The ‘2003 election’: background to the ‘influence-peddling’ trial of Ottawa’s ‘Mayor Larry’

The highly publicized criminal trial of Ottawa’s Mayor Larry O’Brien is influenced by many ‘other factors’ – ones of ‘universal interest’.

However, there are many pieces to this puzzle… once I present them all, I will make the connections between them clear.

The first post in this ‘puzzle’ was ‘The Shawn Little affair’… which showed all those interested in watching just how easy it was to render an elected official ineffective – if they are charged with even a transparently ludicrous criminal charge…. In other words, it entrenched (in all the politicians frequenting Ottawa, Canada’s capital and the seat of its parliament) the perception that ‘lawfare’ will render ‘uncomfortable’ politicians much less effective than they would otherwise be.

Not only does it tarnish their reputation (even if they are cleared of all charges – and even if the charges are as ludicrous as ‘not declaring the ‘value’ of a borrowed toilet-bowl brush! – some of the ‘dirt’, or at least, perception of ‘dirt’, will ‘stick’), it forces them to focus their energies towards their legal defense….and to how in the world they can pay their legal bills!

That post also briefly  introduced a key person:  Bob Chiarelli…. a shrewd politician with deep connections within the Liberal ‘machines’ in both the provincial and federal government levels, as well as with a deep ‘network’ of his own….. and who had been elected as the first Mayor of the amalgamated City of Ottawa in 2000.

Now, let us jump forward one election, to 2003

There were a few ‘big’ issues:

  • The smoking ban:  treatment of our veterans
    • The City Council had recently passed a ban on smoking in public.  The law was not popular.
    • Many people were offended at the way this law was implemented
    • Even private clubs – especially the Legion Halls – were not permitted to have especially constructed, fully ventilated smoking rooms…
    • Ottawa’s citizens felt the council was sicking their ‘jack-booted’ ‘By-Law Enforcers’ at our veterans, ticketing them and forcing them to endure -40 degree temperatures outside if they wanted to light up
    • While many people opposed the law itself, just about everyone was angry about the way the Chiarelli regime implemented it and how they targeted our Veterans for particular persecution.
  • The O-Train: expansion of Ottawa’s public transit
    • This is a complex and complicated one
    • At this point, ‘the mess’ was in its beginning stages…but, many people thought Mayor Chiarelli’s priority was building a legacy project to himself, not the public good/interest/etc.
    • There were unsubstantiated (but frequent) allegations that this route (popularly nicknamed ‘The Streetcar to Nowhere’) was selected as a type of ‘favour’ by Bob Chiarelli as part of land speculation by certain land developers and/or associates of Mr. Chiarelli and/or his family.  These rumours were fuelled by the fact that the route would provide awesome access to some cow pastures south of the city, while the east and west transportation corridors – insufficient to handle current levels of traffic – would not be addressed in the least…
  • Official Bilingualism
    • Ottawa is the capital of Canada – a bilingual country…  One would be hard pressed to find many cities (at least, in North America) which are functionally more bilingual than Ottawa – and that is a great thing!
    • Mayor Chiarelli wanted to entrench an ‘official bilingualism policy’ for Ottawa into Provincial law (so no subsequent Ottawa City Council could reverse it – a rather curious move)
    • The form of ‘official bilingualism‘ which the Mayor was pushing was based NOT citizen focused…  Rather than a policy which would mandate that a citizen of Ottawa ought to be able to access services in either English or French (one which would have been acceptable to everyone), Mayor Chiarelli’s bilingualism policy mandated that any City employee could work in the language of their choice (English or French), and all the managers had to accommodate their employees choices.
    • In addition, all City employees would have to be certified ‘bilingual’ according to the ‘Federal Standards’:  ones which most people consider to be highly discriminatory against non-Francophones.   (I have personal experience that this is true – will relate it, if desired….of the difference in treatment I received while applying for a ‘federal jogb’ when I was considered to be an immigrant, and the contrast when later, I was mistaken for a Francophone…if I had not experienced it personally, I would find it hard to believe!)
  • Amalgamation
    • Or, rather, de-amalgamation, as a large portion of the population of the City of Ottawa was not at all pleased with the way the amalgamation had been implemented and how the city was being destroyed transformed.
    • In particular, the rural areas of Ottawa (as well as the Western community of Nepean) were very ‘uncomfortable’ with the way the ‘amalgamated’ City Council saw their role and went about doing ‘things’…

Since Mayor Chiarelli was so vigorously pushing trough many of these issues, much of the 2003 election became about the personna of the Mayor himself!

So, when an unknown – Terry Kilrea – stepped out of the unknown to be an unlikely opponent to Mr. Chiarelli’s bid for re-election as Ottawa’s mayor, many of the disenfrenchised voters flocked to Mr. Kilrea’s ‘camp…  The ‘race for Mayor’ became a race between support for  Mr. Chiarelli, and all who opposed him – on principle

The race was heated, and pretty close… and Mr. Chiarelli won.