Councillor's mic cut off as debate over LRT inquiry turns heated

Mayor Jim Watson says he supported the decision Wednesday to mute Coun. Diane Deans, who was disagreeing with how he was handling the debate over Ottawa's problem-plagued light rail network.

Council ultimately votes for auditor general to head up investigation

Procedural disagreement leads to virtual scuffle at Ottawa city council

1 year ago
Duration 4:11
Several councillors argued with Mayor Jim Watson over procedural rules at Wednesday’s council meeting over Zoom, culminating in confusion and at least one councillor walking off screen.

UPDATE: On Thursday morning, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tweeted that he had apologized to Coun. Diane Deans for cutting her microphone saying it was the "wrong call" and he takes "full responsibility."

Mayor Jim Watson says he supported the decision to mute one of his council colleagues who disagreed Wednesday afternoon with how he was handling the debate over Ottawa's problem-plagued light rail network.

The contentious moment involving Coun. Diane Deans came during a lengthy, heated debate over a possible judicial inquiry regarding the Confederation Line.

The line has been shut down since mid-September when a train derailed near Tremblay station, just the latest in a string of incidents going back to LRT's launch in 2019.

A few weeks earlier, Coun. Catherine McKenney had drafted a motion calling for a judge-led inquiry, one that could conceivably look into the actions of the mayor and members of council.

As McKenney was discussing it Wednesday, Coun. Glen Gower announced he had a replacement motion. Instead of a judge heading up the proceedings, they would be led by the city's auditor general, Nathalie Gougeon.

As council's rules stipulate that replacement motions get dealt with first, that led to an outburst of anger from those who supported what McKenney had put forward.

Deans argued that calling in the auditor general would be a substantial change to McKenney's proposal — too substantial, she said, to be bound by the replacement motion rules, which are intended for minor tweaks.

But Watson said he had ruled. After confusion from several councillors, Deans said she had "every right" to ask for the city clerk to clarify whether Gower's motion counted as a reasonable substitution — at which point her sound suddenly cut out.

"What a joke," said Coun. Shawn Menard, who'd earlier wanted more time to consider the new motion.

"Cutting women off, I love it," said McKenney, sarcastically.

After the exchange, several councillors switched to Twitter to express their disillusionment.

'Strong emotions'

In the end, council voted 14 to 9 in favour of Gower's motion to have the auditor general investigate the LRT. McKenney's motion was never voted on.

After Wednesday's meeting, Watson told reporters it was his job to "maintain order" and make sure "that one person speaks at a time."

Watson said it was the deputy clerk who cut off the microphone, and he supported that.

"People have strong emotions on the best way to go and approach getting a remedy for the situation," said Watson.

"I'm very pleased that it was a good solid vote of confidence in our new auditor general."


  • A previous version of this story called Nathalie Gougeon the City of Ottawa's integrity commissioner. She is the city's auditor general.
    Oct 14, 2021 9:53 AM ET

With files from Joanne Chianello and Kate Porter


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