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Anyone who wrote to the mayor recently expressing concerns about the proposed addition to the Château Laurier received exactly the same boilerplate reply, regardless of the specific nature of their concerns. It began with a stern reminder that the Château was private property, and went on to enumerate the many changes the design had undergone since it was first unveiled in late 2016.

For a mayor who was still publicly declaring that he had not reached a decision on the file, the reply sounded curiously like a decision. We got a bit more insight into the Mayor’s position in comments he made to Global News in the immediate aftermath of City Council’s decision to conditionally accept the latest design proposal:

Asked afterward why council opted for an unusual conditional approval instead of rejecting the latest design if it needed more work, Watson told reporters the proposal has come a long way and it’s impossible to make everyone happy with significant renovations to a heritage building.

“I think at some point you’re [going] to have to say, ‘Look it, we’ve come close, they’ve moved, we’ve moved and we’ve come up with a compromise,’” he said. “At some point you have to say, ‘It’s time to get on with this.’”

“They’ve torn down their garage … and they have to get those rooms built and their garage built,”” Watson added. “So I think you have to look at it practically and pragmatically at the same time.”

The Mayor also had this to say to the Ottawa Citizen:

After the council meeting, Mayor Jim Watson defended the decision to hold off on a final approval or rejection of Larco’s latest design.

“If we were going to try to shirk our responsibilities as politicians, we would have said, ‘Send it back and come back around Oct. 23,’ ” Watson said, referring to the date after the Oct. 22 municipal election.

In fact, that is pretty much exactly what they said. Or, to be more precise, they said “Send it back and come back long after October 23, and come back to Planning Committee, not to us.” I’ll have more to say about the Mayor’s (and Council’s) apparent desire to turn governance into a driverless car in a future blog, but for now I want to focus on the Mayor’s comments to Global News on the process to date, and what they reveal about the values he brings to this issue.

Three takeaways from Mayor Watson’s comments:

  • It does not matter to the Mayor whether the addition is good or bad. What matters to him is that, after being seen to have jumped through a few hoops, the developer get his way. Excellence does not matter; expediency does. Since the creation of the Ottawa Improvement Commission (the predecessor of the National Capital Commission) in 1899, Ottawa has been shaped by a vision of the beauty and dignity befitting a national capital. The Mayor’s comments are the antithesis of that vision.
  • When approval was granted for the demolition of the parking garage last year, there was concern that this would somehow be the start of a slippery slope that would make the building of an incompatible addition to the Château unavoidable. Those concerns appear to have been justified.
  • The Mayor does not realize that ‘practical’ and ‘pragmatic’ mean essentially the same thing. Cheap shot? Maybe, but I find this is a common ploy when people want to give the illusion of having thought more about a topic than they actually have. Just throw in some extra words – it doesn’t really matter what they mean or if they make sense – and it sounds like you’ve thought about it and reached considered conclusions. Our current political climate seems to reward this tactic richly, so it’s no wonder Mayor Watson is using it.

So, here’s a suggestion for the mayor as we head into the Canada Day weekend: as well as being pragmatic and practical, how about a bit of vision?

Peter Coffman

Note: The webmaster of this blog is going on vacation for the next couple of weeks, so the blog will too. I think we could all use a bit of a break…