Sustainability is key for Ottawa’s Charlie Taylor

2010 szeptember 3 11:18 de.1 comment
Mayoral candidate Charlie Taylor (Photo: C. Adam)

Mayoral candidate Charlie Taylor (Photo: C. Adam)

Charlie Taylor’s political views might not fit well into the traditional left or right-wing political camps, but the mayoral candidate in Ottawa’s upcoming municipal election does have sustainability on his mind. The 33 year old Carleton University journalism student spoke with the Canadian Hungarian Journal as the municipal election campaign heats up. Taylor has visited 45 countries and travelled to Budapest and Lake Balaton in Hungary on two occasions, including once during a hitchhiking adventure from Turkey to Austria. Charlie Taylor sat down with the Canadian Hungarian Journal’s Christopher Adam to talk about his passion, goals and ambition during this election campaign.

As a mayoral candidate, you are running against two older candidates, with more experience in politics. Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien has four years under his belt at City Hall, while Jim Watson is a former provincial minister and mayor. What do you bring to the table that is different from what these two seasoned politicians have to offer?

I sense a tension during this campaign between the two status quo candidates and candidates who want change. Larry O’Brien and Jim Watson have both held positions in Ottawa before, so they represent the status quo. If they are speaking about bringing about positive change, why have they not done so previously? Then you’ve got the other candidates who all want to bring about different visions of what that change should be. What we see is a choice between business as usual, or bringing about change. The type of change that I’m interested in seeing has to do with sustainability issues. I am a Green Party member, I believe in environmental sustainability. If a given policy is not sustainable long-term, then it’s not a good policy. While I don’t have the name recognition of some of the other candidates, I feel that I’m playing a valuable role by simply talking about issues than nobody else is talking about. If I can make the front runners discuss things that they aren’t interested in discussing, then I have already served a purpose.

And how have you done so far in raising awareness?

One of the big successes that I have had in initiating discussion about an issue is about the U-Pass. This is basically a $290 fee that’s mandatory for all Carleton and University of Ottawa students. It was passed fairly quietly and was seen by some as a great environmental move forward, since it would get people out of cars and onto the bus. Meanwhile, there are thousands of students who are saying, ‘wait a minute, I make the environmentally conscious decision to live within walking distance from school or I live outside of the service area of OC Transpo, so I have to drive a car.’ U-Pass is a great burden on students who don’t use transit. Since I have started talking about it, the issue has been covered in Macleans, on the CBC, in the Ottawa Citizen, Metro and by all sorts of media organizations. Charging walkers and cyclists is ludicrous.

They talk about getting people out of cars and onto buses, but the U-Pass won’t make people stop driving their cars. People drive their cars because it’s convenient. The way to get people out of cars and onto the bus is by creating a more efficient bus service.

What is your policy on developing Ottawa’s transit system? Light rail is clearly a pressing issue and one that probably should have been resolved long ago. How do you see the future of light rail and public transportation?

I have issues with the current light rail tunnel plan, as I think there would be better and cheaper ways of going about it. That having been said, the current plan is better than not moving ahead with light rail transit. Cancelling the north-south line probably took us back ten years in light rail. So, would I be willing to cancel the current plan to start from scratch again? Absolutely not. We need light rail in Ottawa.

So you would swallow the tunnel?

I’d swallow the tunnel and then start looking at improving the rail line. There are existing rail lines all over the city that are operated by Via Rail or CN, so I would like to negotiate a right of way agreement. This way we could actually run commuter trains into the centre of town. For example, we’ve already purchased the railway bridge across the Ottawa River into Gatineau, so we could have the O-Train cross over to the Québec side. Rail service could also be developed between the airport and the downtown. Every major city in Europe operates rail links from the airport to the city centre. This would make it convenient for business people to come downtown as well.

One of the issues that Ottawa is faced with is urban sprawl, especially since our population is now over 90o,000. How would you encourage living and investing in the downtown?

This is a big issue for me. It basically comes down to re-imagining our cities. Your Hungarian readers will be able to relate to the European model of cities, where you have vertical, rather than horizontal development. We’ve got a lot of land and we tend to just spew out in all directions. We need to reinvigorate the downtown area and to make it more appealing. Laurier is dead after five o’clock; you can’t even buy a kebab.

The type of development that I would like to see involve buildings where you have commercial on the ground floor, office space above that and then residential on the top floors. This means that you’re working on a vertical commute, rather than a horizontal one. This would lead to a more humane lifestyle; people wouldn’t be forced to spend two hours a day in their cars. The way to encourage this would be through zoning and creative city planning. Lansdowne Park is a little bit of a missed opportunity. They have 43 acres where they could have designed from scratch a real model city; one that would attract the attention of people from all around North America. What we want is urban intensification.

Poverty is also a pressing issue in parts of Ottawa, especially in areas of Lowertown and around the Byward market. What is your policy on affordable housing?

One of the solutions that I really like is a business model for dealing with housing issues, adopted by the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation. They buy houses and then turn them into mixed income dwellings. Rather than creating poverty zones, they take a six unit building that they rent out. Three of these are rented to wealthier people at market value, who in turn subsidize the three units that are rented to those who make less money. All decisions are made by members of the  tenant community. I would like to do all that I can to support these non-profit organizations and their positive business model. I think that this is a better way of dealing with the issue than having the city create big housing projects for poorer people.

I also support the Acorn campaign for the living wage. The city has said that  you can’t live appropriately if  you make less than $13.50 per hour. The city shouldn’t be doing business with contractors who pay their employees less.

How would you improve transparency in Ottawa and ensure that taxpayers receive the most for their money?

There is definately a lot of apathy among residents, in terms of following municipal politics.  There is an attitude that you can get away with a little bit more, because there is less scrutiny. One of the big flaws with the current system is the way we vote. The first-past-the-post system of voting makes it really easy for an incumbent to win. Even if an incumbent only has the support of 20% of his constituents in his ward, he can still win  that election if the vote is being split by eight or nine other candidates. So, the motivation to be sqeaky clean isn’t that great.

One of the ideas that I am working on right now calls for more autonomy for the city from the provincial government. How we currently run our elections is dictated bz the municipal elections act of 1996. I would be more interested in moving towards a single transferable vote. Instead of voting for one candidate, you rank  the candidates noting first, second, third choice and so on. They then eliminate the candidate with the fewest choices, and then keep eliminating until they have one candidate who actually has the most support. To do this, we would have to renegotiate our deal with the province.

This is an issue that keeps coming up on all sorts of fronts, where the province is dictating rules for how we run our city and where all the stakeholders are within Ottawa. This would get more people interested in municipal politics.

Ottawa sometimes has the image and reputation of being little more than the  home of the Government of Canada. Years ago, some residents ran the “my Ottawa is culture campaign,” which aimed to show that Ottawa is more than just the seat of the federal government, but has a vibrant social and cultural life of its own. How would you strengthen this aspect of the capital?

Urban intensification would help; if we had a vibrant downtown core where people live, work and play, Ottawa would come across as more lively to tourists. Right now, you have Parliament Hill where they have the sound and light show, but then there is nowhere else to go in the area. I am also concerned about liquor laws. The LCBO was introduced as a compromise following prohibition. We should negotiate with the province to let us govern our own liquor laws. Why should the citizens of Ottawa not decide when we want our bars to close? And shouldn’t this be a free market decision, between the owner of the bar and their patrons? We lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue each year from eighteen year olds who go to Hull. How is it better or safer for our youth? It costs them a cab fare across the river and they spend all their drinking money in Quebec.

What would you say is Larry O’Brien’s main failing?

He hasn’t really made any progress on environmental issues.  Since the federal government is really uninterested in addressing the issue, the mayor should step forward and lead by example. Even people who voted for him in the hope of keeping their property taxes steady have been let down. Council certainly has accomplished some important things and I’m not one of the O’Brien bashers who goes out saying that everything he has done is horrible. They moved forward on light rail, for example. But there is a lot that needs to be done and I just don’t think that he has the imagination to come up with the degree of change that we need.

Of all the candidates, which one poses the biggest competition to you? My guess is that it would be Clive Doucet.

Doucet would be the biggest competitor in terms of talking about green issues. I think that Doucet probably does care about the environment, but I  think that he gets on the wrong side of issues based on dogma. I don’t want to be the candidate who subscribes to a particular dogma. I would rather approach every individual issue rationally and intelligently, in order to come up with the best possible solution. That’s not always going to be the solution that a certain political slant would agree with.

For example, we have the second most expensive transit service in Canada and it’s also funded 50% by taxpayers, as opposed to Toronto where it’s 30% subsidized. On top of this, it costs $3.25 to take the bus. The only way to address this issue is to look at the operating costs of the system. If the bus drivers are making an average of $75,000 per year for a job that requires a ‘G’ driver’s license and a two week training course, we have an unsustainable state of affairs.

If your chances of winning are slim, what do you hope to achieve during this campaign?

I hope to spark more discussion about issues that aren’t being talked about right now and to hold the status quo candidates–one of whom will probably end up winning–accountable.

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1 Comment

  • I like these comments about suburban sprawl. On our Useful Community Development website, people are consistently asking us questions about what the alternative to sprawl is, other than living in some large, impersonal building. It strikes me that this post includes two great alternatives–the mixed-income housing and the concept of a horizontal development gradient rather than a vertical one. Good analysis.

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