There was a time at Ottawa City Hall when Bob Chiarelli ran the place that you could count on the mayor’s office to fight for public information when city staff deemed that it should be kept under wraps.
And you could rely on the mayor’s office because Chiarelli and his senior staff members Brian Guest and Brendan McGuinty felt strongly that government should be open, caring and inclusive. If public servants were improperly withholding information that should be public, you could be assured that the mayor and his staff would be all over them like a bad smell. That information would become public. You would notice some blood on the released document and subsequent DNA testing of the blood would reveal it was a public servant’s.
How times change.
City clerk and solicitor Rick O’Connor has a report under wraps now that explains the causes of the Rideau Street sinkhole. O’Connor refuses to release the document. He is using a load of lawyerese bafflegab as an excuse saying that the report of obvious public importance can’t be released because it is a part of city’s case in about (yes he used the word ‘about’) 35 civil cases surrounding the collapse of Rideau Street.
What he doesn’t mention is that cases will certainly be heard by a judge who in law cannot be influenced by opinions or documents in the public forum. So O’Connor’s argument is void. The city just doesn’t want to release the report for reasons that I can only imagine have something to do with embarrassment and trying to make the shocking sinkhole issue go away. And after 35 civil cases (or fewer or more) go by, it’s quite likely that both O’Connor and myself will be dead. The information will become public about the same time at which the money spent on land acquisitions for the light-rail project is released. Odd that the LRT project is underway without the land being secured.
So yesterday your agent talked to Rideau-Vanier Councillor Mathieu Fleury and Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper about the issue.
Leiper said he will discover if he is bound by commitments not to release the information. Ominously, he also said that if he had anything to say, it would be in his newsletter and that your agent should keep an eye on that. Whether Leiper realizes or not, he is using the same technique that president-elect Donald Trump employed with great success. That is, shutting out the media, going around it using his own media and putting his own spin on it.
I endorsed Leiper in Kitchissippi ward in the last election with great hope so your agent is disappointed on two levels that Leiper is not releasing the sinkhole report or its major contents through the press … or maybe not all. First I expect more of him on a professional level and second, that a councillor of good conscience should release this information because it is of significant public importance in a mishap that could have caused numerous deaths had the city not been as lucky as it was with the timing and outcome of the sinkhole.
That said if I reported that it were sunny, Leiper would say I got it wrong, that it was partly cloudy and then explain the journalism of it to a person who has been in the craft for four decades. Funny how I survived for 40 years in journalism getting things wrong so often. Leiper says he is uneasy about talking with me because of my reporting on the Scott Street bus issue. I offered to run a correction if the story was inaccurate and that Leiper could write his opinion to The Bulldog and I would publish it. Leiper didn’t take advantage of either offer.
The Fleury interview was a tad odd. The councillor, who has read the sinkhole report, asked why your agent wasn’t covering the payday loan issue. After a heated discussion, he said he would contact me if he was going to release the information in the report. In other words, don’t call me, I’ll call you. He also suggested that I should file an access to information request. That would take at least 30 days for an answer in which city would not release the information and The Bulldog would have to appeal that decision to the Ontario government. The city could hold up that process for years which is an improvement over the previous scenario which would see me dead by the time that information became public. That said, neither option is reassuring.
Public officials should not get off so easy.
Withholding the sinkhole information is a cover-up … plain and simple. And if councillors are unprepared to release this information which has been paid for and is of importance to the public, they are part of the cover-up.
People who vote in Ottawa read The Bulldog. Accordingly, voters in this community should remember this in the municipal election year of 2018.
They will be reminded of this in the upcoming months.
Perhaps it is time for Mayor Jim Watson to order the release of the sinkhole report.
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