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Residents Know What’s Best For Neighbourhoods

ottawa city hall

Ottawa City Hall has lost touch with the people it represents.

Poor Aaron Burry. A great capable guy with a difficult assignment.

The city’s general manager of social services must change the culture and image of city staff using a consultation process that is deeply flawed.

You see, the consultation process now is perceived by the public to be a dog-and-pony show. In other words, most of the major decisions have been made by the time the public part of the process has begun. Why some councillors have trouble discovering what’s going on in their wards when staff gets its teeth in an issue.

Accordingly, the public doesn’t have a chance.

So people who care about their neighbourhoods, either because they have huge investments in them or they genuinely are interested, religiously go to public consultations knowing what they say will at best be acknowledged or, at worst, ignored or orchestrated in such a way so that what staff wants (or special interest groups or lobbyists want), they get.

The cynicism is such that even the mayor has said that zoning is a suggestion. But then we’ve not seen much change since Jim Watson admitted that. In fact, the situation has become worse.

There’s talk and PR … very easy, you know, or real action … much more difficult and usually ignored because it takes work rather than words.

So if I were Burry, I would throw out the consultation process and just sit in rooms with residents and listen.

Former politician and diplomat Stephen Lewis has said that if you want to know what a neighbourhood needs, ask the people who live there. That should be the starting point for every city initiative. It’s about the people … not staff, not interest groups, not industries, not empire-building, not lobbying, not power … but representing the people. Ask the people in a neighbourhood if they want the 42-storey condo. They know. The people on Laurier Avenue, at least over the last little while, don’t. They don’t live the neighbourhood. Lewis was right.

Why Burry’s task is huge (maybe impossible) is that he has to change the culture at Ottawa City Hall. Staff has to think what’s best for the residents of neighbourhoods, not what’s best for staff or special interests. Over the past six or seven years, public service on Laurier Avenue has eroded to the point where the city must hold a public consultation on public consultations.

Sounds horribly out of touch.

Corporate culture is not changed by a consultation. It is changed by a slow awakening or a quick change of personnel. Usually, it takes as long to change corporate culture for the better as the erosion in it took.

The real work in returning trust back to Ottawa City Hall (and it has been badly damaged) resides in Mayor Jim Watson. His Worship must change the personnel in departments that have lost touch with neighbourhoods. It’s a huge task and perhaps the mayor just wants to give the impression of dealing with a consultation problem rather than really addressing it.

In the meantime if the city actually wants to know what’s good for a community, ask the community before the special interest groups. That’s called democracy.

And LISTEN to what the people say. And ACT on it.

That would be a good start.

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  1. The illusionist does not make something actually appear out of, or disappear into, the vapour. He merely distracts you with a flash of light, a sparkle of tinsel, a cloud of steam while the object is physically moved. This is an apt metaphor for public consultations. The consultations are a distraction from what is actually occurring – governance by fiat. Governance by fiat is delivered by the arrogant few who “know” what is best for the “unwashed” public. They choose to disguise this arrogance with the illusion of consultation.

  2. Ken Gray

    March 5, 2013 at 10:14 AM


    That’s a good comeback Chris but you already know that it is not about right or wrong but inclusiveness. It’s not just about Lansdowne, but it is part of it.

    cheers and thx for the comment


  3. So when the Glebe said no to Lansdowne, were they right?

  4. Ken Gray

    March 5, 2013 at 7:32 AM


    No. The community is not a special interest group. They were the people democracy was constructed for.

    cheers and thx for the comment


  5. Danny Handelman

    March 5, 2013 at 7:29 AM

    So, the community is not a “special-interest” group? The politicians have likely done a cost-benefits analysis to determine that spot re-zoning to reduce housing and transportation costs will result in a higher probability of being re-elected than eliminating zoning or eliminating infill.

  6. James O'Grady

    March 5, 2013 at 7:24 AM

    If only!

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