Mooney’s Bay and the game of who knew what when

The other day, I wrote about the massive playground that is to be built at Mooney’s Bay. There’s scant information about the development, itself, but there we’ve learned a lot about the very very flawed process.

CBC’s Joanne Chianello wrote about all the rules that city staff broke. It’s a testament to Joanne’s tenacity and comprehension of the city’s workings that she was able to outline the various ways that staff overstepped their bounds.

River Ward councillor Riley Brockington initially spoke as if he supported the development. At least, that’s the read I get from this article…but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

After the outcry against this bureaucratic misadventure, Brockington adjusted his position (I won’t say he’s changed his opinion–I think he was responding to the wishes of his constituents, and looking to open up debate, both good things, so I’ll offer him the benefit of the doubt on this). Brockington tried to bring a walk-on motion to council to discuss the matter and begin the process of trying to figure out the best site for this playground.

Because he hadn’t given notice of this motion at the last council meeting, he needed to a two-thirds vote to get his motion on the agenda (the last council meeting was on May 11, but the story didn’t break until May 13…the cynical might look askance at that).

As the Sun’s Susan Sherring noted, this was council’s chance to actually partake in a bit of democracy. Representative government shouldn’t be too much to ask of your government representatives.

Brockington didn’t get his two-thirds. His plea for city council to actually debate a matter that they’re supposed debate failed 15-7. (If you’ve been following along, you know this council doesn’t always like having to debate things or make tough decisions.)

By the way, usually to get a walk-on motion on the agenda, you only need a 50%+1 vote. You need a two-thirds vote to for a walk-on motion to overrule staff’s delegated authority. Granted, as Joanne pointed out, staff had no such delegated authority, so you might be able to raise a stink about it, if it wasn’t such a moot point.

Once the story broke and the backlash ensued, Brockington didn’t have a ton of options. If he recognized a bureaucratic abuse of power, he could have taken it to the department manager or maybe up to the city manager, if need be.

Or he could have gone straight to council. At the time he acted, going straight to council was probably the right decision. If he had made some headway going the bureaucratic route, the matter would have just gone to council, anyway. And if the project has the backing of a politician with more political capital than him, he wasn’t going to win anyway.

But that’s a pretty conditional analysis of Brockington’s course of action. Once the story broke and the backlash ensued, Brockington didn’t have a ton of options–but should it have come to that?

Here’s what Brockington is quoted as saying in that original Citizen article:

“The details couldn’t be released because the city was negotiating with this company,” Brockington said. “I didn’t want to get the community’s hopes up on a project that had a fair chance of not coming to fruition.” he said.

Brockington knew about the project before the story broke and before the trees at Mooney’s Bay were cut down (a fact confirmed in the Sherring column). Further, he knew about it while negotiations were going on, so, surely that means he knew about the project more than two days before the work started…before the council meeting at which he could have gotten his motion on the agenda of the next meeting without needing a two-thirds vote.

So Brockington knew about the project, but, for some reason, was compelled to keep it a secret.

I don’t want to dabble in conjecture, here. That’s why I didn’t address this part of the issue in my previous post.

It’s also why I emailed Brockington about it. Here’s what I asked (okay, it’s a bit clunky, apologies):

Was this a legal obligation that you not speak about it? Was it just a promise made by the city (and, if so, by whom)? What were the ramifications if you had spoken about it?

Were you told about this project and then told that you weren’t allowed to talk about it? Or were made to promise not to talk about it prior to you being briefed? Finally, who told you that this was not to be made public?

I sent that email Saturday morning. I certainly didn’t expect a response over the weekend, that’d be unfair (though I know Brockington often does community work on the weekend, which is great), but it’s Thursday night, early Friday morning now. Brockington has no obligation to respond to me (I’m not like a real reporter or anything), but I’m not going to hold my tongue any longer.

Brockington shouldn’t have agreed to remain silent on this project. This is a major project in his ward and a major expense. Everyone, especially the local councillor, should have known that this was the sort of matter that should have been addressed publically.

If his initial statement is accurate, and he didn’t want to say anything because he didn’t want anyone to get their hopes up too soon, well, that’s really not an acceptable excuse. Remember how the mayor got all our hopes up that we’d be getting the Winter Classic in 2017? That was engagement. This smacks of wanting to avoid embarrassment or disappointment.

If city staff told him there was a major project in his ward, but they wouldn’t say give him any details until he promised confidentiality, he shouldn’t have agreed…and he should have raised a stink.

This issue isn’t about the playground; it’s about democracy and transparency. Brockington has let down residents in that regard.

Brockington’s still kind of new to council, and he’s not always had the smoothest ride. Maybe his inexperience allowed other people to work on him behind the scenes. Maybe this wouldn’t have gone down this way in Marianne Wilkenson’s ward or Diane Deans’s ward or Rick Chiarelli’s.

But that’s not really here nor there, is it. The deal is done. Council has, through active neglect, tacitly approved this million-dollar development, but we can’t let this happen again. It’s not appropriate for city staff to overstep their bounds so greatly. It’s not appropriate for councillors or the mayor to keep these secrets from residents. It’s not okay for council to eschew their responsibilities to make life easier for a TV show.

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Urban development and the terror of the suburbs

The city took a pretty significant step forward recently, eschewing (if only discretely) our car obsession for a bit of smart planning. By that I mean that council approved the development of two parking-free towers at Rideau and Besserer. There were some objections (mostly involving the assumption that the towers without parking would attract a lot of residents in need of parking), but this is eminently reasonable development plan. Proposed as student housing, this is a perfect develop to begin our break form car-centric design, everywhere.

As Jan Harder (Jan Harder!) said, “If you’re not going to do it here, where are you going to do (it)?”

The councilor is, of course, correct. This is a great spot for a parking-free high rise. It’s central, near the university, in an eminently walkable area and it’s close to a to-be-built LRT station. This was such a no-brainer that it passed through the Planning Committee almost unanimously…almost.

Rick Chiarelli didn’t like the plan*, and was the only committee member to vote abainst it. He expressed concern that a development bordering Sandy Hill, Lowertown and the Byward Market would have a negative impact on neighbourhoods in College Ward.

Seriously.

You see, College Ward has Algonquin Collee (hence the name), and Chiarelli doesn’t want parking-free development near Algonquin.

Please note: no one was proposing such a development, nor had city staff reviewed even the possibility of such a development.

Something good happening in Rideau-Vanier couldn’t be approved because some imaginary future development in College Ward might occur, and that imaginary development might (we don’t know) have some negative effects on the neighbourhood.

There are a few things to unpack here. Clearly, Chiarelli is a little too focused on drivers (and parkers). The idea that students living near Algonquin (and Baseline Station) might not need cars doesn’t seem to have entered into his calculus. It’s hard to blame him (completely). The city is car-obsessed. Our development is far too car-centric (though it is, clearly, changing). And his constituents seem to see non-car-centric planning as the apocalypse (and Chiarelli doesn’t seem to have dissuaded them of such a notion). So maybe the car-centric nature of his reaction isn’t totally his fault.

Maybe.

But his willingness to hurt other neighbourhoods and other wards in order to fight this imaginary threat is completely his fault. Because this is the other—and more pernicious—part of his objection.

He wasn’t voting for what was best for the neighbourhood, residents, the ward or the city. From his vote and his words, he was saying that Rideau-Vanier should be sacrificed for the sake of his ward…and not because the proposal hurts his ward, but because assuaging his irrational fears about possible future College Ward developments is more important than improving other parts of the city.

We’ve seen this before, back when the Main Street Complete Streets proposal was raging. From Kanata and Barrhaven, respectively, Allan Hubley and Jan Harder (Jan Harder 😦 ) fought this proposal because they didn’t want to see Complete Streets in their enclaves (never mind that both Kanata and Barrhaven are embarking on bike infrastructure now, and that Harder has requested that the efforts of city-building extend beyond our urban-ish neighbourhoods).

This wasn’t the selfish objection of Diane Deans (sure it’ll save lives and better the community, but it’ll tack three more minutes on to peoples commutes!). This was opposing Main Street developing because you objected to non-existent suburban development.

We can’t run a city this way. Yes, councillors are elected to represent their wards, but we can’t let them crap on the rest of the city because some Urban Planning Bogeyman is hiding under their bed. People want these developments. Planners want these developments. The local councillor wants these developments. At some point, we can’t accept (and should openly ridicule) these imaginary fears.

We shouldn’t let suburban paranoia destroy our central neighbourhoods.

*I reached out the Chiarelli for comment. He forwarded it to an assistant who responded right away asking who I wrote for. I said I was a freelance writer, that I’ve written for the Citizen and the Sun and that I keep this website. She also asked when I was planning to publish. I said in a few days, but that’d I could hold off if they needed a bit more time. That was about three weeks ago.

The biggest (objection to the) playground

You’ve probably already heard, but a TV show has decided that it’s going to build the biggest playground in Canada, and they’re doing it at Mooney’s Bay. The plans have been in the works for a while, but we just heard about it the last few days, when someone (the NCC, the city, the production company) had a bunch of mature trees chopped down.

There had been rumblings in the neighbourhood that something was afoot, but no one knew exactly what (well, some people did, including the local councillor, but that’ll be a topic for another post, probably). It seems that our politicians, planners and TV producers wanted to break ground before anyone broke the news.

Understandably, this has caused a bit of an uproar in the city. While some (including our disingenuous and contemptuous mayor) have pushed back bemoaning Ottawans’ supposed unwillingness to embrace fun, this development is severely flawed and could be a giant setback for the city.

(And, really, how was Mooney’s Bay not already a wonderful, thoroughly enjoyed park?)

So, let’s look at all the problems, shall we?

It’s not the playground, it’s the process

Anyone defending this development is defending government activity that places the desires of a reality TV show over the interests of city residents. The process is anti-democratic, and the public officials who have come out strongly in favour of it have shown utter contempt for the public, the people who will actually have to live with the decision.

Maybe the playground will be nice, we don’t really know. There are some rudimentary sketches online of a Canada-shaped play structure (which seems to put Parliament Hill in Northern Ontario, perfect for an Ottawa park!), and there is talk of the World’s Longest Monkey Bars. No matter how good or bad it turns out, I’m sure kids will be able to find a way to make it fun; that’s kind of the great thing about kids. But at this point, it’s just a big gimmicky play structure that seems to be designed more for the gimmick than the kids.

Which is in keeping with the whole project. It’s being considered a 2017 legacy project. But a legacy project in this spot should be built for the community, not for the spectacle. So far, this is all spectacle.

The site was chosen for the benefit of the TV show. Apparently, producers were offered Mooney’s Bay, Britannia Beach and Andy Haydon Park. They liked Mooney’s Bay, so Mooney’s Bay it is.

This is key: Mooney’s Bay was chosen for the benefit of the project; the project was not planned for the benefit of Mooney’s Bay.

An aside: this is akin to all the talk about the Senators moving to Lebreton Flats. The team and supporters talked about how great the Lebreton Flats location would be for the team. But that shouldn’t really matter. We shouldn’t be worried about how Lebreton Flats could help a hockey team, we should be worried about whether a hockey arena will be good for Lebreton Flats.

Basically, the NCC (who is behind the Mooney’s Bay thing, but has worked in conjunction with the city) is using our home to benefit private businesses.

But, hey, maybe this is the right place for the development. The problem is that there is no way of knowing. The city, NCC and TV folk have done all the planning in private. There have been no consultations, no studies, no surveys, no feedback mechanisms.

Another aside: city bureaucrat claimed that because there was some sort of study done in a decade and a half ago, it’s ok for them to do whatever they want without telling the public. 

There’s also been no public discussion about location (or locations) for building a new playground. No talk of where we might really need it, or what communities are starved for park capacity. No discussion about whether we could be spending that million bucks somewhere else.

Oh, sorry, did I forget to mention the price tag?

It’s not the playground, it’s price

The mayor and others who back this like to point out that the TV company is pitching in about $1M for this. Why would we turn down free money or a free park?

The answer, of course, is that it’ll cost us $1M. We’re splitting the development cost of this playground (yes, it’s a $2M playground). You’d think a responsible government (both pols and bureaucrats) would think a bit of public consultation would make sense for such an expense. But they don’t, apparently.

Apparently, the TV peeps have started a GoFundMe campaign for this, so they might not even have their share of the dough, yet we’re already chopping down trees.

City planners are arguing that they don’t have to go to council for this. It’s coming out of the city’s cash-in-lieu funds, and those funds are discretionary.

These planners would seem to need a listen in the difference between what they can do and what they should do. These funds aren’t there for fun vanity projects; they exist to ensure that the city has the park capacity it needs (in the spots it needs it).

Further, the concern should be that this will be a continuing drain on our cash-in-lieu funds. Last year, the city made the cynical move of allowing cash-in-lieu funds to be used for regular maintenance (which could lead to neighbourhoods being starved of needed park capacity). So in coming years when this monstrosity starts to wear out (as all playgrounds do), the city will be able to just tap into these funds to fix the thing. These could be big outlays that will prevent other parks from being built.

Or they could just let it fall into disrepair

But it’s still kind of the playground

Don’t let anyone say that the objections to this playground means Ottawa can’t have nice things. Mooney’s Bay is already a nice thing! The question comes down to whether this is the right thing to add to Mooney’s Bay, or if it will actually make it a little worse.

(And we’re putting aside that they’re going to wait until summer to hit before they start really building the thing. It’s better TV, you see. It doesn’t matter that it’s about the worst time to start cordoning off and digging up a major, popular park.)

This is a massive undertaking. It’ll use up a ton of (already in use) green space. It’s costing us trees. And it is contributing to the removal of an adult fitness structure (which, the city says, is at the end of its lifecycle…but surely could be fixed up or replaced for less than a million). For the amount of work they’re planning to do on the park, we should be pressing the developers to really make their case, not just offering up some prime park space for a little PR.

And maybe they can make that case! Maybe this’ll be the best playground every. Maybe it will really improve this (already super-popular and really busy) park. But if they want to build a playground of this magnitude, they really must show their work.

But whatever happens, this won’t be the biggest playground in Ottawa. As we’ve seen with Lebreton Flats, the Experimental Farm and now Mooey’s Bay, the city, itself, is the biggest playground in Canada–a giant play area for developers, bureaucrats, politicians and federal agencies to do what they want with little concern for the city or its residents.

Holiday Shopping Delayed

A while back, I wrote about the push to open up retail stores in the Glebe on statutory holidays. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the idea. I felt that if we were going to start doing away with stat holidays, we needed to enter into a larger discussion, rather than just focus on certain industries and certain neighbourhoods.

I also felt the process was fundamentally flawed when it appeared to be left up to politicians, bureaucrats and business owners, leaving the retail workers (the people this would actually affect) out of the discussion, for the most part. Alas, the motion passed.

But the implementation of these new rules have hit a setback. The Ottawa and District Labour Council has brought this issue to the Ontario Municipal Board. They feel the city didn’t sufficiently concern itself with the plight of the workers, and they’re clearly correct.

Whatever the proper resolution to this matter, the whole issue was quite rushed. There was not sufficient public debate, and very little investigation into the rationale for having holidays, the rationale for abandoning them piecemeal and the effect such a decision would have on the greater community.

The story notes that one shop owner in the Glebe didn’t like the new rule:

Jennifer Adam, owner of JD Adam Kitchen Co. at Bank Street and Third Avenue, said she wants to give her “very dedicated staff” the holidays they deserve.

But if her retails neighbours start opening on holidays, she’ll feel pressured to do the same, she said.

Now, it’s easy to take a laissez-faire stance on this and suggest that Ms. Adam is free to give her staff the holiday, regardless of the city’s policy, but that would be a facile argument that completely ignores why we have holidays and the pressures of retail.

Years ago, I ran a couple of wine stores, one of which was at Westgate Mall. Westgate was not the most vibrant of malls, sadly, so it wasn’t always very busy. When the mall expanded its hours, staying open until 9:00 every weeknight, stores were given the option to close early on Monday and Tuesday. Many did. We did not.

The company I worked for had a policy. When a store was in a mall, it had to to be open whenever the mall was open (liquor license permitting). It didn’t matter that we might have two customers in three hours, thus losing money. The rationale was that customers needed to know that they could always expect the store to be open when the mall was open.

This made sense. If a customer couldn’t rely on us to be open, then they would likely take their business to a store they could count on. This is the predicament JD Adam could find itself in. Not opening on a holiday could, potentially, hurt non-holiday business.

(And that says nothing of any peer pressure from the rest of the BIA.)

So we can’t just assume that people (management and workers) who want the day off will just be able to close up shop or book the time off, that completely ignores the way the real world actually functions.

The Glebe BIA is seeking to do away with statutory holidays. I don’t know what their true position is (either to do away with them completely, or maintain a competitive advantage over other areas), but this debate is bigger than their business plan and affects more than just their members.

But that’s not the debate we’re currently having. And in a city where the employees of the largest employer will, basically, never be affected by this, we’re not going to.

 

Parking won’t save Lansdowne

The more I think about Lansdowne—think critically about it—the more pessimistic, cynical and a little angry I get about it. It’s an urban-style theme park built for a suburban audience and it’s totally draining the neighbourhood. Management is a mix of dishonesty and incompetence with an occasional sprinkling of low-key hostility.

So it’s really better for my mental and emotional health that I avoid thinking too deeply on the matter. Alas.

On Mother’s Day, the family headed over to Lansdowne. Despite everything I just wrote, it was almost perfect. We were able to grab a quick lunch at Whole Foods (the sushi was good if a tad over-priced for the portion size), buy a chair at Structube and make our 2:00 reservation at Cacao 70…all before I led a Jane’s Walk. (There was also a surprise performance by a string ensemble and choir at the Farmer’s Market that was absolutely fantastic.)

It was at Whole Foods that the most recent revelation occurred.

Ever since opening this “Urban Village”, OSEG and the city have been working to make it more car-centric and, as a predictable result, more hostile to bicyclists and pedestrians. OSEG desperately wanted car traffic. Apparently the “Urban Village” could work without a suburban transportation model. Lovely.

They’ve done a lot to accomplish this. The LCBO and Whole Foods offered validated parking right off the bat (breaking a promise make by OSEG). Parking has been tolerated in Aberdeen Plaza and many other non-car places. This past winter, OSEG started offering validated parking during weekday lunch hours.

If you’ve been to Lansdowne, you know it hasn’t really helped. Any amount of critical thought would have brought you to the conclusion that turning the place into a park-anywhere, car-centric big box mall would do nothing for animating the place.

And now we have some tangible proof.

On our Mother’s Day outing, my wife noted that Whole Foods now validates parking for 90 minutes for as little as a $10 purchase. It used to be you got an hour for twenty bucks.

If parking is popular and businesses rely on it, you wouldn’t see this change. If you’re truly worried about getting all your parking customers a spot, you’re worried about turnover. You need those spots changing hands. You’re not offering people more time for less money.

We’ve had almost two years of Lansdowne with its pro-parking policies, and still it’s not working. Still companies are trying to use it to get people out. They’re not building an amenable locale for hanging out. They’re not building a place for people (and, in case anyone was wondering, people attract people; parking doesn’t). They’re just trying the same thing at a lower price.

Guess what? It’s not going to help. It might—might—help Whole Foods, but any uptick they see will just be at the expense of the rest of the park, and the area. Parking has failed. People look for parking when they want to be somewhere. They don’t go somewhere for the joy of parking.

It’s time for OSEG and the city to get out of its suburban mindset. Lansdowne will never actually succeed in the manner they’re running it. They need a re-think. They need a different philosophy. They need people with a different vision and a better understanding of city life. They don’t need Whole Foods selling more parking time for less money.

And, really, who takes 90 minutes to spend $10 at Whole Foods. Perhaps they need to just be honest about it and admit that they’re getting into the parking business.

Driving, parking and HonkMobile

The Preston Street BIA got itself in a (tiny) bit of trouble today. The Preston Street Cyclofest is happening this Sunday. The street will be shut down between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm for bicycling activities and some all around fun.

To help coordinate travel to and from cyclofest, the BIA suggested people use HonkMobile to rent out residential parking spots to people coming down to Little Italy. Unfortunately, this is illegal. According to city by-laws, you’re not allowed to turn your driveway into a commercial parking enterprise.

Upon learning this, the BIA issued a mea culpa and said that they wouldn’t promote the HonkMobile app again. The people behind HonkMobile were a little more… hostile, we’ll say. They called into question the credibility of city councillors, city staff and one of the city’s best reporters…basically calling a bunch of people either liars or incompetent.

There’s a natural tendency to compare HonkMobile to Uber, and there really are a lot of similarities. In fact, HonkMobile is living up to the claims that Uber made about just being a technology platform. That’s all HonkMobile really is. It’s an app. They don’t recruit people. They don’t vet parking spaces. They just give people the connection.

And in certain instances, their service is perfectly legal. Organizations (private or public) that are allowed to operate commercial parking lots can use HonkMobile for allotting spaces and collecting fees.

But there’s also a difference, HonkMobile isn’t disrupting a market that has been manipulated by a cartel. There is parking competition in Ottawa. And there are private lots around the city.

Further, parking begets parking, so HonkMobile isn’t really solving a parking problem, they’re adding to it.

Finally, though, the issue that Uber was fighting has (largely) been resolved by the city putting in regulations to allow expansion of the market. Guess what, we already have that with parking. The city is regularly increasing the supply of parking in the city.

What’s not allowed is turning your residential parking spot into a commercial spot. Similarly, you aren’t allowed to use your personal vehicle as a commercial vehicle…you’re allowed to turn your personal vehicle into a commercial vehicle (with special rules associated).

There are valid reasons to be concerned about turning residential land into ad hoc commercial parking. The city seems to be most concerned about lawns being torn up for extra parking spaces to sell. There are environmental and health reasons to have a certain amount of greenspace in our neighbourhoods.

To me, the bigger issue might be around inducing more parking and more traffic. If you start having a bigger supply of parking, you’ll start to encourage more people to drive to events. This might make sense at the EY Centre (not that the EY Centre necessarily makes sense), but in a central neighbourhood connected by buses, the O-Train and our bike network, this is not ideal.

(Right. Bikes. It’s a bike event. Maybe bike to it.)

The question, of course, is how much of a problem could this be? The first issue should–should–be solvable by strict zoning restrictions (but we know how well that works out). The latter might not be an issue in most areas.

Most areas. The Glebe used to see a lot of this sort of parking during football games. People would rent out their driveway or even their front lawn and make a few bucks at every game. The city, not wanting to encourage driving to RedBlacks games, has nixed this.

People in the Glebe could also rent out parking spots during the work week. There are a number of commercial buildings on Bank Street, and a lot of employees drive and then shuffle their cars around the various neighbourhood streets.

But traffic on Bank is picking up as Lansdowne (slowly) fills up and gets more popular. If we don’t eliminate any street parking and just add residential parking spaces to the mix, we’re just encouraging more people to drive rather than walk, bus or bike.

So, I’m not against re-visiting this issue. Maybe there’s no huge, city-wide problem of residential parking spot rentals, but we have to be careful. We’re trying (theoretically) to build up sustainable transportation, especially in our central areas, just adding a new supply of parking will do nothing to help that goal.

In the meantime, go to Cyclofest, but ditch the car.

Balls and Food and Festivals

CBC’s Andrew Foote stirred things up a bit today when he tweeted out these pictures of the Ottawa Business Journal magazine detailing a new festival supposedly being launched by Les Gagne:

BallsFest1Ballsfest2

As you can imagine, this didn’t go over that well. People got a little a testy. Les Gagne is the former Executive Director of the Sparks Street BIA before getting sacked in November 2014, and this seems about as nuts as so many of his other plans. Clearly, food festivals are his bag.

Haha. See what I did there?

Testicles.

Since leaving the BIA, Gagne seems to be running a variety of food festivals, like Capital RibFest and Ottawa Poutine Fest (not to be confused with Ottawa RibFest and Poutine Fest, which are both run by Sparks Street), as well as a rather odd twitter account.

(During Gagne’s reign at Sparks Street, there was some odd twitter activity, too.)

As many have suggested, this might just be a joke…but it’d be a really elaborate prank. Balls Fest has been tweeting since October, and Gagne is currently running other (seemingly) successful food festivals in the city, so it’d be weird to hitch his reputation (such as it is) to a juvenile joke about genitals.

I searched the OBJ website, and there’s trace of Balls Fest. A search of the web brought up nothing except for the twitter account, a one-page web page and the rest of us making fun of the thing on twitter. So that’s good news. It shouldn’t need to be said, but the city doesn’t need to be hosting a festival that seems like nothing more than a way to make a bad testicle joke (stolen from Saturday Night Live).

 

Photo Radar and the Abdication of Responsibility

It might seem odd to criticize a politician for adhering to his platform. When pledges like “zero means zero” actually mean nothing, consistency can be a treasured characteristic in our leaders. But when consistency turns into rigidity, responsibility is abdicated. Leadership requires flexibility. Representative government requires politicians who will adapt to changes and respond to new issues as they arise. Good governance requires tackling difficult issues and making tough choices. It’s not clear that we have that at city council.

On March 23, River Ward councillor Riley Brockington brought a fairly straightforward motion to city council. Basically, Brockington wants Ottawa to have the power to use photo radar. This wasn’t a motion to implement photo radar. It was merely requesting that the city have such power, should it choose to use it.

Council ducked, dodged and sent the issue to the Transportation Committee, who will finally deal with the matter this week. The wheels of traffic enforcement—unlike those of the speeders who imperil other residents—move slowly.

Sure, the committee can to look into how, when and where to implement photo radar, but if they, and council, aren’t willing to ask for such power, it will be another instance of council abdicating their responsibility to effectively govern our city.

Council has rejected calls to de-neuter themselves before. Last year, councillor Tobi Nussbaum moved that council ask the province for the power to ban corporate and union donations (the same power Toronto has). Council balked, and a tough political debate was quickly avoided.

The mayor has come out against photo radar. It wasn’t in his platform (as if the last election was a plebiscite on his discrete platform, rather than a selection of 24 individuals to use their wisdom to govern our city). His platform aside, speeding was an election issue.

Brockington spoke about it.

Nussbaum wrote about speeding and photo radar.

Even the mayor was a proponent of more resources to deal with traffic safety.

But this debate isn’t about installing photo radar. It’s about asking permission to be able to consider it. Even the larger debate isn’t about photo radar; it is about enforcing our traffic laws and making our city safer. Photo radar is merely a tool.

Many local politicians, both municipal and provincial, have called for public consultations before Brockington’s motion is considered. This is an obstructionist and cynical ploy.

Calling for consultations costs politicians very little. It costs residents time and money. You need to give up evenings or weekends. You need to take time off work. You need to hire a babysitter. This makes sense when we’re in the middle of debating an issue. Right now, we’re merely talking about asking permission to debate a topic.

Demanding public consultations at this stage of the photo radar debate demonstrates contempt for the public. If Brockington’s motion passes, we’re all just going to have take more time off work, give up more free time and hire more babysitters to talk about actually implementing photo radar.

Of course, that is the next step for Brockington, but that’s the time for a substantive debate. As it stands, the forces against photo radar are looking to double the number of public debates we have about it, hoping that if they lose the first, they can re-group and try to win the second.

We can’t have an earnest debate about photo radar if we don’t first have permission to use it. We need that debate, and we need a council that doesn’t avoid important, substantive—yet controversial—issues.

We don’t elect politicians to avoid tough decisions. We expect politicians to make them.