because they hadn’t been able to protect him.

Case in point. On the day of Battersby’s public memorial service, the St. John Evangelist Church was packed with so many people, the overflow crowd ended up out on street. There were more than 2,000 people – some friends, but mostly strangers, wanting to pay their respects to the young man this city couldn’t  keep safe.

Of course, the Battersbys weren’t the only people who saw their lives changed forever that day.

Rubens Henderson was an out-of-control 16-year-old. With drugs and alcohol in his system, he told his friends as they were cruising in a stolen jeep down Elgin, that he was going to shoot at someone walking on the street. With impossible odds, the only bullet he shot hit Battersby in the back and hit his heart. In fact, the randomness of the hit became a pivotal point in the trial, with Justice Dan Chilcott alluding to the faction the charge to the jury that to have intentionally hit Battersby where he did and kill him,  he would have had been an incredibly skilled marksman. Following the charge to the jury, Crown prosecutor Celynne Dorval ran out of the room, clearly emotional with what Chilcott had said and what it might mean to the verdict.

But when the jury came back, finding him guilty of murder, I gave a bit of a silent thanks to the the power of a jury, 12 men and women who judged a situation and did what they believed was right.

But yes, the life of Henderson changed that day too, though appreciate his life story won’t generate much sympathy. Maybe you can find it in your heart to offer some sympathy for Ina Henderson, his adoptive mother. Her son was born in Brazil and placed in an orphanage before she adopted him when he was eight-years-old. I spoke to her several times over that trial, hearing her speak of a broken system, one that she was always fighting to try to find help for her son – knowing he needed intervention  – but unable to get it for him. Seemed simply being out of control wasn’t enough to warrant help. She was incredibly frustrated, and her worst fears came into reality when her son went on an out-of-control joyride. Now about 42 years old, Henderson has been released into the community, free to attempt to live a better life.

Watson Gets Ugly: Take Version 562

The assault on the urban councillors at city hall continued on Friday from Mayor Jim Watson’s chair.

For starters, the downtown gang were shunned from the finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) and almost all of the perks went to councillors outside the core. FEDCO has been described as the cabinet of city council.

“There is a vindictiveness that comes along with all this,” Menard said of Watson’s efforts to shut them out. “The environment at city hall is very tough right now. It’s absolutely getting worse. It was bad at the start, but yes, it’s getting worse.”

At today’s committee meeting, held to choose new committee members, Menard was attempting to ask a question of the mayor about how he could justify cutting out huge swaths of the city but Watson was having none of it, cutting off the councillor from continuing by dismissing his comments. It also appeared he actually cut Menard’s mike off, but that was unclear.

Menard also believes that city manager Steve Kanellakos needs to do a better job in ensuring he brings items of concern from all councillors, not just the things he believes will pass easily.

The truth is, the councillors representing the downtown core have been successful in getting several important issues of concern that are important to them and their downtown residents through council – despite being shut out of key positions. And interestingly enough, when a motion, like Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney’s item on homelessness appears to be garnering support – Watson inserts himself into the process so he can get some of the credit. Nice work if you can get it.

The changes to some of the committees were prompted by the leave of absence being taken by Cumberland Coun. Steve Blais, which created a bit of a ripple effect. Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents a downtown ward, had hoped to sit on FEDCO, but lost to Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower, serving his first term on council. It was a really good day for Gower, who is now also the vice-chair of planning, and beat out Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper. 

And Innes Coun. Laura Dudas, who recently called to have social media regulated at city hall, is now the vice-chair of FEDCO. Quite the promotion. Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff was recommended and approved as the chair of the library board. Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury was voted down as a member of the board of the Shaw Centre, a facility that’s in his ward, with the spot going to Osgoode Coun. George Darouze. Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King got a spot on the built-heritage subcommittee, making the only downtown councillor to get his choice.

Council must approve the new appointments at its meeting next Wednesday. And under some criticism, Watson pointed out that every councillor can weigh in and vote on decisions during council meetings.
“The simple answer is that all decisions we make at this committee level go to all of council, and every region of council is represented [there],” said the mayor.

Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh is essentially part of the downtown core club, and she’s not happy with what’s going on at city hall, she isn’t interested in publicly blaming Watson for everything bad at city hall.

“We want intensification. We don’t want sprawl,” Kavanagh said, explaining the differences between urban core councillors and the rest of council.
But she’s not interested in commenting negatively on how Watson runs a meeting. And she won’t cast aspersions on how or why Watson shuts out the urban core.

“I don’t think of this as being a pork barrel, I really hope it’s not that low,” she said.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand. Why does Watson feel he has to shut out the voices of his city council? It just doesn’t make sense. What is he afraid of? And what happened to the guy that worked on consensus?

Chiarelli on Life, Death and Public Shaming


In a wide-ranging interview, College Coun. Rick Chiarelli spoke exclusively with On the City, From the Burbs about family, his heart surgery and how he feels being shunned by his council colleagues.

Still recovering from an infection which developed after his sudden, life-saving heart surgery, Chiarelli has a hospital bed set up in his home, where he is on an antibiotic drip, while another tube continues to “suck away a lot of the infection.”

“They’re saying I’m making progress on the infection, and have a nurse visit everyday. It’s looking good so far,” he said on Monday night, just moments after his lawyers released a letter calling out what they believe to be a “patent and palatable bias” against Chiarelli. The lawyers are also calling on the city to end their own investigations and let a judicial process handle the situation.

Chiarelli still struggles with his council colleagues rejecting a doctor’s note calling for approved sick leave, the first time that has ever happened at Ottawa council.

“I thought it was not wise politically, and it was not wise administratively. Nobody wants to see council vote down medical leave. I was shocked by it. I just know that when you’re voting on these things, you always vote in favour of someone’s medical leave. It indicates a real bias in the whole process. A councillor’s responsibility as a member of council is to remain impartial,” he said of the investigation into several allegations of sexual impropriety.

Is there anyone out there who can dispute that Watson and his council have exhibited extreme bias against Chiarelli with regard to the allegations by former staffers about the College councillor?

Please believe me. This for me has nothing to do with the many allegations against Chiarelli –  including some made by women I know, trust and respect – it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to the many allegations.
But just because you don’t like the nature of the allegations, and I don’t, and just because you believe them to be true, and I do, it just doesn’t mean Chiarelli doesn’t deserve due process.

As I’ve suggested, people found with a smoking gun beside a dead body get due process in the form of a trial. Our country is not supposed to convict someone without a fair trial. 

Yet Watson and others thought it was absolutely fine to call for his resignation? Why? 

“The doctor was of the opinion I had to do whatever I could to avoid stress. He believed I had a major problem. And he was right, everyone else was wrong,” he said.

As any follower of city hall knows, there’s no love lost between Chiarelli and Watson. In fact, the relationship is downright acrimonious. Chiarelli never misses a beat to poke fun at Watson; the mayor does everything he can to exclude Chiarelli from the process.

During a budget presentation when the numbers appeared a bit sketchy, Chiarelli called the budget a “Christmas Miracle” and the media ate it up, with everyone tweeting about the description and used it in their stories. Watson looked like his head might explode.

“Look, I’ve just never seen anything like this, never seen someone on council be treated this way and council just followed him. But you know, there will be somebody else after me,” Chiarelli said.

That’s a certainty. When Watson stops beating up on Chiarelli, he’ll find someone else, little doubt there.

And the fact that Osgoode Coun. Georges Darouze was found guilty of bullying a female resident by the Integrity Commissioner – and no one said a bad word publicly – isn’t lost on Chiarelli.

He said the letter was sent on his lawyers’ advice “to give council the chance to correct itself, proceed through the court system.”

While he has not heard from anyone on council, he said his community has been supportive, calling to offer their help or dropping off food. That somehow helps as he knows he’s been followed by an investigator hired by the city.

Since his ordeal began, he’s lost more than 100 pounds. He has nothing but praise for the Ottawa Heart Institute, singing their praises consistently throughout the interview. “I’m feeling very tired all the time, my chest is sore all the time. The surgeons said that’s because they sawed me in half. But it’s a slow progress,” he said. 

Everyday, he has to walk for 16 minutes, no small task at this point. “I can and must walk for 16 minutes a day at this point, 16 minutes in a row. Believe it or not, it’s tiring. I remember right after the surgery, nurses took me for a walk, one at each shoulder, after about five minutes I fell asleep, but they just continued to carry me. There was this 85 -year-old guy who lapped me, he made fun of me! Another guy walked passed me and slapped me on the butt!

At today’s city council meeting, council accepted an interim report from Integrity Commissioner Robert Marleau.

And for some reason, Capital Coun. Shawn Menard felt it necessary to point out a number of places Chiarelli has been seen publicly. And what exactly is his point? A double standard for sure, and somehow surprising since Menard himself spends much of his own time on council on the outside looking in. And should we now expect to hear a similar listing of public places Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, on sick leave for cancer treatment, has been seen publicly? 

Of course, none of this has been easy, with his long-time colleagues turning their backs on him, siding with Watson, refusing to sit at council alongside him, instead standing during when he was at council; knowing he was being followed when he was fighting off death.

Through it all, Chiarelli’s family has stood by him. His wife Lida often stayed with him at the hospital, sleeping in a little cot by his his bed.
And his three daughters –  Natalia, 28, Carla, 25, and Veronica, 23,  have also been there for him, and Chiarelli says they’re doing well, despite the allegations against their father.

“It’s been pretty hard for them, oh yeah. They’ve grown up in politics. But nobody, none of them could believe any of this, and everything they’ve been put through. But there’s a certain amount of self preservation going on,” he said. His chatter is dotted with fatherly pride, pointing out his daughters accomplishments and successes. He is even able to manage a bit of a chuckle recounting that Carla’s longtime boyfriend Matt Mariani had to go to the hospital to get the approval to marry his middle child.

But he believes, through all of this, he’s being persecuted because Watson doesn’t like him.

“I remember when (former city councillor Jody) Mitic’s sick leave was  getting approval. Some didn’t want to give it, but I think they all knew they could be next. At the time, (their reticence was because of his drug dependency which  as an illegal act,) they thought they were somehow supporting that, but still council approved it.”

Former Osgoode councillor Doug Thompson has pitched in with his office work, dropping by now and then to do what he can. And Chiarelli himself has been signing what needs to be taken care of.

Chiarelli has been working with his doctors trying to figure out a modified work from home schedule.

“One of the main things I’ve learned from this is that stress has way more impact than you might realize. well, doctors say two to six months, so, what I’ve been trying to get them agree, a modified work form home schedule, main thing I’ve learned on this, stress has way more impact on you, so they want me to stay away from that.

He still has every intention of fighting the accusations made against him. “I can’t really comment on individual allegations, at this point,  all of this,” he said.

But despite everything, he has every plan to come back to council and hopes it will be a matter of a few short months. And yes, he says he will run again.

“I was told I had a two to five percent chance of dying. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, what would happen if I didn’t make it. It’s not what you want for your children to hear about as they’re growing up. For sure.  But again, they’ve grown up with this life and they know it can get nasty.”

Mayor Jim Turns His Back on Urban Residents

Okay Jim, enough.

It’s time to remember that you – as you often have pointed out yourself – received a mandate from the entire City of Ottawa.

And when you diss your urban city councillors, also duly elected, you’re also dissing those urban constituents. You’re absolutely ignoring them and their concerns. 

You’re a smart guy. You must get that. But you don’t seem to care.

So yes, enough. You’ve proved you’re powerful enough to squish your opposition like bugs. It’s not a good look for you. And it’s not good for the city, for the residents – and frankly – it makes you look like an insecure doofus. Quit the petty power play politics. You’re better than that. At least, you used to be. Stop pitting parts of the city against each other, stop with the Old Boys Club mentality and treat this city like you care about all of it.

If you don’t pay attention to the day-to-day minutia of all that is city hall, a quick recap:

With a leave of absence by Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, taken to concentrate on wining the provincial riding for Orleans under the Liberal banner, a replacement for the chair of the transportation committee had to be found. And who is the vice-chair of the committee? None other than Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, who often cycles to work, pays acute attention to transit – he knows his stuff. But apparently, being from the urban core meant he didn’t have a chance to become chair. He wasn’t Watson’s pick, and Watson’s band of merry councillors are always there to support the mayor. Watson’s pick was Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney.

And there you have it. In a near unanimous vote (only Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh voted again Tierney) the east-end councillor won the day. In truth, Tierney can do the job. But he got it over Leiper because he’s part of the Watson team, and awarding club members is how Watson keeps them in line. Leiper is outside looking in from the downtown core.

“I think we’re missing an opportunity to really signal to our transit, cycling and pedestrian constituencies that we mean what we say when we want to make a big shift in how people get around. And, there was an opportunity to put a downtown voice on (committee). Better policy-making happens when there’s a variety of voices at the table, even dissenting voices. The risk of being surrounded solely by supporters is of being blinkered. Debate can only lead to better outcomes,” Leiper responded to On the City, From the Burbs.

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard is also one of those that’s been on the losing end of Watson’s games. Small wonder he sometimes lashes out on Twitter against the mayor. Unfortunately, that only seems to trigger the mayor further.

“It has been a Hallmark of the Watson regime to maintain absolute control over the past decade, but what is becoming very apparent is that he is losing his grip on council. We saw it with the ridiculous motion to remove the word “emergency” from the homelessness and affordable housing motion. We saw it on a motion to look into participatory budgeting. We are seeing it regularly with the LRT problems being highlighted daily. And his response to these things is to try and get more control over committees, even if it means excluding entire regions of the city. In my estimation, this mayor isn’t going to be around council too much longer,” Menard responded to this blog.

There’s still an infinitely small glimmer of hope that Watson could do the right thing. The decision to appoint Tierney still has to be approved by council and also provides an opportunity for further nominations from the floor. (And I feel I have to reiterate, Tierney has proven his ability chair big files.) This city needs both urban, suburban and urban reps taking leadership roles at the city. We’re not getting that.

“Nominating a colleague to chair a committee should not be a power play or a popularity contest. Residents deserve better. At the very least we need to have that discussion in a public forum about who is best to lead that conversation. The public is demanding openness and transparency not backroom decisions,” Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney wrote to On the City, From the Burbs.

Sadly, it’s doubtful much will change unless Watson himself does.