A Tale of Two City Councillors

Two Ottawa city councillors had life-changing events occur in their lives this week.

One will be celebrating, the other will be forced to re-exam his future.

For Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney, who saw charges of corruption against him withdrawn, it’s a week worth celebrating.

Seems little doubt Tierney got off easy. He will have to give up two months salary. Small price to pay. And he can now stop plotting for ways to get his wife Jenny Tierney into his municipal seat under a scenario where he feared he would lose his job.

A quick recap: On the last day of registration for the 2018 election, Michael Schurter, a real estate agent who had nothing but good things to say about Tierney, registered to run against Tierney with just minutes to spare before the deadline.

I phoned Tierney to get his reaction. He was freaking out, apparently with his extended family on hand – getting ready to pop the champagne to celebrate what he had hoped was going to be an acclamation.

Then, according to OPP documents, Tierney called Schurter on his cell phone. Schurter put the call on speaker phone and three people in the Elections Ottawa office alleged they heard the councillor offer to make a donation to a local food bank if Schurter withdrew his candidacy. 
(Remember what happened to former mayor Larry O’Brien when he was accused of offering mayoral hopeful Terry Kilrea an incentive to drop out of the race?)

Schurter contacted the police, and the OPP anti-rackets division charged Tierney with “corrupt practices,” or bribery. I should mention I had a visit from the OPP myself, who wanted to discuss in further detail my phone conversation with Tierney. 

It was an ugly time, with the super-paranoid Tierney flipping out over what his huge mistake in phoning Schurter could cost him.

But now that’s all over for Tierney and his family. Perhaps that bottle of champagne was actually popped!

What is still so puzzling is why Tierney was so desperate to be acclaimed. It would have been an easy romp to a re-election victory – and while he gets to keep his job – clearly his reputation has been tarnished!

The week hasn’t been as kind to College Coun. Rick Chiarelli.

Chiarelli is a longtime city councillor with a wicked sense of humour he often uses against Mayor Jim Watson. The media loves a good quote, and Chiarelli delivers. When Watson unveiled a budget with questionable numbers, Chiarelli called it a Christmas Miracle. The media ate it up, Watson fumed. Chiarelli also had the audacity (and yes, that’s sarcasm) to beat Watson’s former employee Ryan Kennery in the last election.

According to a story by the CBC, Chiarelli has been accused of asking inappropriate questions during a job interview to a woman seeking employment at city hall. The woman has since filed a complaint with Ottawa’s integrity commissioner, suggesting she was asked inappropriate questions of a sexual nature during a job interview.

The same CBC story also said the corporation had spoken with several others  who’ve worked in Chiarelli’s office, and a number of those said they’d heard the councillor make inappropriate comments in the workplace. 

It’s a sad, ugly story wherever the truth lies.

Not surprisingly, Chiarelli isn’t talking to the media and is now apparently on sick leave.

The Week That Was (Sept. 1-7)

SORRY, NOT SORRY: Okay, so the phenomenal win on Saturday evening by Canada’s own Bianca Andreescu in the U.S. Open championship may not exactly be municipal news, but impossible not to mention.

The Mississauga champion beat tennis great Serena Williams to become the first Canadian to ever win a Grand Slam singles title. And of course, being a Canadian, she apologized to the public on hand, saying she was sorry for beating their favourite! Nice touch. As someone who recently visited Greece, our reputation for apologizing is well-deserved. I would find people pushing and shoving me in the throng of crowds and found myself apologizing.

All of Canada is so proud.

TRAIN TROUBLE: In less than a week, the city’s light rail system will go live. And is there anyone out there that doesn’t fear trouble on the tracks? 
The past week makes everyone’s concerns more valid. Just a few short days after the city took over the $2.1-billion LRT system and with the official opening slated for Sept. 14, more than half of the Confederation Line was shut down for hours this past week.

On Wednesday, the light rail system wasn’t running between Tunney’s Pasture and Hurdman stations for several hours.
Three trains were stopped in the downtown tunnel. Two of the trains finally went to Tunney’s Pasture, and the third was taken to the east end. As a result, several radio units needed to be reset.

Is any of this comforting to potential LRT users?

Will transit head John Manconi eventually be physically pushing the trains with a bunch of the city’s bureaucracy behind him? Can you imagine? Maybe you can.

TRASH TALK: So the city of Ottawa has decided it won’t extend the collection contract of a major garbage company that has failed to consistently abide by pickup schedules for communities in the west suburbs.

Waste Management has been receiving heat because it hasn’t always collected residential garbage in a timely fashion. The company has the city collection contract in Kanata, Stittsville and the surrounding communities in west Ottawa.

City council was told Waste Management would no longer be collecting residential trash in the west zone starting next June.
A memo from solid waste services director Marilyn Journeaux, a fellow/former hockey mom, says council will be asked to approve a contract with Miller Waste Systems for the west zone garbage collection.

HOW HIGH CAN YOU GO?: A larger transit tax increase could be the new norm for municipal budgets this council term, unless the upper governments pump more money into city hall’s public transit program. This according to a news story by the Sun’s Jon Willing.

A proposed 6.4% increase to the transit levy in 2020 wasn’t being considered as the long-range financial plan for transit called for the specific tax to rise by the same rate as transit fares.

The Ontario PCs  shut down a plan by the former provincial Liberals to double gas-tax transfers to municipalities. 
Can’t blame Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson for this – no way he would have known.
“The federal and provincial governments have the most ability to generate revenue through taxation and fees that we don’t have,” Watson said this week, according to Willing.

IDEALIST CLIVE DOUCET RUNNING AGAIN: According to a story in the Ottawa Citizen, former city councillor and mayoral candidate Clive Doucet is set to announce he’s running for MP for the Green Party in Cape Breton, where he has a home and where his heart is. Doucet said he’s always seen himself as a municipal politician. But honestly, I’m excited at the prospect of him being part of a group of like-minded individuals. And seriously, if he were running for the Green Party in my riding, he’d have my vote. Few politicians are as sincere as he is. Just recently chatted with him on CFRA on the Rob Snow show, and it made me realize that while I seldom agreed with him, I do miss his idealism. It’s perfect for the country and the Green Party.

Heading Back to School, Waiting for my CPP!

There’s a bit huge pit in the bottom of my stomach.

On Tuesday morning, after a 37-year hiatus, I’m headed back to Carleton University to embark on my Masters of Journalism. Yes, that’s 37 years, no typo there.

What the heck was I thinking? I have loved being a journalist. There’s really no job like it. Over the years, I’ve been able to meet some amazing people that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to either meet or get to know. And while I always wanted to be a journalist, I sort of fell into my career.

When the Ottawa Sunday Herald started up, with former CFRA broadcaster Lowell Green behind the ambitious endeavour, I sent in my resume – and one weekend evening – got a call from Green. I didn’t get the job, but honestly, just hearing him telling me I was in the running – and that he thought I had a sense of humour, that was everything.

I did eventually start freelancing there. I caught the Herald’s interest when they gave me a freelance assignment to get people’s reactions to an Ann Lander’s column that suggested women preferred cuddling over sex – and I had to talk to people about her column. 

When the Ottawa Sun bought the Herald, I was given a chance at a real career in journalism. It wasn’t easy. In the early days, when I got the spelling of one of my subjects wrong in a story, my boss made it clear my job was on the line. “This isn’t the Herald,” said editor John Paton. (I’m now double checking the spelling of his name!)

All to say, I’ve had some lucky breaks when it comes to being a life-long journalist. And I’ve loved every minute of it. Well, not every minute, but many of them.

But on Tuesday, I’m waking up to attend my first day as a graduate student at the age of 60. Don’t ask why. In truth, I’m barely sure! The first day is a full day of orientation, and even the term full-day strikes fear in may heart. I’ve become so used to doing nothing, I just can’t imagine concentrating for that long.

I know that since taking the voluntary retirement from Postmedia, I’ve spent far too much time sitting in my basement playing Candy Crush and watching some incredibly bad television. (Yes, I’ve seen Dr. Pimple Popper. Don’t ask.)

But I still have a desire to learn. I know how to get to the bottom of a story, but am anxious to learn more about the theoretical side of the business – where it’s headed, where it’s been, a discussion of ethics,

And as I tweeted recently, in one week, I was accepted into the masters program and was approved for my Canadian Pension Plan (CPP).
I need them both!
In truth, I”m terrified. I know I can get to the bottom of a story, but just not at all convinced I’m up to the challenge of completing my Masters of Journalism.

Hope my CPP comes in soon!

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.

The Great Divide

So it seems Capital Coun. Shawn Menard thinks it would be a good thing, in fact, a much better and more democratic process, if the key issues of downtown planning were handled by downtown councillors.

Say what?

Misguided arrogance. Not necessarily surprising, but misguided nonetheless.

I’m not at all sure how old Menard was when the suburbs were brought kicking and screaming into an amalgamated City of Ottawa. But many of us never wanted to be part of this new city, and were quite happy living our lives in Nepean, in Gloucester and Kanata and determining our own fate. The rural parts of Ottawa were equally angry at being forced into being part of a mega-city.

But here we are, part of one big city and now Menard doesn’t feel we in the burbs should have any real influence in how the downtown core – part of our city – grows.

And it’s that kind of misguided thinking that in part prompted me to start this blog under the name On the City, From the Burbs. Too often the interests of the burbs are forgotten or ignored by the mainstream media, and councillors like Menard are able to capitalize on that.

Like it or not, we are one big city.

For anyone to suggest that those of us living in the suburbs don’t care about what happens in the downtown core, poppycock. (That’s a word I love, but never use enough!)

Many of the planning issues in the downtown core aren’t simply neighbourhood issues. Did Menard not notice how passionate so many across the city feel about the changes being proposed for the Chateau Laurier? Bike lanes? The quality of the roads? Intensification? The list goes on. And regardless of whether we live in the downtown core or not, these are issues in our downtown core that most of us living in the burbs care about. Many of us work downtown, and planning issues are key in that regard.

Of course, decisions made by committees still go to council where everyone has a vote. But there’s usually very little debate – with the nuances of the issue being hammered out at committee.

Menard laid out his thoughts in an opinion piece which ran recently in the Citizen. And I can’t begin to explain how upset I get when I witness this kind of arrogance from a downtown councillor. We are one city, but Menard doesn’t want those of us who live outside of the downtown core having an important say in a key component of city planning.

When Menard won the right to represent his downtown ward in last year’s municipal election, he was widely expected to become a strong voice for the left on council, someone not afraid to take on the domineering personality of Mayor Jim Watson. He’s certainly succeeding in that role. But here’s the thing, Menard was elected to be both the rep for a downtown ward and as someone who represents the entire city.

Yet he seems to actually believe he can push aside the interests of the suburbs in favour of the downtown core politicians dominating the most important planning issues. Here’s some of what Menard wrote in his opinion piece.

“City Hall belongs to you. City Hall is your building. Council members work for the public and should be tasked with putting the needs of the people first over other demands. That’s democracy. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.

But you live in Ottawa, so you know that too often, City Hall isn’t a place for people, at least not all people. Too often, City Hall is a place for developers.

We saw this last week when the planning committee completely ignored official plans, community agreements and past promises from developers, approving a large change to the secondary plan in Old Ottawa East. The committee didn’t simply rubber-stamp a developer’s desire to change the plans of a community, re-zone the lands of a university that objected and negate years of work; it once again reinforced the message to community members — many of whom showed up to defend our democratically derived plans — that City Hall is not a place for you.

We should not tolerate this disdain for residents.”

Disdain for residents? Seems that’s just what Menard his showing.

His solution is to break up the planning committee into two separate committee, one of which would essentially be composed of downtown politicians dealing with downtown issues, and another dominated by suburban councillors representing suburban planning issues. As Menard rightly points out, currently rural planning issues go to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC), while non-rural issues go to planning committee.

“Building off this model, rural issues would still go to ARAC, but we would have separate committees dealing with issues in the inner wards and those in the outer wards. They would be comprised predominantly of councillors from each committee’s respective area,” Menard wrote.

Well, two wrongs don’t make a right. And further dividing the interests of the city by treating them as separate entities is not at all helpful. And to suggest that suburban residents shouldn’t have a strong influence on their downtown core goes against the very principles of amalgamation.

As Menard and all of city councillors know full well, the reason the present planning committee is dominated by councillors from outside the downtown core is simply because Mayor Jim Watson – who despises debate and controversy – and is happy to punish his detractors by shutting them out of key committees – and he did just that. Don’t punish the ‘burbs for his arrogance.

Fingers crossed Watson won’t be in power forever. And councillors like Menard should be working on building bridges with their suburban and rural counterparts instead of trying to divide this city’s residents.