Dear College Ward, You Can Do Better Than Rick Chiarelli

But not this year.

I watched the Rogers 22 debate for College Ward the other day. If I was a resident of College Ward, it would have been really disappointing. Hell, as a non-resident of College Ward it was disappointing. Rick Chiarelli was bland, typical and boring. He’s been a politician for a while now and he kind of seemed like he was coasting. If he has (or ever had) a grand vision for the city, you wouldn’t know it. Of course, he doesn’t really need to do much to protect his seat; his opponents are doing enough of that for him.

Scott Andrew McLarens seemed well-intentioned. He was also clearly in over his head. By his own admission, he wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the debate and fumbled badly over the first question (a straightforward one about property taxes). He’s clearly the youngest of the field. Perhaps he’ll grow into the role of civic leader. That’d be pretty cool.

Craig MacAuley… well… even he doesn’t take his candidacy too seriously, so I’m not sure we should either. During the debate, he told everyone to vote for his competitor, Guy Annable.

Which brings us to Guy Annable, a passionate candidate, shall we say. (It’s fitting that his information on the city election site is in ALL CAPS. He’s just an all caps kinda guy, I guess.) His platform is thin (two of his four promises are about weekly garbage pick-up… seriously), and his grasp on running a city is weak. He was clearly the strongest and most prepared challenger for Chiarelli, but that has more to do with MacAuley and McLarens than it does his own performance. Annable “passion” covers an anger about city politics. Sadly, it’s not just righteous disapproval of mismanagement; there’s a layer of hatred to his utterings. Building off his racist tweet from the other week, Annable lectured the TV cameras about poor people being drug dealers, suggesting we needed forceful police action against those who dare be poor. On the plus side, he let slip the candidate mask a bit when he let us know that one of his pastimes is hanging around fast food parking lots looking out for poor people drug dealers in “blinged-out” cars.

So, here we are. Sadly, I will be rooting for a Chiarelli victory. Maybe one of Somerset Ward’s strong candidates could parachute in, instead.

A Garbage Issue

If there is one issue cropping up in this municipal campaign that I have very little use for it is the call for the return of weekly garbage pick up. With all that is going on in the city, this matter is little more than self-absorbed, entitled whining.

And is a losing issue.

I have little doubt that some residents see this as the biggest horror facing Ottawa in 2014. I’m also inclined to believe that many candidates merely think many residents are complaining about it. I mean, if the candidate thinks it’s a big deal, then there must be thousands out there that agree, amirite?

Interestingly, a number of ardent supporters of weekly garbage pick up are slowly backing away from their stance. The call has begun to evolve into a call for weekly garbage pick up in the summer (at least for non-rural candidates). It’s a calculated retreat, a way to try to save face while they back away from their cockamaime position. They can even try to present it as a compromise, as if pushing for wasteful program for only a quarter of the year makes them masters of moderation.

The issue becomes even dumber with the policies that it often accompanies. Candidates like Mike Maguire want weekly garbage pick up, but they’re also disdainful of the green bin program, but they’re against dumps. Oh, and they want incineration.

Here’s how this all breaks down. The complaint is that garbage stinks. If left to sit for two weeks in the summer, all that wet stuff will rot and stink. And the maggots. Oh the maggots. I’m not sure we’ve heard more about maggots in a campaign before.

But, and this is key, the green bin is still picked up weekly. All that garbage that is being left to rot for two weeks is still picked up weekly. Yes, there may be some food packaging that doesn’t go in the green bin (yet), but the bulk of this rotting trash should be diverted on a weekly basis. People are just too lazy and too stubborn to switch from trash to the green bin. Their routine is more important than our future.

Rural candidates like Jonathan Mark or James Parsons want weekly garbage pick up (because Maggots!), but don’t want the green bin program (despite occasionally paying lip service to it). The argument is that rural residents tend to compost, so they derive no benefit from the green bin program.

So they need weekly garbage pick up for all the rotting garbage that they won’t put in the green bin because they actually compost it. It’s incoherent nonsense.

The garbage issue is championed most by suburban and rural candidates. But it is in these wards that new landfills will be created. So there is pressure to not have any more dumps, but to also make a ton of garbage that’ll be picked up weekly. The two policies are in direct contradiction.

But a lot candidates have a solution. They really do! We’ll just incinerate our trash. Be wasteful, make more garbage, collect it weekly, burn it, turn it into energy…profit! It’s such a tidy solution, it’d be ridiculous not to adopt it. It’s like some sort of perpetual motion machine. We’ll waste more so we can pollute more so we can waste more so we can pollute more…all at a cheaper price. Hell, we’ll probably make money.

Of course, it ain’t that simple. Aside from potential environmental issues from burning all of our crap, there’s the little fact that for the province to let Ottawa set up an incineration facility, we would have to divert at least 60% of our wet garbage (that rotting stuff in the green bins). Currently–with the green bin program in place–we divert about 51%. So we need increase our green bin use by almost 20% in order to incinerate.

So, if you want incineration, you have to have some sort of green bin program in place. There’s just no other way to reach the 60%.

Any candidate that is trying to sell you on weekly garbage pick up (even for just part of the year) coupled with incineration to solve all of our garbage woes is either ignorant or a liar. They don’t deserve your vote.

P.S. Any candidate promising you all this, while also promising you low taxes and sound fiscal management really doesn’t deserve your vote.

Prioritizing prestige over citizens

Yesterday, Mayor Jim Watson announced his most recent campaign pledge, to spend $1.5M per year to lure high-profile sporting events to Ottawa (things like the FIFA World Cup, the NHL All-Star game or the Grey Cup). Currently, we spend $900,000 each year on this. There are points for and against such initiatives (Watson’s team claims the economic value is 50 times the outlay, but sports, in general, tend to be a net drag on a local economy…and, of course, the ’88 Grey Cup helped bankrupt the Rough Riders), but it is noteworthy what gets priority.

Remember, in November it was proposed that the city plow an extra 16 km of bike lanes at an estimated cost of $200,000 (which is cheaper than plowing the same distance of roads). Council balked at the cost. Yet, we will spend 7.5 times as much on this project.

And so, we see how things go in Ottawa under the current council (and this is the preference of many other municipal candidates); the focus is money, business and prestige–the desire to be a world-class city by hosting world-class events (and the Grey Cup). It is not the city’s priority to ensure that we create a livable city.

The value of Casinos

So, I saw this tweet today:

A few thoughts on this matter:

  • This is terribly unfortunate for the people who lost their jobs. Hopefully, they will be able to find something else soon. And if the casino keeps losing revenue, no doubt we’ll see more. Again, I hope the suffering is minimal.
  • Nonetheless, there are some businesses for which I just can’t feel bad when they aren’t doing well, and casinos are one of them. If this revenue drop is indicative of an economic decline in Gatineau, then wouldn’t we want fewer people gambling?
  • Casinos tend to be a net drain on their host locales. If the casino’s business is dropping, that really hurts its business case.
  • Maybe the National Capital Region can’t really support two casinos. Is there a reason to believe an Ottawa casino won’t have disappointing revenue, or that it won’t cannibalize Lac Leamy?

We can’t necessarily read too much into this particular drop in revenue. It might just be a blip. But this should serve as a good reminder that casinos aren’t the fiscal panacea that so many of their boosters claim.