Ottawa citizen transit commissioners to hold ‘informal’ chat to replace cancelled city meetings

An Ottawa citizen transit commissioner has set up a video chat meant to replace public transit meetings that have been cancelled for three months during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarah Wright-Gilbert, who has been vocal in her criticism of Ottawa’s troubled new LRT system, created an online video chat event set to take place the night of May 13, after the May transit committee meeting was cancelled by the chair, Coun. Allan Hubley.

The last transit meeting was held in February, with the March meeting cancelled due to uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, the April transit meeting was cancelled.

“That was disappointing,” Wright-Gilbert said, “given that the city of Ottawa had been holding online virtual city council meetings and a number of different committees.”

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Wright-Gilbert said citizen commissioners supported the decision to cancel the March meeting but were at a loss as to why the April meeting was cancelled, since the technology was there to facilitate it.

Getting a sense that the May meeting was also going to be cancelled, Wright-Gilbert, along with Coun. Riley Brockington, who also sits on the transit committee, sent a letter to Hubley on April 27 to ask that it go ahead.

Transit commission meetings, Wright-Gilbert said, offer an opportunity for citizens to represent resident concerns at the table with councillors and city staff. Although issues can be brought up at council, citizen commissioners do not have a voice at council.

Prior to emergency orders put in place during the pandemic, Wright-Gilbert noted that chairs could only cancel two committee meetings in a row, and the next meeting would have to go ahead. But, at the last city council meeting on April 22, councillors passed a motion to allow chairs to cancel as many meetings as needed.

Hubley quoted that new motion in his email back to Wright-Gilbert. It’s this motion that makes her worry that the June meeting will also be cancelled.

There are no scheduled meetings in July or August, which means that we would not be having a meeting until September, which means that we’d be going for far too many months, seven to eight months without a transit commission meeting,” Wright-Gilbert said.

That is why Wright-Gilbert decided to take the meetings into her own hands and organize a Zoom chat for residents to ask citizen transit commissioners questions.

The event is not sponsored by the city of Ottawa and is set to be an “informal” meeting where residents can ask questions about transit.

Wright-Gilbert said she’s slightly nervous at how the meeting will go, but she believes the demand is there.

“People have been asking for it,” she said.

Hubley has yet to respond to a request for further comment.

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