Somerset Ward councillor hit the ground running

The Somerset ward councillor hit the ground running at her first meeting, successfully pushing for some sober second thought on a recommendation that, if approved, would have cut the number of committee meetings each year. McKenney, who succeeded veteran councillor Diane Holmes, will have a full plate this term. She’s been named vice-chair of the transportation committee and will also sit on the environment and built heritage committees, as well as the boards of Ottawa community housing, public health and the library.

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Attempt to build an arena at LeBreton Flats

You don’t have to be a diehard Senators fan to realize how exciting, how convenient and how utterly reasonable it would be for our NHL arena to be downtown.

So it’s no surprise then that news the Senators are considering an attempt to build an arena at LeBreton Flats has been met with everything from squeals of delight to relieved sighs that imply, “It’s about time.”

As Foreign Minister John Baird told the Citizen earlier this week, “I’ve travelled quite a bit and I’ve never seen a major sports arena in the middle of nowhere.” A potential move to LeBreton Flats would put the arena smack dab on the city’s currently under-construction LRT. Mayor Jim Watson even suggested that the location of the Pimisi station, to be built at LeBreton, could be tweaked to the best advantage of a new NHL arena that could be built there.

Although Watson was careful to point out that the final decision rests with the National Capital Commission, the mayor, like so many others, is already in the favour of the plan.

That’s understandable. But we’re also getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

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Councillors debated Governance Review Report

An amazing thing happened Wednesday at this term’s first city council meeting. Councillors discussed, debated and disagreed on the specifics of a 289-page governance review for more than two-and-a-half hours.

And yet the sky didn’t fall, there was no sign of dysfunction, and council seemed actually more productive than ever. There were even a few compromise motions passed, with a welcome absence of grandstanding. Could this be the dawn of a new era around the council horseshoe?

It’s the earliest of days yet, but the tone at council is already different than four years ago. More than half the newbies — councillors Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper, Tobi Nussbaum, Riley Brockington and Jean Cloutier — appeared well-versed in the contents of the governance tome and brought intelligent questions and well-considered improvements.

They didn’t showboat, but they weren’t afraid to disagree with Mayor Jim Watson’s stated preferences, either. It all seemed very grown up.

Leiper, for example, moved a motion to punt an item on budget procedure to next week’s council meeting when the budget process is to be hashed out more fully. The new Kitchissippi councillor — along with many others — is worried about the inflexibility of the budget practice, in particular the seeming inability to make any significant changes to the document once the draft is released.

But after numerous assurances from Watson and senior city staff that money actually can be moved among departmental envelopes at the final budget meeting, Leiper withdrew his motion. Reasonable.

As was Nussbaum’s so-called Goldilocks compromise motion on changes to the gift-registry disclosure threshold. In the year or so that the gift registry rules have been in place, councillors had to register any gift worth more than $30. Some councillors argued that the supposedly low threshold was capturing trinket-type thank you gifts that the registry was never mean to address. The staff recommendation was to raise the disclosure level to $150.

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