An Ottawa Icon Passes

There was no one who could work a room like former Tory cabinet minister Claude Bennett. It was like seeing a master at work. He loved it, and the crowd loved him back.

Bennett could glad handle like no one else as he schmoozed throughout a crowd, remembering everyone’s name, and often their family’s names. “How’s your mom,” he asked, and he wasn’t bluffing. He knew the mom. He was the real political deal. I saw it myself, first hand and marveled at the ease he worked a group. Sadly, Bennett passed away early this morning from heart issues which he’d battled for years. A deeply religious man, Bennett was still walking up to three hours a day, as recently as Thursday. And of course, during these trying times, the family can’t hold a funeral for him. That’s difficult.

Bennett leaves behind two children, Winston (yes, named after Winston Churchill) and his daughter Natalie. When I met them, about 40 years ago, they were so little, just adorable. And now they’re adults, trying to deal with the death of their father, their mother Deborah has are already passed.
Bennett was a mentor to many politicians in Ottawa. “He was very instrumental in helping me get elected (to city council). He would come door knocking with me. Ans I spent a lot of time with his family,” said Michael McSweeney, a former city councillor and now president of the Cement Association of Canada. (For the public record, I covered McSweeney when he was a city councillor and have recently worked for him on contract with the CAC).

“He was an Ottawa guy, through and through,” McSweeney said. “He was a very giving man, a very religious man, cover to cover. He wa friends with everyone, all of the mayors going right back to Charlotte Whitton, George Nelms, Laurie Greenberg, Jim Durrell, Bob Chiarelli. He was just a vey special person,” McSweeney said.And like so many other of his friends, McSweeney had just spoken to him recently. “We were talking about the federal leadership, who we should be supporting and how we were going to deal with the massive deficits. And this was before Covid and how that would impact the future generations,” he added. “He was so looking forward to the opening of the Hunt Club (golf course), we were supposed to go golfing in a couple of weeks.”

Claude’s wife Deborah passed away in 2018. They leave behind two children, Winston, named after Winston Churchill and Natalie.


Bennett was born in Ottawa, Ontario. He  served as an alderman and city controller in Ottawa from 1961 to 1969, having first been elected to city council in 1960. He was the city’s acting mayor in the period from 1970 to 1972.Bennett was elected to the Ontario legislature in the 1971 provincial election, an election he won soundly. He became a Minister without portfolio in Davis’s government on September 28, 1972 and was promoted to Minister of Industry and Tourism on January 15, 1973.

He was re-elected by a reduced majority in the 1975 election and again with a majority in 1977. On January 21, 1978, he was named Minister of Housing. He remained with the Davis government for the remainder of the Davis years.And he continued to be part of cabinet under Frank Miller’s reign.He didn’t run again in the 1986 election.From 1990 to 1995, Bennett served as chairman of the board for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

He has been president of the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada since 1998, and has also served as chair of the Ottawa Transition Board and the Ottawa Airport Authority. On June 29, 2007, Bennett was appointed to sit on the board of directors of the Royal Canadian Mint for a four-year term.
During his reign as the key Ontario cabinet minister, he was as I would describe him, the godfather of Eastern Ontario. He was in charge of this area, and he served the region well. But nothing happened that he didn’t approve of.

In a horrible twist of fate, his brother Thom Bennett lost his wife Susan on Thursday.

No life isn’t fair.

“He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked for, always respectful, and in any discussions, he always made sure you always had input, and he had such a sense of humour, he was just so good,” said former Ottawa city clerk Pierre Page.Page worked with Bennett during the amalgamation of the Ottawa’s region different municipalities.

“He was just so respectful, and one of the sharpest guys I knew. I used to see him regularly for lunch, we tried to meet once a month,” Page said.In fact, the last time I saw Bennett was a a lunch with Page.

Former regional councillor Andy Haydon admits the two didn’t always see eye-to-eye with each other. Who does? But Haydon always had respect for Bennett.”How can you not be a fan of Claude, not because he was a Conservative, but because he was Claude Bennett,” Haydon said.Bennett was also in charge of the process to amalgamate the city’s of Ottawa into one city.

Larry Malloy, who first let me know Bennett had passed, was very close to Bennett and his family.

He worked on former premier Bill Davis’ campaign and supported Bennet. He also served as his chief of staff, suffice to say the bond was tight.”We didn’t fix any world problems, bu we talked about them.”

Fighting Like a Girl

Diane Deans has been taking on cancer by ‘fighting like a girl.’

And on the eve of her last cancer treatment, Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans held her annual Women’s Day Breakfast with several hundred there to celebrate not just Women’s Day, but Deans herself. It was her first public appearance since announcing she’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Looking healthy and strong, Deans – in a wide-ranging talk – spoke about her constant support of women, her love for her friends and family and her tough battle with ovarian cancer. At times, it seemed the speech could well be her opening salvo in what many expect will become her entry into a mayoralty race.

The event was co-hosted by CBC anchor Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld, a fellow cancer survivor.

There were plenty of laughs and more than a few tears as she addressed the crowd.

In one of the most heartwarming moments, Deans said the most difficult part of her diagnosis of ovarian cancer was telling her daughter Megan and life partner Ron. Tearing up as she spoke, as did much of the audience, Deans said her family already knew something really bad was going on. “They knew, they really did. They’d seen the number of tests, seen me,” she said.

And while she brought audience members to tears, she also had the crowd laughing out loud, suggesting as she was feeling the effects of the undiagnosed disease, she only fully realized how sick she must be when she couldn’t finish a glass of wine! (A woman after my own heart!). She also opened up about her hair loss, something she admits she really struggled with.

In a really lovely story, she spoke about her grandson Evan, who was worried she’d be picked on if she was bald, so he asked to have his head shaven as well. Just so incredibly sweet. And when she had to accept wigs were her best option, Evan, just 10, tried one on to show her that the wig she was considering suited everyone! He was right. When friends commented that despite the fact the wig wasn’t her own hair, but looked great, Deans disagreed.

“What do you mean it’s not my own hair, I paid for it,” the councillor said. “The thing about hair is that it’s part of your identity, And now I don’t ask anyone how my hair looks, I ask if it’s on straight. Hair is part of your identity. But hair comes back. If it’s your hair or your life, you choose life.”

But as she was struggling to deal with her own reality, her daughter Megan became very ill, eventually being diagnosed with colitis and had emergency surgery at Christmas. So instead of being able to take time for herself, she was back at the hospital, spending eight hours a day by her daughter’s side. Their routine included bi-weekly get-togethers watching Ottawa City Council.

“It’s the best drama in town,” Deans joked.

Her last treatment is on Friday. There’s no set date for her return to council, but she will follow her doctor’s recommendation to take several months to recuperate. She’s anxious to get back, to work on the light rail transit file and get back to being the head of the Ottawa Police Services Board. 
“I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done, proud of the fight that I’ve put up along the way and serving this amazing community that I love. You can see the fruits of your labour. You see the difference you make, I’m proud of the fight I’ve put up along the way,” Deans said.

Deans has been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from the community.

“It really does warm your heart, I’ve heard from so many people. I believe I’m going to make it, I’m going to be fine and I’m going to  fight like a girl.”

One Random Bullet, So Many Lives Changed Forever

For many years after the senseless, violent death of Nicholas Battersby in 1994 and the following murder trial, I would receive Christmas cards from his parents Gay and Charles – who lived in England – but had been here during the trial which I’d covered.

Somehow, it was at times hard simply to look at them, their pain so apparent, their bewilderment understandable and their love for their son almost physically tangible.

An electrical engineer, Battersby, just 27, had just left England for a new life and a new job at Bell-Northern Research in Ottawa.

This perfectly normal, seemingly as average as the rest of us, Gay and Charles Battersby hugged and waved their son goodbye as he left to create a life for himself in a different country. And on a simple stroll down Elgin Street  on a Sunday in late March, 1994, with a light rain coming down on the city, their son Nicholas was shot in the back by a single bullet. His life was over, the lives of his parents forever altered and always sadder.

So yes, there was something incredibly jarring – after all of these years – reading that Reubens Henderson, convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Battersby, has just been released from jail.He was 16 at the time of the crazy, senseless murder which rocked this city back in 1994. And he’d been in jail for about 25 years.

As most anyone would, I tried to show the Battersbys some kindness as they struggled to get up everyday to attend the trial. Always in the back of my mind was the wonderment of how they could even manage to put one foot in front of the other to attend the trial, to face another day. And as a new mom of a beautiful one-year-old baby boy, his sweet life was always in my heart.

In fact, it seemed the entire city wanted to help the Battersbys. Many of us somehow felt a sense of responsibility – feeling a collective guilt that this young man who’d come to our country with the promise of something good – was gunned down.

At the time, the death of the the city’s visitor from England was described as the loss of the last vestige of Ottawa’s innocence. (In fairness, the same thing was essentially written a couple of years after that when CJOH sportscaster Brian Smith was gunned down in the station’s parking lot.)

That being said, there was absolutely a sort of collective guilt felt by many of us, that a young man from a different country could come here to our city to start a new life, only to be murdered. It was so horribly random, it was senseless and it was violent, and Ottawans struggled because they hadn’t been able to protect him.

Case in point. On the day of Battersby’s public memorial service, the St. John Evangelist Church was packed with so many people, the overflow crowd ended up out on street. There were more than 2,000 people – some friends, but mostly strangers, wanting to pay their respects to the young man this city couldn’t  keep safe.

Of course, the Battersbys weren’t the only people who saw their lives changed forever that day.

Rubens Henderson was an out-of-control 16-year-old. With drugs and alcohol in his system, he told his friends as they were cruising in a stolen jeep down Elgin, that he was going to shoot at someone walking on the street. With impossible odds, the only bullet he shot hit Battersby in the back and hit his heart. In fact, the randomness of the hit became a pivotal point in the trial, with Justice Dan Chilcott alluding to the faction the charge to the jury that to have intentionally hit Battersby where he did and kill him,  he would have had been an incredibly skilled marksman. Following the charge to the jury, Crown prosecutor Celynne Dorval ran out of the room, clearly emotional with what Chilcott had said and what it might mean to the verdict.

But when the jury came back, finding him guilty of murder, I gave a bit of a silent thanks to the the power of a jury, 12 men and women who judged a situation and did what they believed was right.

But yes, the life of Henderson changed that day too, though appreciate his life story won’t generate much sympathy. Maybe you can find it in your heart to offer some sympathy for Ina Henderson, his adoptive mother. Her son was born in Brazil and placed in an orphanage before she adopted him when he was eight-years-old. I spoke to her several times over that trial, hearing her speak of a broken system, one that she was always fighting to try to find help for her son – knowing he needed intervention  – but unable to get it for him. Seemed simply being out of control wasn’t enough to warrant help. She was incredibly frustrated, and her worst fears came into reality when her son went on an out-of-control joyride. Now about 42 years old, Henderson has been released into the community, free to attempt to live a better life.

Watson Gets Ugly: Take Version 562

The assault on the urban councillors at city hall continued on Friday from Mayor Jim Watson’s chair.

For starters, the downtown gang were shunned from the finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) and almost all of the perks went to councillors outside the core. FEDCO has been described as the cabinet of city council.

“There is a vindictiveness that comes along with all this,” Menard said of Watson’s efforts to shut them out. “The environment at city hall is very tough right now. It’s absolutely getting worse. It was bad at the start, but yes, it’s getting worse.”

At today’s committee meeting, held to choose new committee members, Menard was attempting to ask a question of the mayor about how he could justify cutting out huge swaths of the city but Watson was having none of it, cutting off the councillor from continuing by dismissing his comments. It also appeared he actually cut Menard’s mike off, but that was unclear.

Menard also believes that city manager Steve Kanellakos needs to do a better job in ensuring he brings items of concern from all councillors, not just the things he believes will pass easily.

The truth is, the councillors representing the downtown core have been successful in getting several important issues of concern that are important to them and their downtown residents through council – despite being shut out of key positions. And interestingly enough, when a motion, like Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney’s item on homelessness appears to be garnering support – Watson inserts himself into the process so he can get some of the credit. Nice work if you can get it.

The changes to some of the committees were prompted by the leave of absence being taken by Cumberland Coun. Steve Blais, which created a bit of a ripple effect. Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents a downtown ward, had hoped to sit on FEDCO, but lost to Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower, serving his first term on council. It was a really good day for Gower, who is now also the vice-chair of planning, and beat out Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper. 

And Innes Coun. Laura Dudas, who recently called to have social media regulated at city hall, is now the vice-chair of FEDCO. Quite the promotion. Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff was recommended and approved as the chair of the library board. Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury was voted down as a member of the board of the Shaw Centre, a facility that’s in his ward, with the spot going to Osgoode Coun. George Darouze. Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King got a spot on the built-heritage subcommittee, making the only downtown councillor to get his choice.

Council must approve the new appointments at its meeting next Wednesday. And under some criticism, Watson pointed out that every councillor can weigh in and vote on decisions during council meetings.
“The simple answer is that all decisions we make at this committee level go to all of council, and every region of council is represented [there],” said the mayor.

Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh is essentially part of the downtown core club, and she’s not happy with what’s going on at city hall, she isn’t interested in publicly blaming Watson for everything bad at city hall.

“We want intensification. We don’t want sprawl,” Kavanagh said, explaining the differences between urban core councillors and the rest of council.
But she’s not interested in commenting negatively on how Watson runs a meeting. And she won’t cast aspersions on how or why Watson shuts out the urban core.

“I don’t think of this as being a pork barrel, I really hope it’s not that low,” she said.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand. Why does Watson feel he has to shut out the voices of his city council? It just doesn’t make sense. What is he afraid of? And what happened to the guy that worked on consensus?

Chiarelli on Life, Death and Public Shaming


In a wide-ranging interview, College Coun. Rick Chiarelli spoke exclusively with On the City, From the Burbs about family, his heart surgery and how he feels being shunned by his council colleagues.

Still recovering from an infection which developed after his sudden, life-saving heart surgery, Chiarelli has a hospital bed set up in his home, where he is on an antibiotic drip, while another tube continues to “suck away a lot of the infection.”

“They’re saying I’m making progress on the infection, and have a nurse visit everyday. It’s looking good so far,” he said on Monday night, just moments after his lawyers released a letter calling out what they believe to be a “patent and palatable bias” against Chiarelli. The lawyers are also calling on the city to end their own investigations and let a judicial process handle the situation.

Chiarelli still struggles with his council colleagues rejecting a doctor’s note calling for approved sick leave, the first time that has ever happened at Ottawa council.

“I thought it was not wise politically, and it was not wise administratively. Nobody wants to see council vote down medical leave. I was shocked by it. I just know that when you’re voting on these things, you always vote in favour of someone’s medical leave. It indicates a real bias in the whole process. A councillor’s responsibility as a member of council is to remain impartial,” he said of the investigation into several allegations of sexual impropriety.

Is there anyone out there who can dispute that Watson and his council have exhibited extreme bias against Chiarelli with regard to the allegations by former staffers about the College councillor?

Please believe me. This for me has nothing to do with the many allegations against Chiarelli –  including some made by women I know, trust and respect – it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to the many allegations.
But just because you don’t like the nature of the allegations, and I don’t, and just because you believe them to be true, and I do, it just doesn’t mean Chiarelli doesn’t deserve due process.

As I’ve suggested, people found with a smoking gun beside a dead body get due process in the form of a trial. Our country is not supposed to convict someone without a fair trial. 

Yet Watson and others thought it was absolutely fine to call for his resignation? Why? 

“The doctor was of the opinion I had to do whatever I could to avoid stress. He believed I had a major problem. And he was right, everyone else was wrong,” he said.

As any follower of city hall knows, there’s no love lost between Chiarelli and Watson. In fact, the relationship is downright acrimonious. Chiarelli never misses a beat to poke fun at Watson; the mayor does everything he can to exclude Chiarelli from the process.

During a budget presentation when the numbers appeared a bit sketchy, Chiarelli called the budget a “Christmas Miracle” and the media ate it up, with everyone tweeting about the description and used it in their stories. Watson looked like his head might explode.

“Look, I’ve just never seen anything like this, never seen someone on council be treated this way and council just followed him. But you know, there will be somebody else after me,” Chiarelli said.

That’s a certainty. When Watson stops beating up on Chiarelli, he’ll find someone else, little doubt there.

And the fact that Osgoode Coun. Georges Darouze was found guilty of bullying a female resident by the Integrity Commissioner – and no one said a bad word publicly – isn’t lost on Chiarelli.

He said the letter was sent on his lawyers’ advice “to give council the chance to correct itself, proceed through the court system.”

While he has not heard from anyone on council, he said his community has been supportive, calling to offer their help or dropping off food. That somehow helps as he knows he’s been followed by an investigator hired by the city.

Since his ordeal began, he’s lost more than 100 pounds. He has nothing but praise for the Ottawa Heart Institute, singing their praises consistently throughout the interview. “I’m feeling very tired all the time, my chest is sore all the time. The surgeons said that’s because they sawed me in half. But it’s a slow progress,” he said. 

Everyday, he has to walk for 16 minutes, no small task at this point. “I can and must walk for 16 minutes a day at this point, 16 minutes in a row. Believe it or not, it’s tiring. I remember right after the surgery, nurses took me for a walk, one at each shoulder, after about five minutes I fell asleep, but they just continued to carry me. There was this 85 -year-old guy who lapped me, he made fun of me! Another guy walked passed me and slapped me on the butt!

At today’s city council meeting, council accepted an interim report from Integrity Commissioner Robert Marleau.

And for some reason, Capital Coun. Shawn Menard felt it necessary to point out a number of places Chiarelli has been seen publicly. And what exactly is his point? A double standard for sure, and somehow surprising since Menard himself spends much of his own time on council on the outside looking in. And should we now expect to hear a similar listing of public places Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, on sick leave for cancer treatment, has been seen publicly? 

Of course, none of this has been easy, with his long-time colleagues turning their backs on him, siding with Watson, refusing to sit at council alongside him, instead standing during when he was at council; knowing he was being followed when he was fighting off death.

Through it all, Chiarelli’s family has stood by him. His wife Lida often stayed with him at the hospital, sleeping in a little cot by his his bed.
And his three daughters –  Natalia, 28, Carla, 25, and Veronica, 23,  have also been there for him, and Chiarelli says they’re doing well, despite the allegations against their father.

“It’s been pretty hard for them, oh yeah. They’ve grown up in politics. But nobody, none of them could believe any of this, and everything they’ve been put through. But there’s a certain amount of self preservation going on,” he said. His chatter is dotted with fatherly pride, pointing out his daughters accomplishments and successes. He is even able to manage a bit of a chuckle recounting that Carla’s longtime boyfriend Matt Mariani had to go to the hospital to get the approval to marry his middle child.

But he believes, through all of this, he’s being persecuted because Watson doesn’t like him.

“I remember when (former city councillor Jody) Mitic’s sick leave was  getting approval. Some didn’t want to give it, but I think they all knew they could be next. At the time, (their reticence was because of his drug dependency which  as an illegal act,) they thought they were somehow supporting that, but still council approved it.”

Former Osgoode councillor Doug Thompson has pitched in with his office work, dropping by now and then to do what he can. And Chiarelli himself has been signing what needs to be taken care of.

Chiarelli has been working with his doctors trying to figure out a modified work from home schedule.

“One of the main things I’ve learned from this is that stress has way more impact than you might realize. well, doctors say two to six months, so, what I’ve been trying to get them agree, a modified work form home schedule, main thing I’ve learned on this, stress has way more impact on you, so they want me to stay away from that.

He still has every intention of fighting the accusations made against him. “I can’t really comment on individual allegations, at this point,  all of this,” he said.

But despite everything, he has every plan to come back to council and hopes it will be a matter of a few short months. And yes, he says he will run again.

“I was told I had a two to five percent chance of dying. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, what would happen if I didn’t make it. It’s not what you want for your children to hear about as they’re growing up. For sure.  But again, they’ve grown up with this life and they know it can get nasty.”

Mayor Jim Turns His Back on Urban Residents

Okay Jim, enough.

It’s time to remember that you – as you often have pointed out yourself – received a mandate from the entire City of Ottawa.

And when you diss your urban city councillors, also duly elected, you’re also dissing those urban constituents. You’re absolutely ignoring them and their concerns. 

You’re a smart guy. You must get that. But you don’t seem to care.

So yes, enough. You’ve proved you’re powerful enough to squish your opposition like bugs. It’s not a good look for you. And it’s not good for the city, for the residents – and frankly – it makes you look like an insecure doofus. Quit the petty power play politics. You’re better than that. At least, you used to be. Stop pitting parts of the city against each other, stop with the Old Boys Club mentality and treat this city like you care about all of it.

If you don’t pay attention to the day-to-day minutia of all that is city hall, a quick recap:

With a leave of absence by Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, taken to concentrate on wining the provincial riding for Orleans under the Liberal banner, a replacement for the chair of the transportation committee had to be found. And who is the vice-chair of the committee? None other than Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, who often cycles to work, pays acute attention to transit – he knows his stuff. But apparently, being from the urban core meant he didn’t have a chance to become chair. He wasn’t Watson’s pick, and Watson’s band of merry councillors are always there to support the mayor. Watson’s pick was Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney.

And there you have it. In a near unanimous vote (only Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh voted again Tierney) the east-end councillor won the day. In truth, Tierney can do the job. But he got it over Leiper because he’s part of the Watson team, and awarding club members is how Watson keeps them in line. Leiper is outside looking in from the downtown core.

“I think we’re missing an opportunity to really signal to our transit, cycling and pedestrian constituencies that we mean what we say when we want to make a big shift in how people get around. And, there was an opportunity to put a downtown voice on (committee). Better policy-making happens when there’s a variety of voices at the table, even dissenting voices. The risk of being surrounded solely by supporters is of being blinkered. Debate can only lead to better outcomes,” Leiper responded to On the City, From the Burbs.

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard is also one of those that’s been on the losing end of Watson’s games. Small wonder he sometimes lashes out on Twitter against the mayor. Unfortunately, that only seems to trigger the mayor further.

“It has been a Hallmark of the Watson regime to maintain absolute control over the past decade, but what is becoming very apparent is that he is losing his grip on council. We saw it with the ridiculous motion to remove the word “emergency” from the homelessness and affordable housing motion. We saw it on a motion to look into participatory budgeting. We are seeing it regularly with the LRT problems being highlighted daily. And his response to these things is to try and get more control over committees, even if it means excluding entire regions of the city. In my estimation, this mayor isn’t going to be around council too much longer,” Menard responded to this blog.

There’s still an infinitely small glimmer of hope that Watson could do the right thing. The decision to appoint Tierney still has to be approved by council and also provides an opportunity for further nominations from the floor. (And I feel I have to reiterate, Tierney has proven his ability chair big files.) This city needs both urban, suburban and urban reps taking leadership roles at the city. We’re not getting that.

“Nominating a colleague to chair a committee should not be a power play or a popularity contest. Residents deserve better. At the very least we need to have that discussion in a public forum about who is best to lead that conversation. The public is demanding openness and transparency not backroom decisions,” Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney wrote to On the City, From the Burbs.

Sadly, it’s doubtful much will change unless Watson himself does.

AND THE AWARDS (phase two) GO TO… DRUM ROLL PLEASE

At Thursday’s epic – and especially awful – transit commission meeting, the public saw the worst of the worst – certainly an event worthy of a few awards from On the City, From the Burbs. The first group of awards were announced earlier this week, here’s a handful that the blog is still handing out. 

BEST PUBLIC EVER AWARD: It can’t have been easy to sit through the mess of a five-hour transit meeting, what with Chair Allan Hubley shutting down questions on any technicality he’d been clearly told to make up, councillors muttering – and all of this headed to no real conclusion. But yet, a small handful of the dedicated public could be seen sticking the meeting out. Kudos to them.

MIC DROP AWARD: (Okay, it’s not really a mic drop, but love that phrase!) When councillors are addressing committee or council, their mics are turned on. When they’re done, their mics are turned off. But at Thursday’s meeting, Capital Coun. Shawn Menard ended his questions, and then presumed his mic was off after yet another crazy ruling by char Allan Hubley. “Pathetic,” Menard could be heard to say under his breath. Oops. Yes, councillor, pathetic is right.

BEST CITIZEN TRANSIT COMMISSIONER:  There’s no doubt Sarah Wright-Gilbert, one of the citizen transit commissioners, is making her mark. She’s dedicated, she’s committed, she’s a transit user who knows her stuff – and Watson has nothing over her. It’s perfect. Wright-Gilbert is also on social media much of the time, airing her concerns and her grievances on Twitter. All commissioners should be this committed. Of course, because she’s doing her job, and doesn’t have any vested interest save for a good transit system, Watson doesn’t seem to like her! That’s an endorsement if I ever heard one! She’s making waves, that’s for sure. As a result, she says the mayor has unfollowed her on Twitter! 

AND THE AWARD GOES TO… DRUM ROLL PLEASE

An epic five-hour OC Transpo meeting on Thursday is certainly worthy of its own set of awards.

So for the first time ever for this blog, here are a handful of awards stemming from that crazy meeting.

BEST HISTORICAL REENACTMENT: If you thought public lynchings were a thing of the past, think again. At Thursday’s transit commission meeting, it seemed to be fair ball to question the axing of OC Transpo general manager John Manconi.

Gross. Not especially the most eloquent of words, but it’s the right one.
There would seem to be good reason to examine the roles that senior staff, like Manconi, have played in the many mess ups of light rail. But a public airing of his role at a meeting should just not have happened. And given the number of times Chair Allan Hubley called something out of order, just can’t imagine why he didn’t shut down any discussion of the senior manager’s role at the city immediately. This simply should never happen.

BEST HYPERBOLE or THE BEST PRETEND REENACTMENT OF FALLING ON YOUR SWORD: Goes to general manager Steve Kanellakos’ speech to council in defending John Manconi, his man in charge of OC Transpo, it was full of passion and sadly – hyperbole.

Kanellakos, playing his best leadership role, vowed to fall on his own sword if people wanted to get rid of Manconi.

Look, it was a disgrace for Manconi to be publicly shamed the way he was. Again, what happened to dealing with personnel issues behind closed doors? Apparently, when it appears you’ve wasted $2.1 billion of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, you can throw just about anyone under the bus. (PUN INTENDED). Badoom, badoom. But when Kanellakos says if you want to take Manconi out, you’ll have to take him down first, well, that’s just HYPERBOLE. 

Kanellakos is in the enviable position of being great at his job and he knows that council – at least at this point in time – can’t run the city any better without him. So yes, he can throw himself under the bus and know the next day he’s driving that bus. No one is ready to throw him under the bus.
ALSO a runner-up for the next best – that sweet-talking Kanellakos for most disingenuous quote

NICE, BUT INCREDIBLY DISINGENUOUS QUOTE: “We’ve been pulling off miracles.” Steve Kanellakos, Ottawa city manager told members of the transit commission on Thursday.

What? Has someone’s God intervened in light rail? I’m all for that if it’s possible. But does Kanellakos really understand what a miracle is? And if he does, and he’s really able to make them happen, couldn’t he have asked the Big Guy to make the trains run on time? What sort of miracle does he believe he’s performed? And does he think he’s close enough to God to make the trains run on time?

“We’re very prepared to answer the difficult questions, with what we’ve been attempting to do, staff that have been working on this project for many years, and we’re very committed to this,” Kanellakos said on Thursday. Nice, but where’s the miracle you allegedly pulled off? Don’t see it. And again, if you’re close enough to empower miracles, make them happen. And seriously, if what we have now is a miracle, let’s just pack up our bags and ask for God’s forgiveness and hope we can get to work on time.

CRAZIEST QUOTE: “We don’t have trouble with winter operations,” stated Peter Lausch, with Rideau Transport Management. Still guffawing about this quote And I say guffawing because I just am crazy about that word.

BEST POLITICAL RESPONSE: “How can you say that with a straight face?” courtesy of Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais. (We’re going to miss him when he takes over his seat in provincial politics.)

WORST MOMENT EVER: I’ve never understood, when everyone knows a long meeting is about to take place, why they don’t give the public a chance to speak before politicians get the mike. Those aren’t the rules, but this group happily breaks rules when need be. You know how procedure can take precedence over everything else. So when citizen Miranda Gray finally had a chance to speak, she was totally disrespected. And I was incredibly embarrassed by the process. Having waited about five hours, Gray finally had her chance to speak and make her point.

What does Hubley say when she wrapped up? “Did you want to finish your talk, sorry I wasn’t following.”  She’d already finished. Disgraceful. Seriously, covered council a long time but this was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.

WORST CHAIRED MEETING EVER: The truth is, I quite like Allan Hubley. But he’s so far gone in finding a place on Watson’s team, he’s lost his independence. And his morality. Hubley was incredibly quick to shut down anyone who asked a question outside the purview of Thursday’s meeting’s mandate if it wasn’t about the present crisis with the system.

Yet he let others who had nothing to say in reference to light rail absolutely ramble on. He chastised those he disagreed with, yet he let others talk about issues which had nothing to do with the meeting. And he wasn’t at all worried about showing his bias toward certain councillors. Case in point, when Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper was looking for info, Hubley said, “Coun. Leiper, surprise, surprise.” Maybe a little bit of objectiveness would go a long way councillor.

MOST REFERENCED QUOTES: If only there was one winner! In no particular order, here’s a sampling of the most repeated phrases, mostly from staff:

“Sorry, I don’t know.”

“The root causes are still unknown.”

“I’ll have to get back to you.”

“Sorry.”

“I’m not making excuses.”

“I don’t know the answer to that.”

“Can you repeat the question?”

United They Stand, Divided They Fall

With controversy swirling around the city hall he’s supposed to be running, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has taken a couple of days off.

Good timing.

You know the saying, when the going gets tough, the faint of heart take a couple of days off. Perhaps just as well.

And while Watson takes his time off, one of his councillors is apparently fighting for his life at the Ottawa Heart Institute, having undergone quadruple bypass heart surgery. So, yes, College Coun. Rick Chiarelli is also taking some time off.

Perhaps Watson is overtired from the stress of pretending he’s perfect and believing he’s a perfect being, he’s in the enviable position of being able to judge his enemies.

This is clearly one of the darkest moments in municipal politics.

Chiarelli has been accused by more than a dozen women of inappropriate behaviour, of late night visits to nightclubs with staffers, of commenting on his female employees’ clothing, accused of going so far as to ask them to take their bras off for a better look. At this point, all accusations.

As I’ve written in this spot previously, I believe these women. In my mind, there’s absolutely no way such a large group of women – many of whom don’t know one another – colluded on such a story. But believing in these allegations simply doesn’t end the story. And it certainly doesn’t make the allegations true. I’ve spoken to some of these women, people I know, people I like, people I believe. I didn’t write the story because it was clear I couldn’t tell their stories without using information that would ultimately identify them. And I would never fudge my commitment to them by doing that.

 I covered court for several years for the Ottawa Sun, and came across cases where it was clear the accused was a murderer, was a sexual predator, was a robber or a cheater, had beaten their young children until they were black and blue. But even with the smoking gun beside the crime, none of those accused have been treated as horribly and as unfairly as Chiarelli has. And that begins with the man at the top, Watson – who’s supposed to be the leader of this fabulous city. Sadly, it appears he’s leading a flock of whipped sheep, who do as he says.

And frankly, it matters absolutely nothing at all that I might think Chiarelli is guilty of what he’s been accused of. I’m neither the judge nor jury, and I don’t pretend to be. Sadly, Watson and his city councillors apparently don’t believe in due process; don’t believe in one of the most important foundations of our society. 

They’ve treated Chiarelli as a pariah, this same group of civic leaders who wear ribbons every year protesting bullying. Guess bullying is okay if they’re doing it. This is incredibly difficult for me. I like many of them a great deal on a personal level, but this entire council has failed not just Chiarelli – but all of us. 

And while as a feminist basically from the point I came out of the womb, it does make me worry this is the ugly side of the #MeToo movement. 

Should we be believing women? Yes, we sure as hell should be. Should we form into lynching mobs before someone has an opportunity to prove his innocence?  Never. And this council will have to reflect on what their actions have cost Chiarelli. And has cost our city.

This of course leads us to the refusal of many city councillors to sit at council alongside Chiarelli at last Wednesday’s meeting. Meaningless. And a good woman like Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh – who has done more for this city than most of us can ever hope to do – refused to join the lynching. And people jumped all over her. Seemed it just didn’t matter all the good work she has done, people were out to get her over a simple symbolic act. Again, shameful.

And why anyone thinks the incredible symbolic act of standing means anything at all, well, it boggles the mind. In that council, Osgoode Coun. George Darouze has been found guilty by the city’s Integrity Commissioner of bullying a female constituent, and if that wasn’t enough, Darouze actually contacted the Ottawa Police over the matter. The mind boggles.

Then of course, there’s Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, so obsessed with an acclamation, he phoned his only rival just before the close of nominations last election and waved goodies in front of him.  I could go on. 

I recently was tweeted by a former Ottawa Sun boss of mine Mike Therien, who wondered online about what he saw as my visceral hatred of Watson. Coming from someone who guided my career and encouraged me to speak my truth, I have to admit I was surprised. I don’t hate Jim Watson.

He’s just not a good leader.

United they stand, divided they fall.

Democracy Turning Into a Dictatorship and Taxpayers Are Footing the Bill

And it’s another Christmas miracle.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson dipped into the bag of taxpayer-funded goodies on Friday and has found millions of unspent dollars to help the mess that is the city’s light rail system.

Just add the costs onto the – is it too early to call it – a $2.1 billion boondoggle?

And now the promise of fewer buses on our roads isn’t to be, at least not in the immediate future. Not only aren’t we getting what we were promised, and what we’ve paid for, but we’re now having to pay more for who knows what.

What an absolute mess. 

And what does council think of Watson’s announcement of another $3.5 million being pumped into putting back buses that have just been recently removed?  Well, they weren’t asked or consulted. Just another blow to the concept of democracy at Ottawa City Hall.

And let’s not forget councillors like Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Carol Anne Meehan were anxious to have a meeting to discuss the never-ending LRT problems. So too were Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and River Coun. Riley Brockington, but that idea was quickly dismissed by Watson, though he sent Hubley, his good soldier to deliver the news.

Well, it seems even more obvious now that a meeting should have been held to discuss the problems of LRT and together talk about a way forward. This is a city-wide issue and a city-wide problem. Councillors were duly elected by their constituents across the city. And those same councillors should have had a say on behalf of their constituents.

It’s been a long time since Watson cared much about consultation. And now, it’s just not part of his repertoire. On Friday, another mess of an LRT day, Watson took matters into his own hands. Our mayor isn’t even pretending to head up a democratic process. Just because he can do something doesn’t mean he should.

This has become something far more akin to a dictatorship where Watson feels empowered to ignore his council. And that’s just what he does, while doling out little goodies to his band of yes men and women. He likes to say he’s the one who represents the entire city, essentially that he knows best.

I like to say he doesn’t.

Collectively, he and his council know best.

Watson implied he and transit chair Allan Hubley made the decision together to add $3.5 million worth of buses.

That’s hard to believe. While it’s impossible to blame the horrendous problems of the present LRT system directly on Watson, he is certainly to blame for putting Hubley in as transit chair – a role that is well over the Kanata councillor’s abilities. Everyone knew it at the time and that’s even more abundantly clear now.

 Pretty sure any discussion between Watson and Hubley – if there really was one – went something like this. Watson: “This is what we’re doing. And this is just a courtesy call.” 

And while you can’t lay all the blame on Watson for this mess, he does own much of it – if only because he insists on ignoring his council. Surely I wasn’t the only one who worried whether the testing done was solid enough to take over the system. And for sure, I know I’m not the only one who is concerned about whether this system will ever actually work. Adding the buses back on is a serious – albeit necessary – step backward.

So here’s where we’re at. As taxpayers, we’re paying for a $2.1 billion transit system that doesn’t work. And we’re now paying millions more to put back the buses we took off the streets to help that pricey but flawed system. And there’s more spending to come. Is there any real chance that a transit user will use LRT when they can get on a reliable bus? Will transit riders give LRT another chance? 

Adding insult to injury, we’re now working on phase two of light rail. 

Equally egregious – the councillors who you elected to take your interests directly to city hall – are being ignored. 

And so are you.