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Lots to commend in proposed new City Hall rules

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With each new term of Council, the rules for how City Hall operates gets tweaked. After a conversation with new and returning councillors, senior staff and the Mayor, those tweaks get brought forward as a package of proposed changes in an omnibus report called the Governance Report. On Wednesday, that report was tabled at Council, and we’ll debate it at our meeting next Wednesday.

It’s a mammoth document and can be a bit tough to wade through without some context. You can find the report in French and English below, and the associated annexes through the link above, but I wanted to take a moment to boil it down into something more digestible. Below, for your consideration, are the proposed changes to City Hall rules I like, and the non-change about which I’m concerned. This isn’t a full list of all the changes, but I’ve done my best to capture the ones that are most significant, and that represent a significant departure (or in some cases not) from past practices.

In no particular order:

Committee structure changes that I support

  1. The Community and Protective Services Committee will be split into two: a Community Services Committee, and an Emergency Preparedness and Protective Services Committee (EPPSC). The former will continue to deal with parks and rec, cultural programming, long-term care and social services. The functions of by-law, paramedics and fire would fall under the new EPPSC.
  2. The Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management will get a new name: the Environment and Climate Change Committee.
  3. Since the role of Deputy Mayor will revert to a rotation (see below), the Finance and Economic Development Committee will no longer have reserved seats for those in that role. Rather, those will be replaced with members-at-large.
  4. The Information Technology Sub-committee will be dissolved and its work will be subsumed into FEDCO. I believe that one of the IT committee’s important innovations that then-Councillor Sudds and I introduced was a standing in camera meeting on each agenda to receive an IT security briefing. My urging will be that FEDCO continue that at least twice a year, if not each quarter.
  5. The Planning Committee will be re-named the Planning and Housing Committee. It will be given carriage of the capital funding of social and affordable housing programs, the long-range financial plan for housing, and receive reports from the Ottawa Community Lands Development corporation (see below). The co-chair model is not proposed to continue.
  6. Membership of the Transit Commission will revert to include only elected officials. This will be controversial, but I expect that it will have strong majority support. In the recent history of resident membership, we’ve had one super-star who brought a high level of diligence, courage and work ethic to the work of the Commission. But generally the carriage of resident concerns about transit has fallen naturally where it belongs: to elected officials accountable to their residents, and who have time and resources to devote to the task. A new resident advisory group will be formed. I would like to see a semi- or fully-official role for the Ottawa Transit Riders group in the mix - perhaps with a guaranteed seat on the new advisory body. They have generally advanced residents’ interest in transit far more effectively than most appointed resident Commission members. There is a proposal that Council would direct that the advisory body include at least one Para Transpo user - that should be enshrined more strongly as a motion from Council.

Other changes I support

  1. Something I think will be lost in the headlines this week deserves high-level attention: the Ottawa Community Lands Development Corporation will be re-focused on exploiting City landholdings to build affordable housing. I sat on OCLDC for a term, and was frustrated that while affordable housing was ostensibly a priority, the reality was that the main consideration for OCLDC was to sell City lands for the highest price as a budget backstop. I’m cautiously optimistic that may change now. Groups like the Ottawa Community Land Trust should take notice.
  2. The proposal has been made to make Deputy Mayor a rotating position again. Deputy Mayor should not be a role to build alliances. We need a deputy mayor to fulfil some key administrative functions when the Mayor isn’t around. That should be the extent of the role.
  3. The proposal has been made that committees will generally meet in the Council chamber. I wholeheartedly agree. Councillors don’t sit on every committee, but I know I and others made it a practice to attend virtually every FEDCO meeting, and I was a frequent attendee to other committees as well. In Council chambers, there’s a comfortable seat, simultaneous translation and proper audio equipment.
  4. Moving forward, Councillors will have to file a financial disclosure with the Integrity Commissioner. I welcome this, and if that is working properly it will give our Integrity Commissioner an opportunity to be proactive in her work.
  5. There will be a one-year cooling off period for senior staff, councillors and councillors’ staffs before they can lobby the City.
  6. Councillor voting records will be published to Open Ottawa - our open data portal.
  7. When a councillor retains the services of a consultant, those vendors will have to disclose any prior or ongoing lobbying activities, any current employment relationships, and any real or potential conflicts of interest.
  8. The Governance Report also suggests that memoranda issued to Council by senior staff would also be posted to (although with a delay - uploads would only be every two weeks).

Changes about which I’m concerned

1. It is proposed that Council’s procedure by-law be “clarified” to make it clear the Mayor can only move a motion if they leave the chair, except with the will of Council. While I recognize that Council is always free to run its meetings as it chooses subject to statutory constraints and the will of Council, we should not be explicitly contemplating motions by the Mayor at Council when the Mayor is also acting as chair. When the chair of a meeting is also the mover of a motion, the potential for at least the perception of unfair procedural rulings is always present. That may be the most “Ottawa” thing I’ve ever written.

Continued budget “cap”

1. One of the key proposals in the Governance Report with which I am concerned isn’t a change at all. When Council prepares to move a budget forward, it provides “budget directions” - a target tax rate that will largely govern the increases provided to any given department. City staff will work with that cap adding and removing to the budget for items that are “pressures”. My concern is that in past, Council has treated the target tax rate as a hard cap on the budget. In an extremely challenging financial environment, and with unknown impacts arising from the provincial planning downloads, I encourage my colleagues to consider the budget flexibly. We may have to make hard choices to keep the budget to a level we consider affordable for residents, but that decision shouldn’t be based on an arbitrary tax cap.


I know councillors and civil society are poring over this document, which is large and pretty unwieldy. I'll continue to hear from residents and colleagues about surprises that they've found and absences they consider should be addressed. Feel free to drop me a line if you think there's something I've missed. The details in this report matter. Governance matters. Our attention may be on LRT today, but getting governance right and addressing the culture at City Hall are fundamental building-blocks to the issues raised by Justice Hourigan.

Posted December 1, 2022