Mayor's committee picks about 'power,' councillors charge

For this first time since he was elected in 2010, Mayor Jim Watson's choices for council committees was challenged, with nine councillors voting against committee nominations — a process that is usually rubber-stamped by full council.

9 councillors vote against list that's usually rubber stamped

For the first time since his election in 2010, Mayor Jim Watson's personal picks for city committee membership faced significant criticism Wednesday. (CBC News)

For the first time since he was elected in 2010, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson's personal choices for committee membership have undergone a serious challenge.

Nine councillors voted against the committee nominations Wednesday, throwing a wrench into a process that's normally rubber-stamped by city council.

Their main concern: representatives of urban wards have been largely shut out of key committees, especially planning and finance.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper is the only representative from the city's core appointed to the planning committee, even though many of the most contentious rezoning files, including infill and highrise developments, take place downtown.

He moved to add Capital Coun. Shawn Menard and River Coun. Riley Brockington to planning, as both councillors had ranked the committee as their No. 1 choice when asked where they wanted to serve.

Watson recommended against the change, however, and the motion failed 9 to 15.

The mayor did support adding Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais to planning — the east-end councillor's second choice — because Blais had apparently been left off the committee by accident.

Councillors Shawn Menard and Riley Brockington criticized the mayor's picks for membership on city committees. Nine councillors voted against Watson's report, with some arguing it marginalizes urban interests as well as councillors who disagree with the mayor's agenda. 0:46

"We added somebody here today who wasn't on the original list, lickety split," Menard told reporters. "Any why is that? Because that person was an ally. So if you're an ally, there's different rules for you if you're somebody that actually criticizes the policy that we've been seeing over the last several years."

He said the mayor's decision will disadvantage downtown-area residents because they will not have "the representation they deserve" on important committees. 

"This had everything to do with power in this city and nothing to do with the helping the City of Ottawa," Menard said Wednesday. "What happened here today was that the mayor delivered a giant lump of coal for residents living within the Greenbelt."

Councillor says told not to ask questions publicly

Brockington said the mayor's choices were designed to stifle dissent by sidelining councillors who ask tough questions.  

"This is more about building an insulated coalition to ensure that there isn't the type of debate and discussion that we need to see here," he said. "I've been told repeatedly by colleagues that I ask too many questions in public that I should ask my questions in private."

Watson said his choices for committee membership had much to do with taking into account "people's strengths," and where they could carry out the "greatest good" for the city.  

"It's a bit like a Rubik's cube … You want to try to put together an opportunity for people to serve in different capacities," he said. "It's not an exact science to allow everyone who wants their first choice or second choice. We try to do our best."

Some councillors were also upset that the finance and economic development committee, which decides on major budget items and acts like Watson's cabinet, includes no urban councillors, but all the rural ones. Also, only three of the 12 members of the committee are women, two of whom are new councillors.

Nine councillors voted against Watson's report on committee nominations, including:

  • Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney.
  • Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury.
  • Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum.
  • Capital Coun. Shawn Menard.
  • Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper.
  • River Coun. Riley Brockington.
  • Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh.
  • College Coun. Rick Chiarelli.
  • Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans.