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Ottawa City Council needs a leader now

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Someone wiser than I once observed that if people don’t perceive themselves as having a leader — they don’t.
Ottawa City Council needs a leader now

Korky Koroluk

Someone wiser than I once observed that if people don’t perceive themselves as having a leader — they don’t.

It’s an observation that comes to mind, time after time, while watching Ottawa City Council at work, a council that often seems to be flailing about blindly looking for a leader.

It should be easy being a councillor at a time when federal infrastructure money is flowing freely (or appearing to). After the recent federal budget there seem to be good-sized chunks of cash available to repair the mouldering infrastructures of many cities. It might work out that way for some, but for Ottawa, it’s not at all certain. It may not be for other cities, either. Think Toronto.

The problem is that the federal money will be contingent upon matching funds. So it will likely mean one third each from the feds, the province and the city. So, say the feds chip in, $100 million for city of Ottawa. The province will do the same, we’re told. And that leaves the city to cough up $100 million.

Big problem. The city hasn’t got $100 million lying around waiting to be spent. And without that city money, it would seem that the provincial and federal shares won’t be available.

City councils in our nation’s capital have played budgetary games for years, bleeding money out of reserves to balance budgets and avoid municipal tax increases, then calling it leadership. It reached the point where our councillors were including money in the budget that they merely hoped to get from senior governments. That meant they were finally reduced, last year, to using provincial infrastructure funding to pay for snow removal. The province let it be known, quietly, that it was not happy.

After being elected on a promise of no tax increases during his four-year term, Mayor Larry O’Brien had to watch as municipal taxes went up by 4.9 per cent this year. Now, some people are asking, is council faced with raising taxes again to get the money needed to match federal and provincial shares of infrastructure spending?

Then there is a proposal from a local group to redevelop Lansdowne Park, in central Ottawa. The group has been granted a provisional franchise in the Canadian Football League, contingent upon having a stadium to play in. Right now, they haven’t. The lower south-side stands of the old stadium had to be demolished after severe cracking showed up in the concrete.

So a new stadium is in order and the group is asking that the city build it. They would then rent it for their football team. And the money to build the stadium would come from . . . where?

Eugene Melnyk, owner of the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators, wants a Major League Soccer franchise for the city. He also wants to build soccer stadium on land near Scotiabank Place, where his hockey team plays.

But the land he wants to build on is owned by the city. What the city would want for it is anyone’s guess; so is the amount Melnyk would be willing to pay.

Still in the wings, of course, is the light-rail transit system approved a few months ago. It is dependent upon construction of a tunnel under the downtown core, and the planning for that is proceeding apace. In fact, it seems like a done deal. But, then, so did the previous plan for a light rail system.

Ottawans have just endured a crippling transit strike that many feel was mis-handled by the city, so there already is grumbling about lack of leadership. And now council is facing these other tests.

By the time it all plays out, we who live in Ottawa should know whether there are any leaders at City Hall or not.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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