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Today’s letters: The many lessons of Ottawa’s LRT fiasco

Saturday, Dec. 3: Readers want to know how we’ll avoid a repeat of light-rail blunders. Plus, more on the Emergencies Act. Letters@ottawacitizen.com

Publishing date:

Dec 03, 2022  •  20 hours ago  •  10 minute read

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A Confederation Line train rolls along the line. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia Will LRT inquiry final mean council lifts ‘cone of silence’?

Re: LRT inquiry report finds fault with Kanellakos, Watson, Manconi conduct, Nov. 30.

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During the last term of Ottawa council, then-mayor Jim Watson and 23 councillors were asked three times by me in surveys: “Do you agree that citizens are entitled to free, easy, timely and direct online access to City of Ottawa records?” Watson did not respond to any of the surveys, nor did 17 of the 23 councillors.

As the LRT inquiry report confirms, evidence was hidden from citizens under layers of bafflegab, deception and a “cone of silence” by Watson, senior officials and some councillors. We have now heard new Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and many councillors pledge support for transparency and accountability, but that is nothing new, and so far worth nothing.

As a case in point and serious cause for concern, the present mayor and councillors were either asleep at the switch or were in favour of provincial Bill 23, doing little to protest a developer-driven scheme to shift massive amounts of money from taxpayers to land speculators and the development industry.

Perhaps the sharp, pointed criticisms arising from the LRT inquiry will ensure that current politicians and staff immediately reject the “cone of silence” tactic and provide citizens free, easy, timely and direct online access to public records in order to properly hold both politicians and officials fully accountable, beginning right now.

Barry Wellar, Nepean

Stop sniping from the sidelines

Allan Hubley remains on city council. Former councillor Diane Deans says he should resign over the report of the LRT inquiry.

Former city manager Steve Kanellakos resigned two days before the report came out. Deans calls his departure “cowardly.”

So, one should stay and one should go? You can’t have it both ways, Ms. Deans. Perhaps if you had kept your hat in the ring for the mayor’s job, you would have been able to campaign on doing things with more transparency. Instead, you withdrew, did not offer to run again in your ward, and once the report was released, issued demands and condemnations from the sidelines.

Todd Campbell, Ottawa

LRT: the case against mayoral power

If ever there was an argument against Ontario’s “strong mayors” legislation, this is it.  The mayor, with the help of city staff, abused his power. If nothing had gone wrong, we would never have known. We deserve to be protected against undemocratic manoeuvres. Since Mayor John Tory is seen as one of the drivers behind this act, watch out, Toronto.

Cathy Haley, Ottawa

How did council miss the signs?

During the construction and commissioning of Ottawa’s first light-rail project, I was provided excellent information by the media, mainly the Ottawa Citizen. I did not attend any briefings, so I did not learn anything from body lanquage. Neverthless, I had a sense from an early stage that something was seriously wrong.

My question is: How did the (then) 23 councillors, who must have attended briefings with the key players at the city and the contractors, have failed to pick up enough vibes to look after my interests?

John Hollins, Gloucester

Whom do we hold accountable?

I think most Ottawa taxpayers are glad the LRT inquiry happened. These issues needed to come out in a public way. I’d also like to thank Judge Hourigan, who did a tremendous job sifting through all the information and exposing the wrongdoing.

So now, one key player goes into retirement,  one quits two days before the final report and the third goes into hiding.
We can’t ask these three people to explain themselves, and now we are supposed to move on and trust those who take their place — until it happens again.

D.J. Phillips, Gloucester

Councillors must speak up on Bill 23

Re: Ontario passes housing bill it says is needed to build 1.5 million homes in 10 years, Nov. 28; and Buckles: Maybe newly minted Ottawa councillors should go on strike, Nov. 28.

Premier Doug Ford’s plan (Bill 23) to expand urban boundaries into green spaces will haunt us for decades to come. It is a monument to developer influence.

As Daniel Buckles writes, the only way to stop it is for a massive mobilization of mayors, city and town councillors, unions, lawyers organizations, conservation groups, farmers and conservatives themselves.

Silence on this will mean consent.

Bessa Whitmore, Ottawa

‘Get it done’ on fixing health care

What happened to Premier Doug Ford’s “get it done” campaign promise? His focus is on highways around the Toronto area; giving Toronto and Ottawa mayors powers that circumvent democratic processes; and a shiny new IT tool to track medical procedure wait-times.

But we don’t need a tracker to see how serious the situation is, and highways and superpowers aren’t going to do much to address our health system crisis. Laughingly, Ford has asked family doctors to work harder.

If you have a family doctor to start with and you actually get to see them, it is clear that they are fraying at the seams. And the support of online pediatric clinics has been reduced  in the midst of an unprecedented wave of respiratory illnesses. Someone should tell Ford that emergency rooms are crumbling and that parents have nowhere to turn for pediatric advice.

Maybe one thing that he could do is to stop short-changing health care. Instead of court fights over Bill 124, he should repeal it and start showing respect to all of the overworked  health-care workers. Then he could acknowledge that there is a problem and get bureaucrats and Health Minister Sylvia Jones to actually listen to the medical practitioners, instead of defending the status quo.

I would love to see him apply as much fervour to this crisis as he did for his “buck a beer” promise. Doug, you can get it done!

Marie-Lyne Fréchette, Orléans

Kudos to the young who wear masks

Parents who do not want their children forced to mask up because they don’t like wearing them are not being fair to their children, to others or to themselves by not ensuring their protection as much as possible. They are also teaching their children that it is OK to be selfish and inconsiderate of others.

No one likes to wear a mask but most understand the importance of doing so when required and are willing to make the sacrifice to reduce the risks. Mandates would not be necessary if common sense prevailed but that seems to have become a thing of the past. Instead, the tendency to ignore the greater good and fulfil one’s self-satisfaction is becoming more and more established.

Kudos to the younger people who are making the decision on their own to wear masks without it being mandated.  There is hope for the future generation.

Denise Polson, Metcalfe

Ticket surcharge can’t be justified

I was recently given an $80 speed-camera fine, but the payment required was $106.84. Can anybody explain what the added “applicable victim fine surcharge and costs” plus “handling fees” are that increase the fine about 30 per cent? Who is this victim and how are such charges justifiable? All of those fined are, in fact, the real victims.

Douglas Harris, Navan

Inquiry findings won’t stop Trudeau

Re: Emergencies Act commissioner says he has the evidence he needs, Nov. 25.

The inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act has been followed closely by Canadians. However, one key aspect of the inquiry has not been mentioned: the consequences of a negative ruling.

If the commissioner rules that there were insufficient grounds to invoke the Emergencies Act, the prime minister will experience the same fate he suffered for violating the Conflict of Interest Act: nothing. At most, Justin Trudeau will “respectfully” disagree with the findings, and in an impassioned voice, he will tell us that he will always do what he feels is necessary for Canada (lawful or otherwise).

A minister may be thrown under the bus, Canadians will shrug, and Trudeau’s place above the law will be further solidified.

David Langner, Ottawa

How else could Trudeau have acted?

I have paid attention to much of the evidence presented at the commission hearings about the trucker convoy protest but nowhere have I seen or heard any opponent to the use of the Emergencies Act indicate how the  problems should have been resolved.

It appears to me that the police were arguing among themselves (shades of Nero fiddling while Rome burned) and Prime Minister Trudeau got tired of watching the provinces (mostly Ontario) do nothing  — so the federal government ended the problem.

To add insult to injury, Premier Doug Ford refuses to tell us why the province, beyond declaring an emergency of its own, did nothing. Were we supposed to wait and hope the provinces came up with a workable plan to end the problem?

One look at some of the participants in the convoy would tell the average person that trouble lay ahead. The rest of the industrialized world must be laughing at us because we took so long to end what was obviously an out-of-control mob protest and are holding a hearing to decide whether the federal government should have acted.

Where is common sense ?

William Church, Stittsville

Trudeau hypocritical about protests

Re: Trudeau expresses support for Chinese protesters as Beijing holds firm on strict COVID strategy, Nov. 29.

It is unbelievable that our prime minister has come out and stated his support for the protesters in China. These people are protesting COVID rules set out by their government. Here, the trucker convoy was protesting COVID rules set out by Trudeau’s government, and rather than listen to them he utilized the Emergencies Act.

Stan Painter, Kanata

Indo-Pacific plan neglects Arctic

Re: New Indo-Pacific strategy seen putting Canada in ‘lockstep’ with U.S. on China, Nov. 28.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement to increase our trade footprint within the Indo-Pacific area was shrewd in helping counter China’s growing regional influence amid the globalization of commercial trade. However, his inclusion of an increased military presence in the area is wrong.

Ninety per cent of global trade is by sea, including 60 per cent of China’s trade, and all maritime trading nations have a self-interest in reducing shipping costs. Global warming is opening Canada’s northern sea routes to all sea-borne trading, yet we woefully lack the on-ground presence and capability to control these future sea lanes, protect our northern natural resources, monitor environmental threats, or respond to shipping mishaps.

Our government must acknowledge the national significance of our Arctic, its rapidly approaching challenges, our vulnerability to an uncontrolled foreign presence on our northern shores, and our absolute lack of a meaningful military capability to defend our northern sovereignty. In lieu of an increased military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, we must redirect those limited naval resources to our Arctic and visibly show our determination to control and manage our Arctic region.

Concurrently and without delay the government must develop a viable strategy to occupy, fund and defend our Arctic against foreign incursions that undermine our national security and independence. To do otherwise is tantamount to wilful government neglect.

Al Jones, Almonte

Selective focus on Cuba is unfair

Re: Nahon-Serfaty: Canada should end its tolerant stance toward Cuba’s dictatorship, Nov. 28.

Cuba’s response to protests in July 2021 was indeed heavy-handed. However, it is interesting that the author focuses on the human rights situation in Cuba while neglecting that of several other countries in the past two to three years — such as Colombia under President Iván Duque, Chile under President Sebastián Piñera, Bolivia under President Jeanine Áñez, Honduras under President Jian Orlando Hernández.  Human rights abuses there, and indeed in our NAFTA partner Mexico (where 12 journalists have been murdered this year) were far worse.

The Canadian position on Cuba is actually quite balanced: critical of human rights abuses, but mindful of U.S. designs on Cuba.

Unfortunately, the author skates around these. He fails to mention the hundreds of assassination attempts on former president Fidel Castro organized by Washington. Or the fact that the U.S. maintains the “Trading with the Enemy” act in its dealings with Cuba.

The Trump administration’s policies were particularly cruel, including banning Americans’ right to travel freely to Cuba, stopping cruise traffic, ending remittance money channels to the island, stopping flights to all cities apart from Havana, and placing Cuba on the list of countries that allegedly support terrorism (making international financial transactions extremely difficult).

And the 60-year old U.S. embargo continues, inflicting massive suffering on the Cuban people. Significantly the international community does understand this — and just a few weeks ago at the UN General Assembly 185 countries condemned the embargo, with just two (the U.S. and Israel) voting against.

Perhaps the author could imagine how Cuba’s human rights record could improve if the U.S. dropped its decades-long history of seeking regime change, maintaining the embargo and supporting opposition groups. Then he could evaluate in a more balanced fashion the human rights situation there.

John Kirk, Professor Emeritus of Latin American Studies, Dalhousie University

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