Jules Bouvier’s career has been at city hall. The horticulture specialist has spent 20 years working inside the system. And now he wants a chance to shape Ottawa from a new perch: that of a seat around the large council table.
So, he’s running in his home ward of Rideau-Rockcliffe, where he’s lived for nearly 40 of his 46 years. It’s a time of change, he says, and he knows what needs changing.
Watching more than $10 million cut from the budget in 2004, Bouvier felt deep frustration.
“I thought, “I can do better than most of these people,'” he recalls.
And where others might search for a riding with an unpopular councillor, Bouvier decided to stay close to home. Trouble is, Jacques Legendre is pretty deeply settled into his council chair: last election he won some 80 percent of the votes. On the other hand, Legendre has been there for 15 years and there’s a building momentum for a change at city hall. Only 27 percent of eligible voters in Rideau-Rockcliffe bothered to show up at the voting booth in 2003 — tied for the lowest turnout in the city and pitiful even by the traditionally low participation that plagues civic elections.
“At least he reads the reports,” says Bouvier of Legendre. Some councillors don’t even do that. But, “he should be the employee,” rather than the political leader. “Vision is not happening” with Legendre. “In my time here, this is the worst council.”
Bouvier knows he’s only got a long shot at the seat, but stranger things have happened when voters get sick of dysfunctional political bodies. It’s his first try for elected office.
Legendre has his strong supporters, that’s for sure. But Bouvier says he’s picking up a rumbling for change even in his ward. The pesticide by-law, which was “in the bag” before the mayor’s mishandling of the file, helped people see how bad things really are at city hall, he says.
“The timing is right. And I think I have the experience” people need in a councillor, he says. Bouvier promises to listen to the community associations and average people.
His campaign is truly grassroots. Bouvier doesn’t have the political machine — often tied to the major political parties despite the official claim that city politics is party-free — that many other candidates across the city enjoy.
Bouvier would have voted to give $20,000 in bailout money to the Pride Committee this past summer. Philosophically, he has a problem with bailouts for festivals. But after two other festivals were bailed out in spring, council and the mayor had to treat the city’s queer festival the same as the others. They didn’t.
“It was totally unreasonable. [When the gay community asks for equal treatment] now they stop? Even if it’s not discrimination, it appears to be and in some way supports discrimination. It will strengthen the rightwing.”
Bouvier is an out gay man. His nine-year partner is Mario Larochelle, the Mr Leather Ottawa titleholder for 2006 and the originator of the annual Swirl & Twirl wine-tasting fundraiser. The gay issue isn’t prominent while campaigning in his ward.
“I’m not being closeted. If someone asks, no problem. But I’m not going to know on doors and say, ‘I’m your gay candidate.” He’s out at work and has support from his co-workers, says Bouvier.
Still, he knows that being gay will have some impact on his role as a city councillor. But he’s not looking to be a gay activist on council.
“If it’s an issue with spending costs, it will have to fit into the big picture. Certainly, there’s lots of room for gay issues.” And he’ll be accessible to the community, he says.
Bouvier supports creating a Rainbow Village in the downtown core, and wants to see a queer community centre built. The queer community should get “at the very least the same respect and same treatment that other communities get.”
But the gay and lesbian, bisexual and trans community’s success lies largely in its own hands. “The gay community in Ottawa needs help and I don’t mean from city council. It’s not working. The same people are volunteering for everything. In this community there’s little involvement.
“People show up at the Parade but they’re nowhere to be found when it’s time to pay for those events. We’re doing a disservice to people who need a community.” He hopes things will change as younger people get involved.
Whatever the result, Bouvier’s proud he’s running for council. “Win or lose, I’ve already accomplished what I set out to accomplish: to address issues I care about, offer an alternative, and get out of my comfort zone.”