A week or two ago, Rideau-Rockliffe councillor Tobie Nussbaum wrote a solid op-ed about the lack of transparency pertaining to the problems with the LRT and the health of democracy. Basically, secrecy is bad for democracy.
I was thinking about that today, as I read two stories that demonstrated, again, how Mayor Watson and a number of councillors have hid information from the public–and sometimes the rest of council–for their political gain. And of course, that made me think of all the times this term that such secrecy happened, to the detriment of democracy, governance and the public.
Here’s a Greatest Hits:
- LRT: Watson knew it was going to be delayed when council passed the budget late last year. They voted on fare increases for transit and based all revenue projections on LRT opening on time (and on budget, ha!). Watson knew that LRT was going to be delayed. City staff knew it. Councillors were never informed, even when they asked directly.
- LRT II: We were all under the impression that if RTG failed to meet it’s deadline, there’d be a $1M punishment. We weren’t informed that, in fact, this wasn’t true, and if they were going to miss the deadline, they’d get a mulligan. Watson allowed this misconception to persist until the very last minute.
- Magical Budget Surplus: Also in the lead up to passing the budget, there was a lot of talk about both the city’s deficit and the city’s infrastructure deficit. Watson’s leadership (and his approval ratings) are based on starving the city of the money needed to maintain our infrastructure and our services. Some councillors decided a levy was in order, and they had a motion coming to council to that effect. There was a ton of discussion about the levy in the news and on social media…then on the day of the council meeting, Watson announced a surprise surplus (coming out of some property tax adjustments) that would keep the city out of the red and fund about $10M worth of infrastructure fixes. This was good news…good news that he kept to himself (and a handful of councillors), while the rest of wrestled with the city’s deficits. He saved the news so that he could do a bit of gloating and grandstanding at council.
- Sally Ann: Last year, we went through the whole Sally Ann/SOS Vanier debate. The relocation of the shelter came as a surprise to the community, and they were never really given proper time to investigate it, or to consult, or just generally to be part of the process. However, it was learned that both the mayor and councillor Fleury knew about the relocation a year before it was announced to the public.
- Mooney’s Bay: So Ottawa is starved for park capacity (not everywhere, but a bunch of neighbourhoods). We’ve also got a bunch of amenities falling into disrepair. That didn’t stop the city from secretly giving $1M and special approval to a reality TV show to build a playground at Mooney’s Bay. Whatever you think about the playground (it’s pretty cool and really big), the process was a contemptuous fuck up. Residents didn’t learn about it until the TV show started cutting down trees…but the mayor and councillor Riley Brockington knew about. A non-disclosure agreement meant they “couldn’t” talk about it, but it was really their choice to enter into the agreement (and the mayor very helpfully put all blame for lack of consultation on the inexperienced councillor).
Over the last four years, it has become clear that mayor views Ottawa as his own little fiefdom. Sure, he appears to care about the city, but he seems to care about the city as a reflection of him and his mayoralty. He’s decided he gets to do what he wants, and he gets to decide what information residents and other councillors are privy too, even information that is necessary for councillors to do their jobs and provide wise governance of the city.
It’s absolutely disgusting that residents seem willing to accept this mayor, his duplicity, and his sheer contempt for residents and their chosen representatives.
Nussbaum was right. Democracy requires transparency. A healthy city politic requires leaders who are honest, forthright, and will not hide, obscure or misrepresent vital city information.