Freedom convoy highlights differences between mayoral candidates

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Catherine McKenney, Diane Deans and Bob Chiarelli. (Photos:, @bobchiarelli)

The last two weeks in Ottawa have been some of the most memorable in recent history, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has received at best-irritated condemnation for its handling of the truck protesters who continue to occupy the Parliamentary precinct and the downtown core. The Rideau Centre remains closed due to hooliganism; restaurants and stores along the north end of Bank, O’Connor, and Metcalfe streets also remain closed.

The OPS is made up of well-paid officers with an operating budget of over $300 million. To put that in perspective, Albania, a NATO member state, spends less on its national defence. Yet, the Ottawa Police have done little to prevent and now rectify the situation downtown.

The protest has shone a spotlight on the leadership candidates vying to replace Jim Watson in the fall of 2022. Their individual responses are a litmus test of their potential as the leader of our city.

Somerset Ward Councillor Catherine McKenney has come out firmly on the side of her constituents. They have been spotted canvassing the protestors, telling them that citizens are launching a class action of a lawsuit so it would be wise to Get out of Dodge without blaring a horn. While not a viable solution to ending the protest, Mckenney at least lives in the political headspace of understanding the grievances of their constituents and has been vocal about their frustration, and is trying something.

Diane Deans is one of Ottawa’s longest-serving councillors. The councillor for Gloucester-Southgate was first elected to city council in 1994 and is the chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB). Deans believe she has what it takes to be mayor and is running on her experience, saying that there isn’t time to learn on the job.

As the head of the police’s civilian oversite body, Deans has the power to do something compelling to help bring an end to the protest. She can tell the OPS that it has failed the citizens of the downtown core and ask the Attorney General of Ontario to step in.

But Deans is process-driven. She has called special meetings and labelled the protestors terrorists and occupiers. Her failure to act is in keeping with her work at the helm of the OPSB.

When Chief Sloly initially said that the Ottawa Police don't need to be vaccinated, she agreed. (The policy was reversed and as of January 31, 2022, all OPS personnel require full vaccination.)  When citizen groups and members of the public spoke against increases to the OPS budget, Deans didn’t comment, respond, acknowledge or thank the speakers. Ironic since Deans is demanding transparency and accountability from City Hall on the O-Train file.

Former mayor and current candidate in the 2022 race for mayor, Bob Chiarelli has stayed fairly quiet about the protestors. On day five of the protest, Chiarelli spoke to CityNews saying that the lack of response so far from the city and OPS was sending the wrong message to protestors who have been led to believe they have carte-blanche in the city. Chiarelli said that the city should have immediately directed its lawyers to apply to the courts to get an injunction to be used if and when required.  

Mckenney has played the role of community activist that has won their respect with constituents. More so than any other councillor, Deans has the power to pressure the police service but instead, she has played the procedural by-the-book politician. Chiarelli has made safe but well thought out statements about possible solutions. 

After four years of gridlock in the city council and nearly 14 days of gridlock downtown, an insider with by-the-book proceduralism is not helping the city right now. It remains to be seen what qualities voters will be most looking for in their next mayor.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”— Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil rights leader and minister