Wednesday, September 22, 2010


With just about a month to go before the province-wide Municipal Election date in Ontario; in Ottawa, the Nation's Capital, attacks and accusations between front-runners, Jim Watson and incumbent Larry O'Brien are becoming increasingly testy and personal.

Ottawa, Ontario's second largest city, suffers from Toronto envy...and it's municipal politics are challenging even at the best of times. It is in its role and title of Canada's National Capital where the most friction generates. First there's the paternalistic presence of the Federal Government at just about every level of the city's affairs. Followed in lock-step by the Canadian Government's land baron: The National Capital Commission which administers and directs the nation's land holdings in the urban sprawl of the National Capital region; about 1 1/2 million people in two cities (Ottawa, Ontario & Gatineau, Quebec). The aforementioned Provincial Government of Ontario, not necessarily always on good terms with the Feds; and lastly, frequently in the shadows, the municipal politicians who try to pull all the pieces together while hanging-on for dear life.

All cities find their own time on the world's stage: Toronto is a recognized multicultural entity. Montreal, a city steeped in history and culture; and (as one architect described it) Vancouver a "vertical city among the mountains". A published article I saw recently quotes a 2009 issue of "The Lonely Planet." Of Ottawa it says: "It's best to avoid Rideau Street between Sussex Drive and King Edward Avenue. In the daytime it's cluttered with smoke-spewing buses and hoards of commuters, and in the evening it's the preferred hang-out for vagrants." Jeez! If Vancouver has it's dirty east side; it seems ours is the heart of downtown a block from Parliament Hill at the intersection of the street on which the Prime Minister and the Governor General's residences are located.

When I moved to the city just more than 25 years ago, OC Transpo; the city's public transit system, was consistently recognized as a North American leader of modern urban transport design and efficiency. It's been heading in the opposite direction ever since. It's just that now there are far many more diesel spewing buses. Adding insult to injury; Mis-managed by the politics of the city's elected officials, Ottawa was crippled by a 55-day transit strike over the Christmas / New Year period a year or so back which cost the city over $500-Million.

The choking acrid diesel fumes it seems may be eased somewhat, some day by a ridiculously expensive multi-billion dollar tunnel under the city which will house an electric train. This east-west tunnel business is about the only issue the two front-running mayoralty candidates concede they agree on. Tunneling under Parliament Hill though...fuzzy picture. Then there's the existing north-south diesel surface line, the O-Train. Tracks exist already to take it cross-river to Gatineau: Wait: Inter-provincial transit is a federal matter...fuzzier picture. Confused? Me your eyes:

If great cities are defined in their own time and their own place; it seems that old By-town has some more distance to travel on something other than diesel powered public conveyances. And, getting all the different players to work together is a mind-numbing challenge all of its own. The biggest problem is that the citizens of Ottawa ignore municipal politics. It's a government city, and federal matters overshadow other affairs. It seems to me that leads right back to where this started. We will just have to wait and see.

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