Ottawa
3 min

The city is revolting

Yup, we’ve selected our next mayor and he looks like a six-foot penis in a suit.

Not to be fey. In truth, we’re worried. O’Brien’s election day message promised to take back city hall from “the agenda of the special interest groups.” That means us – we queers, we lefties, we minority communities, we union members; religious ideologues and the Chamber of Commerce are not special interest groups in Larry’s mind – they’re his voter base. As the promises he listed on his website made clear.

As often happens on election nights, one of the best yardsticks of public opinion was a cabbie.

Rocketing deep into the burbs in the November night, I told the taxi driver where I was headed: to Larry O’Brien’s victory party. He gave a little hoot and reached into the back seat to shake my hand. Er, while driving.

He told me he hadn’t planned on voting. But the three tax increases under Chiarelli were too much. Three, he repeated, showing me on his fingers.

The promise to maintain services under a tax freeze – even if it’s a pipe dream – got Dalton’s Liberals elected. McGuinty’s freeze thawed before spring, but the Libs won four years. O’Brien may even believe what he is saying is possible, I don’t know. Clearly, the electorate bought it.

Taxes are the big story, not light rail, and the city revolted against Chiarelli’s years of incremental increases.

There is a stable base of small- and capital-c conservatives that many urban queers remain sheltered from. They live in sprawling suburbs, have kids and go to church. Judging by the celebrants at O’Brien’s shindig, we’re talking about mothers who don’t realize they have dykey haircuts, bald businessmen with soft hands, farmers, and religious minorities of all stripes. They drive big cars, judging by the restaurant’s packed parking lot.

To people like those I met last night, it wouldn’t have mattered if Alex Munter was a hockey goon instead of a pansy. They’ll be damned if they vote for someone progressive.

However…

The cabbie told me that Munter was “buzzing” around too much, making too much noise. He made some thinly veiled homophobic remarks about Munter being flamboyant and said he was dismayed when he heard Munter was in the lead.

“When I heard that,” he said, “I called all my friends and told them to vote.”

And O’Brien benefited from the homophobia. Promises to “plough the furrow straight,” garnered a round of applause from those gathered at the party. Although most people who voted for O’Brien – like my cab driver – voted for a tax freeze, they got homophobia as a bonus.

Eek.

This is the same O’Brien who ditched both the gay mayoral debate and the mayoral debate on women’s issues. O’Brien, whose election staff included the queer community’s old municipal foe, ex-mayor Jackie Holzman.

So, O’Brien may look like a six-foot penis, but what’s worse is, if he keeps his promises and his attitude, he’s going to be a real dickhead when it comes to progressive issues.

I’m not so worried about plans to reduce the city staff. What I am worried about is O’Brien’s plans to dismantle the needle- and crack-pipe exchange. If he’s going to use addicts as political pawns, we need to call him out.

I’m not worried about his plans to take another look at light rail. What I am worried about is O’Brien throwing a wrench in plans for a queer community centre, foiling attempts to get the Rainbow Village recognized by city hall, and screwing the arts and festivals for funds.

So what do we do? We get involved. We have to lean on city council for the next four years. We’ve got some folks returning to council who we can count on – I’m talking Diane Holmes, Clive Doucet, Alex Cullen and Georges Bédard. They need to be rewarded each time they make good decisions and reminded that they have our support, as long as they continue to deserve it.

Then there are other councillors who are moderate, somewhat progressive councillors, people like Peggy Feltmate. And there are yet others who are a mixed bag of conservative and liberal views. We need to praise them when their votes line up with our views, and chastise them when they get out of line. We need to invite them to our events and let them get to know us.

We need to be vocal, vocal, vocal. Municipal politics is potentially the most citizen-engaged level of government. Your councillors wield a lot of power, and since a few hundred votes can unseat an incumbent (just ask the barely-reelected Bédard), you too wield a lot of power. Even if you didn’t vote for a councillor or the mayor, now they represent you.