Rural Council states city must "get its administrative house in order", as well



City hall takes steps to placate business
Business committee concept must have been allowed to ‘fall through the cracks’: mayor

October 04, 2004

By Ellen Tsaprailis 
ellen.tsaprailis@transcontinential.ca

A new business advisory committee proposed by the mayor and the Coalition for a Successful Ottawa Economy promises to give small and medium-sized businesses a voice at city hall. The committee, if approved, would be the first of its kind in Ottawa.

 
 
Bob McKinley, president of the Rural Council and the Rideau Rural Community Association and a coalition member, is unsure whether the committee will have a true voice at city hall.

"Having a dialogue (with city hall) is important, but I remain skeptical it is going to have any tangible results," said Mr. McKinley. "I'm not convinced it is any more than an opportunity to placate some people."

Rural businesses are reeling under the burden of tax increases, Mr. McKinley said, and his organization plans to voice its position on the 2005 budget to city councillors.

"Our position remains the same. Under no circumstances should (council) raise taxes or reduce services until council gets its administrative house in order to eliminate waste and inefficiency."

 

 
 

"The business community is always in a reactive posture rather than a proactive posture. We're always commenting after the fact and came to the conclusion that we needed to formalize a body," said Gerry LePage, executive director of the Bank Street Promenade business improvement area and a member of the coalition.

"We brought it to the mayor and got his support."

Mayor Bob Chiarelli said the city has never had a business advisory committee, although other such committees exist on issues such as seniors, multiculturalism and the environment.

"No, we haven't had it before and there have been ad hoc efforts that have been made from time to time, different collections of business groups who have gotten together informally and have lobbied the city and tried to have an ongoing relationship with the city.

"I think it's something that, quite frankly, has been permitted to fall through the cracks."

At a meeting last week, a small working group comprising representatives from the coalition, the mayor's office, the clerk's department and the city manager's office agreed to establish the terms of reference, the operating mode and the type of liaison the new committee would have with the city, Mr. Chiarelli said.

 
 
Councillor Jan Harder is pleased at the prospect of the business advisory committee and said she will be surprised if it does not get council approval. She believes the initiative has taken too long to materialize.

"We missed the boat on this one at amalgamation," said Ms Harder, who is currently putting together a parallel draft budget that will include advice from businesspeople and other city councillors to encourage debate during the 2005 budget process.

 

 
 

"This is something that is long overdue, to have this type of more structured representation from the small and medium-sized business community," said Mr. Chiarelli, who expects city council approval of the initiative in six to eight weeks.

Mr. LePage hopes approval will come sooner.

"If we can have this advisory committee up and running by, let's say, Nov. 1, that's going to go a long way to getting consensus from the business community as to how we see the budget process, both from a timeline perspective and transparency perspective. Perhaps this puts us on the same page as to what we perceive should be saved with respect to programs and services or what constitutes core programs and services," said Mr. LePage.

"In that regard, it's going to make the business community speak with a more unified voice and it's going to allow us to liaise with the corporation in a lot more formalized manner because we will have immediate access to the corporation staff. There is a litany of benefits that accrues from this and the surprising part is that it hasn't been done before."

Councillor Jan Harder is pleased at the prospect of the business advisory committee and said she will be surprised if it does not get council approval. She believes the initiative has taken too long to materialize.

"We missed the boat on this one at amalgamation," said Ms Harder, who is currently putting together a parallel draft budget that will include advice from businesspeople and other city councillors to encourage debate during the 2005 budget process.

She said she wants to ensure the advisory committee represents a variety of small and medium-sized businesses, not just the business improvement areas and chambers of commerce.

Her ward does not have a business improvement area, but represents a number of business parks. "(We need to) make it inclusive and careful not to make it exclusive."

Mr. Chiarelli said there is no "anti-business" sentiment at city hall, as has been suggested by some businesspeople.

"There's absolutely no anti-business agenda at city hall in any way shape or form. We have very positive ... working relationships with very significant parts of the business community. I think it would be more appropriate to say that we have had an absence of a good working relationship with the small business community and it takes both sides to improve the relationship.

"I would have to say that there is a much more open and willing mood on the part of this coalition to work in partnership and to see improvements made. I welcome that (and) I like to work in partnership. I like to have common agendas that we try to implement. Will we always be on the same page? Will we always agree? No. But to say that there's an 'anti-business' climate at city hall is absolutely incorrect."

However, Bob McKinley, president of the Rural Council and the Rideau Rural Community Association and a coalition member, is unsure whether the committee will have a true voice at city hall.

"Having a dialogue (with city hall) is important, but I remain skeptical it is going to have any tangible results," said Mr. McKinley. "I'm not convinced it is any more than an opportunity to placate some people."

Rural businesses are reeling under the burden of tax increases, Mr. McKinley said, and his organization plans to voice its position on the 2005 budget to city councillors.

"Our position remains the same. Under no circumstances should (council) raise taxes or reduce services until council gets its administrative house in order to eliminate waste and inefficiency."

 
 
"There has to be a real effort by this council to get this budget on track and if that means putting the capital budget on hold, then that's what they have to do. It's all political back-scratching that keeps costing us."

   -Christine Leadman, Executive Director of the Westboro Business Improvement Area

 

 
 

Christine Leadman thinks it is about time business had a stronger voice at city hall, especially since many smaller businesses don't receive notice about upcoming meetings or issues. The executive director of the Westboro business improvement area said the business advisory committee would be a better way for such businesses to communicate with the city.

She is concerned about what the 2005 budget will mean for business.

"The outlook is very grim," said Ms Leadman. "You can't keep going to the taxpayers, there is only one pocket. There has to be a real effort by this council to get this budget on track and if that means putting the capital budget on hold, then that's what they have to do. It's all political back-scratching that keeps costing us."

It is unlikely the committee will be approved and operating in time for the current budget process, said Mr. Chiarelli, adding the concerns of the small and medium-sized business community will be heard.

"The budget won't be approved until March and I'm hopeful that (the advisory committee) will be up and running before then, but not withstanding that, we're still going to be receiving input from business groups and dialoguing with them on budget-related issues," said Mr. Chiarelli. "This concept is put on the table really while the budget process has already started, so I think it might be a far stretch to say that the new committee is going to have a significant opportunity to have input in the 2005 budget. This is going to take a few months to get underway."

The Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation and the City of Ottawa are hosting a 2005 budget directions consultation for stakeholders to meet with city manager Kent Kirkpatrick and deputy city manager Ned Lathrop. It will take place Thursday at 101 Centrepointe Drive, 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Businesspeople can also make a five-minute presentation on budget priorities and directions at the corporate services and economic development committee meeting Oct. 19. For details, visit www.ottawa.ca

Ottawa Business Journal


Follow-up story
 

___________________________________________________________________________

HOME  |  ABOUT USSITE MAP  |  CLOSE PAGE  |  CONTACT US
 

www.RuralCouncil.ca