As the Ottawa municipal election approaches on Monday, tensions between many groups and issues have surfaced as never before.
First, we have the urban, suburb and rural split. Each is debating that they don't have enough say at city hall. Bandied about are several suggestions but none seems to have caught the voters' imagination.
One idea creates a borough representative that would have parts of the urban, suburb and rural areas under its jurisdiction. A second idea suggests fewer councillors, but how will this increase the communication between constituents and city hall?
A third parleys the idea of council reform based on the New Hampshire House of Representatives, which has over 400 members (the state has a population slightly bigger than Ottawa), each of whom is paid an annual honourarium of $200 for their service to the state. Each takes a small role and meetings are held on evenings and weekends. Former mayors attempted to stack the council with unequal representation between rural, urban and suburban voters to no-one's satisfaction. The debate continues.
Developer and corporations versus small business/citizens' wellbeing is another tension on the agenda and this one is getting hot.
The latest boondoggle to grace Ottawa City Hall is the Landsdowne Park revitalization plan. Based on one uninvited bid by a group of developers, this plan has mushroomed into a phase 1 project which the consortium hopes the new council will approve in November, right after the elections. It didn't seem to matter that it was one bidder, that the developers plan to put in a shopping mall, as well as remove a City park to build private condos, that the lease was a sweet deal or that local small businesses along Bank Street in the Glebe and Ottawa South were against it. The only councillor that has challenged the developers consistently is Clive Doucet who is running for mayor and who vows to review the process before anything goes ahead.
In just about every ward there has been infractions by developers that have contravened the Planning Act. Developers are getting their way whether it is to increase height restrictions, or densities or traffic patterns that contravene the established planning guidelines. Why does Ottawa have a plan if it is not adhered too?
One of the bigger malcontents is the way the mass transit system has been aborted despite the installation of the demonstration O-Train, a light rail transit (LRT) system, several years ago, running from Lebreton Flats near the Ottawa River and heading south through Carleton University to its end in South Keys. The last LRT system plan, under Mayor Larry O'Brien was cancelled, at a cost of approximated $37 million in penalties.
The tension that surfaces here is the plan favoured by O'Brien and mayoral candidate Jim Watson for a tunnel through the rock-based downtown core which has a price tag of $2 billion to $3 billion and will take upteen years to complete, versus a light rail system proposed by supporters of candidate Clive Doucet, which he says will be East-West and North-South as well as to Gatineau, completed in four years at a much reduced cost. It is interesting to note that the O'Brien and Watson campaigns accept developer and union donations while Doucet does not.
The final tension to discuss is the one between mainstream media and the internet blogs. Talking to candidates, there is a lot of dissatisfaction and angst at how the mainstream media is covering the campaigns. The blogs, streaming video and candidate websites give a great deal more depth and coverage to this race. As well, more than any other election, we have had citizen-organized debates for mayor and council races throughout the city. This shows a rise in consciousness and a growing concern by the citizens of Ottawa that the status quo is not acceptable. A great deal of this push, I feel, has been helped along by social media tools and certainly despite the mainstream media malaise.
Despite the tensions, more dialogue and debate has been a good thing but the question is are enough people listening and will enough people vote. Let's hope so at least for our children's wellbeing if not our own.
Ken Bilsky Billings is an activist, blogger and member of ActCity Ottawa. He can be reached at:
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