It’s time for municipal elections in a little over a week, and I confess I don’t have very strong feelings about the candidates. Partly as many of them use the same “buzz” words like “traffic calming” with no indication of which measures they’ll actually use. So let’s see who my choices are for College ward here in Ottawa.
Councillor of the Ward
Our ward covers Bells Corners, Queensway, Centerpointe and of course the actual College itself (Algonquin). There are five candidates running: Wendy Davidson, Vilteau Delvas, Laine Johnson, Pat McGarry, and Granda Kopytko.
Wendy Davidson. Her overall platform is basically “make things happen” or “grow together”, not a lot of specifics that appeal to me. Complete secondary Plans for Baseline Road and Merivale Road? Yeah, every councillor will. Snooze. Reasonable intensification, responsible development sound great, particularly if you don’t have to define them. But good news, she’s going to question City Hall but “work with staff”…yeah, sure, that sounds like no contradiction at all.
But when the Ottawa Citizen pressed her on what she saw as the most important issue, her response was safety with a strong push to expand speed cameras everywhere. Yep, she’s got no chance of my vote. The city has dramatically expanded the use of speed cameras throughout the city, and I confess I actually do have views about it, all of them negative.
From my legal days, speed cameras fall into that strange category of strict liability crimes. Most of these are on their face unconstitutional as the onus shifts from the state having to prove you’re guilty to you having to prove your innocence. Sounds simple enough, the machine snapped your photo, must be guilty. Except for anyone who has ever received a speeding ticket in person from a cop, you know that there are lots of other variables at the time that might mitigate the sentence. If you felt you weren’t speeding, you can challenge the calibration of the machine and get access to the records. You can have your car tested to see if the speedometer was functioning correctly. You can take account of any weather conditions, other traffic that is going on, etc. In short, you can consider a defence if you know about it at the time. City tickets arrive in the mail weeks later, you may not even REMEMBER the day. Were you guilty? The machine says yes, and you have zero chance at a defence. That’s NOT the way the law is supposed to work. It’s not criminal, you’re not going to jail, but it’s often dicey, and courts generally don’t like them if they can be avoided. Photo radar is one of the few that is allowed, but often seen as something that should be used sparingly, not rampantly everywhere.
Equally, there’s a Charter issue. A reverse onus “crime” almost always raises Charter issues, as does this one, as a violation of your right not to have your liberty and economic security threatened without due process, including not being assumed guilty, but is generally “saved” by Section 1 as a reasonable limit because of the policy measure and goal. Except in this case, the goal is supposedly traffic calming, making the roads safe. Yet it does neither of those things, because you don’t even know you got a ticket until weeks later. A section 1 analysis requires the infringement of your rights to be rationally connected to the policy instrument, and with the most minimal infringement possible. Yet what works better? Speed bumps. An instant correction and calming mechanism AND no infringement on rights. It works better than photo radar. What it doesn’t do? Drastically raise funds. The amount of money pouring in from these cameras is crazy. If I recall, it is now the third-highest revenue source for the city after taxes and user fees.
I have three in my area. One at a nearby school has a speed limit of 40 km / hour. An elementary school about a mile north of me has a similar requirement still being operationalized, but the speed limit is 50 km / hour. Jacob’s school, an intermediate and high-school has photo radar near it, and the limit is 60 km / hour. All three use the argument that it is to keep kids safe, but with three different speed limits and no other traffic calming measures in place.
If you’re running for City Council, it would be good in my view if you understood that and didn’t think “ooh, look, free revenue” with something that doesn’t actually work to calm traffic. The “success” they tout in multiple press releases about how much money they have made shows it doesn’t work — people are still speeding through the zones, putting kids at risk. If you want slower traffic, photos aren’t going to get it done.
And they aren’t going to get my vote.
Vilteau Davis. I saw some online videos about him, but when asked to talk about himself, he’s borderline inarticulate, and seems to have no real platform. “Just a regular guy”. Great. Keep being a regular guy. And he ran for the provincial election before this, so you’d think he would be at least a little more polished and prepared to explain his approach, background, ideas. Nope, his whole schtick is “I’m not a politician”. Long on cliché, short on specifics. I have literally no idea what he stands for or hopes to accomplish. Pass.
Laine Johnson. She’s got strong City Hall street cred, has taught courses on City Hall 101, which appeals to me, I confess. I like those who build a knowledge of government and share it. Like others, she prioritizes “safe streets” and wants to do a program review of all services. Neither strike me as particularly compelling, even if needed. I like governance, I like accountability, but I also want to see a bit of leadership for the ward. She’s shown that in some ways with the word she’s done before, but, well, she’ll keep doing it even if she’s not Councillor. Housing is big for her, not a giant issue for me, I care but am not passionate about it. For public transit, I like the realization that if going downtown takes 90 minutes with two buses and a train, but you can drive it in 20m, many people are not going to opt for public transit if they have a choice. Great as a city or even ward issue, sure, but we chose to live fairly close to the TransitWay and Baseline Station. When that is complete, 90% of our needs will be met. Even noting that with three of us, often it is cheaper to just take a vehicle if we’re all going.
She has a good accountability schtick, I could consider her. But then she has some things that sound great if you live a block from your school, and make NO sense if you don’t. She wants car-free zones near schools for pickup and dropoff. Has she done this anytime lately? Not everyone has an option to be in the neighbourhood and walk over to pick up their kids. When my son was younger, the school bus options rarely coincided well with our needs, and not at all at the end of the day. So pickups by car were de rigeur. Add in the fact that he has some extra mobility issues, and her “solutions” would have made my pickups and drop-offs a nightmare.
There are a few other areas where I was SMH. Almost like she sees one way to do things, something that worked for her, and now she wants everyone to do it that way too. She’ll spend a lot of time with legal challenges from the looks of it.
She is probably the front-runner, but I’ll pass.
Pat McGarry. His name is familiar in Ottawa, with his funeral homes dotting the landscape quite well. I like his business experience, something that is sometimes lacking on Council and sorely needed with some of the large-scale projects they’ve been doing — and screwing up, let’s face it. He thinks the priority for the ward is transit, and I suspect it is reliably in the top three for me too. But as I mentioned previously, once the transit to Baseline portion is complete, most of my needs are met at that stage. I want it to keep going, sure, but I don’t feel passionate about it. On time and reliable are the big criteria, and more often than not, our goal would be to get us from Centerpointe to downtown. I will retire in about 5 years, and I really hope by then the full LRT is running wild across the majority of the city.
But I confess I’m uncomfortable with one small thing. He has spent his lifetime living in the ward, but in his interview with the Ottawa Citizen, he no longer lives in the ward. That doesn’t work for me. It might be minor, but I want my rep to live here. I wouldn’t vote for an MP who flew in for a byelection, and I won’t vote for someone who doesn’t live in the ward. Pass again.
Granda Kopytko. I have already ruled out the other four, but honestly, I might be tempted to NOT vote rather than vote for one of the five, if I didn’t like any of them. I have a potential bias for Granda though…I met her while she was campaigning. I said above that I don’t have strong views about municipal politics, my wife is the 311 whisperer and we get services that we need when we need them. I don’t have many complaints, not that thrilled with the progress on and reliability of the LRT, but not enough to follow it.
But as I said above, I do have views about camera radar. So I thought, “Hey, why not ask her? See what she thinks.” And her immediate response was that it doesn’t actually calm traffic. And with that instant response, she put herself in my “competitive” pile.
She’s been a National Executive Director with CAPE, and that cuts both ways. I’m not a giant fan of unions, but CAPE is one of the least offensive versions out there (“We’re cheap and we’re not PSAC!”), and most CAPE personnel have the advantage of having ties to policy analysis and/or research/statistics. Comfort with complex policy files goes a long way for me. For her views of the most important issues, she pointed to the developments all around the ward, as others have. But I liked that when she did talk about them, she was specific — others talked in generalities about thoughtful development, she talked about inadequate parking and a paucity of green space.
I guess I have my Ward candidate. Councillor Kobpytko, I like the sound of that.
The Mayoral campaign
Great, there are 14 candidates. That is way too much choice, as most of them will barely crack 2% of the vote.
Brandon Bay. Free transit? Where has that worked? Nowhere. More camera radar? Pass. (I addressed this in the Councillor section).
Zed Chebib. Virtually no engagement with city issues but wants to be mayor. Notes that Council doesn’t know how to use technology and yet his own questionnaire looks like it was filled out by an illiterate seahorse. His only “issue” is his own legal case. Hard pass.
Bob Chiarelli. One of the big “issues” on transit for him is he doesn’t want to commit to LRT to Kanata, Stittsville and Barrhaven, the last three major suburbs being served. He wants to “review” it before committing. That will happen anyway. The question is if you are in favour or not, and it’s a fundamental question of equity. They pay the same taxes, they deserve a reliable service. That’s not a question that should be TBD. I can stop reading right there. Pass.
Bernard Couchman. There’s a line not too far in that says “We’re farther in debt than before and no one is going to jail”. Can he really be that stupid? I’ve got family members that I think are idiots who understand government better than that. Debt doesn’t equal corruption and something you go to jail for, and to even joke about it, is ridiculous. And he wants to be mayor? Do we have an election for dog catcher, because that might be more appropriate? Hard pass. Embarrassingly hard pass.
Celene Debassige. Virtually no experience and knows she wants to defund the police, as if she has any idea what that would mean or the implications. That’s a slogan for rallies, not an actual workable platform. Another embarrassing hard pass.
Gregory Guevera. No clue why anyone would bother registering and then just put stupid stuff as their answers to everything. Another embarrassing hard pass.
Nour Kadri. I like his answers on most things, he’s a valid option, no red flags. A few places I would like a bit more clarity and less hyperbole, but overall decent. I’m not sold on Ottawa being a “big city” particularly with the downtown core decimated by the change in WFH for government. Before it was a commuter area, now it’s more a coalition of outlying suburbs with less and less interest in the Centre. Smart cities are powerful ideas, but most examples out there are more hype than reality. His goal for the next four years is to reduce poverty and eliminate homelessness. Yet having seen these issues from both an economic and social lens, they are not only intractable, but impossible to eliminate at all in most cases, let alone in four years. I’d prefer his predictions and content were just a little more practical and focused. But he’s a viable option. Just nothing that sings “pick me, pick me”.
Graham MacDonald. Strong policing stance, but everything else is rather ho hum. Nothing really stands out and resonates for me. Pass.
Mike Maguire. If we were hiring a city manager, his positions might have more credibility. But there’s virtually no nuance to most of his answers to the tough questions, no “social lens” or “community” link. Fix this, fix that. Nothing about how or what’s good in the bathwater before he throws out the baby. And he is ready to say no to expanding to Barrhaven, Kanata and Stittsville, not because he has looked at it and has concerns but just questions. Equity is not his strong suit, apparently. Pass.
Catherine McKenney. Highly experienced, links to housing and transit files, supported councillors / deputy City Manager / etc. She’s competitive right out of the gate, has a decent balance on transit fares (free for 17 and under), and focusing on communities within the larger communities (since people aren’t commuting). Others say the same thing, her profile of what it means is more precise. She’s open to automated traffic calming aka camera radar, which I’m against, but she’s not particularly wedded to it, just part of the possibilities. She’s also huge on the cycling aspects, which means very little to me. She has the same rhetoric about ending homelessness, but seems like all of them do. I’m not sold on her, but she’s the most viable candidate yet.
Ade Olumide. Wants to basically manage by the numbers, an approach that was widely tried and dismissed 30 years ago, but thinks “big data” now will solve the problems. Lots of new initiatives, with the plan to not increase taxes. And very little sign of community involvement in the design, he apparently has all the answers as former Taxpayer Advocacy Group. I’m sure he has lots of programs in mind to cut. But not a rousing argument to make him mayor. Most of his platform are links to ideas that are seemingly being done in other jurisdictions, but when you delve deeper, they are pilots or tests or ideas with no actual take up. They’re not viable solutions. Hard pass.
Param Singh. Most of the solutions seem like “we’ll talk” and he also wants more cameras. Pass.
Jacob Soloman. A student with very little life experience who thinks it’s terrible we don’t have pianos on the streets. Umm. Points for interest? Hard pass.
Mark Sutcliffe. Program review? Sure. Responsible governance. The Ottawa River Action Plan as a major accomplishment? Umm, okaaaaay. On policing? “Safety good”. I’m being a bit harsh, but I understood that this guy was one of the top two viable candidates with McKenney. Okay, we’re back on track with LRT to the last three suburbs. The rest of this platform is viable, but I don’t see anything in particular that excites me. He has extensive experience with United Way in multiple forms, which concerns me, given their serious problems with administrative costs for an umbrella organization whose fundraising is mostly done for them by volunteers of other organizations. Broadcaster and journalist duties don’t scream mayor to me, even though they may be the best spokesperson of the group. I think I’m going to pass.
Board of Education Trustee
There are three BoE Trustees for the Ottawa Carleton District School Board for my ward. They changed the boundaries for this election, so I had some challenge on a few of the sites even figuring out which trustees were for my ward! Sheesh.
Gemma Nicholson. I have almost no idea what her platform is, no apparent website, and almost all online stuff is tied to her involvement in schools with no fundraising capacity and/or declining enrolment. I see lots of quotes about her complaining about stuff, not a lot of innovative solutions coming from her quotes though (which might not be accurate of her role/views, of course). Just nothing to make a decision on. I do like that she has seen the hard-life of some schools, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
Amanda Presley. Well, it appears she’s in favour of general commitments, transparency, and addressing aging buildings. Not a lot about, oh, those pesky things like education. And she wants to collect COVID data. Not to do anything about COVID apparently, or how the schools address things related to COVID, but tracking the data and sharing it with parents again. Umm, okay. But she’s an OCDSB grad and has two cute kids, so that’s a plus.
Steven Warren. A youth candidate, but we already have mechanisms for the youth in the schools to have their voice, and virtually no experience to argue in his favour. But at least he put some time and effort into a platform. I’m not willing to take a risk on him.
Wow, we have vacant candidate, Mom, and youth. Those are my choices? I know someone uber-qualified and I can’t get her to run. And I think that is what bothers me. Each of the three has less experience than her dealing with education issues and governments. Sigh. Maybe I’ll let her pick which one she thinks is the best and go with that as my approach. Not the way it should work, but if I think she’d make a better candidate than most of the ones across the city (including some of those going for re-election), I guess I should trust her judgment as to who is the best of the three. I certainly don’t have any strong views in favour of any one of them.
Soooo, I have two out of three choices made, I guess. I suppose that was a good night’s work.