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.