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!
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.

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.”


Bitchy Pants

With very few restrictions, city councillors can spend their office budgets on pretty much whatever they want.
It’s a practice I’ve harped on for years.

They can take their staff out for lunch, cozy up with constituents while breaking bread, make donations to charities their taxpayers don’t support, buy City of Ottawa paraphenalia and buy expensive tickets to charity events whether they attend or not.

And of course, let’s not forget about pricey Ottawa Senators tickets, just ask Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney about that one!
As an aside, the money can also be used on priciey advertising – and again I reference former city councillor Michael Qaqish’s huge vanity ads on Ottawa’s bus shelters.
And it’s all on our dime. And from my perspective, politicians get to use our money to help keep themselves elected.

I don’t agree with it.

Isn’t it their job to keep themselves elected – by working hard and serving their constituents?

On the weekend, I noticed two tweets – one from Tierney, another from River Coun. Riley Brockington – advertising free movies nights in their communities.
And yes, my journalistic/taxpayer back went up immediately.
Whatever you think of councillors using our money, these evenings are not free. We the taxpayer are picking up the tab.
And that was the point I was trying to make.
By the end of the night, I was being accused of wanting to deprive children from low-income families of a little bit of free popcorn.

But that’s twitter. And I’m fine with it.

Even a handle of Bitter Better Bitchy Pants, who must wake up on the wrong side of the bed everyday thought I was horrid. That says a lot!

Another under the twitter handle @clazerbeam13 wrote to me, “You seem to be inferring that it is wrong to use taxpayer’s $ for this. Can you pls explain why it would be bad for taxpayer $ to fund a movie night for kids in an disadvantaged neighbourhood?”

Not at all what I wrote, so sorry, @clazerbeam13, don’t feel I owe you an explanation.

The Carlington Community Association tweeted that they really appreciate the movie night and thanked Brockington for his generosity.
Say what?
He’s not being generous. He’s using your money and mine for the night.

The association also took the opportunity to take a dig at former city councillor Maria McRae, suggesting the movie night was far more worthwhile than the vanity park benches McRrae bought with our money with her name on a brass plaque. Can’t argue there.

I believe that regardless of how you feel about councillors spending our money, those same politicians should at the very least be upfront about where the money is coming form.
And the movie nights are not free.

To his great credit, Brockington addressed the issue head on, acknowledging on twitter he would prefer to find an outside sponsor for those movie nights – but didn’t hide behind the fact that his office budget picks up the tab. Tierney on the other hand, went into hiding.That says a lot.

When it comes to twitter, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I get that.
I almost always love the exchange of such divergent opinions.

Bring it on.

Watson and his Bullying Ways

Mayor Jim Watson has used his considerable power to force well-known Conservative Mike Patton out of city hall.

Patton was recently let go from the office of Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Carol Anne Meehan.

“Carol Anne felt I was doing more harm in her office than helping her, that I had become a lightning rod attracting attention from the mayor,” Patton told On the City, From the Burbs.

Patton made it clear he has absolutely no bad feelings toward his former boss and understands she felt she had no real alternative but to let him go, given the extraordinary pressure from Watson and his office.

So what exactly did Patton do to deserve the mayor’s wrath?

“Well, I don’t know of another person he dislikes more than me,” Patton said.
And sadly, it’s as simple as that.
Watson despises Patton and forced him out by putting undue pressure on Meehan.

“I feel terrible for Carol Anne. She’s trying to do the best for her community. That’s all she’s trying to do. She just wants to work in the best interests of her community. And I admire that,” Patton said. “She did the right thing and I don’t think there was any real alternative.”

He said Watson was just making Meehan’s life too difficult, putting up roadblocks at every turn, making it clear to her Patton had to go if things were ever going to go in her favour.
“Jim Watson wants to be totally in control. It’s very much his vision and his vision alone. And that’s what’s being enacted at city hall right now. And it will remain that way and most of council is willing to go along with him most of the time,” Patton said.
“He believes I was giving her advice that was causing her to be willingly defiant.”

This story might be difficult for city hall outsiders to understand. Clearly, the mayor isn’t Meehan’s boss. But at city hall, he wields a tremendous amount of power – and being the absolute control freak he is – he abuses it. He essentially controls the bureaucracy and controls the budget. Yes, he’s just one vote, but with the support of council – what he wants wins out.

This isn’t the first time Watson has worked against Patton. In 2010, Watson worked against Patton when he was running in River ward against then newcomer Riley Brockington.

Patton isn’t new to city hall. He worked for College Coun. Rick Chiarelli and also for former mayor Larry O’Brien.
He said under O’Brien, great and vigorous debate was encouraged.
“That’s not the way Jim Watson approaches the word,” Patton said.
“In his business model, he’s like a classic bully, he’s very much a bully. He held me responsible for any opposition to his agenda.”

Comparing O’Brien to Watson, Patton said major projects like Lansdowne Park wouldn’t have happened without the maverick mayor.
“But Jim Watson isn’t naturally a creative person. He doesn’t have new ideas and really is only interested in managing,” Patton continued.

Understandably, Meehan isn’t talking about the dismissal. She’s in the proverbial rock and a hard place.
But if you think she had a choice, you’re being naive.
She was elected to represent the residents of Gloucester-South Nepean – and with Watson fighting her at each and every turn – that simply wasn’t going to happen.

The mayor should be ashamed of himself. He won’t be.
And for the record, Watson does not return requests for interviews from this blog – and has made it clear there’s just no point in asking.

So Much Loss, So Many Questions

As he prepared for Monday morning, a veteran OC Transpo driver – who didn’t want to be identified – admitted he was dreading the day.
At the helm of a double decker bus, he said he expected the reaction from passengers would be mixed.
And he wasn’t looking forward to it.

“Some will be sympathetic, for sure, but others will also just give me the finger,” he told On the City, From the Burbs in an interview on Sunday night.
And he, like so many other drivers and many other OC Transpo employees – is very concerned about the state of training at the transit company.

The driver has been identified by the Ottawa Sun as Aissatou Diallo, who apparently had been on the job for less than a year and remains on probation.
According to the paper, she was driving OC Transpo bus 269 en route to Kanata’s Bridlewood neighbourhood from downtown on Friday when the bus crashed into the overhang of the bus shelter at Westboro station just before 4 p.m. The overhang cut through the upper level of the double-decker bus.

Three people were killed and 23 were injured.

And now, our entire city mourns the loss of these lives.

Terrible. Deaths so random. But today, questions are being raised about the driver. It’s inevitable, isn’t it?

The veteran driver told this blog the driver in question had been in two accidents previous to Friday’s tragic crash, the last one just in December.
That’s hard to comprehend.
And further to that, he said some employees in the training department didn’t want the woman to be allowed to continue driving – but that decision was overruled.

We all know this investigation will take what will seem like eons to complete. And surely, the driver’s record on the road will eventually become public knowledge.

Sadly, no amount of investigation will help the families who’ve forever lost people they loved.

The lives lost are Bruce Thomlinson, 56 years old, Judy Booth, 57 years old, and Anja Van Beek, 65 years old.

It’s impossible to imagine what their loved ones are going through now.

We may feel like we’re grieving alongside them, but we can’t truly know what they’re going through.

It’s all just so sad.

Boxing Day Goodies for City Council – Part One

If you’re going to give out gifts to city councillors, even just online ones, you still want to do your shopping during those Boxing Day sales!

Let’s start the goodies off with River Coun. Riley Brockington, who was shut out of any special treats when Mayor Jim Watson handed out spots on important city committees and much-sought after committee chairs. Brockington apparently didn’t want to play Watson’s game and made that clear. So under the tree, Brockington gets some newfound respect and the hope that he continues to find the strength to publicly speak his mind.

Frankly, College Coun. Rick Chiarelli just doesn’t need anything under the tree. He’s already got a wicked sense of humour that gets under Watson’s skin, he won the support of his ward despite Watson’s best efforts to replace him. Best yet, having also been shut out of the important committees, he has lots of time this term to work on both city-wide issues and local affairs.

Not everyone thinks Kanata Coun. Allan Hubley was the perfect fit for the all-important job of chairing transit. Let’s face it. He didn’t do himself any favours by remarking he’d have to brush up on all the issues. But in the spirt of the holidays – for Hubley – we offer up a light rail system that actually opens when it’s scheduled to!

Whatever the politics behind Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Dianes Deans becoming the first female chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, she is certainly the perfect fit. It’s going to be tough going, but Deans has years of experience behind her and a good understanding of what the immediate problems are. The gift? She won’t have to butt heads with Watson at each and every turn. Who could want more?

When she was sworn in yet again to represent Barrhaven, Coun. Jan Harder said this was definitely her last term. Not the first time she’s said that. So for Harder, the will to do what is right for her and her family – or at the very least – the ability to stop talking about.

There are seven new councillors sitting around council following the recent municipal election. Seems they already have their gifts, congrats to all.

For Beacon Hill-Cyrille Coun. Tim Tierney, what he wants is something not even Santa and certainly not this blog can even pretend to give him.

Cooperation Watson Style

Exactly what kind of egotistical trip is Mayor Jim Watson on?

Whatever the ride, he’s treating city council like his very own fiefdom, rejecting the wishes of thousands of taxpayers who just recently re-elected a number of experienced city councillors to represent them.

Seriously, I’ve been covering city council since the days of the Ottawa Herald, and I’ve never seen such an egregious abuse of power as Watson has exhibited at the city this week. And dare I repeat yet again, it’s Watson calling on his councillors for cooperation.

The story in a nutshell? After every election, new city committees are picked – along with new committee chairs. Councillors are asked to choose what committees they’d like to be on, rating their wants numerically. Theoretically, committee membership is handed out based on a councillors’ desire to be on the various committees. Granted, it’s not always possible, but that’s the theory behind the process.

Councillors – most of whom aren’t considered Watson allies – who ranked certain committees as their number one choice weren’t rewarded, while some – Watson’s ‘yes sir’ group – who had little interest on being on those same committees found themselves getting a spot; those the mayor has the least use for find themselves on relatively insignificant committees they have no interest in.

Does this make sense? Of course not. The only person who benefits from this process is Watson himself, who is adverse to opposition – and simply used his power to ensure anyone who questions him get shut out. And he’s handed out enough goodies to almost guarantee the votes will go his way. That’s not democracy.

With his buddies in key positions at council, Watson surely expects things to run more smoothly. Hope his high-handed tactics are worth it.

And surprisingly, one of the heroes in taking Watson on with this strategy is River Coun. Riley Brockington, who up until now has not been willing to rock the proverbial council boat. But Brockington told a media scrum Wednesday that he was told that asking questions at committee was frowned upon. In fact, Brockington says he was told that if he had questions, he should ask the behind closed doors. And yes, Brockington is drawing a correlation between refusing to ask questions privately to not getting his desired spot on the city’s planning committee, even though there are open spaces.

Now Brockington isn’t willing to say who has told him to keep his mouth shout. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out does it?

But showing a lot of class, Brockington says he’s a team player and will serve where he’s placed. What he won’t do is acquiesce to speaking about important city issues behind closed doors. Before he does that, he’ll resign. Good on him.

What else does this mess mean for the city? Well, the urban councillors have all been left off of the city’s finance committee, while the city’s rural councillors are on it. The committee is considered akin to a cabinet. Asked if it was just a coincidence that his supporters were rewarded, while many of his detractors are watching the action from the outside, Watson did his usual two-step with a lot of bafflegab. You have to give it to him, no one can not answer a question quite like our good mayor.

Shawn Menard, the new councillor for Capital ward, is the most vocal about what he thinks about the mayor’s tactics. Menard rightly pointed out there are different rules for the mayor’s allies. No doubt there.

When Watson shuts out certain councillors, he’s also shutting out their constituents.
None of this bodes well for the next four years.

Mission Accomplished

Mission accomplished.

For Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, it was a good day as he unveiled his proposed picks for committee chairs and members. His choices have to be confirmed at Wednesday’s council meeting.

The all-important finance and economic development committee – essentially the council cabinet – is chock full of city councillors willing to do his bidding. And if you take a closer look at the makeup of that committee, no sign of those pesky, left-leaving downtown councillors who try to get in Watson’s way. In case you missed the dripping sarcasm – that means the downtown wards aren’t represented on the most important committee.

A couple of shockers. The biggest surprise of all is the placement of Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds as the new chair of community and protective services and a seat on the city’s finance and economic committee.

Is there a chance Watson thinks Sudds is so brilliant she can take on this huge committee? Well, let’s not forget that Watson campaigned against her in this most recent election, pushing for his buddy David Gourlay to take the ward. Surely, with all these goodies in one basket, Watson will be able to rely on Sudds’ loyalty for the next four years. If she fails, Watson will swoop in and save her, if she thrives, he’ll have her vote. This is in no way a diss at Sudds, but the portfolio is a huge one. With all due respect to her, good luck.

Sudds replaces Deans as chair, who gets the second most shocking appointment.
Deans is the new police services board chair – and the first woman in Ottawa to hold that role.

This is fabulous news. As the councillor for Gloucester-Southgate, her ward has seen more than its fair share of violence. She knows all too well about the problems of increasing guns and gangs in our neighbourhoods. She’s a brilliant choice – but given her uneasy relationship with the mayor – one that’s pretty much impossible to understand.

Deans takes over from outgoing chair West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, whose exit was expected given news that his good friend and former police chief Vern White would like his old job back.

Another big surprise. While facing serious legal issues, Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney has actually received a promotion. Not only does he keep his chair of the Ottawa Public Library, he now has a seat on the all-important finance committee. Surely Watson has bought Tierney’s loyalty for the next four years. Nice work if you can get it.

Watson has played this game for a long time, gaining councillors’ loyalty by rewarding them and freezing out his dissidents. It’s how he plays the game.

And let’s remember, Watson is the one who called for a council of cooperation. That apparently doesn’t start at the top.

Butt Kicking Not Required

“You go down (to city hall) and you kick Jim Watson’s ass.”

Those were the words from a Barrhaven woman offering her vote to me as I campaigned in the 2014 election. Her vote of confidence was clearly based on some of my columns in the Sun and she thought I had what was needed to stand tall and firm in front of the mayor.

I felt like a fraud. I’d seen too much at city hall to think success on Lisgar St. could come from trying to kick Watson’s butt. I recall as well a column written by former Citizen columnist David Reevely suggesting in a piece that I was one of a handful of candidates in the race who could make life a little more difficult for the mayor. To be frank, I have Reevely envy, the guy is brilliant, and to think he thought I might have what it takes to remain strong in the face of the kind of pressure that Mayor Jim Watson’s office inflicts on its opponents, well – again – the word fraudster came to mind.

It’s pretty easy to criticize from the outside of council. And save for the mayor refusing to take your calls, there aren’t many ramifications for pointing out his flaws in a Sun column or on my blog. And frankly, the mayor has lots of flaws – so there’s plenty of material.

But for a city councillor, especially a newbie, butting heads with the mayor – either publicly or behind closed doors – comes with its own set of risks. While city council theoretically has final approval for all spending, Watson has managed to get a majority of councillors to toe the line and push forward his agenda. And if you butt heads with the mayor, as a city councillor – you risk not getting projects of importance in your own ward pushed through. It’s a tricky situation and politicians can easily find themselves on the outside looking in.

Watson has already called on his new council for an era of cooperation. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately what Watson really means is not to mess with his agenda – and then all will be right with the world. Perhaps there are problems at city hall because Watson himself doesn’t cooperate with his council.

All of that being said, there are a number of new councillors – seven of them in fact – most of them anxious to prove to their constituents they have a backbone and won’t bend to Watson’s pressure or his office’s threats.

The good news is that Watson doesn’t hold all the cards. And better yet, you don’t need to kick his butt to prove your point.

There are plenty of city politicians who prove that – Diane Deans, Rick Chiarelli, Catherine McKenney, Scott Moffatt – to name a few. Yes, city councillors can stand up for their residents, for what they believe is right for their constituency.

So to the new councillors, remember how you got to city hall – with the support of your taxpaying residents who’ve put their trust in you. It’s quite an honour.

Do them proud.