Secrecy Dominates at City Hall


A pattern of secrecy has found its way inside Ottawa City Hall.
And that just can’t be good.
It appears some city councillors are privy to certain information, while others are being shut out.
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney isn’t willing to sit back and keep her residents in the dark.
So she’s doing something about it.
As McKenney points out, if she and others are being kept in the dark, so too are their residents.
So she’s going to write to the city’s Integrity Commissioner to discuss what she sees as a “pattern of secrecy” coming from the office of Mayor Jim Watson.
McKenney was part of a Group of Eight planning on moving a motion during last month’s budget process for a one-time .5% levy to help the city’s aging infrastructure.
She was surprised — but happy — that enough money had somehow been miraculously found to deal with the problem. It’s not often $10 million jumps out of nowhere but problem solved.
But McKenney says for reasons she’s still grappling with, some councillors were made aware of the budget surplus while others weren’t.
And that’s just not right.
McKenney points to a December interview with Kanata South Coun.  Allan Hubley on CFRA with host Rob Snow.
“Rob, I’m actually on the Budget Review Committee along with the Mayor, Councillor Cloutier and the city manager.
“So we had an indication that we were doing very well this year because we meet on a monthly basis and were tracking the pluses and the minuses so the actual number I don’t think anybody really knew for sure until Monday because the City Manager had asked staff to triple check that number.
“He did not want it coming out until we were solid on the number. But certainly a month ago we knew we were tracking into the plus and well into the plus,”
Hubley told Snow in December.
Now it’s just like Hubley to brag about something where he likely should have kept his mouth shut, but that of course is a different column.
After hearing the news of Hubley’s inside information, McKenney wrote to city clerk Rick O’Connor asking for the minutes of the budget review committee.
Well, interestingly enough, she got the minutes of the November meeting but was told they are confidential. Even more interesting, the minutes don’t include anything about the expected budget surplus. And if Hubley hadn’t spilled the beans, no one might ever have known.
So thank you Coun. Hubley for spilling the beans.
McKenney is absolutely right about all of this.
Secrecy has become a pattern at city hall.
It simply can’t continue.
“You can’t keep secrets from the public. If we know something we have to make sure we’re making decisions with their money based on the facts.
“I would suggest it does point to a pattern of secrecy,” McKenney told On the City, From the Burbs.
McKenney has been discussing how to move forward on this with Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans and College Coun. Rick Chiarelli.
“We will have to ask the Integrity Commissioner about two things, why the board meetings are confidential, but more importantly, what was discussed at the last meeting which isn’t reflected in the minutes of that meeting,” she said.
If the trio don’t get satisfaction at the city, they’ve also discussed going to the Ontario Ombudsman.
Taking on Mayor Jim Watson isn’t easy. But McKenney won’t let her residents kept the dark, pointing out the mayor is supposed to represent the entire city.
“Over the past (few weeks), people I’ve spoken to are concerned. They want be able to trust what they’re told. When it comes to a time you’re making these decisions for the public, that information has got to be on the table. And not knowing where that money is coming from makes (the process) a sham,” she said.
As part of the trio working on ensuring everyone around the council table is given the same information, College Coun. Rick Chiarelli is equally as concerned.
He points to the surprise announcement, after the budget, that the opening of the city’s LRT is being delayed. And that delay has ramifications on the city’s budget numbers, which some councillors knew and others didn’t.
There’s no love lost between Watson and Chiarelli of course.
This situation doesn’t help, that’s for sure.
He accuses Watson of creating a lot of needless drama, when he simply should have told all councillors all of the information.
“We need some questions answered,” Chiarelli concluded.
Right again.


Boxing Week Goodies

If you’re going to add city councillors to your Christmas list, you definitely want to shop during the Boxing Week sales. So with all due respect to the big man in red, On the City, From the Burbs is handing out personalized gifts to some of our civic leaders a few days after the holidays.

College Coun. Rick Chiarelli really doesn’t need a thing this year. Why would he? Despite protestations to the contrary from Mayor Jim Watson, Chiarelli has and still is playing a leading role on council. He’s managed to help create and play a leading role on an unofficial opposition on city council, has gotten under Mayor Jim Watson’s skin several times (not hard to do) and is perhaps the most astute and funniest councillor in the game. So Watson doesn’t like him? That’s just another stocking stuffer!

For some reason that is incomprehensible for me to understand, River Coun. Riley Brockington has gotten it into his head I’m thinking of running against him in the next election! It makes me laugh every time I hear about his paranoia and I’ve heard it from people across the city! That’s how unfounded rumours run in Ottawa. Not a grain of truth, but the rumour keeps getting repeated! Now certainly, Brockington’s time over River ward should be contested. He’s let his residents down time and again. But why he would feel threatened from me, a woman who has lived in and loved Nepean almost her entire life, but ran and came in third, is beyond me! So a tiny gift to an undeserving Brockington: I have no intention of running in River ward. Others are, I’m not!

For Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, a dose of honesty. And that present couldn’t be found at a discount. His incredibly weak and totally unbelievable explanation of why he was breaking his word and running again after two terms when he said he wouldn’t was just laughable. Let’s face it. No other opportunities have shown themselves and he couldn’t possibly find another job that gives him the same perks and salary he now receives. The truth can hurt, even at Christmas.

On the other hand, Bay Coun. Mark Taylor is keeping his word, a rare commodity at council. His future is unknown, having served two terms and promised not to run a third in a row. That is deserving of something special. Rumours abound about his political future and the opportunities out there. Will Bob Chiarelli run again? Will Mayor Jim Watson change his mind about another term? Rumours are fun. Gifts are more sincere. For Taylor, a solid opportunity to continue to serve the city.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum defeated Peter Clark to sit around the council table and expectations were high. I’m no fan of talking at council just for talking’s sake. But Nussbaum has more to offer than he’s giving up. For him, a stronger voice heard around council. And a eukulele of course!

There are so many things that could be given to Mayor Jim Watson this holiday season, good health for example. The mayor is now recovering from appendicitis, gets bad colds frequently and tolerable colds even more. And of course, there was his broken pelvis. But the perfect gift? That’s tougher. For Watson, a better understanding that democracy works best when all voices are both heard and considered. And sorry, this gift has a no-return policy.

For Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder, the gift is obvious. Harder gets more time with her family, including husband Larry and all those adorable grandchildren.

And Osgoode Coun. George Darouze is just as easy to gift — nothing less than his own golf cart. Who doesn’t want a golf cart after a night of partying!

With nasty rumours swirling around him, Innes Coun. Jody Mitic recently came forward to talk about an addiction problem. Good for him. That can’t have been easy. Mitic insists he’ll run again. That might not be the best answer for him or his residents. For Mitic, the strength to deal with his issues and the time to recover. If that means bowing out of the next election, so be it.




If it wasn’t hard enough getting into the field of journalism, it just got harder with the closure of 24 papers in Eastern Ontario, nine of which are in the Ottawa area. When I first started getting interested in the field of journalism two years ago, I knew it was going to be tough, I knew I was going to have to work hard and I knew there would be many struggles along the way — yet I was never worried about how I would be able to make a living in the future.

I was very fortunate to make a series of contacts last year that got me where I am today, yet I knew it’s not where I’d want to stay forever. I always thought of it as a ladder you had to climb. You would start your career in community news, then work your way up to a free daily paper like Metro, and then get your way to Mainstream Media such as the Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen/Sun, etc.

Now a big chunk of that ladder is gone and a gaping hole is in your way of reaching your full potential. There are a lot of really good writers out there, yet that no longer gets you your dream job. Community news was not just a way to inform residents of what was going on in their community, yet to give young aspiring journalists a chance to practice in the field and give them the skills needed to write an article you felt proud to produce while following the rules of journalism.

When I published my first print article for the Barrhaven Independent a year ago, I knew nothing about how to write an article, yet thanks to community news, I had the chance to learn from those who are in the field. I still don’t know everything, yet with every article I write, I learn something new.

I’ve often been asked why I cover community news. For me it’s more than just a learning experience. It’s a great way to meet people in your community and it informs residents about what is going on. It also brings out the good in people. When a person’s house burns down, the community rallies together. When a fundraiser is going on, people come in droves to give what they can. I’m hoping this will not be the end to community news. Like Alex Munter did in 1982, I hope others will come forward and start new community papers. I hope more youth will come forward and start gaining an interest in news.

I was 14 turning 15 when I started my own online news network on YouTube. That was two years ago. Since then, I have received more than 72,000 views, more than 50,000 of that in this year alone. If I can do it, anyone can.

Charlie Senack is a young freelance journalist in Ottawa. His interest in journalism came at a young age after visiting the former CTV News studios in 2009. Since then, he has continued to grow his passion for storytelling. In December, he held a successful premiere of Messages from Heaven. You can follow him on twitter @Charlie_Senack or watch him on YouTube at TWIN News.

The Knives Are Out

With his pledge of keeping a tax increase at two per cent being threatened, Mayor Jim Watson is going nasty. And many of his councillors are fighting back as an ugly war of words is being waged through the media, social and otherwise.

The first volley was made by College Coun. Rick Chiarelli when the budget was tabled last month – and he immediately labelled it as fake. Chiarelli rightly pointed out that while staff and Watson like to claim spending is up in many areas of the budget this year, in fact, many of the estimates for spending are lower than what was spent last year.

If you were cynical in nature, you might think the numbers were designed to meet the 2% goal and not necessarily what staff really believe will be spent. But that’s an entirely different column!

The drama intensified over the past few days as councillors sat through a variety of committee meetings going over the details of the budget. And some of them have decided they’re not going to go along with Watson’s promise of the 2% tax increase. In fact, eight city councillors – including Chiarelli – are now standing together on a motion calling for a one-time 0.5% infrastructure levy, which as the group is selling, would be about $1 a month.

Much of the talk during discussions on the budget has focused on the bad state of the city’s roads. The one-time levy would be used to address some of those concerns. None of this of course sits well with the mayor. He’s gone on Twitter pointing out some of the eight made pledges similar to his own on keeping taxes down. Pretty sure they’ve changed their minds at this point!

But Watson has saved his harshest criticism for Chiarelli, lashing out at the College ward councillor, saying he isn’t taken seriously around the council table and hasn’t shown any leadership during the budget process over the years.

Yowser! And yikes! And surely not very becoming for the mayor of the nation’s capital. Part of the problem is Watson lets people get under his skin, he frets about winning instead of worrying about doing the right thing for the city. The high road isn’t one Watson frequently takes in these circumstances. (As an aside, you know that after reading this column, and he will, Watson will continue telling people no one is reading this blog as he says about other blogs in the city)

You can be sure Watson has fully implemented a plan to ensure the Group of Eight go down to an ugly defeat. For sure he isn’t alone with his character bashing. Many are getting into the game. Kanata Coun. Allan Hubley gave an interview this week, generally trashing his colleagues’ motives. (He did say he hated to talk like that, but frankly, he seemed just fine with it.) He also blamed Deans for a bad audit on the city’s daycare, saying she should have known about the problems.

Alerted to Hubley’s comments, Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans herself fought back on Twitter.

“More of the same from the Mayor’s cronies – if you can’t win the argument on the issue at hand, you attack personally. Hubley would be better off spending his time addressing our crumbling infrastructure,” she wrote. Along with Deans and Chiarelli, the Group of Eight also includes Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Nussbaum. Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson. Rideau Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury and Capital Coun. David Chernushenko.

So what does all of this silliness mean for the taxpayer? At this point in time, doesn’t look like anything good, that’s for sure. City council meets on Wednesday to discuss the budget. For the sake of our money and for the good of the city, here’s hoping the kids get their act together.

Hits and Misses – But Mostly Misses


Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melynk makes this week’s misses with a crazy tweet telling shamed broadcaster Bill O’ReIlly that he missed him. Say what? Is there any chance Melnyk is the only one around who hasn’t heard why O’Reilly is missing action.
“Miss you Bill! When are you coming back!!!??”

O’Reilly was fired over allegations of sexual harrassment in April, forced out after a New York Times report he had paid five women a total of $13 million to settle sexual harassment claims in the past.


Some of this city’s hard-working volunteers were honoured this past week with a medal from the Senate of Canada. The list included broadcasters Rick Gibbons and Mark Sutcliffe, who’ve both volunteered their time to the community. According to the Senate, 150 medals were minted at a cost of $235,000 to honour the country’s unsung heroes, “Canadians whose generosity, dedication, volunteerism and hard work make their communities a better place to live.” The recipients were all chosen by senators.

Sadly, many of those on the receiving end of the unsung heroes medal were the senators themselves, including Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin. A request to explain how well-paid senators were unsung heroes wasn’t answered by the Senate’s communications department.

Enough said.


It’s hard to know what to make of Kanata Coun. Allan Hubley. Apparently he was so excited to chair his first audit committee he spent $35 of his own money to make up trading cards for all audit  committee members. The trading cards, according to Hubley, will be used to track success in saving the city money. Seriously? Does that make sense to anyone?

He asked his committee members to sign the two-sided cards which feature their own picture so he could frame them to mark his first meeting. Apparently Hubley plans to frame the signed trading cards. Knowing Hubley, it might be best to be on the lookout for said frame to be expensed. Just saying!


Ottawans and Canadians were somehow shocked at the long list of don’ts for the ice rink on the front lawn of Parliament Hill. No cellphones, no food, no selfies. And a short skating season to boot! Personally, I was shocked anyone was shocked. This is the feds we’re talking  about folks. But the feds backtracked just a bit. Selfies will now be allowed and the season will go to the end of February.


Music icon Neil Young came home this week, returning to his childhood town of Omemee, Ontario to promote the release of his new album The Visitor, but more importantly to raise money for music program for the Scott Young Public School in Omemee.
The school is named for his late father. The money raised, close to $20,000 will be shared with The Bridge School in California, a school for children with severe speech and physical impairments. While Young inside Coronation Hall, Omemee’s King Street was busy with both local residents and visitors.

Well done.

Fleury is Right, Politics is Disgusting

Well here’s an amazing coincidence. A couple of days ago I received a tip suggesting Mayor Jim Watson had directed two of his councillors to bad mouth Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury. The two councillors named were Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Michael Qaqish and Innes Coun. Jody MItic.

Fleury’s alleged sins? He had the audacity to call out some city councillors for refusing to meet with him on the Salvation Army file, a file that has thrown his residents into absolute turmoil. Of course, Fleury refused to go on the record about which councillors refused to meet with him. Fair enough. But worse than calling out his colleagues, from the mayor’s perspective, Fleury highlighted the role the mayor played in the debate. Early on in the discussion, Watson went public in favour of the project which then appeared to muzzle city councillors who might be fearful of going against the mayor. But there’s no doubt, if you follow council closely, that when Watson speaks, many of his minions on council quickly follow suit. Hence Fleury being unable to get his council colleagues to meet with him.

Here’s what Qaqish tweeted on Thursday about Fleury:

“Mishandles file like he did with Chateau & others, throws colleagues under bus & fails to take any ownership or responsibility.”

Really? Is there any evidence that Fleury was wrong? Nothing I’ve seen. And who was the first and only councillor to retweet Qaqish? None other than Mitic! Yes, that is a crazy coincidence. In case you’ve missed the sarcasm, there’s no doubt in my mind this is not at all a coincidence. For the record, Mitic – who has accused me of never talking to him directly about city issues – didn’t return my request for an interview.

And Qaqish, since I ran against him, appears to run scared every time I approach him. He too didn’t turn my request for an interview. Watson did return my email, suggesting my source was lying because he’d never seen the tweet. Ludicrous. No one is suggesting he wrote the email, only that he made sure it happened.

This is my favourite tweet response to Qaqish:
@ACVanierCA Nov 23 “Did you vote in favour of the SA relocation to get back at a colleague of yours, therefore taking our whole community hostage? @Quartier_Vanier @SOSVanier”

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans did talk to On the City, From the Burbs, saying she was really sad to see councillors tweeting out against each other. “I think it is out of the ordinary, I think it’s regrettable. As a council, we need to get along. This was a very divisive file and it’s divided the community and it’s divided council, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” she told this blog on Saturday.

And Deans, taking the high road, wouldn’t blame either Watson or Fleury. “I’m not going to assign any blame, I do think we need to be finding better ways to work together,” she said.

Here’s the thing. While city councillors try to one up each other, the community of Vanier, which cares deeply about its neighbourhood, is reeling from the implications of a mega homeless shelter on a main street like Montreal Road. And if we’re to believe the rumours – and it’s really hard not to – Watson and his cronies are fighting a political battle instead of working for the betterment of the community.

Yes, disgusting.


The just approved Salvation Army shelter on Montreal Road will never be built.

That’s according to a confident Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury who fought the project with a mountain of unhappy Vanier residents on his side. At city council on Wednesday, despite those efforts, the project was approved a 16-7 vote in favour of proceeding. But following the meeting, Fleury appeared quite confident there were still too many obstacles in front of it for the project to ever proceed. Welcome to the chaos that can be city hall.

For three days last week, residents opened up their hearts at planning committee, expressing serious and heartfelt concerns about what a shelter on a main street in their community could do to their neighbourhood. The biggest obstacle at the moment is an inevitable appeal at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) which could bog the project down in time and money. And as Fleury sees it, there are other far more viable options to locate the shelter which haven’t been explored.

He’s right of course. Such a huge issue and yet again it wasn’t handled properly. Where was the rush, where was the fire? Understandably, Fleury wanted the issue deferred so he had time to talk to his fellow councillors following the committee. Rejected. This isn’t surprising of course, Mayor Jim Watson likes to push through messy items so as not to tarnish his image. Well, too late for that. This tremendous mess which devastated a community didn’t have to happen and it shouldn’t have happened. And it certainly highlights the ugly side of Ottawa City Hall.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time that something like this has taken place at city hall. And it isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last that a group of councillors and a horde of bureaucrats step in and hurt people needlessly. Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, who argued against the project, was the most eloquent at the council table, saying the entire process sickened her.

“This is a failure of leadership,” Deans said, suggesting they all had failed the community by not coming together. “This has been a complete failure of process.” Exactly. (As an aside, she invoked former Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli’s name during her speech, praising him for his approach to getting councillors to work together, is sure to annoy Mayor Jim Watson. Not necessarily a bad thing!)

So to think that because this project has been so badly handled and may never see the light of day and has sent community into turmoil, it’s all pretty shameful.

Not out of the ordinary at city hall, but shameful nonetheless.



That’s really the only way to describe the week that was at Ottawa City Hall. In case you’re wondering, it was ugly all around, certainly for the politicians but more importantly, for us – the residents. The big story which dominated city hall centred around the Salvation Army and their wish to build a bigger and better shelter on Montreal Road.

It was billed as strictly a planning issue and as such was weighed down under all of the bureaucracy that means. And residents who care showed up in droves at said planning committee and were instructed they could only ask questions that pertained specifically to planning concerns. That might make sense on Lisgar Avenue, but it surely doesn’t make sense for residents worried about their neighbourhood, who care about their community.

The very worst thing about the three-day planning committee meetings is that the result of the vote was all but a foregone conclusion. It was tough to listen to, dozens upon dozens and dozens more of earnest citizens trying to have their voices heard.

This story has been a tough one from the start, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury began meetings with the Salvation Army early on. It was then that point, if Fleury had realized how devastated many of his residents would feel about this story, that he should’ve rallied the troops. But with Mayor Jim Watson in full support of the plan, it seemed apparent almost from the get-go it was a done deal. And when the meeting, which lasted three days ended, it was. Of course, it still has to go to council on Wednesday, but don’t expect a different outcome.

It’s more than fascinating (at least for city hall geeks like myself) to note that the city will actually be dealing early next year with a review of Ottawa’s housing and homelessness plan. In addition, the feds are also offering up their own national housing strategy soon which will certainly impact the city. Gee, maybe it would have made sense to delay this monumental decision

Let’s face it, this council is twiddling its thumbs on a much-needed strategy to deal with the growing garbage problem in this city, like how to convince residents to reduce, reuse and recycle. In fact, they’ve been twiddling for years and for a greenie like myself, that is incredibly frustrating. The reason they’re sitting around doing nothing this time around, because it’s not the first time they’ve sat back over the years – well the province is working on its own plan and heck, why make improvements when everything could change?

Having covered the city literally for decades, this file has been totally neglected, but somehow it’s okay to make a major decision which will impact Vanier forever even though changes are coming down the pipes with the city’s housing and homelessness strategy.

MORE MESS: And speaking about the ugliness of the public not being heard, city councillors reacted in horror this week when the Hard Rock Casino folks used the system to up the number of gaming tables allowed at the Albion Road location to 21 to 36. Oh, the horror! Former city councillor Alex Cullen described their actions – going to the committee of adjustment rather than city council – as a legal cheat. Well, that description has to get some kind of award in the best oxymorons of the year. Look, The Hard Rock is a business. It didn’t do anything illegal. It used the city’s own rules and got what it wanted. It’s all on council that the public’s voice wasn’t heard. Accept it.

Day Passes and Past Days

A flaw in the city’s transit day pass has left the city open to losing countless dollars, On the City, From the Burbs has learned. And prompted by this blog’s questions, the city is now investigating potential loopholes with the $10.25 day pass. Turns out the barcoded day pass can be photographed with your phone – sent to a friend – and used again. On the City, From the Burbs tested the day pass last week following a tip to the blog and confirmed photographs of the day pass allowed passengers to get on board.

“We have our team looking at this but our initial view is that there is very limited, if any ability to circumvent the system in this way.

“The paper barcoded tickets can only be scanned one time. Someone trying to scan a photocopied or picture transfer would be denied entry if the barcode had been previously utilized. “We will make sure that we look at this in detail,” wrote director of transit operations Troy Charter. Well, unfortunately, that might be what the city believes but it’s hard to be sure. Much the same answer came from Pat Scrimgeour, Director, Transit Customer Systems and Planning via the city’s communications department.

“There are a number of anti-fraud mechanisms in place throughout the new fare gate system. The suggested way to commit fraud is not possible. Each day pass or ticket purchased at a ticket machine has a unique barcode. The barcode is recorded when customers pass through the fare gates to board the O-Train and cannot be used again in the same period. Then, when the customer boards a bus, the physical ticket or day pass must be shown to the operator. A photo of the ticket or pass, which would be a forgery, would not be accepted. There are various anti-fraud features built into the system to void the ticket if used in a manner not consistent with the fare product. All anti-fraud mechanisms are being monitored and tested at the four stations during this period and evaluated throughout.”

Again, nice sentiment, but not true. No one here is advocating fraudulent behaviour, but as the city is testing its fare gates and passes, this needs to be addressed.


Former Ottawa mayor Jim Durrell has many titles in the city, too many to mention here. He recently left the Ottawa Police Services Board, a decision he says he made of his “own accord.” No reason not to believe that. But there are unsubstantiated rumours that Durrell was pressed to stay on and become the chair of the board. Asked about that rumours several times and several different ways, Durrell initially refused to answer them, avoiding the question. Durrell left after serving two terms, plus an extension of several months.

“I left of my own accord,” Durrell told On the City, From the Burbs. “I wanted to leave, I’m a great believer in term limits,” he said, rattling off a number of posts he still holds. “You need to continue to reinvigorate and get new blood,” said Durrell, considered to have been a strong voice of reason on the OPS. “I was there long enough, you need new blood, I’m done, I just hope they appoint a strong member to replace me.”

That comment is telling, isn’t it? So too is his response to Chair Eli El-Chantiry’s leadership of the OPS and whether Durrell believes he’s doing a good job.

“I respect him and I know how hard he’s worked at it. If you heard I left in disgust, no, I believe in term limits.” Umm, no, hadn’t heard he left in disgust, but interesting he raised that! What this blog had heard is that when Durrell said he was on his way out, they tried to keep him by offering him El-Chantiry’s chair. Durrell refused to answer.

Then suddenly, after having been asked many times, Durrell decides to say he was not offered the position of board chair.

“I’m not lying to you at all, no I was not, it would not have mattered if I was, it was not what I wanted to do,” Durrell said. His delayed response seemed somehow odd. You get to decide.


There’s something just a bit wonky about a city budget written with fingers crossed. But that’s what happens here in Ottawa. And when the city budget – with its expected 2% tax increase was released on Wednesday – it was clear fingers are crossed tightly together hoping the nation’s capital has a light snowfall, little rain and no more than a handful of freeze and thaws.

Good luck with that.

In fact, throughout the budget it’s evident the past actual spending in areas across the city aren’t being used in the budget process. That seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? Not according to city treasurer Marian Simulik.
“These last couple of years have been abnormal winters. At least, I hope they’ve been abnormal winters,” Simulik said. There’s that hope again. “But we don’t go and say, ‘Well, we overspent by $8 million so we have to increase it by $8 million.’ We look at it on an average, what has the actual impact been to the budget.”

Simulik is one of the best-liked and most respected bureaucrats at the city. Rarely hear a bd word about her and there’s not many senior management you can write that about. While she insists it doesn’t make sense to budget according to what was spent last year, not many of us would feel comfortable running our households that way.

It’s certainly true Ottawa’s winters can wreak havoc on the winter maintenance budget, tear up the city’s roads creating potholes impossible to fill quickly enough and often chop up the sidewalks. And then, yes, there are the record snowfalls. But that’s just not new. Even Mayor Jim Watson got sidelined this past winter by a nasty pothole on his way to a city event. And he too is looking for some sort of divine intervention in keeping too much snow from coming our way.

“The changing weather patterns have created major challenges,”Watson said. “The abundance of rain and spring flooding, the extraordinary amount of snow and the number of freeze-thaw cycles, has significantly impacted the quality of our (roads).”

The problem is a bit of smoke and mirrors. When Watson talks about increases to the budget for things like road maintenance, he’s not talking about an increase over what was spent last year, but an increase on what was budgeted – even when the city goes over that budget.

And while reporters grilled both Watson and Simulik about the way the budgeting is done – and rightly so – the mayor’s angst was directed at College Coun. Rick Chiarelli. For my money, Chiarelli has the best sense humour around the council table. And he enjoys using his sarcastic wit to get under the mayor’s skin. It worked. Chiarelli, purposefully borrowing from The Donald, called the budget fake – pointing out the numbers being put forward weren’t sustainable.

Watson was not amused, pointing out Chiarelli was chatting with the media when much of the budget presentation was being made. I certainly was one of those reporters! Watson directed reporters to grill Chiarelli on the details of the budget if the College councillor was going to throw out those kind of accusations.

Maybe that’s fair, given reporters often tell Watson how he should do his job!