Diane Deans is right. Ottawa should have a Women’s Bureau.

Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans made a bit of news last week when she proposed the creation of a Women’s Bureau.

This is an eminently reasonable proposal, and kudos to Deans for bringing it to council’s attention. And, you know, it’s not even that radical of an idea. There are lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of initiatives aimed at addressing the issue. The most prominent might be Stockholm’s gender-equal snow clearing policy.

Here’s what Deans is suggesting:

Deans’s plan includes appointing a member of council to serve as a special liaison on women’s issues, as well as pushing for more gender parity on boards and commissions. She also wants to bring a group of city employees together to consider women’s issues before local decisions are made.

Deans’s idea to create what she calls a “women’s bureau” would “put a gender lens on all that we do at the city,” Deans said. That could include everything from hiring and human resources to communications, budgeting and zoning.

“That’s what I imagine that we need to do to really bring this city into the next century when it comes to gender equality issues,” she said.

Currently, city staff and city council are dominated by men, to a ridiculous degree, thus, city planning tends to take on a very male perspective. A whole lot of implicit biases are built into our city, our infrastructure and our service delivery. Deans suggestion would help us identify, acknowledge and address these biases. It would lead to city building that is more responsive to the needs of all residents.

Basically, we’d take off our men-focused glasses and actually consider the experiences of everyone.

(By the way, acknowledging these biases isn’t to label every male politician, planner and, well, pundit a raging misogynist. It’s an acceptance that life is complicated, and we need to hear other perspectives–underrepresented perspectives.)

The mayor, in all his masculine brilliance, disagrees:

“I’m not interested in creating a big bureaucracy. I’d rather see dollars go into resolving issues of gender equality,” Watson said.

He added that if he is re-elected in the fall, he’d like to make sure all city advisory boards and commissions are gender balanced. “We can’t control who gets elected, obviously, but we can control who gets appointed,” he said.

Watson doesn’t feel there are many impediments to women running in the next election, he said, because so many women put their names forward in the last election.

(I’m not sure how we could put dollars into resolving issues of gender equality without first identifying those issues, but I’m sure he knows better.)

(And I’m sure he‘s right that there are no impediments to women running for and winning council seats, and that the consistent and massive under-representation of women is just, y’know, one of those things.)

Writing in the Citizen, Amy Kishek and Erin Gee–who host the Bad and Bitchy Podcast–lay out a compelling case for Deans’s proposal. You should read the whole thing, but here’s a good snippet:

Addressing gender equity and inclusion in policymaking is not straightforward, but it is necessary. Taking on the task means applying a gender and equity lens to all areas of the city’s work. There are women who are differently abled, who live in rural communities, who are old, who are newly immigrated, who are poor, who are racialized, and who don’t speak English or French. There is no singular women’s issue, and no one place to direct funds for gender equity initiatives.

(By the way, Erin and I do the 10 O’clock Talk panel on W1310 every Friday moring; you should totes listen.)

Rideau-Goulbourn Councillor Scott Moffatt decided to pick a nit (which, to be fair, is one of my favourite pass-times). When the Citzen tweeted out this column, Moffatt’s first and only direct response was:

(Later, when it’s presented to Moffatt that 17 of the 20 highest-paid city staff are men, his rebuttal (after a bit of digging) is that 83 of the top 500 are women. So, I really don’t know what his point is.)

Okay, so you can totally have a debate about whether or not these committees are “softer”. It’d be a fairly academic discussion and you’d probably need to really get into the weeds and clearly define your terms and all that fun Debate Club stuff. I mean, sure, many of us like that stuff, and there are often proper times and places for such discussions.

(Full disclosure, I wouldn’t categorize Planning as “softer”, and I sent a lighthearted message to one of the authors about it, because I consider her a friend…or, at least, a Twitter friend. I do not, however, feel any such nitpicking illuminates the public discussion.)

But as a civic leader, taking a well-argued piece on an important city matter, and deciding to engage it only on a semantic level–on only one of the authors’ arguments–is to dismiss this important issue.

And it’s totally a guy thing to do. It takes a ton of privilege to reduce a discussion about treating all residents equally and equitably, regardless of gender, into a semantic debate.

I dare say, if you were to use the aforementioned “gender lens” when reading the piece and engaging the authors, you’d treat the matter a whole lot differently.

So, I guess, we should thank Moffatt for proving Deans’s point?

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Which Wards Deserve City Funds, Part II: Osgoode

In my last post, Which Wards Deserve City Funds, Part I: Rideau-Goulbourn, I talked about the proposed infrastructure levy, the magical budget surplus and the new road projects that are getting city funding. Further, I wrote about some objections made by Rideau-Goulbourn councillor Scott Moffatt about the proposed levy. Feel free to go back and read it as background for this post.

My basic concern was councillors objecting to a city-wide levy because the money wouldn’t be spent in their ward. That’s not really how city funding works, nor should it be. We all pay into city revenues and every ward gets some level of service. It means that some wards will pay more than other. That’s life. (And despite my concerns, it seems to be Moffatt’s view, also.)

Moving on!

Osgoode Councillor George Darouze also objected to the proposed levy, in part because his ward wouldn’t see any of the additional spending. Here’s his official statement on the issue:

This would be the key passage to me:

 They claim that this motion will generate $8 million, yet according to the City Treasurer it will only raise $4.3 million, with not a dime going to Osgoode Ward 20. In fact, the infrastructure projects supported by this levy almost entirely exclude rural Ottawa. Do you think the Councillors that support the current motion would support a levy to improve rural infrastructure, taxing their residents for our benefit? I don’t.

(Emphasis mine.)

As it turns out, Osgoode didn’t have any “below the line” projects that would receive funding from this surprise surplus…but after approaching the mayor, he was able to get some funding for one of his ward’s projects, leaving only Somerset, Rideau-Rockliffe, Rideau-Vanier and Alta Vista as the only wards to not directly benefit from this new money.

As with Moffatt, I thought it only fair to ask Darouze about the apparent hypocrisy of it all. I had three questions for him:

1. If it was inappropriate for the funds of the proposed levy to exclude Osgoode Ward, and much of rural Ottawa, why is it okay for the funds from the surplus to go to all rural wards, but not four urban wards (including Alta Vista)?

2. If this was to be a non-political process, and the city was to just fund the next projects in line (if you will), why was it appropriate for the mayor to extend funding to a project in Osgoode Ward that was not initially on the list?

3. Finally, do you believe that tax revenues raised from residents in one ward should only be spent on infrastructure and services delivered in that ward?

And, like Moffatt, he responded to me quickly and thoroughly:

1. Securing $150,000, which is 1.5% of $10 million, is easier than getting a portion of $4.3 million. So comparing funding allocation from the tax levy to that of the budget surplus is kind of like comparing apples and oranges. Aside from asking for a portion of the surplus funds to finish off a project that had a shortfall, I did not participate in how roads were prioritized. City staff conducted that evaluation.

2. It was not political. 3.7 km of Mitch Owens was being paved and it needed 300 m more to complete the section of road. I took pictures of the road, showing how severely deteriorated the 300 m stretch was and brought those pictures to the Mayor. That 300 m segment of road will cost $150,000, which again is 1.5% of the surplus being distributed for infrastructure. None of the Councillors representing wards that did not get surplus funds asked.

3. No, and when we voted on the motion it really did not come down to the funding on a ward by ward basis. Some who would have gotten no funding supported the levy and some that were going to get funding opposed it. The “not a dime going to Osgoode Ward 20” statement that you quoted was only a small part of why I was opposing the levy. For example, if my Ward was going to receive $150,000 from the property tax levy, I still would have opposed it. For me, it primarily came down to it being a last minute tax levy (which I consider a very serious measure) being pushed forward without the appropriate public consultations.

Okay, so I don’t really get his first answer. It’s wrong for $4.3M to not be spread across all wards, but it’s okay for $10M of spending to exclude four wards?

The second answer is fair enough. I don’t really have an objection to the project, but considering his stance, there’s an incongruity.

Point number three is really the crux of the matter, and this is where I have a problem. I see a parallel with Moffatt’s tweets, here. Moffatt made a comment about money not going to his ward, but that was in the middle of a twitter conversation–not always the most thorough and thoughtful form of conversation; it’s much more extemporaneous.

Darouze claims that his objections to the proposed levy were primarily for reasons relating to consultation. Okay, fine, we can have many different reasons for supporting or opposing a proposal. But he issued a lengthy, thorough press release. This wasn’t him having an open and off-the-cuff conversation on twitter. This was measured. This was intentional.

And he still decided to include an objection about how there’s “not a dime going to Osgoode Ward 20.” I don’t believe that he would include such an argument if he didn’t truly believe it.

Further, I think it’s pretty slanderous that he suggested that councillors Leiper, Deans, McKenney, Nussbaum, Wilkinson, Fleury, Chiarelli and Chernushenko wouldn’t support funding rural infrastructure projects. In fact, the very proposal and the subsequent surplus allocation demonstrates that they do support funding rural infrastructure projects.

I think Darouze is projecting.

Rural wards receive more funding from the city than they contribute in tax revenue. Rural services are often more expensive to deliver than urban services. As someone in a central neighbourhood (who gets the double whammy of renting, thus paying a higher property tax rate), I’m okay with this. We’re all one city, and we all deserve services. Logistically, there are going to be different service levels, different service costs and different rates of revenue contribution. That’s just life.

I don’t like councillors pandering to their residents and making allegations that their (subsidized) residents are getting screwed over by city folk. It’s cynical. It’s dishonest. It’s divisive. It’s bad for the city.

I’m glad Mitch Owens is getting fixed. I just wish we could fix more of our city infrastructure. And I wish city councillors could be more honest about who pays for this.

Which Wards Deserve City Funds, Part I: Rideau-Goulbourn

I know it’s old news, but I wanted to talk about the issues around city council’s surplus (no, not this one, the original one). City pols and the public had been debating a possible levy to raise a few million to be devoted to infrastructure. Then, when the surplus was magically discovered, the levy proposal was withdrawn and these new funds were devoted to infrastructure spending. Kind of a win-win.

As it turns out, not every ward would benefit directly from those new funds. Of the four wards that wouldn’t see any new spending, three, Rideau-Rockliffe, Rideau-Vanier and Somerset are represented by councillors who supported the proposed levy (the councillor for the fourth, Alta Vista’s Jean Cloutier, opposed it). A fifth ward–Osgoode, represented by a staunch opponent of the levy, George Darouze–wasn’t slated to have any new funding for infrastructure projects, but then he approached the mayor, and one of Osgoode’s projects got added on.

Upon first reaction, this might have seemed a little fishy, like some wards were being punished and one was being reward for disagreeing or agreeing with the mayor, respectively. But that’s not really the case. The city has a list of projects, prioritized, that need to be taken care of. The ones chosen were the ones “below the line”–ones that were next in line for future funding. (This doesn’t include the Osgoode project, but it’s not a big spend, so, whatever.)

So far, so good.

But I found some of the rhetoric in the debate that preceded the announcement of the surprise surplus a little concerning.

First, I disagree with the viewpoint expressed in these tweets from Rideau-Goulbourn councillor Scott Moffatt:

Here’s what I don’t like: when it comes to city governance, we’re all in this together. In some ways, different wards will get different service levels and this can’t be avoided (Somerset has more bus routes than Cumberland for some understandable reasons), but, roughly speaking, the city (all of us) pays for services for all areas of the city (all of us). This also means that some wards more services per person or per tax dollar than other. That’s just life.

To argue that the levy is a bad idea because your ward won’t receive any new funding betrays the concept of the city as a single political body. It also ignores all the money that currently goes into your ward.

Now, it’s maybe unfair to screenshot this twitter exchange and pick it apart without talking to Moffatt…so I emailed him, asking him two questions:

How do you square the opposition to the levy and its potential uneven distribution of funds, with the fact that Rideau-Goulbourn will receive project funding, but other wards, like Somerset and Rideau-Vanier, are not slated to receive additional funds?

Further, do you think there should be a relatively even distribution of this surplus?

He quickly and graciously replied:

You are correct, my preliminary glance at the budget documents in December led me to surmise that, if funds were just directed to road renewal as the budget was written, it would be unlikely that Rideau-Goulbourn received funding. My rationale there was that, specifically on road resurfacing, the next four or five projects on the Below The Line cutoff totaled in the neighbourhood is $8M. The roads that did end up being included in the surplus funding project were further down that list (Potter, Barnsdale).

One error that I made not assuming that the Below The Line section under Pavement Preservation wouldn’t have been a priority with the 0.5% levy. If you look in the 2018 Budget documents, you’ll see that below the line projects in that regard were dominated by Ward 21 roads (Eagleson, Dwyer Hill, Old Richmond Road). In my Twitter haste, I failed to consider that pavement preservation would also be considered. I often only think of road resurfacing since it’s a more permanent solution, relatively speaking. Pavement preservation usually buys an additional 7-10 years on a soon to be failing road.

On the distribution of the $10M, I certainly didn’t expect nearly $2M for Rideau-Goulbourn. I do believe any renewal funding needs to be done on merit using the priority ranking list that the City generates annually. It should not be doled out evenly across the wards. The only reason you would do that is for appeasement and political gain in an election year. If a road is in need, it’s in need. As an example, Rideau Valley Drive South is slated for renewal in 2018. More residents live on and use Rideau Valley Drive North and it is equally as poor. Resurfacing RVDN would be more politically advantageous but also just wrong. We can’t prioritize roads based on votes.

I don’t disagree that it’s odd the way the funds are spread out but, at the same time, Alta Vista is slated for $0 while Kanata North is one of the highest. From a conspiracy theorist perspective, that would deflate the notion that the eight Councillors who supported the levy were considered here. From what I can tell, this was driven entirely by staff except for the one specific issue that was already reported involving Councillor Darouze.

I think this all seems reasonable. I don’t want to think that Moffatt wants to abandon the we’re-in-this-together mentality (and I’ll note that keeping ward revenues within the wards they were collected, would disproportionately benefit urban wards and hurt rural wards).

I still don’t love the “not a cent…in Rideau-Goulbourn” comment, but objections around process and consultation are defensible.

So, though I’m concerned about his tweets…maybe it was just Twitter, it’s not like it was an official, well-planned press release.

Stay tuned for Part II!

Buses to Half Moon Bay

So there was a meeting in Barrhaven about bus service along the 95 route, hosted by councillors Jan Harder, Michael Qaqish and Scott Moffatt. Transit users residing in the area of Half Moon Bay are upset about delays, full buses, cancelled buses, commute times and the lack of an express route. It’s sort of an interesting conundrum. Hearing about the issue, it’s easy to fall back on your priors about bus service, city planning and commuting.

But there’s a lot going on here. There’s a legitimate complaint about service, but there are larger issues that the riders may be omitting. Let’s take a walk through the issues:

  • Not all 95s go all the way to Half Moon Bay, this means that riders get “stranded” at Fallowfield Station, waiting for another 95 to pick them up and get them home. They want all 95s to go Cambrian (the stop in Half Moon Bay, as I understand it). This sort of thing is pretty common throughout the transit system, and maybe it needs to be addressed.However, that probably has implications on routes going the other way (or buses that have to go somewhere else and start a different route). Also, I don’t know how many people would be getting on in Half Moon Bay for a bus’s return trip downtown…I’d guess few. This change could have a lot of cascading effects. It could also cost a ton of money. Still, if there’s demand, I’m generally in support of increasing transit service. This shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem.
  • People are waiting half an hour or more for a bus (or a half hour for each bus, as they have to transfer to a 95 Cambrian). I mean, that’s too long. Transit needs to reliable, predictable and convenient. It seems we need more buses on the route…or there’s something going on with downtown traffic, completely screwing everything up. The complaints pre-date the temporary closing of O’Connor, so it’s not that. I’d be totally cool with restricting cars downtown, adding in congestion charges and giving more resources to OC Transpo.
  • People want express routes, or they want the 95 Cambrian to operate as an express route. Maybe this is a good idea…but the I-decided-to-live-really-far-away-so-I-deserve-an-express-route argument doesn’t garner a ton of sympathy. If express routes are properly funded and they’ll make transit service better on the whole, then I’m game.

So, yeah, we should be able to do some things better…but there’s also a lot of unreasonable stuff going on:

  • Rider Amanda Bernardo, who seemed to get the whole thing going, was quoted as saying, “Unfortunately, for me to live closer to the downtown core was not something that I could consider. So I don’t think I anticipated how long the commute was going to take me. It is something that I am now slightly regretting.” So, I’m not sure I believe the first part of this complaint. She said Barrhaven is where she, as a first-time homebuyer, could afford to purchase. OK, but there’s still a whole bunch of question-begging going on. Why did she have to buy? Why do we have to subsidize that choice? Moreover, she didn’t consider the commute time? This sounds like some kind of mix of both buyer’s remorse/ignorance and pure entitlement. Here’s the lesson for everyone: when you move far away to purely residential communities, you’re probably going to have long, inconvenient commute times. Personally, I don’t want that, but it’s what you signed up for. I’m not going to tell you where to live.
  • Bernardo went on, “But at the same time I don’t think it should be something that deters people from living in one end of town from the next. We’re all taxpayers, and we should be getting that same type of effective service, no matter where you live.”This is pretty messed up. She doesn’t want people to consider commute time when choosing where to live. That’s a dreamworld. That’s massive entitlement. That’s declaring that you should be able to do whatever you want without having to deal with the effects or consequences. That’s asking everyone to accommodate you and your choices, no matter what.
    And to argue that all “taxpayers” should get the same type of service when you chose to buy a home in an area that is significantly more expensive to service, that is subsidized by those neighbourhoods closer to the core, is some level gall. Even if this aspirational suburban-premium-equality were some sort of desirable goal for the city, it just isn’t feasible. There are logistical problems with it. There are financial problems with it. There are geometric problems with it. If you want to live in what is essentially a suburb of a suburb, be prepared to accept what that means.
  • Some complaints about time are reasonable (two hours is a long time), some are less: Many complained the commute from Barrhaven to downtown and back can take well over an hour each way — and that’s on a good day…Robert Finkle, who also lives in Half Moon Bay, said getting home from downtown can take up to 90 minutes some days on the new 95 route.

    Okay, for some perspective, I did some google maps-ing:I chose a random street in Half Moon Bay, Carina Crescent. It’s about 25 km from the Rideau Centre (a popular downtown bus stop). Google says it’s a 24- to 40-minute drive. This doesn’t pass the smell test. If you’re driving reasonably, I don’t know how it could be less than 40. (I know. Y’all speed. Just another way people impose the costs of their choices on the rest of the city.) So it’s a 40-minute drive. Or it’s a 5-hour walk. Or it’s an 80- to 90-minute bike ride.Leaving at 4:00 pm, it’s supposed to take just over an hour by bus, according to OC Transpo’s trip planner. That’s amazing! Consider what it would take to drive at that time. A 90-minute rush-hour bus ride actually seems pretty reasonable.
    For comparison, I live 6 km away from my office. I have made specific life choices to not have a massive commute. This means I have turned down job offers*. It means I have a smaller living space than I might otherwise have. It means I don’t have a yard. It means I hear more traffic. I accept these trade-offs.

    My bus commute is minimum 35 minutes…but it’s only a 12 minute drive or 20 minute bike ride (or less). It’s an hour’s walk (trust me, I know). People who are living four or five times farther from their office than me, whose drive to work would be four times more than mine (at least), whose bike ride is four or five times more, whose walk time is five times more are complaining that their commute is sometimes twice mine…and sometimes the same! Perspective, people!

But this is more than just reasonable concerns and unrealistic demands. The core issues here are related to city-building, urban development and municipal politics (you probably saw that coming, didn’t you):

  • Do you want better transit service? Are you ready for the city to provide more funding for transit? If you answered “no” to the second question, your answer to the first question is also “no”.
  • This forum was put on by Harder, Qaqish and Moffatt. Are any of them transit champions? Are any of them willing to raise taxes, implement road tolls or find other ways to properly fund transit? It’s my impression that they are not. It’s my impression that they’re part of the so-called “fiscal conservatives” of council.
  • It is very difficult for bedroom communities like Half Moon Bay to support robust transit service. What is needed is density, mix-use development and general livability. We need more people working in or close to their homes. We need more amenities that close to people’s homes. Their lives have to be conducive to transit. We can’t expect that bumping up commuter transit service, without dealing with the underlying issues, is going to completely solve these problems. Get people out of cars. Get people on shorter car and bus trips. We need to shift people’s mentality and really embrace transit.
  • If we can start to build up the commercial/office/retail/whatever aspects of these communities, we can start to see more of a general flow of people into and out of the area. Although people will still have to commute from their home in Half Moon Bay to their office downtown (or elsewhere), if we get people commuting into Half Moon Bay, that can help the viability of local bus service. That’ll reduce or eliminate the issue of “dead-head” buses (buses that go in one direction on a route, but don’t turn around and go the other way). Dead-head buses are a real cost issue.
  • Can we stop building these unwalkable, meandering suburban streets already? You know why transit service can be so long and tedious in these neighbourhoods? Because there’s no easy grid for buses to follow and for riders to walk along going to and from the bus stop. You may think I’m just shilling for livable neighbourhoods here…well, I am. It’s amazing that we know what sorts of developments are best at facilitating modern human life, and yet we keep developing things like Half Moon Bay, anyway.

It’s hard to be really sympathetic to people who complain about the predictable outcomes of their decisions. It can be difficult to hear about people living in the outer ends of suburbia complaining that their bus rides take 15 or 20 minutes longer than people in dense, mix-use areas…but, still, I do feel some sympathy.

These people have been sold a bill of goods. The suburban dream they have will not be realized, and it’s quite likely that councillors will continue to blow smoke up the community’s collective ass. Even if we can find some band-aid solution for the 95 Cambrian, we’re still sprawling out beyond Half Moon Bay. The problems will re-occur, and we’ll implement a proper solution.

So, to the residents of Half Moon Bay, this sucks, and I’m sorry. I want every corner of the city to have the best transit service we can reasonably imagine. And I know that long, packed unreliable bus rides are horrible. Unfortunately, you might be getting just about the best service we can reasonably imagine, considering the nature of Half Moon Bay and the constraints your councillors have put on the city.

But we can change that, and I hope we do. The question is, are you willing to agitate for the type of city-building and the type of funding necessary to facilitate better transit service?

I hope you are.

*To be fair, yes, many people do not have such a luxury…but we’re talking about a lot of middle- and upper-middle-class white-collar workers, likely with household incomes far higher than mine, so I’m not cutting them any slack on not having choices.