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Ottawa council votes to end citizen roles on transit oversight commission

An LRT train departs Lees Station in Ottawa, on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. Ottawa city council voted against a motion to defer the recommendation to eliminate citizen representation on the Transit Commission. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ottawa city councillors have voted to eliminate citizen representation on the transit commission, despite warnings that public trust is at an all-time low after a damning report into failures with the light rail transit system.

Jessica Bradley and Sean Devine put forward a motion at Wednesday’s meeting aimed at allowing residents to continue sitting as transit commissioners until a new citizen advisory committee is in place. The motion failed in a 6-18 vote.

“We risk losing a great deal if the goal of retaining the public’s trust means as much as I think it does,” said Devine.

Several other councillors echoed the need to restore public trust, but argued that keeping citizen transit commissioners was not the way to do it.

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Riley Brockington said the city could not “exclude citizen voices,” but he felt the commission should be made up of elected officials who are there to hear the concerns of the people.

“I do want to ensure that we have a venue for citizen advocacy and input … if we want riders to contribute to policy and overall vision, then it sounds like an advisory board is the better way to go,” said Brockington.

The transit commission used to be made up of eight councillors and four residents, who were together responsible for overseeing the transit system and making recommendations to council.

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Before October’s municipal election, the last city council agreed to change that, arguing that unlike elected representatives, the citizens on the commission did not have a mandate to speak for constituents.

The new advisory board was created to replace citizen representatives on the commission, with the hope of allowing them to share their thoughts while separating their responsibilities from that of elected officials.

“The formation of a transit advisory committee has not been fully fleshed out and it’s not clear to me based on these reports exactly how resident voices will be strengthened,” said Bradley.

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Council has agreed to include diverse voices on the advisory committee, meaning at least half the members will be women, nonbinary, transgender and gender non-conforming people.

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