Sunday, April 25, 2010

Election Off To Slow Start

Must be hard to come up with a political platform when your one great claim to fame is taxing and spending. Could that be why mayor wannabe Alex Cullen has taken refuge under the cone of silence -- keeping Ottawa ratepayers in the dark as long as possible about what he plans if elected to the city's top job in October ?
Jim Watson, considered the frontrunner in the so-far yawn of a campaign, held his kick-off event a week ago without much fanfare -- but at least we know he's leaning towards the cautionary and the conservative when it comes to new programs and more spending. Watson -- the uncrowned king of the city's new culture of frugality ?
One good thing about this campaign is that property owners are taking more interest. There are now three credible taxpayer organizations on the scene and this is good news for the beleaguered ratepayer.
The Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group (OTAG) has been around the longest and while the organization got off to a slow start, it has come up with a sensible "litmus test" for incumbents and newbies vying for council seats.
"No new money" is their theme -- not "zero means zero" which is unattainable. "No new money" is now the operating imperative at the federal level, and has been somewhat replicated by the province in its latest budget.
"No new money" means that if there's to be a new initiative, it must be funded out of existing departmental budgets. At the federal level, there's a two-year departmental budget freeze and deputy ministers know that new programs and new hires mean staff cuts and program cuts elsewhere in the department in order to fund the new program and new hires. No more automatic dipping into reserves, running a deficit or hands deeper in taxpayer pockets.
OTAG sees no reason why something similar couldn't be implemented at city hall. The Ottawa Citizen's municipal affairs columnist Randall Denley, who's not been an OTAG fan, supports "no new money" and noted in a recent column that such an initiative was an important tool in a move towards fiscal restraint. OTAG is proposing a two-year departmental budget freeze and uses the recent decision to purchase 226 new buses using borrowed money as an example of how it would work.
If the city gave the New Flyer company 226 old buses and received 226 new buses in exchange, it would be a good deal. However in order to get the 226 new buses, the city must cough up $155 million for a depreciating asset. On the assumption that this purchase meets long-term LRT needs, that the costs are accurate, that the interest on the borrowed money is included in the cost, and "long term" means five years, then in August, when the new buses are expected to arrive, OC Transpo should be reducing its parts and labor budget by 15% and taking other measures to ensure that these buses will pay for themselves within five years. The salient point here is that in the private sector, money would not be borrowed to purchase a depreciating asset unless in the long-term, said asset was going to make more money than it cost to buy it with the borrowed money. If OC Transpo can't find the funds through cost reductions within its own house, then because it's a core service, there is a business case to find the money by postponing some capital projects such as the new central library or, by (heaven forbid !) cutting the budgets in other non-core services at city hall such as communications, HR, corporate services, administration, finance etc. Simple. No rocket science required here ! You can learn more about OTAG by accessing their excellent web site at .
The Ottawa Voters' Coalition (OVC) how has its very professional-looking website up and running and it can be accessed at . This organization is interested in governance, recognizing that the current council set-up does not work. OVC advocates redrafting ward boundaries, reducing the number of ward councillors and re-establishing a Board of Control or executive committee which would see the mayor plus four others elected city-wide. Why does the current council set-up not work ? Too few of the current bunch can see beyond their ward boundaries. No " big picture" vision among this crowd and that's been the curse of amalgamation.
The third ratepayer group which has come to the fore is the Carleton Landowners' Association. It represents rural ratepayers who believe (and rightly so) that they were shafted by amalgamation -- in that they're now paying for city services which they don't receive. These are people who chose to live outside the city's boundaries, who chose to live with septic tanks and wells and do without other amenities in order to have lower property taxes. They were dragged into amalgamation kicking and screaming, they've seen their property taxes increase and they're mad !
These three organizations have come together to host a "Taxpayer Cocktail" this afternoon from 3.00 to 5.00 p.m. in the Hungarian House at 43 Capital Drive in Nepean. They're invited all the candidates in the upcoming municipal election to attend and present their platforms.
Only three incumbents -- Councillors Marianne Wilkinson, Doug Thompson and Rick Chiarelli -- are among the attendees but some 17 hopefuls have signed on. Representatives from OTAG, OVC and the Landowners will talk about their respective organizations, MP Pierre Poilievre will address the federal government's departmental budget freeze, MPP Norm Sterling will discuss reforming the municipal electoral process and MPP Lisa MacLeod will speak about the "Truth In Government" Bill coming before the provincial legislature.
Is the poor showing on the part of incumbents a reflection of what seems to be the view held by more than a few of them that they can't be unseated ? Some of them will learn, come October, that this was not the election year to treat voters with disdain. Arrogance doesn't cut it when taxpayer anger reaches the level it has now reached in Ottawa. A lot of us will be going to the polls determined to vote for anyone but the incumbent !
New posts usually on Sundays. Next post on May 9.