As a resident of the City of Ottawa you have the right to express your opinions to your city government. Aside from phone calls and emails citizens have the opportunity to speak directly to elected decision makers at certain city meetings that are open to the public. Here’s how it works:
Decisions at Ottawa City Hall are made official by being approved by City Council but there are several stages to a decision before it gets to that final vote.
Whether it is a city staff report or a motion brought forward by a City Councillor the item needs to get on the agenda, usually the official agenda of one of the City’s Standing Committees.
The Environment Committee and the Planning Committee are only two of eleven (as of January 2016) committees and sub-committees of full City Council. Elected City Councillors sit on these committees and it is usually the decisions made at committee level that go on to be validated or rejected at full City Council.
For the average citizen, once an item gets to full City Council it is very hard to influence. There is usually not opportunity for public input at full City Council.
At the committee level however, if an item is on the agenda “public delegations” are allowed. A public delegation is five minutes set aside during the discussion of an item on the agenda to hear from a citizen or citizen organization.
If a citizen wants to support or criticise a direction City Council is taking, they can say so in person directly to the politicians making the decisions. If enough people and groups send them the same message it can influence those decisions.
How To Do It
To participate in a public delegation, the best thing to do is to keep tabs on meeting agendas so you know when your item is coming up, then contact the committee clerk to say you’d like to speak to the committee about that item.
You don’t have to register to speak in advance. It is also possible to attend the committee meeting and sign up to speak once you get there.
Don’t be nervous. These politicians were elected by people like you and they need your feedback in order to represent the public.
If you’ve never done anything like this before it might be worth sitting in on some other committee meeting so you can get a feel for the room and how things happen. Then, think through what you want to say and say it to yourself out loud in the bathroom mirror; do that again.
What to Expect
City Committee and Council meetings take place during the business day. They can be very short or very long. They can be very interesting but quite often they are very boring. If you’ve made the decision to try to influence government don’t let a few hours of boredom intimidate you; stick with it.