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All In Hand

More City Hall Short-sightedness

Miss Vicky Wed Jul 11, 2007

I got up this morning full of energy.... because I was so annoyed at Ottawa Morning's interview with a Sandy Hill inn owner. She was talking about her intent to march to City Hall to protest increasing drug activity in that neighbourhood. Her position: there are too many social services located downtown, the city's crack pipe and needle exchange programs only encourage people to use drugs, they should put more efforts into treatment - but not locate those treatment centres downtown, of course. She came across as intolerant and ignorant, and it really got under Miss Vicky's skin.

Don't get me wrong - I know all too well the havoc that open drug use can wreak upon a community. But moving social services away from the people who use them is not the answer. Neither is pushing people out of one neighbourhood into another. This is why the city's public health department has been working hard on developing an integrated drug strategy, based a "four pillar" approach to addictions: prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. The idea is to fund better ways to ensure the city's approach to drug use finds the right balance between these. It recognizes that none of these pillars can succeed without the other three.

Harm reduction, which aims to address the negative effects that drug use and addiction have on users, family and the community at large, is probably the most misunderstood of the four pillars. Needle exchanges, the crack pipe program and safer injection sites all fall into this category. These programs are not intended to replace treatment.... but in fact, they can often help users find their way to treatment, by bringing them together with health professionals, and by keeping them healthier.

We can't ignore the fact that Ottawa has an alarmingly high rate of HIV and Hepatitis C infection among Intravenous Drug users - at 21%, it is 9 times greater than Toronto’s infection rate.

9 times.

And now our council has decided to take the easy way out on a hot-button issue, choosing knee-jerk ignorance over the recommendations of health care professionals. Early research by the University of Ottawa shows that "after one year, many crack users had started to use the program and the frequency of sharing implements to smoke crack had declined. As well, many users changed from injecting drugs to smoking crack - a less risky way to use drugs. These findings suggest the urgent utility of replicating this initiative." .

The urgent utility of replicating this initiative. Not cancelling it.

Now, Ottawa's police force has always been against the program. Former chief Vince Bevan butted heads with former Medical Officer of Health Robert Cushman over it, and now we see new Chief Vernon White on opposite sides from Dr. David Salisbury. I have heard members of the police service denigrate and undermine the program at community meetings, with casual comments and a nudge-nudge "just between you and me" tone. According to the study, the police have been actively undermining the program by confiscating clean glass stems. So effectively they have been promoting dangerous practices, like pipe sharing. Nice.

Meanwhile, Ottawa continues to suffer from a disturbing lack of available treatment facilities. So even if addicts were ready and willing to get clean, there is nowhere for them to go. Except jail, I guess, and that place hardly has a good record for encouraging recovery. We have no supportive housing for people coming out of treatment and needing a drug-free place to live and an atmosphere that encourages and supports sobriety.

A simple program like the crack pipe initiative can have a big impact for a small amount of money. A big impact, that is, for a vulnerable and marginalized population. And big impact for our health care system as well by reducing HepC and HIV infection rates. But understanding this requires long term thinking, and maybe a bit of compassion.

Apparently this council lacks both.

(guess which way our councillor voted!)

My council presentation

Miss Vicky Tue Jul 10, 2007

For what it's worth, here's what I said to councillors yesterday:

I was watching a bit of the broadcast this morning, and Councillor Harder wondered why speakers seemed to feel so threatened.

Frankly, I wonder why the councillor is so surprised - the public and the city’s advisory committees were not involved in the development of these strategic directions, and in fact the meetings were only grudgingly made public after an embarrassing outcry. In contrast, many groups and individuals were deeply involved in the development of Ottawa 20/20; it represents a broad consensus and now it seems like it and all of its ancillary plans are being tossed aside in favour of a set of strategic directions that seem thrown together without any regard to the city’s vision, principles and priorities.

That may not be your intention. But these strategic directions are vague and not overtly linked to the 20/20 Plan. In my opinion, efficient managing of the city must consider at all times how decisions and initiatives meet the objectives set out in the 20/20 document, the official plan and the related plans. Short-term planning only works if outcomes are a step toward the long-term vision. I am not convinced that these directions accomplish this.

As a parent of a child still waiting for a full-fee space in a child care facility, as a user of the city’s recreational facilities, as a resident of Hintonburg, a community that face many challenges and needs the city’s cooperation to deal with them, as a person committed to environmental sustainability, and as a citizen who believes in open, transparent and inclusive governance, I’m not finding a lot in these directions to inspire confidence.

Take the Solid Waste and Environment Section. You say we are going to “Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20% by 2012". This is not exactly setting the bar high - I dried my laundry on the clothesline this week, so I guess we’ve met the target of “up to 20%”. Personally, I’d rather see you set some timelines and targets for implementing the existing Air Quality and Climate Change management plan.

You say we are going to reduce residential dependence on landfills by 30% - you should be able to achieve this by going ahead with the green box program you are already planning. What we really need to do is help small businesses and the IC&I sector reduce, reuse and recycle. Why not work with the restaurant sector to help them recycle and compost their organics? That would certainly put a dent in our landfill usage.

Finally, you say you want to meet the intent of the LEED standard - in what sense? Public buildings, private development? Gold, silver, platinum? How about a break on development fees for builders who actually certify, or penalties for those who don’t? As the 20/20 document states, “Development charges can be used as an instrument to implement Council policy.” If council is truly committed to sustainable development, it should begin looking at ways it can encourage this.

Turning to the “Sustainable Healthy and Active City”, I am encouraged by some of what I read there, at least in its intent. If this city truly wants to work toward uploading social services, then you can count on my support in your lobbying campaign. But I’m curious about what the fallback plan is, in the event that this does not happen in your 3-year timeline. I understand the financial position the province’s mandate puts us in - but I am not prepared to compromise the services that people in Ottawa rely on. To that end, I support recommendations for modest tax increases, to meet the increasing costs of providing services and the need to expand them.

And I would like to see more specifics in this section - exactly how does this council propose end homelessness? Because our record on creating affordable housing is less than stellar.

I share the disappointment of many that have spoken here today about the absence of references to arts, heritage and culture in this document. As a resident of Hintonburg, a vibrant and growing arts district, I am anxious to know how we are going to “build creative capacity” and “achieve opportunities for artists”, as 20/20 states.

Moving on to the governance and service delivery sections, I want to point out that much of this flies in the face of the open, transparent and collaborative process that 20/20 calls for. I do not consider myself a “client” of city services. I am a citizen, one who wants to be informed, engaged and involved in Ottawa decision making and policy development. I am not convinced that a democratic city and a “client service culture” are compatible. The city provides important public services - citizens want value for money, they want quality services, but they also want responsive and accountable governance. A culture that privileges the bottom line (and that is what I read into the service delivery section) threatens to compromise the quality of service. If your intent is to adopt a "triple bottom line" and ensure that public services remain public, then the directions should say so.

Most of your speakers this morning were representing City Advisory Committees. Here we have an excellent example of the city’s problems with public engagement and transparency. The city advisory committees are creatures of the city, and should be integrated into strategic planning. They should not have to scramble for space during public delegations. Advisory committees are tremendously underutilized and underresourced. This city needs more than on-line surveys to engage the public. If councillors have a problem with advisory committees, then start using them more effectively, as a tool to reach out to the public at large.

The 20/20 document states that "Municipal processes need to be creatively improved in order to assist in the participation of businesses, developers, other stakeholders and the wider community in the implementation of Ottawa 20/20. Collaborative processes can build trust and confidence between the City and its community partners." What I saw today reflected a tremendous lack of trust, and spoke volumes of the need for change in public engagement strategies and tactics.

I know I don’t have a lot of time. So I will simply say that we should return to 20/20 and establish strategic directions that are geared toward achieving these long-term plans. Let's not reinvent the wheel when there is a perfectly good set of four waiting to be put to use? So much effort was put into developing the 20/20 vision. All we need now is the political will to implement it.

Thank you .


"Feedback we want to hear"

Miss Vicky Mon Jul 9, 2007

Gordie and I trotted down to City Hall this afternoon to give our two cents on the council's "strategic directions" document. I had been watching some of the proceedings on Rogers in the morning and was quite shocked at the manner which Councillor Harder, as Deputy Mayor, was running the meeting. Speakers were interrupted and berated if they strayed (what she considered to be) "off topic". She complained that she just couldn't understand why some of the speakers representing citizens' advisory committees and community groups felt so threatened.

By the time we got down there - about 1:30 for my 2:50 presentation - she was even more punchy. Pretty much any presentation that brought up the issue of potential privatization of services was guaranteed to be interrupted. She even chided one presenter for being "rude".

Memo to council: if you don't want public input to be repetitive or your days to be long, then maybe you should consider holding hearings over several days, and asking questions that might yield the kind of input you're interested in hearing. Or even better, involving the public in policy development in the first place. Seventeen days of discussions at a golf couse with no public input does not inspire confidence. And the corporatespeak in the "consultation document" leads one to assume the worst about council's intentions - hence the sense of feeling threatened.

As for my presentation, I didn't quite get through it in my 5 minutes. Fair enough. I'll send it by email. But after I was cut off, Councillor Harder responded to my call for strategic planning that references 20/20 by dismissing and misunderstanding what I was trying to say. I don't blame her. She and the Mayor were chattering away during that part of my presentation.

The only question I got was from Councillor Legendre, who suggested that I let Gordie have the mic ( I was trying to keep him away from it during my presentation). I said I would have, but I was afraid of the feedback it would cause. Harder quipped "Now that's the kind of feedback we're looking for".

Excuse me? Static feedback is preferable than the contribution of engaged citizens? You may not like what you hear but you were elected to hear it. And there is more to public consultation than a marathon session of 5 minute presentations during which councillors are chatting, moving in and out of the room , and so on. It's about engaging citizens and stakeholders in a dialogue (that's a two way conversation, for you councillors that may not be familiar with the notion), about sincerely seeking input and listening hard to the feedback you get. What people had to say today may not have any nicer to listen to than the screech of a 9 month old grabbing the microphone and using it as a soother, but it your job to listen. So find a better way of structuring public discussions in a way that provides positive constructive input, or sit back and take what you deserve. Because you only get the respect you give, and I wasn't feeling a lot of respect in that room today.

Bluesfest thus far

Miss Vicky Sat Jul 7, 2007

Dylan fans were a bit more considerate than the folks at the Van Morrison concert. There was still a lot of chattering, but nowhere near the din we had to endure the first night of Bluesfest. Dylan was, well, pretty much what I expected. More rockin' than troubadour-ish, and completely incomprehensible. I enjoyed it immensely.

I really like the new setup.... not just because it's an easy bike ride or stroll from the 'Burg. The two main stages face each other, so it's an easy transition from one show to the next. We like to set up somewhere between the two (Miss Vicky is not a fan of crowds) - we can hear it all, see the screens if we feel we need to, and have the food and beer tents close at hand.

The River Stage, where we saw Radio Birdman on Thursday night and Femi Kouti last night, is wonderful - a great view of the river and plenty of space for dancing (which we did for both shows). They still have some of the garish and slightly terrifying mardi gras-ish decorations hiding over there, but not as much as previous years.

Radio Birdman got me all nostalgic for my campus radio days.... sigh. Femi Kouti's frenetic funk was a great way to end off Friday night.

Gordie came with us last night. He had a great time - started dancing as soon as we put him down on the blanket and didn't stop until he passed out in his stroller during the Femi Kouti concert. He seemed to really get into Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (or was that the Webgeek? I'm guessing we'll be hitting the CD tent today). Gordie has this way of dancing while sitting that is somewhere between Yogic Flying and the Funky Chicken. It's especially fun looking while he's sporting the bright orange earplugs (we weren't the only parents worried about the decibel levels - another baby passed by wearing huge earmuff-style headphones).

My only real complaint is the price of food. Predictable, I know, but ouch! Fortunately there is a lot of choice - from the Caribbean stand (mmmmm.... roti) to the Roses, and the Smokehouse over by the River Stage (try the Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce on your sausage or pulled pork sandwich). Oh, and I can't seem to find the beer nut stand, of which I have grown very fond over the years.

We're off today to see Manu Chao and Spearhead and ukelele virtuoso James Hill. Maybe we'll see you there!

Memo to Bluesfest Patrons

Miss Vicky Wed Jul 4, 2007

Shut the *&@% up!

The people around you do not need to know that your department is now called "community life" or that you can't believe you saw so-and-so in the crowd. We don't need to know about your adventures in the beer line. Your fellow concert-goers have paid good money to hear the performer; no matter how far back in the venue space they are, they do not need to be treated to your explanation of why the sound is not quite synched up with the image on the screen. We all understand the principles of physics, thank you very much, and we're there to hear the PERFORMER!

Oh, and when the performer declines an encore after you've spent the entire concert chatting? You hardly need to go on and on about how rude it is.

Van was great, by the way. What we were able to hear, that is.

Opportunities in the 'hood

Miss Vicky Tue Jul 3, 2007

The discussion about possible locations for Bridgehead and Liss's suggestion of the Sherbrooke Grocery led me to investigate other properties and businesses for sale in the area. There are a few surprises - and some interesting opportunities. If one had the funds, of course.

A little-known fact about the Webgeek is that he has a long-held fantasy about opening a pub. Something along the lines of the Manx or Chez Lucien - good food, casual atmosphere, great beer list. With the Chefgeek at the helm of the kitchen, of course. Not that we have the bucks for such a venture, but everyone needs a dream, right?

So he frequently points out good places when we're on our strolls through the 'hood. And the ever-practical Miss Vicky points out that he'd have to win the lottery to make it happen (Miss Vicky is such an optimist).

The property search has yielded the ideal spot for the Webgeek's pub dream - The Elmdale Tavern is for sale. Now, that's a place that needs a lot of work, and needs to be revamped in a way that honours its heritage, maintains the funky 50s facade yet renders the space more approachable and friendly. But what a location!

Now where's that lottery ticket...

There are a few other interesting spaces - a vacant lot that would make a great community garden, the building that houses Habesha, and the former butcher shop that is now apartments on Sherbrooke. And the bingo hall, of course, that's for sale for a cool 2.3 million.

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