Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin - https://unsplash.com/photos/NqOInJ-ttqM
It has been a dark week for local democracy in Ottawa.
Last Wednesday, council green-lit an Old Ottawa East development that violated a years-old neighbourhood plan. The original design was rooted in thousands of hours of community consultation and engagement with city processes, but no matter. In the end, the developer pulled the rug out from under the community. Planning committee refused to stop the process, and council gave its stamp of approval with a 14-9 vote in favour of the project.
Earlier that morning, one of the city’s most powerful committees blocked a non-member councillor from asking a simple question. While the councillor’s question was about a baseball lease, the move speaks volumes about Ottawa’s decision-making process on environmental matters. It points to a council whose decision-making process has been centralized around the mayor. This concentration of power has clear, negative implications for the areas of the city with councillors outside of the mayor’s inner circle.
If we needed further evidence of this point, last week’s Château Laurier decision made it crystal clear. Kelly Egan has pointed out that Ottawa’s urban councillors have been on the losing end of planning decisions for some time now. The root cause is committee composition, which stems from mayoral decisions. Immediately after the 2018 election, the mayor cut out urban councillors from key decision-making roles impacting Ottawa’s environment. In this way, the causes behind the “radiator-shaped goiter” on the Château Laurier are the same as those behind environmental crises like climate change, tree decimation and urban sprawl.
So what can be done?
Put simply, we can’t let cynicism induce us to inaction. We need to stand up and be heard. Even when we feel that residents don’t have a voice, we won’t be silenced. Even when our councillors push for what’s right, and risk being sidelined when they run afoul of the mayor, we won’t be silenced.
Now, more than ever, we need to bring the pressure of mass mobilization to bear on city council. Ecology Ottawa is uniquely positioned to amplify your voice to demand better from city hall. We must continue to organize in communities, pressure council at key moments and keep all council members accountable to the public.
We cannot do this without your support. Donate today to join thousands of other Ottawa residents who stand up for our environment. Your contribution will go towards building a better, greener city for now and for future generations.