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.

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