Editorial: This time, the city of Ottawa’s choice will be huge

Just when a voter might prefer more experienced representatives, Ottawa faces a “change” election. At least a third of the next city council will be new kids on the block.

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Of course, the death of summer is not the best time to be forced to focus on city politics, but hey, here we all are. Incumbent city councilors are dropping off the fall election slate in groups; the prime minister is preparing to upend the mayor’s job; and for the first time since 2010, the guy wearing the office chain won’t be on the local ballot.

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Meanwhile, the files that change the city gather on the horizon. This week’s light rail troubles are a painful reminder of why a provincial commission is scrutinizing the entire project. Ottawa has been without a permanent police chief for nearly six months. Wellington Street, still closed, remains without a plan. A new wave of COVID outbreaks, to silenced messages from local health authorities. Paramedics are in crisis, despite years of discussion about how to ease the local ambulance shortage. It is unknown how many federal public servants will return to downtown workplaces, leaving the downtown area empty.

More decisions on the Lansdowne loom. The Council will have to decide how inflation translates into its next property tax bill. The affordable housing crisis has not gone away. And policy decisions will be made even more difficult by the resignations of experienced bureaucrats, with chief planner Steve Willis the last to go.

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In other words, just when a voter might prefer more experienced representatives, Ottawa faces a “change” election. At least a third of the city’s elected representatives will be new kids on the block.

Why are the headlines melting? First, the generational change: veteran representatives like Jan Harder, Eli El-Chantiry and Mayor Jim Watson have boxed their rounds and are ready to move on. Second, some unsavory chemistry emerged during the council’s most recent term. Right and left factions developed; toughened positions on key elements. Working remotely made it difficult to have the personal conversations that often lead to commitments. “This term took the lives of many of us,” El-Chantiry told the Citizen’s Jon Willing.

More broadly, politicians at all levels of government have been the target of more and more insults, and even threats, from misfits on social media. Who needs this?

Will a full range of other talented Ottawanians be brought in to replace the dwindling starters? Will there be a healthy slate of diverse, qualified, and consensus-oriented candidates vying to renew City Council?

And will you, the voters of Ottawa, pay attention to them and then cast a thoughtful vote in October? Because this municipal election is shaping up to be the most important in a decade.

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