Ottawa
3 min

Taking time to make a difference

Lois Siegel shows you can fight city hall

LEAD BY EXAMPLE. If we're teaching kids in classrooms to recycle, Lois Siegel says city governments should as well. Credit: Tom Robertson

Lois Siegel has had her share of the limelight.



She’s an accomplished film director, writer, photographer and fiddler, and in 2002, was named to Ottawa Life magazine’s Top 50 people list.



The Genie Award-winner boasts a daunting resume and a lengthy list of film and photography awards. The creative side of her brain is in overdrive and her hands and fingers can manipulate a camera, a fiddle and a pen with alarming dexterity.



But despite her steady climb to fame, Siegel also knows what’s important in life, and she hasn’t forgotten about her community and neighbours.



Local issues never fail to interest her, so Siegel has taken on the unofficial role of Ottawa city council watchdog. Despite her hectic schedule and non-stop pursuit of all things creative, she has approached them on a number of issues such as poorly designed intersections or ineffective streetlights.



“They can’t see everything, they can’t know everything,” she says matter-of-factly.



So when the council slashed yard waste recycling this summer, it was in for a fight.



“They had decided to stop collecting leaf and yard waste during the summer, which is completely stupid,” Siegel says flatly from her home in Orleans. “People didn’t know what to do with the stuff. They were starting to dump it in parks and all kinds of places. People were not happy.



“I realized this was not a good thing,” she says of council’s plan to suspend yard waste collection until October. “I mean, you’ve taught all these kids in classrooms to recycle. It didn’t make any sense at all.”



Siegel somehow found time to launch an all-out written campaign against the city’s decision. Even though her extra-curricular activities include playing fiddle with four different groups, including The Ottawa Fiddle Ensemble, and playing violin with A’Chord East and Divertimento Orchestra.



And even though this year’s been a particularly busy one, even for Siegel. She took first place in the 23rd Annual ArtEast Art And Photo Exhibition in Orleans for one of her many well-known celebrity portraits. Also, Oxygen, a new women’s television network partially owned by Oprah, recently bought Siegel’s award-winning documentary film, Baseball Girls.



Siegel also wrote the script for a CBC Life And Times portrait of Canadian actor Christopher Plummer, called A Man Of All Stages.



Between bouts of creative genius, the woman even teaches video production at the University Of Ottawa.



But still her campaign continued.



“Recycling was never an obvious passion of mine, it was just something I approved of, but then when they stopped the collection of certain things, everyone started complaining,” she explains.



But everything Siegel does, she does with passion, and she started writing letters.



“I wrote maybe three or four, and I made sure that everybody kept getting them, and then I would forward them,” says Siegel. “I would make sure every councillor would get them. I just made sure a lot of people knew what was going on.”



To cope with the lack of places to put yard waste, several communities in town designated drop-off locations – but the plan was destined for failure, says Siegel.



“This is fine if everyone follows the rules, but people would dump things any time they wanted to, rather than when they were supposed to,” she says. “It became a fire hazard.”



While the public continued to trash garbage, television sets and other inappropriate waste at these sites, Siegel wrangled a few good conversations out of some of the councillors. The issue was finally put to bed when council re-instituted the collection of yard waste in September.



“I think the council figured out that they made a mistake,” she explains. “I’m happy, I’m glad everything was reinstated.”



Her fight to restore recycling is over for now, despite her displeasure with the city’s new recycling regulations for plastics. But at the rate she’s going, council may want to re-think their policy.



This woman is simply unstoppable.



* Municipal issues aren’t always glamorous but often they’re important. Do you have gay and lesbian friends working to make the community a better place for everyone? Xtra welcomes your story ideas about people making a difference. E-mail comment@dailyxtra.com



COMMUNITY ACTION.

Lois Siegel has these tips about dealing with city council:

• Find out who the councillors are

• Make sure everyone knows your stance on an issue

• Put it in writing

• Take responsibility for change and make it happen

• Avoid heavy emotion in your letters

• Use facts to back you up

• Don’t rant

• Offer specific solutions