Only A Dream......... ?
It's mid-January 2010. Citizen Ellie is attending a news conference at City Hall. It's the day the BIG announcements are made -- who's planning to run in the upcoming municipal election and who's going to say "goodbye" to municipal politics .
Citizen Ellie is in for a big surprise. She had anticipated that every single one of them --all 23 -- would run again, having become used to life at the trough.
But no ! Here are Councillors Doucet, Brooks, Holmes, Hunter, Wilkinson and Thompson announcing they're leaving city hall in order to spend more time with their great-grandchildren, having missed out on their children and grandchildren's formative years as a result of their committment to civic politics.
Here comes another surprise ! Councillors Hume, Bellemare and Chairelli announce they too are leaving. Time to pursue careers in the real world before it's too late and they're too long in the tooth.
And what to make of this ? Councillors Legendre and Bedard state that tending to city business takes too much time away from their true calling -- ferreting out what they consider to be slights against the Francophone population in the Natonal Capital region. They have decided to become a language police force of two.
What's up here ? Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson isn't quite ready to step up to the microphone to make his announcement. He's tormented by this question: which is better -- being mayor of Ottawa or sitting on the opposition benches at Queen's Park after Dalton "The Deceiver" McGuinty's government is defeated in 2011 ? He's waiting on his personal augurer from Ipsos-Reid to provide the answer. Here comes the carrier pigeon now -- clutching a plain brown envelope in its beak. A hush of anticipation falls over the gathering........
And that's when Citizen Ellie woke up !
Only a few more days and we'll be into 2010. January is the month when we can anticipate electioneering to begin. If you thought the current bunch warming seats at city hall are far too ward-centric, you ain't seen nothing yet ! What's good for the city as a whole will take a back seat -- far, far back -- to ward issues as incumbents work to solidify their re-election prospects.
City finances should be the main issue in the coming election. Councillors are currently wrestling with budget issues -- hoping to limit a tax increase to 4%. But as Walter Robinson wrote not long ago in his Ottawa SUN column, a 4% property tax hike is "hardly an homage to fiscal prudence." A 4 % property tax hike is almost three times the rate of inflation. Many Ottawa ratepayers are already struggling -- witness the increased demands on charitable organizations during the current holiday season and the decrease in contributions from the public and business community. One doesn't have to be a sorcerer's apprentice to read these tea leaves. Friend Walter believes a 4% increase will result in ratepayer revenge at the polls. We can only hope he's right !
Citizen Ellie would like to see electoral reform as a major election issue. Maybe an even bigger issue than city finances. Especially since the current Ontario government led by Dalton "The Deceiver" McGuinty prefers to leave reforms at the municipal level in the hands of those elected at the municipal level. Talk about having the fox guard the henhouse. Does anyone really believe that a bunch of people who sustain themselves by sucking on the public teat are going to vote to limit themselves to two four-year terms ? Certainly not in Ottawa where 13 of the 23 muncipal councillors have been around since before amalgamation -- since before Hector was a pup ! Ottawa's the place where a seat on city council means having a job for life. Only one of the current bunch, Steve Desroches, stated when he was first elected four years ago that he planned to leave after two terms. This is already an election issue in Kingston, where a few councillors took a run at reform earlier this year, only to be defeated by their council colleagues at a city council meeting. Given how city business has been conducted since amalgamation, many Ottawans are beginning to think two four-year terms are more than enough and a wholesale housecleaning is needed at Disneyland on Laurier Avenue.
Ottawa badly needs an executive committee structure -- a return to a Board of Control type of structure where four members of council, along with the mayor, were elected city-wide. Decisions which were good for the city as a whole got made in those days. Things got done. There was no backtracking resulting in expensive lawsuits. There was less posturing by councillors. We lived in a well-run city, not the financially-challenged laughingstock it is today. But this is another decision on governance that the provincial government prefers to leave in the hands of those elected at the municipal level. Mayor Larry brought a high-profile group together (who, incidentally, worked for free) to look at governance but their report now languishes on city hall shelves due to the indifferance of current council members.
Then there's the question of election financing. Currently corporations and unions can give more than one donation to municipal election campaigns. As a corporation/union, then again on an individual basis. You and me -- ordinary ratepayers -- are limited. We can only donate once and it seems to Citizen Ellie that the ordinary ratepayer is left at a disadvantage especially when the situation arises where a councillor can participate and influence the adjudication of property matters where the developer has been a contributor or where the councillor can participate and influence wage/benefit decisions where the union has been a contributor.
The feds, when Jean Chretien was in power, put a stop to this sort of thing. Two provinces. Quebec and Manitoba, have done likewise. Dalton "The Deceiver" McGuinty's government isn't interested in including any such provisions in its propsed "Good Government" Act (Bill 212). Could it be because the provincial Liberals need those corporate and union donations for their election campaign in 2011, especially since "The Deceiver" has lost his teflon coat ?
It will be interesting to see what happens in Toronto where corporate and union donations have been banned in the 2010 municipal election. How can Toronto do it and Ottawa can't ? Didnt'cha know Toronto operates on a special set of rules which allow it to do things on its own while the nation's capital, Ottawa, is lumped in with other Ontario municipalities, major connurbations such as Spencerville, and must wait on the provincial government to act.
Corporate and union donations are very important in a mayoral campaign which can cost upwards of $200,000. Mayor Larry financed much of his campaign (over $150,000) from his own pocket. Mayoral wannabe Alex Cullen prides himself on never having taken a corporate donation for his council campaigns. Citizen Ellie can attest to this fact, having obtained a copy of the councillor's election donation declaration through the city's access to information program. The donors all appear to be private citizens. Whether Councillor Cullen will be able to resist the lure of corporate/union funding should he make good on his promise to seek the mayor's chair remains to be seen.
Given the provincial government's reluctance to move on any of the above issues, where does this leave Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson, who, it is said, is contemplating a return to municipal politics. If he wins the mayor's chair, he isn't likely to promote municipal electoral reform and the report on governance will continue to gather dust. After all, he's had ample opportunity to do it as Minister of Municipal Affairs, what with the Good Government Act and all, but he's always backed off. Something to consider at the polls in the fall.
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