Some Bulldog readers might not know exactly the methods Mayor Jim Watson uses to get his way on Ottawa City Council.
The great Ron Benn, Bulldog contributor extraordinaire, gives about as good an explanation for this as you will see.
Take it away, Ron.
The challenge Councillor Jeff Leiper faces is one of convincing 12 of his colleagues to vote to protect existing neighbourhoods from disproportionately high buildings.
He is one of seven who voted against the rezoning of the Trailhead building site to allow for 22 storeys in a neighbourhood zoned for six storeys. He joined Councillors David Chernushenko, Catherine McKenney, Tobi Nussbaum (and others) in voting against a higher density retirement home on Bank Street earlier in the month.
Photo above: Ottawa City Council room … where some of the horse-trading occurs.
So, at least he is pointed in the right direction. However, regularly being on the losing side of a 17-7 vote is small consolation. Perhaps more time needs to be spent by each of these councillors to line up more support around the council chamber. There are challenges, though.
Jim Watson is very adept at trading favours. In exchange for his support in getting Councillor Mark Taylor elected in Bay ward (the same Mark Taylor who worked in Jim Watson’s MPP office), does Councillor Mark Taylor dare stray from the Watson party line, for fear that his tax-payer funded, embroidered leather deputy-mayor jacket gets locked away? Councillor Jan Harder lobbied hard to get the chair of the planning committee. She needed Mayor Jim Watson’s blessing to get that position. Does she dare step out of line? Councillor Keith Egli needed Watson’s support to win Knoxdale-Merivale a couple of elections ago when Gord Hunter retired. He is also chair of the Transportation Committee. Is he prepared to cast a vote on a matter of principle that is contrary to his “patrone”?
Failing to follow orders also has consequences. Is the well known animosity between Watson and Councillor Rick Chiarelli the reason why the long-standing councillor for College ward does not chair any meaningful committee?
Do the councillors for the suburbs outside the greenbelt care enough about the inner wards, and the destruction of the community fabric that follows the erection of disproportionately high buildings adjacent to one- and two-storey homes, to vote against Watson? Do they follow his lead, for fear that they will not get his support, and that of his acolytes on council, on an issue near and dear to their community?
In short, there are too many councillors sitting in the chamber whose votes are already compromised by favours owed, or are willing to grant a favour today, to be held like a chit for a later date, when they need a favour in return. Now consider who is at the vortex of this favour trading.
I am not so naive as to think that this situation is unique to Ottawa. It is at the very heart of politics. It was one of the reasons why Larry O’Brien’s mayoralty was so underwhelming. He hadn’t built up a war chest of favours owed to him, and that made herding the cats much more difficult.
So, here we are oscillating between the extremes of dysfunction. Remember, the second part of your property taxes are due in a month-and-a-half.
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