Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Plenty of change at the council table

The change starts at the top after Ottawa's 2010 election results, beginning first and foremost with Jim Watson putting up a decisive victory in the mayoral race.

But beyond the mayor's chair, the results showed a strong desire for change around the council table: Ten new councillors, including six who defeated incumbents to take the reins in their ward. The list includes plenty of different faces: Mark Taylor (Bay Ward, defeated incumbent Alex Cullen), Keith Egli (Knoxdale-Merivale), Tim Tierney (Beacon Hill-Cyrville, defeated incumbent Michel Bellemare), Mathieu Fleury (Rideau-Vanier, defeated incumbent Georges B├ędard), Peter Clark (Rideau-Rockcliffe), Katherine Hobbs (Kitchissippi, defeated incumbent Christine Leadman), David Chernushenko (Capital Ward), Stephen Blais (Cumberland, defeated incumbent Rob Jellett), Scott Moffatt (Rideau-Goulbourn, defeated incumbent Glenn Brooks), and Allan Hubley (Kanata South). So there will be plenty of new voices and opinions on council.

But what might these changes mean for public transit in Ottawa?

In terms of the new mayor, Watson's support of the current light-rail plan means that there won't likely be a major change to the current project. Once the plan is ready to go to tender, he is planning on having Infrastructure Ontario manage the procurement, and an independent board manage the actual project, but that's mostly to do with the process; neither will likely change the plan significantly.

One potentially significant change Watson has suggested is the re-establishment of a transit commission to manage the day-to-day operations of OC Transpo. It's arguable how much of a change this will mean for typical users of the system, but time will tell.

Financially, Watson has also pledged to ensure property taxes will not increase by more than 2.5 per cent per year, which may affect public transit--especially considering the possibility that, as pundits are suggesting, that a good number of the new faces on council are fiscal conservatives who would likely be interested in supporting minimal to negligible tax increases. Most years, route and service cuts to OC Transpo are seen as ways to reduce what is the largest line in the budget, and there's little reason to think this year's budgetary processes would be any different. Doing so may not necessarily be a bad thing--it could, if done right, streamline the service--but taking too much out of the OC Transpo municipal subsidy would certainly hurt the service offered.

The new councillors take on their new responsibilities in early December, with the budgetary process beginning shortly thereafter. It should be an interesting ride.

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