pushing to get a rural advisory committee reinstated
Councillors plan to
strengthen rural voice
Leo Valiquette Ottawa Business
Tue, Oct 12, 2004 12:00 AM EST
The city's rural councillors will meet next week to discuss how
the existing agriculture and rural affairs committee can be given
more bite at city hall.
In the amalgamated City of Ottawa, six standing committees make
decisions on everything from corporate services and economic
development, to transportation.
But talk to rural residents and it is clear the amalgamated city
is a tale of two solitudes. Rural concerns, they say, are often
railroaded by a big city bureaucracy unable to understand that what
works well in an urban setting is often an ill fit with the rural
The agriculture and rural affairs committee stands apart from the
other five standing committees in that its purpose is to ensure the
rural voice is heard at the council table. But, according to
representatives from the rural business community, it was
ineffective in that role from day one, due to a restrictive mandate.
To make matters worse, an advisory group for agriculture and
rural affairs made up of volunteers from the community fell victim
to last year's budget cuts.
Bob McKinley, president of the Rural Council and the Rideau Rural
Community Association, said the loss of that advisory group weakened
a committee that was already in need of a major overhaul.
"That committee is floundering because it is impotent in terms of
its mandate and lack of any technical support," he said.
He is pushing, not only to get a rural advisory committee
reinstated, but to get agriculture and rural affairs overhauled,
something he believes is "fundamentally necessary".
For the rural community to have adequate representation, he
believes every standing committee should include a rural component
that would be involved at policy-making decisions at every level.
He expresses disbelief that the old advisory group, made up of
volunteers, was a victim of the city's budget cuts.
"Never in my life have I seen volunteers deemed too expensive."
Earl Stanley, president of the National Capital Business Alliance
and chairman of the Osgoode Ward Business Alliance, believes the new
business advisory committee proposed by Mayor Bob Chiarelli will
help address some of the shortcomings in agriculture and rural
Mr. Stanley and Mr. McKinley are both members of the Coalition
for a Successful Ottawa Economy, which is working with city staff to
create the new business advisory committee.
However, that committee is only a start, since it would focus on
business rather than on the needs and concerns of the entire rural
community, they said.
Mr. Stanley is also critical of the effectiveness of the
agriculture and rural affairs committee following the loss of its
"You've got five councillors sitting around. Do they really know
about doing business in a rural area? I doubt it."
Cumberland Councillor Rob Jellett, chairman of agriculture and
rural affairs, acknowledges the committee has lost its bite and has
suffered from a restrictive mandate. The challenge is how to make
the committee more effective and responsive, considering limited
manpower, he said.
To that end, the city's rural councillors will meet the week of
Oct. 18 to decide what can be done.
"We're going to sit and talk informally about the future of the
standing committee and how we can start taking on some of the bigger
issues, instead of just dealing with municipal drains and the
various things that appear on the agenda normally," Mr. Jellett
"We all have that same ... desire that we want the rural
community's voice to be heard. In my case, I think that it is being
heard to some extent. I think there's obviously room for improvement
He rebuts criticism that the rural voice gets lost downtown.
"The councillors are trying," he said. "There are many
councillors who do take the extra effort to understand the impact of
a decision on the rural community ... but I still think there is
still room for some education there."
He acknowledged the biggest problem is a lack of staff and
technical support, in addition to the loss of the advisory group.
"That is lacking here, there's no question."
Another problem is timing. All matters pass through agriculture
and rural affairs on their way to other standing committees. Lack of
staff only aggravates the situation, he said.
"The other part of the problem is the mandate of the committee
itself," Mr. Jellett said. "If the committee can't take on the role
of being 'the rural voice' because of the structure of the
bureaucracy, then we need to establish a rural voice. That can be
done through the re-establishment of the advisory committee. I'm not
yet convinced that the standing committee can't be that voice in all
aspects, but maybe we need to do it at the high-end level and let
the advisory committee deal with the details."
Councillors have also discussed the idea of having a rural
component to each of the standing committees, rather than a separate
agriculture and rural affairs committee. But the problem is
manpower. There are only three councillors with strictly rural wards
and two with combined wards.
"So it stretches them pretty thin ... that's why we went with the
standing committee," Mr. Jellett said.
"It started out great and we had lots of public support and we
had some good issues that we're dealing with, but it's kind of
petered out after the summer – that's why we're looking at