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OTAG calls for Lansdowne "back-up" plan

Posted by Alistair Steele

The Ottawa Taxpayers Advocacy Group is urging city manager Kent Kirkpatrick to pursue a "back-up plan" to pay for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park. The fiscal conservatives at OTAG say if the court challenge by a group fighting the Lansdowne deal succeeds, Ottawa taxpayers will be out "millions," with nothing to show for it. OTAG believes Kirkpatrick should pursue a federal funding commitment, just in case. Here's their news release:

OTAG presses City to seek alternative funding for Lansdowne redevelopment in face of potential legal defeat

Ottawa, Mar 21 - In an email to Ottawa City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick, Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group President Kevin MacDonald pressed Mr. Kirkpatrick to seek alternative funding as part of a backup plan for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park and a new sports stadium.

"In the face of Rosen & Associates' scathing review of the Lansdowne Partnership Plan (LPP) financial proposal, we are concerned that if the Friends of Lansdowne legal challenge is successful, the Lansdowne Partnership Plan will collapse and Ottawa taxpayers will be stuck with the bill, with nothing to show for it," MacDonald said.

In the email, MacDonald asked if the City is considering pursuing federal and provincial funding as part of a back up plan that assumes an OSEG defeat. Our City management, he said, should be hard at work on an alternate plan should OSEG fail in its bid.  

MacDonald pointed to the delayed construction and the recently announced delay in CFL football as evidence of cracks in the current plan.

With the Liberal Party of Canada's recent commitment to fund new stadium projects, OTAG would like the City of Ottawa to pursue all funding alternatives including the Liberal commitment if they are successful. "Clearly we need to ask these questions now before the Federal Candidates start knocking on doors".

"Too much time, energy, and millions in taxpayers' money has been invested in this project already to see it go to waste," MacDonald said. "Even if it means starting over and returning to an open competition in order to be eligible for provincial and federal funding, we want to see Ottawa taxpayers' existing investment in this project protected."

Mr. MacDonald is currently awaiting a reply to his letter from Ottawa City Manager, Kent Kirkpatrick.

OTAG is right about one thing: No government is going to fund a sole-sourced deal like the LPP. Killing this plan will mean starting over, and could mean many more years with Lansdowne Park left in its current state.

But is it planning?

Posted by Alistair Steele

My colleague Giacomo Panico was perusing the city's Official Plan recently when he came across something interesting. There amongst the secondary plans adopted by city council in 2003 are the designs for the various former municipalities, including the old City of Ottawa. Within those, you'll find illustrations for specific areas, such as "The Core."

index_en-1.jpgOr my personal favourite, "The Canal."

index_en-5.jpgIt's probably safe to say city engineers won't be relying too heavily on these whimsical drawings for future construction projects. But I for one would love to see more of this kind of thing to brighten up dull city documents. Maybe Bhat Boy's looking for a new project...


City responds to LRT cost claim

Posted by Alistair Steele

There was quite a bit of chatter at Ottawa City Hall this morning about this story by Le Droit's man at Ottawa City Hall, Fran├žois Pierre Dufault. The story refers to a September, 2008 document from the Transport Minister obtained through access to information in which the cost of the first phase of the city's LRT project is pegged at $2.1 to 2.8-billion. At the time, the official cost estimate was $1.8-billion, and the deputy city manager overseeing the project, Nancy Schepers, was quite open about the fact that the figure could grow by 25 per cent.

Anyway, here's how the city responded to the article:

"The Phase 1 referred to in the article is a Transportation Master Plan (TMP) term that denotes multiple transit projects including: Blair to Tunney's LRT with tunnel in the downtown (current project), Tunney's to Baseline LRT (Western Corridor), and several BRT projects. The TMP estimate for this phase was $3.03B.  The current project - Blair to Tunney's with a tunnel in the core - is increment one of Phase 1.  In total there are three increments of Phase 1.

The email originating from the federal official was likely referring to the different options that were outlined in the TMP update that explored alternative implementation phasing for the entire transit network.

The current projects $2.1B dollar cost estimate was developed as part of the functional design in late 2009 and was approved by Council in January 2010.  At no time has there been any internal or external communications that indicates that the estimate is, or has ever, been higher.

 The project cost estimate is not going up. The preliminary engineering team (comprised of industry experts from around the world) has been directed to design a system that matches the $2.1B cost estimate. So the cost estimate that will be presented to Council in July 2011 will be $2.1B or under."

Police chief questions silence

Posted by Alistair Steele

Is there a lack of public discussion on the City of Ottawa's 2011 budget? Police chief Vern White seems to think so. Here's what he said to reporters earlier today outside the Champlain Room, where the Police Services Board had just adopted the police budget, and where no one from the public gallery took up chair Eli El-Chantiry's invitation to ask questions:

"We've been to all the public forums. I don't think there's been a question to the police or about the police budget yet, which is a bit of a surprise...I do wish that the public were asking more questions overall about the budget of the city, I mean I think that's healthy for the city. I'm not hearing a lot of questions...I wish there was some grassroots discussions going on, and I'm not hearing them. If they're happening, I'm not hearing them."

Why does Chief White think that is?

"How long have you known (the city's budget target) has been 2.5 per cent? Months, right? I mean there's not really a debate around the budget this year. It's more of a discussion about what is 2.5 per cent impact, 12 dollars per home kind of thing...I think debate is important around all aspects of public accountability, and I think certainly on the budget debates."

Chief White is correct: Police Services Board Executive Director Wendy Fedec confirms there were no public delegations when the board first debated the budget back on January 24th. There was none at the board's regular meeting on February 28th. And there was none today. There may have been some questions put to officers who attended the five multi-ward budget consultations. But the fact that there's no official record of this indicates how much weight those questions carry.

The fact is the force was able to find the $6.1-million needed to meet council's 2.5 per cent tax decree with relative ease. It will become a much more difficult task in 2013 and 2014 though. White promises uniformed positions will remain unfilled. He says the public will notice a reduction in service. 

The chief also seems to be commenting here on a general lack of consultation on the City of Ottawa's 2011 budget. While public delegations were heard at the committee stage, there will be no comments or questions from the peanut gallery when councillors begin debate tomorrow. They made sure of that when they passed this new budget process back in December.


City councillors pay it forward

Posted by Alistair Steele

So no big scandals in the detailed office expenses posted on the City's web site this week. Councillors have had it drilled into them by the clerk's office: Charge sunglasses and underpants to your office budgets at your peril. So far they seem to be listening.

What the expense reports do reveal is how big-hearted some city councillors can be. West Carleton-March councillor Eli El-Chantiry donated $2,035, or nearly one per cent of his annual office budget, to purchase an aluminum sign for the Fitzroy Harbor fire station. Apparently there wasn't enough money left in the construction budget to get the firefighters a sign, so El-Chantiry bought one for them.

There are smaller donations too. Orleans councillor Bob Monette gave $250 to the Club Citadel condo board for interest accrued on their water bill. Monette says the City had been billing the wrong address, but was unwilling to own up to the mistake. Then there's Osgoode councillor Doug Thompson. He contributed $100 to help send a young constituent, Kristina Alexander, to Carnegie Hall in New York City. Alexander is working on her Master's in voice performance at the University of Ottawa. She performed Berlioz's Requiem on the famous stage under the direction of renowned conductor Robert Spano.

Andy Haydon's VIP parking

Posted by Alistair Steele

A few years ago we did this cheeky story about Andy Haydon's trick for getting free parking at Ottawa City Hall. The former regional chair was leaving his silver VW Cabrio in the media lot at 111 Lisgar, and placing an official-looking "CBC Newsworld" sign on the dash to avoid both a ticket, and the $12 fee to park underground with everyone else.

Haydon's been popping up at City Hall again lately, including at today's Finance and Economic Development Committee meeting, where councillors were briefed on the LRT project. So where's Haydon parking now? Same place. Different sign.


Well he is passionate about maintaining the Transitway. And as I concluded back in 2007, when half of City Hall is named after you, I guess you can park anywhere you want.