River Ward Endorsement

You may recall that four years ago, I didn’t think the River Ward race had much to offer. With a popular incumbent deciding rather late not to seek re-election, it was a fairly crowded field and no one really stood out. (This time around, Orleans experienced a similar situation, have 15 true candidates and some of them are quite interesting.)

This year, first-term councillor Riley Brockington is seeking re-election (full disclosure: I know Riley personally, outside of politics, and knew him before he ran four years ago), and he’s being challenged by three people: Fabien Kalala Cimankinda, Kerri Keith and Hassib Reda.

This one is a bit tough for me. I didn’t know of any of the challengers before the race started, and so I’m going off what little I’ve gleaned from the web and their performance at the televised debate (unfortunately, Reda didn’t participate in the televised debate).

Endorsement: Fabien Kalala Cimankinda.

Cimankinda has an interesting backstory. Originally from the Congo, he moved to Ottawa (and River Ward) in 2005. A few years later, he went to Ottawa U, played football for the Gee-Gees and then played three years of pro ball in Belgium. In 2011, he was jailed in the Congo for his political activities. He’s since returned to Ottawa, and seems to be quite active in the community.

No doubt, his perspective–as an immigrant, as a young person, as a person of colour, as a person from a lower-income neighbourhood, as a goddamned political prisoner–would be quite a good addition to city council.

But, you know, that’s not even why I’m endorsing him. I was intrigued by his website and his social media presence, but I was thoroughly impressed by his performance at the Rogers debate. He knew what he was talking about. He has certain key issues (mainly, crime) that he was incredibly well-versed in. He was able to stand up to Brockington and challenge him, repeatedly. Very few challengers can really do that against an incumbent. And Riley’s not a dumb guy–he came prepared. Still, Cimankinda was impressive.

This is tough for me to write. I like Riley. He’s a nice guy, who generally wants to do right by the ward and the city. I know a number of his residents have been happy with his service. And, really, another four years of Brockington wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to council.

But there have been issues: Mooney’s Bay, disparaging comments about Rideau Street, sometimes he hasn’t been fully up-to-speed on certain files that have come before council. He’s responsive as a councillor, but that’s just not enough.

Cimankinda appears to have the energy, the drive and inclination to be just as responsive. He certainly seems to be smart enough for the job. He’s done his research. He’s focused. It’s a bit of crap shoot to go with a less-experienced candidate, but both my head and my gut tell me he’s the choice.

I have this nagging thought that I’m only picking Cimankinda because he’s the challenger, the underdog. It’s appealing to play the contrarian, and if he wins, I can take some credit for being prescient (and if he loses, I can claim the moral high ground any time Brockington might make a bad decision).

But, no, that’s not it. Any contrarian appeal is tremendously outweighed by the risk of choosing the unknown.

It’s easier to go with choice you already know, but sometimes you just need to take that chance.

West Carleton-March Endorsement

So on Friday night, I decided to watch the West Carleton-March debate–isn’t that the sort of thing we all do on a Friday night? No? Damn.

Four years ago, I only watched 18 of the 23 debates (if I recall correctly), and I’m going to try to bat for the cycle this time, so even if I’m not super interested in the race, I’m going to try to watch the debate (I only made through about half of the Cumberland debate, that’ll be the exception). I figured West Carleton-March would be a pretty straightforward debate.

Hoo-boy was I wrong!

First, let’s cover this thing. Eli El-Chantiry is running for third? fourth? fifth? time. I really can’t remember, and I’m too lazy right now to look it up. He was first elected in 2003 or 2006, I’m pretty sure.

El-Chantiry chairs the Police Board, which is a pretty plum assignment. It can give you some good publicity (assuming you don’t get in some weird stand-off with the cops’ union leader), and sur ewill help if you’re in a ward that cares about policing.

Four years ago, he didn’t really have a strong challenger. There were three or four others running. Brendan Gorman was the most intriguing, but couldn’t really stand up to El-Chantiry. John Mark, a radio personality, was less than stellar, but in his own way. Somehow, he managed something like 35% of the vote compared to El-Chantiry’s 47% (again, if I recall correctly). That’s far better than I expected, and, hey, maybe that means El-Chantiry is vulnerable to a stronger challenger.

He’s got two challengers this year: Jim Parsons and Judi Varga-Toth.

Parsons ran four years ago, and though kind of amusing, isn’t much of a challenger.

Varga-Toth is much more impressive. I hadn’t gotten much from her website or Twitter presence, but she came to play at the debate. I didn’t do a write-up, but I did do an extensive live-tweeting.

So, yeah, the debate. Varga-Toth was strong. She challenged El-Chantiry. She was channelling the rural anger and discontent that I’m sure is out there. She wouldn’t back down and she wouldn’t let El-Chantiry off the hook.

Then it happened. It was subtle. But it was something.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you probably know what happened. El-Chantiry was speaking, Varga-Toth jumped in, and Eli put his hand on her forearm, clutching it to signal that it was time for to be quiet as he was about to speak.

He then went on to condescendingly explain that she had to listen to other people speak.

It was smarmy. It was gross. It was both sexist and the move of a besieged incumbent who was looking to run out the clock on the debate.

I didn’t snag the video, but thankfully another Twitter user, Susan King (@suki50), did:

It doesn’t really look like much, does it? But it’s enough. It’s inappropriate, and El-Chantiry should be chastised for this behaviour.

Anyway, back to things.

Endorsement: Judi Varga-Toth

No, not because El-Chantiry acted like a jackass, though that’d be a perfectly acceptable reason. Varga-Toth was incredibly impressive here. She had done her research. She spoke to what residents (she says) wanted. She highlighted problems in the ward that haven’t been addressed. She banged the table for better consultation, communication and representation. And she presented an idea of what representation for the ward should look like, and what it should do.

Now, I don’t totally agree with her. I think there was a lot of the typical rural complaints that lack merit (mixed in with some standard complaints that are well-merited). I think she falls into the trap of so many candidates, seeking to promise more than she could deliver…but still, what she was offering was better than what El-Chantiry was offering.

Oh, and if you just want to vote against El-Chantiry because of his behaviour, that’s cool. Go right ahead.

How many riders is LRT going to gain us? How many riders is it going to cost us?

You should never read the comments, but sometimes, you should read the Letters to the Editor. This one is courtesy of yesterday’s Ottawa Sun:

LOOKS LIKE LRT WON’T SAVE HER TIME

Re: Tunnel Vision: What happens when Ottawa’s LRT isn’t perfect? Sept. 10

Currently, my wife has a 30-minute commute. One bus. From her building to a block from our home. Perfect. She rides the bus daily.

When LRT comes in, her commute (according to OC Transpo) will involve not one, but TWO transfers. Given the extremely poor on-time record for OC Transpo, it can easily be figured to pretty much double her commute time.

She’s going to drive instead, which takes about 20 minutes on a bad day.

Like I keep saying, the “R” in LRT doesn’t stand for “rapid.”

TIM BAKOS

OTTAWA

There’s actually a few different things going on here (aside from the fact the “R” has always stood for “rail”, but, whatever). Quick thoughts:

  • LRT, and any changes we make to optimize transit service (not that that’s what we’re doing), may very well cost us some individual riders. Increasing total ridership might require some tradeoffs, and that could mean that a few people like Mr. Bakos’s wife will switch from transit to driving. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not necessarily tragic nor a sign of abject failure on the part of transit planners.
  • We’re going to have to live with more transfers, on the whole. Again, this can be unfortunate, but it’s not necessarily the wrong way to go. As long as your transferring to a bus or train that arrives frequently and dependably, for the most part, we’ll all get by. Hopefully, overall transit trip times will go down (or they’ll go up, because more people will be travelling from farther away). There are going to be winners and loser in this, though.
  • That said, going from good service and no transfers to two transfers seems really undesirable. That’s double the opportunities for delays and missed connections. There’s also a question of what the conditions of those transfer points are going to be. Outside? Cold? Wet? Windy? We don’t want to be making trips unnecessarily unpleasant.
  • My gosh, this woman is a transit hero. This is the exact kind of sentiment we want to have in the city. Busing takes half an hour. We don’t know how long a typical drive takes, but it’s less than 20 minutes…so maybe 15? That would mean her bus ride is twice as long as driving. It would mean she’s giving up an extra half hour a day–or two and a half hours a week (assuming a five-day work week)–just so that she can take transit. This is the exact kind of rider we want and need to have. I really can’t blame people choosing driving over busing if busing takes egregiously longer than driving.
  • We obviously can’t design transit service around this one rider, but, geez, transit “improvements” are driving away this person? That’s ominous.

There’s a lot to think about from this man’s letter. No, we can’t make decisions based on one second-hand anecdote, but the perspectives of riders, enthusiastic riders, should absolutely give us pause.

Apparently I got in a Twitter spat with Carol Anne Meehan?

A few months ago, that sentence would have sounded really weird (well, it still does). Meehan was a prominent media personality, popular and quite charming. I don’t think I’d ever had any interactions with her, and I wouldn’t have any reason to think I would.

Then today happened.

It all started on August 8. A friend posted a screenshot of Meehan’s website, and expressed skepticism about her position on active transportation:

Okay, fast forward five or six weeks, and Meehan responds:

So this response is many kinds of bad. It ignores the possibility of multi-modal commuting, it assumes that there are only two types of bicycling–commuting and recreational (maybe I just want to go to the store!)–and as my friend Alex pointed out, it’s an appeal to extremes, as if the only winter bike rides are 25 km long.

These are all valid critiques. I chose to go with the issue of the weather. Meehan didn’t like that:

I stand by my tweet (and another respondent was kind enough to respond with a graphic showing that many, many days in winter do not have -20 weather). Her initial reply to a tweet from last month was simplistic. It was an appeal to extremes. It was a bad response. It’s the type of response we generally see from people who are anti-bike and pro-driving.

And, yeah, I told her as much. Again, she didn’t seem to like that:

I mean, I wasn’t twisting her words. I was objecting to her reasoning and I explained exactly why…but, you know, Twitter can be overheated, conversations can get derailed by misunderstandings or inexact word choices, and I can understand how she might have thought I was saying something I wasn’t, so I decided to ratchet things down a notch. Maybe she wasn’t intending to parrot pro-driving trolls or throw around logical fallacies. Maybe she tweeted with less precision than was necessary for me to understand her point. Hey, I get that. It happens.

She didn’t respond. She didn’t tweet again for ten hours. She still hasn’t responded.

Now, I wasn’t the only one who responded to her initial tweet, but I am the only one to whom she responded. So that’s a bunch of tweets left unanswered.

I’m not saying Meehan owes me an answer, certainly not. She doesn’t owe anyone an answer (maybe the people of whom she’s asking for their vote). She didn’t owe Charles an answer after the initial tweet, and she can go about her Twitter life as she pleases. I’m not here to police her conduct or complain or whatever.

But I will give some advice to candidates, in general. You’re going to get scrutinized. If you dig up a month-old tweet from a resident and tweet out a response, people are going to notice, and people are going to reply. That’s part of being a public figure.

You don’t have to respond to everyone. Your initial tweet can be your statement on the subject. You don’t have to get into a debate, and you certainly shouldn’t get into something remotely resembling a flame war (unless you’re Jim Watson and it’s Alex Cullen, apparently).

But if you’re going to wade into a discussion about something stated on your website and claim to have a stance on an important issue, you should be prepared–when asked directly–to state what that stance is.

People don’t have to agree with you–not everyone will, that’s why we have politicians–and you don’t have to get into an endless back-and-forth.

But if you choose talk about everything except your stance on the issue, you’re going to look like your hiding something or that you have no stance.

And, Ms. Meehan, if you happen to read this (and I do not expect that you should), feel free to state what your position on bike infrastructure and winter maintenance is in the comments, or send them to me and I’ll post them, straight up, without editing or adding commentary.

Peter Hume going to bat for Jean Cloutier

Earlier this year, I thought Cloutier was definitely going to lose re-election. I still think he’s in trouble, but with at least three really strong challengers, there’s a chance he could slip through, with them splitting the opposing vote.

I don’t know if he’s particularly worried, but I was forwarded an email this afternoon from a reader (hi there!) from former Alta Vista councillor Peter Hume. It would seem Hume is throwing a fundraiser for Cloutier…and inviting a bunch of members of Ottawa’s developer community.

This would seem the exact sort of thing we wouldn’t want to see…especially from a councillor so unwilling to stand up to Timbercreek as they raze Heron Gate.

Here’s the email I received:

From: Peter Hume <redacted>

Date: September 19, 2018 at 10:26:15 AM EDT

To: <redacted>

Cc: Susan <redacted>

Subject: Campaign Fundraiser for Councillor Jean Cloutier

Hello Everyone,

Ted Phillips, Mike Casey and I have offered to host a campaign lunch for Councillor Cloutier. Would you kindly let me know if you can attend a lunch on September 26th at 12 noon? It will be held at Al’s Steakhouse on Elgin Street.

Personal cheques should be made out to “Elect Jean Cloutier”. If you cannot attend but would like to donate, please let me know and we can make other arrangements.

Thank you and look forward to seeing you there!

Regards,

Peter

(I would imagine he references Ted Phillips of Taggart Realty and Mike Casey of Arnon Property Management.)

I took out the email recipients for privacy sake, but it was cluttered with development and construction companies–Minto, Richcraft, Novatech, etc.

So, look, there’s nothing technically wrong with this, but, man, it really looks bad.

I’ve reached out to Peter Hume for comment.

Here. Here’s a mayoral platform you can use.

So Clive Doucet, once the only dim flicker of a chance of challenging (if not defeating) Jim Watson, has said some dumb stuff again. A couple of weeks after musing on delaying Phase 2 of LRT and cancelling Baseline BRT, he started musing on bike licensing (which he has since walked back) and restoring weekly garbage pick-up in the summer.

Bad ideas, all.

Of course, Jim Watson is no better. He wants to keep shoveling money to businesses, open a film studio or something in Nepean and, well, whatever else. There’s no vision, and there’s no reason to think there’d be any.

I haven’t dug into any other candidate’s platform too deeply, but after a cursory review, no one’s jumping out at me. So, once again, we have an uninspired mayoral race. Sigh.

So, fuck it, if there’s no good mayoral platform, I’m going to write one up for y’all. It’s rough and quick. I’m doing this on a whim over lunch, but every candidate is welcome to borrow and steal from it at well.

Here it is. Here’s my Seven-Point Platform:

Taxes

  • I don’t care what anyone says, they’re not going down. Even keeping tax increases to 2% every year isn’t feasible, especially not the way we’re running things.
  • If you really want to keep taxes in check, at all, we’re going to have to do something about all the money we’re spending on roads…but, don’t worry, we’re getting to that.
  • We’re finding a way to bring tax fairness to central areas and rentals.

Transit & Transportation

  • The Transit Commission is meeting today. Do you realize how stupid it is that this is separate from the Transportation Committee? Transit is the most important aspect of transportation decisions in the city, right now. So, yeah, we’re going to start looking at transportation holistically.
  • Phase 2 is going ahead as planned, but we’re not screwing up the contract, again.
  • Transit fares are coming down. It’d be nice to make transit free, but that’s a significant undertaking, and I’m not sure it’s feasible in the short-run. But, y’know, it can be aspirational. Let’s work towards that.
  • Drivers like to claim that gas taxes pay for the roads. Of course, they don’t but whatever. In Ottawa, gas taxes equate to about 33% of the cost of our roads. So that’s the initial target for the fare box for OC Transpo. Riders are paying a third, and the city is picking up the rest.
  • U-Pass is going all-year-round. Students don’t suddenly have wads of cash when they’re working and saving over the summer. Your pass will go from September to September. If you graduate in May (or whenever), that’s cool. Consider it a grace period for while you kickstart your post-school life.
  • Equipass is going down and senior fares are going down, but not as much; we’re getting some balance here. Seniors in need can qualify for Equipass, but seniors in comfortable financial situations do not need added subsidization.
  • But, hey, what the hell, let’s give ’em some more free days, because riding the bus is good. So maybe every Wednesday and Thursday? I don’t know; the specific day doesn’t really matter.
  • More free days, in general! We’re trying to bring La Machine back? Free transit there and back. Remembrance Day? Free transit for everyone to get to and from ceremonies. Maybe some free Sundays (especially in the summer), too.
  • More buses, more routes, increased service.
  • Bank Street transit hub.
  • Damn, this sounds expensive…but we’ll get more riders, we’ll pay more property taxes and we’ll pay less on roads, I’m getting to that.
  • Medium-term: getting BRT or LRT to Vanier.
  • Longer-term: LRT to Lansdowne (and beyond).

Streets & Transportation

  • We’re not expanding roads, and we’re not building tons of new roads.
  • The AVTC is dead.
  • No more trucks on Rideau and King Edward (and, no, I don’t want to waste time studying a tunnel again).
  • We’re actually going to implement Complete Streets–real Complete Streets–on new re-builds, especially downtown.
  • Downtown bike lane network with proper protected intersections.
  • Bike lanes on Bank Street, especially over the Canal and Billings Bridges.
  • More bike lanes everywhere.
  • No rights on reds.
  • No beg buttons.
  • Light-timing to advantage pedestrians.
  • We’ll look into pedestrian scrambles.
  • Lower, much lower, speed limits.
  • Photo-radar.
  • Narrower streets to calm traffic.
  • Road tolls/congestion pricing.
  • Increased parking fees.
  • Proper re-design of Albert and Slater, making them Complete Streets and working to keep them from being thoroughfares (one should have endpoints at Bronson and at Elgin).
  • Medium term: getting rid of one-way streets downtown.
  • Long-term, we’re blowing up the Queensway.

Development

  • We’re making a proper plan for inclusionary zoning, and we’re enforcing it.
  • We’re sticking to CDPs and zoning…but we should make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
  • We’re eliminating parking minimums and instituting parking maximums.
  • In certain areas, new developments won’t get parking at all.
  • Everywhere is getting denser
  • We’re continuing with Transit-Oriented Development and instituting Development-Oriented Transit.
  • We’re capping sprawl.
  • We’re bringing in proper Development Charges.
  • We’re cracking down on derelict buildings.
  • We’re reverting back to the old cash-in-lieu of parks system…evening re-balancing it so there’s no city-wide fund. Central areas need parks, too.

Policing & Safety

  • Costs of policing will rise, we have no control over salaries.
  • We need a more community-oriented approach to policing.
  • We probably need a few more officers.
  • We also need more accountability.
  • We need to invest more in social services and social workers so we’re leaving it to cops to deal with street-involved people in need.

Environment & Garbage

  • Remember that thing about congestion pricing?
  • Get dog shit out of compost.
  • Expand the green bin program to multi-home buildings and commercial establishments.
  • Work towards zero waste.
  • Work towards eliminating single-use plastics.
  • We’re not going back to weekly garbage pick-up, ever.
  • Limit the amount of trash people can put out (or price excess garbage).
  • Institute a hazardous waste depot downtown/central.

Miscellaneous

  • We’re building a nice fucking library. We’re not cheaping out.
  • Give the owner of Somerset House about three months, then we’re expropriating.
  • Ensure the new Civic Hospital doesn’t rely on excess parking, doesn’t destroy the roads and areas around it (remember that thing about no new roads? Yeah, that.)
  • Bring in the Women’s Bureau.
  • Look for innovative solutions to poverty, like the proposal for Heatherington mimicking the Eastlake development in Atlanta.
  • More street trees.
  • More public toilets.
  • More parks, and change definitions so that parklets count, when and where appropriate.
  • Longer hours for summer pools and beaches.
  • No money for Lebreton, beyond what we’d spend anyway on infrastructure and affordable housing–also, do our best to make sure they don’t fuck it up, and that includes giving the Somerset councillor a seat at the table.
  • We’re bringing more mix-use communities to suburbs and exurbs. They need them, and it’s pretty clear they want them.
  • Rehabilitate St. Joseph Boulevard.
  • More money for social services.
  • Yes to safe injection sites. Yes to funding them if the province screws people over.
  • Stop the mega-shelter and use those funds to shift to a housing-first model…or at least a secular model that isn’t bathed in patriarchy.

There you go. There’s a bunch more we could do, but I only have so much time right now. Take this. Run with it. Make it your own. Add to it. Prioritize how you like…but this is the basic vision I want to see. Sadly, I’m not sure anyone’s offering that right now.

Rideau-Goulbourn Endorsement

Rideau-Goulbourn is the 90210 race in Ottawa.

Theoretically inspired by serious issues in real people’s lives, it’s the high school gossip campaign, where people are talking more about apparent betrayal of incumbent Scott Moffatt by his former staffer, David Brown.

And it’s too bad, because municipal politics are important, and voters should be worrying about policy and competency of the candidates.

Endorsement: Scott Moffatt. Moffatt is one of the most confounding councillors at City Hall. Clearly conservative-leaning, he’ll pick a…I don’t want to say fight…debate? petty squabble? with just about anyone, left or right, which speaks to his fiercely independent nature.

If you watched the televised debate, you’d see that Moffatt has a clear idea of the work that needs to be done for his ward, and an thorough understanding of how things actually work in the city. It’d be easy to give in to populist rhetoric about cutting taxes, trimming waste and magically bringing transit to local sprawl, but he’s honest about his approach, about what can be done and, importantly, about what can’t be done.

Moffatt considers himself to be a councillor who wants to do right by his ward and by his city, as well as a councillor he makes reasoned decisions based on evidence rather than pre-formed biases. Now, at times, these self-descriptions have been more aspirational than actual, but in the debate he really did live up to them–speaking both about how to make the city as a whole work, and explaining an issue where he changed his initial stance after conducting more research. His performance in that debate was truly admirable.

Brown’s was not. It’s not clear that he has a vision for the ward or the city, other than popular but vacuous platitudes. It’s clear that he doesn’t have a solid grasp on how the city runs (despite having worked in Moffatt’s office), and it seems he may be running more for personal ambition than civic duty. What became clear in that debate is that he was definitely a top ten councillor in the last term of council, and it’d be a shame to lose him.

…but maybe don’t tell anyone I said that; I’m not sure my opinion will sway too many people in Rideau-Goulbourn.

Urbanism isn’t winning, but it’s getting stronger in Ottawa

I was watching the Stittsville Ward debate last night, and a mini-discussion about Vision Zero broke. Now, I won’t get into all the ways the discussion was wrong, nor will I point out that the participants had already gotten into a discussion about all the roads that need to be widened (oops, guess I just did). No, I want to talk about the way urbanism has slowly and partially embedded itself in Ottawa’s municipal dialogue.

Four years ago, would Shad Qadri–who has never been a champion of Vision Zero, safer streets, urbanism, or rational, informed decision making–have been pumping up Vision Zero? I mean, he didn’t totally embrace it, but he sure demonstrated that he wanted to be seen as being on the side of Vision Zero.

Now, this sort of phenomenon isn’t some sort of tangible win for people wanting smart, safe city-building; in fact, the tenets of urbanism are at times being turned against urbanism.

I was at city council a couple of weeks ago, and they were talking about Gateway Speed Limits (basically, the ability to put up signs saying that the default speed limit for an entire neighbourhood is 40 or 30 km/h). This is a good initiative, needed because of bad planning, that is being implemented poorly (one neighbourhood per ward per year gets to be safe, no more, life is too costly for the city budget). So some councillors started talking about just lowering the default speed limit for the entire city (good idea!).

Kanata South councillor Allan Hubley eventually spoke up (this may have been the first time I ever heard him speak). He noted that you can’t just lower a speed limit and, boom, have everyone suddenly adhere to it. People will drive to the conditions of the road (and what was left unsaid was that we have built dangerous roads that encourage dangerous driving).

This comment–this admission–by Hubley demonstrates that urbanist wisdom is gaining a foothold even with the most car-obsessed councillors. Those of us who’d like to not die when crossing the street have repeatedly said, yelled, hollered, that it’s not good enough to just lower the speed limit, you need to fix the road, too.

(Okay, a bit of a quibble here. We may have oversold this. Hubley claimed that lowering the speed limit won’t get people to drive slower, but this isn’t necessarily true. I was recently reading a study about how the speed limit does have an effect on driver behaviour. So if your street has a limit of 50 km/h, drivers may go 75. Lowering the speed limit to 40 won’t suddenly make them drive slowly, but it may get them to drive 65. This is an improvement.)

So Hubley voiced his concern that you can’t just put up a sign and hope for better behaviour. The obvious next step to this line of thought is, so we have to fix our streets to discourage speeding and dangerous driving. But, no, Hubley made no such argument.

You see, people like Hubley (and he’s certainly not the only one) have adopted urbanist wisdom and rhetoric, but they’re twisting it so that it’s an excuse to do nothing about street safety. This is quite distasteful.

And you can see this in Qadri’s talk about Vision Zero. The city has explicitly not adopted Vision Zero (they’ve chosen a non-philosophy called “Towards Zero”), and they repeatedly rejected Vision Zero practices when city development comes up (just look at Elgin Street).

It’s similar to the city’s adoption of the term Complete Streets. We have no Complete Streets in Ottawa. We claim we do. We have a policy we call “Complete Streets”, but it is a bastardization of the concept (instead of prioritizing the safety of the most vulnerable street users, we “balance the needs” of all street users, which is a big difference…and we didn’t even do that on Elgin).

This is what is happening with the pro-driving lobby in Ottawa. They can no longer deny what’s actually going on on our roads (except when it comes to road widenings and induced demand). More and more, the public is learning about proper urban planning, and they’re expecting it from City Hall.

So people at City Hall who little interest in building a livable city are co-opting the terms, phrases and concepts of urbanism in order to gloss over their own failings (this is kinda why we need a new, more direct lexicon). It’s gross and deceitful. They’re basically trolling the city.

But this isn’t all bad news. People like Hubley and Qadri spouting urbanistique platitudes are giving up ground to urbanists. They’re finally acknowledging the facts of city-building and road safety. They’re still desperately holding on to their tired, exposed, failed driving-centric philosophy, but the writing’s on the wall. The people want more. They want better. And even the most car-centric politician has to at least pretend to give the people what they want.

And you can see this beyond just street safety. In the dicsourse throughout the suburban, exurban and rural wards, people are talking about transit, bike lanes, sidewalks and mixed-use development. They want complete communities. There’s a shift away from pure, unmitigated sprawl.

There’s still a long way to go. Urban planner Brent Toderian talks about the four stages of city growth: Doing the wrong thing. Doing the wrong thing better. Having your cake and eating it. Doing the right thing.

In these discussions, many residents and many politicians are somewhere between Doing the wrong thing better and Having your cake and eating it, but that’s a big improvement from simply doing the wrong thing. And this sort of talk was not as prevalent four years ago.

Make no mistake, there are still many, many forces in Ottawa that are trying to uphold and embolden the car-centric status quo. This city is still driving-obsessed, and we still make more boneheaded decisions that not…and even when we make good decisions, we tend to do them poorly.

But there is a shift going on. Ottawa is changing. I hope that within my lifetime, we’ll see a majority of council members who acknowledge the realities of city-building and finally get on with the business of making Ottawa a better, more livable city.

College Ward Debate Re-Cap

You might not think College Ward would be an interesting. Rick Chiarelli is basically a forever-term incumbent, his experience in city politics dating back to the pre-amalgamation Nepean in the 1980s. Four years ago, he cruised to victory without a serious challenge. This year could be a bit different.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s still the clear front-runner. Incumbency has its privileges and all that, but this time ’round, he’s facing off against two competent and intelligent challengers who might just make this a three-way race.

Regular readers will know that I’ve had some issues with Chiarelli in the past few years. I think he’s a net negative on city council, often portraying the worst impulses of a suburban city council. But he also has his moments. He does stand up for better financial planning, memorably being one of the councillors behind the infrastructure levy motion that forced city council to divert more funds into fixing our roads and public assets. And he’s always willing to take on the mayor (even if their political outlooks tend to align.)

So if Chiarelli is getting a run for his money this election, that’s good.

It was clear in the debate that Rick Chiarelli was the incumbent. He had specific examples of city projects and personal initiatives from the past term of council. There was no question that stumped him–he was able to respond thoroughly to any challenge posed. He name-dropped Ben Franklin a bunch of times and generally came off as a sitting council member who knows exactly what’s going on, knows what can be done at council and knows what limitations there are on a councillor.

Emilie Coyle was clearly the least experienced candidate in the race. With a background in law and business, she certainly didn’t have the insider talking points down that Chiarelli had. Once or twice, she came off as the smart, involved, concerned citizen who maybe wasn’t quite ready for the job…

…but she was also forceful, determined and confident in what she had to say, and in what needs to change at City Hall. While Chiarelli was able to pull up details from past council motions and current city policy, Coyle repeatedly and successfully hammered away at him on accountability, communication and transparency.

She went after the lack of consultation in the ward and the lack of communication coming out of the councillor’s office. Chiarelli would respond (yes, he always had an answer) and explain what he had done, but he really failed to show that his record stood up to the criticisms of Coyle.

As much as Chiarelli is an institution, I think there is a noteworthy undercurrent of discontent in the ward, and Coyle seemed to channel it well. She wouldn’t let Chiarelli shut her down in the debate. She wouldn’t back down. She…well…persisted.

But don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t just critiquing Chiarelli; she has an idea of what needs to happen in the ward, in general, even if she admits she doesn’t have all the answers right now. It really seems like she would be able to get up to speed quickly if elected, so I don’t think this is really a weak point.

My main criticism of her performance would be her insistence that College Ward needed someone with real world experience, business experience. Yes, it’s fair to say that Chiarelli has been around maybe too long (and not to pick on him specifically, just new blood can be a good thing)–and Coyle got in some good lines about how his time has come–but I’m always hesitant to embrace the notion that we need people who now how to run a business at City Hall. That was the argument for Larry O’Brien.

The other challenger, Ryan Kennery, had a good showing, but wasn’t quite as impressive. I’ll admit it; I’m a little disappointed by what I’ve seen of Kennery’s campaign (though not being in the ward, I don’t know what his ground game is like). I was very intrigued when he announced and though I think he’d make a fine councillor, he hasn’t wowed me like I thought he would.

In the debate, he was able to make his points–he’s knowledgeable on the way the city works, having worked both for the city and for the mayor. He definitely has some good ideas for the ward and the city–but he wasn’t quite as good at making his case as Coyle. And he certainly wasn’t as good at attacking Chiarelli. And make no mistake about it, in this race, it won’t be enough to prove yourself, you have to really, truly beat the incumbent.

There were a couple of odd points in the debate, sort of own-goals, if you will, for Kennery. He spoke of his experience as a staffer during a situation in Hintonburg. I assume he was talking about the detoured buses during LRT construction–a situation that was handled extremely poorly by the city. He may have seen some very involved and active community members, but he would have been on the wrong side of the table in that fight.

He also mentioned a recent budget consultation in the ward where he was one of only 13 or 14 people who showed up. I think he was trying to make a point that current consultation efforts were failing, but it kind of came off like he was criticizing the residents of the ward…the people whose vote he was seeking.

Now, I don’t want to sound too negative here. He did fine, but he wasn’t able to score points against Chiarelli like Coyle was.

When it all shakes out, we’ll likely have councillor Chiarelli, again. No matter how good the two challengers are (and they’re both good), this a giant in municipal politics they’re trying to take down. But going by the debate, it’s clear that we’re actually going to have a real race with real challengers presenting real visions for the ward and the city.

It’s too early for me to make an endorsement in this race (that’ll come later), but I’m very happy that there are viable alternatives to the incumbent.

Do Ottawa residents really pay more property tax?

Recently, I wrote about a Twitter exchange between a Capital Ward candidate and Trevor Hache of the Healthy Transportation Coalition. There was one part of that conversation that has continued to stick with me…not because it was wrong, necessarily, but because I thought it deserved more investigation.

Here’s what was said:

This wasn’t the first time I’d hear this…but I also remembered that Francois Trepanier who’s running in Innes Ward saying that Ottawa residents pay less than Torontonians. So, I decided to track this stuff down, myself.

I found this report from Global news detailing how much people in different cities pay. I believe I saw someone tweet this out around the same time as Carricato’s tweet.

I’m going to steal the pertinent graph:

Okay, the numbers check out…but do you see anything peculiar about the measurement? It tells us how much a resident pays in relation to the price of their home.

This is a pretty significant detail, because the price of your home doesn’t actually dictate the cost of city services you require. If your home doubles in price overnight, the cost of the sewers connecting to you home remain unchanged.

But the Global report had more useful information in it, like average home price. Let’s take a look at Toronto, with such a low rate of property tax.

In Toronto, the average price of a home is $805,320. In Ottawa, it’s $425,398.

All right, time for some quick and dirty math.

If you buy the average home in Toronto, you’ll pay $805,320 for the privilege. The city will then charge you $6.62 per every $1000 for the value of your home.

So the property tax bill for the average Toronto home will be $5,331.

Back here in God’s country, you’re paying $425,398 for the average home, and those scoundrels at City Hall are taking $10.68 for every $1000 you spent on your home.

So the property tax bill for the average Ottawa home will be $4,543.

(If anyone sees a problem with my math, please let me know.)

So the owner of the average house in Ottawa will be paying $788 less than the owner of the average house in Toronto. Or, to put it another way, the average house in Toronto will cost you 17% more in property taxes.

You see, when we get into real numbers, Ottawans appear to pay less than Torontonians (at least, judging by the same metric as the original tweet). Further, as the Global report shows, Ottawa’s land transfer taxes are significantly lower in terms of rate and in real dollars than Toronto’s.

Further, according to the 2010 census (yes, it’s old, but it’s the first source I found), Ottawa has a significantly higher average household income than Toronto. And, let’s not ignore the fact that Toronto is far denser than Ottawa, meaning that many city services will be cheaper there…so it’s not even clear that we should have a tax burden lower than Toronto.

Now, there are a lot of other elements at play, here. There’s the issue of rentals. There’s the dispersal of home prices and incomes. So, no, this isn’t an exhaustive investigation into the relative property tax burden of Toronto and Ottawa.

But one thing that is clear is that you can’t take the reported numbers and simply state that Ottawa has an unreasonably high tax burden compared to a city like Toronto, because, as it turns out, in terms of real dollars (which is what people really care about at the end of the day), the tax burden for an average Ottawa home is lower than that for an average Toronto home.

One other thing that’s clear: that report should not be used to determine financial matters in Ottawa.