Last month I was in Ottawa as a Qalipu delegate at the annual general assembly of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. The meeting began on the first day of autumn, Sept. 22, with heavenly weather more like the dog days of August rather than expected cooling fall temperatures.
The blast of autumn heat was welcomed by people who flocked to the outdoor seating areas at cafes, restaurants, and bars all about the downtown core; and particularly at ByWard Market.
As well, all over Parliament Hill people were gawking at or taking pictures of the various buildings, and so on; while others listened to tour guides or looked at maps. People all about enjoyed themselves in the relaxed atmosphere even with the highly visible marked and unmarked RCMP vehicles all about the grounds. That security assignment seems like a tedious job, a sure recipe for a dunched rear end with all the sitting. Thankfully, the place hasn't been sealed up with airport-like security!
On Parliament Hill you also see the finishing touches being made on refurbishing the West Block. It will be the site of the House of Commons for the decade the Centre Block is to be closed for renovations. The temporary Commons will have a glass ceiling (yes, glass) chamber while the Senate chamber will be in the Government Conference Centre, which is also being renovated. Six federal buildings are being refurbished over 20 years (2011-31) at an estimated cost of $3 billion – a contractor's dream!
All around Parliament Hill, the downtown streets, and around ByWard Market, the cleanliness, the abundance of huge floral displays and the absence of litter (other than cigarette butts) is very pleasing to the eye. Highly noticeable were the late-night city workers making their way through the Sparks Street pedestrian mall, sprucing the place up for the next day.
Meanwhile, there were no sightings of city workers much further south in the vicinity of Bank Street and Walkley Road, where sidewalk areas had loads of litter. Similarly, litter was seen in the Morningside – Lawrence area of Toronto in a side visit there. The Ottawa and Toronto high litter spots had me feel like I was momentarily home, as commercial areas in any place in Newfoundland tend to be filthy. What is it that litterbugs can't get right in their noggins? If only we could download an app for such lamebrains!
Ottawa has phenomenal choices of foods in its supermarkets, specialty stores, and restaurants. On the Halifax-Ottawa flight you could see the sources of some of that food; the quilt-like farms that dominate the Annapolis Valley and areas of Quebec and Ontario. A drive to Toronto allowed me a closer view of corn fields; mammoth compared to similar fields seen in PEI. The life of farmers and fisher folk is no picnic. Thus, the less tax they pay the better; keep them happy; keep our bellies full.
On the Halifax-Ottawa flight I also spotted a huge wind farm. Later, I was able to pinpoint it to Rollins, Maine. Its 40 turbines strung out in a row were quite impressive compared to the few you see in Nova Scotia. However, in a presentation to us in Ottawa about nuclear spent fuel rods, we learned Ontario derives over 50 percent of its energy needs from nuclear power plants, with only nine per cent from wind farms and other alternate energy sources. It will be frosty Friday before wind farms knock nuclear power out of the picture.
All over Ottawa (hotels, buses, stores, bars and restaurants) were the highly visible immigrant workers doing the jobs many locals would choose not to do. Ottawa would be dysfunctional without their services. And medical care in our province would be dysfunctional without foreign-born doctors and other medical professionals. To be anti-immigration is to do so at your peril!
According to MoneySense magazine, Ottawa is the hot spot, the Number 1 place, to live in Canada; and next year when the first stage of its Light Rail Transport system starts up it will add just more icing on that ranking cake.
Ottawa is no nirvana as crime, panhandlers (homeless?), the standoffishness of people with their frozen, straight-ahead, no-eye-contact stare, are some of the prices to pay to live in a large urban area of nearly one million people. Earbuds and smartphones compound their isolation even more. Plus, Ottawa's noisy, high volume traffic means stressful driving all the time; whether people there know it or not.
Ottawa has other magnetic qualities such as attractive lower prices on canned beer and wine, lower gas prices, and more choices as to what to eat, do, visit, and see. And it's so easy to drive from there to anywhere. Ottawa is not the place to which to move at this stage in my life, but still, it's a pretty wonderful place to visit.
The MoneySense ranking of 417 municipalities in Canada is debatable. For example, in this province, Gander (341) and Mt Pearl (357) are both ahead of Corner Brook (371), but just on beauty alone, Corner Brook beats the other two hands down.
Quibbling over closely related standings is one thing, but Grand Falls-Windsor being ranked No 394 puts it almost at the bottom of the barrel; not exactly bragging rights for our town council.
And not exactly wanting me to say, I will never leave this place!
Andy Barker can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org