Mayor's vision for city invisible

Randall Denley
The Ottawa Citizen


Thursday, January 13, 2005

 
Randall Denley

One thing quite clear in the second year of Bob Chiarelli's third term as leader of this city is that he's a leader in name only. The mayor's "state of the city" address yesterday was a painful reminder of the narrowness of his vision for Ottawa.

 
 
Little or no progress has been made on turning our suburbs into livable communities with jobs, small downtowns of their own, and things people can walk to. Instead, everything is geared to the decades-old idea that everyone should work downtown, then take transit back to their 1970s-style suburbs at night, before driving to the big-box stores to shop.

 
 

His speech could have easily been mistaken for an accountant's report, a catalogue of capital spending and "people infrastructure," even down to things like a "state of the art skateboard park."

It was an address devoid of any real ideas, of any passion, of any excitement, of anything that would seize the public's imagination. Passion and excitement aren't part of the mayor's natural repertoire, but Bill Clinton could have put you to sleep reading this one.

The mayor buys into every stale, old, Liberal idea, and regards it as an accomplishment to get the federal and provincial governments to give the city more of our money, so he can keep doing those same old things.

He made particular mention of the city's plan to expand social housing, a plan that is not supported by logic or any actual money in this year's budget. The mayor says that more affordable housing is one of the biggest priorities for the city. You'd think there would be money for it, if so. Does he really think that affordable housing is a priority for taxpayers who have to dog the city to get the streets plowed?

Chiarelli also continued his tradition of offering sops to groups that he ignores. This time it's a business advisory committee that will offer advice on policies that affect small and medium-sized businesses. What will he do if they advise him to give them some service for their high taxes?

Rural folks also got a nod.

 
 
The mayor has also discovered that Ottawa is a "city of communities," and that uniform city policies won't work equally well in all areas. Correct, but the city has spent the last four years harmonizing its policies so they will be the same across the city.

 
 

"I believe we must do a better job of delivering what our rural residents want -- or don't want," Chiarelli said. So far, the city has been big on the don't-want category. The mayor is calling for a "rural summit" to find ways of doing a better job in the rural areas. After so many years in office, shouldn't he already know what to do? It's another excuse to do nothing.

CHIARELLI HAS ADDED NOTHING TO CITY

The mayor has also discovered that Ottawa is a "city of communities," and that uniform city policies won't work equally well in all areas. Correct, but the city has spent the last four years harmonizing its policies so they will be the same across the city.

What's the mayor going to do about that, really? His answer is a couple of pilot projects that will improve neighbourhoods.

The challenge of being mayor is to accomplish something that wouldn't have been done without your leadership, to change the city for the better. Sure, the city builds things, but it has under every mayor.

What would have happened if Bob Chiarelli hadn't been mayor? The big thing he would point to is the O-Train, and it was featured at the top of his speech. The train will prevent gridlock, ensuring the future health of ourselves and the city's economy, he says. Chiarelli even suggested that the train would prevent smog, although most of Ottawa's smog isn't actually generated here. The problem is that the fundamental concept of transit expansion under this mayor is incorrect.

 
 
The mayor insists he will run again in 2006. Why? Citizens should at least be thankful for the warning.

 
 

The city is spending a fortune to use transit to belatedly make good on far-flung suburban development that isn't properly serviced with roads, and it's also using the O-Train as a means to extend suburban sprawl to the south.

Little or no progress has been made on turning our suburbs into livable communities with jobs, small downtowns of their own, and things people can walk to. Instead, everything is geared to the decades-old idea that everyone should work downtown, then take transit back to their 1970s-style suburbs at night, before driving to the big-box stores to shop.

Under the mayor's O-Train plan, transit won't change the way we live for the better, it will just allow us to keep doing things the same old way.

The city's finances are on a sound footing, the mayor told us, while his council struggles to keep its latest tax increase somewhat less than double the rate of inflation. It has a "realistic and fundable" 10-year financial plan, he insists, although the city's own long-range financial plan says there is a gap, over those 10 years, of $675 million between what the city intends to build and what it can afford.

The city has a great credit rating, in part because of its firm control on debt, he says. The same financial plan that forecast the big spending gap calls for a near-tripling of debt.

"We're helping to build a world-class capital city," the mayor says. No, we're not. Not much in Ottawa could truly be called world class. We're like Mississauga, with rivers.

The mayor insists he will run again in 2006. Why? Citizens should at least be thankful for the warning.

Contact Randall Denley at 596-3756 or by e-mail, rdenley@thecitizen.canwest.com

 The Ottawa Citizen 2005


 

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