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 Leiper 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?
Nussbaum: The other side of the Rideau River might sound far to you, but there’s great infrastructure connecting Rideau-Rockliffe to Centretown. One of my hidden gems is the new Adàwe Crossing. If you want to venture farther, just east of the Governor General’s residence is Rockliffe Park. For Centretown residents, it’s like the country: there’s a gazebo, and it’s a great place for picnics. I worked with the NCC last year to get a bike path along the interior road.
What drove you to run for Council, and what drives you and motivates you to continue in this work on a day-to-day basis?
Nussbaum: My day job was in international affairs, but I believe that the change that really matters happens at the local level. At the end of the day, you can measure the impact you’re having to improve quality of life.
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?
Nussbaum: I think about the triad of civic engagement, trust, and social capital. How do you engender that kind of participation? The first factor is making sure that you have a mixed-use community where people can bump into their neighbours. The second factor is economic diversity. It looks like the city will now have inclusionary zoning as a tool to make sure that new developments include housing for low- and middle-income people.
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?
Nussbaum: There’s no question that all three levels of government play a role. The feds doubled the amount of funding for affordable housing, which is wonderful news. The provincial investments come from the perspective of concern about climate change, with funding for retrofits. I think it is important that cities keep control of the decision making, because we know the landscape and work most closely with social services.
How would you describe the dynamics around the Council table and on Councillors Row? What strategies do you use to achieve your goals?
Nussbaum: When I joined council, I realized I had been extremely naive. I entered the job thinking, based on my reading and study, that the evidence was clear on what makes a good city, so all you had to do was implement it. But it’s not that easy: politics is way more complicated. One thing that is important is not to personalize disagreement: you can disagree vehemently on an issue, but I try very hard to make it about the issue and not about people.
As city councillors, what are some ways you would like to see citizens becoming more involved, engaged, or informed?
Nussbaum: A couple of weeks ago, I went and door-knocked in a low-income part of my ward to try and create a community association. We only had eight people show up, and that was discouraging. On the other hand, when Janette Sadik-Khan, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, spoke at an event here recently, close to 1,500 people showed up, and I know that those people are fighting for the same types of issues that we are fighting for.
Predict the future! Based on the decisions being made by Council today, what will your ward look like in 20 years?
Nussbaum: I hope that in 20 years, we have a city core with a revitalized vibrant market where you would choose to spend the day, with a playground and a mix of retail, cultural, and art uses. I hope that we will have a new public library in the core of our city that is a meeting place and hub for all residents. I hope that people will take the LRT to the library and be proud of it. I hope that people will be able to kayak down the river and enjoy a beer by the canal.
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.