Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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Voting "no" on the Salvation Army shelter

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Last night, Planning Committee voted 6-3 in favour of approving the re-located Salvation Army men’s shelter to 333 Montreal road. It was a three-day debate, with something like 140 speakers coming out, the vast majority to express their opposition. I was one of three dissenting voices, with Councillors Brockington and Nussbaum also voting no.

At the heart of my dissent were four fundamental objections: the shelter would be an over-intensification of a lot that cuts deep into the residential zone abutting it; the proposed development runs counter to our stated Official Plan principles of how we want to build traditional mainstreets; too little heed was paid to how the development could contribute positively to the evolution of Vanier in a big-picture way; and, by approving it, we have failed to capitalize on an opportunity to move toward a more sustainable way to address homelessness and housing.

It would take several pages to delve deep into each of these. However, this was one of the most important issues with which this Council has grappled. I think it’s important to at least provide that basic overview of why I voted as I did.

I was vacillating in the weeks prior to this vote, and want to thank particularly Drew Dobson who helped me re-conceptualize the debate from a media-friendly discussion of a “mega-shelter” with the more nuanced “institutional-sized” shelter. Michael Polowin’s forceful admonishment to look beyond the Planning Act to the socio-economic big picture was critical. The Vanier Community Association's plea to abide by the spirit and letter of the Provincial Policy Statement helped me understand the interconnectedness of this application to how we plan our city. Presentations by Tim Aubry, Wabano Centre and the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre helped crystalize for me how voting yes to this application would be a step backward for residents in our city who are in crisis.

The discussion was complex. At times, I enjoyed the opportunity to debate with and learn from legal experts such as Ursula Melinz, Michael Polowin and City Solicitor Rick O’Connor in high level discussion. I do not always agree with them, but I have tremendous respect for them. At times, the delegations were entertaining, passionate and funny, such as the Vanier resident with her guitar who made the best use of “plan secondaire” in a song that I’ve heard this year. And, many times the delegations were heartbreaking in their pleas for help for their beloved Vanier. It was hard to watch friends and advocates be overcome with tears.

I closed my comments last night by saying there was much in the debate that reminded me of how we felt in Hintonburg 20 years ago, when we were dealing with the challenges associated with street prostitution and heroin/crack in our neighbourhood.

At the outset of those challenges, I remember the prevalent feeling in the community that we had been abandoned. We struggled to find allies and meaningful help. We felt – we knew – that our voices didn’t count. And, personally, I remember the challenge of trying to find the language to express that we were advocating for our community without advocating against the most vulnerable people in our society. That language was slow to come, but it did. With persistence, we built capacity in our community at the grassroots level to build an even better Hintonburg. My hope for Vanier is that they continue to do the same.

I would be remiss not to note the undercurrent throughout the debate that the Salvation Army failed to engage the community. Even among those councillors voting to approve the development, there was strong remonstrance at how the process unfolded. We know in Kitchissippi that difficult conversations like these take generosity, patience and open-mindedness. We can build welcoming, diverse communities, addressing head-on people’s perceptions and fears and hopes. But that takes much longer than we had in this abbreviated process, and it never plays out well in the glare of the media spotlight where conflict trumps collaboration.

This proposal will go to Council next week. Aside from the engagement and attention from Planning Committee members, many councillors were also in attendance for much of the three-day debate. Councillors Fleury and McKenney were full participants in our debate as advocates both for residents of Vanier and for the men in crisis at the heart of the application. Councillors Deans, Egli, Taylor, and Moffatt were regular attendees, and Councillors Darouze and Wilkinson made efforts to be present, too.

Under Mayor Watson, the substantive work of Council is usually done at the committee level, and it is to those committees that councillors will usually defer. If Council approves the development, this is almost certainly heading to the Ontario Municipal Board. I am confident that Vanier’s residents and businesses are in excellent legal hands.

That OMB hearing, if it takes place, will be fascinating. Last night, the majority of Planning Committee chose to accept the placing of very narrow parameters on their decision-making. That’s not how we will build a more equitable city, a more prosperous city, or a more sustainable city. As intellectually compelling as that hearing will be, though, none of us can or will forget that we need to do better for those in housing crisis, and for the communities in a position to help.

Posted November 18, 2017