The Week That Was (August 24-31)

TAXIS: A crazy debate erupted on Thursday at the city’s community and protective services. In a discussion, not on the city’s publicized agenda, councillors began debating the future of the city’s taxi industry. Who knew! Seems downtown councillor Shawn Menard thought it would be a good idea to have a 15-page report on proposed changes to the industry introduced  to committee. Well, there was nothing untoward with what Menard did, but it wasn’t either an effective or smart move. Perhaps it was his newness to the system that prompted the move, but his timing was all off. Having the report introduced to committee prompted a sudden debate of the issues, without the public even being aware the debate would be taking place. And while there are several issues that should be addressed with regard to the taxi industry and Uber, in the end, the debate was shut down.

In fact, as councillors began to debate some of the issues raised in Menard’s report, he accused some of his fellow councillors of making motions on the fly for political motives. Doh! Just what did he think would happen?

Eventually, the debate – thankfully – was shut down. And please, next time, don’t exclude the public.

There’s been a lot of talk on Twitter this week about bike lanes – and making our streets safer. And I repeat, I was on Wellington Street this week, and was caught off guard when I realized the car lane I was driving in appeared to have a bike lane right in the middle of it. I believe most drivers are like me, at least I hope so. We all want our streets safer for cyclists. But putting some paint on roads here and there without advising us what they mean is meaningless, a waste of money – and not at all furthering your cause. (I was later told on Twitter the middle of the lane for cyclists was meant to guard against dooring.) But I was so nervous about what to do or not to do, I got off Wellington as soon as I could.) So please council, don’t treat drivers as the enemy. Most of us know we need to work together and want to, so please, include us in your planning.

I LOVE Rabbi Bulka: Be sure to check out my blog on how Rabbi Reuven Bulka is going to have a park named in his honour, a Kindness Park. If you check out my Facebook page, you’ll see I’m not alone in my adoration of this very inspirational religious and civic leader.

CITY PRIDE: On Sunday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson took part in his first Pride Parade as an openly gay man. Have to admit, his coming out story left me both in tears of sadness and sheer joy at the prospect of his happiness. I’m so sad he denied himself the chance for love for so long, but incredibly happy he has finally opened himself up to the opportunity. As I said to former councillor Mark Taylor when I ran into him in Barrhaven, it’s my hope Watson’s actually has already found love. As a longtime journalist, I simply never felt a discussion of his sexuality was any of my business or of concern to the public. However, during a campaign speech during a previous mayoral election, one of my Sun colleagues told me she was at a public event where Watson said he wanted to be Ottawa’s next gay mayor. Given that information, I contacted Watson to discuss what I thought at the time was his official coming out. Turns out my colleague had misheard Watson, who was delivering an old joke he often uses. Watson jokes that he doesn’t want to be Ottawa’s next nightmare, but the city’s next day mayor!

Now you know.

SPONSORSHIP SIZZLES: Have to wonder how many times over the years this headline could have announced countless city hall stories. City staff, when trying to balance budgets, often puts in unrealistic budget numbers for potential sponsorship deals it claims it can realize. Most recently, according the Postmedia’s Jon Willing, the city is forking over $500,00 to create free wireless internet access at City of Ottawa facilities “fizzle.”

CHATEAU GLORY: Though Heritage Ottawa hasn’t reached its fundraising goal of $150k to fight changes to the historic Chateau Laurier, the group is going ahead with its legal battle to fight the city’s approval of the hideous and unsightly addition to the beautiful Chateau Laurier. Stay tuned.

ALL ABOARD: City hall invited a select number of media to be part of the inaugural LRT ride with politicians and staff. When I inquired why – as someone who regularly writes about city hall wasn’t included – was told space was limited, so only major media were invited. Hate the answer, of course. But it might have been more acceptable if city staff, like Danielle McGee, the mayor’s assistant, wasn’t on the trip. Not sure at all what her media qualifications are. Seems more like a perk for a Watson loyalist. Of course, city hall finds it far easier to throw money at public informational campaigns than rely on free publicity.

I Love Rabbi Bulka

Confession time.

I’m crazy about Rabbi Reuven Bulka.

And Bulka, one of the city’s most lovely men and such an inspirational religious leader in Ottawa for people of all faiths – appears headed to have a park named in his honour.

The only surprise is why it hasn’t happened earlier!

At Thursday’s community and protective services meeting, members agreed without debate to rename Featherston Park Rabbi Bulka Kindness Park. It still needs city council approval.

Simply can’t think of a more appropriate name for a park honouring Rabbi Bulka.

The kindness reference is in honour of Bulka’s campaign to encourage people to do acts of kindness, to encourage kindness. He in fact is the man behind Kindness Week.

Being kind seems simple enough doesn’t it? But somehow there are days when that choice is a little more difficult than others. Spend any time on Twitter, and you won’t find a lot of kindness, that’s for sure. People are busy, they’re working hard and rushing from here to there. Rabbi Bulka, in his own big way, campaigned to remind us a little kindness goes a long way.

This isn’t the first time the city has honoured him. In 2010, he was awarded the Key to the City of Ottawa. Among his other many honours, he was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2013.

I can’t profess to know him well, but I can certainly attest to the fact that anytime I’ve been lucky enough to hear him talk, I am moved to try to be better, to be a kinder person and to be aware there are some around me who need that singular act of kindness.

Several other citizens are also being honoured, pending council’s approval.

Notably, it’s also being proposed longtime school board trustee Kathy Ablett have the Seniors Room in the Hunt Club Riverside Park Community Centre named the Kathy Ablett Room. Ablett, who has since passed away, spent almost 30 years as a trustee on the Ottawa Catholic School Board. And there are plans in the works for Les Lye, a well-known local entertainer, to have a theatre at Meridian Centrepointe Theatre named after him.

Former Alderman Peter Harris Weighs in on Light Rail

The Following is a guest blog post by Former Alderman Peter Harris:

30 years. Three Ottawa-Carleton Region Councils. Three Mayors of the amalgamated City of Ottawa. An election issue in 1991, 2006 and 2010. From Master Plans featuring bus transitways & expressways , Light Rail reflects a new era for Ottawa’s future.

A lot has happened over three decades. In 1989 the Ottawa-Carleton Bus Transitway was the preoccupation of regional government. OC Transpo was rated as one the best bus systems in North America. So why the change or shall I say – challenge?  The Region had proposed a $950 million tunnel for buses under Albert Street. It was supported by the majority of Mayors from the different cities. However, the political faces changed; the head of OC Transpo moved on; new leaders were elected; and amalgamation created one giant Ottawa.

As the Alderman for the former Dalhousie Ward in Ottawa, rail made a big difference to my constituents. The CP rail corridor went through the heart of Little Italy. The Region’s Master Plan included the Preston Champagne Arterial – a 70’s style expressway connecting the Queensway to the Ottawa River Parkway. It would have meant the demolition of St Anthony’s Soccer Club and a mile of homes through to Lebreton Flats. Italians along Preston St were still ‘licking their wounds’ from expropriation in the ‘60’s near St Anthony’s Church for regional housing and the new High School of Commerce.

Thankfully, CP Rail sent representative Raymond O’Meara to appear before the RMOC Transportation Cttee to explain how Montreal had converted freight lines to commuter. I introduced Mr. O’Meara to the Executive of the Preston Street Business Association who loved the idea. It suited their plans for the future. This was no ordinary route – it included a tunnel under Dow’s Lake; passed by the Carleton Univ campus and headed south towards the airport. On the Quebec side, it went by the site of the future Casino Lac Leamy.

The NCC in the meantime missed out on the era of transportation planning for the Capital of Canada. “We are not in the business of transportation’ said the NCC while busy planning bridges for cars. The Prince of Wales rail bridge crossing the Ottawa River was sold to the City of Ottawa whose Council was hot on LRT; while Gatineau’s opted for buses.  Interprovincial master planning at work!

In late 1989, following my defeat in a Dalhousie Ward byelection, I was showed the door a week later at RMOC while opposing the tunnel for buses. One prominent politician stated ‘that I should know better’. Well I did. I joined forces with Greg Ross and Michel Haddad – two private citizens who also voiced objections. We formed a new citizen’s group called Citizens for Alternative Transit – C.A.T. – one member per initial.

C.A.T. issued media releases, researched LRT in other cities; contacted rail suppliers; and in the spring of 1991, hosted an LRT seminar at the RMOC headquartersNearly 200 people heard presentations from AEG Bailey-Siemens, CP Rail and Bombardier on the merits of light rail, the possible modes of rail that can be used, and projects in other cities in Canada and abroad. The level of knowledge displayed by the audience was so impressive. From the beginning Ottawans have showed enthusiasm and support for light rail.

In late 1991, having been elected once again and on the RMOC Transportation Committee, there was more support around the Council table for light rail. LRT had emerged as an election issue in the race for RMOC Chairman between Darrell Kent, Peter Clark and Frank Reid. Kent proposed an elevated rail system through the downtown core. He lost the election but elevated LRT to a new level. Peter Clark won the election and was open to new ideas.

Councillors such as Nancy Mitchell worked with me to integrate LRT as part of the Master Transportation Plan. The Ottawa-Carleton Council of 1991-1994 would change the future of transportation planning forever. The Preston-Champagne Arterial would never materialize and rail would overcome the bus transitway. 

In 1997, Bob Chiarelli defeated Peter Clark as new Chair of Ottawa-Carleton Region. With the help of the Preston St BIA, Chiarelli supported the north-south CP Rail corridor for an LRT route. It didn’t hurt that Chiarelli grew up in Little Italy. In 2001 the O-Train was launched at the corner of Preston & Carling Ave.

David Jeanes & Tim Lane, members of Transport 2000, did tremendous volunteer work to promote LRT.  They kept the Transportation staff ‘on their toes’ and made presentations to community groups. In the east end, LRT was being promoted by Gloucester’s Royal Galipeau.

Light Rail influenced the outcome of yet another election in 2006 when Bob Chiarelli lost against Larry O’Brien in part due to Chiarelli’s proposal for an above-grade LRT system on Albert St. The merchants were very upset. Larry O’Brien campaigned against this as well as the north-south rail route. The new Ottawa City Council nixed the contract for north-south rail (big mistake) at a cost of millions of tax dollars. Planning then began for an East-West LRT route.

In the 2010 election, Jim Watson departed Queen’s Park and defeated Larry O’Brien for Mayor. Watson pledged to bring in LRT ‘on-time & on-budget’. In 2012 he cancels the agreed LRT station at the iconic location of Confederation Square in front of the NAC (so much for the speeches on world-class cities). Jeff Gillin of the Lord Elgin Hotel offered $2 million to the city. Watson refuses. The NAC and NCC lament the change but do nothing despite the major funding from the federal government. M.P.’s Muril Belanger and Paul Dewar raised objections.

The LRT station planned for the Rideau Centre is retained and to this day, the big question remains: How much money did the Rideau Centre contribute?

Today ongoing debates on the route of LRT going east and west continue. But LRT has finally arrived. It reminds us that politics is about managing change and this is a major one. LRT was not inspired by government staff or any one politician. It was the vision and challenges of private citizens and volunteers that facilitated community discussion.

The debates and implementation of LRT shows us how individual actions can make a difference despite big government; and should serve as a reminder to our elected officials on the importance of public participation.

Ottawa Loses One of the Good Guys

Gord McDougall’s Death Saddens Our Community

The news that longtime broadcaster Gord McDougall had passed away Thursday shocked his friends, former colleagues and many in the public who felt they knew him from years of hearing him on CFRA. The shock of course was followed by such incredible sadness.The news of his passing came through his family on Facebook. “With deep sadness we share with you that our brother, uncle, colleague, and above all else, our friend Gord Murray McDougall passed away at home yesterday.  “He loved working in radio, loved getting his second chance on CTN, loved being TV Gord and especially loved all his friends on and off Facebook. “He was a very social person and at the same time very private. “If you would like to do something to honour his memory, I know he would  be happy if you register to be an organ donor, make a blood donation or  donate to the Heart Institute.”

McDougall’s sister Leanne was a transplant recipient, and she and Gord were very close before her passing. He would frequently talk to me about her as we would often sit together covering Ottawa City Council.

“If any/all of those are not possible,  you can also honour him by searching out and watching an episode of the  Partridge Family, Brady bunch or any Norman Lear show,” the obituary continued.

He loved radio, but also loved television, and went by the monicker TV Gord because of his passion for television and his extensive knowledge of all things tv.

Gord was hilarious. always insightful, incredibly kind and just plain fun. He felt like a true friend, though we rarely saw each other outside of city hall. He always resisted my efforts to get him to Barrhaven because of Ottawa’s transit system. Can’t say I blamed him!

Howard Bloom posted this on Facebook, aptly pointing out he simply couldn’t imagine there was anyone who didn’t like Gord. Not many of us can say that. I know I sure can’t! “There will never be enough words to describe how much I like Gord, we worked together for a short time at different radio stations owned by the CHUM Radio group. That said, once I left the Team 1200 Gord always kept in touch, his infectious, wonderful, kind personality always shining. I’m willing to bet all the money in the world no one ever had a bad word to say about Gord, he was that rare person who you’re blessed to know, who makes you feel great just by knowing him. He was always happy, always caring – Gord your legacy will last forever, you set the bar for what a person should strive to be. Much love to your soul, I’ll never forget you my friend.” Lovely.

Another of those saddened by Gord’s passing was CFRA’s Rob Snow.
“Gord was like the Swiss Army Knife of the radio newsroom. “He was indispensable. “If you needed someone at the courthouse, you could send him there. If you needed something from City Hall, Gord would get the story. You could send him to crime scenes or a Teddy Bear picnic, it didn’t matter, he could do it all. He could read a newscast, do feature reporting. Everything. A total pro. “His passion was TV. He seemed to know everything about it. And he had a winning persona as TV Gord. “He loved radio and everything about it,” Snow wrote to On the City, From the Burbs

Former mayor Larry O’Brien also tweeted about his respect for Gord.
“When I was mayor he was always fair and gracious when he was interviewing me on behalf of CFRA. A good man will me missed.”

Former colleague Shelley McLean helped Gord launched TV Gord. “I can’t believe you’re gone. I’m still in shock by the news.”Together, we made TV Gord a reality and developed a following. You had many fans – it always amazed me how much people loved listening to your weather of TV knowledge as much as I did.”You were a man of mystery. Very private but you let me in. We talked. We didn’t always see eye to eye but we always had each other’s back. That’s what friendship is about,” McLean posted on social media.

According to his family, details of a celebration of life will follow.

Every Time People Come Out, It Changes Hearts: Alex Munter

It was a much different world for homosexuals back in 1993 when Alex Munter announced he was gay. Like Mayor Jim Watson did yesterday, Munter also made his public declaration in an op ed piece in the Citizen. 

I knew I was gay, my friends knew I was gay, I had a life as a gay person, my colleagues at work knew. So I was in this weird space after I was elected that I obviously didn’t deny it, but is was sort of don’t ask, don’t tell. It was a really dishonest place, so ironically I wrote an op ed in the Ottawa Citizen, which seems to the the place of choice! It was a scary thing to do, nobody had ever done it in Ottawa and just  eight or nine in the country. I remember the day before, driving around Kanata with copies of the op ed for folks I needed to see it. Some of them were folks who were either involved with religious communities. Without exception, the reaction was kind and affirmative and supporting form those folks. That was very touching affirmation and of a different time.

Asked what he thinks of Watson’s announcement, given that it’s taken him 40 years of keeping a secret to come out. As always, Munter handles his answers with both honesty and grace.

“I’m not super comfortable with the comparison. Everyone follows their own path. And I would say everyone follows the same process but in a different timeline. Some get there faster, people do it when they’re ready. It’s different for different people. I think everybody who is a gay, lesbian or any LGBT person, that for their own happiness should come out as soon as they’re ready, follow their own timeline but don’t wait 40 years.

And that’s pretty much what you can extrapolate from reading Watson’s piece. I think many of us hope that part of the push in the mayor’s timing is that he might be in love, and no longer wants to hide that. That is pure speculation on my part, but I don’t believe as some are suggesting that someone had something over him, questioning the rush to come out. Rush? A 40-year rush? Why can’t people just be happy for Watson who has chosen to love openly.

After a couple of negative blogs, Watson stopped returning my calls. Am I cynical enough to believe he wouldn’t have turned his back on me if I was still writing for a daily? Yes, absolutely. But while I may differ with him and differ often on his politics, I really am overwhelmed with the prospect of the happiness that he’s chosen to embrace.

“Every time people come out, it changes hearts,” Munter said.
Of course, when Munter came out, the world wasn’t as forgiving. And he acknowledges his parents had difficulty when he told them.

“I was a teenager, I was just barely a teenager. It was hard for them, it wasn’t what they expected or what they hoped for. Their first response was, “We love you” but it took a few years before they were comfortable with it, but I always knew their feelings were rooted in love and I never doubted that,” he said.

That doesn’t surprise me. Everything Munter has said to me about his parents has lead me to believe they are strong and supportive parents. I remember one story he told me about going to school, really not speaking English, (his parents spoke German at home) and his first teacher called him stupid. He had no idea what the word meant, but went home and asked his mother about the conversation and what the word stupid meant. She told him it meant she had to have a talk with his teacher!

“I absolutely believed my chances in life would be a limited because I was gay, that’s a painful thing to experience,” Munter said. But a quick look at his extensive resume makes that clear that on this one point, Munter was wrong. Doesn’t happen often. Of the changes made over the years in public acceptance of gays, and the success of openly gay people, these would have been “science fiction to my teenaged brain,” Munter said.

Now the president of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Munter first made his mark on this city as the 14-year-old whiz kid who started up the Kanata Kourier, publishing it out of his basement. Within four years, the paper had a staff of seven and a circulation of 10,000 in the town of 27,000 and he eventually sold it for somewhere around $300,000. He was a much-beloved Kanata councillor for years and ran a successful campaign for mayor of Ottawa, coming second to Larry O’Brien. And those are just a few highlights.

“I think it’s a whole other world. We’re still in the world of firsts. Jim Watson is still the first openly gay mayor of Ottawa. I think the legal protections that were absent in 1993 for gay and lesbian people have been secured, social attitudes have changed and have evolved. I remember talking to you years ago, it’s better than it was 10 years ago, not as good as it will be 10 years from now.” The virus of homophobia, it takes different forms. But there are still gay bashings, lots of horrible stuff online and  there’s still lots of people who just are not at a place where they feel comfortable enough to come out,” Munter said. “I think for Jim, first and foremost, this will change his own life for the better and for that reason alone, it’s an important thing to do. We’ve all been there and all understand what a difficult step it is, every time someone comes out, it changes the hearts and minds around you. When you’re the mayor, this will change other peoples lives for the positive.”

Watson Comes Out as Gay and That’s a Great Thing

Having known Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson for more than half my life, I have to believe his story openly acknowledging being gay was incredibly difficult for him to write. Watson is a control freak, something he absolutely acknowledges. And while the world has changed incredibly over the years, he knew when penning the piece, he couldn’t control people’s reaction.

Thankfully, the world has changed dramatically since Watson realized he was gay, and it seems through reading Twitter, the public is simply happy their mayor now has acknowledged something he has kept secret for a very long time. But yet, it makes me a little sad to know the turmoil he’s endured. 

I used to often say that everything I understood or knew about being gay I learned from talking to Alex Munter. Munter is now of course the president of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, but he was also the first openly gay local politician in Ottawa back in the early 90s. I was always incredibly curious about being gay and any question – no matter what it was or  even  how intrusive it was – Munter was happy and willing to respond. There were times I felt he was willing to educate one ignorant person at a time. It’s pretty impressive when you think about it, maybe even if you don’t.

I remember asking him once about the public reaction to his declaration, and he suggested that over the years, there was very little negative reaction. But when I would write about him in those days, I would get incredibly outrageous and ugly reactions to “that fag.” It made me sick to my stomach. Despite my ignorance about homosexuality, I never had any negative feelings towards those who were. And if you are lucky enough to know Munter, you wouldn’t either. I recall saying to him that I didn’t really understood the pressure to acknowledge being gay, that straight people were never pressured to declare their sexuality.

He cut me off quickly. “Susan,” he said, “you declare your sexuality with most everything you say, when you talk about being married, when you talk about your kids, you’re letting people know”

I’d never thought about it that way.

And now, Munter and his partner are the parents of a son, and I’d like to scream that from the rooftops. 

Today, Mayor Jim Watson wrote an oped piece in the Citizen acknowledging he was gay. I’ve known Watson, as I’ve written many times, since our days at Carleton University. He was the president of the Rideau River Residence Association (RRRA) and I was the news editor of The Charlatan. He claims that when I quoted him in a story in his role as the head of RRRA, it was the first time he’d been quoted in a paper. I’m paraphrasing, but the quote included the statement that he would never make a good politician! I’m going to leave that one alone today!

But as Watson suggested in his piece, he believes his friends and family always presumed he was gay. I was certainly one of those, and certainly, being at Carleton at the same time, I wasn’t alone. And during those days, it just wasn’t an issue for any of us. It certainly makes me sad that Watson has felt he needed or wanted to keep this private.

I remember a time, I believe it was a celebration for his 30th birthday at a bar on Elgin Street, that myself and another reporter at what was then the Ottawa Herald, dropped by for a drink. For whatever reason, his friend – who I won’t name – acknowledged Jim was gay. And he also thanked us for coming, saying Jim wanted celebrities there!
Well, neither of us were even close to being celebrities, but….if it made the Birthday Boy happy, what the heck! 
I’m happy for Jim Watson, and even happier to see the positive reaction to his pronouncement. You did a good thing today and I desperately hope that by day’s end, that’s what you’re feeling.