Opponents ride Chiarelli on light-rail Citizen story
, Apr. 20, 2006
First exchange for mayoral hopefuls
Mayoral candidates, Terry Kilrea, Bob Chiarelli and Alex Munter, outlined their themes for this year's campaign during a public forum at the Rideau Carleton Raceway. Mr. Kilrea and Mr. Munter said suspicions are growing that the light-rail project isn't good value.
Patrick Dare, The Ottawa Citizen [comments by yours truly, in italics
Published: Thursday, April 20, 2006
Ottawa's three main candidates for mayor got out of the election gates yesterday with a first public exchange at the Rideau Carleton Raceway that asked whether the biggest capital project in the city's history, the north-south commuter rail line, is a boondoggle.
Mayor Bob Chiarelli replied with an emphatic no, saying the new 28-kilometre rail line will serve Riverside South, a community of up to 55,000, and South Nepean, with up to 150,000. His two main challengers, Alex Munter and Terry Kilrea, said there's a growing suspicion among taxpayers that the project isn't good value for the $725 million being spent.[First of all, these communities don't yet exist. Links to the airport, Barrhaven, Hull would boost ridership but have been cut or postponed. An important station at South Keys is not in the plans. Ridership forecasts are doubtful at best.
Mr. Kilrea argued the commuter rail line is going the wrong way and should be running east-west, where much of the city's heavy commuter traffic and congestion occurs.
Mr. Chiarelli said east-west rail will come in time, but that the city went with a pitch to the federal and provincial governments for the north-south line because it had a lower, more palatable price tag. He said the federal and provincial governments, which are contributing $200 million each for the north-south line, would never have gone for a $2-billion project, which is about what an east-west service would have cost.[Let's not make up their mind for them, Mr. Mayor. But if this is true, what makes you think they'll be willing to pay for the E-W line later?
Mr. Munter called for an independent financial look at the costs and benefits of the project and urged that city council not rush into contracts for the rail project before the Nov. 13 election. Mr. Munter reminded Mr. Chiarelli that he considered the bus-only transitway system too costly, at $5 million a kilometre, when he first ran for the regional chair's job in the 1990s, defeating Peter Clark. The north-south rail project has a capital cost of about $25 million a kilometre.
Answering questions later, Mr. Chiarelli said the north-south commuter line will be the first piece of transportation in the city that will serve neighbourhoods as they are growing, rather than after the fact.
Mr. Chiarelli said the city's east-west corridor has already seen a major investment of public money in the bus transitway.
During the moderated discussion, the candidates set themes for the seven-month campaign. Mr. Kilrea said the city's biggest problem is spending on unaffordable projects and programs and wants to see council stick to the basic services -- "police, fire, paramedics. Pick up my garbage, clean my roads."
He said business people and rural residents are upset with an administration that costs too much and demands uniformity on everything from chip stand fees to bylaw enforcement. Mr. Kilrea said the city shows businesses little respect, noting that it suddenly cancelled garbage collection for small businesses without informing them.
Mr. Munter said the election is about whether it's time for a change after a decade of Mr. Chiarelli as the top municipal politician. Mr. Munter said the city has to focus on things like ensuring a supply of affordable housing so it doesn't end up with Toronto's social and economic problems. He said the public's confidence in city hall's financial management is being eroded and he wants to ensure taxpayers get value for their money.
Mr. Munter said he was shocked by yesterday's news about a $1-million property tax increase imposed on the Ottawa Senators, without the team being notified. "The city is not prepared to listen. The city is not open." [The SUN (Tax Hit Way out of Place, Apr21)has more on this screw up, and now city staff admits they didn't give proper consideration (or even read the current agreement with the Senators).
Mr. Chiarelli said he is proud to run on a record that includes tax freezes in many years and a city economy that is booming. He said the city government is in solid financial shape, with a triple-A credit rating.
The City of Ottawa has a debt of about $454 million and total investments and reserves of about $860 million.
Mr. Chiarelli acknowledged that the property tax system is unfair to some business owners, but said the city is doing all it can to get the provincial government to change it.[It's not our fault your taxes are high, honest! Geesh.
And he noted that the city is finally getting some financial help from senior levels of government, including $80 million a year in GST and gas tax money.
He also noted that he created several business advisory groups, including a task force on cutting red tape.[How to reduce red tape: create more red tape.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2006