Despite pleas from downtown area Ottawa city councillors for better urban representation on the city’s powerful finance and economic development committee (FEDCO), a mini municipal shuffle saw none of them nominated for available leadership roles on FEDCO and another standing committee on Friday.
FEDCO, chaired by Mayor Jim Watson, deals with high-level fiscal and policy items and is widely seen as the committee that acts as council’s “cabinet.” The city’s deputy mayors and any councillor who chairs a standing committee automatically get seats on FEDCO, as well as the chair of the transit commission.
No councillors representing wards in Ottawa’s urban core have served on FEDCO since the current council was elected in late 2018, a fact criticized by some as an effort by the mayor to fill key positions with councillors who tend to support his direction and aren’t as openly critical of his policies.
The downtown councillors have argued the lack of urban representation on FEDCO has created a “democratic deficit” at city hall.
In a letter the councillors sent to the city clerk and shared on social media earlier this week, they called on Watson, the nominating committee and city council to “correct this matter” and put forward their names for some available leadership roles.
On Friday, FEDCO held a joint meeting with the city’s nominating committee to vote on candidates for six vacancies: vice-chair of FEDCO, member-at-large on FEDCO, vice-chair of the planning committee, chair of the Ottawa Public Library board of trustees, chair of the built-heritage subcommittee and the council member on the Shaw Centre’s board of directors.
Of the urban councillors, only Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King was nominated for one of the vacant positions: leading the built-heritage subcommittee.
“And once again, the urban core is shut out,” Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney tweeted during the meeting.
While he supported King’s subcommittee bid, Watson didn’t support any other urban councillor’s crack at a standing committee or board position. The mayor insisted afterwards that the makeup of FEDCO doesn’t affect how Ottawa’s different regions are represented at city hall.
“Not everyone can be a chair, not everyone can be a vice-chair,” Watson told reporters during a scrum.
Typically, however, the lion’s share of the work on a particular file is debated and dissected at the committee level and council more often than not defers to the committees’ recommendations.
Pressed about this, Watson agreed but argued that every councillor is invited to attend committee meetings and say their piece.
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