Is it time to split up Ottawa's planning committee?

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard says the city needs two planning committees, one for urban matters and one for suburban concerns. Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt isn't sold on his colleague's pitch.

Shawn Menard says urban councillors don't have enough sway — but his colleague disagrees

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, left, wants Ottawa's planning committee to be split in two: one for urban matters and another for suburban issues. Rideau-Goulbourn. Coun. Scott Moffatt, right, isn't so sure. (CBC)

Should Ottawa's planning committee be carved in two, one half dealing with urban issues and the other with suburban matters?

That's the pitch being made by Coun. Shawn Menard.

The Capital ward councillor believes the concerns of residents in the city's core neighbourhoods are being given short shrift by the 10-member committee, which features nine councillors from Ottawa's suburbs and rural areas.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning invited Menard into the studio to explain how this dual planning committee would work — and for a different perspective, also got in touch with Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt, whose ward is largely rural.

Their answers have been edited for length and clarity, but you can listen to the entire interview here.

Shawn, what's your pitch for splitting up planning committee?

So during the election, I made a campaign promise to hold a community forum with experts from across the city. We had that, and about 30 folks got together and talked about the problems and potential solutions to the development industry in Ottawa.

One of the biggest pieces that came out is that entire community design plans are often being overturned, and perceptions that developers have more of a say than people who pay the salaries of councillors and staff.

The proposal calls for a split of the committee into two committees: one for suburban development applications and one for urban development applications.

How would it work?

There'd be four or five councillors on each committee elected in those areas — and one who'd be an alternative, not of an urban or suburban nature. It'd work just like rural affairs committee works right now, and there'd be more local representation. The people elected in those areas can be held accountable for the decisions they're making. 

Scott, you're against this idea. Why?

I just don't think it serves the purpose that Coun. Menard's looking to achieve.

I think you have this perception of some that the [planning] committee is going against the will of certain councillors. So the belief is if we get rid of that committee and stack it in the other way, we'll actually achieve something different, some different result.

But the reality is, every single vote comes to council in the end of the day anyways. 

Do you disagree with the idea that urban councillors don't have enough say about what happens in their wards?

Yeah, I do disagree with that. Because I think it's a matter of collaboration with other councillors, working together to do things.

We've actually managed to get some things done through the committee that I chair — which is the environment committee — by working together. Things that maybe other people would've seen to be controversial in nature. But the reality is we worked together, me as a rural councillor and Coun. Menard as a more urban councillor, to find solutions. And with very little controversy through the whole process.

The city's planning committee voted 8-3 in June to approve the site plan for the Château Laurier's controversial modern addition. (Larco Investments)

Shawn, what do you say to Scott's argument that your proposal ultimately wouldn't change decision-making at city hall?

Committees take delegations. They ask questions of staff. They debate. And I think Scott knows that it's extremely rare for a committee decision to be overturned at city council. That just doesn't happen very often.

It's also not true that all of those items rise to council. In the case of the Château Laurier, for example: the site plan was decided at planning committee, the architectural drawings of the lot. Those don't rise to city council. So there's a modicum of decision-making authority.

I also think this would avoid the problem that we saw at the beginning of this council term where committees were stacked based on influence rather than having a debate about proper representation on committees. This ensures proper representation on committees and I think would reduce division on city council.

Scott, is there something philosophically wrong with what Coun. Menard is proposing?

Philosophically, no. I just think it doesn't achieve the result and actually has the ability to make the division on council even worse than it is right now.


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