Shawn Little, one of Ottawa’s first openly gay city councillors, passed away from a heart condition while vacationing in Cuba Nov 24.
Born and raised in Westboro, Little’s legacy is seen in the ways he helped improve the neighbourhood he once called home by working to tackle crime.
Before getting a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Carleton University, Little earned extra money babysitting former prime minister Joe Clark’s daughter Catherine. A gifted impressionist, friend and colleague Jeff Leiper, with the Hintonburg Community Association (HCA), says he recalls Little leaving party-goers in stitches with his dead-on impression of Clark.
“[Shawn] could keep people going for hours laughing with his impersonations,” Leiper says.
But it was Little’s talent in the political realm that kept him on city council for nine years. In office from 1997 to 2006, his reign as Kitchissippi ward councillor included several triumphs, but his tenure was also tumultuous.
When the city amalgamated in 2000, Little was pitted against Linda Davis, who had represented Kitchissippi regionally, for the title of Kitchissippi ward councillor.
When Little emerged victorious, Davis accused his campaign team of overspending on the election. After an outside audit found no wrongdoing, city council launched its own audit and found Little’s campaign had overspent by $2,600.
Council laid charges against Little under the Municipal Elections Act, although several community members voiced their opposition to the charges.
Residents of his ward say that, despite the controversy that followed him, the work he did to improve the neighbourhood is everlasting.
Cheryl Parrott, who co-founded the Hintonburg Economic Development Committee with Little, says he worked with police to rid the neighbourhood of crime.
“He started the process of transforming the neighbourhood from a place that nobody wanted to say they were from to a place that people want to move into,” Parrott says.
Additionally, Little forced the city to remove a Hintonburg snow-dump location that proved to be a massive headache for residents during winter months, Parrott says.
Little spearheaded the massive Loblaws superstore project on Wellington Street West, revitalizing the once drab area into a commercial hub, Leiper says.
He says there was a surge of opposition to the superstore, but Little stuck to his guns. The addition of the superstore brought in jobs and commerce to the area, Leiper says.
“This is something we don’t see from politicians very much right now,” he says. “In the face of a really controversial development, Shawn spoke for the majority. Politicians often shy away from controversy. He wasn’t afraid to.”
Before Little bowed out of politics in 2006, Xtra reported that he had walked out of a city council meeting held to determine whether Capital Pride would receive emergency funding. His actions angered the Pride board, whose members were counting on the gay councillor.
Little would run for council once more, in 2010, in a bid to represent Bay ward.
“I was always impressed with his desire to want to genuinely make the community a better place,” Bay Councillor Mark Taylor, who defeated Little in 2010, wrote in a statement.
After his 2010 defeat, Little moved to Calgary and founded a political consulting business, which he operated until his death.
Leiper says the HCA is planning to name a landmark after Little to ensure his tireless efforts for the community will not be forgotten. The current front-runner is the park located at Somerset Street and Wellington Street West, where crime once made the intersection an unsafe area for residents.
“Westboro and Hintonburg are better today in concrete ways because of concrete actions he took to improve those neighbourhoods,” Leiper says. “People in Westboro and Hintonburg have a lot to thank Shawn Little for.”