The Somerset campaign persists

A while back, I gave some first impressions of the Somerset race. It’s a tough campaign to assess. There really are at least five or six solid candidates, and I imagine that the ward will wind up with a very good councillor on October 28.  As you may or may not recall (and you may or may not care), when I wrote that piece, I was leaning towards Martin Canning and Conor Meade as the two strongest candidates.

Saturday night, I finally watched the RogersTV debate. Below are my thoughts, as they came during the debate. I’m not really going to go back and edit them because it’s not really worth it, so be prepared for spelling and grammatical mistakes! There’s a tl;dr section at the end.

Opening Statements

  • First thing Edward Conway says is he’s a homeowner, because that makes hims better candidate, I guess.
  • Conor Meade claims to have the most extensive platform in the race. Bold statement, but it might be true.
  • Jeff Morrison is quite animated and engaging in his opening statement. He comes off strong, style-wise. He clearly appeared the most comfortable.
  • Denis Schryburt Has done a lot in the ward; the question will be if he can translate that into a vision for the ward.
  • I don’t get how Lili Weemen can keep talking Complete Streets when she wants to get rid of the Laurier bike lane.
  • Martin Canning drops his “New Ottawa” slogan effortlessly. In his opening statement, he doesn’t offer much of a vision, but he does list a number of accomplishments he’s had as an activist in the ward.

First Question: What will you do about jobs and people leaving downtown?

  • Conway jumps to road tolls. Phrased that way, it might seem a little out there, but he has a good point. Major roads are built to and through the core. That’s the only way flight to suburbs and bedroom communities can be facilitated.
  • Canning discusses the need for better, more environmentally-friendly businesses. This is good, as far as it goes, but more is needed to maintain the vibrancy of downtown.
  • Morrison is the third to speak, and he disagrees with the premise of the question. Somerset ward is vibrant. We’re seeing more and more development. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about the core, but it’s not the hollowed neighbourhood it was when I was growing up.
  • Ooh Canning and Morrison going at it (tangentially about Somerest House). Canning went on the offensive. Does this mean he sees Morrison as a big threat?
  • Schryburt pivots to the idea that the city needs to get tough on all derelict lots, not just high profile ones (similar to the comment he left on this site a few days ago).
  • There’s a bit of, which is great.
  • Weemen claims that families don’t live in the condos that we’re seeing downtown. I tend to disagree, however, a good housing mix (which was her underlying point) is a worthy goal.
  • Canning’s “New Ottawa” mantra could get old really quick.
  • McKenney sounds a bit more like an incumbent than the others. Morrison sounds like the activist.
  • Meade talks about bringing in businesses that will give great new opportunities to young people. He talks about supporting restaurants and bars, as well as our “creative culture”. I’m wondering if there’s a bit of a Richard Florida perspective here.
  • McVeigh has a very similar view as Meade.
  • Weemen is now complaining about the format, saying only the loudest get to talk. Sutcliffe points out she’s already spoken on this question. She wants the same amenities as the suburbs… but she doesn’t say what that is.
  • Schryburt also wants to bring in business, primarily local businesses.
  • What is it with the lack of a movie theatre being a major issue? Is that really what Somerset residents want out of their councillor?
  • Meade offers a “tangible” suggestion. The new library (which should stay in Somerset, he argues) should also be an incubator, teaching code and linking into the digital age.
  • Canning’s back to green buildings. I think he needs another tool in his toolbox regarding economic revitalization.
  • McKenney is talking trees, pedestrians and cycling to bring more customers to downtown businesses. This is true (pedestrians and cyclists tend to spend more money than motorists), but the framing of the question was more about office vacancies.
  • As you can see, everyone is kind of going to their pet topics.
  • Time is up, and Weemen is arguing about the format again.
  • Oh, Conway says everyone else is missing the point. He’s attacking suburban flight. He’s not wrong.

Next up, intensification. How high is too high?

  • First up is Meade, and he’s up for intensification and 27-storey towers in certain areas, Bank Street, the core and Catherine Street, for instance. He’s up for limiting height in the Golden Triangle, Little Italy and Centretown West. He’s clearly pro-intensification, but not rampant intensification. Seems like a solid, measured position.
  • Weemen wants parklets near highrises. This is true.
  • Morrison agrees with Meade, but stressed the importance of CDP. He thinks the ward has a good CDPs. He also notes how the OMB is ruining Ottawa. Good for him.
  • McKenney focused on re-orienting the perspective of city staff.
  • McVeigh claims our CDPs are enforceable. Yes and no. Yes, if council decides to (and they don’t design them with gaping holes). No, because OMB. He’d like to reform the OMB (I think), but notes that without the OMB, property owners would appeal through the courts.
  • Morrison and McVeigh going at it regarding CDPs and the OMB, McVeigh makes good points, but in the end, Morrison’s right. The OMB ignores CDPs. They re-write development rules. They encourage sprawl. And they’re a law unto themselves.
  • It’s great seeing most everyone dump on the OMB.
  • Conway calls everyone who wants to overturn the OMB “radicals”. He also claims the OMB enforces provincial rules. That’s demonstrably false. Leading into this debate, I didn’t list him as one of my preferred candidates (though that was as much out of lack of familiarity than anything). He’s not moving up the ranks, so far.
  • Also, he seems to think that urban sprawl is intensification.
  • Okay, he goes from all that to saying that the problem is that we’re not defending CDPs properly. There’s some truth to that, so he gets half points.
  • Canning switches from attacking the OMB, to attacking the set up of the OMB. He sees the OMB as a way for communities to appeal bad decisions, but notes that communities have no resources to take on these fights (other than whatever they can stir up). He wants to switch that up. An OMB that wasn’t so pro-developer would be a welcome developer.
  • Sandro Provenzano is clearly fond of his community. He also seems to have a good idea of the issues facing the ward. He hasn’t yet given any indication that he’s the one address those issues at City Hall.
  • McKenney notes that (despite complaints) we have good development downtown, too. This is a sound strategy for her: (1) she comes off as positive, and not just a malcontent; (2) she’s a City Hall insider; she could wind up owning some of its decisions. A “City Hall is screwing up” campaign wouldn’t totally help her.
  • That said, talking about the bland, token re-development of the Met is way off. It’s an ok development, but the way it’s tacked on to the old front face of the Met is just silly.
  • I think we’re going to see everyone basically agreeing on this (and many) issues. That’s what we’ve got so far.
  • McKenney goes back to saying planners need to treat residents as clients. I hope that’s the last time she uses that line.
  • She brought up the Norman Street development. Morrison uses the opening to go back at the OMB. That’s all well and good (and correct), but he’s going to seem like a one-trick pony.
  • Getting a bit testy. Morrison kind of mocks Conway and Conway fires back.
  • Weemen may have suggested that Ottawa is turning into Detroit.

Supervised Injection Site

  • McVeigh answers first. He supports SIS and all other forms of harm reduction. He takes a not-so-veiled shot at McKenney who used to be against an SIS, but is now mushy on the issue, claiming to want a made-in-Ottawa solution.
  • McKenney responds, claiming that in the past we didn’t have enough research to make a made-in-Ottawa solution. She’s still very non-committal.
  • Schryburt supports Insite in Vancouver, but he’s not sure we should have the same thing. He’s kind of parroting McKenney. He then pivots to speaking about other forms of treatment and recovery.
  • Canning calls this a litmus test of political leadership…and then he goes on to say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
  • Morrison notes that McVeigh was right about McKenney. She was against it and now she’s “for” it with a whole lot of caveats.
  • Morrison is totes for it, BTW.
  • Morrison also finally notes this is a health issue.
  • Weemen seems for it. She also seems to equate heroin use with abortion.
  • Yup.
  • At the 43 minute mark, Silviu Riley and Morrison take a drink of water in perfect tandem.
  • Provenzano and Morrison are the only ones who speak of drug users as people.
  • Riley is the first one to note that an SIS can be connected to recovery services.
  • Conway does not seem to like Morrison.
  • Conway argues that this whole thing is moot, because the feds won’t let us. First of all, that’s not necessarily true. Secondly, this was his same perspective regarding the OMB, that it was a provincial body and we couldn’t do anything. This is a rather defeatist attitude. Cities often have to seek assistance and changes in legislation from higher levels of governments. I wouldn’t want a councillor who saw all such attempts as futile.
  • Also, he noted the whole discussion was “sterile”. I really hope that was a pun, but I doubt it.
  • He supports needle exchange, no more.
  • Canning (I think, it was a voice off screen) notes that we didn’t realize that Conway was a spokesman for the federal government. Good line.
  • Sutcliffe lost control a bit. He gives an “I’m trying” sort of shrug to the camera. Municipal treasure, that man.
  • Meade credits McKenney for changing her mind after more research.
  • McKenney defends herself against such a baseless slur, “I have not done more research,” she tells us.
  • She goes back to her made-in-Ottawa boilerplate. The fact is that she gave an interview and was against SIS. Now she’s hedging. If she hasn’t changed her mind (or wasn’t totally misquoted), she’s obfuscating. She’s not actually lying, but she’s not being completely honest.
  • Meade is right, though, that candidates should be commended for keeping an open mind towards new research and information.
  • A nice bit of politicking by McKenney, seamlessly goes from talking about SIS to harm reduction to “safe consumption services”… which, of course, could just be the status quo.
  • Wait, after all that, McVeigh corners her. He asks, “Would you vote Yes or No for a single [Safe] Injection Site in our ward?” McKenney’s response, “Yes, of course I would.”
  • What the hell? Then why has she been wasting our time talking in circles? And if she hasn’t done any more research, why has her position changed?
  • [The cynic in me would say, “politics”.]
  • Schryburt is taking us back to recovery. He notes that all the services (harm reduction and recovery services) should be aligned, so that the entire system works together. Right now, people wait to long to get into recovery services.
  • Canning takes another dig at Conway regarding “speaking for the federal government”. We heard you the first time…well, no, we kind of didn’t, but I did.
  • He follows that up by talking about the need for community buy-in. He did not talk about getting community buy-in, just the need for it. Again, not leadership.
  • I am pretty sure that Canning is supportive of SIS, but I wonder if he is more concerned about making an error or alienating voters in this debate, rather than putting everything out there. It might be a worthwhile tactic. As an outside observer, I’d like to see more.

Next! We’ll combine the issue of tax increases and social services.

  • Riley does not think the mayor’s 2% increase is feasible. He implies that if we want to keep our services, we’ll probably need to raise taxes or ask the feds or the province to chip in.
  • Weemen thinks we should get rid of the fluff, in terms of city services. As is her thing, she then says we need weekly garbage pick up.
  • If you’re wondering, no, there is no congruity between those ideas. She goes back to her you can’t tell people not to shower every other day. No comment.
  • Weemen can’t stop talking about garbage and Canning seems amused.
  • And now she’s talking about litter…which has noting to do with bi-weekly garbage pick up.
  • Keep in mind, the question was about services. So do we talk about roads?, snow removal?, police? Nope. Weekly garbage.
  • Sutcliffe tries to step in and gain control. “Just a minute…” Weemen continues.
  • I wonder if Sutcliffe misses the Bay Ward debate.
  • McKenney notes that essential services are different for different people and different areas. She notes that we aren’t investing enough downtown (other than LRT, which isn’t really for the downtown).
  • Provenzano supports a 2% increase and bi-weekly garbage.
  • Sutcliffe scolds Morrison, kind of.
  • Provenzano starts talking about “The Seniors”. He wants to give them cheaper bus passes. He doesn’t actually give any statistics of the relative poverty of The Seniors.
  • Morrison wants a new hotel tax (which, apparently, other cities do).
  • Canning starts talking about childcare, social housing and recreation services. He also wants new innovative forms of revenue. He wants environmental tax reform.
  • Weemen is yelling over Sutcliffe again.
  • Conway is pretty snide about the fact that he came up with two policies Canning championed. Actually, maybe he wasn’t being snide, maybe that’s just how he talks.
  • Provenzano says people are off topic because they’re not talking about social services (which he equates to poverty fighting measures). Of course, the question was about taxes and social services, so revenue generation (how we pay for those services) is pretty much on-point.
  • Meade wants to increase revenue by growing our economy. He also notes that if everything’s a priority nothing is. He then says that he wants to fiscally responsible, take a centrist view of our services and maintain our essential services. He never says which services are essential.
  • McKenney spoke about “budgeting for growth”, and she’s absolutely right. She comes this close [imagine I’m hoding my thumb and forefinger really close] to noting that sprawl is not economically viable, and that the core subsidizes suburbs (as Conway has alluded too multiple times), but she doesn’t quite say it.
  • Sutcliffe has to cut off Weemen. I really hope he isn’t planning to ask a question specifically about garbage pick up.

Now we’re talking about bike infrastructure. Sutcliffe frames it negatively. Mark, we’re no where close to the potential limit of cyclists.

  • Morrison wants every street re-dev to be a Complete Street development.
  • He wants better maintenance and better, safe connectivity between bike routes.
  • Weemen wants more bike infrastructure, but she wants bikes to only be on one-way streets. Huh.
  • Canning speaks of the health and safety aspects (true) and he takes Sutcliffe to task for not understanding that cycling is a net-positive for the economy. This is the first time Canning has really presented a vision, offered details and been the candidate that he has presented himself as.
  • McKenney wants $70M spent on bike infrastructure over the next four years. That seems like a lot, but it’s actually less than cycling’s modal share would demand.
  • Provenzano wants a lot bike infrastructure to get people to bus or LRT stations. He thinks that will solve safety issues. That does nothing for cycling downtown.
  • McVeigh takes a shot at Sutcliffe referring to cycling as “fashionable”. “It’s not,” he says, “it’s a structural change.” Good on him.
  • He also wants to shift from a car-centric society. He wants to flip the viewpoint of planners.
  • Provenzano says that would take decades. I’m not sure why he thinks that, nor why he thinks his plan of biking to mass transit will save lives (if you live and work downtown, why would you bike to a station to catch the LRT to take you downtown?).
  • Meade’s strong on this. Says there’s a lack of imagination. Notes Amsterdam and how we could have similar year-round cycling, and definitely have 7-8 months of cycling.
  • Meade drops a Citizen’s for Safe Cycling reference and notes that, in scale, the $20M request isn’t much.
  • He says he’s fiscally conservative, but notes that active transportation is fiscally responsible.
  • Provenzano, who says he is a cylcist, doesn’t like Meade’s approach. He wants to mark lanes and get some signs up. Settling for that sort of infrastructure is how people get killed.
  • Conway equates CfSC’s request for $20M of the transportation budget to go to cycling in terms of the amount of childcare spaces it would pay for.
  • He doesn’t explain why it’s ok to use that $20M on car infrastructure, instead. Surely, babies are more important than Beemers.
  • Canning asks him how he can put a price on death. Good one.
  • Conway is going back to keeping cars out of downtown. Do you think he likes tolls and congestion pricing?
  • (Those are both good things, by the way, it’s just clearly his pet policy.)
  • Morrison talks proportionality and modal share, and, accepting that, bike infrastructure is underfunded.
  • Riley notes that building bike lanes, more people will bike…just like with cars and new roads.
  • Yes! Finally, a candidate acknowledges induced demand! This is a basic principle, and he is the first candidate in all the debates I’ve watched who has acknowledged that building roads increases driving.
  • I don’t know what Provenzano is talking about. He’s saying the other candidates are still talking cars. NO ONE’S TALKING CARS (other than in juxtaposition). He’s also talking LRT and getting people in Kanata to bike to the LRT. Wonderful, but what about Somerset residents who bike?
  • McKenney and Schryburt want Complete Streets.
  • Weemen wants cars to have sliding doors.
  • Canning brings up the need to have a strategy to sell cycling infrastructure to City Hall.
  • Morrison closes. He comes close to shaming cyclists and pedestrians. Hoping for respect from all road users is nice, but it’s a bit of a dead end. Infrastructure educates better than pamphlets or informational sessions. We’re near the end of the debate, and it was a bit of a down way for Morrison to end after a pretty strong showing.

Closing Statements

  • McKenney plays up her experience and stresses cycling, pedestrians, development and housing. Good idea to throw out all her accomplishments at the end, when no one can counter.
  • Provenzano talks about people needing a voice. He thinks he’s the only one committed to “those concerns, your voice”.
  • Oh God, Canning is going to say “New Ottawa”, isn’t he?
  • Yup.
  • He wants a livable, affordable, sustainable Ottawa–community-focused urban planning.
  • Weemen wants term limits for councillors. She also wants driverless cars.
  • Schryburt says we don’t need a “New Ottawa”. TAKE THAT CANNING! He wants cycling, affordable housing, green development and protecting Ottawa’s character.
  • Morrison humblebrags about being too idealistic. He also takes some veiled shots at not have the insider connections others do. Of course, he spent much of the debate talking about how much he has worked in the community to get council to do stuff, so he must have some connections by now. I’d say he’s also the most comfortable in front of a camera.
  • Riley wants a vibrant public sector (not sure what he means), more affordable housing, a $15 minimum wage and no pipeline.
  • McVeigh is a “small business socialist”. He has done a lot in the community and a lot in the business community. He wants people to be happy to live in Somerset Ward.
  • Meade says he has the best experience for the job (I don’t know about that) and the best plan for the job (this is more likely).
  • Conway asks, who will be able to handle your problems?, who will be able to best grasp the complex issues?, who is best to battle with you against developers?

Too Long; Didn’t Read

My impressions of candidates have only changed incrementally. When you have 10 candidates answering these questions, it can be different to discern the differences between them. They agree (or pretty much agree) on a number of issues, so the deciding factors will be fairly small.

So let’s walk through this:

I’d say Morrison, overall, came off the best. He had a solid handle of the issues, offered some nice back-and-forth (including with Sutcliffe) and presented a vision for the ward. He was able to show off his volunteer/activist experience in the community and he really looks like he would fight for what is best for residents.

Schryburt was quite strong, but he didn’t speak quite as much as some of the others. I didn’t hear enough from him to make him leap ahead in my nebulous rankings, and this could be an issue. Though it may not be the best to elect the loudest and most ardent debater, council is big and an effective councillor has to be able to have his voice heard. If you’re not getting your message across during this debate, will you get it across at City Hall? Maybe, but it’s hard to know. All that said, I’d still be ok with Schryburt winning.

Canning is very good at getting his message across… or, at least, his messaging. Too often, he offered platitudes. His vision only really came through discussing environmental issues and bike infrastructure. Now, those are two pretty good issues to champion, and it’s become clear over time that he does have a good vision for the ward and the city, but he didn’t do as much as he could have during this debate.

Meade was a bit quiet at first, but started to come on stronger as the debate went on. It appeared that there were certain issues with which he was much more comfortable. I’m inclined to take this to mean that he is a fairly quick study, and those are the issues he’s focused on. He is correct that he has a very extensive platform, and he definitely scored some points in the debate. He also made sure that Sutcliffe turned the mic over to Riley to give him a chance to speak. That’s not a big deal, but it’s not nothing, either.

McKenney still comes off as the quiet competent one. She’s a City Hall insider and it shows. She demonstrates an understanding of the issues, policies and workings of the city. Her platform is solid, though I’m not sure it really stands out. She kind of confounds me. She could easily be the best candidate of the bunch, but I just don’t have enough of a read on her or her vision.

Conway is a step or two behind the others. He has some good ideas, but his overall platform and vision isn’t fleshed out quite as well.

I can’t imagine Provenzano or Riley challenging in this race. Both seem bright, thoughtful and earnest, but nothing separates them.

Weemen isn’t so much running for council as she is crusading against bi-weekly garbage pick-up.

McVeigh is an interesting case to me. He has some very good ideas and he’s definitely been involved in the community. He’s been in the race for a long time and throughout it all, I’ve appreciated his positions, but he’s never become my favourite candidate. For much of the debate, he was just there, not offering much different (and that’s not really a critique; it’s a result of the dense, cluttered campaign), but he always persists. He always shows up with a respectable take on issues. At the end of day (and the end of the debate), he hasn’t grabbed me the way Meade or Morrison have, for instance, but he’s still there, a solid, attractive candidate.

So, here we are. I’ve watched the debate, and I’m probably even further from being able to decide. I would say it’s a real toss up between Morrison, McKenney, Canning, Meade and McVeigh.


3 thoughts on “The Somerset campaign persists

  1. I like your analysis, I have been following this campaign in Somerset closely and your points are very interesting.
    Just wondering what will happen on the 27th. I say it is either Morrison or Schryburt.

  2. Glad I’m not the only one that thinks that Canning talks in nebulous platitudes and strict “messaging”. I’m also sick of “New Ottawa”. It will probably get him a good chunk of votes, though.

    My three “front-runners” are Morrison, McKenney, and McVeigh. When I looked over their platforms at the outset, I was struck by how much the platforms were similar. They only differed in ambition.

    I am really torn on this one. Especially after 20 years of ticking off “Diane Holmes” and calling it a day.

    Glad it’s not just up to me. Everyone get out there and vote.

  3. I watched all of this and can say for sure it will be Morrison or MEade and hopefully the latter.
    He may be young but he has great ideas and seems to answer questions with the least hidden agenda

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