More coverage of Ontario Votes 2011
CBC Ottawa

That's a wrap

Posted by Alistair Steele

Ottawa has voted for change, in a very big way. Voters said no thanks to six incumbents who were seeking re-election. They said yes to 10 new faces. That's an unprecedented turnover in this post-amalgamation city. Some of them are young and fresh (hello Mathieu Fleury). Some are neither young nor fresh (hello again Peter Clark), but will bring valuable experience to the horseshoe. As a group, this council may have tilted just a bit towards the conservative edge of the spectrum, especially with the loss of such left-leaning stalwarts as Doucet, Legendre and Bedard. But it's just a tilt, not a shift. As a group, they are bound to get along better than the previous council. More important, they're bound to get things done.

Jim Watson says his first order of business is meeting with each and every one of his council colleagues. His second is to meet with Larry O'Brien. Both men are being gracious about it, but this is more tradition than useful exercise. The new mayor can't have much to learn from the old one. Then it's on to the budget, the first real test of his leadership, and his first opportunity to prove this city has turned a corner.

This will be the final entry here, but watch for the new CBC blog, @cityhall (at least that's what I'm calling it for now). Thanks for reading, it's been a pleasure. 

O'Brien speaks his mind

Posted by Alistair Steele

Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get when you interview Larry O'Brien. The mayor's penchant for going off script and floating new ideas in front of the cameras has for four years delighted reporters, and horrified his (several) communications directors. Today's little scrum at a pumpkin carving contest for children at risk was no exception.

On his admission, reported in today's Ottawa Sun, that "I'm not counting on a win":

"Aw, I don't think I ever said that, I think I made a few comments last night to someone who I did not believe was actually a reporter that in fact the polls did not look good....(It's) more or less what I would expect about you know that particular newspaper at this point in the campaign."

On the cruise he's planning to take in November:

"I had that planned for six months...Win or lose, you need a break after a rugged campaign, so we planned that cruise, and it's going to be an exciting cruise. I'm really looking forward to it."

On his council colleagues who chair committees at City Hall:

"You know a lot of the mistakes that I admitted to a little while ago that I did...were all made in the first 10 days when I chose the wrong people to lead committees, when I chose the wrong structure, and added to the difficulties. I would never make those mistakes twice...I'm going to do a lot of restructuring in terms of responsibilities of councillors in terms of committee chairs and co-chairs."

On his criminal trial:

"I think I'm still living with, under the shadow of the trial. I think there's a large component of that in some of the thinking of the people."

On undecided voters:

"Our numbers, and we do them consistently, show that 33 per cent of the people out there who are committed to voting, haven't made up their minds yet. And most of those people were former O'Brien supporters, former supporters of mine, and I have to give them every reason in the world so that when they get into that voting booth that they check that X beside my name."

On City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick:

"My goodness Kent has done such a fantastic job, but every so often you need to refresh parts of the organization, and that would be one that I think council and myself would have to think about very thoughtfully as to what kind of administrative leader we need in the city going forward after his contract expires in April."

The scrum lasted just over four minutes.  

Weekend war of words

Posted by Alistair Steele

It's been a wild and woolly weekend on the campaign trail. It began with Larry O'Brien's vision for growth and community planning on Saturday morning.

Precisely 23 minutes later, Jim Watson's camp sent out a news release headlined: "O'Brien to Scrap Years of Work and Compromise Urban Boundary for Sprawl Plan." It read, in part:

Larry O'Brien is pushing a misguided plan for sprawl that shows a fundamental lack of understanding of both the planning process and the Official Plan according to Jim Watson, candidate for mayor. "This talk of carving a new huge satellite town out of rural and agricultural land means scrapping the planning work our city has done over many decades...Mr. O'Brien's plans would cost the city a billion dollars before a single house was built and would squeeze smaller builders out of the market. Mr. O'Brien has a long track record of making rash decisions without considering their costs and consequences. His decision on the original LRT project cost the city $100m, now he wants to waste all the public participation and millions just spent on renewing our Official Plan."

O'Brien's people responded this morning, accusing Watson of misleading voters about the mayor's vision:

"What Jim Watson is saying is that the Plan is good enough for him, and that he wouldn't change any part of it. Because of his fixation on social engineering and intensification, he is telling residents in the core of Ottawa that they should get ready for an influx of high-rise buildings in their neighborhoods, and that residents outside the core should accept being treated like second class citizens...Jim Watson's view of Ottawa is clearly still anchored in the way things were before the turn of the century, and doesn't embrace the reality of the Ottawa we live in today," said Mayor O'Brien. "In order to realize our full potential as a world-class city, Ottawa needs vision and a sense of the possible, not timid leadership or fear of tackling the real challenges we face," said Mayor O'Brien.

A couple hours later, Watson was standing on the beach at Petrie Island, releasing his platform on sustainability.

Again, O'Brien's camp responded:

"The City does not need bureaucratic green police adding to the cost of construction," said O'Brien. "Just like the Green Energy Act at the province, this would lead to higher building costs for Ottawa, on top of Mr. Watson's promised double-digit tax increase and his planned hydro rate hikes...The plan he released today represents social engineering at its worst," continued O'Brien. "He is proposing a series of small cosmetic changes rather than using the Official Plan for what it was intended to be - a blueprint for a holistic approach to community planning."

O'Brien also questions Watson's claim that as a minister within the McGuinty cabinet, he "fought" for that $600-million provincial contribution to Ottawa's LRT project. 

Watson was a passive player in the process who showed nothing but disdain for the proposed underground tunnel and the idea of a rail-based system until recently. "While it's good that Mr. Watson is now publicly supporting the plan, just months ago he was criticizing it at every turn," said O'Brien. "He has been a Johnny-come-lately to this project, and I think residents are right in questioning whether or not he will actually see it through."

It's not over yet, folks.

Larry O'Brien: The lost tapes

Posted by Alistair Steele

I've had many people ask me why George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight (or the show formerly known as The Hour) canned that interview with Larry O'Brien last week. The segment was taped, but never made it to air.

Here's what I can tell you: When they heard about the interview, CBC executives reminded the show's producers of the corporation's standard policy of treating candidates equitably over the course of a campaign. The policy applies to Strombo's show, as it would to any other CBC production during any other election. We shine the spotlight on all the candidates, or we don't shine it on any of them.

In the end, the decision not to air the interview was the show's. The CBC believes that in the interest of balance and fairness, they made the right choice.

Signs of trouble

Posted by Alistair Steele

Update: October 12, 2010

It's been pointed out to me that Clive Doucet has no lawn signs per se. Instead, he has downloadable signs that people have been putting up in their windows. It's also been pointed out that this process is a bit cumbersome, and so that may help explain why there are four Jim Watson signs on the stretch of Holmwodd across from Sylvia Holden Park, and no Doucet signs. Maybe, but it still doesn't explain why people who are opposed to the Lansdowne development are supporting Watson. The sign owners I spoke with on Sunday struggled to explain it themselves. One wasn't really aware Watson supports the Lansdowne plan, and the other felt Doucet simply isn't a viable choice. The other two weren't home.


I dropped by Clive Doucet's presser at Sylvia Holden Park yesterday. In case you don't know, he's calling on his opponents to leave the strip of grass and trees that forms the northern border of Lansdowne Park alone. Under the current plan to redevelop Lansdowne, the park will disappear to make way for a tower at the corner of Bank Street and Holmwood Avenue, and a strip of 4-story town homes along Holmwood.

You'd think the folks living along the north side of Holmwood would be interested in preserving the park as well. And many, if not most of them are. But they're not showing it with lawn signs. There are exactly five election signs between Bank and O' for Capital Ward candidate David Chernushenko, and four for Doucet's rival for the mayoralty, Jim Watson. Watson has been very clear: If elected, he will not seek to alter any part of the Lansdowne plan, including the condos on Holmwood.



O'Brien takes another stab

Posted by Alistair Steele

Larry O'Brien says a supervised drug injection site could be coming to a neighbourhood near you. What's worse, the province knows where, but won't tell us until after the election.

Here's an excerpt from his news release, titled "PROVINCE SITTING ON DRUG INJECTION SITE STUDY":

"Today, Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien called upon researchers studying the potential for multiple drug injection sites in the City of Ottawa to release their report before the October 25th municipal elections in Ottawa and Toronto. O'Brien stressed the need for Ottawa's residents to know which neighbourhoods are being considered for these sites, and to have the opportunity to determine where Council and Mayoral candidates stand on the issue.

"I am shocked to learn that this report, originally scheduled to be released in the spring of 2010, is being held back by the Province until after the October 25th elections," said Mayor O'Brien. "Our residents have the right to know if one of these sites could pop up in their community...I'm concerned that this report is being held up until after the elections in Ottawa and Toronto so that the province can once again impose their policies on our cities without the community input that debate during this campaign would allow," said O'Brien.

Turns out just about everything here is wrong. There is a study. That much is correct. But the province's involvement is peripheral. The research is funded through the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, a not for profit group that gets its money from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The Network put the funding call out in 2007, and researchers affiliated with St. Michael's Hospital's Keenan Research Centre and the University of Toronto were awarded the $292,312 grant. Their study is titled "Safe Consumption Sites: Potential Impact and Cost Effectiveness in Toronto and Ottawa." One of the co-principal investigators, Dr. Carol Strike, says they're looking at three issues: Whether supervised injection sites encourage a reduction in drug use; how residents feel about the sites; and what "types" of locations would be suitable, and how many...if any.

So, why the delay? Simple, says Strike: "We're not hiding anything. We're just not done." The researchers continue to compile data, and don't expect to release their finding until next year. They say that was always the intended release date. No part of their findings has been released to anyone, including government.

So why would O'Brien make the claims above, before making a few simple phone calls? The research has been going on for two years. Members of the city's Police Services Board have been interviewed for it. Faculty at the University of Ottawa have been involved. Did O'Brien really find out about this "a couple days ago," as he claimed this morning?

As wedge issues go, there are few more divisive than harm reduction programs that, from some perspectives, appear to value the comfort of the addicts over the well-being of the community. Remember the great crack pipe debate? This of course plays right into O'Brien's public safety pledge. "My responsibility is for the safety of the citizens...the men and women and families of the city," he said this morning. "I'm not as interested in the safety of the drug users."

Another thing: The federal government, not the province, will ultimately decide where supervised injection sites go. Under this government, they're not likely to go anywhere. It certainly won't be decided before October 25th.

By the way, the banner on O'Brien's website is worth a look. It shows a glum-looking Jim Watson, a "Top Secret" folder, and a map of Ottawa dotted with needles. You can find O'Brien's full statement on the matter there as well.

The Peter principal

Posted by Alistair Steele

Alta Vista councillor and planning committee chair Peter Hume has an interesting idea that could help nip future building height battles in the bud. He says the revamp is necessary because -- in his own words -- "people don't trust City Hall." Here's an excerpt from Hume's news release:  

"Hume's committee is a recurring battleground where planners, developers and residents clash over what kind of development should be allowed. He says the residents or City Council often escalate their grievances to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) where they frequently lose their cases.

One of the most controversial sticking points is the allowable height of new buildings. Hume plans to bring forward an Official Plan amendment to "pre-zone" areas to introduce fixed height restrictions. He wants the city to place five-storey height limits for traditional main streets and ten-storeys for arterial main streets, except where a Community Design Plan takes precedence."

Hume goes on to say:

"Residents have a right to know what is allowed and we can help them avoid spending a small fortune at the OMB. They usually lose because they are asking for something that does not comply with the Official Plan. Determining areas for height limits beforehand puts everyone's cards on the table. Residents don't trust the city to treat them fairly, and that must change."

That's another refreshing admission, in a week of mea culpas. Especially coming from the chair of the committee that oversees development planning. A couple caveats though. First, Hume is running for re-election to council, and may or may not resume his duties at the helm of the planning committee if he wins. Second, this wouldn't stop developers from taking issues to the OMB. What it would do is make the game rules clear from the outset, and force developers -- not residents -- to explain why those rules deserve to be broken.

The mayor's mea culpa

Posted by Alistair Steele

I've interviewed mayor Larry O'Brien many, many times over the last four years. I don't claim to know him well, but I can tell you I have never seen him quite like I did today. He was subdued, humble, and contrite. There was no swagger, just a very earnest plea to voters. We were speaking about the new poll by Holinshed Research Group. Asked: "If the municipal election were held today, who would you vote for the mayor of Ottawa? (Supporting & Leaning)," 36 per cent of the 396 respondents picked Jim Watson, and just 16.6 per cent chose O'Brien. Nearly 30 per cent were undecided. I asked the mayor what he thought of that, and here's some of his response:

"I think it confirms something that I've been feeling for a number of week, that there's a lot of people out there that voted for me that are, quite frankly they're disappointed in what I did during the first couple of years, and I have to admit that my first two years weren't very good. I was a novice, I made a lot of mistakes, I created a lot of my own problems. And (I) started to catch on after I made a...made a significant effort to understand really what this job is. It's a big job, and as I started to become more comfortable with this, quite frankly biggest job I've ever had in my life, things started to move forward and I'm hoping I can ask for the support of my, you know the people who wanted me to succeed four years ago, ask them to think about supporting me again. The next four years won't be like the last four years. It'll be like the last year times four."

A frank admission, and a big promise. O'Brien will now want to focus squarely on that 30 per cent who haven't decided who they'll vote for. It's also worth noting that, while 64 per cent want a change, 23 per cent think O'Brien has done a good job and deserves to be re-elected.

The telephone poll was conducted from September 28th to October 1st. Three-hundred and ninety-six people responded. The results are considered accurate to within plus or minus 4.92 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The pollster calls that margin "within the industry standard" for this kind of survey.

The Tweeps are not amused

Posted by Alistair Steele

Are folks getting a little tired of the incessant online name-calling between some of our mayoral candidates and their campaigners? Here's just a sample of the tweets from Sunday afternoon that lead me to believe yes, yes they are:

"@LarryOBrien2010 & @ JimWatsonOttawa. If we wanted Rock'em Sock'em robots we'd go to Toys 'r Us!"

"@LarryOBrien2010 could you please stop taking jabs at the other candidates and tell us what you'll be doing for the city instead?

"I think we are all tired of the Twitter between ...the two or three at the top for mayor...lets just focus on what are you going to do...and then do it best you can....."

And my favourite:

"nobody but politico hacks care which babies are being kissed at what location. How about some substance?"

Ouch. I think the tweeple have spoken.