‘The Shawn Little affair’: background to the ‘influence-peddling’ trial of Ottawa’s ‘Mayor Larry’

Today was the first day in the ‘influence peddling’ trial of Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien. While this in itself may hold only limited interest, there are ‘other factors’ which are at play here: and these ‘other factors’ have implications way beyond the sleepy little town of Ottawa…

It is these ‘other factors’ which I would like to look at. Still, I ought to provide a little background of the events to date and their historical context….from my personal point of view.

  • In 2000/2001, the many municipalities of the Ottawa area and their over-arching regional government were all  amalgamated into one entity:  The City of Ottawa.
  • This created a geographically large city, with urban, sub-urban, and rural wards.
  • The former ‘Regional Chair’, Bob Chiarelli (acknowledged as a very skilled ‘political operator’), was elected to be the Mayor of the newly amalgamated city.

During that first amalgamated election (2000), an interesting thing happened…

‘The Shawn Little affair’

    • Shawn Little ran against Linda Davis, who had previously been on the Regional Council (headed by Bob Chiarelli, who was now running for Mayor)
    • The campaign got nasty.
    • Following the election, based on a complaint by Ms. Davis, Elections Ottawa investigated Mr. Little’s campaign spending.
    • The audit found that Mr. Little had not declared all of his campaign spending and made a list of the ‘undeclared items’, estimated their cost and incorporated this cost into Mr. Little’s account of the campaign spending.
    • This list included such items as a toilet-bowl brush for the campaign office washroom.  Mr. Little defended himself, saying this was not purchased but that a volunteer working in the office brought it in, and following the campaign, took it back home.  Still, the auditors said, the toilet-bowl brush had value, and he had not declared it:  this, in their eyes, was Mr. Little’s admission of guilt…
    • With the ‘estimated cost’ of the ‘omitted items’ incorporated into his spending, the auditor (after months of investigating) declared that Mr. Little had gone over his election spending cap by $2,600.00
    • Mr. Little was charged with violating the Municipal Elections Act
    • After a lengthy court battle Mr. Little was cleared of any legal wrongdoing
    • It took another legal battle for Mr. Little to get the City of Ottawa (who lost the case against him) to cover at least a part of his legal fees (he had almost lost his house…)
    • Throughout the affair, and for years following it, the press, led by The Ottawa Citizen, ran many unfavourable stories about Mr. Little.  (Perhaps these were deserved – it is true that while this was all going on, Mr. Little was not as effective a councilor as he ought to have been…)
    • An aside:  in the past, Shawn Little was a vociferous opponent of the ‘National Capital Commission’ (NCC) – a federal body which looks after ‘stuff’ in the nation’s capital region on behalf of the Federal Government.  At times, the NCC has been known to unilaterally (as in, they set the ‘market price’, no appeal process available) expropriate land – for the good of the ‘Capital Region’….only to flip the land in a few years for more than 50 times what they paid for it during the ‘expropriation’, making millions in the process…  This was not obvious during this affair, but… the majority of the directors of the board of the NCC at that time (MANY new appointments had been made, especially in 2007 – and I cannot seem to find the ‘historical snapshot’ from ealier – if anyone can find it, I will be happy to link to it here!!!  Let it suffice to say that during this era, the NCC BOD was heavily laden with ‘Chretien Liberal’ appointees…) were ‘land developers’ (or ‘urban planners’), many of them were rumoured to have had ‘ties’ with the ‘Chiarelli family’.
  • OK – this was DEEP background:  still, the important things here are:
    • ‘Lawfare’ (on this scale) was found to be a highly useful tool to render an elected councilor ineffective, both due to distraction (legal proceedings, financial issues, stress) and because it tarnished that politician’s public image.
    • ‘The Ottawa Citizen’ coverage of this election was – in my opinion – highly favourable to Mr. Bob Chiarelli.
    • Even years after this affair had been settled, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’ continued to run stories highly unfavourable of Mr. Little.

This is going really far – for ‘political memory’ of the average ‘voter’.  But, it is my never-humble opinion that ‘The Shawn Little’ affair has direct bearing on what is happening in the current trial of Larry O’Brien, Ottawa’s ‘Mayor Larry’.

If it is hard to see the connections – please, stay tuned.  I will first point out a few other ‘pieces of the puzzle’ (from my highly personal point of view), then and only then will I be able to explain just how they fit together….

My next post will look at (to be linked here, once posted) at the issues which dominated the next municipal election in 2003.