City Council’s Asleep At The Wheel: BENN




What should the role of a board tasked with oversight of management be? Rubber stamp every recommendation? Challenge every recommendation?

How about encourage, perhaps demand, higher standards of performance? My observation is that when it comes to Ottawa’s City Hall, neither council nor senior management appear to fully understand the role of council.

The LRT Commission’s report from a year and change ago made it clear that a number of senior players, within management and on council failed to meet the expected standard. They willfully withheld the information required for council to fulfill its statutory obligations. Egregious malfeasance was the term used in the report.  If that isn’t an invitation to strive for a higher standard, what is?

So, where are we today? A year and change later. Is council insisting on getting all of the information it requires to make informed decisions? Is senior staff making a concerted effort to provide council with that information? Have there been material changes in the quality of information provided to council?

Let’s start with the trivial matter of the change to the needless idling by law.

A fulsome report from staff, including the public presentation to council, would have provided numbers, noting that they are reasonable estimates. Something like “During the times when the temperature is in the prescribed range (5C to 27C), it is estimated that between 50 and 100 vehicles are left idling needlessly.  These vehicles are producing xx tonnes of greenhouse gases, and yy units of other pollutants. With the proposed changes, it is estimated that the noxious gases will fall by 10 per cent.  The cost of implementing this change is $100,000 per year.”

The numbers here are for illustration only. Why? Because to my knowledge, staff did not provide any meaningful metrics to council. Council is not aware of how big the problem actually is, nor is council aware of how the changes to the bylaw will improve the situation. How could council make an informed decision when it lacked the information necessary to make that informed decision. Why didn’t council ask, perhaps demand, that staff provide meaningful information to support the proposed change in the bylaw? Quite frankly, how could staff have the gall to not provide that information proactively?

On to a more compelling problem. Housing, affordable and not-so-affordable. The province has mandated a number of changes to how cities process zoning applications, site plans and the like. Tighter timeframes. Reduced development fees. Mandatory changes to the previous zoning ranges, including the minimum number of units that can be build on what was previously single family home lots.

How will these impact Ottawa’s housing supply? To date? In the pipeline? Over the next five years? How do Ottawa’s expected results measure up against the metrics set by the province?  What is the impact of not achieving the mandates?

A prudent board, tasked with oversight of management, would have made getting this information on a timely basis a very high priority. Quite frankly, a competent senior management team would not have to be asked. There would already be a timetable set for delivery of the information. There would be a dashboard providing up to date results on every councillor’s desktop computer.

Why should these changes in behaviour be necessary? Why should these changes in behaviour be presented in a public forum? Because city council has the statutory obligation to provide informed oversight of city management. And unless the public sees compelling evidence to the contrary, the findings of the LRT Commission are the last tangible evidence the public has regarding the quality of governance emanating from city hall.

The ball is in your court council. Do you have the courage to meet your statutory obligations, or are you just going to continue to go through the motions?

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.


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3 Responses

  1. John Langstone says:

    Reading this I wonder if some of the problem here isn’t a direct result of the Watson reign. A majority of the last council just voted with Watson always. Watching one council session, Watson would state before a vote what he supported, and that’s what the Watson Club faithfully did. So today we have the holdover Watson Club councilors who don’t know what to do without being told.

  2. Brocklebank says:

    I generally agree with Mr. Benn but I think a word has been dropped by mistake in the tenth paragraph. I think the sentence should read ” Quite frankly, a competent senior management team would NOT have to be asked.”

  3. Ron Benn says:

    On further review, Brocklebank, you are correct. Over to you Editor in Chief.

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