Give rogue councillors the provincial boot

If there is a metaphor for the dysfunction that plagued Ottawa City Hall during the 2018-2022 term, most would exclaim the LRT. But they would be wrong. The perfect analogy for the city government that literally can't get the trains to run on time is counsillor Rick Chiarelli.

After last year's damning inquiries into the long-time city councillor, he has been nothing but an afterthought, a persona-non-grata of municipal politics, whose ship has sunk. If you follow the news or city committee meetings you won’t see him, because he has been kicked off every city-related planning group. He also couldn't hire staff or delegate the way his office spends money; not just a slap on the wrist, more like a pair of handcuffs.

Council also unanimously called for Chiarelli's resignation from office. The message couldn't be more explicit: accused predators need not stick around.

Chiarelli has been accused of “incomprehensible incidents of harassment” according to the Ottawa’s integrity commissioners’ second report. He allegedly asked female applicants in his office to go braless at bars and to flirt with potential campaign volunteers. One of his named accusers, Stephanie Dobbs, filed a lawsuit for $325 thousand after working in an environment allegedly so toxic and full of sexual harassment she had to take stress leave, in 2018, after having worked three years in the councillor’s office.

Several other staffers came forward with accusations of harassment. Victoria Laaber was allegedly taken to strip clubs by Chiarelli under the auspices of spying on another councillor (city politics now includes espionage, apparently!) and told to wear skimpy clothing. Angelica Dixon had a brief tenure in Chiarelli’s office in 2018. When speaking to the CBC, she said it was a toxic and degrading work experience and that Chiarelli made inappropriate comments including asking Dixon during an interview if she “would be willing to wear heels and short skirts and show cleavage.” On top of the named accusers, there are more anonymous allegations in the city’s report.

If the accusations are true, then Rick Chiarelli is a serial-sexual harasser of women. Overlapping testimony of staffers who worked for the councillor at different times shows that there must be credibility. However, Chiarelli is still on the job. Chiarelli has stated he intends to finish his mandate as he was democratically elected.

After years of the #metoo movement, he should get going while the going is good, as Andrew Cuomo did in the United States. Instead, Chiarelli continues to be blatant in disregarding the times and the message. The long-term councillor’s Twitter feed shows his lack of shame:

It’s as if nothing has happened in the last two years. The deflection is so deliberate it’s shocking. A Donald Trump-style delivery that the “establishment may be out to get me, but I work for you.” The tweet negates the obvious; he (Chiarelli) was banned from hiring staff. Perhaps his most egregious tweet was posted on December 1 of this year after the councillor started collecting his pay again (he was docked 450 days of pay by council), showing a lack of comprehension and ultimate lack of remorsefulness:

What happened to the women who raised awareness of his alleged harassment? Has the lawsuit been settled yet? Has Chiarelli cleared his name?

Rick Chiarelli’s post on gender-based violence at this time is the equivalent of a tobacco firm looking for a cure for cancer.

The voters in the city are not ignorant and there is widespread awareness of Chiarelli’s actions. The mayor’s office and council need to act with more integrity if a situation like this ever happens again. Rather than just tabling a motion asking for Chiarelli to resign, the mayor’s office should have gone to Queens Park with a request for his resignation, asked Doug Ford to take action, and called the Ottawa Police.

When the scandal broke, MPP Stephen Blais tabled a private members bill asking for a law to remove councillors in extreme circumstances. If Jim Watson and the unanimous council can call for resignation and his dock pay, then the provincial government should be able to remove a rogue councillor that discredits good governance.

If not, it is up to the voters in College Ward to give him the boot.