Ottawa’s influential planning committee will have co-chairs for the first time in its history, city council decided in its final meeting before a summer recess on Wednesday.
Kanata South Coun. Alan Hubley introduced a motion at the meeting to divide the work of planning committee chair between two people, rather than have traditional chair and vice-chair roles.
Ottawa has not had a permanent planning chair since the end of June when veteran councillor Jan Harder stepped down following an integrity commissioner report that found she mishandled her relationship with a development executive.
Hubley’s motion cited the importance of completing the new Official Plan in the remaining term of council as justification for dividing the workload between co-chairs.
Three candidates put their names forward for the two positions: Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt and Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower, the latter of whom has been serving as interim chair at planning committee in Harder’s absence.
Councillors were given the opportunity to vote for their two preferences for co-chairs during a vote at council.
Gower and Moffatt won the positions with 14 votes each; Leiper received nine. While most of Gower and Moffatt’s supporters voted for both, each of Leiper’s nine backers voted for him alone.
Leiper’s loss maintains the long-running trend of rural and suburban councillors chairing the city’s planning committee.
Mayor Jim Watson, who backed Gower and Moffatt in the vote, defended the choice not to increase the urban wards’ influence on planning committee speaking to reporters after council.
“I have full confidence in councillors Moffatt and Gower,” he said, citing their complementary perspectives as veteran and rookie councillors.
Moffatt, who also chairs the city’s environment committee, indicated before the vote that he would seek to retain that position as well if he were successful. City staff said they would take the summer break to evaluate the ramifications of the planning committee vote and any other shifts needed to accommodate it.
Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh said before the vote that councillors were not made aware of the co-chair proposal before the council meeting, and that the plan could have benefited from having a female candidate up for consideration to promote gender equity.
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney also noted that each of the city’s standing committees are chaired by men, representing a deficit in female leadership at Ottawa committees.
“We are not an equitable council in terms of who we have at the table,” McKenney said.
Leiper encouraged other female councillors to put their names forward for consideration for a co-chair role before the vote, but none did.
In a separate motion, Capital Coun. Shawn Menard was added as a member of planning committee, with Harder’s dissent.
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