Customer service lost with amalgamation


The Stittsville News

October 12, 2004

"Customer service" for residents has been lost

   There is a lot of discontent these days about the amalgamated city of Ottawa, with many references to the "good old days" when there were 12 municipal entities serving the people of the Ottawa-Carleton area.
   And, indeed, much is made of the loss of political representation. The Ontario Municipal Board even had to rule on a proposal to alter ward boundaries which would have affected political representation in the rural areas of the city.
   Political representation now is much less than it was when there were 11 mayors, 11 municipal councils and one regional council with a regional chair.
   But we believe that much of the discontent prevalent today in the new city of Ottawa stems as much, or perhaps even more, from the loss of bureaucratic and administrative representation than residents have suffered with amalgamation than from the decline in political representation.
   In that past life, when there were 11 separate municipalities, residents were able to pick up the phone and easily contact a staff person in the roads department or the bylaw department or the tax department or the planning department or the recreation department. If a resident had a concern about a municipal service, there was ready and easy access to a bureaucrat who knew the area and who responded quickly. You could actually talk to someone about your problem with the expectation that some action would be taken.
   And then you always had the political route if not satisfied with the bureaucratic response.
   But now, you phone and get recordings. You phone and get the answer that someone will get back to you - and you never hear again. You phone and no one seems to want to take the responsibility for something being done.
   And, of course now, councilors are so much more concerned about vision and Go-trains and budgeting that the little complaints and


concerns of people rarely find an immediate response. Even a councilor, we suspect, has to go through layers of officialdom before getting anywhere near an answer to a problem.
So, the new city has taken away not only the local political representation and decision-making that residents in all parts of the new city enjoyed, but it has also removed the "customer service" that was being provided by the staffs of all of the local municipalities prior to the amalgamation. Now, it is a massive bureaucracy, more concerned, it appears, with hierarchy and policy than with serving the tax-paying customers of the municipality. So, that is why there is and why there should be discontent with the new city.
   It has not only removed local political representation but it has also removed local access to the bureaucracy, those who are delivering the municipal services to the city's hundreds of thousands of residents. No wonder everyone is getting to feel alienated. No wonder everyone is starting to question the  amalgamation.
   It is time that the city realizes that the "one size fits all" approach that has been taken to date with regard to the new city, may not be the appropriate approach to take and that more customer service and more diversity in delivery models might be keys to get the city back onto track where it will gain the respect rather than the contempt of its residents.

The Stittsville News