The Week That Was, Hits and Misses

TOP MARKS go to some hardworking students at the Algonquin Times. In this age of social media, with news breaking on Twitter and journalists capturing photos on their iPhone, there’s something somehow incredibly romantic about the idea of an underground newspaper. Adding to that, the underground newspaper is being run by a small group of Algonquin College students who refused to back down when told to cease and desist publishing the Algonquin Times. As it should be.

“It’s quite an exciting time to be a journalism student at Algonquin College,” Devyn Barrie, an editor at the paper told On The City, From the Burbs

The Algonquin Students’ Association ordered the Algonquin Times student newspaper closed during the ongoing faculty strike, The student had other ideas, working on a new and independent website and print edition. Called Algonquin Timeless (LOVE THAT!), the students are aiming to keep everyone at the college up-to-date on the status of the strike. Huge kudos to all.

MAYOR JIM WATSON makes the hits list this week with his timely response to the shenanigans going on in Quebec, quick to condemn the legislation banning anyone who chooses to cover their face. Good on him. And Watson’s letter of complaint was quickly followed up by an email from OC Transpo advising employees of the city’ policy and how to deal with the public.

“Quebec Bill 62 does not apply to OC Transpo customer service and fare policies As you may have seen or heard in the media, the Quebec National Assembly recently passed Bill 62, which prohibits individuals who choose to cover their face from receiving public services,” wrote AJ Ryland, the manager of Bus & Para Transit Operations in an email obtained by On the City, From the Burbs.

‘Bill 62 is legislation of the Province of Quebec. As a result, it does not apply to OC Transpo operators or passengers, even if the bus is operating in Gatineau. The City of Ottawa, which includes OC Transpo, is committed to the right and value of a “City for everyone” – respecting the diversity of its employees, residents, and customers of our municipal services. Bill 62 does not change that fact, and all existing OC Transpo customer service and fare policies continue to apply.

“If you are approached by someone who suggests that a passenger is required to remove a face covering or any other obvious religious symbol, please advise politely to them that OC Transpo is a service of the City of Ottawa. Bill 62 does not apply on our buses, and that you have no obligation to enforce it. If the person persists, contact the Transit Operations Control Center. Thank you for your attention to this matter.”

It was a BIG MISS this week for the city’s Housing First program. As reported by the CBCs Ashley Burke, landlord Nitin Mehra participated in the program, which connects people living on the streets or in shelters with landlords. Asa result,he’s now looking at thousands of dollars in damage from feces, garbage and maggots after he said no one came to the unit to check on the tenant in seven months. The video was absolutely disgusting and of course dealt a real blow to the program, which has the best of intentions but apparently no follow-through.

There are a lot of hands in this mess, including the city, the Salvation Army and the Canadian Mental Health Association. Of course, the goals of the program are laudable. But it’s naive to suggest the program not be abandoned. Let’s hope the problems are be addressed, absolutely. But it’s clear for the time being, convincing any landlord to get involved, simply naive. Widely interviewed, quite clear Mehra belongs in the Hits list, the program as it nows stands, absolutely doesn’t.

Costly Mistakes Have Taxpayers Paying for the Mess

There are few issues at city hall more frustrating than the never-ending mess that is the city’s green bin program. And unfortunately, it’s not getting any better, not by a long shot. Sadly, some people feel that when there’s a problem at city hall, the only way to deal with it is to throw more of our money at it. And where the green bin program is concerned, taxpayers’ money has been wasted for far too long.

On a personal level, I sometimes hate writing about what a colossal financial disaster the green bin program has been. I can’t help but worry the negative press from journalists is in part why so many hate the very idea of the green bin. As I first reported in the Sun when I was the city hall columnist there, staff appeared to simply pick a target for the expected tonnage out of thin air and signed taxpayers up for a deal that has cost them wasted millions. The 20-year contract with Orgaworld has the city paying to process a minimum of 80,000 tonnes of organic waste. But the city has never reached that tonnage since the green bin program began in 2010. Last year, the city sent just 71,000 tonnes to Orgaworld’s composting facility, costing taxpayers an extra $1 million for nothing. When the city began preparing for the introduction of the green bin, it came with a $1 million communication plan, that included young employees – clad in green bin promoed T-shrts – knocking on our doors. Such a waste. And now, with the numbers still lagging, some believe the way to solve the problem is more money spent on education. That is absolute garbage.

There is still a solid group of taxpayers who’ve dug in their heels on ever using the green bin for what it was built to do. There was a mini-revolt from rurals involved in the program returning their green bin to the city, others joking that it was going to make a great vessel to keep beer cold. Try as I might, I have never been able to understand people’s resistance to the program, given both the financial benefits and perhaps more importantly, extending the life of the city’s landfill. And frankly, I have found myself resenting those who don’t use. Yes, there’s the yuck factor. The truth is the yuck has always been picked up once a week. It still is.

When I campaigned for city councillor back in 2014 for councillor in Gloucester-South Nepean, I have to admit I was naive enough to think I could change people’s perception of the green bin. I thought at the time, that those who were hesitant with the green bin had trouble using it. Truth is, the people I spoke to on the campaign trail who were resistant to the bin have simply refused to even try it. They understand how it works, so don’t bother wasting time trying to ‘educate’ them.

And so the garbage piles up at the city’s dump. With a contract that’s an incredible mess and the city still involved in litigation, there’s no quick fix. There’s talk about allowing the public to use plastic bags, but with the lawsuit still hanging over our heads, that can’t happen anytime soon. And plastics are bound to add an even higher price tag to an already exorbitant contract. There are of course other alternatives to avoiding the so-called yuck factor, like those small kitchen catcher bags. Making matter worse, the city has all but given up on its own long-term strategy until the province comes up with its own review.

This garbage fiasco is city made, but we taxpayers are left paying for the mess.

Waste of Money, Waste of Time

Outspoken public school board trustee Donna Blackburn doesn’t ever back away from a controversy, even if that controversy is centred around her. She’s notorious for saying what she thinks, making her a target of her fellow school board trustees who seem to prefer a cone of silence than ever publicly ruffling feathers by speaking their minds. Some of Ottawa’s public school board trustees are so intent on unanimity, you have to wonder why we bother with elections at all if all trustees are always on the same page.

Blackburn believes she has a job to do, serving those residents who elected her. So she cares little about what her colleagues feel as long as she herself believes she’s serving her constituents. Blackburn contacted On the City, From the Burbs on Saturday, irate after learning about a $51,000 legal bill paid for by a cash-strapped school board, spent on yet another allegation about her behaviour.

Earlier this year, two complaints of bad behaviour were filed against Blackburn by fellow trustees. This summer, she was cleared of doing anything wrong after the case was dismissed, but the $51,000 bill serves as a reminder of the aborted process. And for Blackburn, it’s not just an obvious waste of money, but even more egregious given the overwhelming and constant needs of students within the school board, needs that often get ignored because of a lack of funding.

Upset, Blackburn contacted the media, then fired off a note to board chair Shirley Seward about what she sees as a waste of money, placing the blame correctly at the feet of Steward.

“Dear Shirley, I wanted you to be aware I have contacted members of the media regarding the cost of the Code of Conduct complaints. This bill rests solely on your head. I have brought forward complaints regarding certain trustees’ behaviour. ‎They were dealt with. Because of in-camera rules I cannot be specific, which is sad. We have a situation where trustees treat people badly and nothing can be said. This board continues to placate these people. You participate in this,” Blackburn wrote.

To be sure, Blackburn has crossed the line in the past with her rush to judgment about others. But this propensity for an elected board to purport to speak with one voice just simply isn’t democratic and doesn’t serve the people. And to make allegations against a fellow trustee, then see the complaints dismissed but stick taxpayers with a $51,000 bill? Ridiculous. And a troubling indication that the school board as a whole needs to get its priorities straight.

It’s All About That Trash

Small wonder Ottawa doesn’t have any real plan about what to do with trash when it can’t even properly coordinate the need for garbage cans in public places. That comes from Kanata resident Jill Nixon, who’s upset at the proliferation of garbage in her neck of the woods following the removal of trash cans in her neighbourhood. Nixon contacted On the City, From the Burbs after she noticed City garbage cans in public places being removed and not replaced. That followed garbage being tossed about. Just where does the City think the garbage will end up if there’s no where to put it?

“This is a basic service. There has been an increase of trash and litter throughout… parts of Kanata since the removal of the first receptacle at Kakulu and Barrow. Where do people deposit litter picked up on the roadway and our parks? They now have to bring it home and have it sit in their own garbage can for two weeks?

“I DON’T THINK SO! Is this the answer to the City’s failed waste plan? This City has already turned into a huge garbage dump and now you make it worse! Put back these receptacles. Whose stupid idea was this to remove (GARBAGE CANS)? Do you really think people will take their garbage home or stop dumping? This is going to result in more waste thrown on the roads, pathways, parks, etc.,” she wrote.

Nixon has been waging her own campaign about the proliferation of trash in her neighbourhood, contacting both the media and members of City Council. Her anger has met on mostly deaf ears.

“I find it absolutely appalling that the City would remove garbage receptacles along public streets and even parks!” she wrote to City Council. Of course, Council being Council, her harsh comments met on mainly deaf ears. No word from Environment Committee Chair David Chernushenko – whose green image has taken a beating over the past several months. The only one that appears to have replied is her own Ward Councillor Allan Hubley.

“Hello Ms. Nixon, We have confirmed the cans…are all in the process of being replaced or are part of the additional seasonal supply. I agree with you that it would be helpful if the replacement cans were installed at the same time but that isn’t always possible.”

Seriously. It would have been helpful? This City just doesn’t get it. People understand the low priority the City is placing on garbage.

“I have asked for the large drums to be installed in several locations where the smaller cans fill up quickly. Lids have been ordered for the drums as well. As mentioned earlier, there is also a number of seasonal cans being removed so please don’t be alarmed if you observe more cans being moved in the days and weeks ahead,” Hubley wrote, asking her not to be alarmed if she noticed more cans being removed.

Well, thankfully, Nixon is concerned. And she should be. This is the ultimate basic City service. But seems the City and politicians like Hubley are too busy with other more camera-ready plans to get their mugs out front and centre. Garbage is being tossed about the city and no one really cares. It’s shameful really. Thankfully there are residents like Nixon who do care. And she’s not buying anything Hubley is spewing.

“None of the cans that I mentioned in my first email were seasonal,” Nixon wrote. “Why does he continue to bring it up? Is he diverting the issue? He has not provided a timeline when the removed garbage cans will be replaced, as requested. Some were removed over a month ago! He has no idea what he is talking about! I am sure that once this all blows over, the cans will never be replaced! I am done emailing him as it is fruitless,” Nixon wrote.

Wish there were more residents as passionate as Nixon. Wish there were fewer councillors like Hubley, so willing to toss nonsensical responses to such caring residents.

Giving Thanks and Donald Trump

When my family and I gather around the dining room table at Thanksgiving, there’s a ritual we always follow. Before we dig into the turkey, the ham and all of that stuffing, we join hands and in turn, everyone says what they’re thankful for.

I love the opportunity to be together, to give thanks and to say out loud what we are most appreciative of. It’s a tradition I insist upon, but I’m usually the only one around the table enjoying the ritual that apparently I’ve foisted on everyone else!

My nephew Adam Sherring generally tries to start eating in the hope of avoiding the joining of hands and giving thanks. My boys, now both adults, certainly aren’t enamoured with the tradition either. Over the years, there have been plenty of “dittos”, similar thanks – and when the Blue Jays make the playoffs, lots of spirited hope for their success!

I’m okay with all of it.

I’m also someone who loves New Year’s Eve, all birthdays, Hallowe’en and Christmas. Any chance to celebrate, to be together and remind ourselves how lucky we are is good with me. So on this Thanksgiving weekend, there are many things I’m thankful for.

For starters, I’m very thankful that a downsizing move I’ve just made this weekend is almost over. I’m in a new house, but I know it will become a home. It’s been years since I’ve had to move and this time, essentially moving on my own has been tough. But I’m so thankful for great and wonderful friends who’ve been there for me, cleaning my house (I’m a terrible housekeeper), offering their support and not looking the other way when I suddenly break down in tears at the enormity of the move. Neighbours who’ve turned into best friends have made the experience manageable.

I’m thankful for having tossed my name into the 2014 municipal election. Yes, I’d be happier if I’d won but I experienced something few get to. It’s an incredible feeling to have people you don’t even know campaign for you, to devote hours to help you win. Total strangers reached out to help and I’m proud to say that several are people I now call friends, including Helen McLaughlin and Carolyne Lynch – two women I didn’t even know before the campaign. I’m thankful for people like Sherry Franklin, Randy Hansen, Isabel Metcalfe and Patricia Pepper, strong, thoughtful women who devoted an inordinate amount of time to my campaign – and so many others – like Jay Tysick, a political animal who is always battling for what he believes – though notably I don’t always agree!

Speaking of which, I’m thankful for the Women’s March, where like-minded men and women gathered together in a common cause.

I’m thankful to have a family – Shirley, Kathy, Alice, Jim, Gary – that has rallied around me as I move on to the next stage of my life.

I’m incredibly thankful – especially now – that I live in Canada and Donald Trump isn’t the head of our country/!

I’m thankful that while I no longer work for the established media, I can write a blog and have so many people get involved and welcome me back to journalism.

I am grateful that through the course of my journalism career, I’ve developed strong friendships, though admittedly I’m still waiting for some of them to tweet out my blog! Jon Willing and Joanne Chianello – this isn’t a subtle hint!

Most of all of course, I’m thankful for my family, especially to my sons Pete and Jamie, now men, who still put up with me around the dining room table to give thanks to being together and being a family.

Birds, Buses and Planes

The City’s plans for an $18-million stormwater management pond are being slammed by Transport Canada as a potential danger to aviation safety. The answer to this problem seems obvious doesn’t it? If the pond poses a danger for aircraft, then cancel the project planned for green space northeast of Baseline Road and Woodroffe Avenue,

Pretty simple isn’t it?

Apparently not. It’s rarely easy at the City.

Here’s the rub. According to City staff, construction of the pond is absolutely necessary for the LRT Baseline Station at Algonquin College. Without the pond, the station can’t be commissioned because the pond is needed to handle the runoff from the station.

Do you ever get the feeling that the City sometimes rushes in and makes grandiose plans without having the big picture? How could the City not have known that having a such a pond in a big hazard zone puts lives at risk? The only alternative to the pond would be to build huge underground chambers at Baseline station, politicians have been told.

The land is within what is called the Bird Hazard Zone of the Ottawa McDonald Cartier International Airport (OMCIA) Zoning Regulation. The land for the pond is located in College Ward where some residents of ward councillor Rick Chiarelli have lobbied hard against the idea.

The zone encloses air space for aircraft in critical phases of flight at or below altitudes of 1,500 feet above ground level. “These are the altitudes most populated by hazardous birds and at which collisions with birds have the potential to result in the greatest damages,” reads the letter obtained by the blog In the City, From the Burbs.
The letter was sent from Transport Canada to the NCC.

“For these reasons, Transport Canada strongly recommends than an alternative location be found for the pond, outside of the Bird Hazard Zone,” the letter continues, with that one paragraph in bold black typing.

Chiarelli is in full support of his residents’ opposition to the pond. And there are several reasons for his angst.”It appears to be a waste of money. Secondly, the community is concerned with the problems of smell. And some have concerns about little kids jumping into the water,” Chiarelli said.

The College Ward councillor is also worried that the letter from Transport Canada, written back in July, was only recently revealed to him. He has reason to worry. Seems to be a lot of that going on, with ward councillors not being informed of things going on directly in their ward.

“That’s the way things are going now,” Chiarelli said. “It’s become so much about spin and perception.” He also has concerns, and there’s certainly reason for his worries that the $18 million price tag might be inflated to help absorb extra costs for the LRT.

The NCC has also requested that the City ensure the pond has landscaping improvements to create a natural looking space. That’s also a no-go for Transport Canada. “In general, pond design should not represent natural landscapes, as they increase the probability that the area will become an attraction for birds,” the letter reads. Shouldn’t the City have known that?

The City needs to get its act together. Pushing forward on a pond that puts aviation safety at risk just shouldn’t be considered. End of story.

Yet here we are building on the second phase of the LRT of which one of its stations is contingent of the pond. In the City, From the Burbs reached out late in the day to both the Airport and the City for comment, but wasn’t able to get any comment.