Developers and Development Charges

City council made a bad decision this week…well, they made three bad decisions, but I’m only going to focus on one. Last year, the city increased development charges (DCs). This was a fine move. New builds are taxing on our city services and our city finances. New development isn’t inherently bad, but it is costly, and shouldn’t be subsidized by the rest of us.

Well, nothing is permanent, it seems. Homebuilder associations threatened to take the city to the Ontario Municipal Baord, so the city caved, slashing the increases and promising to never ever do anything to make these perfect, sainted, benevolent developers even slightly inconvenienced ever again (essentially).

I’m not going to get deep into it right now…mainly because Rideau-Rockliffe councillor Tobi Nussbaum’s statement is pretty perfect. (And I’m stealing it in its entirety and I hope Team Tobi doesn’t mind.)

At City Council today, I voted against a settlement agreement to resolve an appeal to the City’s updated development charges bylaw. Ottawa updated its development charges in 2014 and the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) and other developers subsequently appealed the decision at the Ontario Municipal Board.

The Province of Ontario requires municipalities to review and update their development charges every five years. The City collects development charges from homebuilders to pay for the increased capital costs of services such as new roads, water and sewer pipes and transit to accommodate residential growth. As a result of the settlement, the City will have to reimburse $7.4 million in collected development charges to builders and can expect to forego tens of millions of dollars in future revenue.

I voted against this proposed settlement agreement for two main reasons:

ACCOUNTABILITY

The settlement agreement goes far beyond the 2014 changes to the development charges. It includes a clause that would prohibit Council from introducing any new projects to its development charge system prior to January 1, 2019, unless the appellants agree. By approving this settlement, the City is giving the appellants a veto power over what City Council can do in relation to development charges for more than three years, eliminating the opportunity to include new projects as part of the next development charges review, expected in 2017. To use a concrete example, although Council had the right to impose a development charge to help offset capital costs for childcare, Council will be forbidden to do so by this settlement agreement unless the appealing developers agree.

TRANSPARENCY

The 2014 Development Charges By-law amendment was the subject of considerable consultation, both with the industry and with the broader public. City staff recommended approval of it to Council in June 2014 without any suggestion of legal risk. Given that city staff is now recommending drastic alterations to the recently adopted development charges, either Council was not properly informed of any legal risks at the time the changes were passed, or the city should not agree to settle and instead proceed to a hearing at the Ontario Municipal Board on the basis of the rigorous research, transparency and consultation that underlined the 2014 review.  Either possibility raises significant process issues.

For a public regulator to grant veto power over its future decisions to the very bodies it regulates raises serious concerns. Considering that the settlement agreement was passed at the same meeting that Council considered directions for its 2016 budget, which includes a $36 million-gap that needs to be filled, such a voluntary ceding of Council authority is both legally and financially problematic.

The city is obligated to demonstrate the highest level of openness and transparency, particularly when dealing with the development industry. A settlement agreement, negotiated and debated behind closed doors, that alters a publicly-consulted set of rules and provides veto power to developers over City decisions, does not meet that test. The result of that failure is a loss of public trust.

Nussbaum and Somerset councillor Catherine McKenney were the only two to vote against this horrendous motion. Good for them.

I get council’s desire to settle. The OMB is a monster, and has consistently sided with developers and against democracy. The provincial government is severely hurting the city by giving the OMB such expansive powers. It seems not a significant debate about urban development goes by that someone doesn’t express concern that the OMB will punish the city for a decision we might (and, usually, should) make.

But that doesn’t mean we turn over the keys to government to developers. It already seems like city council is in the pocket of corporations. Now, we’re just that much closer to codifying it.

What’s the value of a plan?

We’re getting some development issues at City Hall, again. We have a heritage building, a fresh Community Design Plan and developer looking to build a hotel. We also have the planning committee and the local councillor on opposite sides. This could be quite a mess.

The building is at 180 Metcalfe Street. It’s a century-old art deco building. It’s lovely and well worth the heritage designation. It’s also a little small for this location, only about six or seven storeys. The developer is looking to go higher, much higher. A 27-storey tower is being proposed.

Whoa. Whoa. I’m sure some of you are thinking that that is just too big a change, but don’t worry; no one really has much of a beef with the height. The secondary plan allows for 27 storeys, and we’re talking right downtown where intensification needs to be upwards.

The issues isn’t the height. It isn’t adding on to a heritage building. It’s the potential use of the building. There’s to be a six floor hotel underneath 21 floors of condos. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is a clear contravention of the CDP.

The CDP was only finalized a few years ago, and it has some very specific requirements for new buildings. The area is to be predominantly residential, so developments of this are supposed to have no more than two ground(ish) levels of commercial units. Everything else must be residential. (And, no, a hotel doesn’t count as residential.) So where did we go wrong?

Well, the zoning is the issue. Currently, the site is zoned for twelve storeys of office space (because, lord knows, Centretown needs another twelve-storey office building), and the zoning comes first. In a screwed up bit of legalities, the owner of the property gets to flex his muscles over the regulations of the elected government, if he or she so pleases.

(And, remember, property rights are bogus…but that’s a different subject. We can revere property rights while still being able to run our city.)

So with our hands tied, city planners have suggested a compromise. We’ll get six storeys of commercial units instead of twelve floors of offices. We’ll get a hotel, contradicting the CDP, but, in a way, striking a compromise between commercial and residential. And we’ll still get 21 storeys of true residential development. The planning committee reviewed the compromise and approved it.

Councillor McKenney disagrees with the decision. She believes the CDP should rule the day…and she’s probably right, here’s why:

  • Community Design Plans are important. We need to have an idea of what kind of city we want, and what kind of communities we want. It’s important to be able to regulate the types of development that occur in each ward (and each ward will probably be slightly different).
  • More and more, the OMB is making planning decisions for the city, usurping what little democratic control we have over our municipal lives. The OMB wants consistency and predicability (and then does everything they can to undermine it). They want a plan, but they don’t want deviations from the plan; that’s inconsistent and unpredicatable. One compromise can lead to another, and the OMB will whittle away at our community plans until they’re worthless (and the OMB loves sprawl and everything that is wrong with urban development, so giving them more power isn’t good).
  • Residents–average Joe Ottawa–put a lot of time and effort into drafting CDPs. It’s a long process, taking up to two years (or more). There are lots of consultations and meetings, and the city is notorious for ignoring residents concerns if they don’t attend these consultations and meetings. So the residents of Centretown have worked very hard and sacrificed much to create this plan, and they have as much ownership (if not more…really, much much more) of their community as do developers. It is unjust to toss aside all that work. It also discourages community engagement in the future. Why would you spend hours working on a city plan if a developer can come in and trash it? This is actually a part of a significant issue in Ottawa politics right now, as the political class often seems far to beholden to moneyed interests.

…But–there’s always one, righ?–as much as the CDP should rule the day, this building should be built. Is a six-storey hotel underneath a 21-storey condo ideal? Maybe, maybe not. It’s not a bad plan. City planners are correct that it serves the spirit of the CDP, mostly. It will be a good addition to the neighbourhood, and it will be additional density. We need to build up, not out. (Not that there’s a ton of space to “build out” in Centretown, but whatever space there is needs to be cherished.)

The real problem here is the CDP, itself. This development should not run afoul of the CDP. This is the sort of development we should want downtown. Sure, we don’t want hotels on every block (is that an actual risk?), but we don’t want office towers everywhere, either. We want a neighbourhood where people live, work and play, and part of that play could involve tourists.

And so, we’re in a pickle. First and foremost, we should follow the CDP…but the CDP is too rigid. Property rights shouldn’t trump all city planning, but they do, so a compromise is in order…which is just going to make city planning via CDPs and secondary plans all the more difficult in the future. When we’re in such a bind, it leads me to believe we have an error in the process (as well as the horrible sword of the OMB dangling over our heads).

And so, I’ve pretty much supported every position on this issue, which might make you wonder what I think council should do.

Council should approve this. They should work with the developer to try to get them more in-line with the CDP, offering whatever carrots they can. Our hands are tied, and though McKenney has the moral high ground here, that’s not going to be particularly helpful. I think the fight might do more to weaken the CDP than the compromise.

But, on another level, we should work to curtail, if not eliminate, the OMB. And we should work to ensure that developers can’t run our communities.

P.S. I do feel rather conflicted on this issue, so I reserve the right to change my mind and pretend this post never happened.

The Somerset campaign persists

A while back, I gave some first impressions of the Somerset race. It’s a tough campaign to assess. There really are at least five or six solid candidates, and I imagine that the ward will wind up with a very good councillor on October 28.  As you may or may not recall (and you may or may not care), when I wrote that piece, I was leaning towards Martin Canning and Conor Meade as the two strongest candidates.

Saturday night, I finally watched the RogersTV debate. Below are my thoughts, as they came during the debate. I’m not really going to go back and edit them because it’s not really worth it, so be prepared for spelling and grammatical mistakes! There’s a tl;dr section at the end.

Opening Statements

  • First thing Edward Conway says is he’s a homeowner, because that makes hims better candidate, I guess.
  • Conor Meade claims to have the most extensive platform in the race. Bold statement, but it might be true.
  • Jeff Morrison is quite animated and engaging in his opening statement. He comes off strong, style-wise. He clearly appeared the most comfortable.
  • Denis Schryburt Has done a lot in the ward; the question will be if he can translate that into a vision for the ward.
  • I don’t get how Lili Weemen can keep talking Complete Streets when she wants to get rid of the Laurier bike lane.
  • Martin Canning drops his “New Ottawa” slogan effortlessly. In his opening statement, he doesn’t offer much of a vision, but he does list a number of accomplishments he’s had as an activist in the ward.

First Question: What will you do about jobs and people leaving downtown?

  • Conway jumps to road tolls. Phrased that way, it might seem a little out there, but he has a good point. Major roads are built to and through the core. That’s the only way flight to suburbs and bedroom communities can be facilitated.
  • Canning discusses the need for better, more environmentally-friendly businesses. This is good, as far as it goes, but more is needed to maintain the vibrancy of downtown.
  • Morrison is the third to speak, and he disagrees with the premise of the question. Somerset ward is vibrant. We’re seeing more and more development. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about the core, but it’s not the hollowed neighbourhood it was when I was growing up.
  • Ooh Canning and Morrison going at it (tangentially about Somerest House). Canning went on the offensive. Does this mean he sees Morrison as a big threat?
  • Schryburt pivots to the idea that the city needs to get tough on all derelict lots, not just high profile ones (similar to the comment he left on this site a few days ago).
  • There’s a bit of, which is great.
  • Weemen claims that families don’t live in the condos that we’re seeing downtown. I tend to disagree, however, a good housing mix (which was her underlying point) is a worthy goal.
  • Canning’s “New Ottawa” mantra could get old really quick.
  • McKenney sounds a bit more like an incumbent than the others. Morrison sounds like the activist.
  • Meade talks about bringing in businesses that will give great new opportunities to young people. He talks about supporting restaurants and bars, as well as our “creative culture”. I’m wondering if there’s a bit of a Richard Florida perspective here.
  • McVeigh has a very similar view as Meade.
  • Weemen is now complaining about the format, saying only the loudest get to talk. Sutcliffe points out she’s already spoken on this question. She wants the same amenities as the suburbs… but she doesn’t say what that is.
  • Schryburt also wants to bring in business, primarily local businesses.
  • What is it with the lack of a movie theatre being a major issue? Is that really what Somerset residents want out of their councillor?
  • Meade offers a “tangible” suggestion. The new library (which should stay in Somerset, he argues) should also be an incubator, teaching code and linking into the digital age.
  • Canning’s back to green buildings. I think he needs another tool in his toolbox regarding economic revitalization.
  • McKenney is talking trees, pedestrians and cycling to bring more customers to downtown businesses. This is true (pedestrians and cyclists tend to spend more money than motorists), but the framing of the question was more about office vacancies.
  • As you can see, everyone is kind of going to their pet topics.
  • Time is up, and Weemen is arguing about the format again.
  • Oh, Conway says everyone else is missing the point. He’s attacking suburban flight. He’s not wrong.

Next up, intensification. How high is too high?

  • First up is Meade, and he’s up for intensification and 27-storey towers in certain areas, Bank Street, the core and Catherine Street, for instance. He’s up for limiting height in the Golden Triangle, Little Italy and Centretown West. He’s clearly pro-intensification, but not rampant intensification. Seems like a solid, measured position.
  • Weemen wants parklets near highrises. This is true.
  • Morrison agrees with Meade, but stressed the importance of CDP. He thinks the ward has a good CDPs. He also notes how the OMB is ruining Ottawa. Good for him.
  • McKenney focused on re-orienting the perspective of city staff.
  • McVeigh claims our CDPs are enforceable. Yes and no. Yes, if council decides to (and they don’t design them with gaping holes). No, because OMB. He’d like to reform the OMB (I think), but notes that without the OMB, property owners would appeal through the courts.
  • Morrison and McVeigh going at it regarding CDPs and the OMB, McVeigh makes good points, but in the end, Morrison’s right. The OMB ignores CDPs. They re-write development rules. They encourage sprawl. And they’re a law unto themselves.
  • It’s great seeing most everyone dump on the OMB.
  • Conway calls everyone who wants to overturn the OMB “radicals”. He also claims the OMB enforces provincial rules. That’s demonstrably false. Leading into this debate, I didn’t list him as one of my preferred candidates (though that was as much out of lack of familiarity than anything). He’s not moving up the ranks, so far.
  • Also, he seems to think that urban sprawl is intensification.
  • Okay, he goes from all that to saying that the problem is that we’re not defending CDPs properly. There’s some truth to that, so he gets half points.
  • Canning switches from attacking the OMB, to attacking the set up of the OMB. He sees the OMB as a way for communities to appeal bad decisions, but notes that communities have no resources to take on these fights (other than whatever they can stir up). He wants to switch that up. An OMB that wasn’t so pro-developer would be a welcome developer.
  • Sandro Provenzano is clearly fond of his community. He also seems to have a good idea of the issues facing the ward. He hasn’t yet given any indication that he’s the one address those issues at City Hall.
  • McKenney notes that (despite complaints) we have good development downtown, too. This is a sound strategy for her: (1) she comes off as positive, and not just a malcontent; (2) she’s a City Hall insider; she could wind up owning some of its decisions. A “City Hall is screwing up” campaign wouldn’t totally help her.
  • That said, talking about the bland, token re-development of the Met is way off. It’s an ok development, but the way it’s tacked on to the old front face of the Met is just silly.
  • I think we’re going to see everyone basically agreeing on this (and many) issues. That’s what we’ve got so far.
  • McKenney goes back to saying planners need to treat residents as clients. I hope that’s the last time she uses that line.
  • She brought up the Norman Street development. Morrison uses the opening to go back at the OMB. That’s all well and good (and correct), but he’s going to seem like a one-trick pony.
  • Getting a bit testy. Morrison kind of mocks Conway and Conway fires back.
  • Weemen may have suggested that Ottawa is turning into Detroit.

Supervised Injection Site

  • McVeigh answers first. He supports SIS and all other forms of harm reduction. He takes a not-so-veiled shot at McKenney who used to be against an SIS, but is now mushy on the issue, claiming to want a made-in-Ottawa solution.
  • McKenney responds, claiming that in the past we didn’t have enough research to make a made-in-Ottawa solution. She’s still very non-committal.
  • Schryburt supports Insite in Vancouver, but he’s not sure we should have the same thing. He’s kind of parroting McKenney. He then pivots to speaking about other forms of treatment and recovery.
  • Canning calls this a litmus test of political leadership…and then he goes on to say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
  • Morrison notes that McVeigh was right about McKenney. She was against it and now she’s “for” it with a whole lot of caveats.
  • Morrison is totes for it, BTW.
  • Morrison also finally notes this is a health issue.
  • Weemen seems for it. She also seems to equate heroin use with abortion.
  • Yup.
  • At the 43 minute mark, Silviu Riley and Morrison take a drink of water in perfect tandem.
  • Provenzano and Morrison are the only ones who speak of drug users as people.
  • Riley is the first one to note that an SIS can be connected to recovery services.
  • Conway does not seem to like Morrison.
  • Conway argues that this whole thing is moot, because the feds won’t let us. First of all, that’s not necessarily true. Secondly, this was his same perspective regarding the OMB, that it was a provincial body and we couldn’t do anything. This is a rather defeatist attitude. Cities often have to seek assistance and changes in legislation from higher levels of governments. I wouldn’t want a councillor who saw all such attempts as futile.
  • Also, he noted the whole discussion was “sterile”. I really hope that was a pun, but I doubt it.
  • He supports needle exchange, no more.
  • Canning (I think, it was a voice off screen) notes that we didn’t realize that Conway was a spokesman for the federal government. Good line.
  • Sutcliffe lost control a bit. He gives an “I’m trying” sort of shrug to the camera. Municipal treasure, that man.
  • Meade credits McKenney for changing her mind after more research.
  • McKenney defends herself against such a baseless slur, “I have not done more research,” she tells us.
  • She goes back to her made-in-Ottawa boilerplate. The fact is that she gave an interview and was against SIS. Now she’s hedging. If she hasn’t changed her mind (or wasn’t totally misquoted), she’s obfuscating. She’s not actually lying, but she’s not being completely honest.
  • Meade is right, though, that candidates should be commended for keeping an open mind towards new research and information.
  • A nice bit of politicking by McKenney, seamlessly goes from talking about SIS to harm reduction to “safe consumption services”… which, of course, could just be the status quo.
  • Wait, after all that, McVeigh corners her. He asks, “Would you vote Yes or No for a single [Safe] Injection Site in our ward?” McKenney’s response, “Yes, of course I would.”
  • What the hell? Then why has she been wasting our time talking in circles? And if she hasn’t done any more research, why has her position changed?
  • [The cynic in me would say, “politics”.]
  • Schryburt is taking us back to recovery. He notes that all the services (harm reduction and recovery services) should be aligned, so that the entire system works together. Right now, people wait to long to get into recovery services.
  • Canning takes another dig at Conway regarding “speaking for the federal government”. We heard you the first time…well, no, we kind of didn’t, but I did.
  • He follows that up by talking about the need for community buy-in. He did not talk about getting community buy-in, just the need for it. Again, not leadership.
  • I am pretty sure that Canning is supportive of SIS, but I wonder if he is more concerned about making an error or alienating voters in this debate, rather than putting everything out there. It might be a worthwhile tactic. As an outside observer, I’d like to see more.

Next! We’ll combine the issue of tax increases and social services.

  • Riley does not think the mayor’s 2% increase is feasible. He implies that if we want to keep our services, we’ll probably need to raise taxes or ask the feds or the province to chip in.
  • Weemen thinks we should get rid of the fluff, in terms of city services. As is her thing, she then says we need weekly garbage pick up.
  • If you’re wondering, no, there is no congruity between those ideas. She goes back to her you can’t tell people not to shower every other day. No comment.
  • Weemen can’t stop talking about garbage and Canning seems amused.
  • OH MY GOD, SHE WON’T STOP TALKING ABOUT THIS.
  • And now she’s talking about litter…which has noting to do with bi-weekly garbage pick up.
  • Keep in mind, the question was about services. So do we talk about roads?, snow removal?, police? Nope. Weekly garbage.
  • Sutcliffe tries to step in and gain control. “Just a minute…” Weemen continues.
  • I wonder if Sutcliffe misses the Bay Ward debate.
  • McKenney notes that essential services are different for different people and different areas. She notes that we aren’t investing enough downtown (other than LRT, which isn’t really for the downtown).
  • Provenzano supports a 2% increase and bi-weekly garbage.
  • DON’T TROLL WEEMEN.
  • Sutcliffe scolds Morrison, kind of.
  • Provenzano starts talking about “The Seniors”. He wants to give them cheaper bus passes. He doesn’t actually give any statistics of the relative poverty of The Seniors.
  • Morrison wants a new hotel tax (which, apparently, other cities do).
  • Canning starts talking about childcare, social housing and recreation services. He also wants new innovative forms of revenue. He wants environmental tax reform.
  • Weemen is yelling over Sutcliffe again.
  • Conway is pretty snide about the fact that he came up with two policies Canning championed. Actually, maybe he wasn’t being snide, maybe that’s just how he talks.
  • Provenzano says people are off topic because they’re not talking about social services (which he equates to poverty fighting measures). Of course, the question was about taxes and social services, so revenue generation (how we pay for those services) is pretty much on-point.
  • Meade wants to increase revenue by growing our economy. He also notes that if everything’s a priority nothing is. He then says that he wants to fiscally responsible, take a centrist view of our services and maintain our essential services. He never says which services are essential.
  • McKenney spoke about “budgeting for growth”, and she’s absolutely right. She comes this close [imagine I’m hoding my thumb and forefinger really close] to noting that sprawl is not economically viable, and that the core subsidizes suburbs (as Conway has alluded too multiple times), but she doesn’t quite say it.
  • Sutcliffe has to cut off Weemen. I really hope he isn’t planning to ask a question specifically about garbage pick up.

Now we’re talking about bike infrastructure. Sutcliffe frames it negatively. Mark, we’re no where close to the potential limit of cyclists.

  • Morrison wants every street re-dev to be a Complete Street development.
  • He wants better maintenance and better, safe connectivity between bike routes.
  • Weemen wants more bike infrastructure, but she wants bikes to only be on one-way streets. Huh.
  • Canning speaks of the health and safety aspects (true) and he takes Sutcliffe to task for not understanding that cycling is a net-positive for the economy. This is the first time Canning has really presented a vision, offered details and been the candidate that he has presented himself as.
  • McKenney wants $70M spent on bike infrastructure over the next four years. That seems like a lot, but it’s actually less than cycling’s modal share would demand.
  • Provenzano wants a lot bike infrastructure to get people to bus or LRT stations. He thinks that will solve safety issues. That does nothing for cycling downtown.
  • McVeigh takes a shot at Sutcliffe referring to cycling as “fashionable”. “It’s not,” he says, “it’s a structural change.” Good on him.
  • He also wants to shift from a car-centric society. He wants to flip the viewpoint of planners.
  • Provenzano says that would take decades. I’m not sure why he thinks that, nor why he thinks his plan of biking to mass transit will save lives (if you live and work downtown, why would you bike to a station to catch the LRT to take you downtown?).
  • Meade’s strong on this. Says there’s a lack of imagination. Notes Amsterdam and how we could have similar year-round cycling, and definitely have 7-8 months of cycling.
  • Meade drops a Citizen’s for Safe Cycling reference and notes that, in scale, the $20M request isn’t much.
  • He says he’s fiscally conservative, but notes that active transportation is fiscally responsible.
  • Provenzano, who says he is a cylcist, doesn’t like Meade’s approach. He wants to mark lanes and get some signs up. Settling for that sort of infrastructure is how people get killed.
  • Conway equates CfSC’s request for $20M of the transportation budget to go to cycling in terms of the amount of childcare spaces it would pay for.
  • He doesn’t explain why it’s ok to use that $20M on car infrastructure, instead. Surely, babies are more important than Beemers.
  • Canning asks him how he can put a price on death. Good one.
  • Conway is going back to keeping cars out of downtown. Do you think he likes tolls and congestion pricing?
  • (Those are both good things, by the way, it’s just clearly his pet policy.)
  • Morrison talks proportionality and modal share, and, accepting that, bike infrastructure is underfunded.
  • Riley notes that building bike lanes, more people will bike…just like with cars and new roads.
  • Yes! Finally, a candidate acknowledges induced demand! This is a basic principle, and he is the first candidate in all the debates I’ve watched who has acknowledged that building roads increases driving.
  • I don’t know what Provenzano is talking about. He’s saying the other candidates are still talking cars. NO ONE’S TALKING CARS (other than in juxtaposition). He’s also talking LRT and getting people in Kanata to bike to the LRT. Wonderful, but what about Somerset residents who bike?
  • McKenney and Schryburt want Complete Streets.
  • Weemen wants cars to have sliding doors.
  • Canning brings up the need to have a strategy to sell cycling infrastructure to City Hall.
  • Morrison closes. He comes close to shaming cyclists and pedestrians. Hoping for respect from all road users is nice, but it’s a bit of a dead end. Infrastructure educates better than pamphlets or informational sessions. We’re near the end of the debate, and it was a bit of a down way for Morrison to end after a pretty strong showing.

Closing Statements

  • McKenney plays up her experience and stresses cycling, pedestrians, development and housing. Good idea to throw out all her accomplishments at the end, when no one can counter.
  • Provenzano talks about people needing a voice. He thinks he’s the only one committed to “those concerns, your voice”.
  • Oh God, Canning is going to say “New Ottawa”, isn’t he?
  • Yup.
  • He wants a livable, affordable, sustainable Ottawa–community-focused urban planning.
  • Weemen wants term limits for councillors. She also wants driverless cars.
  • Schryburt says we don’t need a “New Ottawa”. TAKE THAT CANNING! He wants cycling, affordable housing, green development and protecting Ottawa’s character.
  • Morrison humblebrags about being too idealistic. He also takes some veiled shots at not have the insider connections others do. Of course, he spent much of the debate talking about how much he has worked in the community to get council to do stuff, so he must have some connections by now. I’d say he’s also the most comfortable in front of a camera.
  • Riley wants a vibrant public sector (not sure what he means), more affordable housing, a $15 minimum wage and no pipeline.
  • McVeigh is a “small business socialist”. He has done a lot in the community and a lot in the business community. He wants people to be happy to live in Somerset Ward.
  • Meade says he has the best experience for the job (I don’t know about that) and the best plan for the job (this is more likely).
  • Conway asks, who will be able to handle your problems?, who will be able to best grasp the complex issues?, who is best to battle with you against developers?

Too Long; Didn’t Read

My impressions of candidates have only changed incrementally. When you have 10 candidates answering these questions, it can be different to discern the differences between them. They agree (or pretty much agree) on a number of issues, so the deciding factors will be fairly small.

So let’s walk through this:

I’d say Morrison, overall, came off the best. He had a solid handle of the issues, offered some nice back-and-forth (including with Sutcliffe) and presented a vision for the ward. He was able to show off his volunteer/activist experience in the community and he really looks like he would fight for what is best for residents.

Schryburt was quite strong, but he didn’t speak quite as much as some of the others. I didn’t hear enough from him to make him leap ahead in my nebulous rankings, and this could be an issue. Though it may not be the best to elect the loudest and most ardent debater, council is big and an effective councillor has to be able to have his voice heard. If you’re not getting your message across during this debate, will you get it across at City Hall? Maybe, but it’s hard to know. All that said, I’d still be ok with Schryburt winning.

Canning is very good at getting his message across… or, at least, his messaging. Too often, he offered platitudes. His vision only really came through discussing environmental issues and bike infrastructure. Now, those are two pretty good issues to champion, and it’s become clear over time that he does have a good vision for the ward and the city, but he didn’t do as much as he could have during this debate.

Meade was a bit quiet at first, but started to come on stronger as the debate went on. It appeared that there were certain issues with which he was much more comfortable. I’m inclined to take this to mean that he is a fairly quick study, and those are the issues he’s focused on. He is correct that he has a very extensive platform, and he definitely scored some points in the debate. He also made sure that Sutcliffe turned the mic over to Riley to give him a chance to speak. That’s not a big deal, but it’s not nothing, either.

McKenney still comes off as the quiet competent one. She’s a City Hall insider and it shows. She demonstrates an understanding of the issues, policies and workings of the city. Her platform is solid, though I’m not sure it really stands out. She kind of confounds me. She could easily be the best candidate of the bunch, but I just don’t have enough of a read on her or her vision.

Conway is a step or two behind the others. He has some good ideas, but his overall platform and vision isn’t fleshed out quite as well.

I can’t imagine Provenzano or Riley challenging in this race. Both seem bright, thoughtful and earnest, but nothing separates them.

Weemen isn’t so much running for council as she is crusading against bi-weekly garbage pick-up.

McVeigh is an interesting case to me. He has some very good ideas and he’s definitely been involved in the community. He’s been in the race for a long time and throughout it all, I’ve appreciated his positions, but he’s never become my favourite candidate. For much of the debate, he was just there, not offering much different (and that’s not really a critique; it’s a result of the dense, cluttered campaign), but he always persists. He always shows up with a respectable take on issues. At the end of day (and the end of the debate), he hasn’t grabbed me the way Meade or Morrison have, for instance, but he’s still there, a solid, attractive candidate.

So, here we are. I’ve watched the debate, and I’m probably even further from being able to decide. I would say it’s a real toss up between Morrison, McKenney, Canning, Meade and McVeigh.

 

Somerset Impressions

The other day, I recorded the Somerset Ward debate. I plan to watch it soon, but it’ll have to be at a time when I have an hour and half to devote to a debate in a ward in which I know longer live. I’m not so much interested in all the races as I am interested in having the necessary information to know as much as I can about the future council.

That being said, I thought it might be an interesting exercise to offer my impressions of the Somerset race and then see how much is confirmed or corrected from the debate.

1. This is a crowded field, and has been for a long time. There are five candidates that I would be comfortable have representing the ward In no particular order they are: Thomas McVeigh, Catherine McKenney, Martin Canning, Jeff Morrison and Conor Meade. Denis Schryburt also seems strong, but I have less of a read on him.

2. Early on in the campaign, Canning most caught my attention. For quite a while, he was probably my favourite candidate across all wards. I like his approach, the way he solicited input from the community and his vision. I like that he wants to hear from residents, but also puts forth a coherent platform. I’m not a huge fan of candidates who offer to be little more than a voice for their residents. That’s not leadership.

3. Thomas McVeigh was another one who declared and started campaigning early. I like his platform and his involvement in the community. He also seems like a hard-worker, which is handy in a councillor. Sometimes, I worry he’s a little too business-focused…but that’s a minor quibble.

4. McKenney seems like the front-runner, to me. Her platform isn’t that dissimilar to the other top competitors. She seems to have a good handle on the direction that an urban community needs to go. Her biggest strength might also be her biggest weakness, though. She’s a longtime city staffer. This gives her the experience to understand how the city and council work, and maybe how to work them, but it also makes her a bit of an insider. I’m not sure that’s what the ward or council need. (Side note: there’s a clear issue with women participating in civic politics. We don’t have enough running and we don’t have enough winning. Whether or not she’s my top choice, she should make a decent councillor and working towards some semblance of gender balance would be good.)

5. I don’t know if Morrison has much of a chance. I find he tends not to stand out from the crowd. So far, I don’t think he’s really staked his claim; he hasn’t owned an issue or presented a distinct enough vision.

6. Meade came in a bit later than the rest. He also doesn’t seem to have the established presence that the other four I’ve mentioned do. However, he has a solid platform, and he has an angle. He’s a technology guy, and he has a vision for Ottawa and Somerset as a leading technology centre. He wants to see a transformation to a more digital, more connected city. Some of it may be a bit out of reach, but I appreciate that he offers a vision. (For example: he seems to be the local politician who is most supportive of Uber.)

So there’s my initial assessment. I offer my apologies to the candidates I haven’t really talked about. It doesn’t mean that they’re not viable candidates (though it might). This is just my snapshot of the race right now. If I were voting and had to make a choice, it would be a toss-up between Canning and Meade…but we’ll see how things shake out with after the debate.