Sign Season!

I’ve done a few sign runs this campaign season–putting up signs and fixing signs that have been damaged. It happens every election–signs go up then they get damaged by weather or ne’er-do-wells, and maybe they even get stolen. It reminded me of a couple of stories about election signs.

The first comes from the book Leaders and Lesser Mortals John Laschinger, who was/is a prominent campaign manager in Canada. On one of the first riding-level campaigns he worked on, their candidate was losing; it was near the end of the election; and they were desperate to try anything to squeeze out a few more votes. So, clever people they were, a few them decided to head out one night close to voting day and vandalize all their signs–yes, their signs. The intention was to manufacture some sort of sympathy vote. The plan did not go as intended. Partway through their operation, they got picked up by the cops. Laschinger notes that it was to the RCMP’s consternation that they couldn’t charge these young politicos with a crime–it’s perfectly legal to vandalize your own signs!

My second story is my own…or, well, a friend’s. It would have been…1997?…I guess. It was a federal election and my friend lived with his Dad in Ottawa-Centre. That was back during Mac Harb’s reign in the riding. Well, my friend–let’s call him “Rob”–decided to order a Mac Harb sign for the front yard. To be clear, Rob was not a Liberal. Coincidentally, neither was his father. In fact, his father hated Mac Harb, and he was not pleased to see a Harb sign on his lawn when he came home from work one day, pulling the sign out and tossing it in his backyard. Rob, the dutiful Mac Harb supporter he was, called the campaign saying some kids had stolen his Mac Harb sign and he would like another. Within days, another sign was planted in the front yard, only to be quickly dispatched just like the previous one by his father. This little dance continued a few more times until Rob had had enough. His father used the wooden stakes in his backyard garden (it was a nice large garden).

If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering what the point is. Simply, there isn’t one–just a couple of stories about election signs.

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We live under small trees

Wonder greets us as we first entre the world. It takes our hand. It tells us stories, revealing secrets and playing games with our imaginations. We, the children of curiosity, the offspring of Pandora and the apple, search out meaning and adventure. We sit on escarpments to look upon our towns and cities. We jump from diving boards to feel the rush of descent and immersion. We climb trees, forever seeking a higher branch. We explore. We perch. We survey. We rule. We dream.

Why then, as adults, do we settle for small trees? Crammed between parking spots and cobblestones, they give us no shade, no fresh air. Too thin to climb. Too brittle to hold us or our expectations.

They live a few years, maybe five, ten, with grace. We move past them, faster, as we mature, then slower, as we matter less–no tree under which to sit, no fruit offering a morsel of joy.

We build skyscrapers and towers, testaments to engineering and skill. Edifices born of a mature mind, a calculated, logical thinking. It is the result of experience and industriousness. Our desire to build up stems, surely, from that childhood desire to climb, but our accompanying desire to build out, to prescribe how we may interact with our environment, squelches the magic of adolescence. We’re not permitted to climb buildings and we’re not provided enough trees.

Why do we settle for small trees? Why do we settle for small dreams? Why do we trade vision and hope for the pre-fabricated and confined?

Why can’t we dream in tall trees?

The Mayoral Race is Getting Nasty, a New Entrant Emerges and We’ve Got a Poll!

Over the weekend, the Bob Chiarelli team claimed that the Sutcliffe campaign was dabbling in some dirty tricks. Chiarelli advisor Patrick Uguccioni made the allegations on Twitter:

Uguccioni went on to say that there was “not a scintilla of truth to this. He is in this fight to the end.”

Personally, I have no idea if Chiarelli is in the fight to the end. He’s been releasing some short videos on Twitter about issues he says are important, though he doesn’t ever expand on what policies he’d like to implement.

Nonetheless, if Ugoccioni’s allegation is true, it’s a pretty disreputable thing for the Sutcliffe campaign to do (and if it isn’t true, it’s underhanded for the Chiarelli campaign to make this claim). Again, I won’t venture a guess as to the validity of the allegation, but I’d say, either way, it demonstrates Chiarelli and Sutcliffe are in a real fight to be the prime challenger to Somerset Councillor Catherine McKenney.

I guess, for their sake, it’s good that there isn’t another right wing candidate to worry ab…

…By God, that’s Mike Maguire’s music!

As The Bulldog reports, perennial mayoral candidate Mike Maguire has entered the race. Maguire has run as a conservative candidate in the past, generally on an ill-conceived and contradictory platform. The first time I encountered him entering a mayoral race, I was intrigued–mostly because he was something different. Unfortunately, he’s never warranted more of a passing interest.

This time, though, there may be some backroom drama connected to his candidacy. From the Bulldog article:

An organizer for the Mark Sutcliffe early in the campaign said the broadcaster entered the race to prevent NDPer and Somerset councillor Catherine McKenney from winning the mayoralty.

Now the entrance of Sutcliffe and Maguire into the race splits votes into three centre-right candidates with former mayor Bob Chiarelli being the third.

And don’t forget a more serious candidate could come into the mix.

(I’m amused by the implication that neither Sutcliffe, Chiarelli nor Maguire are particularly serious candidates.)

If Maguire has any sort of appeal to conservative voters, it’s possible they could peel off enough voters from either Sutcliffe or Chiarelli to allow McKenney to win…or it might not really matter at all.

In the last week, just around the time Maguire entered the race, iPolitics released a poll purporting to show McKenney with a significant lead–McKenney had 34% of decided voters to Sutcliffe’s 14% and Chiarelli’s 7%. There were also 38% undecided.

I don’t know how much stock to put in this poll. I’m also not surprised McKenney would do so well at the outset–as the only active politician coming into the race, they already had a base, and it makes sense that they would have a significant amount of supporters already dialed-in to city politics. Also, with Chiarelli and Sutcliffe offering similar unimaginative campaigns to voters, it’s little surprise that the votes for which they’d be competing against each other wouldn’t be decided yet.

Of course, it’s only August 3; lots of things could happen, but it is interesting to see McKenney–who opponents tried to paint as out-of-touch with suburban and rural voters–looking so very, very strong in this early poll.

We shall see what happens in October…and what more shenanigans may await our trusty candidates.

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Eli’s going, hide your heart, girl

West Carleton-March councillor Eli-El-Chantiry announced today that he’s not running in 2022. This is a bit less of a surprise than CAM’s move because he had not yet registered, and he’s been doing this for 19 years. A rookie councillor stepping down would tend to be more suprising.

Because of all that, I’m not going to any sort of analysis of his decision, as I did with CAM.

There are two interesting aspects to this news. First, there are currently two councillors running to replace him in Ward 5: Clarke Kelly and Nagmani Sharma. Neither has much online presence, so I know little about either one–but with the veteran councillor stepping aside, we could see an explosion of candidates. That’s what happened four years ago in Orleans. Originally, Councillor Bob Monette had one challenger (if I recall correctly), but when he announced he wasn’t running, it quickly ballooned to 17, with Matt Luloff winning the race with about 17% of the vote (again, going by memory). We’ll see if that dynamic happens in Ward 5, this year.

The other interesting thing is the ever-dwindling number of returning councillors. The following councillors will not be seeking re-election (at least, as of today):

Ward 3: Jan Harder
Ward 5: Eli El-Chantiry
Ward 8: Rick Chiarelli
Ward 9: Keith Egli
Ward 10: Diane Deans
Ward 12: Mathieu Fleury
Ward 14: Catherine McKenney (they’re running for mayor, instead)
Ward 18: Jean Cloutier
Ward 21: Scott Moffatt
Ward 22: CAM

(It’s possible this could change. Chiarelli, specifically, had stated he would run again, but hasn’t yet registered.)

Let’s also remember that Cathy Curry, who is running for re-election in Kanata North, was appointed late in the term, replacing Jenna Sudds, and had little time to make an impact on council, and we’ve got an extra seat at the table this time, so that’s a whole lot of change coming.

The folly (and extremism) of cutting city taxes

With the 2022 municipal election here, we are, naturally, hearing a lot of chatter about taxes, and especially about “keeping taxes low” or even lowering taxes. It’s a fairly common policy proposal (Larry O’Brien came into office pledging zero tax increases, famously coining the expression “Zero Means Zero”), but generally, it’s a cynical ploy to win votes that displays either cynicism or an ignorance to how the city actually works, and how city taxation works.

I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds, but city tax revenue comes from property taxes; we do not have a local income tax nor a local sales tax (we do have other sources of revenue we use or could use, but we’ll set that aside for now). The level of taxation is set every year based on the amount of tax revenue we want to bring in. For the past few terms, we’ve lived with promises of 2% or 3% tax increases, and this means an increase in the total tax revenue, not necessarily the tax rate, since tax rates are based property values which can vary differently than the desired increase in revenue.

But if we want to keep things simple, we can say that a 2% tax increase means a 2% increase in the taxes paid on the average property, or average home–though some homes could see significant tax increases, if their value has increased more than the average home; or, even some homes could see a smaller tax increase or no tax increase, if their home has not increased in value. This can be a disruptive way of allocating tax burdens.

(In a system that relies on income taxes or sales taxes, tax revenue can increase without an increase in the tax rate. If you get a 5% pay raise and so you wind up paying 5% more in income taxes, you won’t feel that tax increase as much, because it’s coupled with a higher net income. But an increase in your property taxes–or the property tax rate–isn’t associated with an increased material benefit, so it’s more of a shock. Even if the increase is based on a higher property value, you don’t see any benefit to the value if you don’t sell your home.)

All right, where was I…oh yeah, the city’s tax revenue.

Generally speaking, city costs are always rising. City’s, too, are victims of inflation, so maintaining city services and infrastructures comes with a higher price tag each year. If we assume that the impact of inflation on city costs is the same as the general inflation rate (which, it isn’t, but whatever, it’s a useful way to think about the issue), then the city has to increase taxes by the rate of inflation every year just to be able to keep the city services and infrastructure at the status quo.

Of course, this relies on the assumption that city doesn’t take on extra costs or liabilities, and that’s just false. Over the past few years, city debt has tripled, forcing the city take on significantly higher debt servicing fees.

The city also continues to sprawl, requiring more infrastructure and services spread further and further. Despite what the development lobby may tell you, the city’s development charges don’t fully cover the costs of bringing necessary infrastructure and services to new neighbourhoods. Further, these new neighbourhoods have a lower tax burden, to go with their higher costs, than established neighbourhoods, putting even more pressure on the existing tax base.

Finally, all the new roads and road expansions undertaken by the city bring ongoing maintenance costs: potholes, snow-clearing, line-painting, re-paving. So each year, we take on more costs and liabilities, but expect tax revenue to stay even with inflation.

This has been the financial plan in the city for the past ten or twelve years, and we’ve seen the consequences. We have a large infrastructure deficit–roads, parks and other amenities not getting the repairs and maintenance they need. We delay important projects for years, doing cost-inefficient patches to try to keep infrastructure usable well passed its lifecycle. We’re not allowed to run a deficit, so we’ve raided reserve funds to keep the budget notionally balanced.

(We can take on debt, but only on projects for capital assets. That’s why we can take on debt to build LRT, but not to run our transit system.)

As anyone can tell, this is not a sustainable financial plan, and it’s noteworthy that the current leadership regime at the city is exiting just before all these bills come due.

“You’ve written too much. What’s your point?”

The bottom line of all this is that you can’t maintain the current level of city services and infrastructure without moderate tax increases.

O’Brien quickly got burned for his “Zero Means Zero” pledge, because if you don’t increase tax nominal tax revenue, you are effectively cutting taxes. So if you’re promising to “keep taxes low”, you’re not going to be able to spend more money on city services.

And if you have the audacity to advocate for tax cuts, as at least one new candidate has, you’re going to have to slash the city budget.

There are many candidates who promise low or lower taxes, but also promise to increase spending. Don’t trust them; they’re either lying or they just have no idea how city finances work. If a candidate wants lower taxes, they will not have money to maintain roads or improve snow-clearing. They won’t be able to spend money on new capital projects like new interchanges, LRT extensions, Bank Street subways or new sports facilities. And they certainly won’t be able to spend more money on police (a favourite proposal of the low taxes crowd).

It’s expensive to run a city, and there are a lot of big ticket items than can bring financial benefit (transit, building retro-fits, etc.), and there are other spending priorities than can improve people’s quality of life, and physical and mental health (parks, libraries, social services). No candidate is expected to support every spending project (and, certainly, there are opportunities to save money at the city), nor do candidates need to have a perfectly-costed platform, but those who promise to keep spending more and more money, and to maintain city services and keep them affordable, while also cutting the city’s tax revenue, simply aren’t to be trusted.

Meehan is out

This morning, Councillor Carol Anne Meehan announced that she was withdrawing as a candidate, making my recent Election 2022 inaugural post already out-of-date. It’s hard not to take that personally (no, I don’t actually take that personally). I usually don’t write too much about people not running, but I thought I’d take a few minutes this lunch hour to provide a few thoughts.

While, yes, it’s rather surprising that CAM is withdrawing (sitting councillors don’t usually register then withdraw), I’m not actually that surprised that she isn’t running. If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have guessed that she wasn’t. Back in the winter, I probably would have put it at 50/50…which is, I guess, exactly what it was.

From the outset, this was a difficult term for CAM. Some of it was her own doing (like picking fights with residents on Facebook) and some was quite unfair (like Watson putting a target on her back). And troubles continued throughout the term–again, both self-inflicted and not. Her natural allies, politically and geographically, didn’t act as such. She was…indelicate (if we’re being nice)…on matters pertaining to race. She had a combative spirit, which can be good, but it could also get her in trouble, especially when turned towards residents.

Politically, I didn’t have much in common with CAM, and during the 2018 election, we butted heads a few times, but during the last four years, there have been times when I’ve appreciated her presence at council.

CAM made many mistakes, and she didn’t always have what I would consider a coherent set of policies, but I firmly believe she tried to right by her constituents and the city. She was a little further behind on a number of issues and on city operations than other candidates when she was elected, but she asked questions, and, more importantly, she tried to understand issues and understand the implication on residents. She didn’t always succeed in seeing issues from every perspective, but she did care about the job and the city. Further, she improved as a councillor over the last for years.

These are not things one could write about all members of council.

I know that many people who have similar politics to mine didn’t appreciate her, and won’t be sad to see her go…and that’s fine. That’s politics. But when I look at the make up of council, we could certainly do a lot worse than a councillor like Meehan.

This does make the Barrhaven East campaign more interesting (and it was already a promising campaign). With another councillor confirmed to not be returning to City Hall, the shake-up on Laurier continues.

(Sadly, this also means that my personal moniker for her, “CAM”, will never take off. Please, spare a thought for me.)

The municipal election is here

This blog has been rather silent over the past four years. As many know, after the last election, I accepted a job with Capital Ward Councillor Shawn Menard. I figured I’d spent so much time criticizing City Hall, it was time to put up or shut up, and try to make a difference. I’m proud of the work we’ve done there and the changes–some big, some small–we’ve achieved, but with that roll, extensive blogging seemed less appropriate…and I also had a lot less time to do it.

But the 2022 election is here, and so I’m back.

With this initial election post, I will offer this disclaimer: Yes, I work for Shawn. No, I don’t blog as part of my job, nor do I do this on company time. No, this blog is not part of Shawn’s campaign, nor are any of the topics directed by Shawn or his campaign. No, this blog is not part of any other campaign. Yes, I will volunteer for one or more campaigns (including Shawn’s). Yes, there are candidates in other races that I like. Yes, perhaps unshockingly, I have opinions about local politics that have been and will be shared on this blog. No, I don’t owe you anything.

All right, with that out of the way, let’s take an introductory dive into the campaign.

This could shape up to be a defining election in Ottawa for the coming decades. With some significant decisions looming (LRT, Lansdowne, the hospital…), climate change affecting many aspects of city life and politics, and the recent policy announcement by the province to implement a strong mayor system, the state of the city could be locked-in for the near- and medium-term, depending on the council we elect.

And there is a chance for significant change on council. We should have a new mayor (or an old but different one), with Bob Chiarelli, Catherine McKenney and Mark Sutcliffe all running. There are a number of councillors leaving, many with significant pull at City Hall: Diane Deans, Scott Moffatt, Jan Harder (though she’s hinted at running again), Keith Egli, Jean Cloutier and Mathieu Fleury have all said they wouldn’t run again; Catherine McKenney isn’t running for re-election as councillor (instead running for mayor); and some councillors haven’t officially retired, but haven’t registered yet, either (Rich Chiarelli and Eli El-Chantiry).

There are also a number of new candidates who are extremely promising, including Laura Shantz (Rideau-Vanier), Laine Johnson (College Ward), Sean Devine (Knoxdale-Merivale), Arieal Troster and Stuart MacKay (Somerset), Erin Coffin and Rouba Fattal (Kanata South), Wilson Lo (Barrhaven East), and Marty Carr (Alta Vista).

(That’s not an exhaustive list.)

Early in the campaign season, I worried there might not be that many strong challenges to sitting councillors–it can be hard to unseat an incumbent, though it usually happens a few times every election–but it’s looking like there could be strong challenges to sitting councillors in a few wards, including College (if Chiarelli runs, as he said he would), Barrhaven East, Kanata South, Osgoode (where former councillor Doug Thompson is challenging George Darouze) and maybe even Orleans South-Navan (formerly Cumberland Ward, where we have a two-person replay of the by-election, right now).

Now, these probably won’t all be competitive in the end, there are usually some promising campaigns that fizzle out, for whatever reason, but there’s potential for some good races, and throw in the extra council seat we have this term, and it could lead up to a bit a of a shake-up at the council table.

Here are some ward races that, right now, I’m particularly interested in:

College Ward: It is a shame that Emilie Coyle was unable to unseat Rick Chiarelli four years ago, though she came close, and that must have worried Chiarelli a bit. Not only was Coyle the better candidate, Chiarelli was determined to have committed numerous instances of sexual harassment by the Integrity Commissioner. That’s not the sort of person we want on council. This year, Laine Johnson has come out strong in the early stages of the campaign (admittedly, stronger than Coyle did four years ago). It’s hard to see how Chiarelli could increase his vote share this year (if he chooses to run), but there are other people in the race who could either take the seat, or split the vote and allow Chiarelli to hang on.

Rideau-Vanier: Mathieu Fleury has been a reliable councillor during his tenure, but I know there’s been a fair amount of discontent in the ward, as well. In the past two campaigns, he’s faced viable opponents, but he’s been able to face them down. Now that he’s decided to step back from city politics, this leaves a big opening. There’s potential for a new city leader to emerge out of this race.

Kanata South: Incumbent Allan Hubley has had pretty comfortable re-elections in the last two campaigns, but he’s been taking a beating in the press during the LRT inquiry. Hubley has done well to represent the views of his core voters, but he hasn’t done much to bring new ideas to the city or his ward. He hasn’t shown leadership, even as Transit Commission Chair, and it is possible he’s losing a bit of his shine with voters. He has three challengers right now, Coffin, Fattal and Bina Shah. It would seem that Fattal and Coffin are the strongest challengers, with Coffin having a bit more of a presence in the early days of the race. I can’t handicap this race, right now. Both Coffin and Fattal might make good challengers, but they could also split whatever anti-Hubley vote there is. Weaker incumbents tend to draw stronger fields, but stronger fields can benefit weaker incumbents.

Capital Ward: Well, I live here…but I probably won’t write about it too much.

Barrhaven East: Technically, this is the new ward, but it also has an incumbent. Carol Anne Meehan is running here. She’s been an embattled councillor. She’s made mistakes and I don’t think she’s accomplished what she set out to accomplish, but she’s also very good at being an avatar for her residents, emotionally. She’s their political id, and being able to channel the anger and outrage of voters can be successful…it’s also not the worst attribute in a councillor, but it’s also far from the best attribute.

Barrhaven West: The fact that Ward 3 won’t be represented by Jan Harder is really quite something. No more of her outbursts and insults. No more telling other councillors to shut up. Of all her qualities, it’s the racism that I’ll miss least of all. So a fresh race will bring a fresh face. This is not a community I’m particularly dialed into, so I don’t know the candidates. Jay Chadha is a city staffer (just like Wilson Lo in Barrhaven East), so that should give him an advantage in terms of knowledge of city operations, but there’s no great history of non-political city staffers successfully jumping over to the political side.

Osgoode: Hoo boy, this could get ugly. Doug Thompson was a popular councillor for Osgoode, winning 67% of the vote in his last election in 2010. In 2014, he backed George Darouze, in a thousand-person race, with a number of qualified candidates. Darouze won by about 400 votes, a small margin, sure, but scoring over 20% in that field was somewhat impressive. No doubt, Thompson’s backing helped.

Four years ago, there was chatter that Thompson was displeased with Darouze and that he was going to run again. That didn’t happen. Darouze remained fairly popular and scored over 50% of the vote against a rather weak field (though I still Kim Sheldrick would have been a fine councillor for Osgoode).

But is Councillor Darouze still popular? He hasn’t changed much over time, but he also hasn’t accomplished much. Sometimes, that’s okay. A populace that supports the status quo isn’t going to ask for much, and maybe that’s what Osgoode residents want. Maybe they just want to live their life without much doings by the city.

But this term has also been a bit more checkered. He was officially sanctioned by council, forced to give an apology for abusing his power office against a resident who works as a police officer. He’s had other online run-ins, was on a council zoom meeting while driving and, well, being a Watson acolyte might not be as beneficial this time around, especially with all the LRT news. None of it implicated Darouze, directly, but he’s been a dutiful foot soldier for the mayor.

So, does Thompson have any juice? Is the Darouze star falling? Is this campaign going to get really personal? We shall see…

Riverside South-Findlay Creek: This is CAM’s old ward. I’m not super interested in this race, but former councillor Steve Desroches is running, so that might be interesting, or it maybe not.

Somerset: This is only interesting because Catherine McKenney is running for mayor, and Somerset is likely to provide another strong voice at the council table. At this point, Troster seems like the lead candidate. She held a fairly prominent public persona coming into the race. She seems to have a lot of volunteers and community support. Most importantly, she’s been endorsed by the uber-popular McKenney. I’m not expecting a race here, but I do expect a lot of good ideas to come out of the campaign, and I would expect Troster to be a productive councillor next term.

Mayor: It’s kind of interesting. We’ve got three prominent candidates for mayor, and we have a bit of a Goldilocks situation going on. We’ve got a career politician coming out of retirement to run for mayor again; a two-term councillor seeking the mayoralty; and a newbie, a well-known media personality who’s never run for office or worked in city government, though he has covered municipal politics, in the past.

But that’s not all. Also with these three, we’ve got a nice spectrum, politically. Though there are no parties in municipal politics, judging on policies and track record, it’s fair to say we’ve got a left-wing candidate, a liberal candidate and a conservative candidate. Now, political philosophies function differently municipally than they do federally or provincially, but, still…

I don’t know what kind of machine Chiarelli still has behind him. He’s not the heir to the Watson throne (he’s been a consistent political foil). He hasn’t run for office recently. And his current online presence is almost comical (he’s put out 15-second videos asking questions like “is affordable housing important?” and “is transit important?”…and then he simply says, “yes, this is important.” No other other info. No policy proposals. It’s just…I don’t know man.)

Because of this, I’m inclined to see this as a race between Somerset Councillor Catherine McKenney and former radio host and columnist Mark Sutcliffe. McKenny has a built-in network of supporters and volunteers, coming off two successful council campaigns. Sutcliffe has high name recognition, is generally well-liked and has been conspicuously courting the Watson wing of council (including Matt Luloff, El-Chantiry and former councillor/current MPP Stephen Blais). Being a conservative who can lean on the Liberal machine will be a big benefit.

Now, we haven’t seen full platforms and policy proposals. Both have laid out their vision in an Ottawa Citizen op-ed. During their two terms in office, McKenney has proven to be a strong advocate for affordable housing, sustainable transportation, climate change preparedness and building an equitable city. Online, Sutcliffe has talked about keeping taxes and user fees low, spending more on police and fixing LRT (though he doesn’t say how). These last two items, of course, will be very expensive, and it’s not clear where he’ll get the money.

Chiarelli has, well, he has put out some priorities, though no real policies. He seems to want to maintain the status quo, while explicitly rejecting the acrimony and pettiness of the Watson regime. (Sutcliffe, subtly, is presenting himself as a kinder, gentler Jim Watson. Yes, he wears beige pants, but, come on, you know you like him.)

Oh yeah, Bernard Couchman is running again. I’m always okay with a Couchman campaign.

Ottawa City Council Recommends the Elimination of Revert Reds

The issue of revert reds is back in the news again. This post won’t provide an opinion, commentary or analysis of the issue (I have done that in the past). No, this post will merely detail the recent history of the issue and the decisions staff and council have already made.

In July 2019, councillors Catherine McKenney and Shawn Menard* brought a motion to council to look into a number of street safety issues, including revert reds.

At the December 11, 2019, city council meeting, city staff reported back on this motion as part of the Strategic Road Safety Action Plan Update. On page 6 of Document 2 of the update (you can look it up or download the report [pdf]), in response to the motion’s call “[t]hat the City look at options to eliminate all “revert reds””, the report reads:

Recommendations

Consequently, red reverts cannot be eliminated at all intersections. Staff recommend assessing site specific operations to determine if there are special cases where the actuation can be held if a vehicle/bike moved off of the sensor. This will only be considered after other measures to improve signal adherence have been explored. A pilot study of new technology is currently being developed to provide cyclists with visual feedback once they have initiated a signal change by being on a sensor. Implementation of this new technology at test locations is anticipated in the spring of 2020.

At traffic signal locations where multi-use pathways cross roadways with bicycle signal displays, the multi-use pathway traffic signal operations will be adjusted to hold the call for a signal change even when a bike moves off the detector area. This adjustment will also be made at all signalized intersections that are actuated, which have a bike lane, and operate in a 2-phase operation. This change will be implemented in 2020 following upgrades to the traffic signal controller and central traffic system to ensure this new functionality does not negatively impact other elements of the traffic controller and central traffic system. Once the technology is available within the traffic signal controller and centralized traffic control systems, staff will review and implement at locations with on road cycling facilities on a case by case basis to determine if the revised “holding the call for a signal change” function is appropriate.

(Emphasis mine.)

The recommendations in this update were passed unanimously by council in a vote of 23-0 (Councillor Deans was absent). The council motion also approved “that the City of Ottawa adopts the goal of zero fatalities on our streets by 2035, with a focus on safety for the most vulnerable users of our transportation system—pedestrians, school children, older adults and cyclists”…among other things.

There will be another debate at committee and at council on the issue of revert reds, but as of the date of publishing this, the unanimous decision to eliminate revert reds in specific situations stands.

*Full disclosure, for those who don’t know: my boss

A torn photograph

My friend Tyler posted a picture of a photograph the other day. The original lives in a photo album somewhere. You can see the adhesive stripes holding the photo to the page, and the edges of other photos, each with their own story to tell.

The left edge of the photo is torn–whether this was an accident, a means of sharing a memory with someone else or a way to excise something that no longer belonged, I don’t know.

The photo shows two friends, men, barely, in the midst of boyish laughter. The one on the the right is facing the camera, mid-sentence, his mouth round, but slightly contorted. It’s a face I’ll always know. It’s my friend Tyler.

Friend is a bit of a loaded word to use here. I’ve known Tyler since kindergarten or before. We lived two blocks away from each other when we were kids. We played together. We were in Beavers and Cubs together.

Tyler was very much the Cool Kid in our grade. He was bright and friendly. He was good at sports and popular. Most importantly, perhaps, he was a tough kid–fearless, at least to my eight-year-old eyes. He was a natural leader, then, and I think everyone wanted to be his friend.

And he was a good friend. I guess we were different in a number of ways–him, the cool tough kid; me, the brainy, more cautious kid–but we were tight.

Sure, he punched me in the face once, but it was an accident. We were in line in the schoolyard, he was shadow-boxing and I got a little too close. Whatever. These things happen between friends.

We were in the same class through grade 4, when I switched classes. We went to the same school until grade 6…then I switched schools.

A year later, I moved–close enough that we could have still hung out, but far enough that we were no longer in each other’s orbit. I’d go to a different high school. He’d stay in the old neighbourhood.

It was a good neighbourhood growing up. It was a mid-century inner suburb, staunchly middle-class. It was still in its first generation as a neighbourhood, so there were a lot of ties that ran through the community. You would know lots of families–maybe you were in the same class, maybe you played hockey together, maybe your older sister was a year behind his younger brother. You may not have known everyone, but you knew their names, even just their last names. Yates, Rankin, Heyward, Henein…these names that will never leave me, no matter how far I’ve left the neighbourhood.

I haven’t seen Tyler much since elementary school. I ran into him at a Rough Riders game at some point during high school–me and my friends snuck down to the lower deck, and he and his friends snuck down, too, just a few rows closer. They got caught and got kicked out. The people sitting beside us remarked that Tyler and his crew obviously didn’t pay for those seats.

In first year, we wound up in the same 1000-person law class. He was motivated. I was disillusioned. I dropped out after first year. He kept going.

Growing up, I went to three different elementary schools. By the end of high school, we’d lived in four different homes. The changes weren’t always significant–I was never the lone “new kid” at school; it was always a few of us who switched…we generally stayed in the same area of town, until the last move, but at that point I could drive, so it didn’t matter so much.

It was the first time I switched schools that I met Dax–that we met Dax. The mid-century school in the mid-century neighbourhood we’d gone to until grade 3 was at the end of its life. One year, we were celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the school (we’d had the same secretary the whole time!). Two years later, there were forty kids left. Two years after that, it was a French Catholic school. They’ve expanded, developing over the fields and adding portables.

There were probably five or six of us who switched schools at the beginning of grade 4, including me and Tyler. Just as Tyler was the cool kid at our old class, it seemed that Dax was the cool kid in our new class.

He was a good kid. He was an athlete, playing football and baseball. He was nice and kind. He showed no hesitance in befriending the new kids, even though he probably had enough friends, already.

I always liked Dax. We played football together one season. We rooted for the same team. He was fun to be around. But we were only in the same class for one year–grade 4–and the same school for three years. It’s not really the usual basis for a life-long friendship.

In retrospect, it’s no surprise that Tyler and Dax, the two cool kids from grade 4, would form a lasting friendship.

I’m active on social media these days, but I don’t really look to expand my network that much–it’s not like the early days of Facebook where you’d search out anyone you’d every shared a pack of bubble gum with and connect with them.

“Oh, it’s been so long. We should definitely get together.”

A few months ago, I friended Tyler on Facebook. He just happened to pop up in one of those slideshows of suggestions that’s usually just the same semi-random names that are mostly your wife’s friends.

I knew the face. I guess I’ll always know the face. It’s a face intrinsically linked with so much of my long-ago past. Compelled, I sent the friend request. He accepted it.

That was that. No fake heartfelt re-connection. No vacant rhetoric about how much we should–no, how we would–get together. Just the superficial connection over social media.

There was something real and honest about treating it as all it was.

So Tyler posted a picture the other day. It was him, probably about 19, looking directly at the camera. A buddy is beside him, laughing, his face shaded by the brim of a ball cap, and a nascent goatee further defeating any chance I’d have of recognizing Dax. But it was him.

Dax died on Friday.

First thing Monday, I sat at my computer and decided to check Facebook. That’s when I saw Tyler’s picture.

It was like so many others you see on Facebook. Someone finds an old photo album, enjoys a little nostalgia and just has to share. The picture on its own didn’t mean much to me. But that caption…

“Rest in Peace Brother. RIP Dax

It didn’t quite fit together. I knew it fit together. There was so much. A death. Young-adult Tyler. A face I didn’t know. A name I did.

In a blink, I understood. But, still. I had to check. It’s possible there was another Dax. The same age. The same relationship.

The first comment I read had his last name. Yes, it was him. I did a quick search. I found his obituary. I still didn’t recognize the face. He kind of looks like my friend, Bill. But it was all in obituary. It was Dax.

It hit me. It shook me up. I certainly don’t have the sense of loss of Tyler or of Dax’s family or current friends, but a sadness came over me.

I actually think of Dax every now and then. He’s very much linked to my memories of grade 4 and of going to a new school. My youngest daughter just started grade 4. And she just started a new school.

But I only ever knew Dax as a pre-pubescent kid…until now; now, I know him as someone lost too soon.

I never knew the person Dax became. I don’t know his story or his journey. I don’t know how he thrived or how he suffered. I don’t know his struggles or his triumphs.

I only know a kid, from grade 4. There was a happy lilt to his voice. He was always ready to be friends. He was nice and fun and sensitive. From that kid, I’m going to trust a good person grew. I don’t know, for sure, but I’m choosing to believe.

I’m putting my stock in that photo, a candid moment between friends. I know enough about the two people to understand the bond between them at that moment.

I’m disconnected from that memory. It’s not mine–maybe it could have been…maybe I could have been just on the other side of that torn edge…maybe if I hadn’t moved…

…but no, it’s not mine. I’m just looking in–an outside observer peering through the window, absorbing refracted grief.

On to Cumberland

I have a fondness for Cumberland. A few years before her passing, my mother-in-law moved out there with her soon-to-be-husband. We had many good times visiting them for special occasions, hitting up the Santa Claus Breakfast at the Lion’s Club or heading out the Cumberland Museum. My wife and I even attended a wedding reception at the Cumberland Community Centre (I caught the bride’s garter). There was about ten years when Cumberland played a very important role in my life.

I haven’t been back much since my mother-in-law died. I wonder if the museum still has the little train you can ride.

Anyway, I’m writing about Cumberland because we’ve got a by-election coming up in about a month, and I figured it’d be good to check out the debate and weigh in on the race. (For the record, I’m still working at City Hall, so this is a bit of a busman’s holiday. I wonder if anyone will try, futilely, to get me fired for this sort of thing again.)

But, y’know, I figured before I really dug into the debate, I should acquaint myself with the candidates, so I knew what to look for when the debate. We’ve got a fairly crowded field (this is turning into a trend), and I’m not really familiar with all the candidates, so it was time to look through their websites to get an introduction.

Here’s a quick, first impressions preview of the candidates, in whatever order I feel like:

Catherine Kitts ran in the crowded Orleans race in 2018, doing fairly well. Who knows, if there were a few fewer candidates or ranked choice voting, maybe she could have edged out Matt Luloff. I don’t remember too many specifics about her campaign, but she did seem like one of the more promising candidates back then.

She should definitely be considered one of the front-runners, with her past campaign experience, her work as a community journalist and possibly the choice of Mayor Watson–she was seen at an event with Watson and former councillor Stephen Blais. It was, apparently, unplanned, but the optics certainly say something. (The lack of physical distancing said something else.)

She hits a lot of good notes in her platform (road safety, helping seniors, protecting farmland, etc.), but there are some worrying things, too (policing).

I wondered why she was running in Cumberland after running in Orleans two years ago. I’m not a huge fan candidates who appear to be campaign-hopping, but apparently she has moved into Cumberland since the last election.

Patrick Uguccioni–another former community journalist, having run the paper Your Community Voice for the past little while–would also be a strong candidate. A former staffer for Mayor Larry O’Brien, as well as other pols, he’s got the knowledge and experience to help when debating or when discussing issue with residents. From his social media persona, you’d think he’d be another potential Watson candidate, though his past work with O’Brien and his endorsement from Bob Chiarelli, might say otherwise. He also has endorsements from former local politicians Doug Thompson and Brian Coburn.

His main issue seems to be the ward boundary. He has a long explanation for his support of Watson’s plan to expand the urban boundary. It’s a little disjointed with some logical flaws, but it’s always good to know where candidates stand on these things. The weird thing about it is that this is an issue that’s already been settled. He’s never going to have to vote on this. I don’t know why his primary issue would be something so stale.

Oh yeah, he doesn’t seem to like defunding the police…though he doesn’t make it clear that he knows what that actually entails.

Nonetheless, he is poised to do well.

Yvette Ashiri would seem to another strong challenger. No, she’s not another journalist, and, no, she doesn’t have the tacit or explicit endorsement of local politicians, but she seems to be campaigning hard, and she’s garnered support of the grassroots political group Horizon Ottawa (full disclosure, I know some of the people at Horizon Ottawa, but I’m not involved with them). This support has, weirdly, raised the ire of a Random Twitter Man who seems to think it’s some sort of downtown Trojan Horse or something. (He also seems to ignore the suburban residents of the ward, so…).

She has an impressive resume, with a lot of public service and commendations. The platform on her website is fine, though website platforms only mean so much. She touches on a lot of good notes: working for people, not developers; social inclusion and fighting social isolation; protecting the environment; and bridging the rural-urban divide (by the way, the urban-rural divide is really just suburbia).

It’ll be interesting to see how she does in the debate. There’s a lot to potentially like here.

Jensen Boire ran last time, too. He had no website, no social media presence and didn’t show up for the televised debate. I wouldn’t even assume he exists, but my wife knew him when they were younger, so I guess he’s a real person. He’s got no website again (according to the city website). We’ll see where his campaign goes, this time.

A. Bruce Faulkner, also without a website, is one of those candidates that seems to show up in a variety of races, all across the city. He’s a self-described libertarian and, in the past, has demonstrated all the caricaturish poses often associated with libertarianism. He’s run federally (I think?) and provincially (maybe?) downtown, and municipally (IIRC) in…Kanata? I dunno. I guess he just runs. I doubt he’ll make a challenge in this race.

Lyse-Pascale Inamuco is another interesting candidate with an intriguing resume. Her platform hits on some good notes, though the desire to create a BIA is worrisome. Looking at her list of volunteer work shows some promise (Women’s March, Rotary Club, Healthy Transportation Coalition, Mouvement d’implication francophone d’Orléans, 613-819 Black Hub Noir), and some diversity (Ottawa Board of Trade).

It’s at this point I’ll note that a lot of the candidate’s websites look really similar (two, even, seem to have chosen the same template), with a lot of overlapping issues (high-speed internet to Cumberland!). There’s going to take a lot of reading-between-the-lines when it comes to platforms and platitudes, and a lot of discernment to try to figure out who will actually work to get the things you want done at City Hall.

Denis Labrèche is not a candidate I was familiar with. Picking up on a theme, his background is media and journalism. He’s from Carlsbad Springs, helped establish the Community Association out there and has been serving as its president. Community Association President is not a bad stepping stone to city councillor (eg Jeff Leiper), but it’s no guarantee, either (eg Kevin Kitt).

His community work is very impressive. I assume this should give him at least a bit of a base of support (and volunteers). He seems to be running on two basic ideas: constituent service and communication, and merging Hydro One customers with Ottawa Hydro (this is an issue many candidates have identified–I know it’s been a long-standing concern for residents in rural areas, but it’ll also be a really tough thing to accomplish).

I can’t really glean much else from his website. He seems like ok guy, but no idea how that translates to being a candidate.

Craig MacAulay. I like Craig MacAulay. He’s a nice guy. He cares about community. And he wants a city government that’s run fairly. These are all good things.

We’ve seen Craig before. He ran in College Ward in 2014 and then for mayor in 2018. He lives in Bells Corners and keeps a blog about Bells Corners and city politics. He also runs a wonderful bike-taxi.

All that said, the people of Cumberland Ward aren’t electing a guy from Bells Corners.

Mark Scharfe is back again. The last time we saw him was 2014 and he was running for the open Osgoode seat, losing to the current councillor, George Darouze. Scharfe doesn’t live in Cumberland, and there’s no clear reason why he’s running–other than to push his curmudgeonness. Personally, I’ve never thought living outside the ward should be disqualifying, but if you don’t live in the ward, I want a good reason for why you’re running there, and it can’t just be it’s-an-open-seat-and-I-really-want-to-be-a-councillor.

Scharfe seems to be running only for the sake of his personal pet issues: weekly garbage pick-up, scrapping the green bin program and…I’m not really sure, something about Section 6 of the Charter and businesses and people making a living and him suing city council or something. My guess is he’s a pandemic truther and doesn’t think any businesses should have been forced to close to try to save people’s lives?

I don’t think he’ll play a role in this election.

(If you’re wondering, why yes, I have written about him and his politics before.)

Henry Valois is a volunteer firefighter. That’s the main takeaway I got from his site. He’s also clearly involved in his community. He doesn’t tell us what he’d do as councillor, but being a community-minded dude is a good start…but that’s it.

So that’s it for now. Of the ten candidates, I think we can automatically cross off four, with a couple others barely hanging on to relevancy. There are three or four strong candidate, but being a strong candidate isn’t enough; you need to have a strong campaign. When you’ve got a crowded field, a shortened timeframe and voters distracted by other things, you’re ground game is going to make the difference.

Sure, I’d love to say that the ramblings of a local blogger or some really neat social media campaign or a groundbreaking policy proposal will make the difference, but, nah, it’s about knocking doors, calling voters and getting out your voters.

This, of course, won’t stop me from rambling.