More coverage of Ontario Votes 2011
CBC Ottawa

Sign, signs, everywhere signs

Posted by Alistair Steele

There are some pretty strict guidelines about when and where candidates can post election signs. The city has its rules. So does the province. Candidates cannot, for example, attach their placards to road signs. Guess no one mentioned that to the O'Brien campaign team:



Hunt Club and Hwy. 416, earlier today. Any other examples of sign infractions? Let us know. 

Whose tweet is this anyway?

Posted by Alistair Steele

Do the mayoral candidates tweet for themselves, or do their tweeps tweet for them? A number of people were asking yesterday, after someone noticed @LarryOBrien2010 was live tweeting the BOMA debate. Only he wasn't. Here's what O'Brien's new media director Jasmine MacDonnell says about her boss:

"The mayor tweets whenever possible, but at times when he's tied up in events he asks his campaign team to keep followers up to date on his behalf."

@JimWatsonOttawa's media guy Bruce Graham also says his boss tweets for himself -- most of the time.

"Obviously during Jim's announcements a staff member might tweet the link to the news release. But Jim's Twitter is on his BlackBerry on his belt or at his computer on his desk. So, obviously not 100% but very close."

@VoteHaydon tweeted furiously after the BOMA debate. Like O'Brien and Watson, Andy occasionally relies on helpers:

"I tweet as many tweets as I can. I write all my blogs and send them to Facebook. I also do my own website. Everything that is posted is written by me. Sometimes, using what I have written, I use a helper to post some of my tweets." 

That leaves Clive Doucet. His communications director Brigid Janssen says tweets from @CliveForMayor come from the campaign team, but tweets from @CliveDoucet are strictly from the man himself. You follow? 

@CliveDoucet will be live on Twitter to answer voters' questions tomorrow, from noon until 1 p.m. And yes, the real Clive will be at the other end of those tweets.


General Patton's new command

Posted by Cory O'Kelly

Larry O'Brien's media guy Mike Patton is leaving the campaign as of this weekend. On
Monday he wouldn't say where, but we probed.

He has a new gig...director of communications for the Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews

The reason he's rushing off from the election campaign? They need him to start Monday.

What ever happened to two weeks notice Mike?

Ring road ruckus

Posted by Alistair Steele

Jim Watson has a few issues with Larry O'Brien's traffic management plan. But it looks like the biggest bur under his saddle is the mayor's ring road proposal. According to O'Brien's plan:

"Ottawa has been debating a ring road since the 1950s when it was included in Jacques Gréber's plan for the national capital. Planning, reviewing and constructing a major highway such as this takes close to twenty years, so Mayor O'Brien will get that planning underway. This proposed road will reduce commute times for residents in outer communities as well as reduce traffic through the downtown core."

Watson has a different take on it. Here's some of what he had to say to a group of seniors this morning:

"Once you look at this you quickly realize that this transportation plan is a throw-back to the 1970's where highways ruled the day and urban sprawl was left unchecked. Mr. O'Brien's plan calls for a billion-dollar highway that would literally exiscerate the Greenbelt. Off-ramps would be added, we'd add to urban sprawl, and massive costs would be shouldered by the taxpayers. The plan is not really a plan at all, it is a wish list."

Following last night's Ecology Ottawa debate, O'Brien told me he wants to start working closely with the province and the NCC to start planning "Highway 418." He also said he's talked with Bob Chiarelli -- before Chiarelli became infrastructure minister -- about the ring road idea, and that Chiarelli "believed the ring road was something that should get back into the planning process."

We just talked to Chiarelli, and he recalls the conversation a bit differently. He says the province's funding priority remains public transit, and a ring road around Ottawa wouldn't be on his government's radar for at least 20 years.

Parks and recreation

Posted by Alistair Steele

The front-runners for City Hall's top job sparred over recreation fees this weekend. On Saturday, Jim Watson delivered this promise to freeze sport and facility fees, which he points out rose 40 per cent over the last two years in some cases. Watson says Ottawans pay far more for fields, court and ice time than folks in Toronto pay. He lays the blame -- where else -- at the feet of Larry O'Brien, who he says "doesn't get" that a healthy city is a more productive city.

Well, guess what? O'Brien shot back, calling Watson "off-side" (get it?) on the rec fee issue. Ottawans are paying more for recreation thanks to the dastardly HST. And let's not even get started on Watson's plan to raise municipal taxes 10 per cent over the next four year.

O'Brien's  tactic here is obvious, and I've mentioned it before: Associate Watson with the McGuinty Liberals at every twist and turn of the campaign. Remind people that Watson was at the cabinet table when these unpopular decisions were made. Maybe something will stick on October 25. Strangely, Watson doesn't appear to be picking up on the vibe. Just today, he tweeted: "Had a great visit to the Old Firehall on Sunnyside and a chance to tour the new addition. Good investment of provincial and city funds!" He might want to think about dropping those shout outs to Queen's Park.

For the record, Clive Doucet was first to champion lowering rec fees, with this announcement last Thursday. 


Doucet on parks, and a couple debates

Posted by Alistair Steele

Clive Doucet want to create more parks. Hard to argue with that. How's he going to pay for it? Watch for his financial platform next week. In the mean time, here's his "Community First" platform:

There are a couple mayoral debates on the horizon. Tomorrow, the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa will host an event at the Chateau Laurier. It's hosted by the CBC's own Adrian Harewood. You don't want to miss this one. 

On Sunday, Ecology Ottawa and a collection of other groups will host a debate with an environmental focus. I'm planning to be there, so watch for tweets @alistairsteele.

Terry's tally

Posted by Alistair Steele

And since everyone's showing off e-mails today...

I promised to post Terry Kilrea's response to my query about his costing of the city's bilingualism policy. Here it is:

Hi Alistair

City of Ottawa printing alone costs $Millions printing everything in French and English sending in to areas where not required. There are staff that work just to set planning and priorities and as we speak,a review is being done to improve and determine where more can be done ,etc.

Language training amongst other things and translation. I know French Language Services Budget is $2.4 Million for the record but affiliated costs are buried in other budgets.

Thanks for the inquiry? I am sure it exceeds $ my estimate but until in the tent,can't get exact costs. If elected, I will leave no stone unturned.

Grant School itself is costing $2 Million now.

I'm still not convinced, but I appreciate the reply nonetheless.

Watson and O'Brien's war of words

Posted by Alistair Steele

If the gloves weren't off already, they certainly are now. Jim Watson and Larry O'Brien went toe-to-toe in a classic political punch-up today, and it's hard to say who won the bout. It began when Watson released this open letter to Larry O'Brien. 

Pretty damning stuff, if you believe that introducing party politics to City Hall is a bad thing. Then O'Brien swung back, with one of the feistiest media scrums of his mayoralty. O'Brien didn't deny authoring the e-mails, but said he doesn't recall the "context" of the exchange. O'Brien freely admitted he thought political parties at the municipal level were "valid" at one time, but says he's since changed his opinion on the matter. Then he said this:
"I do know during a lunch hour that I had with him, and it was probably around the same time, he clearly stated to me, clearly stated to me that he wanted to come back to city council because at the...provincial government you didn't have a pension, and he wasn't a rich man...And he wanted to come back because he enjoyed and liked the pensions that you see at the City of Ottawa. I would never think to bring something like that up during a campaign..."
Um, you just did Mr. Mayor. Oh sorry, you're not finished.
"I think the former McGuinty cabinet minister who said yes to everything that has gone wrong with the City of Ottawa for years and years and years, it's a little rich for him to bring something up...I like the guy, I like the guy very much, but for Jim Watson, a former McGuinty cabinet minister to start throwing these things around just shows you just exactly how panicked he is now that his history of HST, healthcare problems, all those scandals going on in Toronto, he must be starting to think that Ottawa might start getting as smart as Toronto. I never thought I'd say that, but Toronto, my goodness Toronto is getting it, and they don't want another McGuinty henchman running a city...the McGuinty lieutenant that was sent to take over that area is 24 points behind."
So there you have it, a nod to Rob Ford's success in Ontario's other city, and a sign of things to come here in Ottawa. O'Brien will take every opportunity from now until October 25 to link Watson to the McGuinty government's most unpopular policies. He wants voters to make that association too. So how will Watson handle it? So far, he's been unapologetic about his tenure at Queen's Park. He may have to come up with a new tactic.
For the record, Watson denies making the pension comment. And isn't it a bit strange that O'Brien forgets an e-mail exchange, but recalls a comment from the same period?

Meanwhile, O'Brien's camp delivered another blow today with this:
Jim Watson Gets Answer on Ottawa's Sewage Treatment Progress Under O'Brien's Watch

OTTAWA- Today, Ontario's Environment Commissioner Gord Miller tabled his Annual Report, Redefining Conservation, which among other items addressed the issue of sewage overflows into Ontario's rivers and lakes. Miller gave high praise to the City of Ottawa, calling it "... an Ontario leader in controlling overflows into its water."

"Overflows of raw sewage into our region's waterways are simply unacceptable, which is why I took this on as a top priority upon being elected in 2006," said Mayor Larry O'Brien. "With over $250M in combined funding for our Ottawa River Action Plan, we have already made significant progress, and I won't let up until the problem is completely eradicated."

While at Queen's Park, former Liberal cabinet minister Jim Watson called for Commissioner Miller to give Ottawa a dressing down for what he thought was mis-management of the sewage issue by the current Mayor and Council. Today, we learn that while Watson was making noise at the province, the City of Ottawa was getting results. In fact, Mayor O'Brien and Council were busy fixing a legacy problem that was around when Watson was Mayor of Ottawa.

Miller's report states that:

"The Environment Commissioner of Ontario was invited by the MPP for Ottawa Nepean-Carleton to review Ottawa's sewage problems in summer 2009. Even by this time, many improvements had been made to reduce overflows into the river."

The Ottawa River Action Plan not only addresses the problem of combined sewar overflows, but also broader issues affecting the city's waterways, making Ottawa's water cleaner, and its beaches safer.


Incidentally, both Watson and O'Brien will be on hand at Gord Hunter's roast tonight.

Cullen comes clean

Posted by Alistair Steele

When he was asked about this on August 31st, he called the question "unfair." But now Bay Ward councillor and candidate Alex Cullen says it's time to put the rumour to rest:

Cullen not to seek provincial nomination next year

Ottawa City Councillor and candidate for re-election in Bay Ward Alex Cullen today announced that he will not be seeking a provincial nomination as candidate in next year's provincial election, scheduled for October 6, 2011. Councillor Cullen, who had been elected as M.P.P. Ottawa West in 1997, had been rumoured as a potential candidate for the 2011 provincial election. Said Councillor Cullen: "While I had not decided to run provincially, the rumour of me considering this possibility has become an election issue in Bay Ward. The reality is that nominations for candidates for the October 2011 provincial election will likely occur early in 2011 when the new City Council would be dealing with the 2011 budget. In my view it would be impossible to do justice to the City budget while pursuing a provincial nomination at the same time. My priority is to ensure that the concerns of residents in Bay Ward regarding services and taxes are well-represented in the budget process. Therefore, to eliminate any uncertainty I am committing to doing my job as City Councillor for Bay Ward and therefore I will not pursue any provincial nomination for candidate for the 2011 Ontario provincial election."

Not content to leave it there, Cullen continues:

"...municipal government has traditionally been a recruitment ground for both federal and provincial politics. At present three Ottawa-area M.P.P.s - Bob Chiarelli (Ottawa West-Nepean), Madeleine Meilleur (Ottawa Vanier), Phil McNeilly (Ottawa Orleans) - and one M.P. - Royal Gallipeau (Ottawa Orleans) - have previously held municipal office. On the current Ottawa City Council there are 9 members of City Council who have previously sought either federal or provincial nominations for candidates - Rainer Bloess (Innes), Glenn Brooks (Rideau-Goulbourn), Rick Chiarelli (College), Alex Cullen (Bay), Diane Deans (Gloucester-Southgate), Clive Doucet (Capital), Gord Hunter (Knoxdale-Merivale), Jacques Legendre (Rideau-Rockcliffe), Marianne Wilkinson (Kanata North)."

Cullen doesn't say what he'll do (or won't do) if he ISN'T elected.

Big thumbs down from small business

Posted by Alistair Steele

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says City Hall is "underperforming" in the eyes of small business owner. The CFIB has conducted surveys across the province, and released the results for this region today:

A total of 617 businesses in Ottawa took part in CFIB's face-to-face survey between July 2009 and June 2010. When asked, How do you rate the local government where your business is situated on the following issues?, here's how these business owners responded:

· Overall awareness of small business sector - 4% Good;19% Adequate; 77% Poor

· Reasonable property tax levels - 4% Good;26% Adequate; 70% Poor

· Fairness of by-laws and regulations - 4% Good;43% Adequate; 53% Poor

· Control of government wage levels -4% Good;19% Adequate; 77% Poor

· Value-for-money of public services - 3% Good;32% Adequate; 65% Poor

Compared to seven other municipalities (Barrie, Brockville, Collingwood, Kingston, Perth, Peterborough and Quinte West), Ottawa rated poorly in just about every area. Candidates, take note!

Kilrea says "non" to language policy

Posted by Alistair Steele

Bay Ward candidate Terry Kilrea has also been busy. He's on the bilingualism warpath again. Here's his latest:

Kilrea says if elected:

I will table a motion asking for an immediate review and to have this policy suspended IMMEDIATELY until clarification and interpretation is crystal clear.

The way this policy is being interpreted is a recipe for Bankruptcy and needless waste of Tens of $ Millions of Tax dollars or more. There seems to be a sense of entitlement.

...It has gotten to the point that if a resident was burning or being stabbed, they should be allowed to be rescued in their language of choice.

City has an obligation to help everybody regardless of language.

...The interpretation of City of Ottawa Language Policy is a recipe for divisiveness.

"Tens of millions of tax dollars or more?" Really? I've asked Kilrea how he arrived at that figure, but I haven't heard back. I'll keep you posted. In the mean time, here's the city's bilingualism policy.

Taylor calls for spending cap

Posted by Alistair Steele

The ol' in-box was bursting at the seams this morning. Most of the correspondence is from candidates. Mayoral hopeful Charlie Taylor is charged up about the donation rebate. It's an issue that doesn't get a lot of attention, but Taylor thinks it's time it did. He wants to cap mayoral fundraising at $20,000, and limit ward candidates to $5,000. In Taylor's own words:

Most Ottawa residents aren't aware that campaign contributions are eligible for up to a 75 per cent refund from the City. That means a mayoral candidate who spends the limit on his campaign, around $400,000, is actually costing taxpayers as much as $300,000.

This puts taxpayers in the peculiar situation of being forced to pay for their own brainwashing, says mayoral candidate Charlie Taylor.

Spending limits for municipal elections need to be severely curbed in order to ease the taxpayer's burden, and make the election process more democratic, says Taylor.

The fact is very few candidates will come anywhere close to their limit. Most campaign expenditures will be measured in hundreds, not thousands. Those who do build up a war chest undoubtedly have an advantage over their opponents. But they've also worked harder to organize their campaigns and raise the money, so perhaps the advantage is deserved. Taylor continues:

Not only is it unethical to use such large sums of money from the public purse in order to inundate the electorate with propaganda, it is actually counter to the public good, says Taylor.

A candidate who accepts $400,000 worth of donations will likely owe more allegiance to his donors than the electorate making it impossible for him to govern objectively, says Taylor.

That's not an original idea, but it's one that seems to be gathering steam, particularly when Lansdowne Park comes up in debates. We won't get to see who donated to the candidates until they file their papers well after the election. Even then, donors sometimes appear as numbered companies, or filter donations through friends, family and employees. At any rate, most incumbents and serious candidates are against the idea of banning corporate donations. Even if they were for it, the rules governing municipal elections fall under provincial legislation. It's not going to happen. Taylor has more to say:

Also, because media outlets depend on advertising for revenue, there might be a tendency among the media to give preferential coverage to candidates with larger campaign funds in order to encourage political advertising. If the media bills certain candidates as front-runners and fails to cover others, the front-runner status eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are lots of things that may influence media coverage, but I can guarantee ad spending isn't one of them. Revenue from a 30-second ad spot isn't going to make or break CTV or CFRA. If we in the media are billing certain candidates as front-runners, it's because we've seen the polls. Of course, you can argue that public opinion polls are influenced by what respondents have read, seen and heard in the media. There's really no end to the debate, but if Taylor is suggesting candidates with deep pockets are buying favourable media coverage, he's way off base.

Fair Vote Canada tries to make it an issue

Posted by Alistair Steele

Here's a note being distributed today by Bay Ward councillor and candidate Alex Cullen:

Banning Corporate and Union Campaign Contributions:

Let's Put This Issue on the Municipal Election Agenda!

Dear electoral reform supporter:

Campaign contributions from corporations and unions are now banned in federal elections, provincial elections in Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, all municipal elections in Quebec, and in Toronto municipal elections.

For details on why this ban should be extended to Ontario municipal and provincial elections, and throughout the country for all elections, see Fair Vote Canada's backgrounder: Why Ban Corporate and Union Contributions in Municipal Elections? and Professor Robert MacDermid's Funding City Politics study.

Professor MacDermid's study of the 2006 elections in 10 municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area found that the portion of candidate funding from corporations, mostly in the development industry, ranged from 12% to 77% of all reported campaign contributions. In the nine municipalities other than Toronto, the average was a shocking 52%.

Last week, Fair Vote Canada released the results of a survey we sent to 474 city councilors and mayors in Ontario's 42 largest municipalities (other than Toronto, where the ban is already in place).

We asked if they supported the ban - and only 35 councillors and two mayors said yes!

While a ban requires provincial legislation, the impending municipal elections across the province provide a tremendous opportunity to make this an issue that the provincial government cannot ignore.

Can you help turn up the heat? Here are two easy steps:

  1. Ask local candidates, particularly at public meetings, if they support the ban.
  2. Write a letter to your local paper and/or call a talk show and outline why we need the ban.

You can download the Why Ban? paper and use it as a handout.

If you have any questions or would like to report on your actions, contact us at or, even better yet, post your comments on our Facebook page.

So let's get out there in the next few weeks and turn up the heat!

Yours for a strong democracy,

Bronwen Bruch

President, Fair Vote Canada

A Park by Any Other Name

Posted by Alistair Steele

Capital Ward councillor and mayoral candidate Clive Doucet is challenging his opponents to state their position on Sylvia Holden Park. To be clear, we're talking about the strip of grass and trees running from south-east corner of Bank and Holmwood to the general vicinity of the Horticulture Building. We are NOT talking about Lansdowne Community Park, the area adjacent to the Lansdowne parking lot (think ball diamonds, wading pool and dog park). It's being preserved in more or less its current state. There's been massive confusion about the names, and "Sylvia Holden Park" has been used by city staff, councillors, and residents alike to refer to both properties.

Last week the city's Planning and Environment Committee approved the re-zoning of Lansdowne Park, and lumped Sylvia Holden in with the rest of it. If council approves the changes (and it will, by the now-familiar vote of 15-9), then Sylvia Holden Park disappears.

We know where the mayor stands on the issue. Larry O'Brien even sat in on that Planning Committee meeting to avoid an embarrassing loss (it would have risen to council anyway). Jim Watson has said the Lansdowne deal "isn't perfect," but he says he won't reverse council's decision because he's afraid doing so will cost taxpayers millions. He complicated things though when he pledged to stamp out sole-sourcing. Watson's opponents may start asking how he can take the ethical high road during the campaign, then stand on the shoulder after he's elected. O'Brien cancelled light rail because he didn't think is was a suitable plan. Will Watson make good on his integrity pledge and cancel Lansdowne?

Here's Doucet's challenge:

City Council is scheduled to vote on an extremely important motion, attached below, this Wednesday, September 22nd. The motion pertains to the future of a well-loved community park at the corner of Bank Street and Holmwood Avenue, with a street address of 945 Bank Street. The park stretches east to the Horticulture Building on Holmwood and is not to be confused with "Lansdowne Community Park" which was protected by a motion of council on June 28, 2010. 

To date, 15 members of Council, including the mayor, have been supporting the plan to decommission this community park so that the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) can build a 17-story commercial / condo tower and townhomes along the length of Holmwood, with 10-story buildings immediately behind them. This parkland will be lost forever and dozens of mature trees will be destroyed or relocated in the process.

On January 19, 1994, the Council of the old City of Ottawa adopted a policy on the decommissioning of parkland. The policy requires a 2/3 weighted vote of Council to decommission a park and applies to all parks listed in the City's parks inventory, which includes Sylvia Holden Park.

Mayoral candidate, Jim Watson, who represented Capital Ward when Sylvia Holden Park was officially named by Council on December 21, 1994 later wrote in the summer of 1995, in The Glebe Report: "This beautiful park which features three acres of green space and offers a spectacular view of the restored Aberdeen Pavilion is a fitting honour to Sylvia [Holden] and her dedication to the Glebe."

My question today to those running for mayor is this:

Do you support the decommissioning of Sylvia Holden Park at 945 Bank Street against the wishes of the local community and which is contrary to a 1994 policy designed to protect the very parks that we all cherish?

If you support the decommissioning of Sylvia Holden Park, would you also support decommissioning parks in other parts of the City?

Good questions. Will Doucet get any answers?

Arch Rivals

Posted by Alistair Steele

After months of tireless work by skilled craftsmen from China, Ottawa's Chinatown Gateway is almost ready. A lavish ceremony featuring mayor Larry O'Brien is being planned for October 7th, just two and a half weeks before the election. Earlier this year O'Brien embarked on a successful trade mission to China, and is enthusiastic about tightening business ties with that country.

So what do you do if you're O'Brien's chief rival for the mayor's job? Why, you beat him to the punch of course. Timing is everything on the campaign trail, and there's no greater joy for a politician than stealing the other guy's thunder.

Here's the announcement:

On Monday, September 20th Jim Watson will be meeting with leaders from the Chinese community to discuss concerns and ideas. Following the meeting they will pose for pictures releasing the new sign for the campaign written in Chinese characters.

The new sign will be unveiled at 11:45 a.m. in front of the new Archway at the Yangtze Restaurant located at 700 Somerset Street West.



Voting Green

Posted by Alistair Steele

I had originally planned to cover this Friday morning, but a series of unfortunate events on Thursday evening took precedence (a fatal bike accident in New Brunswick, followed by that horrific car crash at a bus stop on Albert Street). Anyway, better late than never.

Ecology Ottawa and EnviroCentre have released the results of what it's calling "the city's first green poll" to coincide with the election. The poll offers an interesting look at where voters stand on environmental issues. Among the key findings:

  • Sixty-nine per cent of Ottawa residents would support charging lower fees for greener buildings, and higher fees for those that fall below industry standards.
  • Four out of every five residents believe the City of Ottawa should implement a more aggressive energy efficiency program for its buildings and services, and use more green energy and fuel.
  • Almost two-thirds of residents think the City of Ottawa should invest its annual dividends from Hydro Ottawa in energy efficiency programs instead of parking the money in general revenues.
  • More than half believe the City should provide interest-free loans to residents and businesses for energy-efficiency and renewable upgrades.

On the surface, it's probably not very surprising that residents support the notion of greener buildings, energy efficiency and help for green businesses. What is significant is that they're also willing to make the financial commitment that goes along with it. However when asked whether the city should "spend less on new roads and instead spend more on improving public transportation, cycling infrastructure and other ways ro reduce traffic," 52 per cent said no. Barely one third said yes. That means that as much as folks say they want to go green, they're not ready to cut spending on roads.

So far the environment hasn't figured very prominently in the mayoral campaign. Yes, public transit has been front and centre at all the debates, but it's usually framed as a city-building initiative rather than an environmental solution. Clive Doucet is so far the only front-runner who's making the environment a focus of his campaign. We've yet to see Jim Watson's environmental platform, and Larry O'Brien -- while he has been a constant champion of the current light rail plan -- is also pushing for a ring road, and is careful in debates to avoid alienating the car-commuting voter.

Ecology Ottawa is also organizing a mayoral debate next Sunday.

What Watson Said

Posted by Alistair Steele

There's been a lot of ink spilled over Jim Watson's big transit announcement Wednesday morning. In fact, Watson's been leaning towards light rail all week. At Monday's OTAG debate, he clearly indicated he was onside with the tunnel plan, provided it can be managed and completed for $2.1-billion. Here's what he said to reporters afterwards:

"I've been very consistent. All I have said is that we've got to keep the costs under control, because a slight variation on the 2.1-billion dollars will put in jeopardy future, other capital projects. I want to see the project go ahead, I want to make sure we don't push another reset button because we did that once under Mr. O'Brien, it cost us over a hundred million dollars. So let's get on with it. We've wasted eight years, over a hundred million dollars, we've studied this now. It should be east-west, it should be with a tunnel, and it should be light rail."

Asked what he'll do if the tenders come in at over $2.1-billion: "I agree with what the mayor said, we need to cut the suit to fit the cloth, because any cost overruns are going to be solely the responsibility of the municipal government, they're not going to be shared by the provincial or federal governments. So it's in our best collective interest that we get our act together on this project, do it right, and make sure that we get this project off the ground."

Watson's claim that he's been consistent on the issue is a bit of a stretch. Just a few months ago, Watson was warning us the city's $900-million share of the project would balloon to $1.4-billion due to cost overruns. Now he says with proper, arm's length management, he'll get it done on budget. The O'Brien team is loving this.

And by the way, I think Watson meant to say "under the ground," but that ship has flown.

Packing the Room

Posted by Alistair Steele

Getting your supporters out to mayoral debates is nothing new. It's a time-honoured tradition at every level of office. But at last night's event, hosted by the Kanata Chamber of Commerce and the Kanata Kourier-Standard, one candidate made especially good use of the home crowd.

As with the OTAG debate, audience members were asked to submit questions and declare which two candidates they wanted to answer them. Larry O'Brien supporters may have a lot of great attributes, but subtlety isn't one of them. Many, if not most of the audience questions last night were aimed squarely at the mayor's main rival, and designed to give O'Brien a leg up. Where do O'Brien and Watson stand on the question of a ring road? We already know the answer: It was one of O'Brien's marquee campaign promises last week. The burning question on another resident's mind: What will the candidates do about the paucity of public washrooms in the vicinity of the War Memorial? Watson didn't really know how to handle that one. O'Brien did. He had an answer all ready, including an account of a meeting with the NCC on that very subject. What are the odds? And what was with all the questions about Watson's ties to the McGuinty Liberals? Everyone's aware of Watson's CV, but forcing him to publicly explain his support for the loathed ecotax and HST is clearly designed to benefit the incumbent. O'Brien's sister even asked a question.

The question that really left people scratching their heads had to do with Capital X-tra, the free newspaper that caters to Ottawa's gay and lesbien community. A woman wanted to know what candidates Watson and Maguire would do to prevent children from seeing such "inappropriate material" in public places. Where did that come from? Yes, there was a story concerning a mother who was upset her child had stumbled upon an ad she deemed obscene in a city-owned building. But that was a year ago. Forgotten until last night. What point was the questioner trying to make, exactly? To Watson's, and especially Maguire's credit, they handled the question smartly and with tact.

On another subject: My CBC colleague Maggie Padlewska is taking on the mammoth task of speaking with every single nominated candidate for mayor and council. That's right, every single one. Watch for her mini-profiles here on our election website, starting with the 20 folks who want the city's top job.

OTAG's Take

Posted by Alistair Steele

For the record, the good people at OTAG think their event went quite well, thank you very much. Here's part of an e-mail they sent around the next day:

The rules communicated to the candidates before the debate include; the audience could only ask a question to 2 people, if approached we would have increased the number to 4 people. There is absolutely no way you can have a meaningful debate if people are allowed to direct questions to all 20 candidates. One Mayoral candidate told us that this was the "best debate they have attended in the history of Ottawa" and some "other debates are only allowing the front runners to participate".

This debate was a win for taxpayers as it means that whoever is elected has committed to implement ideas that will drive change. A lot of effort went into the organization of the debate and we appreciate all the emails of appreciation that we have received from members and the public. We look forward to continuing to speak for the silent majority on the issues of taxes and spending.

I'll go out on a limb and guess the candidate who told OTAG it was the best debate ever was NOT Andy Haydon!

The Debate Debate

Posted by Alistair Steele

One mayoral debate into it, and the perennial conundrum's already dominating the discussion. No, it's not taxes. It's not the tunnel. It's the question of how to run a debate, and everybody's got an opinion.

On Monday night, the Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group hosted the first mayoral throw-down of 2010. It's hard to fault anyone who goes to the extraordinary effort of booking a room, rounding up candidates, and getting bums in seats. Yes there were flaws with the format, prompting a cranky Andy Haydon to get up and leave before the final bell (it hasn't been reported anywhere, as far as I know, that Haydon had a prior engagement and was itching to split anyway...he said so to the audience). He felt he hadn't been included, and he was right: Organizers decreed members of the audience must direct their questions to two candidates only. It should have come as a surprise to no one that nearly all the questions went to O'Brien and Watson, leaving the other seven to twiddle their thumbs. (At one point Joseph Furtenbacher asked, "Can I go sit in the audience?") 

So should organizers have trimmed the debate down to the perceived front-runners? I used to think I knew the answer to that question. Of course they shouldn't. The fringers only molder in the electoral gulag because we in the media aren't giving them a fair chance to air their views. Then, in 2006, the CBC aired a live mayoral debate where we did include all the candidates. We begged the network for the air time, and we got it. All participants agreed to the ground rules. But a few minutes in, one of them objected to the format, which she felt favoured the front-runners. She torpedoed the broadcast for what seemed like 15 minutes (what was that Warhol said again?), ruining it for everyone. She wanted to be dragged from the stage, so she could show the world she was being oppressed.

It's difficult to condemn OTAG for trying to be inclusive. But by inviting nine candidates to Monday's party, and organizing it the way they did, the result was inevitable. The front-runners dominated. When the "fringers" did get a chance to speak, some seemed very reasonable. But others didn't. One, Robin Lawrance, clearly has some personal issues he needs to overcome before he should be allowed to participate in another public debate. Should he, along with other candidates who have no campaign organization, no website, and -- let's be frank -- few good ideas, be given the same air time as the three or four individuals who are working very hard to be your mayor? I'm not so sure anymore.

Walter Robinson has an interesting take related to all this here

Organizers will always have to deal with the problem of balancing inclusiveness and practicality. No one seems to have struck the perfect balance yet, but there's lots of time between now and October 25th to experiment.

Incidentally, Round 2 is tonight. They're expecting 10 or 11 candidates, last I heard.