Give Us Independent Councillors



Frequent Bulldog contributor Ron Benn looks at what he wants from Ottawa city councillors in this excellent essay:

I am not as concerned about whether councillors are progressive or regressive.

I am more concerned about councillors being independent.

Independent as in not beholden to developers because they accepted campaign contributions from the developers or their principals. Independent as in not beholden to the mayor or other councillors because they needed assistance with organizing, fundraising and/or access to feet on the ground while campaigning for office. Independent as in not beholden to the mayor or other councillors for being rewarded with the chair of a committee. Independent as in willing and capable of evaluating issues on the basis of principle and what is best for the community and the city. Independent as in viewing issues without the baggage of a zealot. Sadly, this council is comprised of far too many councillors who do not meet these criteria.

Video above: Ottawa City Council in action.

There is considerable pressure, from the regulators, such as the Ontario Securities Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission in the U.S., and from institutional shareholders, such as pension funds, and insurance companies, on public and private companies to ensure that their boards of directors are comprised of independent, properly trained directors. A number of universities, including uOttawa, are offering courses that address this requirement.

In contrast, there is no pressure from anyone to ensure that individuals who are seeking public office have any understanding of their obligations. As a shareholder of a public company, I can sell my shares if I don’t like what I see. As a taxpayer, that option is not available.


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13 thoughts on “Give Us Independent Councillors

  1. And one of the ones who meets the criteria Ron elucidates here has had the sh– kicked out of him on this site for the last week. DISCLOSURE: I volunteered on Jeff Leiper’s campaign and hosted a neighbourhood meeting to allow people in my hood to get to know him, and likely will do it again if he runs again.

    1. Bob:

      I endorsed Leiper in the last election but he’s not above criticism.

      DISCLOSURE: I didn’t volunteer on Jeff Leiper’s campaign.

      Good to have you back, Bob. Look forward to your next comment … well … maybe.



    2. Bob, I was not one of the people who was giving the (bicycle) gears to Jeff Leiper on rezoning issues.

      I have regularly pointed out that he has been on the short end of the vote on rezoning applications. I will concede that there was some attitude on the amount of effort he is putting in to bicycle lanes. That is why I put a challenge to him, asking him to publish the results of his consultation on Spencer Street. He met the challenge, and I offered him a tip of my metaphorical cap for doing so.

      My point remains that less than a majority of council rise to the level that the residents of Ottawa deserve, as it relates to being properly independent. Councillor Jeff Leiper has demonstrated his independence on rezoning applications. I applaud him and exhort him to convince more of his colleagues to join him.

      Corporate boards of directors have embraced, for the most part, perhaps not willingly but nevertheless, the lessons of the early 2000’s when the boards of directors of Enron, Global Crossings, Nortel et al failed in their obligations to the stakeholders (shareholders, employees, suppliers, creditors, customers, …) of their companies. Supporting management initiatives and proposals, irrespective of the relative merits of the business case is no longer acceptable, and has not been for more than a decade.

      In contrast, the equivalent of the board of directors of municipalities, notably city councils, have not learned those lessons. Councillors’ obligations, first and foremost, are to the stakeholders of the city, not to the people who helped them get elected, not to the people who nominated/voted for their position as chair of a committee. If that means irritating the mayor by not supporting his/her pet cause, and if that lack of support costs the councillor the chair of a committee, so be it. Sadly, there are not enough councillors occupying chairs in the council chambers of Laurier Avenue who understand and meet that standard. To those who do not meet the standard, the times have changed. It is time for you to “up your game”.

      1. Ron:

        My point is, for what it is worth, that Leiper was voted in by people who wanted him to deal with the out-of-control development in Kitchissippi. He has not done that.

        I acknowledge it is a difficult thing to do but he took on the task and the results are readily apparent in the ward.

        He has failed.

        Perhaps it’s time for someone else.



        1. Ken,

          I will defer to others on how good a job Councillor Leiper has been doing on behalf of the residents of Kitchissippi, and whether he deserves to be re-elected, in the event he runs again.

          I suggest that the bigger problem lies with the councillors whose wards the LRT passes through or will pass through. They should be part of this group of seven, to protect the neighbourhoods in their wards from disproportionately high buildings being erected. What is happening in Kitchissippi today is destined to hit Bay Ward and College Ward within the next 5-10 years, and neither of those councillors have voted against these high rise misfits. I am not sure which wards are affected to the east of downtown, or south along the Trillium line, as I am and always have been a west end boy, but my comments are also directed at the councillors from those wards.

          In short, the next municipal election is more than a year away. There is much that can be done to stop the carnage before October 2018, but only if the councillors start to live up to their obligations to the residents of this city. So, to the group of seven – I exhort you to extend your efforts and build a coalition to 13 like minded councillors.

          1. Ron:

            Good points all.

            It would be a coup if there were able to garner a majority but it will be very hard.



          2. Maybe better for the community than a group of 13 would be three groups of 7-8 or four groups of 5-6 which would mean that they would have to work together to get things done. Each councillor would have to do their homework to be able to ‘sell’ their projects around the Council table to garner enough support to push an item through.
            It’s an old concept we used to call democracy.

            1. A decade or two back, I recall some talk about creating a borough structure within city hall. If my memory serves me correctly, it was under the leadership of Bob Chiarelli, at that time the Chair of the Region, and it was within the context of amalgamation.

              The general concept was that the councillors from adjacent wards would have greater influence on decisions affecting their wards, while councillors from more distant wards would have less influence, as the decision would not have a material impact on their wards.

              Using the 1960 Scott Street example, the ward at issue is Kitchissippi -14 (Councillor Leiper). The adjacent wards appear to be:
              – Bay -7 (Councillor Taylor)
              – College – 8 (Councillor Chiarelli)
              – Somerset -15 (Councillor McKenney)
              – River – 16 (Councillor Brockington); and
              – Capital – 17 (Councillor Chernushenko).

              These six councillors would come to an agreement (it need not be unanimous) on the rezoning application and city council would respect that position when the matter was put to a vote. At the time of the actual vote, four of these councillors voted against the rezoning, with Councillors Taylor and Chiarelli voting in favour of the rezoning.

              While not perfect, but what system ever is, there may be some merit in exploring the concept further.

              1. Actually, Ron, it came up during Watson’s term. He wanted it and lost … surprisingly.

                I don’t really like the idea because it creates rather a second tier of government. It took many years to achieve a single city for Ottawa.

                So I called it the burro system. I don’t like the idea of a second tier of government.



                1. Ken,

                  Was this during Watson’s pre-amalgamation Mayoralty, or was it during his current seven year (itch) administration?

  2. I said I felt sorry for Mr. Leiper because he was outside the power bloc. Join and do what you are told to do; stay out of the bloc and accomplish nothing. Those are the facts of politics.

    But Ron. I disagree that a new coalition of 13 bright new like minded councilors will solve any problems.

    The new coalition very quickly becomes the new power bloc and the slipshod back-room decision making merely starts anew. Just new faces doing the same old B.S.. It is human nature. It is the mob mentality.

    ” Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.” – Will Rogers

    Alec Guinness played Sidney Stratton in The Man in the White Suit. Final comment by Sidney tells it all. He simply ends with the line, ” I see .”


    1. P.S.
      I was not sorry for him backing painting the roads before he checked out around his ward to get opinions. That little snafu he has to own all on his own.


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