Fleury is Right, Politics is Disgusting

Well here’s an amazing coincidence. A couple of days ago I received a tip suggesting Mayor Jim Watson had directed two of his councillors to bad mouth Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury. The two councillors named were Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Michael Qaqish and Innes Coun. Jody MItic.

Fleury’s alleged sins? He had the audacity to call out some city councillors for refusing to meet with him on the Salvation Army file, a file that has thrown his residents into absolute turmoil. Of course, Fleury refused to go on the record about which councillors refused to meet with him. Fair enough. But worse than calling out his colleagues, from the mayor’s perspective, Fleury highlighted the role the mayor played in the debate. Early on in the discussion, Watson went public in favour of the project which then appeared to muzzle city councillors who might be fearful of going against the mayor. But there’s no doubt, if you follow council closely, that when Watson speaks, many of his minions on council quickly follow suit. Hence Fleury being unable to get his council colleagues to meet with him.

Here’s what Qaqish tweeted on Thursday about Fleury:

“Mishandles file like he did with Chateau & others, throws colleagues under bus & fails to take any ownership or responsibility.”

Really? Is there any evidence that Fleury was wrong? Nothing I’ve seen. And who was the first and only councillor to retweet Qaqish? None other than Mitic! Yes, that is a crazy coincidence. In case you’ve missed the sarcasm, there’s no doubt in my mind this is not at all a coincidence. For the record, Mitic – who has accused me of never talking to him directly about city issues – didn’t return my request for an interview.

And Qaqish, since I ran against him, appears to run scared every time I approach him. He too didn’t turn my request for an interview. Watson did return my email, suggesting my source was lying because he’d never seen the tweet. Ludicrous. No one is suggesting he wrote the email, only that he made sure it happened.

This is my favourite tweet response to Qaqish:
@ACVanierCA Nov 23 “Did you vote in favour of the SA relocation to get back at a colleague of yours, therefore taking our whole community hostage? @Quartier_Vanier @SOSVanier”

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans did talk to On the City, From the Burbs, saying she was really sad to see councillors tweeting out against each other. “I think it is out of the ordinary, I think it’s regrettable. As a council, we need to get along. This was a very divisive file and it’s divided the community and it’s divided council, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” she told this blog on Saturday.

And Deans, taking the high road, wouldn’t blame either Watson or Fleury. “I’m not going to assign any blame, I do think we need to be finding better ways to work together,” she said.

Here’s the thing. While city councillors try to one up each other, the community of Vanier, which cares deeply about its neighbourhood, is reeling from the implications of a mega homeless shelter on a main street like Montreal Road. And if we’re to believe the rumours – and it’s really hard not to – Watson and his cronies are fighting a political battle instead of working for the betterment of the community.

Yes, disgusting.

“Sickening”

The just approved Salvation Army shelter on Montreal Road will never be built.

That’s according to a confident Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury who fought the project with a mountain of unhappy Vanier residents on his side. At city council on Wednesday, despite those efforts, the project was approved a 16-7 vote in favour of proceeding. But following the meeting, Fleury appeared quite confident there were still too many obstacles in front of it for the project to ever proceed. Welcome to the chaos that can be city hall.

For three days last week, residents opened up their hearts at planning committee, expressing serious and heartfelt concerns about what a shelter on a main street in their community could do to their neighbourhood. The biggest obstacle at the moment is an inevitable appeal at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) which could bog the project down in time and money. And as Fleury sees it, there are other far more viable options to locate the shelter which haven’t been explored.

He’s right of course. Such a huge issue and yet again it wasn’t handled properly. Where was the rush, where was the fire? Understandably, Fleury wanted the issue deferred so he had time to talk to his fellow councillors following the committee. Rejected. This isn’t surprising of course, Mayor Jim Watson likes to push through messy items so as not to tarnish his image. Well, too late for that. This tremendous mess which devastated a community didn’t have to happen and it shouldn’t have happened. And it certainly highlights the ugly side of Ottawa City Hall.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time that something like this has taken place at city hall. And it isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last that a group of councillors and a horde of bureaucrats step in and hurt people needlessly. Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, who argued against the project, was the most eloquent at the council table, saying the entire process sickened her.

“This is a failure of leadership,” Deans said, suggesting they all had failed the community by not coming together. “This has been a complete failure of process.” Exactly. (As an aside, she invoked former Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli’s name during her speech, praising him for his approach to getting councillors to work together, is sure to annoy Mayor Jim Watson. Not necessarily a bad thing!)

So to think that because this project has been so badly handled and may never see the light of day and has sent community into turmoil, it’s all pretty shameful.

Not out of the ordinary at city hall, but shameful nonetheless.

Ugly

Ugly.

That’s really the only way to describe the week that was at Ottawa City Hall. In case you’re wondering, it was ugly all around, certainly for the politicians but more importantly, for us – the residents. The big story which dominated city hall centred around the Salvation Army and their wish to build a bigger and better shelter on Montreal Road.

It was billed as strictly a planning issue and as such was weighed down under all of the bureaucracy that means. And residents who care showed up in droves at said planning committee and were instructed they could only ask questions that pertained specifically to planning concerns. That might make sense on Lisgar Avenue, but it surely doesn’t make sense for residents worried about their neighbourhood, who care about their community.

The very worst thing about the three-day planning committee meetings is that the result of the vote was all but a foregone conclusion. It was tough to listen to, dozens upon dozens and dozens more of earnest citizens trying to have their voices heard.

This story has been a tough one from the start, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury began meetings with the Salvation Army early on. It was then that point, if Fleury had realized how devastated many of his residents would feel about this story, that he should’ve rallied the troops. But with Mayor Jim Watson in full support of the plan, it seemed apparent almost from the get-go it was a done deal. And when the meeting, which lasted three days ended, it was. Of course, it still has to go to council on Wednesday, but don’t expect a different outcome.

It’s more than fascinating (at least for city hall geeks like myself) to note that the city will actually be dealing early next year with a review of Ottawa’s housing and homelessness plan. In addition, the feds are also offering up their own national housing strategy soon which will certainly impact the city. Gee, maybe it would have made sense to delay this monumental decision

Let’s face it, this council is twiddling its thumbs on a much-needed strategy to deal with the growing garbage problem in this city, like how to convince residents to reduce, reuse and recycle. In fact, they’ve been twiddling for years and for a greenie like myself, that is incredibly frustrating. The reason they’re sitting around doing nothing this time around, because it’s not the first time they’ve sat back over the years – well the province is working on its own plan and heck, why make improvements when everything could change?

Having covered the city literally for decades, this file has been totally neglected, but somehow it’s okay to make a major decision which will impact Vanier forever even though changes are coming down the pipes with the city’s housing and homelessness strategy.

MORE MESS: And speaking about the ugliness of the public not being heard, city councillors reacted in horror this week when the Hard Rock Casino folks used the system to up the number of gaming tables allowed at the Albion Road location to 21 to 36. Oh, the horror! Former city councillor Alex Cullen described their actions – going to the committee of adjustment rather than city council – as a legal cheat. Well, that description has to get some kind of award in the best oxymorons of the year. Look, The Hard Rock is a business. It didn’t do anything illegal. It used the city’s own rules and got what it wanted. It’s all on council that the public’s voice wasn’t heard. Accept it.

Day Passes and Past Days

A flaw in the city’s transit day pass has left the city open to losing countless dollars, On the City, From the Burbs has learned. And prompted by this blog’s questions, the city is now investigating potential loopholes with the $10.25 day pass. Turns out the barcoded day pass can be photographed with your phone – sent to a friend – and used again. On the City, From the Burbs tested the day pass last week following a tip to the blog and confirmed photographs of the day pass allowed passengers to get on board.

“We have our team looking at this but our initial view is that there is very limited, if any ability to circumvent the system in this way.

“The paper barcoded tickets can only be scanned one time. Someone trying to scan a photocopied or picture transfer would be denied entry if the barcode had been previously utilized. “We will make sure that we look at this in detail,” wrote director of transit operations Troy Charter. Well, unfortunately, that might be what the city believes but it’s hard to be sure. Much the same answer came from Pat Scrimgeour, Director, Transit Customer Systems and Planning via the city’s communications department.

“There are a number of anti-fraud mechanisms in place throughout the new fare gate system. The suggested way to commit fraud is not possible. Each day pass or ticket purchased at a ticket machine has a unique barcode. The barcode is recorded when customers pass through the fare gates to board the O-Train and cannot be used again in the same period. Then, when the customer boards a bus, the physical ticket or day pass must be shown to the operator. A photo of the ticket or pass, which would be a forgery, would not be accepted. There are various anti-fraud features built into the system to void the ticket if used in a manner not consistent with the fare product. All anti-fraud mechanisms are being monitored and tested at the four stations during this period and evaluated throughout.”

Again, nice sentiment, but not true. No one here is advocating fraudulent behaviour, but as the city is testing its fare gates and passes, this needs to be addressed.

OTTAWA POLICE SERVICES BOARD LOSES STRONG MEMBER

Former Ottawa mayor Jim Durrell has many titles in the city, too many to mention here. He recently left the Ottawa Police Services Board, a decision he says he made of his “own accord.” No reason not to believe that. But there are unsubstantiated rumours that Durrell was pressed to stay on and become the chair of the board. Asked about that rumours several times and several different ways, Durrell initially refused to answer them, avoiding the question. Durrell left after serving two terms, plus an extension of several months.

“I left of my own accord,” Durrell told On the City, From the Burbs. “I wanted to leave, I’m a great believer in term limits,” he said, rattling off a number of posts he still holds. “You need to continue to reinvigorate and get new blood,” said Durrell, considered to have been a strong voice of reason on the OPS. “I was there long enough, you need new blood, I’m done, I just hope they appoint a strong member to replace me.”

That comment is telling, isn’t it? So too is his response to Chair Eli El-Chantiry’s leadership of the OPS and whether Durrell believes he’s doing a good job.

“I respect him and I know how hard he’s worked at it. If you heard I left in disgust, no, I believe in term limits.” Umm, no, hadn’t heard he left in disgust, but interesting he raised that! What this blog had heard is that when Durrell said he was on his way out, they tried to keep him by offering him El-Chantiry’s chair. Durrell refused to answer.

Then suddenly, after having been asked many times, Durrell decides to say he was not offered the position of board chair.

“I’m not lying to you at all, no I was not, it would not have mattered if I was, it was not what I wanted to do,” Durrell said. His delayed response seemed somehow odd. You get to decide.

ON A WING AND A PRAYER

There’s something just a bit wonky about a city budget written with fingers crossed. But that’s what happens here in Ottawa. And when the city budget – with its expected 2% tax increase was released on Wednesday – it was clear fingers are crossed tightly together hoping the nation’s capital has a light snowfall, little rain and no more than a handful of freeze and thaws.

Good luck with that.

In fact, throughout the budget it’s evident the past actual spending in areas across the city aren’t being used in the budget process. That seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? Not according to city treasurer Marian Simulik.
“These last couple of years have been abnormal winters. At least, I hope they’ve been abnormal winters,” Simulik said. There’s that hope again. “But we don’t go and say, ‘Well, we overspent by $8 million so we have to increase it by $8 million.’ We look at it on an average, what has the actual impact been to the budget.”

Simulik is one of the best-liked and most respected bureaucrats at the city. Rarely hear a bd word about her and there’s not many senior management you can write that about. While she insists it doesn’t make sense to budget according to what was spent last year, not many of us would feel comfortable running our households that way.

It’s certainly true Ottawa’s winters can wreak havoc on the winter maintenance budget, tear up the city’s roads creating potholes impossible to fill quickly enough and often chop up the sidewalks. And then, yes, there are the record snowfalls. But that’s just not new. Even Mayor Jim Watson got sidelined this past winter by a nasty pothole on his way to a city event. And he too is looking for some sort of divine intervention in keeping too much snow from coming our way.

“The changing weather patterns have created major challenges,”Watson said. “The abundance of rain and spring flooding, the extraordinary amount of snow and the number of freeze-thaw cycles, has significantly impacted the quality of our (roads).”

The problem is a bit of smoke and mirrors. When Watson talks about increases to the budget for things like road maintenance, he’s not talking about an increase over what was spent last year, but an increase on what was budgeted – even when the city goes over that budget.

And while reporters grilled both Watson and Simulik about the way the budgeting is done – and rightly so – the mayor’s angst was directed at College Coun. Rick Chiarelli. For my money, Chiarelli has the best sense humour around the council table. And he enjoys using his sarcastic wit to get under the mayor’s skin. It worked. Chiarelli, purposefully borrowing from The Donald, called the budget fake – pointing out the numbers being put forward weren’t sustainable.

Watson was not amused, pointing out Chiarelli was chatting with the media when much of the budget presentation was being made. I certainly was one of those reporters! Watson directed reporters to grill Chiarelli on the details of the budget if the College councillor was going to throw out those kind of accusations.

Maybe that’s fair, given reporters often tell Watson how he should do his job!

Winners, Losers and the 2018 Municipal Election

By all accounts, Innes Coun. Jody Mitic is loving his new gig and has every intention of running again. Why wouldn’t he? Now on his second book tour, Mitic enjoys the trappings of being a city councillor. Unfortunately, Mitic often appears confused on many of the issues in front of him at council. One of his former opponents – community activist Laura Dudas continues to work hard in her community for the residents. It’s tough to take on an incumbent, but here’s hoping Dudas gives it some serious thought.

Here’s another city councillor who enjoys his city expense account. Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney was one of those candidates who ran in 2010 vowing to only serve two terms. He didn’t mean it at the time and he’ll be breaking his word to his residents when he runs again. Despite that, it should be a relatively easy win. To his credit, he is out and about in his community, most often with his wife Jenny – whom many believe is the real brains behind his candidacy.

Bay Coun. Mark Taylor also pledged to his residents to only run for two terms. As a testament to his character, he’s planning on keeping his word. Good for him. Rumours about this ward suggest we could see a battle of the Bay ward spouses, with talk of Taylor’s wife Christine Taylor putting her name on the ballot. School board trustee Theresa Kavanagh, the wife of former Bay councillor Alex Cullen, should also be in the running. Fascinating!

With many expecting that Bob Chiarelli might leave his role as the MPP in Ottawa West-Nepean, it was thought the outgoing Taylor would be the heir apparent. Of course, Taylor would likely have to wrestle for the nomination against College Coun. Rick Chiarelli (also cousin to Bob). Despite Bob Chiarelli’s pronouncement’s to the contrary, not everyone believes his name will be on a provincial ballot.

If you’re a betting person, put your money on Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder running again. And barring any major catastrophe, if her name is on the ballot, she’ll end up on top. Harder is a hard-working councillor who manages to both serve the city and her residents. She’s never faced any tough competition for the job and it’s not expected she will in 2018.

The same can be said for Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans. While she has indicated in the past an interest to serve at other levels of government, it has never distracted her from staying on top of ward issues and she’s one of the best voices on council with a citywide concern for the city.

College Coun. Rick Chiarelli is another hard-working councillor who hasn’t faced any strong challengers during his time at council. Like Deans, he’s looked outside municipal politics, but all signs suggest he’ll be on the ballot municipally again in 2018. He works hard in his ward and enjoys needling Mayor Jim Watson, which isn’t such a bad thing!

Orleans Coun. Bob Monette already broke his commitment to two terms, and his residents didn’t care and voted to keep him. A straight shooter, Monette stays on top of his ward and has played a leading role on several big city projects, notably playing a leading role in bringing the CFL back to Ottawa. You can expect him to be back.

In Gloucester-South Nepean, (the ward I ran in and lost) Coun. Michael Qaqish is feeling the heat of someone breathing down his neck. Former city councillor Steve Desroches, a rarity around council for honouring his pledge to only run for two terms in a row, is being encouraged to run again. He was a well-respected and hard-working councillor and if he throws his hat into the ring, and here’s hoping he does, Qaqish could find himself on the losing end of that battle.

Osgoode Coun. George Darouze ended up on top of a busy field of candidates with the help of outgoing councillor Doug Thompson by his side. Seems Thompson has lost faith in his protege and has been heard musing about a return to politics. Thompson has owned the hearts in Osgoode for years, would be a fabulous battle.

Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley isn’t council’s brightest light. Nor does he rank in the top 20 hardest working councillors. Can he be beat? Fingers crossed.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper is a solid ward councillor, but representing this volatile ward isn’t easy and making predictions in this diverse ward months ahead of an election is just futile.

Much the same can be said of Rideau-Vanier where Mathieu Fleury often has to juggle the varied interests of his constituents. He’s come a long way from his early days as an absolute green newbie, but again, this ward is too uncertain for predictions.

West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit with his work as the chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board. And not everyone is convinced he deserves another term.

Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson has served the Kanata community well for years. She’s still an incredibly hard worker for both the city and her community. However, having committed to not running in 2014, then outright lying about that commitment, many believe it’s time this loyal worker make room for someone new.

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko hasn’t dazzled his community. Some in the ward are on the hunt for a candidate to take him on. And let’s face it, democracy is almost always better served when strong, qualified candidates debate the issues.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney is a solid ward councillor, and part of a small group of left-leaning councillors who fly their flag at council. She deserves a second term and should get it.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum is part of that same left-leaning group. Nussbaum was expected to be more of a force on council, but that just hasn’t transpired. Still, by all accounts, he’s keeping his residents happy.

In Stittsville, Coun. Shad Qadri is believed to be in a bit of trouble. It’s a ward to keep your eye on in 2018.

Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais is surely this council’s most unlikeable politician. Enough said.

Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt is a rarity on council. He doesn’t speak to hear himself talk, but when he wants to be heard, he makes his point. A straight shooter, Moffat is a 2018 shoe in.

In River ward, the hunt is on for a candidate to take on councillor Riley Brockington who has been a huge disappointment. Brockington is running scared, as he should be.

Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier could also be in trouble. Former national chair of Equal Voice Raylene Lang-Dion has been telling people she’s taking Cloutier on. And in fact, she already has a website up and ready to go.

In Knoxdale-Merivale, you can still hear some wishing for the old days when Gord Hunter represented the ward. Count. Keith Egli has had a few stumbles along the way, but he takes care of his ward and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be around when the ballots are counted in 2018.

It was a surprise to many when Mayor Jim Watson said he was running again in 2018. His early pronouncement also had tongues wagging about whether he was simply making it clear to any potential opponent he wasn’t going anywhere. Lots of names have been bandied about as potential opponents, including former MP Paul Dewar and former police chief Vern White. Truth is, Watson may have his detractors, but he hasn’t had too many missteps along the way. Yes, it would be great if there was a real race with a strong and viable opponent to help provide a healthy debate of the issues at the mayoral level. As it stands now, that just isn’t going to happen.