Reclaiming common sense for our revolution

Sidewalk lake downtown: a taste of what pedestrians get for their taxes?


Common sense.

For a lot of people who live in Ontario, I suppose Mike Harris and his right-wing “Common Sense Revolution” ruined those words. But taking a page from progressive movements, I say let’s reclaim “common sense.”

It’s the essential trait missing among the many elected people on city council who can’t see past the boundaries of their own ward. Perhaps it’s a leadership deficit, forced amalgamation or simple political rivalry that keeps these councilors from making meaningful change in the way the city operates. At the very core of the problem is their inability to work collaboratively for a common and greater “all city” good.

Ottawa should be an innovator. We should encourage the world’s best urban design and constantly strive to be a real world capital. We don’t. We bicker instead.

The frustration is palpable in urban Ottawa. Strike up a casual conversation about snow removal, property taxes, cycling infrastructure or the lack of services, and expect an earful from someone who lives downtown. Look up and down Rideau, Sparks and Bank Streets, and ask, “did common sense create these spaces?”

Ask the citizens of Ottawa what to do about these trouble spots downtown.

I couldn’t care less if a councilor is left wing or right wing. As long as they demonstrate their ability to be commonsensical, not comical. As long as they present solutions and not problems to be solved. And, above all else, as long as they are willing to work together as a council to create common sense solutions to the challenges facing Ottawa.

So, how do citizens inject common sense into this debate? How can we structure a conversation with candidates that ultimately ensures real commitments are made at election time?

photo by Evan Thornton


  1. Great post, Ian.

    Ottawa is certainly not alone in displaying a lack of common sense. Halifax bulldozed Africville and much of the Historic Properties in the 1960s, Calgary created one of the most unlivable downtown cores in the nation, the Toronto waterfront…I could go on. What I think makes Ottawa unique is that there doesn’t seem to be a unifying vision for the city – at least not that I’ve experienced.

    I’m not so sure we can blame city council for this. You mention the hot-button issues in Ottawa: snow removal, property taxes, cycling infrastructure, and the lack of services. I’d add transit, policing and a host of others. Every year, we debate the city’s budget ad nauseum, and never come to any real innovative solutions.

    In my opinion, that’s exactly the problem. City council is debating these issues because that’s what we – the taxpayers – have decided are the hot button issues. These are the things I talk to my neighbours about. We spend so much time talking about the day-to-day that we forget about the ‘tomorrow’.

    The first steps in a common sense approach? Knowing where you want to go, having a plan to get there and making sure all stakeholders are on the same page when it comes time to execute it.

    Let’s give the ownership of Ottawa’s future to the people who live here. I’m not talking about a city plan like Ottawa 2020. I’m talking about something much more fundamental – an introspective debate by the citizens of Ottawa to find out who we are as a city, and who we want to be. Let’s see city hall make some investments in facilitating that debate.

    Ottawa is an incredibly beautiful, livable city with a lot of potential and a bright, young population. Common sense will return when that population feels that they have a stake in the city’s future.

  2. Which part of Bank? Most of Bank from Laurier to the Rideau River is natural, organic, and very common-sense.

    And yes, Calgary is pretty sterile, but its pedestrian mall (not that I’m a big fan of the things) has life long after Sparks does, and that’s evening taking time zones into consideration.

  3. Three other things need to happen in Ottawa:

    1) Ontario has to realize that Ottawa is in Ontario, and start acting accordingly; why $11-billion for transit in Toronto, but only $600-million for Ottawa? The population differential isn’t that great.

    2) Gatineau and Quebec have to recognize that they are part of the metropolitan area. You want another auto and truck bridge? Fine. You can have it, but not before you get equally serious about interprovincial transit.

    3) The NCC has to formally denounce Greber and all Greberesque thinking, or be abolished.

    Without those three things, all the common sense in the world will be wasted here.

  4. I’m running for mayor in #YYC. Harnessing/Enabling/Absorbing Collective Intelligence & Citizen Engagement is my hope.
    Thx for the informative post.

  5. Some thoughts, some more cynical than others…

    1) It will be for a long time yet unfashionable to admit that Ottawa is still part of Ontario, for the Usual Obvious Reasons. That it is wrong for the admission to be unfashionable will not put a halt to the practice. Doesn’t make it any less important to oppose the practice, though.

    2) See above, as applicable to Québec.

    3) Not sure how to answer the NCC comment. Greber certainly threw any number of spanners into the civic works.

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