Linda Lalonde on Ottawa poverty


Linda Lalonde fears Canada's capital city

may be leaning toward American-style of rule

By Linda Lalonde

1 June 2011 OTTAWA Canada — Please note that my comments here are my own and are not necessarily shared by other members of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) steering committee or the Ottawa Poverty Reduction Network (OPRN).

Yesterday, with a lot of sadness and several other emotions, I seconded a motion to disband the steering committee that had developed and was overseeing the implementation of the Ottawa municipal PRS. As many of you will know, this was a collaborative effort between the community and the city to work toward reducing, if not eliminating, poverty in the city alongside the provincial Strategy.

On June 25, 2008, the OPRN organized a broad-based consultation to develop a community response to the province's plans to build a provincial Strategy. The participants came from many different sectors including business, education, youth, seniors, women, rural, urban, low income and so on. The one recommendation that came from every discussion group was that we needed a municipal Strategy that would be integrated with the work being done at the provincial level.

The OPRN took that recommendation to the Community and Protective Services Committee which supported it and on December 10, 2008, International Human Rights Day, Ottawa City Council passed a motion to develop its own Strategy. In the tradition of years of city-community collaboration on social and other issues, we were very proud to work with the city and other community partners to bring recommendations for the first phase of the Strategy to the community and Council. Those recommendations, along with eight others, were approved by Council on February 10, 2010 and many are currently being implemented.

Unfortunately, we began to see an eroding of the collaborative aspect of the steering committee last fall. Community consultations and meetings were cancelled by the city with no input from the rest of the steering committee. Many of us were surprised by this, given the long history (which has been the envy of other communities) of genuine partnerships with the city and the community. There have, of course, been some changes around the table at city council, both in our political representatives and in the way business is being done. This includes visible shifts towards the 'strong mayor' model common in some American cities where the mayor is not 'primer inter pares' or 'first among equals' but is a separate and higher force that essentially operates the city with help from councillors.

It has become increasingly clear that, in this shift away from community participation in municipal affairs, there was no place for a collaborative steering committee or a community-developed Poverty Reduction Strategy. As someone who is deeply committed to working with the Council, city staff and the community to build a better city, I felt I could no longer lend my name or give my time to a venture that was being moved away from the community into 111 Lisgar (City Hall).

Poverty is an issue that affects every person in this community, regardless of their socio-economic status, and we had a truly exciting model which was the envy of other communities. Low income groups, community coalitions, the business and education sector and several very experienced individuals were at the table and working together to combat poverty. The city is not prepared to continue with that model which is, of course, their prerogative.

I personally regret the decision they have made. I am very glad however that the community members of the steering committee have decided to get together and see if we can continue our collaboration. We will, in all likelihood, invite the city to participate in that venture and will see what role, if any, they want to play in ongoing community efforts to combat poverty.

The first annual report of the Poverty Reduction Strategy will be presented to the Community and Protective Services Committee on June 23. I would encourage other community members to come to that meeting and hear about the work that has been done to date. — 671 words.

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