Thursday, April 2, 2009


Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. It seems a while since we last heard from Larry the Mayor Guy, Chief Magistrate of your nation's capital on the Rideau.

Ottawa's Mayor Larry O'Brien is rarely, if ever, at a loss for words. But it seems recently, since many constituents blamed him for plunging the city into Canada's longest ever transit strike, that he has maintained some reasonable distance from newsworthy pronouncements: That is until this week.

A published story in the west end's "Kanata Kourier Standard" quotes O'Brien on the topic of the fall 2010 municipal election: "certainly I'd vote for myself. I'm not satisfied with the way the City of Ottawa is running. For me to make any truly long-term changes for the benefits of the city, council and I have to find a way to make it run more effectively. I don't think that can happen in one term. I think that takes two terms. I'm not only going to vote for myself, I'm going to run."

There is some irony in Mr. O'Brien's choice of the Kanata weekly for his latest pronouncement: Lest I digress, the Kanata-Kourier Standard was founded in the early 1980's by a 14-year-old junior high school student, Alex Munter. The same Alex Munter who led the election polls back in 2006 until Larry O'Brien stepped into the mayoralty race and relegated Munter to a second place finish.

Well now the Mayor's intentions seem pretty clear a good 19 months before the next municipal vote. Some would surely argue forcefully that one four year term is just about all the good citizens of Ottawa can handle with Larry O'Brien at the helm.

It is never quite clear why Mr. O'Brien frequently engages his mouth before his brain. This time he has obviously opened another round of disharmonious debate at City Hall when Ottawa's municipal agenda can ill afford to be derailed yet again. Veteran city councillor Alex Cullen who has represented Bay Ward for 12 years has jumped into the fray, announcing that he too will run for Mayor in 2010. In making his announcement, Mr. Cullen was polite but nonetheless reminded voters of O'Brien's "unrealistic agenda" from the 2006 campaign, including the infamous "Zero Means Zero" campaign slogan on which Mayor O'Brien has failed to deliver every single year since the election. Forgive me: I can't quite resist the temptation to quote country singer Billy Ray Cyrus: "The truth is I lied."

There are many other unresolved City Hall skirmishes including a multi-million dollar lawsuit from Siemens, the German based engineering firm awarded a $800-million contract for a light-rail system, which was cancelled two weeks after O'Brien's election. The Mayor now supports an underground LRT line under the downtown core and he's asked the Federal and Provincial Governments to pony-up $1.2-billion for phase one. There is the city financed moth-balled 10,000 seat Lynx Stadium which failed after 3 successive professional baseball teams folded. And, the deteriorating conditions of the Lansdowne Park facilities: The Civic Centre and Frank Clair Stadium, which may leave Ottawa on the hook for $30 or $40 million in name a couple of unresolved issues.

All eyes though along with the national media, will be focused squarely early next month on the May 6 start of the Mayor's trial on criminal charges related to influence peddling. Another candidate in the 2006 mayor's election, Terry Kilrea, has claimed that he was encouraged to withdraw from the race when, he alleges, candidate O'Brien offered him an appointment on the National Parole Board. There are allegations of a shadowy meeting in the parking lot of a Bells' Corners Tim Horton's (can it possibly be more Canadian?); and it's been reported that a mysterious Mr. X will testify that the Parole Board nomination was discussed between O'Brien and the then Chair of Treasury Board, the Honourable John Baird, during a July 26, 2006 meeting at the ritzy "Hy's Steakhouse" on Queen Street.

Lest I digress - Mr. Baird, now the Minister of Transport, is a vegetarian. Nevertheless, newspapers this week have reported that Mr. Baird's dinner companion that evening, then 18 year-old, Jonathan Maxwell Amor, has been subpoenaed by the Crown to testify at the proceedings against the Mayor. If Mr. O'Brien were to be convicted on either or both of the bribery related charges, under Ontario's law he would be removed from office and banned from future elections.

This week's outburst to the Kanata newspaper has opened the door for at least one candidate, Alex Cullen, to be standing ready for immediate election after the May trial. And, there may be others. If Larry O'Brien were to be convicted he'd be hard pressed to deliver on his commitment to run again, let alone vote for himself. Check and Mate: Oh dear!

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