The Great Divide

So it seems Capital Coun. Shawn Menard thinks it would be a good thing, in fact, a much better and more democratic process, if the key issues of downtown planning were handled by downtown councillors.

Say what?

Misguided arrogance. Not necessarily surprising, but misguided nonetheless.

I’m not at all sure how old Menard was when the suburbs were brought kicking and screaming into an amalgamated City of Ottawa. But many of us never wanted to be part of this new city, and were quite happy living our lives in Nepean, in Gloucester and Kanata and determining our own fate. The rural parts of Ottawa were equally angry at being forced into being part of a mega-city.

But here we are, part of one big city and now Menard doesn’t feel we in the burbs should have any real influence in how the downtown core – part of our city – grows.

And it’s that kind of misguided thinking that in part prompted me to start this blog under the name On the City, From the Burbs. Too often the interests of the burbs are forgotten or ignored by the mainstream media, and councillors like Menard are able to capitalize on that.

Like it or not, we are one big city.

For anyone to suggest that those of us living in the suburbs don’t care about what happens in the downtown core, poppycock. (That’s a word I love, but never use enough!)

Many of the planning issues in the downtown core aren’t simply neighbourhood issues. Did Menard not notice how passionate so many across the city feel about the changes being proposed for the Chateau Laurier? Bike lanes? The quality of the roads? Intensification? The list goes on. And regardless of whether we live in the downtown core or not, these are issues in our downtown core that most of us living in the burbs care about. Many of us work downtown, and planning issues are key in that regard.


Of course, decisions made by committees still go to council where everyone has a vote. But there’s usually very little debate – with the nuances of the issue being hammered out at committee.

Menard laid out his thoughts in an opinion piece which ran recently in the Citizen. And I can’t begin to explain how upset I get when I witness this kind of arrogance from a downtown councillor. We are one city, but Menard doesn’t want those of us who live outside of the downtown core having an important say in a key component of city planning.

When Menard won the right to represent his downtown ward in last year’s municipal election, he was widely expected to become a strong voice for the left on council, someone not afraid to take on the domineering personality of Mayor Jim Watson. He’s certainly succeeding in that role. But here’s the thing, Menard was elected to be both the rep for a downtown ward and as someone who represents the entire city.

Yet he seems to actually believe he can push aside the interests of the suburbs in favour of the downtown core politicians dominating the most important planning issues. Here’s some of what Menard wrote in his opinion piece.

“City Hall belongs to you. City Hall is your building. Council members work for the public and should be tasked with putting the needs of the people first over other demands. That’s democracy. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.

But you live in Ottawa, so you know that too often, City Hall isn’t a place for people, at least not all people. Too often, City Hall is a place for developers.


We saw this last week when the planning committee completely ignored official plans, community agreements and past promises from developers, approving a large change to the secondary plan in Old Ottawa East. The committee didn’t simply rubber-stamp a developer’s desire to change the plans of a community, re-zone the lands of a university that objected and negate years of work; it once again reinforced the message to community members — many of whom showed up to defend our democratically derived plans — that City Hall is not a place for you.


We should not tolerate this disdain for residents.”

Disdain for residents? Seems that’s just what Menard his showing.

His solution is to break up the planning committee into two separate committee, one of which would essentially be composed of downtown politicians dealing with downtown issues, and another dominated by suburban councillors representing suburban planning issues. As Menard rightly points out, currently rural planning issues go to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC), while non-rural issues go to planning committee.


“Building off this model, rural issues would still go to ARAC, but we would have separate committees dealing with issues in the inner wards and those in the outer wards. They would be comprised predominantly of councillors from each committee’s respective area,” Menard wrote.

Well, two wrongs don’t make a right. And further dividing the interests of the city by treating them as separate entities is not at all helpful. And to suggest that suburban residents shouldn’t have a strong influence on their downtown core goes against the very principles of amalgamation.

As Menard and all of city councillors know full well, the reason the present planning committee is dominated by councillors from outside the downtown core is simply because Mayor Jim Watson – who despises debate and controversy – and is happy to punish his detractors by shutting them out of key committees – and he did just that. Don’t punish the ‘burbs for his arrogance.

Fingers crossed Watson won’t be in power forever. And councillors like Menard should be working on building bridges with their suburban and rural counterparts instead of trying to divide this city’s residents.

Get It Done, and Get it Done Right

Okay, so this is it.

At 2 p.m. today, city council will meet for the second time in less than 24 hours to take yet another vote on a proposed and ugly redesign of the historic Chateau Laurier.
There’s much speculation that Mayor Jim Watson, having forced a down and dirty vote today will do everything he can to get a quick vote, without a rehashing of the issues.
Watson doesn’t like messy – and he doesn’t like losing. After city council voted on Wednesday to reconsider the Chateau Laurier decision, instead of holding the reconsideration vote at the end of next month as was expected – the mayor outmaneuvered Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans and College Coun. Rick Chiarelli by calling for a quick council meeting.
For those of us who care about this city, who love our nation’s capital – we can only hope this backfires on the mayor.

The vote to approve the present plans for the Chateau was 14-9. Orleans Coun. Stephen Blais was absent, and according to his Twitter account, is on holidays. College Coun. Rick Chiarelli voted in favour of the present plan, but only as a way to be able to move reconsideration, a technical process. He’s taking some heat for his vote, he shouldn’t be.

So to clarify some of the issues raised yesterday at the regularly scheduled council meeting.

Watson said it’s a privately-owned building and council can only do so much to force change. Wrong. Yes, it’s privately-owned, but council routinely forces change to privately owned establishments, notably heritage buildings.

Likewise, several councillors made it clear they don’t like the new design in front of them, but effectively threw up their hands saying it was time to move on from this issue because there’s really nothing they can do. Hogwash.

Some councillors said they didn’t want to drag council into a costly legal battle. Fair enough, I suppose, but this council and others before it often vote in favour of a development even though they know the project will be appealed at the Ontario Municipal Board and likely end up in court. And most everyone agrees if council confirms this project today, it will still almost certainly end up in the court system, with any number of people fighting it – and the city will have to defend their decision.

And can you think of any other issue where so many in the public, not just this city but across the country hate the design in front of us? This is an issue most feel passionately about. No one expects councillors to simply rubber stamp a project based solely on public feedback. Nor does the public expect their duly-elected councillors to turn their backs on what the majority of the public wants.

It’s not too late to fix this. Get it done, and get it done right.

Farewell to Democracy

Make absolutely no mistake about it, democracy at Ottawa City Hall is dying a rapid and ugly death.
Along with it, the rights of many Ottawa citizens are absolutely being denied as Mayor Jim Watson and his gang of bobbleheads turned clapping seals are shutting down the rights of duly-elected city councillors and their constituents.

On Wednesday, at the city’s finance and economic development committee, Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans hoped to ask some questions about proposed changes to the city’s baseball stadium. Since she’s not a committee member, she needed one of her colleagues to lift the information item from the agenda.
Save for Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder barking out “no” Deans got nothing crickets from the rest of her colleagues, quashing her efforts to ask anything at all about the stadium.

Really shameful.
If a councillor can’t ask questions, where do they turn? Of course, Watson has frequently shown his disdain for debate. So no surprise his minions toed the line and didn’t show Deans any courtesy. Shameful, but not surprising.

I’ve been around city hall forever, and while it apparently has happened before, I’ve never witnessed it. Where’s the collegiality, where’s the support for Deans or the residents Deans represents?
Now it’s easy for me to blame Watson. So let’s just point out that the members of this committee are personally hand-picked by Watson and leave it at that.

Deans could barely contain her disappointment with the Watson-chaired committee and its members.

“I asked if a member of (the committee) would lift it, and not one of them would. I think it’s beyond a courtesy, it’s something we always do for our colleagues. It’s my right, my duty as a member of council to ask questions and they denied me my democratic right. They all just sat there,” Deans said.

Deans, not one of Watson’s favourites to put it mildly, sees a continuing erosion of democratic principles under the mayor’s reign. She’s not alone.

“It is getting worse, there’s no doubt we’re at the breaking point. He’s got his inner circle who he’s given plum appointments to and so they feel they owe him something in return, so they blindly support him. I don’t think it’s democracy,” she continued.

Well, of course, it’s not. It’s ugly, it’s horrendous and it’s the mayor on one of his frequent power trips.

And then it got even worse. In the afternoon, city council met to discuss the fate of the Chateau Laurier. By now, you likely know council rejected Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury’s attempt to reject the recent offering by the building’s developers. He introduced his motion, read the entire thing, only to hear Watson suggest he’d used up most of his allotted five minutes. Yes, there is a five-minute rule, but it’s standard practice to allow the mover of the motion to use that time to ask questions of staff and to state their case. But Watson had every intention of shutting him down. Seriously, democracy is on the line and everyone within the city’s boundaries should be concerned.

In what was a little Christmas miracle, Watson’s ruling was challenged and in a mini-revolt, council agreed Fleury should get his five minutes. Shout it from the roof tops!

After rejecting changes to the really ugly design of the Chateau Laurier, Deans and College Coun. Rick Chiarelli had a plan in place. Chiarelli, who opposes the present design, voted in favour of it so he could move for reconsideration of the vote along with Deans. A motion for reconsideration requires at least one person who voted against the motion in question. If the motion passed, which it did, the pair had every right to presume the vote to reconsider the Chateau Laurier’s design would be revisited at the next council meeting in late August.

But Watson was ready for them, and when the vote passed, he moved a motion for a council meeting on Thursday. That should kill any change of heart by those who voted in favour of the present plan. And if I were a betting woman, which I’ve been known to be, Watson will call as quickly as he can for a vote.

No time or interest for another messy debate of the issues.

“Do you know who I am?”

That’s apparently what for-the-moment-cabinet-minister Lisa MacLeod demanded of Sens owner Eugene Melnyk at a recent public event.
Happily, he had no idea who she was!
Sweet.
Wish I’d been there to see that.
For those of us who know her, we certainly know who she is – a self-righteous bully with an over-inflated belief in her own self importance.

The story has been dominating the news, but just in case you haven’t read it, a quick recap.
At a recent Rolling Stones concert outside of Ottawa, the already-demoted MacLeod stomped over to Melnyk and allegedly gave him a piece of her small mind, according to a story in the Ottawa Citizen by respected journalist Blair Crawford.
“Do you know who I am? I am your minister and you’re a f—ing piece of s–t and you’re a f—ing loser’,” MacLeod apparently said.
Seriously?

You know things are bad when Premier Doug Ford finds your behaviour deplorable, twice phoning Melnyk in one night to try to soothe the stormy waters created by one of his ministers.

“Let me set the record straight,” MacLeod said in a tweet after the story appeared. “I gave @MelnykEugene some feedback at the Rolling Stones concert and I apologized to him for being so blunt. I have serious concerns about the state of our beloved Ottawa Senators! We need to get our team back on the road to winning the cup!”
Feedback? So that’s what we’re calling bullying these days? Good to know.

Melnyk was unimpressed, rightly pointing out that MacLeod didn’t really offer an apology about what she’d said and she certainly hadn’t owned up to what she’d said.

Many in the city pounced publicly and quickly on MacLeod, all no doubt part of a very large group that has felt her abusive wrath. Let’s face it. For anyone who has had contact with her, she’s not a sympathetic character. She’s just not a nice person in her working, political life.

The Twitter world had a field day, roasting her widely. Frankly, looks good on her. She was chastised on Twitter, with many pointing out her deplorable treatment of autism families, a group she courted in opposition, then quickly turned her back on them once in power, allegedly going so far as threatening what their future might mean if they kept up their attacks on her.

I recall being at a Nepean fundraising event when she started barking for help from volunteers. One person eventually got up to help, telling me they better help her in case she wins again! People are afraid of the repercussions if they don’t toe the line, not because they either like or respect her.
And others, like federal MP Pierre Poilievre, former cabinet minister John Baird and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson are most likely taking no small joy in her public humiliation.

There’s a chance that MacLeod entered politics to help.
Now, the only person she’s trying to help is herself.

Many months ago I ran into a city councillor who’d witnessed first-hand MacLeod’s out-of-control bullying tactics.
“What can I say,” the councillor said to me. “Lisa is a bitch.”

Exactly.