Ottawa city council refused Wednesday to entertain a motion that could have halted all work on a controversial playground at Mooney's Bay, paving the way for the project to go ahead despite opposition from the area's councillor and many residents.
The rules stipulate councillors must give notice of a motion one council meeting before they plan to table it. For a motion to be tabled immediately — known as "walking on" a motion — three-quarters of councillors present must vote in favour of waiving the rules, allowing the motion to be heard.
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That didn't happen at Wednesday's meeting, where 15 members of council, including Mayor Jim Watson, voted against hearing Coun. Riley Brockington's motion, and only seven voted in favour of waiving the rules.
"The reality was, this project is moving ahead, and I'm not sure the point of actually looking at three new sites when the staff in fact did look at all available waterfront sites in the city," Watson told reporters after being asked why he wasn't willing to hear the motion. "And this one was deemed to be the best by far."
City looked at other sites, mayor says
Watson said city staff did look at other sites, including Brewer Park, Vincent Massey Park and Hog's Back Park, but they were found to be unsuitable.
In January, Sinking Ship Entertainment approached the city to build Canada's largest playground at Mooney's Bay for its Giver TV program that airs on TVO. Using children and adult volunteers, the show has built more than 40 playgrounds. Ottawa's — which the company estimates will be worth $2 million — would be a salute to Canada and a 2017 legacy project.
In return, Sinking Ship wanted $1 million in public money, as well as complete secrecy while conducting negotiations. The city signed the deal on May 11.
The playground has been controversial in some quarters almost from the moment it was announced on May 13. Some do not support the specific site at Mooney's Bay, while others were upset about the lack of consultation and transparency.
Pressure from community
Brockington, bowing to pressure from the community, was hoping to move a motion that would have given council final authority over spending the $1 million — instead of a city manager — and direct city staff to assess at least three other possible locations for the massive playground and report back to the community and protective services committee by June 16.
"We clearly have to change the framework that exists that gives the authority to our senior staff, if they have a $1-million authority for a city-wide park," Brockington said after the council meeting. "There needs to be bounce-back to the committee where it's vetted, elected members of council have that final approval, information and say in the project."
As the motion was not even heard, it is likely the playground will go ahead as planned.
Residents hold heated discussion
About a dozen people from the community near Mooney's Bay engaged in a somewhat heated discussion about whether the playground was a good idea.
"This is not a condo, this is not a mega-mall, it's a playground," said John-Paul Cody-Cox, adding that he believes the project will add "social value" to the community.
'This is not a condo, this is not a mega-mall, it's a playground.' - John-Paul Cody-Cox
Others disagreed, with one woman calling the process "a disgrace." Another questioned whether there had been a proper environmental assessment of the project, and one young man — who identified himself as a lifeguard — expressed concern about how safe it was for so many children to be playing by the water.
"I've pulled children out of the water," he said, pointing out that the beach is unsupervised some of the time, including last weekend when it was packed.
But Watson said there's been "misinformation" about this project.
"This is one acre out of 72 acres," said the mayor. "It's a children's playground with teeter totters and swing sets and monkey bars. So I think a lot of what's been said over the last couple of days has been embellished. And I think when people see the finished product — particularly the kids — they're going to love it."