On May 19th, Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC), at its Annual General Meeting, hosted a panel of city councillors. As a CCOC Board member, I was fortunate to have the opportunities to quiz the councillors about their opinions on topics ranging from zoning to gender dynamics to citizen engagement.
What followed was a lively discussion among Councillors Catherine McKenney (Somerset Ward), Jeff Leiper (Kitchissippi Ward), and Tobi Nussbaum (Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward), centering around the role of the City in creating diverse, inclusive communities.
We present this discussion as a series today isolating each councillor’s responses. To read what Councillors McKenney and Nussbaum had to say, click on their names above.
As councillors, you face the challenge of keeping up to date on everything that goes on in your ward, so I’m thinking you must be great people to ask for recommendations! Could you let us know some of your favourite hidden gems in your ward, whether it’s a restaurant, a park, or a small business?
Leiper: I can lose two or three hours at the Record Centre. It’s a place where people come and hang out and talk about music, and it’s becoming a venue. I’ve made it my project to improve Ottawa’s music scene. Because it’s a store, my 15 year old son can walk in and catch a bit of a show at a reasonable hour.
What drove each of you to run for Council, and what drives you and motivates you to continue in this work on a day-to-day basis?
Leiper: The issues in Kitchissippi Ward centred around planning issues like light rail. Underlying those was the need for a better relationship between our growing community and City Hall. Simple tools like newsletters and asking residents’ opinions are things that were missing in our ward.
Knowing what you know about CCOC’s values, and with your perspective as members of Council standing committees, what role can the city play to make Ottawa’s neighbourhoods diverse and inclusive?
Leiper: I think that a fundamental piece is listening to diverse voices, and including those voices in the conversation, which the City’s consultation mechanisms don’t always do. Recently, I was in a consultation about the Rosemount Library, and one of the best conversations I had about the library was when I went down to the Parkdale Food Centre and asked their clients about how they use the space and what they want to be able to use the library for.
The buzz from bureaucrats and politicians is that “the stars are finally aligned”. All three levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal, have made affordable housing a priority issue. Since the late 80s when the federal government devolved the responsibility for housing to the provinces, there has been a lack of clarity around the role of each level of government on this issue. In your opinion, what is the role of each level of government?
Leiper: I think that housing needs to be recognized as a health issue. At the City, we have used capital funding for operating expenses due to inflationary pressure. That means we are not topping up capital reserves. Since the federal investment has doubled, it would be a shame if we as a community can’t find municipal dollars to leverage that money. This council is hell-bent on maintaining the 2% tax increase, and that makes it difficult for us to take advantage of other funding opportunities.
But it isn’t all about the money! There are some things that the municipality can do, like zoning discussions around issues like coach houses and granny suites.
We also need to make sure that we are looking at transit through an affordable housing lens, and that we are taking a leadership role in facilitating the conversation when community members push back against affordable housing or supportive housing in their neighbourhood.
A photo posted by Kitchissippi, Councillor Jeff (@kitchissippiward) on
How would you describe the dynamics around the Council table and on Councillors Row? What strategies do you use to achieve your goals?
Leiper: It is a different place than I thought it was going to be. You have to use all the tools: discussion with the media, press conferences, and, most of all, negotiations, which take place in a very collegial way. I was pleased and surprised by the collegiality. But one of the things that disturbs me is the degree to which we have a very strong mayor, who is very strongly supported by what the Manning Institute called a “supermajority”. We see that in the vote results on a lot of issues. Potentially even more disturbing is the high degree of integration between staff, the mayor, and some of the committee chairs.
As city councillors, what are some ways you would like to see citizens becoming more involved, engaged, or informed?
Leiper: Going into the next election, we will have to convince people that sticking to low tax increases is hurting our city. To build the kind of city we want is going to cost us money.
Predict the future! Based on the decisions being made by Council today, what will your ward look like in 20 years?
Leiper: In 20 years, Lebreton Flats will probably have been redeveloped with an arena on it. Mechanicsville is going to be intensified. Tunney’s Pasture will have been developed into a mixed-use community. There will be 10-15,000 new people. That can be done in a way that is sustainable or unsustainable in terms of things like food security and housing costs.
Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC), established in 1974, is a community-based, tenant and member directed, non-profit housing organization whose mission is to create, maintain and promote housing for low and moderate income people. Learn more at ccochousing.org.