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 Leiper 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?
Catherine McKenney: The linear park that runs along the Trillium Line is not a formal park yet, but we should make it one. If it’s made a park, we can install things like benches, and gardens that would attract bees and butterflies.
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?
McKenney: I didn’t leave my job and come to do this job because I thought everything was working fine. I often lamented that we were losing women on city council and that we didn’t have enough strong, progressive women. Then one day, I was looking in the mirror, and there was what I thought was a strong, progressive woman, so I thought, why not?
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?
McKenney: I sit on both the Public Health and Transportation committees, because I think that evidence-based public health needs to inform our decisions. It’s not about what we prefer, it’s about what’s right for everyone and what will keep us healthy. Something like snow clearing means the ability for older adults to leave their homes in the winter.
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?
McKenney: Whenever they say, “it’s not about the money,” you know it’s about the money. To build affordable housing that works costs money. At the provincial level, we need funding for supportive housing. It’s not enough to take people out of shelters and place them in apartments when they also need support for things like mental illness or addictions. If you do it properly, people will stay housed and prosper.
How would you describe the dynamics around the Council table and on Councillors Row? As urban councillors? As a woman? As first-term councillors? What strategies do you use to achieve your goals?
McKenney: When we first arrived on the job, there were five of us representing the downtown core, who started to work together. The mayor called me into his office the day after the election and was concerned that I had penned this “urban caucus” idea, so I knew I was onto something. But you don’t want to make an “us vs. them” situation. I was surprised by some of the other alliances that were made: they’re not always ideological, sometimes the divisions are more “north vs. south” than “left vs. right”.
A photo posted by Councillor Catherine McKenney (@cmckenney14) on
As city councillors, what are some ways you would like to see citizens becoming more involved, engaged, or informed?
McKenney: The more people we have running for election– even against us!– the better the conversation.
Predict the future! Based on the decisions being made by Council today, what will your ward look like in 20 years?
McKenney: I hope that we are able to move around this ward in any way that we want: that we have beautiful wide sidewalks, tree canopies, that we are able to cycle across the city. I hope that we have made the investments so that our kids are well housed, that they live in communities where people interact and know each other. Most of all, I think back to 1984, when we had the only federal all-candidate’s debate on women’s issues. They were debating violence against women, pay equity, and childcare. This year, we were debating those same things. In 20 years, I hope those issues aren’t top of mind.
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.