Adam: So far so good for new Ottawa City Council

Jeff Leiper and Shawn Menard would never have chaired important council committees under the last mayor.

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Ottawa held one of its most important elections this fall, voting for a new mayor and council to replace a city government that was well past its expiry date.

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Mayor Mark Sutcliffe was elected on a promise to bridge the bitter divide caused by Jim Watson, and 45 days later he was keen to create a more harmonious and collaborative council. City government works best when no one feels left out, and so far so good. Of course, we are only at the beginning and things could go downhill quickly as real challenges arise. The 16-9 vote for a proposed budget that caps tax increases for 2023 at the 2.5% promised by Sutcliffe shows that there are differences. But if first steps are any guide, Sutcliffe seems to be on the right track.

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The first sign that this is indeed a new era at city hall is the way committee chairs have been assigned, with city, suburban and rural councilors all getting a fair shake – contrary to what happened under Watson.

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Most residents probably care very little about who sits on which committee as long as the services they need are provided. But the work of the committees is essential because that is where the substance of the policy is made. In municipal government, which is closest to the people, the policy-making process can be as important as the end product itself. If you get the committees wrong, bad policy will likely ensue. One of the reasons we ended up with a dysfunctional Confederation Line was that the transit commission failed in its duty to carefully review the work being done and sound the alarm which was not done.

The problem with the previous council is that Watson weaponized the chairmanship of the committee, using it to punish urban councilors he disliked, while rewarding suburban and rural friends and allies who sided with him. problem after problem. And with committee chairs automatically members of the powerful Policy Development Committee and now renamed Finance and Business Services Committee, Watson had a lock on decision-making at City Hall.

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That’s where the division in the board started, and that’s how we ended up with the egregious failures that the TLR commission revealed in its recent report. Watson had such a grip on the city council that he felt no need to consult it on important matters relating to the launching of the Confederation Line. And that’s why City Manager Steve Kanellakos felt empowered to mislead council because he knew Watson had his back. When some councilors called for a judicial inquiry into the malfunctioning of the LRT, Watson and his cronies, many of whom were still on this new council, rejected it 13 to 10, saying there was no wrongdoing to warrant a such investigation.

Were it not for the provincial investigation, we would probably never have known the extent of the official misdeeds. Watson accepted full responsibility for the debacle, but now we know why he didn’t want an investigation.

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The city is now charting another course. Of the council’s 10 standing committee chairs, four are urban; three suburban and two rural. Sutcliffe chairs the finance committee. We now have committee chairs who reflect the diversity of our city. Perhaps the most eye-catching of the dates, and a clear sign that there is indeed a new sheriff in town, is Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper as Chair of the Planning Committee. It is impossible that someone like Leiper was chairman of the planning committee under Watson.

The other sign of change is Capital Coun. Shawn Menard, a perennial thorn in Watson’s side who has previously been denied membership on the planning committee, has been named chair of environment and climate change.

Dramatic changes in committee assignments alone do not mean that the new board’s term will be a great success. Indeed, it says a lot about Watson’s tenure that what should be routine committee appointments is considered an achievement. There’s a long way to go and mountains to climb, but what Sutcliffe has crafted in just over a month bodes well for the future.

Mohammad Adam is an Ottawa journalist and commentator. Contact him at

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