Open Letter to Jim Watson: Follow-up to Ecology Ottawa's Environmental Debate
It was a pleasant surprise, at last week's environmental debate, to hear you commit to bringing in a site alteration by-law -- a Council promise unfulfilled since 2003. People concerned about protecting the remaining natural spaces in this city (such as woodlots and wetlands) should consider this the best news in this municipal election campaign so far. I know you keep your promises so this one is in the bank.
I cannot emphasize enough that only a "strong" by-law will do the job -- one that includes provisions about the removal of vegetation such as we find in the by-laws of London, Oakville, Hamilton and other Ontario cities.
You upped the ante by declaring that you also will lobby the Province for stronger fines so as to deter unscrupulous landowners from doing their dastardly things. It is not clear to me why the City needs permission from the Province to impose significant penalties but you undoubtedly know better, having served as a Minister of the Crown.
I was less pleased with, but not surprised by your response to my plea for a more meaningful role of Advisory Committees. Jim, while recognizing certain innovations aimed at greater transparency, under your watch the quality of democracy has taken a severe beating in this town. You have achieved so much harmony and peace around the Council table that, for the first time in a decade, for this election campaign civic groups could not conduct a review of individual Councillors' performance based on their voting record as nearly all votes have been unanimous; no democracy without open debate, Jim.
In 2011 you did away with synopsis Minutes of Standing Committee meetings, making it impossible to research how decisions were arrived at unless one has a lot of time on one's hands to sit through hours and hours of videos.
In 2012 you threw the hard work of dozens of civic-minded volunteers serving on the Advisory Committees in the waste basket, replacing it -- I'll speak only for environmental matters -- with a nearly meaningless Environmental Sustainability committee that meets four times a year and has been losing members faster than it has been able to find someone willing to chair it.
Jim, the Advisory Committees (at least the two that I am familiar with, the Forest and Greenspace and the Environmental ACs) were never given a chance to work properly -- given virtually no resources, bureaucratized, with little commitment by Councillors and almost no influence on Council decisions. Under the new structure, even if you would now allow them to meet monthly instead of quarterly, these basic flaws are not remedied. Yet advisory committees can and should be an essential element of the City's public consultation practices.
A site alteration by-law and the role of advisory committees are the subject of two of four propositions we put to you and all candidates running for a Council seat. We would very much appreciate receiving your response to them so that the record is clear for all to see.
Sincerely, and much obliged,
Co-chair, Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital