City Leads From Behind: Benn

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Leaders lead by example. Leaders make difficult, unpopular decisions. Leaders communicate clearly and honestly. Business 101 material.

Down at Ottawa City Hall, leaders aren’t leading. Not by setting an example. Not by making difficult decisions. Not by communicating clearly and truthfully.

A month or so ago, city officials begged the provincial and the federal governments to send their employees back to the office. To save downtown. To save the businesses that rely on a high volume of low dollar daily transactions. Fair enough, except …

City employees, for the most part, only attend the office three days a week. That’s not to say that city employees should be in the office five days a week. By limiting the in office attendance of its own employees to 60 per cent of the work week is not leading by example. Why? Is it because those who call themselves municipal leaders aren’t willing to make a difficult, unpopular decision? If you are going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. And city council is not walking the walk.


Here’s why.

City hall is begging people to use public transit. To reduce greenhouse gases. To make an impact on Ottawa’s commitment to reduce its impact on factors that contribute to climate change. Fair enough, except …

I walked past the city’s parking lots in Centrepointe earlier today. Of the roughly 1,600 spaces, about two-thirds were full. Two-thirds full, for a work place that is, on average being attended by about 60 per cent of its employees. Two-thirds full when the city office buildings are within a couple of hundred metres of Baseline Station. Two-thirds full of vehicles of employees of the organization that is begging residents of this city to use public transit. Why?

Have senior city officials considered mandating that all staff take public transit to and from the office? I realize there are unions involved, but has the topic even been raised? Or … is it possible that Ottawa’s public-transit system doesn’t meet the needs of its own employees? And city hall knows it, but won’t admit it?

The leadership group at city hall is not leading by example. It is not making difficult, unpopular decisions.  It is not communicating clearly and honestly with the public about why it is not prepared to lead by example or make difficult decisions.

How about landfills. City councils going back to before the turn of the millennium have declined to consider thinking about the possibility that a site other than Trail Road might be needed. Not a popular topic, but one that needs an actual decision. Not another deferral. An actual decision.

Then there is the never ending saga of delays on the LRT expansion. The message from city hall, when then deign to update the public is that these delays are due to the pandemic and that it is better to take the time to do it right. Really? Pretty much every organization on the planet figured out how to adjust their project timelines as a result of the pandemic=induced supply chain problems. They figured it out three plus years ago. Very simply put, the-pandemic-ate-my-homework lacks credibility. Sorry Mr. Mayor, but that train left the station – years ago. How about some clear, honest communication about the delays in construction. About whether some of the extra costs from the extended extensions to the time lines will be borne by the city.

In the meantime, we are entertained with resolutions to declare Ottawa the Shawarma Capital of Canada. Toss in the musings of one member of the leadership group about asking elementary school children to name the snow plows that might or might not grace their neighbourhoods, depending on what the latest threshold of snowfall is.

In short, it is time for city hall to lead by example. To make difficult unpopular decisions. To communicate clearly and honestly.  It is a fundamental part of your job description.

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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2 Responses

  1. Merrill Smith says:

    Just one quibble Ron, are you sure that train left the station? Maybe it never made it to the station. Maybe it doesn’t even exist yet. So many questions.

  2. The Voter says:

    In the garage under City Hall, there are dedicated parking spots near the elevator for city councillors. I do understand that there are days when a councillor may be hopping around from place to place with meetings at city hall and events in their ward or around the city. On those days, however, when they are at city hall for the full day, why aren’t they availing themselves of the transit system they seem to think is adequate for their constituents? I’m aware that there are a few councillors every term who walk, cycle or bus to city hall but they are always the exception and are, in fact, often mocked for doing so.

    The same applies to senior management. How many of the vehicles at OC Transpo HQ and at the city’s offices on Constellation are really necessary?

    I know that some bus drivers need to use a vehicle to get to work since there may be no buses running when they start/finish or they may be working split shifts. I’ve had managers tell me they need their cars to get from OC Transpo’s offices on St. Laurent to City Hall although they could easily use transit to make that trip. Unless, of course, they know of a good reason to stay out of the St. Laurent Station … perhaps they’ve had concerns about the roof falling in on them.

    When they moved the welfare office to Constellation, one of the selling points was how well located it was for transit. Seems they were only talking about that for their clients. Staff from both Public Health and Social Services often take their vehicles when they attend meetings at City Hall and other downtown locations.

    The approach to using transit instead of your vehicle is mainly “Do what I say, not what I do.” rather than leading by example. Maybe if the leaders at the City had to use transit on a daily basis, their experience would result in a much-improved system that a) functioned consistently and b) got people to where they need to go efficiently and quickly. Instead we get a Council that says “Let them eat shawarma!” .

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