Appointee's views on abortion, climate change come under fire

Ottawa city councillors questioned a nominee's views on issues including abortion and climate change Wednesday, but ultimately approved his appointment to the transit commission.

Councillors grill Michael Olsen, but ultimately approve his appointment to transit commission

Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard was one of seven councillors who opposed the appointment of Michael Olsen to the city's transit commission Wednesday because of his apparent beliefs on abortion and climate change. (CBC)

Ottawa city councillors questioned a nominee's views on issues including abortion and climate change Wednesday, but ultimately approved his appointment to the transit commission.

Michael Olsen ran unsuccessfully to be a trustee for the Ottawa Catholic School Board in last fall's election.

During the campaign, he answered a survey for the Campaign Life Coalition in which he said he believed women should not have access to abortions.

He was later among 92 residents who applied for a seat to join eight elected councillors on the city's transit commission, and Mayor Jim Watson said he believed the selection committee ranked Olsen highest among the applicants.

At council, Coun. Shawn Menard attempted to send Olsen's nomination back to the selection committee for another look because of his stance against abortion.

City clerk and solicitor Rick O'Connor, however, advised council that a person's beliefs on abortion would be protected Charter rights and not directly related to participating on transit commission — whereas his beliefs on climate change would likely not be protected.

Council ultimately appointed Olsen to the commission.

Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley is the new chair of the transit commission and was part of the selection committee that picked Olsen. He said the committee 'stuck to questions about transit.' (Laura Osman/CBC)

Panel stuck to transit, chair says

Menard later clarified to reporters his greater concern about Olsen's appointment was that he appeared to deny climate change, a stance he said would be inconsistent with guiding the city's transit system — one of its main ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Olsen had challenged a November 2017 article in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper about what climate change would mean in the capital region, a challenge that was dismissed by the National NewsMedia Council.

CBC News asked Olsen about the comments made about him during the council meeting, and he only said he didn't see how his personal beliefs were relevant to the transit commissioner post. 

The selection panel stuck to questions about transit.- Allan Hubley

When asked directly if he believed humans caused climate change, Olsen said he didn't see the relevance of the issue and declined further comment.

The transit commission for the 2018-2022 term of council will have eight councillors and four citizen representatives. (Martin Weaver/CBC)

Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley is the new transit commission chair, and was on the selection committee that chose Olsen, Leah Williams, Sarah Wright-Gilbert and Anthony Carricato, who lost to Menard in Capital ward last fall.

Those other three appointments went unchallenged at council.

"Our number one focus was they had some experience or something to contribute on transit," Hubley said​. "The selection panel stuck to questions about transit."

In addition to Menard,  the other six councillors who registered their opposition to Olsen's appointment were Riley Brockington, Jeff Leiper, Catherine McKenney, Mathieu Fleury, Theresa Kavanagh, and Diane Deans.

With files from Joanne Chianello


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