Citizen representatives get boot from transit commission

Unelected residents will no longer be part of Ottawa’s transit commission but rather sit on an advisory committee, one of a slew of changes council voted on Wednesday on how the city governs itself over the next four years.

Council voted 18-6 against a motion by Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Sean Devine and Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Jessica Bradley that would have kept citizen representatives on board for two years and deferred reworking the commission until the middle of the term.

Changing things up now, Devine argued in his motion, would mean there was no “formal citizen representation on transit matters” until at least next June.

“It does feel like we are crafting this replacement body on the fly, which I do not believe is respectful to the citizens who are most concerned,” he said.

Coun. Devine calls removal of citizen representatives from transit commission a ‘hasty decision’

Coun. Sean Devine said the removal of citizen representatives from Ottawa’s transit commission will “absolutely be seen as a hasty decision,” at a time when rebuilding community trust should be top of mind for council.

The commission, which is charged with overseeing OC Transpo, had eight council members last term and four citizen representatives.

One of those citizen representatives, Sarah Wright-Gilbert, was a vocal critic of the way the transit network — and the floundering Confederation Line in particular — was operating.

During the LRT inquiry, private chats revealed that former mayor Jim Watson wanted her removed from the commission and former OC Transpo head John Manconi believed she was “destroying us with misinformation.”

Another citizen commissioner, Michael Olsen, came under fire for suggesting strange smells at the Parliament LRT station in late 2019 may have been “a gender equity thing” as it was “a scientific fact that women have more developed senses of smell than men do.”

A list of names with how they voted on a motion.
Ottawa city council voted 18-6 against a motion to postpone a decision to exclude unelected citizens from the transit commission until the middle of the current council term. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Several councilors argued that they themselves were best suited to respond to transit complaints, not unelected residents — and that they’re also the best people to be held accountable when transit fails.

City solicitor Rick O’Connor also told the council the original goal of citizen commissioners was to make use of their technical expertise with operating a transit system, but those types of voices never came forward.

Hybrid meetings, salary reviews and more

The citizen commissioner motion was just one of many looked at during Wednesday’s big city governance review.

Motions and recommendations that were carried included:

  • Forging a light rail sub-committee to provide oversight on non-operational matters of the Confederation and Trillium lines.
  • Ensuring the future transit advisory committee has an OC Transpo union member and a Para Transpo rider, and includes at least 50 percent women and gender non-binary members.
  • Finalizing the names of the seven council members who will recommend who ends up on city committees.
  • Renaming the finance and economic development committee the finance and corporate services committee.
  • Requiring that committee’s chair gives updates on the number of housing units approved and building permits issued, so residents can see how well Ottawa is meeting the goals set in the controversial Bill 23.
  • Raising the built heritage sub-committee to full committee status.
  • Continuing to allow people to take part electronically in council, committee and sub-committee meetings.
  • Recommending that the police board increase its honorarium for a non-councillor chair from $12,000 to $54,000 to account for the job’s workload.
  • Hiring an independent third party to review councilors’ salaries, their office budgets and pay scales for their staff.

Councilors also debated a motion from Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stéphanie Plante to set a firm 5 pm end time for their meetings.

“If we’re going to encourage people with young families to run for office, we should try to model some kind of work-life balance,” argued Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster.

Others suggested that it might send the wrong message to residents, including West Carleton-March Coun. Clarke Kelly, who’s juggling being a first-term councilor with raising a three-month-old daughter.

“I don’t want to stop at five if we’re not done this,” he said, pointing at the council agenda. “I want to finish it — and then go home.”

In the end, Plante’s motion was deferred until the mid-term governance review two years from now. Wednesday’s council meeting ended at 5:07 pm

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