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There’s a Better Choice

When thousands of women and men were walking in Ottawa to voice their dissent with the election of the Donald, I was attending a tiny protest at the Experimental Farm.  The purpose of which was resolutely local but was also about building a world which has more to it than the art of the ‘deal’.  It was about using the Central Experimental Farm for the replacement of the Civic hospital.  According to the NCC, there’s a better choice, Tunney’s Pasture.

In spite of its bucolic name, Tunney’s has been a government office campus for decades bringing in thousands of workers to and from the site each day.   It’s easy to understand why Tunney’s came up first.  There’s only one building that needs to come down and it’s on the new east/west rail line.  Plus the site has no significant historical or environmental concerns.

In contrast, it would be hard to find a more important historical or green site in Ottawa than the Central Experimental farm.  The fifty acres that will be chopped from the farm overlooks Dow’s Lake and provides the beautiful entranceway to the historic barns and gardens.  Much of Dow’s Lake iconic beauty comes from its charming, treed setting, with a General Hospital sized collection of buildings on the height of land above the lake and high rises sprouting all along Carling, the lake will look more like a puddle between buildings than a landscape.

2017 is the year we celebrate 150 years of the Canadian confederation, but it won’t be a good year for the capital.   Lansdowne Park is gone for a mall and condos; Mooney’s Bay gone for a reality T.V. show; Chaudiere Falls Islands gone for condos and stores; Lebreton Flats gone for another stadium, more condos and more shopping.  It’s as if the city’s public spaces all had a sign on them ‘for sale’ – cheap.  In spite of the relentless planning the city is constantly undergoing, it never translates into anything more, than more condos.

I have no idea whose behind this latest deal but you gotta love the way the folks behind it work the city.  Characterizing the farm takeover as the Sir Guy Carling site gives the illusion the hospital is simply replacing a recently demolished government building.  The reality is its about five acres out of the fifty, but giving it the  title Sir Guy Carling site makes it look like all that’s happening is transferring one urban site for another.

And then there’s that lovely word ‘compromise’.  Suddenly the Sir Guy Carling site is a compromise site because they’re not paving over soil used for agriculture experiments.  It’s just grass and trees and hedges, but since when was the compromise between two farm sites?   I thought it was Tunney’s or the farm? Apparently not.

A thousand pages from the NCC says Tunney’s is the better choice.  So what happened?  And who is in charge?  I thought the NCC was responsible for the character and look of the federal presence in Ottawa. Apparently not.

Do the doctors at the Civic prefer to move across the street and the view of Dow’s Lake versus going a few blocks north and the view of the Ottawa River?  Is there more money to be made at the Farm site?  And if so by whom?  I don’t know but I do know someone always makes a great deal of money on these public land transfers.  The other thing that is clear is the public is the loser.  Public spaces and especially public greenspaces distinguish all livable cities.

New York without central park is unimaginable. Chicago is graced by  Millennium Park and Ottawa will be poorer with another bite taken out of a local and national treasure.

Clive Doucet is a writer and former Ottawa City Councillor.  His last book about cities was ‘Urban Meltdown: Cities, Climate Change and Politics as Usual”


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Democracy presumes love

In the pictureless worlds that we can’t see millions of years beyond our own are there societies that endure built on chains?  Perhaps, but it is hard to imagine here on this little planet.   Our experience has been the opposite.  The larger and more pervasive the prisons and constraints the more vulnerable society becomes to simply coming apart like old stitching rotting around a baseball, as the Berlin Wall did.  Nor can democracy work in a society built on relentless exploitation and me first.  Democracy presumes healthy intent.  Democracy presumes that each person is important and that together we will find solutions to difficulties that serve all fairly.  Democracy presumes love.

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How the bum crack elected Donald Trump

In the new Orwellian world of fake news, trolls, bots and cracker barrel statements dressed up as political news it’s become impossible to decipher who stands for what.  Double think is standard fare. We have entered a world of magical thinking.

Trump’s election served one important purpose.   The American political process no longer functions under the old rules of cause and effect.  The two central issues for Americans were inequality of income (the 1 %) and despair with both the Democrat and the Republican desire to do anything differently.

The solution should have been simple enough.  There was a candidate, an Independent Senator from Vermont and whose life-long issue has been inequality of income and was not directly aligned with either party.  He spoke well, had credibility and millions of people and millions of dollars backing him.

So who was elected?  A billionaire called Trump who was aligned with the most extreme wing of one of the discredited parties who thought the solution was walls around the nation and less oppressive taxes for the rich.  How could that happen?  Doesn’t make sense, right?  The Senator from Vermont who incarnated the central issues of the electorate should have won in a cake walk, but Bernie Sanders didn’t even get to the starting gate.  How could that have happened?

Karl Marx, the philosopher, not Karl Marx the Communist would say ‘false consciousness’.  Since, no one has used that term since the end of the fall of the Berlin Wall, let’s give a definition: ‘It’s a way of thinking that prevents people from seeing the true nature of their social and economic situation’.

Let’s also assume in the era of “I am going to deal with ISIS” reported as political certainties that this general definition is way too vague.  Let’s reduce false consciousness to its Trump essentials, the bum crack.  The cult of authenticity i.e. the bum crack now rules the United States and maybe the world.

The bum crack is an easily understandable physical statement made by Michael Moore and others which proves the exposed bum doesn’t belong to any elite.  This cult of authenticity has replaced arguments for graduated income tax, electoral reform, health care etc. which Mr. Trump ignored as useful to discuss.   You may be poor.  You may have lost teeth because you can’t afford a dentist.  You may have no way of dealing with old age except having a massive coronary at sixty, but if you are authentic, you are a real force.

At the end of the day, the folks who run Walmart, drill for oil, build pipelines and cars, trade derivatives, stand for election etc. have to bend down before the cult of authenticity because you are the one who buys the cars, the crappy derivative mortgages, patronize Walmart and votes in politicians.  The one percent was desperate for a representative who didn’t look or most importantly sound like one of their own.

Wearing a 3,000 dollar suit and his hair done by a private dresser, either through natural affinity or clever manipulation Mr. Trump instinctively understood the power of the bum crack. His many supporters repeated over and over again: Their guy was authentic, a real guy.  Racism, misogyny, bailing on his own taxes, his desire to jail opponents and dismiss unfavorable election results were all a distant second to being the real McCoy i.e. authentic.

Good suit or not, Mr. Trump sounded like his bum crack was showing.

Hilary Clinton sounded like what she was – an upper class American woman with a life time of practicing grace under pressure.  It was difficult to imagine her even uttering the word bum crack and Mr. Trump sashayed into the White House trailing the magical thinking of ’heads I win, tails you lose’ under the banner of locker room talk and authenticity.  What he will actually do remains a mystery, perhaps even to himself but false consciousness doesn’t normally lead anywhere good.


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Seagull Route or Carling Ave? first published, Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 29th, 2014

Dear Sir,

The issue concerning the Western LRT extension is not elected versus un-elected officials.  Sometimes, there are disagreements between the two and this is healthy.  I want public servants giving and defending their best advice, not doing what they’re told.

The issue here is whether or not the western parkway is the right extension of the Centretown tunnel.  If Mr. Chiarelli had not been defeated by Mr. O’Brien in 2006, there would be no debate today, the Carling Ave line would be built as would the north/south line.

Mr. Chiarelli and I did not advocate for the western parkway because it serves too few people and is too distant from the city’s principal institutions, hospitals, airport, commercial centres to justify billions of public investment.   Byron Avenue makes even less sense as it is now pure parkland and its loss would result in immense community disruption.  Carling Avenue is a direct route to Kanata; is eight lanes wide along much of its length, is , underused and desperately in need of renovation and better public access for the communities and institutions which border it.

I’ve always found that the best test of public purpose is to ask the question – who benefits?

Who benefits the most from Carling Ave are the 300,000 people this line would serve and the pocket books of Ottawa taxpayers as surface rail is always cheaper.

Clive Doucet

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In the Kitchen Across the Generations

*first published in the Glebe Report, Nov. 2014

My father had seven brothers and two sisters.   He was one of the youngest and when he was born my grandmother said to my grandfather, “this one doesn’t go to barn, William.  He stays in the kitchen.”  And so from the youngest age, my father learned how to help his mother around the kitchen.  When his brothers were milking cows, he was learning how to kneed bread dough, peel potatoes and make soups, which in our village are called ‘frico’.  Frico is a fish or chicken soup which some people consider to be the national dish of Acadie; although those who like potato rappe would demur.

In a way, you could say that the decision of my grandmother to have one of her many sons helping her in the kitchen instead of milking cows in the morning changed my father’s whole life and maybe mine also.  Dad became a very proficient cook and it was a skill that he never lost.  When he joined the RCAF during the Second War, he took an interest in the food of the countries that he was passing through.  In England, he learned how to make traditional English pub dishes like steak and kidney pie – and drink British beer.  In Italy, he learned how to make pasta dishes and drink Italian wine.

When Dad first met my mother, her own mother wasn’t so keen on a French Canadian colonial boy marrying her only daughter.  The fact that he spoke several languages and was smart as a whip impressed her less than he knew his way around a stove.  When my parents married, my mother had never done much more than boil an egg and had to race to catch up to her new husband, and they became good cooks together.  Dad transferred his own mother’s insistence on help from her sixth son in the kitchen to his own family where my sisters and I soon learned to wash dishes, clean kitchen counters and peel potatoes.

I don’t think Jamie Oliver or Martha Stewart are going to sign me for their kitchens up any time soon, but I like to cook and can put a meal on the table if you show me the way to the garden.   And as I grow older, I seem to want to go back to my earliest memories of eating.  I make crepes for breakfast, soups for lunch and meat pies for the Christmas ‘reveillon’ using the same recipe my father used.  When grandchildren stay for an overnight visit, we often end up doing some cooking together in the kitchen, making the batter for crepes and squeezing oranges for juice.   In the morning, I flip the crepe for them, so that the crepe flies up into the air, just the way my mother used to do.

Felix is learning how to peel a potato and cut vegetables, even though he doesn’t like them much.  This summer Clea and Evangeline helped ‘Nana’ prepare some fruit for preserving as jam and compote.  It quite surprising how hard the little girls worked, but they both persisted until their tasks were finished.  They seemed to understand that this was about more than play.  It was about having tasty fruit in the winter time and they knew already how delicious this could be.

As you’ve probably guessed, I think it is a good thing that children learn to cook and learn about the connections that we all have to trees and the strange green, red, orange and purple things that sprout in the garden.   It is one thing read about making apple sauce.  It’s another to pick the apples yourself and turn them into sauce.  When I think back on the differences between my grandparents and parent’s generation and mine, one of the things that strikes me was how practically accomplished they were compared to people today.  People today have lots of internet and info savvy, but come a crisis I would choose to rely on the people who grew up close to the land and absorbed in their growing a host of useful life skills.

I was fortunate to grow up just on the edge of that time and what is now mostly a lost world – but not quite.  One of the first things, I did when we bought our house in the Glebe was plant our backyard parking lot with fruit trees.  It’s amazing how much you can learn and eat from your own back yard.  Even a small one.

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Saving CBC sans accents (speech given in Montreal)

En 1949, par referendum, la terre neuve a decide de s’attacher au Canada.  La vote etait 52 pour cent pour le Canada, 48 pour cent contre.

Dans les annes 50, j’etais un gamin a St. Jean, Terre neuve.  C’etait par l’intermediare de Radio Canada/CBC que j’ai apprivoise le loup Canadien.

C’est  sur les ondes de Radio Canada ou nous avons entendu les accents du Canada et apprivoise ce nouveau pays.  Chaque samedi soir, j’etais a Montreal, dans le forum regardant le grand Jean Belliveau et Maurice Richard, faisait leur magie sur la glace.  Comme tant d’autres petits, mon premier chandail etait tout naturellement celui de Canadien.

La soiree du hockey n’existe plus.  Nullepart au Canada peut un jeune gars ou une jeune fille simplement regarde CBC et voir son equippe preferre sans avoir a payer.  Maintenant il faut payer soixante-dix dollars par mois, – par mois  – a la Societe Rogers pour regarder l’hockey.  Je vous assure ca c’est trop pour millions des Canadiens.  Le hockey est maintenant completment donne au benefice du secteur prive.

La perte de Radio Canada au Canada francophone et Anglophone est impossible d’estimer.  Nous ne pouvons pas tout vivre a Montreal. Dans les petits villages du Canada, du Cheticamp au Cap Breton au Peace River en Alberta, Radio Canada/CBC rappelle notre existence en commun.   J’ai une cousine dans la Peace River.  Elle enseigne le francais a l’ecole locale.  Radio Canada est sa fenetre sur la nation et c’est la mienne.

Tout le monde connait le tour Eiffel comme phare de Paris et la France.  C’est un icon de ce pays.  Radio Canada/CBC est beaucoup plus important qu’un tour d’acier parceque Radio Canada est quelque chose de vivant – fait par nous, pour nous et est de nous.

Si on prepare un bucher pour le Tour Eiffel, j’imagine les Francais auront un mot a dire.

Ce gouvernement  prepare un bucher pour Radio Canada et le temps vient d’avoir notre mot a dire et cette mot est tres simple.   Non!

Il n’a aucune gouvernement qui a le droit de detruire Radio Canada.  Rappellons que 80 % des Canadiens appuie CBC/Radio Canada, et il n’y a pas une partie politique au Parliament avec plus de 24 per cent d’appui des Canadiens.   Avec le demantelement de CBC on voit quelquechose profondement anti-democrtique.

We often hear about the two solitudes – the divide between French and English.  There is no divide on Radio Canada/CBC we are united in demanding that the government respect our national broadcaster.

Louise Poirier de Gatineau et I are asking people across Canada to join the struggle by forming your own organizations of  Radio Canada j’y tiens/Cbc I Care and start saying  -No!



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We are born old and young at the same time.

We are born with great loves and great pains

that grow like an acorn grows into a tree

like god grows into the universe

I don’t think it ever occurs to grandsons that one day, they might also become grandfathers.  It certainly didn’t to me.  Grandfathers were like unicorns.  This immensely old and interesting creature that knew everyone and everything but were apart from the hurly burly of your young life or at least that’s the way I saw them.  had the good fortune to have two wonderful grandfathers and am now the grandfather to one grandson and three grand-daughters.  When I was bouncing around my grandfather’s farm on Cape Breton Island delighted at everything my grandfather and I did together from milking the cows to making the summer hay, it never occurred to me to think what it was like to have been on grandfather’s end of the day.  I was too busy discovering the world.

Now, when I take my grandchildren for an outing, be it something as simple as a hot chocolate on Bank Street or sledding at Brown’s Inlet, I think of my own grandparents and I know that they were having as much fun as we children were.  There is something timeless and joyful in the company of grandchildren that no other relationship can equal.  It is the very years which separate us that makes it strong.  Both the grandparent and the grandchild instinctively understand, it will not endure forever.  Time and age will separate us but in the meantime, it is as vivid and purposeful as the sun rising.

There is an old joke which goes, ‘if I had known how much fun grandchildren were, I would have begun with them and skipped the middle part’.  The problem, of course, is you can’t.  Being a parent has its own rewards, not the least of which will be grandchildren of your own one day, but parenting is also a fraught time.  As a young person, you’re desperately running to make your mark in the world and at the same time you have this tremendous responsibility for these young lives. Fatigue clouds many days and a desperate sense of never enough hours in each day is often one’s principal companion.

It’s different being a grandparent.  Very different.  You’re not the principal.  You’re just a supporting actor and like it or not, one’s principal responsibilities are gone.  My grandfather still had his farm but it had become more a hobby for him than a pressing reality.  He had a few cows, one mare, one colt, a few hens, a small garden, some hay fields.  He used to say ‘enough to keep me entertained’.

Farm chores had not been a delight for my father and his brothers because there were many of them and the work was always waiting.  The world had changed.  I can’t remember Grandfather ever being in a hurry to do anything.   Even rain at haying time wouldn’t bother him.  He’d just look up at the sky and say, “tomorrow will be fine.”  And it was.

I find myself in his boots today.  The world has changed.  I used to be running from sunrise to sunset from meeting to meeting and if I had time for anything it was carved out of the day with a pen knife.  No more.  If Felix, my grandson wants to spend some time being Spiderman.  We’re Spiderman and we find some crayons to draw Spiderman or walls to climb or books to read or films to watch. The simplest things are now coloured in a different light.

I’m sitting in a Bank Street cafe with Felix, Clea and Evangeline who are noisy and uncertain about what they should order.  In the end, they order lemonade and I order a coffee.  Clea would like to know if I believe in heaven?   I reply ‘of course, but there are many heavens’ and we talk about heavens for a while; and when I stop to think about it, my thoughts are mostly not about how terrible the world is, but how wonderful. -30-

Clive Doucet is a writer and former city councillor.  His last book was a novel called ‘Shooting The Bruce’

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Dear Readers,

As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted a blog essay recently.  Part of the reason is that I have been busy working on several projects that require substantial amounts of time.  A crime series about an archaeologist turned detective in Istanbul.

The other book is a meditation on the role of prayer in people’s lives.   These are waters that I’ve never sailed in before and they take considerable navigating.  The third project isn’t literary but also requires considerable focus.  I’m building a house overlooking the sea, a couple of kilometers from my grandfather’s old farm in the village of Grand Etang.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never could find a piece of land that was suitable.  I’ve found it now, bought the land and am busy drawing up the plans for the house.  We hope to build it this summer.  It’s not an easy thing building a house 1,800 kilometers away and it’s probably a foolish thing to do.   Jane Jacobs used to wear purple.  The house in Cape Breton is my purple.

What else?  I will post an occasional blog, but I will do my best to stay away from commenting on what Jim Kunstler calls the ‘flux’ of events.  It’s not that I’ve lost interest, rather the reverse, I care too much.  I find it painful to observe the primitivism the world is sinking into.  There’s virtually nothing the Canadian governments or my old haunt city government does that I can find inspiration from.   Cities are run by developers and client politicians.  (I don’t find Rob Ford amusing.  I find him immensely sad.)

The federal government is run by the oil industry and other corporate giants and the federal government is doing everything in its power to ensure that this will continue regardless of what political brand is elected by creating laws to suppress citizen capacity to vote and be informed.  At the same time, the government is rapidly reducing the capacity of the nation state to actually govern.  International ‘trade’ agreements like the Korean and China ones ensure that national laws cannot displace corporate freedoms to do business.  We’re now seeing corporations take governments to court for trying to protect forest habitats and winning.  Costa Rica must actually buy its rain forests at market value to ensure that corporations don’t clear cut it.  This will happen in Canada also if any government tries to ratchet back the Tar Sands crime against humanity.  (How else can you look at something that is three times the size of Ireland and is making such an impressive and singular contribution to global climate instability – which is jeopardizing the life of all human beings.)

As you can see from the foregoing, it’s probably a good idea that I don’t write about the ‘flux’ of events any longer.   For a long time, I had the good fortune to work quietly away on local sustainability issues as a city councillor.  To a certain extent, I found refuge there in promoting urban rail and street based development instead of mall and urban arterials, heritage forests and landscapes instead of McMansions and condos, but those days are gone.  Today, I find myself with everyone else waiting out the long winter while the wind roars, growing stronger and more unpredictable with each passing season.  My writing about the decline of society’s capacity to think about and act in response to the challenges that are facing us will not change this, so I will say good bye and content myself with the occasional cracker barrel twitter.

Thanks for your company.


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Air Quality, The Green Connections and Governance, Ottawa, 1997-2006

Carousel Talk at Club of Rome, Conference Ottawa, 20/09/2013

Before I begin a brief description of the air quality measures we took while I served on City Council, I should set the context for you. In November, 1997, I was a brand new Regional councillor, just elected. But before I had time to open my office at City Hall, eastern North America was struck by the largest weather disaster that the nation had ever seen. A six day ice storm closed down cities all across the north-east from Ontario all the way to Nova Scotia via Quebec, New Brunswick, New York State and Vermont.

The heart of the storm was the black triangle that went from Ottawa to Kingston and east to Montreal. Large sections of our city had no electrical power. Montreal came close to losing its ability to pump potable water and sewage and once that happens you have lines of refugees leaving the city because without water it’s no longer habitable. The army was mobilized and we moved into emergency response mode. Ultimately there was about 5 billion dollars in insurance claims which set a record for a climate event.

After the ice storm, the newly elected Regional Chair, Bob Chiarelli called a Smart City Summit and for two days our new council heard talks from some of the best urban thinkers in the world. They either came to Ottawa to speak themselves or were teleported in on a large screen to the council chamber. Out of that Smart City Summit came a new commitment to a greener more, sustainable city and a new understanding of the inter-connectedness of the environmental problem.

For example, poor air quality couldn’t be isolated into a bubble of its own. It was connected to just about everything else we did from how we governed ourselves to how we travelled and lived. Like most North American cities, we were 98 per cent dependent on internal and diesel combustion engines, both of which were highly polluting. We tackled this part of the problem by starting an aggressive transition to surface electric rail. The first part of the problem was to just convince people it could work. Many were not sure. So we started the cheapest way possible by converting an old freight line into a short 8 kilometre city diesel rail service with three leased trains to test if reintroducing surface rail would be acceptable to the public. It was.

The test line ridership exceeded expectations from the beginning. The O train which is what the three trains came to be called was followed by an international competition for the first arm of a city wide surface light rail system. The city’s procurement process won a national award and in 2006, a contract was signed to begin construction of a 28 kilometer North-South line from the distant suburbs to the city centre. It would have been the cheapest, longest surface rail project in North America.

The next step was getting an east west electric line underway to offer an alternative to the east-west busway and the expressway. We proposed to do this to the west along Carling Ave hooking into the North-South line at Preston and Carling.

What does all this have with air quality? Well, Ottawa is a white collar town, there is very little heavy industry. Most of the city’s pollution comes from the very ordinary needs of life, heating and cooling homes and driving our cars. The largest single polluter is the 417 expressway which goes through the centre of our city, not far from here. Just the north south electric line alone would have immediately reduced carbon emissions by 26,000 tons annually. It would also have continued to improve air quality because rail based growth creates a tighter settlement pattern than roads do. The city presently expands our road way system at more than a hundred kilometers each year. As a result, there are fewer people today occupying more geography and fewer people per capita using transit than in 1960.
A large part of the difficulty in creating a more sustainable city with cleaner air and cleaner water has been that few people really understand the inter-connectedness of the problems being dealt with at City Hall. The public did did not see surface electric rail as an air quality, environmental issue but this is what it was. They looked at it as a debate about rail versus buses or rail versus cars or surface rail versus a tunnel in the city centre.
You can’t do much about transportation or air quality or any other issue if you don’t have three things 1) research data which describes the problem; 2) publication of the data; 3) public discussion of the data such that a consensus for action can be built.
We tried to tackle this problem after the Smart City conference by opening up City Hall’s governance to the public. We moved towards a participatory budget modelled on Porto Alegre in Brazil. Here citizens have more time and the capacity to influence the city’s spending priorities as well as its reductions. (They preferred their taxes spent on human services versus more asphalt eg more day care, more transit, better health care.)

At the same time, we created 15 citizen advisory committee for everything from preservation of heritage buildings to air and water quality. The citizen committees principal cost were a city clerk to help them keep the minutes and convene the meetings. It paid off, we began to see lively debates at Council with much more attention paid to the nitty-gritty of running the city from the anticipated transition to light rail to air and water quality, and local food supply.

If there was a bottom of the barrel on environmental action air quality was it. Prior to 1995, there were two air quality monitors in the entire city. To put this in perspective, Oxford, U.K. has 300 and in 1995 as part of the cutbacks in the federal and provincial governments terminated the Queen Street air quality monitor. This was a significant loss as it was the only monitor we had that captured traffic emissions in a congested part of the city at rush hours. Both of these monitors were full sized permanent type ones with a broad range of pollutants measured including PM 2.5 and PM10, NO2.

Then we got lucky, sometimes lightening does strike in a good way, the satellite air quality project was funded by National Research Council to promote standardization of the data from the on the NASA AURA satellite. This resulted in an unprecedented increase in air quality observations from July 1 2007 to July 1 2008. The remote sensing mapping from the AURA satelitte was done by a firm in Kanata. They were able to refine the 10 km maps possible from raw data to approximately 1 km resolution. The city had never had data like this before, suddenly city managers were able to start building an air quality map of the city upon which new policies can be based as the Region of Halton is doing today.

At the same time the city also acquired two “portable” monitors thanks to donations from the federal governments and to the City’s Public Health Department. This included the loan of the very sophisticated air quality van owned by Environment Canada and the calibration of the ground monitors by Environment Canada labs. (Accurate calibration is a complex technical achievement and absolutely necessary for any successful air quality monitoring.)

The city’s part in this was providing an air quality, manager who with help from a couple her colleagues won a well deserved award of excellence from the city. Her special skills were in networking and getting advice and significant support from DOT, MOE and the City of Gatineau without which the project would have been a bust. This position was declared redundant in 2013 and air quality priority has been downgraded.

She was not alone. The 15 advisory committees have been disbanded and the sustainability focus that had begun in Ottawa after the Smart Growth Summit has collapsed back into business as usual. The new mayor elected in 2006 cancelled the city’s north-south light rail line and all the old road projects were back on the table. Widening of the city’s east-west expressway is now underway as is the most expensive drive way in North America – 57 million dollars for a kilometer long access from Riverside Drive to a big box mall.
Air quality reports were cancelled because they considered to be dangerous to the economic health of the city and the citizen advisory committee has been disbanded. For example, what would happen to high rise land values if you found out that an intensely developed downtown corner had the dirtiest air in the city? Or that a primary school was being located at the dirtiest suburban location possible? What you don’t know, can’t hurt you, right?

A critical air quality report by the consultant firm Senes has never been made public- only a summary was presented to Committee. It’s equally difficult for the public to understand the environmental and health consequences of the loss of the north south LRT, because the public was never presented with comparison data for environmental trade-off between the 4 kilometer tunnel and the new north south light rail system.

We live in a complex world. The costs and the pain of the 500 premature deaths from poor quality in Ottawa are largely invisible and not assumed by the city, but by the provincial health system. The costs of the ice storm were largely born by the private insurance system, not city tax payers. The costs of cancelling the light rail program were never evident because the benefits never had a chance to be felt. Figuring out what the city’s priorities should be require citizens to make connections and understand the consequences of city action and inaction across a broad range of activities.

I don’t see much hope for change in the immediate future. After 2006, the city snapped back to business as usual and the developer driven model that has been in place since 1950 and it’s still there.

There’s very little glory and not much attention, but there should be. Over half the world’s population now lives in cities. Over eighty percent of this country does and over sixty percent in only 10 cities. Somehow we need to find the public energy to focus on the connections that can move all cities towards one that can survive until the end of this century and one that won’t.
I am confident that one day people will start to see the connections between air and water quality, transportation and urban geography. We will abandon this old developer driven model and begin addressing the very real problems that face us with new solutions and new approaches.  Right now, our civic job has been reduced to keeping sustainable options in front of people. This is an essential task for without an idea of how this city and every other city can function to provide better air quality, better water quality and economies of scale, not diseconomies, there is no hope.
I would like to thank the organizers of this conference for helping us to give people hope by keeping alive the ideas necessary for creating cities and societies that will endure.

Clive Doucet

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Some words in defense of Pauline Marois

I did not like the comments of Jason Kenny denigrating the Marois’s charter of values as Monty Pythoneque.  They were spurious and destructive.  Does he not have any memory?  Does he not recall the recent ‘honour killings’ of four women in Kingston?  Does he not remember that in court the murderers constantly referred to their values and traditions?  Can he not recall that his government is spending billions of public money on security to protect Canadians against people who are of the opinion the only legitimate law is a religious one?  Does he not remember Boston?

You can’t legislate values and Premier Marois is not going about it the way I would, but at least she’s honestly and directly trying to address the problem, not pretending it doesn’t exist or that the only response possible is more police, more punitive legislation and more prisons.  Perhaps if Mr. Kenny’s government was more interested in new Canadians understanding and supporting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms instead of swearing allegiance to the Queen, Madame Marois would be less anxious about protecting the hard one rights of democracy and secular society.

Many of our newest Canadians come from countries awash in blood from religious and sectarian conflicts.  One of the reasons that they are here is this country is not.  This is an accomplishment that is worth protecting for in many countries men and women are not equal before the law.  The state is not separate from religion and democracy has never been practiced, but this isn’t our country.  In Canada, men and women are equal.  The state is not a theocracy and we consider it a right to meet the face of our accusers face to face in court.

We have the laws that make this clear.  We need no new laws.  We need no charter of values.  We have them now.  They are written in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in New York at the United Nations which Canadians helped found and to compose the first universal laws protecting all human rights and freedoms, but we do need governments with the courage of their convictions to support them.  Where can we find that government?  That’s the most discouraging thing for I see it nowhere in the gang bang comments from our fearless leaders in the media.

Clive Doucet

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