As the candidates for the 2014 municipal election begin to make themselves known, one riding is seeing an influx of LGBT representation. Somerset Ward 14, currently presided over by Councillor Diane Holmes, is one of the most diverse wards in the city and home to the gay village. Denis Schryburt, a recognized member of the LGBT community, announced last week his plans to run. And now Jeff Morrison is entering the fray.
An out gay man and a strong advocate for the LGBT community, Morrison is perhaps best known in Ottawa as president of the board of the Centretown Community Health Centre. His resumé also includes many years of advocacy and governmental relations work for organizations like the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the Canadian Pharmacists Association. Morrison plans to announce his candidacy officially on Jan 29 and he will step down from his position on the CCHC board on Jan 28.
“The really core theme of my campaign is going to be on results-based change,” he says. “All candidates talk about change; that’s pretty stereotypical. I think what I bring, though, is a record of actually achieving results.”
In his many years as a lobbyist, Morrison says, he has led a number of successful campaigns, including the restoration of Somerset House, a well-publicized crusade against the construction of a downtown Ottawa casino and, through his work with the CCA, securing billions of dollars in infrastructure funding for municipalities and promoting green buildings.
“My attitude is all politics is local,” he says. “I find that the most meaningful results are those that are as local and as grassroots as possible . . . Grassroots politics is where I find leaders can make the biggest difference in the lives of individuals.”
Morrison plans to run on a four-point campaign, focusing on the key themes of better partnerships with the private and public sectors; better community engagement; building innovation, looking at how neighbourhoods and communities are developed downtown; and better livability and vibrancy in the downtown core.
Here are his thoughts on some of the important issues facing Somerset Ward.
“A couple of years ago, we had the Village designation on Bank Street, which was great. But you notice other than maybe Pride weekend there’s really no use of that street for any kind of get-togethers, for any occasions for the gay community to come together.” Morrison wants to adopt a Montreal-style approach, potentially shutting down the street once a week to allow pedestrians to explore Village businesses. “It’s just little things you can do, in partnership with others, to really bring some vibrancy to our core. Everybody I talk to says that’s missing.”
Bank Street revitalization
Morrison plans to use the success of his campaign to restore the dilapidated Somerset House as a model for further downtown improvements. “We had a building [that], for five years, sat there — nothing happened . . . It wasn’t until I was able to rally the community — and it wasn’t just me, it was all of us who got together and said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and we made the change. We effected that change.” Morrison hopes to use the community-engagement approach to tackle other properties that have fallen into disrepair and has set his sights on the façade of Barrymore’s on Bank Street.
“I’m fully in support of it,” Morrison says, of the city’s planned LRT development, which is already underway. “I think this is something we drastically need.” He is, however, concerned about the impact of construction on the downtown core, particularly in residential areas. Through his work with the CCA, Morrison has relationships with several construction companies and plans to use them to address the local community’s concerns and hopefully mitigate the effects of LRT construction.
Safe injection site
“I think we should have a real, serious community conversation about this issue: about the details of it, where it could go, is it viable, what some of the concerns are with the community,” Morrison says. “Safe injection sites, we know they work. We know they are effective at reducing the health impacts associated with needle use and drug use. Let’s have the conversation.” He points to current Ward 14 Councillor Diane Holmes’s reluctance to engage in a dialogue about the issue, something he will continue to contend with if he runs against her.
Councillor Holmes confirmed to Xtra last week that she does plan to run again in 2014.
“If you want to have an engaged community you should not only want engagement, but more importantly, engagement on the difficult issues,” Morrison says. “We shouldn’t have a councillor who’s scared of having a fulsome debate on difficult issues . . . unfortunately, Ms Holmes has not wanted to have that conversation. I do.”