You’re Not A Suspect

“You’re not a suspect.”

Those were the reassuring words from lead investigator Detective Constable John Armit with the Ontario Provincial Police’s anti-rackets branch when he contacted me.

Armit was reaching out to me in the course of their investigation looking into Beacon-Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney and a conversation he had with his now opponent Michael Schurter.

More specifically, he and Constable Josh Gluck, wanted to talk to me about a phone call I made to Tierney minutes before Elections Ottawa closed its doors to anyone hoping to register to run in the October municipal election.

Schurter, Tierney’s only challenger in the Beacon Hill-Cyrville ward, has said he filed a complaint to police regarding a call he received from Tierney on July 27, the last day to register for the Oct. 22 municipal election. The OPP anti-rackets branch is investigating the municipal elections complaint.

The Sun’s Jon Willing  broke the story. According to Willing, Schurter says while filing his nomination at the Elections Ottawa office, he received a call from Tierney allegedly offering to make a donation to a food bank if Schurter didn’t register to run in Beacon Hill-Cyrville.

Tierney isn’t talking now, other than to say he hasn’t done anything wrong. Perhaps a little late to keep his mouth shut, but that’s another story.

After Schurter told media gathered at the Elections Ottawa office, he was registering to run in Beacon Hill-Cyrville, I went outside to phone Tierney to get his reaction to having an opponent. And I mentioned that call during an on-air radio chat with CFRA’s Evan Solomon.

Hence the visit from Armit and Gluck. A broken wrist had the officers visit my home, rather than heading to their office.  Once again, I was assured I wasn’t a suspect – and then the questions began – many of them clearly standard.

Had I been threatened to cooperate? No, adding if I had, that would have been a story I’d already have written! Was I alright being recorded? What was my relationship with Tierney, how long have I known him and how did he sound when I told him he had an opponent?  Well, according to Tierney, he and his family had just begun an early celebration to mark his acclamation – so understandably – he was disappointed. What was the time of the call, where did I make it, did I know Schurter, had I been in touch with Tierney since news of the investigation was made public?

The pair arrived in suits, not uniforms and didn’t drive an OPP car. So much for spicing up my reputation in the suburbs!

The interview, which was less than an hour, was clearly quite routine. There was no white light beaming into my eyes and no harsh interrogation. In fact, when I asked – only out of interest – what would happen if I didn’t want to answer a particular question, turns out – that would be fine!

We chit-chatted, laughed a bit and then it was over.

Be Careful What You Wish For

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.

Watson Enjoys American Hospitality

Several months before very publicly turning down an invite to a July 4 party hosted by the American Embassy in Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson readily accepted a freebie trip to Washington in January, paid for in part by that same embassy.

Interesting.

In turning down the invite to the popular July celebration, Watson suggested the United States was acting as a bully to a smaller country and suggested it would be hypocritical to show up and accept their hospitality while in the middle of a nasty trade dispute.

Watson even went so far as to urge others to think twice about attending the event.

Now there’s no doubt the relationship between the two countries was much worse in June than it was in January, but certainly relations were already strained. The January trip in Washington. D.C, was arranged by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, in partnership with the Strong Cities Network. Watson was one of seven mayors and other representatives from Canadian cities for a workshop with American and international mayors on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).

So how does Watson explain taking a freebie trip to Washington but very publicly making political hay by rejecting a party invite? Well, he doesn’t.

As previously noted on this blog, Watson never responds to On the City, From the Burbs.

In fact, his office doesn’t even have the courtesy of acknowledging the interview request. This from a man, who when I suggested politicians and reporters could never be friends, insisted he considered me a friend. Guess he failed to point out he considered me a friend as long as I worked for a daily newspaper.

The mayor is clearly on a bit of a power trip. He’s turning his back on transparency and his head is swelled in the belief he can do what he wants without any real detractors.

What’s also concerning about the freebie trip is that the City of Ottawa rules surrounding the need to declare the trip are so vague, it’s hard to imagine a circumstance when you have to declare a trip. Watson didn’t declare any expenses from the trip on the city’s website.

Here’s just a bit about what the city’s policy on freebie trips say:

“Generally speaking, Members should not accept offerings that would, to a reasonable member of the public, appear to be in gratitude for influence, to induce influence, or otherwise to go beyond the necessary and appropriate public functions involved and offerings from individuals associated with an active lobbying file are not permitted.”

Party or freebie trip? Watson made his choice.