Category Archives: City Hall

The budget boogie

20200224_153140.jpgTrue love letters don’t come until after Valentines Day.  After February 14th letters espousing what we love are sent to the government, Members of Parliaments across Canada and to the members that sit in Ottawa. The letters are flowing because it’s “budget time”, the time where the hands come out hoping that the government puts a little bit of cash into them.

The government puts a great deal of effort into each budget, they have to fend off all the requests and asks that come their way.  From more funding for medical research, to affordable housing, to education spending, infrastructure investments and spending that connects generations and communities across provincial and federal boundaries someone is asking the government for help.

Mona fortier

Hon. Mona Fortier, Minister of Middle Class Prosperity

Governments seek to establish a theme for how the money will be spent. Take as examples, the themes of the four budgets the federal Liberals tabled since 2016.  Their first budget was titled “Growing the middle class”, in 2017 the Liberals went with “Building a strong middle class”, 2018’s budget was given a hyphenated name, Equality growth – A strong middle class and last year’s budget was titled “Investing in the middle class”.  Any guesses how the government will proceed for the 2020 budget?  I propose the budget be called, Still working towards a strong middle class because we haven’t been able to do after 4 budgets”.

Of course, I jest, but just how far can a government take the middle class?  May be the Liberals will move the middle class ‘forward’, borrowing from their election theme.

I would like you to consider another aspect of building the budget.  As I mentioned earlier there are probable hundreds, if not thousands of requests for more money being handed out and additional spending being approved by the Finance Minister.  The requests come from budget consultation meetings, emails, letters and phone calls. The current government has increased government spending and deficits in each budget they’ve tabled.  I ask though, at what point does spending decrease?  Should it decrease?  How does it decrease.  While there is likely some debate on where spending goes, it seems that very little consideration where spending should stop going.

Budget requests vary from climate action to senior’s care, international development, universal childcare, universal pharmacare and universal dental care, language rights and among many others items and increase government funding for research funding for almost every disease Canadians suffer from.

Provinces also get into the act, asking for more in provincial transfers from Ottawa for their programs and not wanting to be left out are municipalities asking both federal and provincial governments for money to fund their programs and services.

The budget boogie is a round the clock dance competition.  It’s non-stop and it is not for the faint of heart.  The boogie will cause stress of the highest degree as governments are asked for “more, more, more”.   I wonder what happens to the dance when “money’s too tight to mention”.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress.  I can be found on Twitter @robertdekker & @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97.  If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

Crisis? Yes and an Emergency!

Crisis? Yes and an Emergency

It’s amazing how the simplest of ideas gets complicated – but trust a politician to do just that.

The end of January, Ottawa City Council unanimously voted to declare an affordable housing and homelessness emergency or was that a crisis or maybe it was both. The motion, after the bickering stopped to officially declare “an affordable housing and homelessness crisis and emergency” was moved by Councillor Catherine McKenney.  The vote was, as I mentioned, was unanimous 20-0, three Councilors were not present for the vote.

The question remains though, what steps can the city take to address crisis and avoid just giving lip service to the motion.  Here are 3 steps the city can take to address the Housing and Homelessness Emergency.

McKenney

Somerset Ward Councillor Catherine McKenney

Assist non-profit housing providers to expand their services. This could come in the form of no/low interest loans to bring new units online. I have previously advocated that housing providers are part of the cycle of housing. It takes time and adjustment to go from no housing to independent living, this is where housing providers come in. New beds and rooms for those living on the street is a steppingstone to living on their own. Housing providers give key life skill training and assistance, without this you set up individuals for failure when they’re on their own.  After weeks, months and years of living on the street and in shelters a period of transition is essential and the assistance that staff and support workers provide set everyone who has lived on the street up for success and not a setback.  The no/low interest loans will provide growth in this sector that is needed.

With the housing waitlist now at 12,000 households, clearly the construction of new affordable housing can be the primary action to make a dent in the list.  To be honest, the list is not complete, there are individuals that are NOT on the list because they know they will never get a a place to live – and that is the real crisis.  The emergency is getting them on the list and into a home. Both Liberal and Conservative federal governments have tried to establish programs to help with the housing issue.

The Conservatives had Housing First and the Liberals released the National Housing Strategy, but with both these plans it takes money.  With the demand for funding and money from the federal government being pulled from so many directions what programs will have to suffer for Ottawa and other cities to get the money to build new affordable housing?  These solutions will half to come from within Ottawa’s council chambers.  But that seems unlikely because of what I believe is the third thing that has to happen.

The Mayor needs to take up the challenge, and I mean take this challenge serious.

watson

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson

The Mayor has been coasting for years in the City’s top position. The Emergency must be his call to action to step out of his zone and feel uncomfortable about the housing emergency. When we are challenged, we can accomplish great things, but we need to embrace the feeling of being outside our comfort zone. By doing this we learn how to expand and grow a new larger zone – we will have succeeded where we could not have before. But the Mayor needs to create that comfortless environment. In this case he needs to be challenged by an outside force.

Capital Ward Councillor Shawn Menard this week suggested there was a “Mayor’s Club” and that the Mayor’s inner cabinet is full of allies.  If there was an issue that the Mayor could be challenged from the inside the Housing Emergency is it.  Somerset Ward Councillor Catherine McKenney has the lead on the Housing file for the City of Ottawa, however she is on the outside of the City all powerful FEDCO committee.  FEDCO could use some Urban influence, that can be achieved by appointing an Urban Councillor to the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO).

FEDCO currently has representation from Rural, Suburban, East, West and the South Ottawa regions. What’s missing? The downtown and centre of the City has no seat on the committee that makes key municipal decisions. No Central/Urban representation? How does a committee as powerful as FEDCO not have representation from every region of the city?

I had a brief run in the 2010 Ottawa elections under the banner of  “Somerset matters”, and it partially because of that that #RedHeartBlueSign was borne. The banner highlighted Somerset Ward, but I also wanted to show that Somerset ward matters and should not be ignored. Sadly it seems nothing has changed since I saw this gap at City Hall in 2010.

Without the Mayor having someone pushback on a key matter such as homelessness and housing,  Ottawa and the Mayor cannot move ahead on the emergency until there is someone on the inside pushing boundaries on this issue.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress.  I can be found on Twitter @robertdekker & @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook athttp://tiny.cc/n5l97.  If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

 

Watson turns the page, others haven’t

img_20190712_08532388552276995742126098.jpg
Jim Watson has turned the page and has moved on from the fiasco that is all about the design of an addition that the owners of the Chateau Laurier what to pop on the site of the torn down parking garage.  Jim Watson has moved on, he’s moved onto to his LRT to the City of Ottawa gets the keys to the trains the middle of August from Rideau Transit Group.  He is getting the keys more than a year late and several missed deadlines later.

Jim Watson and 12 other councillors have moved on since Thursday July 11th when reconsideration of Councillor Fleury’s  motion to deny Larco, the owners of the Chateau Laurier their permit to build an addition.  Ten Ottawa City Councillors led by Mathieu Fleury, Heritage Ottawa and thousands of Ottawa voters that have signed petitions haven’t moved on, rather they’ve firmly planted themselves in a position that they hope will block backhoes from starting construction.

This story goes back years, the major sticking point is that City Council passed a heritage permit. The owners of the Chateau have presented five designs, all of which have been panned by the public, but have met the guidelines set out in the heritage permit.    The application has a few minor steps before ground can be broken and construction can begin on a design that has been called a car radiator.  City Council has the right to deny a permit to build if it doesn’t like the design, but in this case they didn’t, fearing a costly lawsuit.

It appears that a majority, maybe all of council does not like the design the owners are determined to build, but 14 voted to deny Fleury his opportunity, one last time, to have the permit revoked.  Mayor Watson must have let out a big sigh before he slid out the back door of council chambers to begin his vacation when the final vote tally was counted.
img_20180405_1541418638794165793251928.jpgI think the problem the public (and few public figures) has with the design is that the architects haven’t really veered far from design number one.  The fourth reiteration of the original drawing is still basically a box being stapled to a castle.  I’ve seen more imagination in the design of a building on a beach.

While Larco dreams of Bob the Builder, Councillors Fleury, Meehan, Deans, and others along with Heritage Ottawa and the Friends of the Chateau Laurier will be spending the time the Mayor is away looking to stop those dreams.  While all this planning takes place will the Mayor actually has a peaceful vacation with nothing on his mind?

 

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress.  I can be found on Twitter@robertdekker& @rdmediaottawaand on Facebook athttp://tiny.cc/n5l97.  If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

Ottawa Jazzfest: Norah Jones

norah 1

Photo by Jim McQuaid

I have discovered that one of the sweetest sounds in music is that of the Hammond organ.  It’s a mainstay of blues, early 70’s rock and at Ottawa Jazzfest Norah Jones had one in her band!  Topping it off, it was the opening sound of her concert, I knew it would be a great show.

For me Norah Jones did not disappoint, it was what I was expecting, as was my friend Glen who joined me that evening.  We lucked out on a good spot to put our chairs, the weather was perfect and through the evening I swayed to everything that Norah played switching between newer material and favourites from earlier albums.

Through the 90 minute set the fan favourites came out, and just as the appearance of the Hammond organ was a surprise, so was the musicianship of Ms. Jones (though I should not have been). While I am sure everyone was waiting for the hits from her debut Lp, she snuck “Come away with me” by stepping away from the piano and strapping an electric guitar around her neck and started the opening chords.  Well received was Sunrise, for which Norah played acoustic guitar along while mentioning that she “often plays this song at sunset”.

One of the strongest performances of the evening was on Neil Young’s “Don’t be denied”, which she played as part of her encore, it’s a song she has performed with Neil at his Bridge School concerts. Her version comes from her 2016 Lp ‘Day Breaks’, a critically acclaimed album that was named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 50 Lps of 2016 and has an average rating of 4 stars.

One of the cutest moments of the evening came at a point in the show where three fire engines roared down Laurier Ave heading downtown.  Jones waited about 15 to 20 seconds for the fire trucks to pass before starting into ”Don’t know why” from her ‘Come with me’ debut album, the wait for it seems appropriate.

The band was tight and kudos go to her the musicians starting with keyboardist Pete Remm on the previously mentioned Hammond and other keyboards, Josh Latanzzi on bass and the grooviest drummer I have every seen play Greg Wieczorek, who had a groove going – he kept us moving all night long.

By the time the final strains of a very cool acoustic “Lonestar” floated into the night sky Norah was gone.  Me with Ms. Jones at Jazzfest was one of the most satisfying shows I’ve seen in a long time.  I got what I expected and more, including the sounds of a Hammond organ.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress.  I can be found on Twitter@robertdekker& @rdmediaottawaand on Facebook athttp://tiny.cc/n5l97.  If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

Meehan vs. The Mayor

  jim watson

A couple of weeks back Carol Anne Meehan, the rookie Gloucester – South Nepean Councillor made waves because she questioned the Mayor’s decision NOT to allow her to bring a staff person into a one-on-one budget discussion that Mayor Watson was having with her as part of his pre-budget discussions. These are, I imagine, largely informal discussions where the Mayor expects to hear the 3 or so budget concerns from each ward.

Ms. Meehan is a new councillor and very likely she’s still getting up to speed on the many ways Ottawa City Council operates, the committees, procedures and governance as the ward representative.

I don’t know how long these meetings are meant to last, what expectations the councillor should have of the Mayor in the meetings.  There might even be a bit of confidentiality to the meetings.  One person that might know is Mike Patton,  he worked in the Mayors’s office when Larry O’Brien was Mayor of Ottawa and now Mike is working for Councillor Meahan.  Patton is going to be of great assistance to Meahan as he’ll be able guide her through the machinery of City Hall.  But does that make her more comfortable in her role? 

Councillor Meehan had a request, have a staff person join her in the meeting to take notes.  Meehan will not be the elected official to have a staff person take notes in meeting but this is not one meeting she will be able to. Ottawa, a city that has 338 elected officials around the corner on Parliament Hill is all about notes being taken in a meeting by staff.  An elected official bringing a staff person to take notes in a meeting is not a strange occurance, it happens all the time, everyday.

There could be more than meets the eye on this; the Mayor may be posturing a bit.  I doubt that the Mayor and Mike Patton get along that well.  Patton, who worked for the previous Mayor of Ottawa is now working for a new Councillor. Patton up until the Ottawa elections posted a daily video challenging the mayor on issues facing City Hall.  If it would be Patton coming into the meetings, Jim Watson would not be so happy.

A few people have commented online that if Meehan doesn’t know the top three issues from her ward she doesn’t deserve to be there.  Meehan has not had the smoothest start of the rookie Councillors, but her calling out the Mayor for not allowing her to have someone take notes for her seems fair. Next year she may not need that staff person there but this is her first budget in her first year of her four year term. I find nothing wrong with her making sure she has the information she needs to do her job however she needs to get it.

If this is any indication, this could be first of a few flaming arrows that Meehan will be firing in the direction of the Mayor.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress.  I can be found on Twitter @robertdekker&  @rdmediaottawaand on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97.  If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net