Ottawa’s mayoral election

2010-09-10

in Canada, Daily updates, Ottawa, Politics

I have never had much interest in municipal politics. For one thing, the policy areas I am most concerned about aren’t ones over which municipalities have too much control. For another, I have generally not expected myself to live in one place for long. Finally, it just hasn’t seemed worth the effort to track municipal politicians, platforms, etc.

Ottawa is now in the midst of a mayoral race between (at least) incumbent mayor Larry O’Brien and challenger Jim Watson. I don’t know much about the platforms of either. That said, I do acutely remember the awful bus strike that happened on O’Brien’s watch. I think the union deserves to be punished for abusing their monopoly power over the general population, but O’Brien probably deserves to be punished too for not managing things better.

That said, I suppose I will have to investigate the candidates more comprehensibly before I decide how (and whether) to vote.

[Update: 25 October 2010] The Ottawa Citizen has a good website with information on this election. The general sense seems to be that Watson will win the mayoral race. Another thing I’ve discovered is that it is rather difficult to learn which school district zone you live in, much less find much information about the candidates online.

[Update: 28 October 2010] While the candidates on offer didn’t inspire much enthusiasm for me, I was pleased with the physical process of voting.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. September 10, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Don’t municipalities have a fair bit of importance, when it comes to addressing climate change? They make important decisions on transportation and transit, as well as waste disposal, zoning, and other areas of the kind.

Tristan September 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm

“I think the union deserves to be punished for abusing their monopoly power over the general population”

The bus strike is an insignificant contribution to public misery in comparison to those who help perpetuate the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and those who fund PR campaigns which attempt to convince the general public that CO2 is not a pollutant.

The union used its monopoly power – sure, but no more than the employer, who also has a monopoly on transit employment. It’s not like bus drivers can go to another employer if they don’t like the scheduling policies of Ottawa transit.

Although, they could simply run the transit system without managers. That would be an easy end to strikes.

Tristan September 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm

According to this report, the bus system has a net social benefit (positive externality) of one million per week. Was it worth one million per week to the Ottawa region to deny workers their scheduling demands? That is literally what was happening – management was spending 1 million dollars of public benefit each week in order to perhaps negotiate a deal which looked slightly better on paper. Regardless of how much you hate the idea of workers having control over their own schedules or destiny in anyway – from a pragmatic standpoint it is management who should be thrust out in the next electoral process.

“OC Transpo, the city-owned and city-run transit company, has estimated the strike is saving it $3 million a week.

Meanwhile, the strike is costing the local economy $4 million a week in increased commuting costs alone, estimated Ian Lee, director of the MBA program at the Sprott School of Business. That leaves residents with less to spend on other sectors of the economy, he said”

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2009/01/12/ot-090112-transit-strike.html#ixzz0z9RPnPJm

Matt September 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm

The bus strike is an insignificant contribution to public misery in comparison to those who help perpetuate the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and those who fund PR campaigns which attempt to convince the general public that CO2 is not a pollutant.

I’ve never liked this line of thinking: “you don’t have it as bad as some people, therefore you shouldn’t complain.” The mayoral election has virtually no impact on Gaza, and probably very little on CO2. However, it potentially has a lot of impact on future transit strikes. Thus, transit might be a good issue to vote on.

Although, they could simply run the transit system without managers. That would be an easy end to strikes.

I’m curious as to how this would work.

Milan September 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm

The bus strike is an insignificant contribution to public misery in comparison to those who help perpetuate the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and those who fund PR campaigns which attempt to convince the general public that CO2 is not a pollutant.

This is definitely faulty logic. It doesn’t make any sense to say that people should not be punished for doing unethical things, unless those things are on the same scale as the occupation of the West Bank or climate change. By that standard, there would be no reason for any country to have a criminal justice system, parents would have no reason to discipline their children, etc.

The existence of larger harms doesn’t free us from the obligation to deal with lesser ones.

Milan September 10, 2010 at 2:16 pm

OC Transpo, the city-owned and city-run transit company, has estimated the strike is saving it $3 million a week.

This turned out to be nonsense. All told, the strike cost the city more than running bus services normally during that span of time would have.

Tristan September 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm

“The mayoral election has virtually no impact on Gaza, and probably very little on CO2.”

Canada supports the occupation directly through military collaboration. Ottawa is the capital of Canada. So, the mayor’s statements on foreign policy will have no effect? That’s ridiculous – the mayor could have a significant impact on this issue if he or she chose to criticize the Canadian Military or Stephen Harper for their support of human rights violations in Gaza, the West Bank or in countless other places.

And the case is exactly the same for Co2. If Ottawa takes a forward looking approach to transit, car and industrial emissions – and ridicules Ottawa for not doing the same – this could have a significant impact on Canadian climate mitigation policy. For instance, in addition to properly funding transit and prioritizing transit-friendly development, he or she could help organize and support a boycott of the tar sands. This could provoke a highly embarrassing standoff for Conservative and Liberal politiciens who continue to claim that oil sands development is in “Canada’s national interest”.

Canadian mayors are fully allowed to go to war with their provincial and federal counterparts, although this is usually only about issues that affect cities directly. Think, for instance, of the Toronto mayor’s campaign to ridicule the premiere for failing to live up to his transit city funding promises.

Tristan September 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm

“I’ve never liked this line of thinking: “you don’t have it as bad as some people, therefore you shouldn’t complain.””

How is that my line of thinking? My line of thinking is: there are larger and deeper issues at play in public political life than how much you hate bus driver’s right to organize their own schedules. To say that a mayor of Canada’s governing city needs to be much more concerned with punishing a union for having demands and sticking to them than applying political pressure on life and death issues which we, as Canadians, are directly responsible for – is ridiculous.

And of course your priorities (bash unions over bash human rights violations) are totally normal. That doesn’t make them sane.

Milan September 10, 2010 at 2:59 pm

The problem with the strike isn’t what the drivers wanted – it is the fact that they were able to exploit their monopoly power over the general public to get a better deal than they deserved. People who work for the public sector in areas where there is a public sector monopoly should not be allowed to strike.

That being said, I don’t think anyone wants another long and ultimately pointless back-and-forth argument about the appropriate role of unions in the public sector. Tristan has one view, most other readers here have contrasting views, and nobody seems likely to ever convince anybody else to change their mind.

Matt September 10, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Canada supports the occupation directly through military collaboration. Ottawa is the capital of Canada. So, the mayor’s statements on foreign policy will have no effect?

Exactly. The Mayor’s statement will have no (or at least little) effect on foreign policy. It is a huge stretch to say that the head of the municipality in which parliament is located affects on a meaningful level what decisions the federal government makes. It certainly isn’t his job to do so.

My line of thinking is: there are larger and deeper issues at play in public political life than how much you hate bus driver’s right to organize their own schedules.

This is why we are lucky to be able to also vote federally. When we vote municipally, it’s completely fair to vote on whether or not we want to stick it to a union that services the local area.

Milan September 10, 2010 at 3:29 pm

We can’t really ‘stick it to’ the union in any direct way, though they have basically lost whatever goodwill the people of Ottawa ever felt toward them.

This is one reason why public sector unions shouldn’t have much power. Private sector firms have competitors, which means their market share can be taken over if unions make them ineffective. That isn’t true when it comes to services only the government provides.

The check on the ability of management to impose terms on public sector unions comes from the fact that the contracts are ultimately the responsibility of public officials who face election, as Larry O’Brien is doing now.

If union members could convince the public that the terms of their contracts are unfair, they could build the public support to change the political leadership. That is a much more legitimate course of action than trying to freeze the people of Ottawa until they cave in to their demands.

Tristan September 10, 2010 at 4:02 pm

“The problem with the strike isn’t what the drivers wanted”

So – your tactic now is to say the demands made by the union are irrelevant. The union is greedy regardless of the legitimacy of their demands, and you have no duty to understand the issues at play in the strike at all – you can simply apply your formula “public sector unions are not allowed to strike” and be done with it without thinking through the specificities of the issues.

Great, that will leave you more time to think about climate change.

Tristan September 10, 2010 at 5:58 pm

“People who work for the public sector in areas where there is a public sector monopoly should not be allowed to strike.”

The right to strike cannot be taken away by the city – that’s a federal affair, perhaps a supreme court question. So, it’s pointless for the Mayor to have an opinion on it – certainly as pointless as the Mayors position on climate change or on Canada’s support for terrorism overseas.

BuddyRich September 10, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Not to sidetrack the side discussion, but Larry has more than the OC Transpo strike to hold against him. He was fairly inept as mayor this term, and though ultimately he is only one vote on the council, he is the figurehead and face of Ottawa. Given that I do not want to see him as mayor again. I mean, though he was legally cleared, ethically the whole situation with his criminal trial and what came out during it made him an embarrassment representing Ottawa.

As far as questions I would ask candidates this election (both mayoral and ward councilors):

1. Do you support Lansdowne Live?

2. Do you support the proposed downtown Rapid Transit Tunnel or another mass transit plan?

3. Whats your position on making Ottawa a more bicycle-friendly city? Particularly for bike commuters.

Plus a few other questions…

Perhaps naively, I think municipal politics are much more interesting and have much more direct impact on my life (admittedly I am not thinking of leaving Ottawa anytime soon). At the very least, the municipal level seems more immune to partisanship and gamesmanship that plague provincial and federal politics, so in a sense it feels more democratic than those higher levels when a councilor can more vote for his constituents rather than as a block with a party.

Milan September 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm

That’s not sidetracking at all. It is good to know about the other issues involved in the race.

I don’t follow local news terribly closely, but the tunnel plan seems extremely wasteful for such a small city. The transitway works well, except when traffic and construction disrupt it. Maybe it would be more cost-effective to work on those things as barriers to the effective movement of transit vehicles.

BuddyRich September 12, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I am on the fence on the transit tunnel. It does seem like an awful lot of money for not much utility right now but in the future I can see the need and it is better to build it now with both federal and provincial monies available. I guess it depends on what future projections there are for our population. I can’t see us growing to much more than a million people with the federal government as the largest employer. If IT were to make a comeback perhaps…

My problem is more with the tunnel as it is currently proposed. Perhaps a longer east-west surface rail route rather than tunnel, potential sharing of the Via track to get a route south to fast growing barrhaven..

. September 13, 2010 at 11:01 am

Several short thoughts on O’Brien’s financial plan

By David Reevely

1) It is a logically viable plan to freeze taxes…

2) But carrying it out as described means imposing quite a bit of pain. Especially on transit riders and the transit system, which sees its operations funding shrink in real terms, even as the system deals with record demand. This speaks to a certain … lack of nuance, let’s say, in O’Brien’s approach to the city’s operations. He’s proudly championed a major capital expansion of the transit system, but he’s now also happy to throttle the system we have. There are several arguments for improved (and more expensive) transit service, but a big one is that transit is less expensive for the city to provide than constantly expanded road capacity to keep personal vehicles flying along uncongested. But now O’Brien’s talking about more roads as the core of his transportation program and cheerfully shrugging off cuts to transit (or dramatic fare hikes) as a minor consequence of his approach to budgeting. It’s incongruous.

. September 13, 2010 at 11:14 am

“This past week marked the true launch of the 2010 Ottawa mayoralty race. Candidates Watson, Doucet and O’Brien began unveiling their platforms. Jim Watson promised fiscal responsibility and Clive Doucet promised to put off plans for an LRT tunnel as the campaign for mayor of Ottawa on Tuesday. O’Brien said if re-elected, he would work to establish an arms-length transit commission like Toronto’s to take the business of running the service off council’s plate as well as personally propose a tax-freeze budget if the city agrees to a number of cost-cutting measures.

Subsequently, O’Brien formally asked for councillors to endorse his budgetary plan. Most recently, Watson released what he calls a comprehensive integrity platform that would include, among other things, a council code of conduct.

In other noteworthy elections news, Andrew Haydon, now 77, was a late entry in the race for mayor. Haydon announced his candidacy the last possible day a candidate could declare. He’ll be running on an anti-LRT platform, proposing to bolster bus rapid transit. Also of note, Zaphod’s owner Eugene Haslam will be running for council in Capital ward.’

Milan September 13, 2010 at 11:15 am

A preferable option (compared to the tunnel) is putting stricter limits on the use of private cars in the city centre. Of course, that isn’t likely to be popular politically.

Yaakov September 13, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Milan,
Just to play devil’s advocate (as someone with extensive interest in local government), municipal governments are some of the best-equipped organizations to implement many of the more progressive environmental ideas. For one thing, c…ity voters tend to be strong supporters of environmental initiatives, and city governments have the space, infrastructure and need for things like clean construction, medium-scale alternative energy, promotion of bikeable streets and public transportation. It’s also an arena that is small enough to be heavily impacted by the work of a small group of dedicated individuals.

I’m aware that many of your current interests are more along the lines of weapons proliferation and national-scale environmental and alternative-energy projects, but cities can serve as excellent starting points for implementing some of the basics in this field.

. October 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm

“Here’s the deal, dear provincial cousins, based on our sad experience. When a candidate for mayor says he or she will freeze taxes, or balance the budget while cutting taxes, don’t believe it. We saw that movie in Ottawa, and it wasn’t a good one.

Four years ago, Ottawa elected an outsider, a millionaire businessman named Larry O’Brien. He was going to kick City Hall in the pants, bring business acumen to the place and freeze taxes.

Anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of municipal finance knew this couldn’t be done. But the electorate, or at least a chunk of it, remained unfathomably gullible. His organizers crudely calculated that 40 per cent of Ottawa was Conservative (Mr. O’Brien was a big supporter of the Reform Party), 40 per cent Liberal and 20 per cent NDP. In a three-candidate race, they reckoned, they needed to rally the Conservatives. And what brings conservatives together? The lure of lower taxes.

So Mr. O’Brien spent the entire campaign on autopilot, repeating the same message hour after hour: Elect me, and I’ll freeze your taxes.

Since his election, municipal taxes have risen by 14 per cent – 3.5 per cent a year, well above the inflation rate. Each year, just squeezing the rate down to an average of 3.5 per cent takes weeks of endless meetings.

Mr. O’Brien brought his self-described business acumen to the place, all right. He hired consultants to study City Hall. He got rid of staff. He tried to stare down the militant bus drivers’ union, thereby putting the city through a miserable strike, but got only a few concessions. (Shades of Toronto’s CUPE strike?)

He couldn’t do what he promised, which is what his opponents predicted during the campaign and what anyone who knew a whiff about municipal finance understood.”

. October 12, 2010 at 11:55 am

“Despite the talk of this as a visionless campaign for mayor, I think some competing visions really are starting to emerge from the mayoral campaigns. They were probably there all along, underlying what the candidates have been talking about, even if the visions themselves haven’t been clearly articulated. But now we’re getting enough dots on the canvas to start to make the images out.

Doucet’s vision is explicit: Try to revive the traditional urban values that currently find their greatest expression in communities like the Glebe and Westboro and New Edinburgh, with the goal of making the appealing elements of those pricey neighbourhoods available to as many people as possible. The way we’re doing it now is inherently unsustainable and has to stop. We want a city that’s as self-reliant as possible for its economic health and for essentials such as food. A place where we sometimes choose the more expensive option because we believe it’s a long-term investment, and we want to build a city like we give a damn.

O’Brien: To try to better serve the suburban values that came to the fore in the 1970s and ’80s, which currently find their greatest expression in, say, north Kanata. That way of life, with room to breathe, low crime, modern amenities, and everybody getting their own little piece of the earth, is inherently desirable and would be even better if only the city would keep up with infrastructure needs like wider roads to relieve congestion and community centres to be the hubs of family-oriented public life. Mind you, these satellite communities do need a healthy core around which to orbit, so we can’t ignore downtown, but it’s not really the part of the city that needs the most attention.

Watson: Ottawa’s great the way it is, but it could be somewhat better managed. Steady as she goes, with a wiser hand on the tiller.

Haydon: Nothing of consequence has been done in Ottawa since 1991. What we need here is some really big thinking, a wholesale renovation of our key infrastructure to prepare ourselves for the next 50 years. Huge construction projects are exciting.”

. October 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm

With one week to go, it seems like Jim Watson has locked up this election. In an Ottawa Citizen commissioned poll that came out on Saturday, Watson received 48% of the votes, with Larry O’Brien a distant second at 20%. Andy Haydon is at 11% while Clive Doucet is at 9%. O’Brien still believes there’s time to sway votes…What do you think – is this a done deal?

Along with the 20 mayoral candidates, there are 109 council candidates vying for a seat at city hall. To learn more about what your potential councillor has to say, we encourage you to check out RogerTV’s spots with councillors or CBC’s Councilor candidates get their say.

Milan October 29, 2010 at 9:28 am

Yaakov,

You are definitely right to say that municipal governments can play very important roles. Right now, they can both take meaningful local action and help drive policy development at higher levels. Once we finally get a federal government that is serious about climate change, local governments will also have a big role to play in achieving greenhouse gas mitigation.

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