Municipal government

Sam Hersh’s quest to bring progressive municipal government to Ottawa

This is the second in a series of opinion columns on the 2022 municipal election in Ontario, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

Sam Hersh wasn’t feeling well the day I contacted him for an interview. He wasn’t well enough to take his morning swim.

But illness was not enough to slow Sam’s efforts to elect progressive candidates to Canada’s capital. As a member of the Horizon Ottawa Board of Directors, he and his fellow local organizers have worked for years to bring about change on City Council.

And now may be the time for their efforts to finally pay off, thanks in large part to the huge Jim Watson-shaped hole left when the mayor announced he would not be running again. There is also a lot of turnover at the level of municipal councilors with eight incumbents who do not show up. (A new district will also be created.)

Sam is happy to see Watson go. The former Liberal MPP’s high-handed approach was a key motivation for Sam and his friends to assemble Horizon Ottawa.

“[Watson] tended to mute the microphones of his critics, especially women,” he says, citing an incident where outgoing councilman Diane Deans was cut off after she demanded a legal inquiry into the city’s often-offline light rail line. . Using city staff to push the mayor’s agenda was another common tactic.

That’s why he and his fellow organizers have made a more consultative and bottom-up approach one of their main goals. “There is no participatory process for the budget, for example,” he says. “It’s deployed two months before it’s voted on, and no one has time to have a say.”

He has harsh words for developers who have exerted their influence through donations. “A lot of Watson’s allies took money from developers,” he says.

Would he call the group of challengers to the status quo a slate, something almost unheard of in Ontario municipal politics? “We haven’t released any formal approvals yet,” Sam told me (multiple times in fact). He was very careful not to shake hands with her, but it’s pretty clear what the goal is if you check social media: a progressive majority on Ottawa City Council, led by Ward Councilor Somerset and current favorite of Mayor Catherine McKenney, who has a head start on rivals, if the polls are to be believed.

Other frontrunners include candidates Shawn Menard in Capital Ward, Jeff Leiper in Kitchissippi, Laura Shantz in Rideau-Vanier and Transit Commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert (who is not running as a candidate). In places where there is no obvious Horizon Ottawa favourite, they can be found actively looking for one.

Sam is one of two visibly Jewish faces that make up the vanguard of this Bytown revolution. The other is Ariel Troster, a veteran non-profit and labor organizer seeking to succeed McKenney in Somerset. And while Sam proudly says Judaism informs his fight for marginalized groups and against hate, he doesn’t hesitate to blame the truckers who descended on his town earlier this year for a local wave of anti-Semitism. .

“There were Nazi flags hanging from a downtown hotel,” he revealed. He did not name the hotel, but he believes it was above a certain prominent sports bar on Elgin Street.

He is also pushing for a police budget freeze and a petition for the city to intervene in the sale of St. Brigid’s Church to the mysterious United People of Canada, a group linked to figures in the freedom convoy movement. . “Jews in the city don’t feel safe when right-wing groups take over public spaces,” he says.

And although Ottawa’s Jewish community is small — concentrated in the western suburb of Kanata and in former townships like Gloucester — Sam hopes a strong presence in October will give local Jews something to look forward to. to celebrate.

“It would be nice to finally have representation on the board.”

Josh Lieblein can be contacted at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.