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Ottawa Votes Blog: On the Campaign Trail

Chasing waterfalls

By Paul Jay

by Paul Jay, CBC Ottawa

Lawyers for the Friends of Lansdowne plan to argue in court Wednesday the City of Ottawa gave Ottawa Sports and Entertainment preferential treatment in its partnership over the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park.

In particular, Friends of Lansdowne alleges the city provided OSEG leases at below market value, provided financial assistance to acquire and operate CFL and OHL franchises, and gave preferential terms for OSEG to get money back from their investment in the deal.

Much attention is likely to be spent today on the "waterfall" payment system, in which payments are to be delivered in levels, where level one payments are first handed out before any money is delivered to level two.

The CBC's Giacomo Panico will be reporting today from the court proceedings, but we thought it would be worth it to explain the waterfall levels here online, for a better understanding of how the city fares, financially, under the waterfall scheme, and what issues Friends of Lansdowne has with the plan.

The priority payment structure, as laid out in the partnership plan, is as follows:

Level 1: Annual payments to the City's lifecycle fund - for maintenance and other costs associated with the park - take precedence over all other payments. This is estimated to be $1.3 million in 2013, growing with inflation in years after;

Level 2: Annual payments to both OSEG and the City of eight per cent of their equity stake in the project. OSEG's stake is estimated at $30 million, though expenditures could push that higher, while the city's funding equity is about $13 million.

Level 3: Annual payments to OSEG based on OSEG's minimum equity of $30 million and the city's equity of $13 million.

Level 4: Annual payments to the OSEG partners of a return of additional equity above the $30 million minimum.

Level 5: Annual payments to the City of Ottawa of eight per cent of its deemed equity, valued at $23.75 million;

Level 6: Cash balances after levels 1 to 5 have been fully met are split evenly between the City of Ottawa and the OSEG.

If cash flows are not enough to pay out to all of these levels, annual deficits will accumulate and be paid out in subsequent years.

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Meeting expectations

By Alistair Steele

First it was coffee and cookies at their inauguration, now this. Some Ottawa city councillors are growing tired of the mayor's austerity measures, and whispering "small town cheap" behind his back.

At a special meeting of the city's Finance and Economic Development Committee, Jim Watson and six other members out-voted three of their colleagues to trim attendance at two important out-of-town conferences. Just three councillors will attend June's Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention and expo in Halifax; another trio will travel to London in August to attend the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference. Originally six names were put forward for the FCM gathering, and nine for AMO event.

"At the end of the day we all have to show a little restraint. If we could save $21,000 as we did today and still have a couple of our members go to these conferences, we get the best of both worlds," says Watson. He also suggests the more desireable the venue - say, Whistler B.C. (FCM '09) - the greater the interest among councillors in attending. You don't have to be a travel agent to see the corelation, says Watson. 

Some veteran councillors weren't buying it. Diane Deans, who has attended many of these conferences, calls the decision to send only three representatives "penny wise and pound foolish." At the FCM, delegates vote for a national board of directors. That board sets FCM policy. Reps from the 905, for example, tend to vote as a bloc. Councillors from poorly-represented regions tend to sit on the sidelines. Deans says the FCM conference also provides an excellent opportunity to network with other municipal leaders, and to learn best practices (and hard lessons) through the experiences of other cities. Councillor Maria McRae says the conferences give councillors unique access to provincial and federal ministers. She recalls valuable meetings with Jim Bradley about light rail and the Hunt Club extension. Those meetings bore fruit.

The key, according to all councillors, is that whoever goes to the conferences must share whatever information they glean. Currently councillors are under no obligation to submit reports or brief their colleagues. That must change.

It costs taxpayers $101,816 a year just to belong to the FCM (that's based on population). The city needs to make sure it's getting its money's worth. If it's not, then that $21,000 Watson is saving isn't worth much.

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Welcome to @cityhall

By Alistair Steele

Welcome to @cityhall, CBC's municipal affairs blog. This is where you'll find the story behind the story you hear on CBC Radio, see on CBC Television and read online at cbc.ca. I'm planning to post regularly, and on a variety of subjects. Please help me keep the conversation going by commenting on whatever you see here. Please keep it clean and respectful. Enjoy!

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That's a wrap

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. 

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O'Brien speaks his mind

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.  

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Weekend war of words

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.


 

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Larry O'Brien: The lost tapes

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.

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Signs of trouble

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'Connor...one 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.

 

 

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O'Brien takes another stab

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.

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The Peter principal

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.

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The mayor's mea culpa

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.

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The Tweeps are not amused

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 .....as 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.

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Sign, signs, everywhere signs

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:

LOBsign2.jpg

 

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

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Whose tweet is this anyway?

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.

 

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General Patton's new command

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?

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Ring road ruckus

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.

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Parks and recreation

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. 

 

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Doucet on parks, and a couple debates

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.

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Terry's tally

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.

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Watson and O'Brien's war of words

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.

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Cullen comes clean

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.

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Big thumbs down from small business

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!

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Kilrea says "non" to language policy

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.

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Taylor calls for spending cap

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.

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Fair Vote Canada tries to make it an issue

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 office@fairvote.ca 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

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A Park by Any Other Name

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?

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Arch Rivals

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.

 

 

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Voting Green

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.

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What Watson Said

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.

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Packing the Room

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.

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OTAG's Take

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!

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The Debate Debate

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. 

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