There was some (mostly) good-natured griping among city hall reporters at last week’s inaugural meeting of the new council, and no wonder: It started on time, was over in an hour and a half, and the period in between was characterized by minimal pointless bickering around the council table.
Gone was the drama of the O’Brien era, as the press soberly faced the prospect of having to cover a functional council and maybe even (horrors!) the issues. What’s bad for the local scribes might work out pretty well for Ottawa.
Of course, it’s still early days, and much of the business before council was numbing procedural stuff hardly worth arguing over.
There was a spark of the old magic, however, when Capital Coun. David Chernushenko piped up, during a discussion of reimbursing members of city advisory committees for mileage racked up driving to meetings, as city staff already are.
He pointed out that Ottawa’s official plan prioritizes healthier, less wasteful and more environmentally sustainable active transit like walking and cycling, and public transit, over the private car. To pay people to drive to meetings, he said, was “perverse,” and perhaps the city could come up with some kind of mileage formula to reimburse walkers and cyclists.
That was enough for Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, who pronounced the idea of paying people to walk or bike “ridiculous.”
Blais’ point is taken. What recoupable expenses are incurred by walking and biking? Sneaker depreciation? Power bars?
Still, the embarrassing fact remains that we as a city are, with mileage allowances, encouraging people to use the most expensive, least sustainable mode of transport only because it’s the most expensive and least sustainable. It’s the way it’s always been done, but perverse is still the word for it.
There also seems to be something about the humble bicycle that touches off weird political culture wars that so often shove substantive debate off the stage.
In his turn as court jester for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford last week, Don Cherry bizarrely singled out “all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles” as enemies of the new populist regime.
We can be thankful the rhetoric’s a little cooler here for now, and even if Chernushenko’s scheme to pay cyclists and walkers is a non-starter, maybe we could contemplate eliminating mileage allowances entirely and letting city workers pay for their own drive -– or walk – to work.