"The rural summit has to achieve something real. If it turns out to be a complete waste of time, if it's nothing but talk, then we will be left with some serious problems. I see the rural summit as the last shot at keeping the city together."

                                                                              -Councillor Glenn Brooks



From the...


Rural Summit Countdown...

Disenfranchised 'say no to city slickers'

Beyond the suburbs, many want out of Ottawa -- completely

 
Patrick Dare
The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, November 12, 2005

It's not a municipal election year but some rural people are campaigning anyway; hammering sign posts into the earth around the City of Ottawa.

The signs proclaim a wish to leave the city and return to a smaller, simpler government called Carleton County. It is a wish, born of rural discontent, that has caught the eye of

Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli, his council and some city officials, and even propelled them to do something.

The city's response to the rise of rural discontent has been to call a rural summit, a gesture that evokes images of grand diplomacy in a cornfield.

 
 
CREDIT: Rod MacIvor, The Ottawa Citizen

'The urban way of solving problems is to spend money,' says Jack MacLaren, president of the Carleton County Landowners' Association. 'The rural peoples tend to be more frugal. Big government is not better. They just become monolithic, cumbersome, inefficient bodies.' He favours de-amalgamation of the rural parts of Ottawa.

In fact, the summit boils down to a very fancy two-day town hall meeting. The first day is Tuesday at the Nepean Sportsplex and the second is next Saturday at Sir Robert Borden High School.

This week, the city designated $2 million in its draft budget for rural projects that may come out of the summit.

Ottawa's rural malaise is real and the reason why Jack MacLaren, president of the Carleton County Landowners' Association, is out at the corner of Fallowfield Road and Eagleson Road, with a group of supporters who are putting another big anti-Ottawa sign into a farmer's field: The City of Ottawa -- created through the forced amalgamation of 11 former municipalities -- is big government, with all of its heavy taxes, unnecessary intrusion in peoples' lives and urban view of the world. They want no part of it.

 
 
"Because they are big they're inefficient. The urban way of solving problems is to spend money," says Mr. MacLaren. "The rural peoples tend to be more frugal. Big government is not better. They just become monolithic, cumbersome, inefficient bodies."

 
 

"The City of Ottawa is a very expensive government. They're spending a lot of money. That's one of the problems.

"Because they are big they're inefficient. The urban way of solving problems is to spend money," says Mr. MacLaren. "The rural peoples tend to be more frugal. Big government is not better. They just become monolithic, cumbersome, inefficient bodies."

He says that the high cost of being in the city is especially difficult for farmers who are seeing the lowest commodity prices in years.

The former rural township councils used to run arenas and fire departments with volunteers, something that built community spirit and kept taxes reasonable.

Under the new city, paid city staff and big city unions have muscled in to end that local control. Public transit service has been pushed upon rural communities when there aren't the riders to justify it.

"Cost has gotten right out of control," he says.

"We feel disenfranchised because we do not have effective representation. Our democratic right to effective representation has been removed.

"The only way to put that back in place is to have rural people governing rural people in a rural municipality," says Mr. MacLaren.

He says about 1,000 citizens have paid $20 to join the Carleton Landowners' Association.

"The councillors at the City of Ottawa are very good at what they do, which is governing urban municipalities. They don't have any experience in governing a rural area," says Mr. MacLaren. "The power always ends at city council, which is urban-dominated. They're not going to change that. They can't."

Mr. MacLaren says the rural summit is a "positive and welcome first step" towards answering the grievances of rural people. But the real answer for Mr. MacLaren is "de-amalgamation and the creation of Carleton County," the old county level of government that was the predecessor to Ottawa's regional government. What Mr. MacLaren and his friends are advocating is rural separation from the city.

 

 

Rural alienation from urban Ottawa is not really new. The growth of suburban communities, from the 1960s on, was often spurred by the feeling that Ottawa had become too expensive and had too many urban problems, and that it was best to retreat to the countryside.

 
 
"We don't want to be dragged in to cover the expenses of the wasters in Ottawa
."

 
 

In 1992, when Bob Rae's NDP government decided municipal government in Ottawa required streamlining, the commissioner appointed to do the review, Graeme Kirby, heard a wail of anti-Ottawa sentiment from residents who wanted no part of the free spending that went on at the former city council chamber on Green Island, or the "opulent" new headquarters of Ottawa's increasingly important regional government.

At a meeting in Gloucester, residents lined up to argue against being part of Ottawa: "We say NO to city slickers and despot urbanites," said one resident.

"We don't want to be dragged in to cover the expenses of the wasters in Ottawa," said another.

In Goulbourn, some residents threatened to withhold taxes from any local government that did away with their old township.

In Cumberland, one resident said: "Ottawa's our handicap. That city's going to go bankrupt."

Anti-Ottawa people filled meeting halls and glowered at Mr. Kirby. That round of local government change brought a regional police force and direct election of regional councillors.

A full union of all local governments into the new City of Ottawa was forced on the region's 11 municipalities by the Conservative government of Mike Harris in the late 1990s, despite noisy campaigns in the suburbs and rural areas.

The province decided a unified local government in the province's second-largest urban region was better than a divided one. With the new millennium would come a new City of Ottawa, an urban pillar, second in importance only to Toronto.

But the Harris government went further than many people believed it would in bringing rural communities into the city, including everything from Fitzroy Harbour in the west to Sarsfield in the east. Ottawa is now the biggest city in Canada: 2,760 square kilometres, running 110 kilometres from east to west. Of that huge geography, almost 90 per cent is rural land.

Rural people, including about 1,800 farmers generating modest returns from 120,000 hectares of farms, sometimes feel swamped by urban citizens and politicians in the new city, a trend that is only accentuated by the fast growth of Ottawa. In 1996, the Ottawa region's population was 721,000. Today the city's population is 859,000.

Last year alone, the city became home to more than 14,000 new citizens. These spurts are happening in urban neighbourhoods, and rural leaders know that in future revisions to wards, rural representation can only grow slimmer. "We're outnumbered approximately 10 to one," says Mr. MacLaren.

City officials most recently took notice of rural discontent when they saw, in a poll done for the city, satisfaction rates with city services much lower in the rural areas: Only 61 per cent, a rate that was much lower than the overall satisfaction rate of 80 per cent.

For Ottawa's municipal politicians, the last municipal election, in 2003, was even more of a wakeup call. Terry Kilrea, who has no elected political experience, beat Mayor Bob Chiarelli in communities such as Rideau, Osgoode and West Carleton, and came close to beating him in Nepean and Goulbourn. Mr. Kilrea won 36 per cent of the vote overall on a strong anti-amalgamation and anti-Ottawa sentiment in rural and suburban parts of the city.

Councillor Eli El-Chantiry, who represents West Carleton and has worked to bridge the rural-urban divide, says these recent signs of disenchantment with Ottawa were the result of the "forced marriage" of amalgamation demanded by the province, followed by a "chaotic" first term for the new council, when there was a lot of confusion and many rural issues were ignored.

Mr. El-Chantiry is quick to concede many government grievances of rural residents are real: Anger at regulations that discourage church bake sales, provincial rules that require costly new water-treatment systems, planners who don't easily understand a rural development project, a chip stand vendor in a village who is asked to pay the same high fee as someone who serves hundreds of customers downtown, or the fact residents can no longer walk to a municipal office to do city business.

But he says perennial discussions about cutting ties with the city won't put an end to complaints about the state of the roads or the size of tax bills. He says even small municipalities face big tax increases due to huge cost increases for services such as police. And he says taxpayers in every Ontario city are complaining about potholes, whether they live in a city of millions or a thinly populated village. "Put separation aside and let's try to deal with the issues," says Mr. El-Chantiry.

In advance of the rural summit, the city has heard from more than 300 people across the rural areas, through a series of 16 meetings held from May until early July in West Carleton, Kanata, Goulbourn, Rideau, Osgoode and Cumberland. Those meetings found many citizens feel the rural perspective isn't respected at City Hall and that there's a one-size-fits-all approach that often doesn't make sense in smaller communities.

The issues from those meetings include everything from anger at city payments for crack-pipe equipment for drug addicts, to unreasonable dump fees at the Trail Road Landfill, to the footbridge over the Rideau Canal, a project seen as wasteful.

There were complaints about plowing, fire service and lack of respect for rural people and lack of staff who understand the rural communities. One citizen complained about having to drive to Gloucester to fight a parking ticket downtown. Many complained about the state of rural roads and ditches. A summary of the feedback, mostly complaints, goes on for 55 pages.

The city's strategy in the $150,000 rural summit is to change peoples' perspective by showing them the city is often not to blame for the specific complaints they have.

Surprisingly, the first day of the summit won't be a chance for rural people to vent their frustrations. In fact, it will be devoted to hearing from Lambton-Kent-Middlesex Liberal MPP Maria Van Bommel, who is a farmer and parliamentary secretary to the provincial minister of agriculture; former Liberal cabinet minister and longtime rural P.E.I. politician Wayne Easter; and David Freshwater, a professor from the University of Kentucky. They will be followed on the agenda by a number of government officials.

The idea is to show rural people in Ottawa rural-urban issues are wider than the boundaries of this city, and allow rural residents to question government officials about policies.

"There's a strong feeling that their voices are diminishing in the decision-making arenas," says Jim Nubel, a member of the Ontario Rural Council's board, who is on the committee organizing the Ottawa summit.

One problem, however, is that people are looking at City Hall to solve an unhappiness with government that should be directed at Queen's Park and the federal government.

"A lot of what rural citizens within the city of Ottawa deal with is legislation that's not set by the municipality but is set by the province," says Mr. Nubel.

"It's not municipal legislation. It's provincial and federal."

On an issue such as conservation of wetlands, or handling of fertilizers, for instance, people look to blame the city for government actions that don't make sense. "There's no respect for property rights," says property owner Tony Walker, who says a city designation of properties in Goulbourn as wetlands has dramatically reduced their value.

But city officials say rural anger over things such as wetlands policies cannot be fixed at City Hall, which is just enforcing provincial policy.

"The other levels of government have far more control over agriculture than the City of Ottawa does," says Cumberland Councillor Rob Jellett.

Mr. Jellett concedes communication between the city and rural people has to improve.

"When we had the 11 municipalities, everybody knew who plowed the street and everybody knew who did what in their area. That level of access has disappeared," says Mr. Jellett. "They just want to know who is making the decisions and that the people who are making the decisions take their wishes into account."

Mr. Chiarelli, who called the rural summit -- making it a central part of his New Year's address for 2005 -- says Ottawa's rural disconnect is the result of a botched municipal amalgamation that created the new city in 2001. Mr. Chiarelli says that when the new city was created, there was needless confusion when all municipal employees found their old jobs gone, and entirely new job descriptions came in. Familiar faces were suddenly gone.

"In the rural areas, there was a closer relationship to a lot of the staff. We need to introduce our staff people to the people in the rural areas," he says.

Mr. Chiarelli says there's far from unanimity among rural leaders on issues such as hog farms. But he says the urban focus at City Hall is a problem.

"The rurals have to have more control over their own agenda. We have to have staff in the city who are versed and experienced in rural and agricultural issues," says Mr. Chiarelli.

He wants to see a stronger rural affairs committee at City Hall and greater awareness among city staff about the rural communities, so that measures that alienate rural residents -- such as bylaws that won't work in rural areas -- are no longer brought forward.

Doug Thompson, councillor for Osgoode Ward, says there are many legitimate complaints about how the city operates for the rural areas. He's even a member of the Carleton Landowners' Association.

Why does it take six weeks to get a building permit when it used to take two? Why can't there be a simple routine for calling the works department about a pothole?

This former mayor of Osgoode Township hopes the summit will generate solutions to rural complaints, and perhaps end with some kind of borough council, where councillors are formally advised by a group of ward residents. But Mr. Thompson, once a fierce opponent of amalgamation, says the new City of Ottawa is here to stay. Amalgamation will never be undone, he says.

"We can't go back to the way it was."

 The Ottawa Citizen 2005

 

Rural Summit Countdown...

'Last shot at keeping the city together'

Ron Corbett
The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Jack MacLaren has roots in this region that go back about as far as anyone's. He even lives in MacLaren's Landing, a community in West-Carleton named after his great-great-grandfather, David, who came here in 1826.

The engineer, who chose to return to the family farm and raise his family, hardly looks, or seems, threatening. Soft-spoken. Hound-dog moustache. Wire-rim glasses. He looks the way you might expect a genteel, middle-aged, family farmer to look.

Yet there is a long list of people who feel threatened by Jack MacLaren today -- West-Carleton councillor Eli El-Chantiry; Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli; a few other councillors; anyone who believes in this dream of an amalgamated City of Ottawa.

"Enough is enough," he says, after ticking off a long list of complaints rural residents have towards a distant city hall.

"We do not have effective rural representation. We are governed by others. It's time we started governing ourselves again."

The words are spoken softly. He even shrugs afterwards. What else can you say? If you were expecting a fist in the air you've come to the wrong farm.

Four months ago, Mr. MacLaren and others in West Carleton formed the Carleton Landowners' Association (CLA). The group has as its main aim the "reconstituting" of Carleton County, and although it will not be a participant in the rural summit (because de-amalgamation will not be discussed) the CLA will have a lot of friends around the table.

"I am supportive of what they are doing," says Rideau Ward Councillor Glen Brooks.

"They have done a wonderful job of highlighting some of the issues and concerns of rural residents. Without Jack and his group, I don't know if there would be the same sense of urgency, and will to achieve something, that I think we have going into the rural summit."

 
 
"I think most people in the rural wards feel that the amalgamated city has been a great mistake." 

                                                                         -Bruce Webster, Richmond

 
 

To questions of whether he supports the ultimate goal of the CLA -- the breakup of the city -- Mr. Brooks equivocates.

"Let's put it this way," he says, "the rural summit has to achieve something real. If it turns out to be a complete waste of time, if it's nothing but talk, then we will be left with some serious, serious problems. I see the rural summit as the last shot at keeping the city together."

 

 

That two sitting members of Ottawa council -- even in passing, even in hypothetical situations, even under the grandest what-if-scenario imaginable -- would think of supporting the breakup of the city might come as a surprise to people living in the urban core. It surprises no one in the rural wards.

"I think most people in the rural wards feel that the amalgamated city has been a great mistake," says Bruce Webster, head of the Richmond Village Association. "For us, it has brought about a loss of dignity, a loss of respect and a loss of identity."

These are complaints heard often on the streets of villages like Richmond, Metcalfe, Burritts Rapids, Fitzroy Harbour. Stories are told of phoning City Hall, only to be put on hold for interminable stretches, then told to phone another number. "Before, it was a one-minute phone call," says Mr. MacLaren.

There are complaints about declining services and rising taxes. Call centre operators who don't know where the culvert is that's overflowing, or the nearest village to the culvert. Stories of city crews that come out to repair a road sign when, before, one man would do the job on his way home.

Specific city issues -- from smoking bylaws to pesticide bylaws; hog farms to wetland designations -- have infuriated many people in rural wards, who see it as a sign of a bureaucratic nanny state. Exactly the sort of thing they live in the country to avoid.

"I think, not only for the rural residents, but for many municipal and provincial politicians," says Mr. Webster, "there is the feeling that, if we had to do it all over again, we wouldn't have amalgamated.

"The question now is how do you fix the mistake?"

 

 

There is one large obstacle in the way of de-amalgamation -- the provincial government.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has flat out said de-amalgamation will never happen under his watch. And if the Liberals were to lose an election, well, it was the Conservatives who forced amalgamation on everyone in the first place. As for the NDP, could they form a government?

Do the what-ifs one more time, and it seems unlikely there will be a provincial government anytime soon that would support the breakup of the city. And without the province's consent, it would seem to be a nonstarter.

Perhaps it says something about rural residents that this rather significant stumbling block doesn't seem to faze them.

"Kawartha Lakes has already voted to de-amalgamate from Peterborough," says Mr. Webster. "If the same thing happens in Ottawa, then someplace else, honestly, how many times can a government say no?"

The short answer might be forever, but hope springs eternal.

 

 

It's a rainy night in Richmond and the parking lot of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 525, is filled with pickups and mini-vans. Inside, a meeting of the CLA is under way.

This is the second in what the CLA has called a "rolling referendum" on whether rural residents want to stay in the amalgamated city. The group has mailed out a questionnaire to every household in Goulbourn, asking if they want to stay in Ottawa, or re-create Carleton County. The results will be revealed tonight.

The first meeting was in West Carleton, where it was revealed 90 per cent of respondents wanted out of Ottawa. Although many people (including the councillor, Eli El-Chantiry) have criticized the group's methodology, and the sample size (13 per cent of households responded), the idea seems to have caught on, and the hall has a nice crowd, even on a night with the first freezing rain warning of the season in effect.

The meeting begins with the singing of O Canada, and then the "Carleton Girls" (Mr. MacLaren's daughter and a friend) wave small Canadian flags as guest after guest walks to the podium to address the crowd.

Between the speeches, and with much flag-waving from the Carleton Girls, the results of the rolling referendum are revealed on a tote board. This time, again with roughly a 13 per cent response rate, the final number is also roughly the same -- 94 per cent of respondents want to leave Ottawa, and re-create Carleton County.

It would be easy to be cynical about this endeavour. There's no chance of success, according to the province. A questionable survey. Earnest neophytes going up against a master politician such as Bob Chiarelli.

And then it occurs to me that when families like Jack MacLaren's first arrived, a lot of people doubted their chances of success. It might be a big mistake discounting them today.

 The Ottawa Citizen 2005

 

Rural Summit Countdown...

The people of Ottawa speak

Of four people living in very different parts of Ottawa, only the urban-dweller has a positive view of the expanded city, reports Carrie Kristal-Schroder.

 
Carrie Kristal-Schroder
The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A farmer in Cumberland, a salon owner in Carp, a semi-retired executive from Manor Park and a processing plant worker in North Gower. They lead vastly different lifestyles in far reaches of the City of Ottawa.

However, like an arranged marriage, for better or worse, their lots are now cast together after the rural townships were swallowed up after amalgamation. These very different people with diverse needs who are now part of the same sprawling city are not yet part of one big, happy family.

 
 
CREDIT: Chris Mikula, The Ottawa Citizen

Cumberland dairy farmer Bert Molenaar says he likes 'nothing' about being part of the expanded City of Ottawa, but says he opposes de-amalgamation.

As Mayor Bob Chiarelli's rural summit approaches, they all agreed to share with the Citizen what amalgamation has meant for them, and like their chosen paths in life, they cover a wide range of opinions.

The Farmer

Bert Molenaar and his wife, Wendy, have owned a dairy farm in Cumberland for 14 years. The Molenaars have three children, Jordan, 17, Lydia, 16, and Rhea, 14.

All three put in a great deal of time helping out on the farm, including feeding the cattle and running the tractors. It's not an easy way to make a living, says Mr. Molenaar, and it's necessary for the children to put in so much time because, like most farmers, they can't afford to hire outside help.

And while farming was never an easy occupation, Mr. Molenaar says it's gotten harder since Cumberland Township became part of Ottawa.

"The agricultural economy in Canada is the second-largest economic driver in the country and we have to take care of our agricultural economy," said Mr. Molenaar.

"But when we became part of Ottawa, they put in an urban agenda. Period. There was never any provision made for a rural agenda. The city needed to have somebody there who knew something about agriculture. They didn't. I'm sure they don't know that, when someone spends $14 on a pizza, the farmer only gets 63 cents.

"Our family, personally, is doing OK, but you can never really get ahead."

What do you like about being part of Ottawa?

"Nothing."

What don't you like?

"That I'm paying for all kinds of city services, including OC Transpo. Now we're paying city rates for everything, including when we have to pay a plumber or a mechanic. And then there are the increased tax assessments.

"The city really doesn't understand agriculture. They spent millions fighting that hog farm -- and they lost."

Do you feel like you're part of Ottawa?

"No. When we lived in Cumberland, they understood farming, they were agricultural-based people. I could go in with an engineer-stamped drawing for a silo and, as long as we were on stable soil, we'd get a permit. When I applied for a permit to build a silo in Ottawa, maybe -- maybe -- I would get a permit in 15 working days. Then they wanted me to soil-test bedrock."

Would you vote for de-amalgamation?

"No. What's happened has happened. Plus, there were a few small municipalities that were not viable, although Cumberland was OK since we were pay as you go. Now, we've got to live together, so let's work together to resolve issues."

Are you in favour of holding a rural summit?

"Yes. They called and asked me to speak there, so I'll be part of a panel discussion and questions and answers from people attending. But it can't be just smoke and mirrors.

"I'm not overly optimistic, but there is always hope -- and we can always move ahead, as long as we all work together.

"I hope they do follow up on the recommendations."

What changes would you like to see come out of the rural summit?

"The city doesn't know what's going on out here and they stick their nose in things they don't understand. There are already lots of provincial guidelines in place.

"The city needs to stay in its urban boundary: Look after your urban boundary and let the agricultural policies be dictated by the province.

"And we need to have a committee of agricultural people who can direct the city. And don't dispute the policies that are made by that agricultural body. Give the panel some authority.

"Right now, they don't know what agriculture is, but they try and dictate to farmers. I really don't think I should be telling others how to do their jobs, when I don't know anything about their work. And vice versa. If they want to come and learn how to milk cows and farm, then come and learn. And once you've got enough experience and you know what's going on, then advice is always great.

"But if they do start an agriculture committee, they can't put people on it who just live in the rural areas -- they don't understand agriculture, either: sometimes they move out here and forget that, yes, we do have manure, and sick cows, and sometimes we have to combine in the middle of the night.

"But I think we can work it out together if we just let common sense prevail and if we take care of our agricultural industries.

"Oh, and I think it would be a good thing to invest in some of the county fairs around -- like the Carp Fair and the Navan Fair. Even if the city gave $5,000 to each fair, it would mean a lot, just to show they want to promote local agriculture."

The Rural Businesswoman

Donna Morand, a hair stylist and the owner of Innovations Hair Studio and Spa in Carp, was born in West Carleton and loves working in a small town.

"I've worked in different businesses in the city. People are a little bit friendlier, I find, in the country," said Ms. Morand, who lives in nearby Kinburn. "You know the locals that you pass on the street every day and it's a more close-knit community."

Ms. Morand also enjoys local events that draw out residents and enhance the sense of community.

"They're kind of a meeting ground where you get to see everyone," said Ms. Morand, citing the Carp Fair as one example. "But there's also Ladies Night: it must be close to 800 women who come out for that. It's like an appreciation night for Carp women: they have a meal and some sort of entertainment -- it draws women from all over West Carleton."

But doing business in the village of Carp isn't as easy as it used to be, said Ms. Morand who, in seven years, has built up a loyal clientele at her elegant salon, in an old white clapboard house.

"I lost a lot of money last year, after a city bylaw caused me to lose the sale of another business I'd started down the road," said Ms. Morand, who had started up a women's fitness studio, and had an eager buyer for her business, which was situated in a scenic little spot that included the Carp River flowing in the back and a little pond.

"But lo and behold, we found out that there were a list of the types of business you could put there -- you couldn't put a gas station there; it's right beside the river -- but the city wouldn't allow a fitness studio because it was zoned as rural commercial."

Ms. Morand said she, and the landlord who owned the property, tried to get the zoning changed, but officials at the city wouldn't even listen.

"I had to relocate but I had almost no options on where to move and it was way too expensive to run, so I had to close it down within months," said Ms. Morand.

She said she wasn't the only one angry about the decision not to allow the fitness studio to remain in its original location. "There are a lot of disappointed people who lost their gym. And the owner had been planning an extension to add a men's gym."

What do you like about being part of Ottawa?

"Nothing. I haven't been happy."

What don't you like?

"Well, we never would have had the problems getting re-zoning for the fitness studio if we were still our own township. We just didn't have as many problems as far as zoning and permits. I think a lot of problems are caused because they have the same rules for the city and the country.

"I think a lot of people, by word of mouth, are bitter about the restrictions we have to abide by -- you can understand those rules in the city -- we're seeing it everywhere. It goes right down to the dog bylaws.

"And my taxes went up."

Do you feel like you're part of Ottawa?

"No. I'm still from West Carleton. We don't consider this part of Ottawa -- this isn't Ottawa."

Would you vote for de-amalgamation?

"Yes. Of course if it cost more, we wouldn't go that route."

Are you in favour of holding a rural summit?

"Absolutely. I think people need to speak out. It's a positive sign that people want to listen: as long as some changes come out of it."

What changes would you like to see come out of the rural summit?

"They need different bylaws and different zoning and permits. We shouldn't have the same rules applied here as they do downtown. The rules would have to be different -- keep the city and the country separate.

"They may want to call us all the City of Ottawa, but we should be treated differently."

The Villager

Ken Graff and his wife have lived on a three-acre property on the outskirts of North Gower for more than 20 years. It was a good place to raise children, said Mr. Graff, who has two grown daughters.

"We have a big fenced-in back yard with room for a big play structure. We could put the kids in the yard and we never had to worry about the kids running onto the road and getting hit by cars," said Mr. Graff, whose daughters participated in 4-H as children.

One of his favourite things about living in a rural area is the lack of pollution, including noise and unnecessary lights -- a place where stars are actually visible at night.

"We shut the lights off here at night and there are no other lights and it's quiet," said Mr. Graff, who works at a food processing plant in Ottawa.

But although he loves his quiet rural lifestyle, life isn't quite so idyllic since amalgamation, said Mr. Graff.

What do you like about being part of Ottawa?

Nothing.

What don't you like?

Taxes are going up again. But we get nothing.

And before amalgamation, our road used to be plowed before we'd leave home in the mornings for work -- we leave at about 5:20 in the morning. Now, we're lucky if they're plowed by the time we get home from work at about 3 p.m.

The only service we get now is garbage pickup. I have my own septic system and we're on a well. So we haven't gained anything; we've only lost. We used to have a lot better road maintenance, like grading, than we do now. It just costs us more to live in the same house with less service.

Do you feel like you're part of Ottawa?

No. I don't mind Ottawa, but I don't feel part of the city.

Would you vote for de-amalgamation?

Yes.

Are you in favour of holding a Rural Summit?

Yes. It's people from the country looking after people from the country. City people have no concept about what it's like to live out here, but I hope they are ready to listen -- they should be.

What changes would you like to see come out of the Rural Summit?

It would help if we got some more services. If emergency vehicles had to come up our road it would be dangerous -- there's potholes everywhere.

I think they should come up with a better way of doing our taxes. Why should I pay as much as someone in the city who's got all the services and I don't?

I'd like some of the politicians who don't know anything about what it's like to live in a rural area to come out here and go live on a farm for a week.

The Urbanite

Despite having lived in Ottawa's Manor Park area for the past 32 years, raising three grown children as a single father, Wally Parsons believes he has a pretty good understanding of the rural perspective. That's because Mr. Parsons, a former business executive, now semi-retired, grew up on a small hobby farm near Belleville.

"I had a wonderful childhood; you feel so free out there," said Mr. Parsons, adding he thinks city people may not realize how important certain issues, such as pesticides, are to rural residents.

"I stopped using pesticides years ago, and it's not a huge issue for me. But for people out in the rural areas, they're real concern is whether it will deprive them of what they need to make a living."

For all his affinity for rural living, however, Mr. Parsons, who is involved in several community and charity activities, thrives on city life.

What do you like about being part of Ottawa?

"I really enjoy the city, with its close proximity to everything. Where I live in Manor Park, I'm five minutes to the (Byward) Market and seven minutes to Parliament Hill.

"There are so many organizations people can be involved in; there's so much great entertainment available, like at the National Arts Centre; and there are so many wonderful restaurants. I take advantage of all these things."

What don't you like?

"Well, Ottawa is a pretty darn good city. Although I do like to get away to the cottage where it's quiet and I can enjoy nature and the water."

Do you feel like you're part of Ottawa?

"Yes."

Would you vote for de-amalgamation?

"No."

Are you in favour of holding a rural summit?

"Yes. I'm delighted with the rural summit. The city is now so different in different areas and we need to figure out how to make it truly a city, where everyone is happy."

What changes would you like to see come out of the rural summit?

"I would like to see an understanding of the diversity of the city. Because if there's one thing that's important, it's for all elements of the city to be fully understood and to be treated well.

"Otherwise we'll never truly become one city -- we've got to blend this into one united city. It's a difficult job."

 The Ottawa Citizen 2005

 

 

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