Written by Jon Willing in the Ottawa Sun
Sense of teamwork in air as newly elected members tackle Lansdowne Park, transit and the environment
Residents clearly didn’t like the direction Ottawa was heading in 2010, even though historic city-building projects gained momentum.
The story of the year at City Hall was the sweeping change around the council table. Mayor Jim Watson won easily over Larry O’Brien, who, although he had several accomplishments to trumpet, struggled to get his message out on the campaign trail and couldn’t steer away from his zero-means-zero legacy.
Long-time councillors Gord Hunter and Jacques Legendre, along with Kanata councillor Peggy Feltmate, retired from municipal politics.
Clive Doucet ran for mayor and lost, and Alex Cullen couldn’t hold onto his west-end seat after dropping out of the mayoral race.
Youthfulness won the day on Oct. 25. At 25-years old, Mathieu Fleury completed a stunning upset over Georges Bedard and Stephen Blais, 30, knocked off Rob Jellett. Veteran politicians Glenn Brooks and Michel Bellemare were taken out by Scott Moffatt, 29, and Tim Tierney, 36, respectively.
Then there were blasts from the past. Former regional chair Peter Clark won a council seat. And there’s Watson, a former provincial cabinet minister who was Ottawa’s mayor 10 years ago.
Eleven new faces around the council table were tasked with bringing a sense of team-w o rk to City Hall and push major projects to the next level.
Watson quickly made an impact as a penny-pinching mayor. He signed Tim Hortons to sponsor the December swearing-in ceremony to save money, but later in the month he was blindsided by a $13,000 bill for councillors’ official portraits. The photo contract was awarded in the summer.
Perhaps the most significant accomplishment (or travesty, depending on your take on the project) was finalizing the redevelopment plans for Lansdowne Park in June.
The controversial $300-million facelift includes the return of the CFL to a revamped Frank Clair Stadium, new shops, homes, offices and a park. A legal challenge questions the city’s partnership with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, alleging the city broke procurement rules. A judge will hear the case in April, two months before shovels are scheduled to break ground.
While the Lansdowne project came to the forefront in 2010, there were always transit issues lingering in the background.
Planning for a new light-rail system went into high gear when council last January approved the $2.1-billion project, which will build a tunnel through downtown. The city secured $1.2 million in upper-tier government funding and preliminary engineering is underway.
At OC Transpo, the union and management still grappled over scheduling issues and both sides are assembling their teams for a new round of contract negotiations in early 2011.
The city agreed to buy $155.7-million worth of new articulated buses from New Flyer when the company came to City Hall with a deal. Those buses, along with others in the existing fleet, are being installed with a $12.1-million next-stop announcement system.
And finally, Watson made good on a campaign promise to start a transit commission, which will have its citizen members recruited in the new year.
When the city wasn’t upgrading transit, it was building and repairing assets using economic stimulus funding from the federal and provincial governments.
The roughly $750 million of work in 2010 is considered the busiest year ever for the city.
On the environmen-tal front, the city launched a residential green bin program, which ended up sending 53,000 tonnes of organic waste to the new Orgaworld processing plant in south Ottawa. The city is paying for 80,000 tonnes per year and it expects to hit that target in 2014.
While the program was originally a tough sell for some, people generally have become comfortable with tossing their kitchen scraps into the containers.
The city also approved a plan to prevent raw sewage from spilling into the Ottawa River, an embarrassing reality for the national capital. Council adopted the $252-million Ottawa River Action Plan and upgrades have already been made to the system to reduce combined sewer overflows.
Everything leads back to the tax bill, and no surprise, residents paid the city more money in 2010.
Average property taxes increased 3.77%, water and wastewater rates went up 9% and user fees for several programs jumped in price.
Councillors will ring in 2011 with many of the same issues still consuming their time. It’s the council that will rebuild Lansdowne Park and hire a construction company to create the light-rail system.
The faces may have changed, but the issues remain the same.