So if we’re to believe Ontario Premier Doug Ford, he’s receiving plenty of calls from Ottawa calling for a smaller city council with fewer politicians. Frankly, making a call for fewer politicians is a cheap political ploy, one Mayor Jim Watson has made himself in the past – a campaign promise he may live to regret if Ford sets his sights on Ottawa.
Is it possible to cut city council, here or elsewhere? Sure. Absolutely.
What isn’t possible in Ottawa is to cut the the number of politicians and expect the same level of response from your elected representative and their staff. And it seems even more impossible to cut the number of councillors in Ottawa and preserve the special community of each ward.
This isn’t the time to talk about what a mistake amalgamation was. Yes, it was a mistake.
If you’re talking about cutting councillors in any sort of equitable fashion, how do you balance the special wants and needs of the urban, suburban and rural wards? You simply can’t look at Ottawa as a pie and cut it into equal pieces. No one wants that. And it would never work for you – the taxpayer.
Look, simply cutting city council is clearly possible, but if you’re looking for a city council that responds to your concerns about snow plowing, garbage pickup and dog poop in the park, forget about it.
And those are just the basics. There are bylaw infractions, noise, parking, fences – the list is really endless. Yes, you should go through the bureaucracy, but they’re not elected to represent you. Cutting councillors can only mean your concerns end up in the deep cesspool that is an overworked bureaucracy. And of course, ward duties are only part of what city councillors do. They also represent the city as a whole, and that comes with huge responsibilities.
If you look at the details of the individual wards, you’ll likely be surprised at the differences. There are incredible disparities in not just the population of the individual wards – but the geographical size.
Take this tweet from @Catherinemckenney who represents the downtown Somerset ward.
For Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt, that’s nothing but a dream. That would take him days to do! He represents a huge geographical area that takes up a huge part of the city. And within that ward, there are several distinct communities.
So sure, complain to Ford if you want.
Just don’t expect to have anyone there on the other end of your concerns if your wish to cut councillors comes true.
If you want, cut all your councillors and just see what kind of representation you get.
It’s that simple.
In the world of mental health and education, Chris Nihmey is a trail blazer.
He’s been sharing his story of mental illness for years now, going into local schools, talking freely to the media, writing books, and did all of that no matter how difficult it was for him to talk about his very dark journey of survival. Nihmey, 44, wanted to be there for the countless others in his same situation, letting them know they weren’t alone – and that it was okay to talk about it. So he took the very scary decision to go public.
He wanted to help others understand that mental illness is just that – a very real, but generally invisible, illness.
At today’s city council meeting, Nihmey was honoured with the Mayor’s Community Builder’s Award. So incredibly well deserved.
In accepting the award on Wednesday morning, Nihmey thanked council for the honour.
“I don’t want people to feel lost and alone. You need to know that you’re not alone and this is not your fault,” Nihmey said in his address to council.
In 1998, Nihmey began his teaching career, living his dream of a successful life with a bright future. The dream barely lasted two years. He was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2001, then with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Like so many before him and many others after him, he hid his illness, fearing stigmatization.
He turned to writing to help him cope.
“After years of struggling with all three disorders since high school, I picked up a pen and began to write my story, the highs, the lows, the worries, the rituals and all the tribulations of three terrible illnesses that were controlling my life in every way. As I wrote, something changed deep within.”
“I started to find a purpose for the suffering I had endured for so long. As I continued to write, I started to work on myself in every way. Writing became the driving force in my healing, giving me the motivation I needed to get my life back on track.”
“I began to become mentally stronger and more confident in my capabilities to heal. I also realized that if I could finish this extremely important project, I could use my writings to reach out to sufferers everywhere and give them hope in their own journeys. This was a very difficult endeavour for me, knowing the extreme dangers of stigma that surrounded mental health. I had to make a decision.”
“Was I ready to go public, to reveal my true identity, to finally stop living the lie to protect myself? Was I ready to take the brunt and bruises of prejudice and discrimination that would come by opening up my life to the world? The answer came easily to me. The answer was a profound yes! I was ready. It was my responsibility as a survivor to share my story. I stepped forward out of the dark and finally spoke up. In 2013, my memoir “Two Sides To The Story: Living A Lie” was finally released and my story was unveiled.”
Today, Nihmey is a mental health and wellness advocate, an author, motivational speaker and teacher. And last year, he was selected as a 2017/2018 Face of Mental Illness for the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.
Certainly, the battle to fight the stigma of mental illness is far from over. But Nihmey has played a crucial role in changing some people’s perceptions.
Having been one of countless journalists who’ve interviewed him over the years, he’s an absolutely engaging speaker. Despite his journey, as he retells his often very dark story, our past interview was actually full of laughter.
“I do not have one regret in sharing my story the way I did, not in my profession, not in my circle of contacts, not with loved ones, or even with strangers. I knew it would be a difficult task but, in my heart, I knew it was the right thing to do, and every day that I help someone find hope and healing in their own lives, I am reassured that I made the right decision.”
“I have definitely faced stigma since 2013 having shared my story, but I have not looked back. I have a reason to continue on for the one in five, or more, who live in darkness and are afraid to step forward because they don’t want to be hurt. My message is crucial. You are not alone. It is not your fault. Healing does happen. I have proved it in my own life.”
The word liar isn’t one journalists use easily. No one should. It’s a strong accusation and needs absolute proof. But yet, it is with absolute confidence and proof, I now am calling Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder a liar.
Really not sure what happened to the woman known as the mouth who roared, who didn’t give a hoot about political correctness or what others thought about her. She loved the reputation and it was well-deserved. She just called it as it was – detractors be damned. And her constituents loved her for it. How could they not?
But something has changed. She’s smelled power and she loves it. She’s finally on the inside of council after years of looking in from the outside. And for those of us who liked her better as the free-wheeling honest politician, it’s pretty sad. And hard to take. Harder made it clear she was going to support former broadcaster Carol Anne Meehan as a candidate if she entered the race. The two of us talked about it and we both hoped Meehan would enter the world of politics. And when she did, Harder was there as a supporter. Good on her. A lot of politicians shy away from public endorsements of candidates running against their council colleagues – but again – Harder doesn’t usually waste time on those niceties when she believes in something or someone.
And had she signed Meehan’s nomination papers? Yes, she said, she had. Again, good on her. Do what you believe in. But then, things turned ugly. In an interview with Harder the night before Meehan was to announce, I double checked she’d signed the nomination papers. Yes, she had, she confirmed again to me. But when she realized I was writing about it, she flipped out – insisting I keep that little nugget for later – when it would be more impactful. Say what? Not really a big deal in our world, but Harder was desperate that I not write it.
Then word came down she was going to take her name off of the nomination papers. Okay, that’s crazy. What was she hiding? Or maybe, more likely, who was she worried would find out? Couldn’t be Qaqish, but maybe Mayor Jim Watson? Watson doesn’t like Meehan, not at all. And of course, as is very clear if you watch council, Watson can control Qaqish, so he’s pretty crazy about him!
And then the message exchange went from bad to worse.
Told that I would write that she had put her name on and was now saying she was taking it off, here’s what she texted me: “My name was never there.” When I pointed out the obvious, that she had already told me it was there, here’s her texted response: “You will have to prove that. Certainly I will support her candidacy. My name is not on nomination.”
The problem here? Harder was somehow under the mistaken belief the nomination papers weren’t going to be public!
They are in fact, absolutely public. And yes, her name is there endorsing Meehan.
Another name on Meehan’s nomination papers is former city councillor Steve Desroches. But he too declined to talk about his reasons. Can it be Watson is behind his reticence as well, waiving future support or goodies in front of them?
What are these people afraid of? Watson is a bully. I have absolutely no proof he’s the reason behind their reticence, but as a columnist, I’m free to speculate about what I believe. That’s what I believe. And that’s the truth.
Carol Anne Meehan, the popular and much loved broadcaster who was beamed into our living rooms for years delivering the news beside Max Keeping, is entering politics.
Meehan told On the City, From the Burbs she will register this morning to
run for city councillor in Gloucester-South Nepean, taking on incumbent Michael Qaqish.
Rumours of Meehan’s entry into politics have been running rampant in recent days. She has decided to become a candidate, believing the ward needs stronger representation than it’s been getting.
It wasn’t an easy decision.
As the single mom of Evan and Elena Etue, 19 and 14 respectively, she needed to feel she could balance the demands of campaigning with being a mom.
“It was a difficult decision. They’re my number one priority. But I talked to them and they’re both behind me on this,” she said.
And of course there’s Gizmo, her 11-year old puppy.
Though perhaps best known for her years at the helm of the CJOH/CTV anchor desk, Meehan is more importantly – in terms of this municipal race – a longtime resident of the area who understands firsthand the issues facing the ward’s residents.
“We’re a really fast growing part of this city. And we have a very diverse population. And I want to be a more present city councillor. I don’t think we’ve been getting that. I see (incumbent Michael Qaqish) as an absentee councillor,” Meehan said.
And as a self-described fiscal conservative, Qaqish’s spending of around $90,000 on advertising and the like – including more than $6,000 of taxpayers’ money plastering his face on bus shelters – absolutely rubbed her the wrong way.
“I really found that a terribly frivolous use of our money,” Meehan said.
“I’m a long time resident of Ottawa and I’ve watched the city change in so many ways. There have been such great improvements, but we’re also seeing problems arise, like increased traffic congestion. And instead of sitting back and complaining about it, I realized I should just try to make a difference.”
Transportation is high on her list of concerns, along with the rise in crime and violence throughout the city.
She knows she has a lot to learn.
“The one thing about being in journalism you always have to ask questions. I’m not going to be shy about it. And I’ll have help as I learn to navigate the process,” she said.
While her candidacy is new, she has some strong support from Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder, who encouraged her to run.
Harder’s support means a lot to her – and it’s very rare for a sitting city councillor to go against a fellow councillor.
Others already lending their support include former Gloucester-South Nepean councillor Steve Desroches, former senator Marjory LeBreton and former Ottawa city staffer Heather Tessier, along with several local business leaders in the ward.
Along with Qaqish, Zaff Ansari and Irene Mei are also registered in the race. And there’s talk of another entering the race today. Nominations close early this afternoon.
It’s amusingly pathetic to see city councillors react in horror and disbelief at the recent findings of an audit into the Springhill dump.
Their outrage is certainly misplaced.
In fact, it’s much more than that – it’s buckpassing at its very worst.
Certainly, there appears to been enough blame to go around. City staff, city politicians, Tomlinson, the Ministry of the Environment, at any time – any one of these could have stepped up and done something. There are any number of problems, lack of documentation, lack of clarity in their roles, bad bookkeeping, bad feelings – the list goes on about the problems with the contract between the city and Tomlinson.
Back in 2012, then auditor general Alain Lalonde was the first to release an audit of the Springhill dump.
That audit, which for some reason still remains ‘confidential’, was obtained by On the City, From the Burbs and reveals many of the same problems and similar recommendations to the one released this week.
Back then, members of the audit committee met on Nov. 29, 2012 – close enough to call it six years ago – to talk about the just-released Springhill dump audit. With legal issues swirling around them, committee members decided to defer the issue until the legal issues surrounding the relationship between the city and Tomlinson – which runs the dump – were resolved.
Who moved the motion to defer? That’s no other than Kanata Coun. Alan Hubley who did his blustery best this week – in his new role as audit chair – to huff and puff and insist he’s not going to take it anymore.
Just too bad it’s all false bravado and buck-passing.
Here’s the truth where Hubley is concerned.
Hubley was a member of the 2010 audit committee – charged with dealing with the 2011 audit, and more recently, became the new chair of the audit committee.
He’s known about the problems for years, has been in a unique position to address them, yet has done nothing. And now, he acts like a tough little man ready to rumble.
He’s not alone. West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry raised his serious concerns this week, in much the same way he did at the 2012 audit meeting. And Osgooge Coun. George Darouze? Where’s he been? This dump is in his ward and he is now a member of the audit committee.
City staff? As damning as some of AG Ken Hughes’ comments directed at the bureaucracy were, frankly, they got off lightly.
As it turns out, according to the audit released this week by Hughes, the problems surrounding the dump are almost as high as the dump itself – and sadly have been around for years. Here’s a little bit of what the 2011 recommended from the confidential report obtained by On the City, From the Burbs.
Recommendation No. 2 in the 2011 audit: That the City ensures that it is proactive in contract oversight and dispute management by monitoring contracts on a regular basis. In their response, city management concurred, saying it is proactive in contact oversight in dispute management by monitoring contracts on a regular basis.
In hindsight, with the full knowledge of the 2018 audit, the city’s response to recommendation number three on the 2011 audit is pretty much gobsmacking: “That when the city has won any aspects of an arbitration, it proceeds without delay in order to ensure that the benefits are achieved in a timely fashion.”
Sure, no problem replied the staff, agreeing with the recommendation – but then adding several caveats to that.
That clearly didn’t happen. And you have to begin questioning the value of audits if city staff simply provide lip service to the audit recommendations. Recommendation number four has the city manager regularly updating council on progress on outstanding issues between Tomlinson and the city. Not so much, but would have been very helpful.
All solid recommendations which appear, given the most recent audit, not to have been taken into consideration.
The dismal relationship between the city and Tomlinson Group over the operations of the Springhill landfill compelled Hughes to suggest city bosses consider freezing the company out of future contract opportunities.
“We’ve never taken a step like this and made a recommendation this severe, this important,” Hughes told the media on Thursday after tabling his damning audit of the Springhill contract. “But given the relationship that existed between the city and Tomlinson, we feel that it’s important that the city evaluate their relationship with Tomlinson based on the fact of their behaviour during the course of this contract.”
The landfill is just one of the contracts Tomlinson has with the city, in fact, has more than $250 million in contracts with the city.
Tomlinson couldn’t be reached for comment.
Keep in mind the first audit was done in 2011. What does that tell you? Yes, there were arbitration issues going on, doesn’t mean the city couldn’t have attempted to forge ahead with developing a better relationship to protect the city.
Once again, your tax dollars at work – or not.