The urban boundary debate is vitally important, so should it happen online?

By Joanne Chianello, CBC News Ottawa, May 9, 2020

There have been many firsts in Ottawa's municipal arena during these COVID-19 days, from virtual council meetings to Zoom news conferences to online community open houses.

On Friday, the latest "first" came from Ecology Ottawa and a number of other groups, which held an online rally to call for holding the urban boundary steady.

As far as rallies go, it lacked chanted slogans and crowds waving placards. But while it didn't have the visual and audible impact an offline rally might, it did attract more than 500 people. Who can remember the last time an in-person rally attracted that many people to city hall?

The rally is in advance of one of the most important firsts ever at city hall — a major policy debate Monday that will occur online, with public delegations phoning in their comments.

(...)The city's planners — and Mayor Jim Watson — don't believe residents or builders are prepared for the sort of change communities would undergo if the boundary remained steady. Instead, they're advocating to add up to 1,650 hectares to Ottawa's urban edges.

(...)Yes, there's been a year of consultations.  And the city says more than 45,000 people "have been reached." The report's been out for three weeks — longer than is legally required — but during a time when we are preoccupied with a dramatic and stressful pandemic.

The city has argued that the urban boundary question must be decided soon because it paves the way for other major policies that follow, including the official plan and transportation master plan updates. But city manager Steve Kanellakos mentioned recently the transportation plan work may have to be put off anyway, due to COVID-19 related constraints facing staff.

So what's the rush?

In fact, there is no legal reason this decision needs to be made now. Council put off a byelection for months, so it could certainly have given the public a bit more time to adjust to the COVID-19 reality, to start paying attention to issues other than handwashing and physical distancing.

At the very least, it could have chosen a less vital issue with which to experiment with an untested democratic process.

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