Why Capital Ward Needs a Change

I’ve tried to start this post a number of times. With this newest attempt, I’m tossing 475 words I came up with last week. The thesis is simple enough, Why Capital Ward Needs a Change, but the content is overwhelming. I’d like this to be organized and structured, with a narrative flow and well-crafted prose…unfortunately, I’m not sure that can happen, at least not before election day, so let’s just dive right in.

This is a weird post to write. Four years ago, David Chernushenko was cruising to victory. A promising first-term councillor, he seemed like just about everything you’d want repping you at City Hall, but four years–four years of missteps, four years of poor decisions, four years of capitulation, four years of not moving the city or the ward forward, four years of being a hanger-on as other (newbie) urban councillors force debate and project a new vision for the city–it’s clearly time to move on. It’s clear that Capital Ward deserves to move on.

In one of the last meetings at City Hall this spring, it was reported that Chernushenko said he was tired. He was tired of the pointless fighting. He was tired of plans being scuttled and developers getting whatever they wanted.

And, you know, I get it. That would be tiring.

I latched on to this comment. Chernuchenko’s supporters didn’t really like it, but it felt so…fitting. He does seem tired. He seems spent. I don’t know what he has left to give, and, honestly, I don’t know why he wants to even try.

I believe it was at that meeting that Chernushenko voted in favour of the proposed re-development of Fifth + Bank, aka Fifth Avenue Court. It was one of a string of proposals in the ward and in the neighbourhood that sought to break zoning and all the promises the city had made to residents (personally, I thought it broke such promises less egregiously, and I’m not super opposed to the project…other than the hundred-odd parking spaces they’re making).

The community was against it, and through much protesting, they were able get the proposal seriously improved…still, it seems most residents (or most vocal residents) were still opposed. Chernushenko was opposed, too…except he wasn’t, since he voted for it. He was able to wring the promise of a partial CDP out of the vote (which is great…if the city didn’t regularly urinate all over CDPs just as they do all other zoning regs).

It was similar to Catherine McKenney getting concessions out of council for the 65-storey towers at 900 Albert, except McKenney had the courage of her convictions and still voted against the proposal.

Chernushenko didn’t like the criticism for supporting the proposal. He lashed out, at McKenney for not voting for the altered motion for 900 Albert Street, and seemingly anyone else who didn’t like his vote.

There was just so much wrapped up in this issue. It was a synedoche for his whole second term.

First off, he couldn’t stop a proposal, nor extract the desired concessions. That’s the same as 890-900 Bank Street. It’s the same as the development at Fourth and the canal (again, a proposal I didn’t hate too much, but for the cutting down of mature trees and the excess parking).

When the re-development proposal for Southminster came up, he couldn’t get concessions for that one, either. Councillor Tobi Nussbaum came to his rescue, forcing the developer to find a compromise. Yes, the Rideau-Rockliffe councillor served Capital Ward better than our own councillor.

His desire to have it both ways–he voted for it but he didn’t support it! his newsletter proclaimed–is also a repeated theme of his tenure.

He’s the bike councillor! He made a movie! So, you’d think that he’d support a new segregated bike lane in his ward when it came up. The O’Connor bikeway was supposed to connect Fifth Avenue to Wellington, but it was killed just a few blocks into the Glebe.

Why? We don’t really know. It was pretty shady.

What we do know is that the councillor supported killing half the bike lane–the half in his ward. When a local pediatrician who didn’t want his clients to have to park in front of his business instead of the side of his business, the bike councillor commended him for putting a human face on the issue.

Forget about all the kids who ride their bike around there, I guess. Forget the kids who ride their bike to the schools on O’Connor.

Worse, though, is that he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions. In the Rogers debate, he claimed himself to be a champion of the O’Connor bike lane. He touted what he has done for bike safety in the ward.

He’s built a bike lane on Bronson that connects to nothing.

He’s built a bike lane on First that is regularly used for parking.

In the last few months of this term, he’s built a bike lane on Fifth that connects to nothing and offers no protection to bicyclists, and he’s built a bike lane on Glebe that’s pretty good, but protects parked cars as it gets to Bank Street.

Oh yeah, Bank Street. It’s still a dangerous mess. We have two horrible bridges in our ward that have seen zero safety measures put in. The councillor’s suggestion for safety on the Bank Street Canal Bridge was to have cars park, because nothing says safety like adding in a dooring zone.

Nothing has been done at Bank and Riverside where Meg Dussault was brutally killed by a truck driver.

Oh wait, yes, something was done. Her ghost bike was removed, and Chernushenko supported that, even going on radio to scold people for grieving wrong.

Then there’s Chernushenko the environmental champion. The environment committee has achieved very little. They’ve changed their name. They’ve set some lofty targets with no means achieving them. They’ve put dog crap and plastic bags in the green bin.

They haven’t expanded the green bin program to include multi-home residences or commercial enterprises. They haven’t done anything to limit the amount of waste people can throw out.

He has, however, worn a big smile on his face as he cut the ribbon on a new parking garage–a parking garage that was unnecessary, is often 90% empty and takes up prime land that could be employed for something useful.

Parking is something he has consistently championed–the parking garage, Fifth + Bank, Fourth and the canal, all have excessive amounts of parking. And even then, we’re not seeing Bank Street opened up. We’re not seeing bike lanes and wider sidewalks even talked about.

We’ve added more and more parking and all that achieves is attracting more and more cars to the ward. Yes, I know people see all these cars and figure that we need to have more parking, but study after study shows that parking brings in more traffic. We need a city councillor who follows the evidence, offering leadership, not limply following car-centric planning offering hollow platitudes about taking the bus and being environmentally conscious.

(Hey, when a bus is stuck on a busy Bank Street, constantly changing lanes around parked cars, your transit service will be awful…and so more people will drive. Funny that.)

So much of the problems we have in this ward, though, aren’t just about what he’s done, but about what he hasn’t done.

Just look at the Immaculata Field disaster. Okay, fine, city officials made a mistake in January saying that the school could do whatever they want with the field…but the issue was discovered in February and there was no groundbreaking until May.

That battle we saw at City Hall back in the summer, that would have been a helluva lot easier to tackle if it’d been brought to council’s attention before the Footy Sevens spent millions on the field.

At least two candidates–Jide Afolabi and Shawn Menard–have championed that cause…and it was only after the other candidates started raising hell that the councillor started making noise. The residents were making noise for months, but they needed the pressure of an election campaign to get the attention of their elected representative.

And look at the issue with the old trees in Old Ottawa East. They were going to be torn down until a rival candidate brought the issue to the media. Other candidates were quick to jump on the issue, to their credit, but Chernushenko was much slower to respond.

Even something as simple as the Moving Surfaces light installation on the hill at Lansdowne has been an issue. It was out of commission for over a year, but it wasn’t until a (ahem) local citizen brought it up to all the other candidates that something actually happened.

This is a trend. Other councillors and other candidates are getting things done that Chernushenko alone cannot. That’s not what we need or deserve. It’s not what any ward deserves.

(Or you could look at the issue of derelict buildings, especially the West Coast Video building in Old Ottawa South. Nothing has been done about that in the past eight years. Once again, one candidate–Shawn Menard–is championing the issue. But, damn, where’s our councillor been?)

If you watch the Rogers debate, you’ll see an incumbent running scared. He’s actually running away from his record, twisting his past votes to make his record appear more palatable than it is. He’s got some help, too.

Jim Watson has been subtly going to bat for Chernushenko this campaign season. He’s referred to him as “his friend” at the Pride Block Party, and commended him for work he’s done on issues like Moving Surfaces. In addition, he’s taking aim at Chernushenko’s only rival from Old Ottawa South (Chernushenko’s neighbourhood). With Chernushenko, he has a generally compliant, go-along-to-get-along sort of councillor. We don’t get the fire or vision or principles of a McKenney, Nussbaum, Lieper, Deans or Wilkinson.

The mayor wants Chernushenko back, and that is pretty damning.

And, you know, it goes back to the issue of vision. What is his vision for the ward or the city? I know he’s got a bunch of new election-year projects on the go, but what does he want? He’s the bike councillor, but he doesn’t champion safe bike infrastructure. He’s the former Green Party environmentalist, but he backs driving and low-grade compost.

Whatever vision he might have had eight years ago, it’s gone, and at the root of it is what was said back in the spring–he’s tired. His platform is tired. His record is tired. His vision–whatever remnants still exist–is tired.

It’s time for something new. It’s time for some energy. It’s time for Capital Ward to wake up.

One thought on “Why Capital Ward Needs a Change

  1. Very well said. And on the Immaculate field issue, it was Jeff Leiper who provided a much more articulate critique of the city’s enabling of this privatization of the field while Chernushenko mumbled something confused. In my own attempt to get the city to snow plow a 100 metre stretch of a bicycle path in his ward on a simple issue that would appear to be a priority, he was totally ineffectual after many communications. My verdict, sadly: no point in trying to get him to do anything.

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