In five years covering the goings-on of the city of Ottawa I thought I had gained an acceptable grasp of how things get done, how problems are solved, how issues are tackled. I was wrong. There is so much that goes on that isn’t always big enough to warrant news coverage. It happens outside of council chambers and within the offices of staff both on councillors’ row and in the confines of the City bureaucracy.
Now, as an assistant to Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor I’m getting the chance to see the way work is done day to day to keep the City running. More importantly, I get to help make change happen instead of just writing about it. Sometimes, though, I will write about it here.
Staring down the tunnel of a four-year term of council is daunting. There are so many things that your office sets out to get done. You have your ward to consider, the things people have asked you to fix, the things the community needs to thrive.
Then, you have the demands of those priorities set out by all the residents of Ottawa. You have to decide what role your office can play in supporting those priorities.
On top of all of that there are the other 22 ward Council members to consider. Each of them is facing the same challenge to balance ward issues, city-wide issues and knowing they’ve got to work for a piece of the pie.
With the budget being tabled next Wednesday this is at the forefront for all staff on councillors’ row, elected and otherwise.
There is a seemingly endless supply of problems to solve in a government that handles everything from parks and roads to sexual health clinics and inspecting tattoo parlours.
Some of the issues are divisive: where to put the western LRT, how to tackle violent crime and the city’s gang problem, whether to make exceptions to zoning plans for development.
But at the same time many of the priorities bring people closer together: planning for celebrations in 2017, cleaning up the Ottawa River, fixing roads and infrastructure.
One issue that brought nearly every Councillor together in one room this week was that of supporting the city’s most vulnerable.
While not every Councillor agrees on how best to house the homeless, they do agree chronic homelessness has to be eliminated in this city.
They also agree that investing in our children is essential – especially when they are among those in our city who might not have access to healthy food, after school learning or recreation programs.
In a city with thousands of seniors and a growing immigrant population no one on Council denies the need for better inclusion and care for the elderly and the isolated.
Where there is a unanimous conclusion? The City alone cannot accomplish all of these things.
That is why Council members are striving to work in partnership with agencies like the Ottawa Mission, the Youth Services Bureau and the United Way.
It was really encouraging to see so many Councillors in one room and so evidently on the same page at an information session hosted Wednesday by Deputy Mayor Taylor and the United Way.
For the past two years Taylor has served as the City liaison to the United Way, sitting on their Board of Directors. In 2013 he co-chaired the City’s internal fundraising campaign for them. The partnership and alignment are important and never was that more clear than this week.
The session welcomed groups from across Ottawa working to achieve the goals that all Councillors are working toward.
The session was certainly a refresher course for some returning members, especially for former campaign chair Mayor Jim Watson and the 2013-14 United Way campaign co-chair Mathieu Fleury. It was clear, though, that the session was eye opening for many in attendance, including myself, because the way charities work is changing.
Overwhelmingly the discussion focused on a need to change the delivery model for services. It was designed decades ago and needs an overhaul. Desperately.
What exactly that would require is still up for discussion. That said, some of the key points that came out of this session include:
- Focusing on core issues and finding ways to direct work that is already being done to solving those issues.
- Streamlining services and eliminating overlap. With more than 1,800 charities operating within the city of Ottawa there may be room to amalgamate and better provide services.
- Finding out what is working and building upon it while removing practices that are no longer effective
- Bringing in private partners and philanthropists on a more cooperative level and not just as donors
If the City can find a way to work with the charitable sector and support their efforts it will be possible to ensure people are getting the help that they need through organizations that are better equipped to provide that help.
It could reduce some of the strain on the already tight purse of the municipal government.
In a City that is growing and changing everyday, making sure we collectively are watching out for each other, the most vulnerable among us especially, is a community responsibility.
It’s a steep climb and it likely will not ever end, but there are good people charting this path. Now, more than ever, there is value for all of us in them working together.