JOIN THE CLUB

When it comes to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, little is left to chance. Most every move is calculated.

So you have to wonder why Watson has been seen twice in recent days in Osgoode ward with the councillor for the area George Darouze.

The second visit was right around the time Darouze was served with court documents alleging he’d defamed two of his residents – Kristen and Reinhard Lechleitner.  The couple are seeking financial damages. Could Watson be trying to shore up the reputation of the beleaguered rural councillor by demonstrating his support? Just asking.

I would of course normally ask the two men in question (because that’s what reporters do) about the visits, but Darouze didn’t return my requests for an interview and Watson never speaks to me anymore – unless at a city hall scrum.

But I think it’s fair to say this is but one example of how Watson has built up his “Watson Club” – because one good turn always deserves another. And another. Darouze has been a loyal member of the club, and given the recent turn of events, suspect he’ll be an even bigger supporter of the mayor – if that’s at all possible.

Back in the fall of last year, Darouze was found guilty of contravening the councillor code of conduct by the city’s integrity commissioner – earning himself the dishonour of becoming the city’s first-ever politician to be found guilty of contravening the councillor code of conduct by the integrity commissioner since that office was created in 2012. Hey, everyone has to be good at something!

Here’s what an Marleau’s investigator determined:

“I find that (Darouze’s) reaction to the Facebook posts of the female complainant was unjustified and excessive. I find that in sending his September 21, 2018 email to the Chief of Police and identifying both complainants and revealing that the male complainant was an OPS officer he did so for the primary reason of silencing the female complainant and causing the male complainant grief in his workplace. The councillor’s exaggerated claims of fear and harm, his contradictory explanation and his aggressive response to legitimate public debate on the question of police deployment in rural Ottawa weakens his credibility in this case. Considering all of the circumstances and the councillor’s own evidence, this office finds that his explanation is not credible. On a balance of probabilities, I find that the major motivation of the councillor was to bully and intimidate the complainants and each of them in the hope that female complainant might cease her critical Facebook commentary of him,” the investigator wrote.

Really, simply shameful.

This all began when Kristen, the wife of an Ottawa Police officer went on Facebook and criticized some of what Darouze said at a 2018 all-candidates debate, like his efforts to improve local policing. Darouze didn’t take that well, suggesting she was “spreading fears” and “incorrect information.” Not only did Darouze criticize her on Facebook, but he then took the extraordinary action of writing to then Ottawa Chief Charles Bordeleau and actually asked the chief to get involved.

And let’s remember, nothing happens on the floor of city council that Watson doesn’t approve of. So it should be no surprise to anyone that while Marleau’s report went to council, there was no debate, no moral outrage, nothing. Absolutely no real public reprimand.

Seriously folks, you have to pay attention to what’s going on with your tax dollars.

City council accepted and approved the report from the city’s integrity commissioner, which found Darouze violated a section of council’s Code of Conduct, but did not actually ever publicly reprimand the councillor.

Watson said later council’s accepted the report was the reprimand. That’s a bit of a stretch.

Let’s compare that reaction from Watson calling for College Coun. Rick Chiarelli’s resignation following several of his former staffers alleging sexual impropriety.

Watson despises Chiarelli, who has the ability to get under his skin and irritate the hell out of the mayor. And Chiarelli has the same lack of respect for Watson. But while incredibly serious, the allegations against Chiarelli are not proven, and Darouze was found to actually have attempted to bully a woman.

And when Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney was forced to apologize in court for making a “mistake” when he offered to make a charitable donation in exchange for his sole opponent dropping out of last fall’s municipal campaign – crickets from the mayor.

Corruption charges against Tierney were withdrawn, but Tierney had to forfeit two months salary.

The difference? Tierney and Darouze are part of the club, Chiarelli, not so much!

Hellish Outlook for Light Rail

Another winter of hell.

That’s where John Manconi, the general manager of OC Transpo, draws the line.

Manconi says he’s simply not willing to put this city through another Ottawa winter and a malfunctioning light rail system. Don’t blame him one bit. And certainly believe him to be sincere. But just one problem, seems he doesn’t have a lot of power to ensure this city doesn’t have to endure another hellish winter. Surely if Manconi had the power to make it so, he’d already have done that.

Even attempting to force the hands of RTG by withholding regularly scheduled payments hasn’t seemed to do anything to speed things up, and apparently the company still phones the city every other day looking for their money.

“For an organization that wants to be paid and only gets paid when I get the product, I don’t understand it,” Manconi said. “They call the city manager and myself every second day looking for money and we keep telling them, the easiest way that council will support us giving you money is if you give us the service.”

Manconi’s frustration is palatable – and understandable. Surely the city has to be working on a plan on how to break the contract with the company, something citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert has frequently called for. But in a session with reporters after the meeting, the GM wouldn’t go there, saying while city councillors had an in-camera meeting – he wouldn’t talk publicly about what-ifs.

“I am not happy now. We need a service to be reliable and consistent,” he said.

Don’t blame him, but again, where does this get us? Taxpayers are understandably upset not just with the poor service but the price tag of the $2.1 billion rail system that doesn’t deliver. 

The entire picture is pretty ugly. OC Transpo had an $8 million deficit at the end of the first quarter, expenses are up and not surprising, revenues are down. Hard to make money when ridership has drastically dropped off. 

Another update on the failing system isn’t expected until July.
At the end of the meeting, hearing nothing but bad things about the failing system, citizen commissioner Anthony Carricato suggested having Transpo staff  start a procurement process for selling ads on LRT trains and in stations. Say what?

Is it just me, or does this seem like a colossal waste of staff’s time? The timing definitely seems a bit off. With a drastic drop in ridership due to COVID, and a system that still isn’t reliable, who’s going to rush to buy ads? 
That being said, the motion received unanimous approval by the commission.

Go figure.

MOFFATT’S ‘JOKE’ FALLS FLAT

It’s been a huge learning curve for those of us, myself included, who’ve been living in a blissful bubble absolutely ignorant of the realities of the world. And many of us, who were stupid enough to take our ignorance to social media, have been rightfully slammed for it.

As I’ve written on this blog previously, while I knew calling someone the N-word was abhorrent, I was totally unaware using the actual word (if not directed at someone) was considered incredibly hurtful.

Worse yet, when CTV reporter Stefan Keyes reached out to me to suggest I shouldn’t have used the word, I reacted not just with ignorance, but with arrogance – and that’s something I’m still struggling with. Why wouldn’t I take the word of a Black man only trying to educate me – and not in a mean or unkind fashion? The pit is still sitting in my stomach and I deserve it. 
Sadly, I’m not the only one unknowingly revealing my ignorance toward the realities of the non-white population.

Recently Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt, despite so many examples before him, thought he’d make a joke on twitter, which fell incredibly flat.

So…why?

“There was one black guy in Trump’s picture. It was predominantly white people. The one guy was on the far left and looked like Stefan Keyes. He was well dressed, like Stefan and had similar facial structure,” he responded to a question from On the City, From the Burbs

Similar facial structure? Looked like Keyes? Apparently Moffatt has better eyesight than I do. Or maybe he’s inadvertently revealing more about himself than he intended. “It wasn’t that funny, in the end, so I just deleted it. I do that from time to time. As you know, not all of my jokes/observations are funny,” he continued.

No, councillor, it wasn’t funny. And note your response doesn’t include an apology.

Ironically, I received the tweet, which I hadn’t seen, from a resident in Moffatt’s ward.

“Hi Sue,I’m writing to you as I know you have covered city politics for a long time, and still do now. I love how you are keeping the council and Mayor honest with your reporting. With that said, I wanted to share with you a tweet (see attached) that Scott Moffat posted a few nights ago and promptly deleted. As you can see, it definitely has a racial tone to it. And knowing Mr. Moffatt, he’ll say it was a joke and or mentioned we don’t have all the facts. You have a much bigger platform and hopefully you can bring light to this terrible tweet, especially during these recent events. Thank you for your time,” wrote the resident, asking if it would be okay not to use her name. It is.

I asked her what prompted her to send it, and she said while she doesn’t know him personally, she’s just “tired of his antics.” Join the club!
The resident is also apparently clairvoyant, because indeed Moffatt did indeed say he was making a joke.

Recently, CBC journalist Wendy Mesley did something which appears to be quite similar to my story. She too used an inappropriate word, which seemed to be in quoting someone. She’s since been relieved of her duties temporarily pending an investigation.  Mesley apologized, saying she felt ashamed. I feel that same shame – and of course – we both deserve to feel that way. 

To have lived our lives not seeing the totality of what non-whites have had to endure at the hands of the police, at the sometimes subtle and not-so-subtle signs from white people around them, of the systematic racism that has prevented them from fulfilling their real potential, again, shame on us.

The constant television coverage of countless black people being violently accosted by police, of being randomly pulled out of their cars and physically assaulted, of being shot, shot to death, we all need to wake up. And then of course, there’s George Floyd, who with absolutely no proof he’d done anything wrong at all, died crying out for his mother as a police officer killed him slowly, with his foot on Floyd’s neck.

I’ve been reading White Fragility, a book first recommended by Keyes – and then many others. (I told Keyes I didn’t need a book to tell me what I didn’t know.) I was so wrong, I clearly didn’t know what I didn’t know! It’s a painful read. I’m still reading it, but from what I’ve read so far, could very well have been written about me. 

And I’m doing what I can to change. Most of us need to do the same.

SOME LOVE, SOME DISSING and an ICONIC BELL

SAVED BY THE BELL: Seems the large sign outside of Nepean Sportsplex has reached the end of its life span. And that means, a new sign will be made. That caused concern from some diehard Nepeanites, myself included, that the iconic green Nepean Bell would be lost. But Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli says the green bell will have a role on the new sign. And that’s great news. 

“I’m working with staff to find a way to incorporate the Nepean bell on this sign again, the iconic bell of Nepean which we’re all so proud of , it will remain part of that sign,” Egli said. Good work councillor. As well, the bell on the old sign will find a new home at the Nepean Museum.

SENIORS MONTH: In a longheld tradition, Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans has always moved the motion asking council to approve the declaration, With Deans still on sick leave, the honours were given Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh.

Of course, it passed unanimously. Glad to see no city councillor was game to voting against honouring seniors! (Not that I am one!) But what was really noticeable was the high regard Deans has on council, and how many on council has genuine affection for her. Good wishes were sent to Deans by Mayor Jim Watson, Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh and even Kanata Coun. Alan Hubley. Good to see.

BUS BUSINESS: Another bit of good news – the city and its bus union have approved a five-year contract – which means continued bus service for at least half a decade!

WORK FROM HOME, SAVE THE CITY: Now that we know how well things function with some of the city and federal government bureaucracy working from home, there are now discussions at both levels of government to see whether some of this practice can continue.

Think about it, less traffic, maybe fewer buses, less need for more office space, less need for parking, it’s an exciting concept. Mayor Jim Watson agreed it’s an “interesting proposition” adding the city has been in touch with the federal government. That being said, it did seem his response was a bit lukewarm. And even a city councillor who agrees with the idea’s potential suggested I was looking through rose-coloured glasses! Agree, but I do love the colour.

REV YOUR SCOOTERS: A pilot program for battery-powered scooters was approved by council, allowing on many roads in Ottawa, for at least a year. It wasn’t a particularly ringing endorsement of the idea, with several, including Mayor Jim Watson, approving the pilot but expressing concerns. Only Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Moffatt and Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Carol Ann Meehan voted against it. Under the approved motion, a maximum of 600 e-scooters will be allowed, with rental companies paying a 

MOST TASTELESS TWEET of the DAY: I’m just not a fan of any comment which pokes fun at the way someone looks, whether that’s the colour of their skin, their weight, their outfits, or their height.

So Mayor Jim Watson who should know better, wins the most tasteless tweet of the day when attempting, I presume, to joke why Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt voted against the e-scooter pilot program.
“Scott I believe didn’t meet the height requirements so he’s bitter,” tweeted Ottawa Mayor.

Marriage During COVID

In the middle of this wild pandemic world, where much of life has basically been put on hold, simply thrown aside or upside down, something really lovely and incredibly special occurred recently in Ottawa.

In the beautiful and grand St. Patrick Basilica –  a church which regularly holds hundreds of people – the union of two people committed to being together for the rest of their lives took place. And with a provincial restriction to allow public gatherings of no more than five people, they were joined only by the bride’s parents and the priest – Father Dennis Hayes.

Lucy Wallace, now Lucy Fitzpatrick, is the bride at the centre of this story. Her groom Simon played a supporting role! 

Lucy and Simon became engaged in November and immediately knew they weren’t interested in a long engagement, so a May 2 wedding was planned. Within a month, Lucy had her dress, they had their church and their wedding reception location confirmed. The church was chosen because the two devout Catholics had started their dating life attending Sunday mass there together.

Thankfully, Lucy isn’t a bride who was obsessed with the minutia of colour schemes or flower arrangements, and that certainly made her COVID wedding journey easier.

Her two sisters Hannah and Sophie were going to be her bridesmaids and they too had their dresses picked out. But as they got closer to the date, sometime in early April, as COVID isolation continued, they became increasingly concerned about their early May date.

Initially, the engaged couple bandied about other dates in May and chose a couple of them, but then came to the conclusion it couldn’t happen before September – and settled on a Fall date – again finalizing that with both their church and reception venue. But as the days went by, it became increasingly apparent there was no guarantee a September wedding would or could take place.

And so the couple – who really just wanted to be married and to be together – decided to have their wedding in late May – which meant just five people in the church, only two people in addition to the couple and the Priest.

With incredible love and generosity, Simon’s parents Ann and Dave Fitzpatrick, who’d already seen six of their seven children married, told Lucy’s parents Peter and Julie Wallace they could both attend the wedding.
Such a lovely, generous gesture.

“What David and I wanted most was for the marriage to take place for the sake of Lucy and Simon. They and their happiness was our focus, even if it meant that we could not be present. Lucy needed her father to walk her to the altar and of course, Julie had to be there as well, in order to attend to and share in the joy of the bride, her first daughter to be married. We were very happy to let them be the witnesses,” Ann Fitzpatrick said. 
But like many others, she watched the wedding via video from outside the church.

“It was pure joy. I was so elated for (my son) and for Lucy that they could finally start their life together,” she said.

I was one of the many watching, a passenger in a car on the way to a friend’s cottage, and I was able to connect with a live stream that showed the wedding from start to finish – from the moment her father Peter walked her down the aisle to the couple exiting the church to a crowd of friends and strangers cheering them on as the church bells were ringing.
And honestly, it was the most intimate wedding I’ve ever witnessed and I felt so fortunate to be able to watch it.

This isn’t to suggest the journey to a small wedding was easy during a pandemic.

When Lucy first realized her date had to be changed, and changed a couple of times after that – to realizing she would get married without even her two sisters there to share the experience, it was very difficult.

“I was a bit emotional, thinking, ‘Why me? What are the odds of this happening? I moved past it relatively quickly. For me, the most important thing is to be together, so let’s just focus on that,” she said, though at the time she didn’t realize there would just be five of them.

“And I do find with weddings, you can get so caught up with the smallest detail, and it can be so stressful, you have to keep bringing yourself back. We really wanted to be together, that was the most important thing.”
And it took a bit of convincing to get her family onside – hard for everyone because her sisters couldn’t be there.

That was also a concern to Lucy’s dad Peter.

“In the lead up we were all very concerned about Lucy’s sisters not being allowed inside the church for the ceremony. They were also Lucy’s attendants, but it all seemed to play out perfectly. The three of them had an amazing time getting ready together with music blasting and laughter. They helped get Lucy dressed and ready. They also were dressed in their bridesmaids dresses as if nothing was different. “They escorted Lucy to the front steps of the church and stayed there with friends and family to watch the live stream. They were right in the middle of all the action but in an incredibly intimate and personal way.” he said. 

With Lucy’s grandmother Cathy Wallace in a retirement home and also unable to attend, the last stop before the church was for the family to visit her  – all in their wedding attire.

“It was really overwhelming just to see my grandmother, sort of really bittersweet,” she said, “She was quite choked up, but she was very happy for me, we were there standing six feet apart with a fence between us, I couldn’t go into the other side, but it was still really special,” Lucy said.
(My parents, who passed away many years ago, were friends in Arnprior with Cathy Wallace and her husband Jack.)

“The day was perfect from start to finish I couldn’t have imagined it any other way, it was even better than I could have hoped,” she said.
Admittedly, walking down the long aisle of St. Patrick’s without anyone in the pews did seem a bit odd. But that was the only time she felt things were a bit out of sorts.

In the end, the intimate wedding, forced upon them by the pandemic, created a wedding – a union of two – few will forget, just as it should be. “It really just felt like such a blessing,” she said.

It really was.

Ottawa Adds Anti-racism Committee as Canada Debates Systemic Racism

When Rawlson King leaves his home, whether it’s for a quick errand or a long day at city hall, he always brings personal ID. It’s second nature to him.

Rawlson, the first black elected to Ottawa City Council, is now also the first head of the newly created council liaison for a secretariat for anti-racism and ethnocultural relations. And certainly, given the times, the creation of the new secretariat is desperately and obviously needed now more than ever.

But King’s increased city profile won’t change the practice of always having his ID with him.

“You wake up and you go about your day.  I’m a city councillor, but I’m going to take my wallet, that’s the thing, it’s natural, it’s not something new for me. It’s just a natural thing where race is such a factor in a society. You’re thinking about it. You think about your implications of your race everyday,” he told On the City, From the Burbs.

And he’s very aware that Ottawa isn’t immune from having black people stopped by the police.

“People who might have different perceptions. There’s a lot of psychology,  little micro aggressions affecting you, so if you’re on  the bus, you’re the last person someone will sit with you,” he said as one example.

And he knows not everyone values black lives like they do white lives, and he knows there is systemic racism that needs to be addressed in a more fulsome way. “We’re not going to get there quickly. But this is the thing, the majority of people want to have an understanding and that’s where we’re making progress,” he said.

But the issues are many and essentially effect every part  of our lives. 
“The experiences you’re having are unique to you and part of a pattern, but a continued battle. We don’t want to go backwards, and people don’t always get it, these are challenges, ensuring equal access to the services, that all people should receive, ” he continued. Earlier this week, the city’s finance committee, on the recommendation of Mayor JimWatson, approved the creation of the new secretariat with King as the liaison.

In a motion moved by Mayor Jim Watson, the new secretariat and King’s role were approved earlier this week. It will be rubber-stamped at next week’s council meeting.

“Racism is present in our midst. We must continue to stamp it out whenever it rears its ugly head, whether it’s in the community, at a police station, at City Hall or anywhere else. I am grateful that we live in a country where we have the courage to name things for what they are,” Watson said at the meeting.

The new secretariat will attempt to ensure all city policies will be looked at through a new lens. 

“We want to have a greater investment in our communities,” King said following the committee’s endorsement of him. “It’s about enhancing the quality of life.”

The first order of business will be addressing issues surround the COVID pandemic, he added.

King’s view of systemic racism in Canada, is however not shared by all Canadian politicians. Former Alberta politician Stockwell Day is out of gig with the CBC, Telus, and McMillan after he stepped into it with this recent quote.

“We have to recognize that our system is not perfect in Canada,” Day said during a panel on CBC. Yes, there’s a few idiot racists hanging around but Canada is not a racist country and most Canadians are not racist. And our system, that always needs to be improved, is not systemically racist.”

He took it a step further down the rabbit hole, equating racism in Canada to what is what like for him being bullied as a child for wearing glasses.

So here’s the good thing, though it’s too late for Stockwell.

More and more people just aren’t willing to put up with ignorance anymore, and much more sensitivity and understanding is being demanded of our politicians and reporters and the public at large.

It took less than 24 hours this week for Ontario Premier Doug Ford to realize there actually is a real racism problem in Ontario and Canada.

On Tuesday, here’s what he said:

“Thank God that we’re different than the United States and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots they have had for years,” Ford said. 

Fast forward to Wednesday, and he’d seen the light.

“Of course there’s systemic racism in Ontario, there’s systemic racism across this country,” Ford said.

Whiplash.

But it’s important to remember that neither Ford nor Stockwell flip-flopped because they saw the light, they heard the public.

And for the actual  progress, it is still being made far too slowly.

An Apology

Let me start this blog by offering a very sincere and heartfelt apology to CTV Ottawa anchor Stefan Keyes. Hope that doesn’t sound hollow or trite.

He did a fabulous and very telling interview with former Red Black football great Henry Burris, discussing the current climate of racism, in which Burris told Keyes one of his young sons had been called the “N-word.”

As a 61-year-old white woman who has lived in near oblivion to racism out here in the suburbs – save for what I read in the papers – I was just simply shocked. But of course, ignorance isn’t bliss. I tweeted my congratulations to Keyes, for what I saw as an eye-opening interview.

As a journalist, the truth always matters, so when I tweeted about the interview, after praising Keyes, I used the expanded version of the N-word. That’s what Burris’ son was called and as a journalist, there’s always a feeling of obligation to tell the truth. It was essentially a quote in my mind.

When Keyes suggested it was very wrong of me to use that word, I told him he was wrong. I believed at the time I wrote it, that people needed to know the kind of racist ignorance that’s out there, that if we don’t use the real words, people won’t see how horrible reality actually is right now. 

And I reacted badly to his criticism. 

But I was wrong, really wrong. Which leads me to an incredible heartfelt thanks to Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King, who gave up a part of his day to help me understand, or at least start, my education.

King not only helped me understand the effect of using the word, but put up with me blubbering like the middle-aged white woman that I am.  I will never be able to convince him I’m a hard-assed reporter some believe me to be. For King to help me work my way through the truth and what I’d stepped in, it means a lot to me.

I have written in recent days of the ignorance that I’ve lived in, before this all transpired today. I grew up in a very white neighbourhood in Nepean, City View to be exact, for anyone who remembers that part of town. I can vividly remember the day a black family moved to the street behind me. Honestly, my friends and were all excited, I didn’t see a hint of racism, but it was so extraordinary, we were all talking about the news. That’s how white I am.

All to say, when people on Twitter started pouncing on me for using the full N-word, I was literally and absolutely taken aback. Whether you believe this or not, I seriously had no idea that the mere repeating of the word was insensitive and just wrong.

For starters King pointed out the obvious, that social media, especially Twitter with its limited space requirements, isn’t really the place for any thoughtful discussion.

Of course, but the truth is, while I’ve always understood as long as I can remember, the actual N-word should never, ever be directed at someone – and I never would have thought otherwise – I just didn’t know using the actual word itself was wrong, that it was hurtful just to be repeated.

“I understand the intent of what you were saying, it wasn’t to anger people,” King said. “You’re doing it to be accurate, to protect the idea of free press in this country, sort of in the sense you’re really recording (the conversation),” he said.”It’s about the nuance, the understanding, meanings are in flux, and the word, it’s offensive. It’s a term of dehumanizing, and remember, these terms are in flux, it’s about increasing sensitivity, especially with social media.

“I spent a lot of time in journalism school. I understand the marketplace of free ideas, about being unvarnished about the way we communicate.”
As King explained it to me, language is always changing, that for example, we don’t use the word Negro anymore, and that the use of the N-word, when spelled out, is hurtful to many.

And again, I apologize, I simply just didn’t know. “I’m not surprised that people would be upset seeing the word repeated, it’s really a term meant to dehumanize, to keep black people down, so people use the n-word, maybe sometimes using dashes, to represent parts of the word.”it’s understandable because of pain with that word, I used to think, it’s really a question of understanding people’s sensitivities, that’s why it’s impacting how people using the language used now, it’s a difficult concept,” he explained to me Sunday afternoon.

“The word can be seen as dispassionate, a grating reminder there are people who don’t value you as a human being,” King told me.
“Education is key, this is why things need to change.”

I need to stop hiding behind my ignorance, I get that. 

So to King, Keyes, Burris, I really do apologize. I have a lot to learn.

The Bad, the Ugly, the Really, Really Ugly – And the Just Plain Stupid

Maybe we can blame some of the ugliness witnessed at Ottawa City Hall last week on COVID grumpiness.

Hard to say.

But whatever the reason, none of it is okay and frankly, we’ve seen this kind of behaviour from Mayor Jim Watson and his band of loyal followers in the past. 

A quick status update before we get into the nitty gritty: Watson is still acting like a dictator, light rail still isn’t working, Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder is getting meaner by the minute and West Carleton Coun. Eli El-Chantiry is vying to seize her title. (Yes, I was shocked too!)

Here are some of the lowlights from this last week after about 19 hours of public consultation on the expansion of the urban boundary over two days, a city council meeting on Wednesday, followed on Thursday with yet another city committee.

For the record, while Harder thought they could get through the entire meeting in one day (with more than 100 delegates scheduled to speak) that was just never going to happen. In fact, the third day is happening today, with no guarantees they won’t need to take a fourth day sometime this week before the issue goes to city council at the end of May.

Here’s the real problem with roughly 24 hours of public consultation (by mid-Tuesday) on expanding the urban boundary. It’s sadly already a done deal, while there could no doubt be some minor changes to the gist of the staff recommendation, it’s going to happen.

The city will expand its boundaries.

And all the effort from the public didn’t change minds. Watson wants it to happen and what has now become his merry band of followers will vote as he wants. They’re too afraid not to. It’s sad, it’s wrong, but it’s going to happen.

What was equally as frustrating, if you listened in on the presentations and if you’re anything like me living in the suburbs, you would have heard very little about how it will effect your lifestyle. How will my public transit be effected? Will it it be stretched even further to accommodate for the next growth? It appears so.

REALLY, REALLY UGLY: When resident Sam Hersh addressed the committee, El-Chantiry asked him what he did for a living. Hersh replied he was unemployed, to which El-Chantiry then asked if he’d ever worked for a city councillor. Clearly, El-Chantiry knew he had. Hersh said he had, but didn’t understand the relevance.

Turns out that Hersh worked for a period of time for a couple of left-leaning city councillors. But when he questioned the relevance of the question, both El-Chantiry and Harder, (the chairs of the meeting) could be hear dissing his response and joined in with Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney who actually guffawed at the member of the public.

El-Chantiry sunk even lower, calling Hersh “a joke.” Apparently, El-Chantiry later sent Hersh a private apology to a public dissing. And while we’re at it, while Harder felt just fine ridiculing Hersh, she got her back up when a city councillor asked former city hall staff John Smit who he was representing at the committee. Harder questioned the relevance, yes the same Harder who laughed in the face of Hersh. The list of delegates had Smit down representing GBA Consulting Group, a real estate development company. Sadly, Smit tarnished his previously stellar reputation saying he was there on his own. 

SEE NO EVIL: Asked how he felt about El-Chantiry’s outburst last week, Watson said he hadn’t heard it, but added it wasn’t his role to discipline a councillor. Right. Watson has no problem disciplining councillors he despises. Proof in point, he quickly jumped on College Coun. Rick Chiarelli – without any proof of the allegations against him.

F-BOMB: The brightest point of last Wednesday’s council meeting was when a city staffer uttered an F-bomb just when Watson called on him to answer a question from council. The well-liked staffer was suggesting the online system wasn’t working well, and he used the Bomb to describe it. And yes, clearly, I get that using the F-bomb really shouldn’t be the brightest point of a meeting.

And while that might have been the most fun of the mishaps last Wednesday, there was of course some hideous behaviour yet again. from Watson. Having worked long and hard at finding alternative housing for the homeless, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney was literally shoved aside when Watson took her ideas and moved a motion with Kanata Coun. Jenna Sudds to use McKenney’s own ideas and her hard work to take the credit for the idea moving forward. That wasn’t the end of Watson’s dictatorship. And really, there’s no other word for it.

Instead of working with McKenney and Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, our egotistical mayor drew up his own motion on providing street parking in the downtown core, without so much as an acknowledgement to the work his downtown councillors had done.

REALLY STUPID: When Ottawa Health posted a video with some light-hearted ideas to keep safe doing the pandemic, the full-of-herself Harder tweeted: “Very stupid.” Now it was a bit unclear whether Harder thought Ottawa Health was stupid for the post or that perhaps she was dissing the residents who might need such information. Either way, she’s last week’s biggest loser.

AND DID I MENTION?: The city’s light rail system still doesn’t work.

Please: No More Screen Kissing

Like most of us, I find it incredibly difficult to think of our seniors, having worked so long and hard all their lives, banned from seeing their families.

We have to do better than that. I have an elderly aunt, in her 90s, who lives in such a facility in Hamilton. Now confined to her room, she sometimes wonders if she’ll die cooped up in her room, never again seeing the outside world, and sometimes it sounds like she’s stopped caring about the answer to that. As part of her family, it’s incredibly difficult to hear the sadness and loneliness in her voice.

So I can easily imagine how families with loved ones in the long-term facilities must have felt when they heard Ottawa had decided there would be no more window-waving.

It’s hard to imagine a message more badly handled locally during these COVID19 times than the directive to stop waving hello to loved ones through the windows of the city’s long-term care homes. Imagine. The city runs the Garry J. Armstrong, Peter D. Clark, Carleton Lodge and Champlain homes. Our seniors, who’ve worked so hard and long in their lives, were being cut off from a small loving and welcome wave from friends and family at their window during this seemingly never-ending seclusion.

The story of this evil edict went viral, of course. It even made international news, and had Ontario Premier Doug Ford crapping all over Ottawa. (Perhaps our local MPP Lisa MacLeod was advising him!)

I’m not really a big fan of politicians lashing out when another one fails, and Ford would have been wise to check his facts before spouting off. But again, back to the horrendous messaging. Dean Lett, the city’s director of long-term care, told the media the ban on window waving wasn’t supposed to upset anyone, but it was felt the city needed to protect the approximate 700 who live in Ottawa’s long-term care homes. I’ve always had a bit of problem when people suggest they didn’t intend to be callous or hurtful. How about you consider your actions and think what the reaction might be.

For reasons that are still hard to understand, Lett didn’t talk to either our medical officer of health Vera Etches or Ottawa Public Health. It’s all really too bad, which makes me feel bad for Lett – who I’m sure was shocked at the visceral reaction from the seniors stuck in isolation and the people who love them.

It would seem Lett simply overreacted, no doubt after being in contact with management at the city’s long-term care facilities. Seems some family members were actually kissing their loved ones either on the window or actually trough the screen. Seriously? Even without a pandemic – and I’m not a germaphobe – but that should appear to all of us to obviously be a really bad idea.

And following the public announcement, of course, the public and many city councillors were all too willing to jump all over the decision.  Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has ordered staff running the long-term care facilities to find some better solutions which should allow seniors and their families to see each other once again.

Of course, the kissing through the screens or on the windows wasn’t the only issue.  When some family members people visited, and residents went outside, families weren’t social distancing. And that really should have been the message.

Keep your distance. It’s as simple as that.

In the World of COVID, Families Being Torn Apart

Imagine worrying that your job could put your child’s life at risk. It’s unthinkable really. But for frontline workers, COVID-19 isn’t just putting their own health at risk, it’s actually forcing some of them to literally tear their families apart to protect their children.

Sean Skinner and his wife Chloe are one such Ottawa couple who felt forced to make the gut wrenching decision to have their three-year-old son Keegan move in with Sean’s parents to keep their son safe.

He’s a produce manager, his wife Chloe is a nurse. Initially the couple talked about doing what others are doing – taking off their clothes immediately after getting home and heading to the shower. (Having returned from a trip south, the family was in isolation when they had to decide what to do to keep Keegan safe. And while he theoretically could have gone to his grandparents in the day, Sean and Chloe had to consider both Keegan’s health and the health of Sean’s parents, particularly his father.)

His mother Jill Skinner told her son and daughter-in-law that young Keegan could come live with her and husband Tony Skinner (And if those names sound familiar to you, they’re both retired members with the Ottawa Police Services).

“It’s been awful, it’s probably one of the worst decisions I’ve had to make, it’s just terrible,” Sean Skinner told On the City, From the Burbs. “He is so young.”

His pain, his tears, were obvious during the phone interview.  As a mom, as a human being, it certainly was one of the more difficult interviews I’ve ever done. While some of us get frustrated with the restrictions this pandemic has placed on us, that’s absolutely nothing compared to what the Skinners have felt forced to do. Mom Chloe was too emotional to take part in the interview.

The couple FaceTime with Keegan everyday, but some conversations are better than others. At three-years-old, the young boy clearly doesn’t understand exactly what’s going on or why. He’s been told there’s a bad cold that he needs to be protected from, he seems to accept that.

“But he doesn’t really understand and sometimes he just gets mad,” Sean Skinner said. Jill said there are also times Keegan just seems to get upset during the FaceTiming.

Son Ryan 11, (Sean’s stepson) spends every other week with them, But he’s able to understand the importance of social distancing and the ramifications of the virus.

Jill Skinner said she immediately told her son and daughter-in-law that she and her husband Tony would take Keegan if it would help.

“It’s heartbreaking for them,” she said. “They FaceTime, but it’s all very difficult. And it can sometimes set Mom and Dad off. But they know (Keegan) will be safe. But they can’t stop thinking about how much they’re missing, so much is changing for a child when they’re just three.”

Despite the very difficult situation, Jill said she feels very fortunate to be in a position as a grandmother to help, and knows not everyone can do that.
“A lot of people don’t have options, all they can do is worry, and given what’s going on, that’s a real stress people don’t need,” she said.

And as much as Keegan and his parents have seen their lives disrupted, so too have Sean’s parents undergone  a huge lifestyle adjustment. They’ve gone from retirement to full-time caregivers. She retired mid-2018, Tony retired in 1995.

“It’s taking some getting used to, we’re not used to having a three-year-old with us all the time. We’ve needed to find out what schedule works best for him, his nap times, for his grandfather and him,” she said.

She now spends time making sure her grandson has nutritious snacks, limits his screen time and gets outside. And with a large, extended family, they’re all finding it hard not to be getting together.

“We’re a pretty large family, and we usually had people in and out of here all the time. We had someone dropping off groceries recently, but they couldn’t come in. Keegan asked, “Do they have a cold too? And he’s a hugger, so it’s all very hard to understand. But again, I can’t stress enough that I know how fortunate we are.”

Sean is anxiously waiting for the day his son returns home – and they can be a family able to live in the same house once again.