I’m not sure what it is about the search for Ottawa’s new police chief that gets me in the mood for a little Jacques Brel, but who am I to doubt the muse? I’m singing L’étoile inaccessible in honor of a people impossible to govern.
I’m serious. The fact that we can’t seem to decide what we want in a police chief is another indication that a city trying to represent urban, suburban and rural voters is not working and cannot work. It only leads to mediocre compromises that don’t make anyone happy.
As you may remember, our previous boss had to leave after last winter’s trucker occupation. Based on the community consultation exercise we just did, we have impossible standards for who should replace him.
In a survey, Ottawa residents were asked if they thought the next boss should be “an agent of change,” a “capable manager,” or “an experienced person dealing with complex problems,” among other qualities. “Respondents were almost unanimous in weighing all attributes as important,” explained the Citizen, adding that the report prepared from the query suggests that the person we are looking for does not actually exist.
Do you know what this suggests to me? Dismalgamation, that is.
In Ottawa, we are champions of the soft medium. We want public transportation that works, but without having to pay for it, so we chose a public-private partnership monster that results in trains that can’t run unless the weather is perfect. We want a big stadium, but not where it makes sense, so we keep it in the dump. We want an active transportation infrastructure, but only as long as it doesn’t slow down traffic. We want world-class services and lower taxes. Again and again we go. We’re constantly giving up on one key thing or another, because we’re constantly trying to make very different types of people happy.
It can not be done. We keep trying to square the circle and end up with an unrecognizable shape that serves no useful purpose.
In the same way that you can’t find a change agent that has a lot of experience within the current system, you can’t get a light rail that is reliable when you spend as little as possible while handing over critical parts of the project to large private companies. companies that do not need to worry about the public good.
We are everlasting but unsuccessful Goldilocks, searching for that happy middle ground between cheap car-centric suburban living and vibrant urban art, not to mention what rural residents of the outlying areas seek but don’t get from City Hall. . We never hit the sweet spot and are stuck in oppressive suburbs, an embarrassing lack of public services in the inner city, and grumpy farmers everywhere.
As Ariel Troster, who is running for Catherine McKenney’s downtown council seat, wrote in Citizen last week, there are no outdoor public pools in downtown Ottawa where you can swim deeper than your knees. We also don’t have public toilets or library branches with long opening hours or, a sore point, trains that can actually run in the open air.
We don’t have those services downtown because they would cost money, and if there’s one thing Ottawa residents from outside the core hate, it’s spending their dollars on urban utilities. They’d rather make everyone else spend hundreds of millions of dollars widening suburban highways that do precisely nothing to relieve congestion. None of which make people happy, especially rural people who have no transit and no roads that are not embarrassing.
Municipalities work well when they respond to the needs of their residents. Here, because we have too many different constituencies with very different interests all trying to get their way, we never get anything quite right, not even the criteria we want in a police chief.
Governing a city properly should not be a impossible dream. It’s time to seriously think about separation.
brigitte pellerin is a writer from Ottawa.