Ottawa

'The lines were blurred': Councillors slam sewer mail-out

Ottawa city councillors have acknowledged the communication campaign around a partnership with a private company that offers homeowners optional sewer and water line insurance was a disaster, and have taken steps to prevent it from happening again.

Literature detailing optional insurance plan used City of Ottawa logo

‘The lines were blurred’: Councillor says warranty mail-outs caused confusion among residents

4 months ago
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Coun. Laura Dudas says the communication of a city partnership with a private insurance company was unacceptable and put resident’s trust of the city logo in question. 0:33

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  • Council carried this item at its meeting on May 26, 2021.

Ottawa city councillors have acknowledged the communication campaign around a partnership with a private company that offers homeowners optional sewer and water line insurance was a disaster, and have taken steps to prevent it from happening again.

"There's absolutely no question that the communications rollout was beyond [un]acceptable," Coun. Laura Dudas said at Monday's environment committee meeting. "The lines were blurred between a private entity and the city of Ottawa, and it confused our residents and asked that it put into question their trust in our use of our logo."

In February, residents began receiving mail-outs from Service Line Warranties of Canada (SLWC), a private company that offers insurance-like products for homeowners to cover out-of-pocket costs for repairs to sewer and water lines that are under their property. 

It's a legitimate product. In fact, more than 2,300 residents have signed up for one or more of the protection programs.

In February, residents began receiving these information packages about an insurance-like service provided by a private company. (CBC)

But because the offer came in an envelope with the City of Ottawa logo on it, and contained several sheets of information including a cover letter also bearing the city's logo, many residents wondered if it was a compulsory program being mandated by the municipality, while others believed it was a scam by a private company abusing the city's recognized emblem.

Councillors were deluged with complaints and inquiries. They found it confusing and deceptive, according to Coun. Riley Brockington.

"They thought it was deliberately misleading from the company using City of Ottawa logo, thinking they could pull a fast one," Brockington said at committee. "The intent may have been positive or may have been in good faith, but people were quite upset that ... the city would partner with a private organization and to allow our name and logo to be used for this purpose."

In Ottawa, homeowners are responsible for repairing or replacing underground water and sewer pipes up to their property line. A private company offers a warranty program to cover costs of repairs, but it is optional. (City of Ottawa website)

Both the committee chair, Coun. Scott Moffatt, and senior city staff agreed the communications were a "failure." Council had approved the program back in 2016, but hadn't heard anything about it again until a staff memo right before the Christmas holidays — information that seems to have slipped through the cracks for many councillors. 

Committee members are taking steps to avoid a similar communications snafu in the future.

They approved a motion by Coun. Shawn Menard to direct staff to review the launch of the program, especially the rules around the use of the city logo. As well, the committee asked staff to provide a technical briefing ahead of any new citywide program in which the municipality is partnering with a private company.

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