Ottawa City Councillors representing urban wards are upset after nearly being shut out of important committee recommendations, but Mayor Jim Watson says they still have their voice at the table.
The group of inner-city councillors made five recommendations on Friday for who they would like to see on local committees, including Somerset's Catherine McKenney for the Finance and Ecomonic Development Committee (FEDCO), Kitchissippi's Jeff Leiper as vice-chair of the Planning Committee and Riley Brockington as chair of the Ottawa Public Library Board. The only one that came through was Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Rawlson King as the Chair of the Built Heritage Sub-Committee.
Here is how the rest of the nominations shook out:
- Innes Ward Councillor Laura Dudas as Vice Chair of the Finance and Economic Development Committee
- Stittsville Ward Councillor Glen Gower as Member-at-large of the Finance and Economic Development Committee
- Stittsville Ward Councillor Glen Gower as Vice Chair of the Planning Committee
- Orléans Ward Councillor Matthew Luloff as Chair of the Ottawa Public Library Board
- Osgoode Ward Councillor George Darouze as a Member of the Shaw Centre Board of Directors
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he has been impressed by the work of Gower in his first term as a city councillor, while Dudas has showed great interest in development.
Leiper thinks there has to be a better way to make sure all areas of the city are represented on important committees. He and his fellow urban councillors plan to look at what kind of motions they can bring forward, to change the way business is done regarding committee appointments.
"It seems as if there is a need to put in place some policy checks on a mayor who isn't taking into consideration building that balance," explains the Kitchissippi councillor. "[We need to find] something in between absolutely defining, through policy, who is going to be on what committee through any given term of council, and giving a very strong mayor unchecked ability to create the committees he wants."
After Friday's nominations, he says it's hard to escape the conclusion that the mayor has something against councillors from urban wards.
"I think that the mayor wants to surround himself with people who share his agenda and who will support him," says Leiper. "I know the mayor puts a premium on effectiveness at ensuring that his agenda moves through council reletively frictionless. And I think what you're seeing [with committee recommendations] is a reflection of that rather than childish playground politics."
Watson, meanwhile, says the councillors that do not sit on certain committees can still attend those committee meetings and ask questions, plus they will still have their voices heard at the council table, as every committee issue comes before council for a final vote.
"The LRT, for example, is a FEDCO file and we know the importance of LRT to the city," rebuts Leiper. "Being able to vote at a committee is a much more important role to play than just being able to come [to a meeting], participate and ask questions. We do get votes when it comes to the council table, but by then, there's a high level of deference by city council to the committee members who have sat, who have had the chance to ask delegations questions, who have really delved deep into the material."
As discourse between urban and rural councillors continues at Ottawa City Hall, Watson thinks there will always be conflict. He says politicians hate to lose votes, but his advice is to move on.
"As I think Churchill once said, 'This is not a tea party.' We have strong-willed men and women who have got a mandate from their constituents and I have a mandate from my constituents, and some of them overlap," says the mayor. "The important message is, if you haven't been chosen for [a committee], continue to work -- there will be a chance to look at all appointments at mid-term governance."
Council will consider all nominations made at Friday's meeting on Wednesday, February 26.