Delays and roadblocks have become a frustrating reality for representatives of a number of Ottawa’s queer organizations in their attempt to secure a face-to-face meeting with Mayor Larry O’Brien.
Jeremy Dias, director of Jer’s Vision, first sought a meeting with O’Brien during the 2006 municipal election campaign. It never happened. In fact, O’Brien cancelled his appearance at the mayoral candidate’s debate on queer issues at the last minute.
After the election, Dias continued to pursue a meeting with the new mayor along with representatives from a variety of gay organizations in Ottawa.
“He [O’Brien] said he’d do it after light rail, which would be hopefully the end of January; then after the budget, and it got pushed back again. And since then Jer’s Vision has been trying to consult with some of the major community organizations, closer partner organizations, to let them know we’re doing it,” said Dias.
He informally canvassed a number of community leaders, including longtime activists and representatives from Capital Pride, the AIDS Committee Of Ottawa, Ten Oaks and the Two-Spirit Program at the Minwaashin Lodge.
According to Mike Patton, a media relations officer in the Mayor’s Office, a meeting with O’Brien is not easy to come by, as the office is often overwhelmed with requests.
“Considering the number of requests every day, we try as much as possible to deal with it at the staff level-political staff, mayor’s office staff, ,” said Patton.
“The majority of the time issues can be worked out without meeting the mayor.”
According to Dias though, face time with the mayor was already agreed upon, and the timing was just to be determined. Now he feels that O’Brien’s office is being uncooperative and is not recognizing their previous commitment.
“We’ve [Jer’s Vision has] put a lot of resources in it. We’ve always been told we’d get this meeting with the mayor, and that it’s only a matter or time. Now we’re meeting with assistants and it would seem it’s replacing a meeting with the mayor and there’s no confirmation otherwise.
“We’re concerned because they’re giving us no comment on it, but previously it was ‘yes, you absolutely will be meeting’.”
Patton doesn’t see any rush for O’Brien to speak with Dias and his colleagues.
“The preliminary meetings, we’re not too fussy about that. The chief of staff, Walter Robinson, he would be willing to meeting with Jeremy and whoever he felt was significant, as a preliminary set up. Any meeting would be sort of bogged down until the office has a clear idea of what the issues are and … If there’s an issue that [Robinson] says, ‘Gee whiz, that’s important, we should get on that in six months,’ we’ll put it off for six months so that we can deal with it properly,” said Patton.
Coordinating other members of the community for the meeting has not been an easy task for Dias either. When emails started circulating asking if people were interested in meeting with one of O’Brien’s assistants a few weeks prior to sitting down with the mayor questions arose as to how the list of recipients was created and just how inclusive the meetings would be. In addition to trying to include and represent the myriad of perspectives from within the gay and lesbian community, scheduling was also a concern.
The representatives decided to go ahead with the meeting with an assistant to serve as a precursor to sitting down with O’Brien, but that they would require two weeks notice in order to organize, as well requesting an evening meeting so those with full-time work would be able to attend. According to Dias, 10 a.m. meetings were presented as their only option and they had to decline.
“They’re being jerks about it, and I think we’re at an impasse. Jer’s Vision is in no terms trying to represent the community; we are purely working on behalf of the community, and trying to be this sort of conduit or messenger between the community and the Mayor’s Office. The Mayor’s Office is not really communicating all that appropriately … The temperature in the community is rising. If we don’t have an answer by a reasonable time, a lot of [people] will be really upset,” said Dias.
Representing the entire gay community is one thing that Patton and Dias both see as complicated.
“The gay community is more complex in terms of who is the official spokesperson for gay community. We’d be happy to meet with Jeremy and whatever people he suggests, because that’s what we do. Is this the group that’s going to be the official spokesperson? We don’t know. Our understanding is that it’s not that easy,” said Patton.