It’s the mayor’s little fiefdom and we just live in it.

So, Regional Group says they’re going to try to save the trees in Old Ottawa East.

In case you missed it, the other week, residents along Springhurst Avenue noticed that two century-old trees were slated for removal as part of the Greystone Village development near Main Street. Residents were promised that the trees would spared, but suddenly, that wasn’t do-able. Capital Ward candidate Shawn Menard highlighted the issue on social media, and it was eventually picked up by the CBC and others.

It seems a lot of people wanted the trees saved, so the developer, Regional Group, has said they’re going to try to save the trees and have given themselves until September 30 to do it. It’s a definite win for the community (even if it meant a last-minute edit to my column last week, thanks guys!).

It was also a pretty good win for the candidate. Menard entered the race late and with other competent candidates challenging David Chernushenko, it can be hard to set yourself apart. Menard got ahead of this, forced the issue (which was then taken up by other candidates) and basically forced Chernushenko to step in in his official capacity.

The mayor had an interesting response to this issue, thanking the councillor and positioning himself as defender of the trees:

Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper asked a pretty good question:

The mayor’s response was basically, because I can.

I see about three separate issues here:

The mayor gets to do what the mayor gets to do

Is this really how a city is supposed to be run? I mean it’s great if the mayor is going to actually protect these trees, but can the mayor actually just make decisions willy-nilly about what can and cannot be approved by staff? His position offers a good check on these situations, but shouldn’t his Stop Work order really only apply until council can take a look?

We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Trivially, there was the matter of putting up signs for Sens Mile, which council passed, the Senators then pushed back and the mayor unilaterally decided to overrule council.

And, of course, there was the Holland Avenue bike detour. Months of work went into consultations, canvassing the neighbourhood and making a reasonable plan that best accommodated everyone. Then the mayor–unilaterally–decided he didn’t like it, axed it and then very very reluctantly agreed to offer minimal protections to kids riding bikes to school.

So this is how our city is run now? The mayor gets to make decisions based on his gut and the desire for good press?

And, so what about other trees? There have been a bunch of trees cut down with zero oversight in recent years. Is the mayor going to start taking his Lorax-like role seriously? Councillors Leiper and Catherine McKenney both took note of the mayor’s apparent power. We’ll see how that goes.

Um…Heron Gate?

At the risk of going all whatabout on this issue, but, what the hell? What about Heron Gate? A councillor can pressure to save two trees and the mayor can declare that no ill will come to a single leaf, but when a massive corporation wants to evict–and destroy–a community of poor and marginalized people, it’s just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ?

I mean, I get that there maybe isn’t a clear law here protecting residents from a multi-national profit-maximizing corporation, but where’s that Executive-Ordering, willy-nilly decision-making when it comes to people’s homes and lives? Even if city rules allow for more protection of trees than of people, where’s the political pressure from the mayor and local councillor?

Don’t call it a bobblehead

Capital Ward councillor David Chernushenko decided to take credit for this victory. He writes, “…Regional Group will be – at my request – putting its application in abeyance… [sic]” [emphasis mine].

Look, Chernushenko is running scared. He had little challenge last election, but he has been underwhelming (to put it mildly) these last four years. A lot of people are fed up with him and are looking for change. If he’s going to claim a third term, he needs to put in more effort this year…and we’re seeing it.

Of course, the residents of Springhurst were not viewing Chernushenko as their champion. His office was not getting the results residents demanded, and it wasn’t until things got more public that Chernushenko positioned himself in front of this issue.

And, notice, the mayor decided to elevate Chernushenko’s status in all this, thanking him by name.

Chernushenko isn’t what some might describe as a bobblehead for the mayor. He’s come out on the other side of many issues from the mayor…but he’s also not much of a thorn in the mayor’s side. He’s not Jeff Leiper. He’s not Catherine McKenney. He’s not Diane Deans. He’s not Rick Chiarelli. The mayor surely knows exactly what he has in Chernushenko, and maybe he’s trying to protect that.

I don’t see another candidate who would be easier for the mayor than Chernushenko. Maybe some wouldn’t be pains in the mayor’s ass (which is actually probably what they should be), but none would be any more pliable.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Last time around, the mayor went to bat for Mark Taylor against his old foe, Alex Cullen. The mayor is now retweeting stuff for Dan Dransfield, who is seeking to replace Taylor and running against Theresa Kavanaugh (who will be a pain in the mayor’s ass…and is also married to Cullen).

This year, he’s already gone after Glen Gower, a rear-guard attack to help out Shad Qadri, who is much more of a “bobblehead”.

And he’s already gone after Shawn Menard this year, when Menard was supporting a community organization in Bay Ward working for better child care for lower-income residents:

This was before Menard was running for council, but over the years, Menard has made clear where he stands on municipal issues. He seeks a healthy, urbanist agenda–one that doesn’t placate parkers and privilege drivers over everyone else. One that doesn’t burden transit in order to subsidize sprawl. One that is compassionate and seeks the best outcomes for all residents.

It’s quite a bit different than Watson’s divide-and-conquer approach–his pandering to his core constituency of suburban commuters.

I mean, could it be any clearer that Watson does not want Menard to win.

But, in the end, trees are saved. A community rose up. A challenger took charge. Two establishment politicians fell in line. And the mayor is trying to spin everything to his advantage. Maybe this is how we get things done now in Ottawa.

Maybe we just need a little more unrest in Watson’s little fiefdom.

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One thought on “It’s the mayor’s little fiefdom and we just live in it.

  1. Pingback: It’s Jim Watson’s city, so it’s Jim Watson’s secret. | Steps from the Canal

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