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Mayor double booked for sole Pride appearance

After passing on the flag raising and parade, O'Brien in conflict over Town Hall

LIGHTNING LARRY. Ottawa mayor Larry O'Brien's last minute change of plans means he may only pop in to the Mayor's Town Hall. Credit: Pat Croteau

Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. It might be a quick in and out for the mayor at the only Pride event he has agreed to attend.

O’Brien is balking on a full meeting with the queer community, event organizers say, leaving them spitting nails.

Organizers of the Mayor’s Town Hall, an annual event that gives the city’s top politician a chance to hear from his queer constituents, were given 48 hours notice of his change of plans. That’s because the mayor is now double booked, representatives say.

Jeremy Dias of Jer’s Vision calls the mayor’s decision “an insult.”

“We’ve dedicated a lot of hours to this — probably more than we should have. We as an organization have never had this much difficulty working with a politician,” says Dias.

Last November, Dias extracted a verbal commitment from O’Brien to meet with the gay community. At the time, O’Brien told Dias that the meeting would have to wait until after the Feb 2007 budget considerations. This spring, Dias tried again, but the mayor’s office sent two assistants to the community meeting instead of the mayor. Neither of the staffers — Walter Robinson and Mike Patton — remain employed at the mayor’s office, Dias points out.

The mayor’s office says it comes down to a scheduling conflict. The city’s Long Range Financial Planning (LRFP) Committee was set to meet on Mon, Aug 20. But because the committee’s staff and some councillors couldn’t make it, the LRFP meeting was rescheduled to Aug 23, 1-9pm, says Pat Uguccioni from the mayor’s office. The Mayor’s Town Hall is the same day, from 7-9pm.

According to Uguccioni, a comment he made about the mayor stopping by for “15 minutes or half an hour” was not intended as an estimate of how long O’Brien would be at the Town Hall.

“[O’Brien] might not be able to attend the whole meeting but he’s still committed to attending,” says Uguccioni.

“They mayor will, I’m sure, be there for more than 15 minutes,” he says.

The finance committee was bumped because of the Association Of Municipalities Of Ontario (AMO) meeting held in Ottawa Aug 19-22. Uguccioni admits that the city “has known about [the AMO Conference] for quite some time” — the city organized the three-day conference, after all — and that better planning could have prevented the last-minute change.

So how much time will O’Brien spend at the Mayor’s Town Hall? That depends on how the financial planning committee goes. Often contentious votes are left to the end of the meeting and it’s a full agenda, Uguccioni says. That means there’s a good chance gays could get squeezed.

This year, O’Brien broke with tradition by not attending the City Hall flag raising. He is not expected to attend the Pride Parade either. A representative from the mayor’s office told Capital Xtra last week “we’re not in the habit of divulging where the mayor will be at any given time, for security reasons” and at the time would only confirm that the mayor was “tentatively confirmed” for this week’s Town Hall.

The mayor’s decision left Pride Chair Gordon Boissonneault audibly upset.

“Our mayor is just going to breeze in, wave, and breeze out,” he says. “I think it’s abundantly clear: the mayor has shown his true colours.”

At 1pm Aug 22, Dias issued a press release on behalf of Jer’s Vision.

“The Mayor’s Office announced that he will remain at the Financial Plan[ning] meeting, and not let the Vice-Chair take over as planned. The Mayor’s Office demanded that Jer’s Vision choose to either reschedule the event to another day (no days were proposed) or permit Mr. O’Brien to attend the meeting for 15 minutes. It was also made clear that the Mr. O’Brien would do only one event, and that plans for future events were not optional,” it reads.

“I urge all member of the Rainbow Community to please attend the Town Hall, and show that you want to meet with Mr. O’Brien, that you want him to be aware of our issues, and that his ignorance of our community is unacceptable. “

Vern White, Ottawa’s chief of police, and rainbow village councillor Diane Holmes are still expected to attend.