Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things To Ponder
Citizen Ellie is off on Saturday to the world centre of civility -- Prince Edward Island -- for a couple of weeks of much-needed R & R. Trying to make sense of the machinations at city hall takes its toll.
In the meantime, September is upon us, people are back from vacation, schools are re-opening and serious trouble may lie just around the corner.
Do you have confidence -- confidence that our civic leaders will not fall apart at the first signs the influenza pandemic has returned ? The response to the recent mini-disaster in the west end of the city left an awful lot to be desired. To be sure, they ordered the garbage trucks out fast enough to clean up the Katrina-like appearance of the afflicted neighborhoods. Some comfort to those who were flooded out for the third time in a dozen years and there's still no word on when the problems which gave rise to the flooding will be rectified.
Citizen Ellie recently re-read John Barry's definitive history of the 1918-19 pandemic, "The Great Influenza". It's grim reading, but it's also useful to learn about the so-called "Spanish flu" killed its way around the world. As they say, those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.
Barry writes about what happened in the U-S. On its first go-round in the spring of 1918, the flu was relatively mild. But when it returned in the fall, it returned with a vengeance. The H1N1 virus of 1918-19 is the same H1N1 virus which started to appear in the spring of this year in different spots around the world -- including Ottawa. It was relatively mild in the spring......
It pays to be a regular CNN viewer. Citizen Ellie learns many things from CNN.
Earlier this week the U-S Surgeon General and the Secretary of Health held a news conference in Washington at which time they advised that some 90,000 Americans could be killed by the flu which is now starting to appear again. They also announced that there might not be enough vaccine to provide the required two doses for everyone. Even worse, there are not enough health care workers to administer the vaccine and it may be necessary to train pharmacists so that they can administer it. There are not enough hospital beds in the U-S to accommodate the numbers who might require them, nor are there enough ventilators. There was an item on CNN the following day stating that H1N1 is now making its presence felt in student residences on U-S college campuses -- 100 students quarantined at Georgia Tech.
We're fortunate in Ottawa to have a steady hand at the helm in the city's health department in the person of Dr. Isra Levy. He advocates regular and vigorous handwashing, sneezing into the elbow
and immediate bed rest if one feels ill. According to medical evidence in Barry's book, those who fared best in 1918-19 were those who took to their beds at the first sign they were sick, and stayed in bed for several days even after the symptoms had disappeared.
No level of government in Canada has as yet released any figures re potential deaths from H1N1 in this country. We are told that there is plenty of vaccine. But given the hospital closures and the corresponding cutbacks in health care, one can't help but wonder if there are enough health care workers here to administer the vaccine. One wonders about hospital bed availability and whether there are enough ventilators.
In the 1918-19 pandemic, pneumonia killed the people. It was not a good death. They gasped and choked. Cyanosis (lack of oxygen) caused victims to turn blue -- dark blue in some cases. They coughed up blood, bled from the nose, ears and eyes. They were unrecognizable. They became delerious and they died. Entire families were consumed. Children were orphaned. In Philadelphia, the gravediggers were either sick or dead which meant that family members of other deceased had to take up shovels and dig the graves for their loved ones. There was a shortage of coffins. Eventually the dead were wrapped in sheets and buried in mass graves.
John Barry concludes that a virtual conspiracy of silence -- i.e. failure by politicians at all levels, and by the media to tell the public the truth about what was happening, contributed greatly to the panic which swept over America. Given the candor of the U-S Surgeon General and the Secretary of Health at this week's news conference, there will be no secrecy this time.
There was a little item on the Business News Network report a couple of weeks ago which caused Citizen Ellie to sit up and take notice. The manufacturing sector in Ontario is in bad shape, but there's a ray of sunshine in the fact that a small company in the Toronto area is working overtime. What 's being manufactured ? Disposable body bags, that's what. Apparently some municipalities are stocking up on these things. Is Ottawa among them ? What do they know that we don't know ?
One last zinger. What bright spark on the opposition benches has concluded that just what the people need in a time of plague and pestilence is another federal election ? Was it the intellectual giant who leads the Liberals or the Obama wanna-be who heads the NDP ? Rather than waste money on a needless election, what the people really need is for the opposition to pressure the government into issuing free boxes of tissues and hand sanitizers ! Now that would be taxpayers' money well-spent !
Regular Friday postings start again on September 18

Friday, August 21, 2009

Announcements and Pronouncements
People are talking about Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson. Is he or isn't he planning a run at the mayor's chair in 2010 ? He's keeping mum -- only saying that if there's an announcement to be made, he'll be making it in January. In the meantime, we pundits have to keep guessing. It's enough to make one turn to augury (i.e. the study of birds' entrails a la ancient Greeks and Romans) for the answer.
Jeff Polowin, who watches city hall for CJOH, is of the opinion that Minister Jim should state his intentions now. Reason being that the minister has been making spending announcements in regard to projects which directly affect the city. He's also been making pronouncements, some of which do not reflect kindly on current mayor and councillors.
Citizen Ellie reads something else into what's going on.
Citizen Ellie thinks Minister Jim is sending council a very clear message on the proposed LRT system. And that message is: FORGET THE TUNNEL ! He's probably been listening to people like Andy Haydon, and to others who share the same opinion -- the tunnel is a giant sinkhole into which boundless amounts of taxpayers' dollars will be poured to enhance a transit system which does not have the ridership to justify such an expense. Surface LRT is the cheaper alternative and that's what the province wants to see in the plan prior to committing its money. Transport Minister John Baird probably shares similar thoughts.
One does not require the ability to read tea leaves in order to figure this out. The problem is that having come up with what they think is just a dandy little plan, there's a reluctance on the part of councillors to back off, try some sober second thought, and admit it might be just a tad too rich for Ottawa ratepayers. It's unfortunate that the current council has the bad reputation of being indecisive. It makes it extremely hard for those who've supported the tunnel from the get-go to admit that while it would be nice to have, there are other, less costly methods of moving public transit users through centretown. It makes it extremely hard for those who believe cars will immediately disappear from the downtown core once the tunnel is operational to admit they've been living in a fool's paradise.
There was another interesting pronouncement from Minister Jim, one worth examining. This one came right after Mayor Larry was acquitted. The Minister opined that Ottawa's council would do well to work together and concentrate on two or three achievable goals, instead of being all over the place. Citizen Ellie took a hint from this. Could it be that the Minister was issuing a warning -- i.e. get your act together or there might be a trustee sometime in your future ?
Refunds ?
During the past week, Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson reiterated the province's pledge to continue uploading former provincial programs currently being funded through residential property taxes.
By 2018, he said, almost $4 billion worth of these programs, including the really expensive ones --delivery of social services, affordable housing and child care -- will once again be the sole purview of the province.
In 2009, the province will have uploaded $2.3 billion in previously downloaded services -- taking back 75% of the cost of administering public health, half the cost of delivering land ambulance service and the entire cost of Ontario's drug plan and the Ontario Disability Support Program.
Residential property taxpayers throughout the province have been fuming ever since the Mike Harris government effected the downloads in the late 1990s. But none have been fuming as much as those in Ottawa -- where council has consistently ignored the funding formula (80% paid by province, 20% paid by municipality) by generously exceeding the 20% required of municipalities.
If, by some miracle, this burden was lifted from taxpayers' shoulders tomorrow, do you think residential property ratepayers in Ottawa would see a tax reduction or maybe even a freeze ? Not on your life as long as the makeup of council isn't changed. Citizen Ellie bets that the chardonnay socialists see uploading as a windfall and have already spent the money -- in their minds. Another good reason for the winds of change to sweep through city hall in November 2010.
Regular Friday postings will resume after September 14

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Victory for the Right ! Woo-Hoo !
Don't know what's the best way to cook crow -- boiled, broiled, barbecued, sauteed, roasted -- feathers off, feathers on -- but it's a sure bet that more than a few in this town are dining on that particular dish tonight following Justice Douglas Cunningham's "Not Guilty" verdict in Mayor Larry O'Brien's influence peddling trial today.
Citizen Ellie always believed it was a set-up. That Mayor Larry was a marked man from the get-go -- the day he announced he was seeking the mayor's chair. A self-made millionaire, a man who knew what it meant to meet a payroll, a man who expressed concern about the tax and spend mentality prevalent at city hall, a man from the right of the political spectrum -- his candidacy didn't sit well with the lefties who've run things for far too long in this town.
But their hand-picked candidate coudn't defeat him at the polls. So another way had to be found.
Rumor, innuendo, media manipulation, speculation about election misconduct -- these became the weapons of their sneaky game. And it was fun while it lasted. But it went too far.
Ottawa and District Labor Council boss Sean McKenny suddenly found himself in posession of an affidavit from one Terry Kilrea. Good heavens ! What to do ? The media was already all over it. The council members who had indicated to McKenny that they were going to move on it failed to act. Sober second thought, perchance ? So McKenny promptly sent it off to the provincial Attorney General and the Municipal Affairs minister. In the affidavit Kilrea alleged that Mayor Larry had promised him a goodie if he dropped out of the mayor's race.
It was interesting to watch McKenny dancing around outside the courthouse after the verdict this morning. No, no, he told TV journalists. He wasn't motivated by the fact Mayor Larry could be contemplating taking a pitchfork to the Augean stable on Laurier Avenue -- with resulting loss of employment to CUPE 503 members. Of course he wasn't. He was just a good citizen, doing what all good citizens should do -- bringing possible wrongdoing to the attention of higher powers. It was also interesting to see McKenny dance around the question of who supplied him with the affidavit in the first place.
Naturally the sending of the affidavit to Queen's Park was the subject of a McKenny news conference. Score another one for Kilrea, who Justice Cunningham referred to as a "master manipulator of the media." Shortly afterwards, fed up with the blizzard of attacks, Mayor Larry dropped his bombshell. Go ahead, he told authorities, Charge me. And so they did.
Mayor Larry has come out of this with his reputation intact. He fought to keep his good name and in the process he gained the respect of many, many Ottawans for the way he handled himself throughout this sad, unfortunate and totally unnecessary exercise. They were the ones doing the cheering when the "Not Guilty" verdict was handed down.
So go ahead -- enjoy your crow dinner tonight you members of council who worked to undermine Mayor Larry from the day he took office. Enjoy your crow dinner tonight, Terry Kilrea and ODLC bosses. Enjoy your crow dinner tonight you employees at city hall who, with bad grace, cheered every time you thought Mayor Larry received a mortal blow during the trial. As for some of Ottawa's major media types who whipped it into a frenzy -- enjoy your crow dinner tonight too.
What did any of you achieve ? Nothing -- except wasting taxpayers' money, not to mention the court's time, on a trial which if nothing else has vindicated the good judgement of the 141,000 Ottawans who voted for Mayor Larry in the first place.
Posting usually on Mondays during the summer months

Monday, August 3, 2009

Blame Game
You wouldn't be faulted if, last week, while passing through parts of Stittsville, Glencairn and Beaverbrook, you thought you'd travelled back in time and found yourself in New Orleans Lower 9th. Ward after the Hurrican Katrina catastrophe.
Deja vu all over again. The smell. Sewage-logged clothing, furniture and personal posessions on front lawns. Soggy carpets and mouldy drywall. All the detritus left behind after a flood.
If you were among the 900 affected families, you wouldn't be faulted either if you thought you too had travelled back in time and were in New Orleans' Katrina-ravaged Lower 9th. Ward -- waiting for help which never seemed to come.
The flooding on July 24 -- after a month of almost daily heavy rainfall -- was a disaster of major proportions to the families now dealing with the aftermath.
But it wasn't the proverbial 100-year storm which caused the damage. And calling it that was a pretty shabby attempt by city bosses to absolve themselves of any blame for the situation.
For your information, "100-year storm" is a term used by civil engineers when designing a structure -- whether it be a bridge, a building, a levee etc. "Will it withstand the 100-year storm" they ask as they contemplate the blueprints. The hurricane which devastated Galveston, Texas back in the 1890s -- with a tremendous loss of life -- was a 100-year storm. Hurricane Katrina wasn't a 100-year storm -- but it had something in common with the Galveston storm. In both cases, the cities involved had allowed urban development in areas which would be ravaged if the big one hit -- a fact well understood by experts of the day but ignored by municipal authorities and the developers who were allowed to go ahead and build. Just like the city of Ottawa has allowed development on flood plains and wetlands.
The city dropped the ball on July 24. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Those supposedly in charge didn't enact emergency measures despite hundreds of calls to the 311 emergency number.
It became apparent early on that there were cracks -- chasms even -- in the city's emergency preparedness system
Why did it take five days for city staff/councillors to get to where they should have been after only one or two days at the most. Why couldn't city staff communicate with each other ? Countless tax dollars and staff hours have been devoted to emergency preparedness training over the years. Is the system breakdown in this case an indication that such training has been a waste of money ?
It begs this question: if city staff and councillors didn't realize they had a crisis on their hands following the torrent of 911 calls on July 24, how will they react when the really big disaster/emergency situation occurs ? Doesn't leave one feeling confident they're taking care of business down at city hall -- especially when we may be facing a real emergency if the H1N1 flu has a resugence in the fall, as many experts predict.
Are Ottawa ratepayers getting good value in return for the ever-escalating salaries and wages paid to city staff ? The July 24 fiasco would indicate the negative.
Here are some figures for you to contemplate from the Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group:
In 2007, the City Manager's office had a salary/wage/benefit budget of $3,913.000 for 35 FTEs ( FTE==Full-time Equivalent). That's $118,800 per person. The average city salary is $78,000.
In 2008, Emergency Measures salary/wage/benefit budget was $502,127 as compared with $215,653 in 2001. That's a 132% increase.
In 2007, Emergency Management had a salary/wage/benefit budget of $482,000 for 5.33 FTEs.
That's $90,431 per person.
In 2008, the salary/wage/benefit in Public Health Services was $36,806,448 as compared with $13,750,490 in 2001. That's a 167% increase.
In 2008, the salary/wage/benefit budget in Protective Inspections was $20,470,438 as compared with $3,707,382 in 2001. That's a 452% increase.
Now some of these percentage increases can be explained away by amalgamation. But we should still be asking if we're getting value for money -- given the slow response, and lack of proactive communication in the July 24 disaster. Then there's the question of inadequate infrastructure. The ground was saturated with water, the sewers were compromised and the resulting backup went into people's basements -- the third such occurrance, in some cases, over the past 20 years. People who paid municipal taxes for years are now left with uninsurable and probably unsellable houses. Some return on their tax dollars !
The city must be faulted for continuing to allow developers to fill in wetlands and build on flood plains -- against recommendations from envirnmental experts and even their own engineers.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that when natural areas for water dispersement are filled in to accommodate development, basements will be flooded somewhere.
Election Fever
Guess who wants to spend $5 million to have a by-election should Mayor Larry be found guilty when the judge hands down his decision this coming Wednesday ? Why it's none other than tax and spend Councillor Alex Cullen who's positively panting to don the robes and chain of office. Could it be he knows he won't get the appointment from within if that's the route council chooses if Mayor Larry has to be replaced ?
Party On....
Observed OPP brass, decked out in smart uniforms, quaffing free samples of Dewar's finest at the Glengarry Highland Games on Saturday past. Commissioner Julian Fantino officially opened the games and droned on and on and on.....perhaps he thought he was there to give his annual report to the taxpayers of Ontario..... when all the audience wanted was for him to get on with it so the massed pipe bands could take the field Anyway, Citizen Ellie had to wonder who would be doing the driving when the party ended.....
Postings usually on Monday during summer months