Meehan: City’s Leadership Goes Off the Rails

By Ward 22 Councillor Carol Anne Meehan

The September 22nd City Council meeting was one for the sad record books.   Mayor Jim Watson, knowing full well city councillors wanted to discuss a serious LRT derailment, the second in six weeks, shut down an attempt to hold an emergency transit debate.  

Sixteen councillors voted to suspend the rules and talk about our disastrous transit system, along with ways to improve transparency but the Mayor instructed his team to vote down the motion.  He got his way.

 I don’t want to speculate, but whatever his motive, he was wrong.  The residents of Ottawa want to see leadership on the transit mess.  They have been patient for more than two years, enduring the headaches and delays caused by a litany of mechanical problems.  While the trains are being examined and repaired, riders must endure weeks of R1 service with packed buses; during a pandemic.  

As a councillor, I am outraged and worried, and you should be too.  

This is how a good leader would have acted at the first Council meeting after the second derailment. 

A good leader would have opened the meeting with an apology to the city, acknowledging the inconvenience, the seriousness of the derailment, and the worry everyone is feeling about the safety of our expensive mega rail project.   A good leader would have assured us that city staff are working hard to mitigate the problems for those who rely on transit, then informed everyone he will be meeting with representatives of all companies involved, RTG, RTM and Alstrom.  He would have laid out a plan to find the fix, or at the very least promise, he wouldn’t stop until taxpayers could be assured the 2.3 billion dollars spent on Stage One LRT was not wasted.   

Then he would have invited his council colleagues to ask questions.  

Only after that, when the most serious situation this city has faced was aired, would he have held the ceremonial farewell for Ottawa’s transit boss John Manconi.  

Instead, we dealt with an agenda that didn’t even include transit!    

Mayor Watson’s pettiness in shutting down a much-needed discussion on the crisis surrounding our transit system was a truly embarrassing moment.  

We have, however, ensured there will be extensive debate at the next council meeting.  I seconded a notice of motion by Councillor McKenny for a judicial inquiry on the LRT process to date; Councillor Deans introduced a notice of motion to find ways to cancel the maintenance contract with RTM.  

Later in the day, Mayor Watson was asked why he stifled a clear desire from most councillors to discuss transit. His answer fell flat.

Mayor Watson does nothing to foster unity and co-operation on council.  But I believe that’s what he wants.  As the saying goes, divide and conquer. He wants to make all the decisions, be the person in power.  

That’s too bad for Ottawa. It’s time for new leadership in the Mayor’s office and around the council table.