Volume 12 Week 5

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The good,
the bad
and the ugly


The City of Ottawa just released it's list of Council Priorities/Strategic Investments to be funded over the next four years.

The list includes some important investments such as $14.6 million to top up the infrastructure renewal program in 2016 and 2017; a few questionable investments like $755,000 over the next four years to pay for a Cycling Safety Improvement Program; and a few downright outrageous recommendations including a call to spend $600,000 to improve public engagement in planning matters.

It's makes you wonder where this city's priorities are, or to be more accruate, where Jim Watson's priorities are, because let's not make any mistake about it, this is his list. At least it's his for now. We'll have to wait to see where the individual councillors stand on the matter.

(Just an aside, but I love how the document is entitled Council Priorities, when none of the councillors had any direct input into the list of so-called priorities.)

In 2010, the 2010-2014 Strategic Investment Plan was hashed out by city council over the course of several days. Not so this time around. Despite the fact that the first-timers on council were told during the budget process that they would get a chance to try and acquire funding for various initiatives during discussion of the Strategic Plan, the will get no such opportunity beyond mere lip service.

The Strategic Initiative Plan was put together by senior staff in consultation with the Mayor's office and then presented to the committee chairs and co-chairs for their input. Just how much input they were afforded we'll never know. Or least we'll never know beyond the spin.

The fact of the matter is that the list has been made; the money allocated and there's very little, if anything, that can be done about it beyond a tweak here and there.

It's just another reminder that the real power at City Hall rests in the hands of the mayor and senior staff. City councillors have very little if any influence in the actual decision-making process except to vote yea, or nay, and God help you if you vote nay and risk becoming a pariah.

So what does the list tell us? It tells us that in some areas the city's priorities are in sink with some of its residents, while in other areas they are totally out of whack.

For instance, the list includes $300,000 to improve community rinks; and $200,000 in low income recreation subsidies, both worthy initiatives, but they pale in comparison to the $750,000 that`s going to be spent on an infrastructure standards reveiw, or $600,000 to improve public engagement in planning matters -- arguably the biggest waste of money on the entire list.

There is $5.4 million for arts, heritage and culture groups, but that`s money that never should have been cut out of the budget in the first place. And before anyone bemoans that investment, I bring your attention to the $4 million that will be spent over the next four years on something called the 2015-2018 Corporate People Plan.

What is the 2015-2018 Corporate People Plan and what is the money being spent on you ask? According to the person who wrote the draft Strategic Initiative Plan, the $4 million will be used to A) maintain an up-to-date leadership succession plan and increase the readiness of the successor pool; B) update the Corporate/Departmental Diversity Plans to advance the diversity of the workforce and create a respectful, inclusive workplace; C) create a roadmap to improve workplace psychological wellbeing; and D) enhance the performance development program to enable expectation/goal setting, ongoing timely feedback, and tracking of completed performance through a review process.

Four million dollars! Think about that every time some one speeds down your street because there`s no money for traffic calming measures; or you have to pay your chiropractor for another spine realignment after driving over that pot hole that never seems to get filled.

Remarkable, yes. Surprising, no. Disappointing, most defintiely. However, the ball is now in the court of the new councillors Riley Brockington, Jody Mitic, Jeff Leiper and Tobi Nussbaum, George Darouze, Catherine McKeinney, Jean Clouthier and Michael Qaqish.

How they react and whether or not they are willing to take on the Mayor, or staff, will tell us a lot about the next four years.

Here's hoping they have the courage and strength of their conviction to at least speak up, rather than retire into the role of rubber-stampers.

At the very least, they should insist on a line item vote when the plan comes before the committee of the whole so we know exactly where the councillors stand on each of the 63 initiatives. However, that's not very likely. In all probability it will be presented as an omnibus motion, something that was all the rage back in the Larry O'Brien days, and passed by a show of hands.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

(If you wish to comment on this or any other View Point column please write to Fred Sherwin at fsherwin@magma.ca)

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