Capital highs, lows
Coun. Stephen Blais gets the nod as most savvy in Chianello’s best and worst developments of 2012,
Awatershed year wrapped up with a bang as council approved the deal for the $2.1-billion light-rail project, weeks after our local government gave the final thumbs up to the re-making of Lansdowne Park. Whether or not you’re in favour of all aspects of either deal, one thing is certain: the projects will dramatically change the landscape of our city.
But 2012 also saw council grapple with plenty of smaller issues worth noting. Here are 10 of the best and worst developments from the past 12 months.
Most cynical move: Councillor Mark Taylor’s initiation of changes to taxi regulations after receiving financial contributions from the taxi union. From making wheelchair-accessible taxi plates tradable to allowing cabs to stay on the road longer and with few inspections, Taylor spearheaded taxi-owner friendly changes to the industry. The worst part is the councillor accepted a $750 contribution from the taxi union after he was named the taxi industry’s regulator.
Most savvy move: Councillor Stephen Blais’s offer to give 10 per cent of his salary to charity. Living up to one of his campaign pledges, he’ll make the contribution because the municipal tax hike was above the rate of inflation. Now, Blais still voted in favour of the city budget that brought in the 2.1-percent tax increase (as opposed to the 0.9-per-cent increase in local consumer prices for 2012). Still, it’s nice to see a politician living up to a promise that will cost him.
Biggest esthetic failure: The corrugated metal Zamboni garage for the Rink of Dreams. Original designs showed the garage clad in stone that matched the exterior of our handsome Raymond Moriyama-designed City Hall. But the Sens Foundation and the city ran out of money when they encountered unexpected costs for the ice rink, so attractiveness lost out. (Runner-up: the trailer parked in front of the doors during skating season. Ugly.)
Biggest esthetic win: Saving century homes on Sussex Drive. Council’s planning committee — backed by full council — didn’t let the National Capital Commission tear down a couple of modest but attractive properties it owns at 273 and 275-79 Sussex, both of which are in the city-designated Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District. The decision might have been influenced by politics, but it was the right decision all the same that will preserve the last remaining examples of the working-class housing that once existed all along Sussex.
Worst-managed file: Presto. Hands down, no contest. But it’s not all the city’s fault. The tap-andgo transit system smart card that’s supposed to eventually replace passes and tickets is managed by Metrolinx, the provincial agency in charge of managing transportation in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton. Still, transit commission chair Diane Deans and OC Transpo boss John Manconi were in the dark far too long on this file, considering how vital the payment card is to Ottawa’s transit system.
Best-managed file: Garbage. Considering how unpopular the move to every-second-week garbage pickup was, the transition has been surprisingly smooth. Sure, there was some confusion the first week that pickup day changed, and there are still challenges on how to manage recycling at multi-residential complexes. But despite some dire warnings that garbage would be wafting down the streets, most of us have made the move to everyother-week collection without much trauma.
Most disappointing decision: Casino. And not because council let the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. ask for casino proposals for Ottawa, but because councillors voted in favour of the move after openly admitting they didn’t feel they had enough information to make a proper decision. There was virtually no public consultation on the matter, other than a committee meeting where the vast majority of public delegations argued against a new casino. Yet not one councillor moved to delay the decision, even though Hamilton, for instance, has until the end of February to say yea or nay to a new gambling den.
Most encouraging decision: Street food. For the first time in two decades, the city will issue 20 new street-food vendor licences for spring of 2013. Council approved the initiative at the end of October, but not before a few councillors cried “nanny state” over the inclusion of the menu as part of the criteria for scoring one of the limited licences. But council more or less stood firm, giving the green light to a program that could make our city streets a little more vibrant.
Worst new initiative: Using property tax money to reward businesses for doing what they would likely do anyway. This month, council approved a $460,000 grant — in the form of a property tax rebate over 10 years — to the owners of Place d’Orléans shopping centre as an enticement to build a Farm Boy grocery store. Which is strange, since the store actually opened last summer. A much larger, equally dubious program is being proposed to “incent” employers to set up shop in Orléans.
Best new initiative: Lobbyist registry. Having been only in existence since Sept. 1, the registry is undergoing some growing pains. In particular, a number of entries are too vague, and the integrity commissioner’s office has been so snowed under with other projects that it can’t review entries as often as it would like. But the registry, even with its current flaws, is a landmark move toward transparency, all the more impressive because Ottawa implemented the plan before any serious scandal befell it.