Saturday, May 30, 2009

Short Takes
Noses out of joint: Doucet's Disciples (aka Glebe Community Association) are some miffed that City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick and Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group's Kevin McCrann won't be attending the organization's public meeting (bloodletting, anyone ?) on June 2 to "discuss" the future of Lansdowne Park.
Association president Bob Brocklebank says he's "surprised at the thinness of their skin given they are public figures." Yes, they are public figures, but they're smart enough to recognize a lynching when they see one. They're also smart enough not to get into a pissing contest with a bunch of snakes.
No plan for the revitalization of Lansdowne Park will satisfy the good burghers of the Glebe unless it's a plan to create a Central Park clone for their personal enjoyment.
Citizen Ellie has this question: how many current Glebe residents lived in the area prior to Lansdowne Park being established as a fairground ? None. They're all long dead and gone. Which means that all those opposing Lansdowne Park revitalization purchased their trendy Glebe properties in the full knowledge that Lansdowne was home to professional football, Ottawa 67s hockey, a domed soccer facility, numerous trade shows, outdoor concerts and the Ottawa Ex. They all knew this unless they were so stupid as to believe moving the Ex to another location meant that every other use of the facility would similarly disappear. Were they taken in by real estate agents ? Was it an election promise ?
Citizen Ellie has this dream for the revitalization of Lansdowne Park: rebuild the half-mile short track inside the stadium and bring back the ground- pounders. Nothing like the sounds and the smells of short-track stock car racing to liven up a summer evening.
Oh well.........only 69 more sleeps until Watkins Glen and the NASCAR weekend when we fire up the turkey fryer and get out the Texas Pete's hot sauce!
There's a lesson here: before tunnel-promoting councillors take the final decision on Ottawa's version of the "big dig" they ought to take a close look at a recent ruling by British Columbia Judge Ian Pittfield.
The case involved a Vancouver woman who operated a maternity-wear store on the strip of that city's Cambie Street where a tunnel was being built as part of construction of a rapid-transit line down the street. The disruption it created, and the detours it forced had a devastating impact on a whole bunch of businesses on the street, including Susan Heyes' maternity-wear shop. Collateral damage, said public officials who refused to consider any compensation for the affected businesses for fear of setting a precedent. The transit line was in progress, they argued, and progress comes at a price. If that price included being forced out of business or having to eat hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, so be it.
Susan Heyes wasn't having any of that. She decided to wage a court fight with a half-dozen corporations and government bodies including the city of Vancouver, the province of B. C., and the government of Canada. Everyone laughed at her. What an idiot -- to think she could take on the big boys and win !
Well, win she did. A $600,000 judgement. Not the precedent the big boys were looking for. Judge Ian Pittfield ruled that governments could not use "progress" as an excuse to wipe out businesses and obliterate the financial and emotional investments people had made in them -- not without some form of compensation.
While his ruling probably will be appealed, it could have widespread ramifications. If it stands, governments, developers and maybe even city councillors desirous of building a tunnel through downtown Ottawa as a monument to themselves will have to consider the impact such a project would have on the financial livelihoods of others.
There are a lot of businesses, including several of the Ottawa's larger hotels, in the very area where tunnel proponents are planning to burrow. It could become an even more expensive proposition if those affected launched a class action demanding compensation for financial losses due to business disruptions resulting from tunnel-building.
And, by the way, when are Ottawa taxpayers going to be told the truth (in terms of dollars to be added to their tax bills) about what this this little exercise in "progress" is going to cost ? Why the secrecy ? Surely it isn't a matter of national security. Or is it that our esteemed elected representatives just don't know ?
Sensitive ears ? Citizen Ellie was dismayed to hear two CBC newsgals express surprise earlier this week about language used by Mayor Larry on the tape of his interrogation by police -- evidence at his trial. Use by the mayor of the term "swinging dicks" in his description of a meeting with rival Terry Kilrea -- shocking, just shocking !
Wake up, ladies. That's just an alpha male talking to other alpha males (cops are all alpha males) about an alpha male wannabe. Locker room jargon, maybe. But boys will be boys.
Back in the day when Citizen Ellie started in the news business, one had to fight to get out of the "social department" and into the newsroom. Once in the newsroom, one had to fight to get out of always having to cover "soft" beats such as health or education and get into something more meaty such as police and courts. In those days it was thought that our female ears were too sensitive to be subject to the language of the cop shop or the courts. (Citizen Ellie, when assigned to write something about the annual police report, nearly caused apoplexy when she asked a senior police official to explain the meaning of two terms ("buggery" and "sodomy") used in the statistics. Citizen Ellie knew full well what they meant, but couldn't resist the opportunity.)
Beware. There are still MCPs (male chauvinist pigs) in positions of power just as there are still "soft" news assignments just waiting for the woman's touch.
New posts usually on Fridays

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tax Dollars At Work
Got a problem with a barking dog ?
Got a problem with garbage from a commercial establishment operating in a residential area ?
Got a problem with a sightline obstruction ?
Who do you call ? The city's bylaw enforcement people.
In recent months, Citizen Ellie has had to call upon bylaw enforcement to resolve a couple of problems which were affecting the quality of her life. What did she learn from this experience ? You have to be persistent and you have to be patient. You have to be fairly thick-skinned as your desire to have a bylaw enforced probably won't sit well with the offender. You also have to be brave enough to complain.
Citizen Ellie never ceases to be amazed at the number of cowards who live among us -- putting up with all sorts of nuisances; wanting anonymity; fearing reprisals; taking the view that there's no point in complaining because the city won't do anything anyway; endlessly bitching about the problem but doing nothing about it.
Wrong approach, folks.
It took Citizen Ellie a year to get something done about a sightline obstruction in the form of a cedar hedge at the intersection of her street. This cedar hedge blocked the view of oncoming traffic -- not to mention pedestrians including small children on tricycles approaching the intersection on the sidewalk. It was only a matter of time before an accident occurred or a child was run over.
The owner of the hedge kept coming up with excuses not to cut it back. In the spring, he argued, there were nesting birds which shouldn't be disturbed. In the fall, he argued, he was away on the Thanksgiving weekend and therefore couldn't cut it down. In other words, he was giving the bylaw officer the runaround. Shortly after Citizen Ellie pointed this runaround out in a letter to the director of the city's bylaw enforcement department (cc. to Mayor Larry) the hedge was cut back.
Citizen Ellie's usual approach in this sort of circumstance is to contact the person responsible for the by-law infraction. Snail mail is best -- registered mail even better -- copy to your files. You have a record of the efforts you have made to get the problem resolved. E-mails get erased. Phone calls are forgotten. If you can illustrate your concern with photos, do it. It's only after it becomes apparent that the problem-causer has no intention of acting that Citizen Ellie asks the city's bylaw enforcement department for help.
Citizen Ellie recently had to take action regarding garbage from a private school which continually littered her residential street. This school regularly put out for collection between 16 and 20 green garbage bags per week stuffed with remnants of student lunches. Judging from what the raccoons and other wildlife strewed around the street, the rich kids attending this school ate a lot of pasta.
Frequently the garbage was put out well in advance of collection. Last June, on what turned out to be the hottest weekend of the summer, the garbage was out at 4.30 p.m. on Friday for pickup on Monday morning. The wildlife had a field day. By early Saturday morning, most of the green garbage bags had been ripped open. By Sunday it was a reeking mess. To make matters worse, after the garbage was picked up no one from the school made any effort to clean up the trash which had been dragged by wildlife or blown down the street on to private residential property. It was left to the street's residents to clean up. A letter to the headmaster of this school, suggesting that a bin might be in order, elicited no response. The problem continued -- not so bad during the winter months -- even urban raccoons hibernate. But as soon as the weather turned warm and the snow melted and the raccoons woke up, there was garbage all over the street again. Another letter -- this time to the school's landlord, cc. to the headmaster. Again no response and no action. Time for a letter to the city's director of bylaw services. There is now a commercial bin outside this school.
As long as no one complained, this private school was able to get away with using the city's residential garbage pickup to dispose of its trash. Over the years it must have saved itself countless thousands of dollars given that commercial establishments pay more for commercial garbage pickup. The residential taxpayers on that street were subsidizing this commercial establishment which thanked them for their largesse by continually littering the street with garbage and lowering their property values. So much for social responsibility!
Citizen Ellie won't be winning any "Miss Popularity" awards soon in her neighborhood. But she won't have to get out her rake and clean up someone else's mess either.
New posts on Fridays

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pissing Off Mayor Larry
Just as Citizen Ellie predicted in last week's post, some councillors couldn't contain their glee as the mayor's criminal trial got underway.
At Wednesday's regular Council meeting a handful insisted on addressing Acting Mayor Michel Bellemare as "Mr. Mayor". According to one of the instigators, the action was deliberately taken in order to "piss off" (the annonymous councillor's own words quoted by Derek Puddicombe in his Ottawa SUN blog) Mayor Larry while he is on leave of absence for his criminal trial.
We don't need to be told which councillors might relish kicking a man while he's down.
How an individual reacts to someone else's misfortune says a lot about the character of that individual. And what it says ain't good. Petty, mean, nasty, and downright cruel are some of the descriptives which immediately come to mind.
The penchant for members of our city council to act in childish and churlish fashion is probably the reason why we're not at the top of the list for federal infrastructure money. John Baird is putting federal money into things in Ottawa, but if you look closely, the money is going into things over which city council has no control (example: the Rideau Canal refit). It bodes ill for any possible settlement of the Siemans lawsuit. Now we have Minto Construction looking to recoup all its legal costs spent defending its right to build homes in Manotick. Why is this happening ? The people elected to run the city of Ottawa have frittered away whatever credibility and respect they once might have had. And those who've been adversely impacted or have had reputations tarnished by the city hall circus aren't hesistating when it comes to recourse.
Doug Thompson, it turns out, is council's class act. On Thursday, he took a seat at the back of courtroom 36 where Larry O'Brien's trial is being held -- in attendance, he said, in order to support his colleague. That's what people of character do when a friend, colleague, or a family member is in trouble. They don't take pleasure from someone else's misfortune. They rise to the occasion.
Pissing Off The Taxpayers
Is Citizen Ellie getting the runaround ?
In February, Citizen Ellie sent an e-mail to Councillor Jacques Legendre in whose ward Citizen Ellie happens to reside.
Three questions were asked in this e-mail:
a) What is the current rating of City of Ottawa bonds ?
b) How much debt is currently being carried by the City of Ottawa ?
c) Where is Citizen Ellie's street in the queue for storm sewer renewal and resurfacing ?
Pretty simple questions. Nothing top secret or confidential here. You'd think that there would be a reply in a timely fashion. Like in a couple of weeks.
But no. Hearing nothing, Citizen Ellie sent a further e-mail in April. She advised Councillor Legendre that she had obtained answers to a) and b) through other means but still wanted an answer to c). This e-mail elicited a response from someone Citizen Ellie presumes to be Councillor Legendre's gatekeeper. This individual advised that he would look into the matter and a reply would come shortly.
It is now the middle of May. No response. Why should Citizen Ellie be surprised. This is standard operating procedure for Councillor Legendre and, presumably, for other councillors as well. Don't respond and hope the taxpayer goes away.
Makes Citizen Ellie long for the good old days when, living in the 'burbs of Hawthorne Meadows, she was able to pick up the phone and get hold of Alderman Don Kay anytime. Of course this was back in the day when the dinosaurs ruled the earth, election to city council didn't mean a job for life and it certainly didn't mean a full-time job complete with big salary and expense account, not to mention staff such as gatekeepers, otherwise known as executive assistants. Back in the day, a taxpayer could even phone their alderman at home Imagine that !
City employees are governed by a code of conduct which, among other things states: "Inquiries, concerns and complaints wuill be responded to in a timely manner." Unfortunately this does not apply to councillors.
In addition to a sunset law setting out term lengths for councillors, taxpayers also desperately need a sunshine law which would reveal all (not just developers) who contribute to municipal politicians' election campaigns, and a code of conduct governing their behavior after their election.
New posts usually on Fridays
You can now access "The Pitchfork" by clicking on "Tory Bloggers" on "National"

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tunnel ! True Cost ! Please !
Seems the seat warmers around the council table at City Hall will soon be voting on staff's proposal for a downtown transit tunnel, the city's transit committee having given its approval for the project.
The feds, who are expected to throw in big bucks to pay for it, aren't as enamored of Ottawa's version of the "big dig" and are demanding to see the exact price tag prior to loosening the purse strings. Can Dalton McGuinty be far behind ?
Ottawa ratepayers would like to see the exact price tag too. We know we're going to bear our fair share to build this monument to current council members. (Aside -- Lord knows this bunch is truly deserving of a monument, but a multi-billion-dollar project is rather over-the-top, wouldn't you say ?) We also know that in order to get projects approved, the public is frequently presented with cost estimates which bear little or no resemblance to what the actual cost turns out to be at the conclusion of the project. Overrun -- that's the word.
Politicians like to talk in terms of millions or billions of dollars when they talk about these big projects. Boggles the mind of the ordinary person. Politicians like it when the ordinary person's mind is boggled. Means they aren't likely to rise up in protest -- pitchforks at the ready.
Why can't it be simplified. Citizen Ellie would like to see the exact price tag explained in a way Joe and Jane Ratepayer can easily understand. How about something along these lines: in its first year, the tunnel will cost "X" dollars; the city's share is "Y" dollars; your property tax will increase by "Z" percent (on top of whatever it costs to keep the city running as per usual). The same formula could be repeated for the second year, the third year and so on. And it could also be used to explain to Joe and Jane Ratepayer what Lansdowne Live, another big project, will mean to their property taxes.
The simple and obvious truth is that these huge projects mean huge property tax increases. The money has to come from somewhere. Councillors would do us all a very big favor if they simply told the truth. Being able to forecast what one's property tax increases over the next five years are likely to be is very important for ratepayers on fixed incomes -- and there are a lot of these in Ottawa, as it's second only to Victoria in terms of number of retirees living within its city limits. Citizen Ellie, for example, would like to know in order to make an informed decision on whether to sell up and move to Smith's Falls where housing is cheaper and property tax is considerably lower.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding the transit plan and especially the tunnel. Andy Haydon, respected former reeve/mayor of Nepean and later regional chair, doesn't think this is the cheapest way to go. He favors buses and surface light rail. That works well it a lot of North American cities comparable in size to Ottawa. Why couldn't it work here ? Can someone on council explain why it wouldn't work here -- and don't feed us the usual pap about getting cars out of the downtown core. (Aside: if the city is truly interested in getting cars out of the downtown core, people should be allowed to park their Vespas on the sidewalks -- like they do in Barcelona !)
Does Ottawa's population and OC Transpo ridership justify such an elaborate scheme ? OC Transpo can't meet its current financial obligations through farebox revenues. It requires a subsidy through property tax of over 50% of its operating costs. What happened to the plan to reduce the ratepayer subsidy and generate more of the operating costs through the farebox ? Gone with the wind ?
One excellent idea was brought forward this week -- one that's within the realm of possibility and should be considered in further transit plan discussions. That idea -- use the now mothballed Prince of Wales railway bridge across the Ottawa River (near Parkdale) to extend O-Train service to the Quebec side. The O-Train goes almost there anyway, the cut and the tunnel are already in existence and there's a railway right-of-way on the Quebec side. Fast way to move people from one side of the river to the other -- close to Place de Portage and downtown Gatineau, Tunney's Pasture and downtown Ottawa.
Citizen Ellie is counting on the feds to save us from fiscal disaster in the form of a tunnel under the downtown core. If the feds balk at paying their share of this foolishness, then the transit plan will have to go back to the drawing board for sober second thought where, it is hoped, common sense will prevail.
New posts on Fridays

Friday, May 1, 2009

Who's To Blame ?
Wow! City Council members were jumping all over themselves today announcing that as of close of business this afternoon -- when Larry O'Brien leaves the building on a leave of absence -- all troubles will be over, disfunction will cease and chaos will no longer reign at City Hall.
They'd like to perpetuate the myth that everything that's gone wrong at the council level is due to one person and one person only -- Mayor Larry.
Some of them ought to take a good look in the mirror.
They're the ones who, from the day Larry O'Brien announced he was running for mayor, made no secret of the fact he was the last person they wanted to see wearing the robes and chain of office. These chardonnay socialists were, naturally, supported by the city's unionized workers -- lots of CUPE dues were spent on television ads aired during prime time on the local channels predicting gloom and doom, cutbacks to everything, disaster of the worst sort if Larry succeeded to the mayor's chair. Talk about childish behavior ! Our candidate, Alex Munter, lost; the new guy, O'Brien, won; so let's make it hard for the new guy.
They're the ones who will have difficulty, come Monday, concealing their glee as they see Larry do the perp walk outside the courthouse -- where mainstream media will crowd the entrance to record the event for the slavering citizenry.
All this stuff about disfunction disappearing, sweetness and light in the council chamber, restoring public confidence in council blah, blah,blah is a crock. It ain't gonna happen, folks. It's more mouthings from the mediocre. With all the jockeying for position that's going on among those announced and those yet- to- be- announced mayoral candidates, nothing will change.
There are a lot of smart people in Ottawa -- people who are achievers in both the public and private sectors. Unfortunately none of them are sitting on council.
The city's best and brightest are instead serving on the boards of area hospitals and hospital foundations; they're involved in volunteer leadership roles with the United Way and other charitable organizations; they contribute to the community in many ways but they won't touch municipal politics with a 10-foot pole.
Why ? The best and the brightest, having seen what's happened to Mayor Larry, recognize that sitting on city council means having to take a load of crap from a bunch of has-beens and never-weres. Take a look at who's on council. Read their biographies on the website. Pretty thin pickings. Not a deputy-minister in the bunch. Not even an EX-1. Mayor Larry (a self-made millionaire and civic builder from the tech sector) has been the first to come out of the private sector in a long, long time.
So who's to blame for the circus at city hall that's been entertaining us for the past two years ? The public is to blame. We're the ones who keep voting (that is, if we bother to vote at all) for these same councillors election after election. Too many of them are past their "best by" dates. Too many of them are tax and spend afficionados who don't give a fig for the taxpayer's ability to pay.
True reform at city hall won't occur unless some new faces step up and run as a slate: i.e. mayoral candidate and council candidates targetting specific wards with a specific platform which does not include unachievable goals such as "zero means zero." A few years back, long before amalgamation, a chap ran for mayor of the new city of Gloucester. He told the truth on the stump. He told the electors there would be tax increases if they wanted arenas, community centres, swimming pools, parks, new city hall and the like . He promised "pay as you go" management of city finances on the basis that you can't spend what you don't have -- unless you want to get into serious debt. Prior to amalgamation, in the city of Nepean it was always "pay as you go" -- Andy Haydon and the late Ben Franklin wouldn't have it any other way. Guess what ? These folks were elected and the people of Nrepean and Gloucester lived happily every after -- at least until amalgamation.
A Good Cause
Citizen Ellie's friend, Walter Robinson, is running. Now here's a guy who should be on city council. Former head of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, writes a very thoughtful column in the Ottawa SUN, a civic builder. But Walter's run isn't for a council seat. He's participating once again in the Alterna Do It For Dad ! Run and Family Walk on Father's Day which raises funds for prostate cancer research, care and services in the Ottawa area.
Over the last decade, the run has raised over a million dollars and through the generosity of his friends, Walter himself has raised over $60,000 for the cause over the past eight years.
You can sponsor Walter by clicking on this link:
You can get more info on how YOU can participate in this event by clicking on:
Thank you for supporting regional cancer services. By the way, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation has reached the half-way mark in its "20 in 20" campaign -- to raise $20 million in 20 months for the cancer treatment centres at the hospital.
New posts on Fridays