A sudden intake of breath

A sudden intake of breath

Emily Rosa is the youngest person to have a paper published in a peer reviewed medical journal. Her story is an inspiring one, how at age nine she conducted research that debunked therapeutic touch. Little wonder that the tale is often told, including, in 2011, by Michael Shermer at a talk he gave right here in Ottawa.

I was in the audience that night, sitting with a group of friends: my wife, a female scientist friend of ours, and various other acquaintances. Now the exact words are forgotten and the reason why he told the story is forgotten but I do remember how it ended, which was by flashing up on the screen an image of the adult Emily Rosa in a bikini with a comment that was something like, “and look what she grew up to be.”

And – certainly from our little corner of the auditorium – there was a sudden and sharp intake of breath.

Shermer gave a great talk that night, entertaining, educational, fascinating,  but when we were talking afterwards among ourselves, several people mentioned the picture of Emily Rosa in a bikini. It was incongruous, it was odd, and it made at least several people that I know of uncomfortable.

Maybe there wasn’t a point; perhaps it was just supposed to lighten up the talk at midway. I’m sure no harm or offense was intended, and yet… I’ve talked about this specific moment since then, over a year after Shermer gave the talk, and had a few more people say that yes, they remember that slide and that, yes, it was… odd. One person recalled that moment without my prompting them. That it was incongruent. Uncomfortable. Yet another person spontaneously said, when I asked if they remembered Shermer’s talk, “oh yes, that was the really sexist one.” Why? Because so many of the images he’d used to illustrate optical illusions were of parts of women’s bodies (or things that look they are).

So: Shermer came to Ottawa and gave a very interesting talk, but a talk where many of the images used were of women’s bodies and where at least one of the female bodies shown was to illustrate a story about a nine year old girl scientist. As one of my female friends said, “it’s like it was a talk for boys but a bunch of women had inexplicably also been invited.” Again, this was an unprompted comment after being asked if they remembered his presentation.

Many of us know, and indeed are, women, and it’s a good idea to think about how women might respond to a communication style heavy on close ups of female bodies and bikini shots. I’ve sufficient evidence from my peer group to tell me that Shermer’s talk was not a universal hit among that group of people. It’s worth considering why that might be. And if he’s still giving this particular talk, with these particular visual aids, It’s time to stop. Skepticism isn’t a boy’s club anymore.

A just cause, the wrong celebrity, a PR disaster

A just cause, the wrong celebrity, a PR disaster

One cannot help but feel sympathy for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. Their Bust a Move Ottawa event raised over $350,000 dollars last year. This year, with 30 days to go, they’ve set a goal for $500,000. With a track record like that it’s achievable;  but for the fact that their recently announced celebrity attendee is the anti-vaccination, anti-evidence, anti-science, anti-health Jenny McCarthy.

They were doing a good job building momentum for the big announcement, which was made on Tuesday night, and presumably they had primed journalists at the Ottawa Citizen to help them break the news. The Citizen did just that, shortly after the announcement, only they ran an article with an unfavourable headline – “Anti-vaccine crusader Jenny McCarthy to headline Bust a Move Ottawa” – and then put up an editorial that was also unfavourable – “Great cause, poor choice”. Straight out of the gate, Bust a Move Ottawa 2013 was in bad PR territory and all the publicity that the ORCF and the Bust a Move event were hoping for turned negative. By the afternoon of the next day, #dropjenny was gathering speed on twitter.

The Citizen justifies its editorial position. “A health and fitness fundraiser, in service of a health-related foundation, should not hitch its wagon to an advocate for a harmful and unfounded ideology.” Jenny McCarthy’s interventions in public health have been damaging, perhaps profoundly so. An entertainer she may be but there are a lot of people who are more outraged by her past statements on vaccinations than they are dazzled by her celebrity. For a lot of people it is not possible to separate the negative aspects of her work, about which the organisers were presumably unaware (or did not think would be important), from the positive. And how will this affect fundraising? People in Ottawa aware of Jenny McCarthy’s background are going to feel quite justified in refusing to pledge when their friends and family come asking for money for Bust a Move.

Bust a Move looks like a fun, high energy event. It should be building on the success of last year and going on to greater things. But when the local newspaper of record cripples your horse as soon as it gets out of the gate, media attention turns negative, a chorus of voices on twitter criticize and a health charity that does valuable work becomes associated with antivaxx quackery, it’s hard to see how that could be possible. It’s truly sad that ORCF and Bust a Move Ottawa are in this position. It’s a PR mess and a branding disaster. I hope they can extricate themselves with honour, and get back to fundraising and the good work that they do.


Anti-Vaccination Advocate to Headline Ottawa Cancer Event: CFI Canada, CASS and Ottawa Skeptics Issue Response

Anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy to front Ottawa cancer charity fundraiser

Great cause, poor choice

We’ll take the money you can bring us, even if you’re antivaccine

Pondering My Unexpected Activism

Climate change denial course puts the K in quality at Carleton

Climate change denial course puts the K in quality at Carleton

News from Canada: We learn that in the nation’s capital, Tom Harris, a Heartland associate and PR guy for the oil industry, has been teaching a course on climate change at Carleton University for the past few years. A science watchdog (the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism) reviewed videos of the course and uncovered a hefty 142 errors, clear evidence of bias, and serial misrepresentation of the current scientific opinion on climate change.

So it’s basically what you’d expect from a Heartland associate and PR guy for the oil industry, but not at all what you’d expect from a university.

This was a review course for non-science majors, so its reasonable that the students don’t access primary sources such as the peer-reviewed scientific literature. However, one would expect that the instructor would at least have a passing familiarity with it and be able to accurately convey the relevant scientific information to his students. Nope. Harris would rather call a friend than crack open a journal.

Credit where its due, though. It takes effort, creativity, and skill, to put together a course on the science of climate change that runs for twelve lectures and studiously avoids most of the science of climate change.

You might wonder what Harris was doing all that time. Twelve lectures is a lot of dead air to fill. Fortunately, he has a lot of buddies, including a few living locally, who are equally as befuddled and confused about climatology and were more than willing to star in this gong show.

Step up Tim Patterson, tenured professor at Carleton, a devotee of the Sun as the one true cause of the climate change that isn’t happening and a fervent believer in cosmic rays that can’t be measured as responsible for the global warming that isn’t going on. He’s a palaeontologist and geologist, and therefore blessed with the profound insight that comes from working in the context of deep time. For him, climate always changes; oh yes, that it does, and many sage geologists nod their heads in agreement; but did he never once stop to wonder why it might? Perhaps that’s a question too far.

As a special treat, students get to see an elderly Australian by the name of Carter feverishly fantasising about climate science being exploded by metaphorical torpedoes of denial. It’s the sun – Boom! Did you know temperatures go up as well as down? Take that, warmists! 20th Century warming? Nothing unusual there! But never mind that it got warmer, because here comes an ice age! Oh, it’s fine comedy. One hopes the students were suitably entertained. They paid good money for this.

What’s next for our Carleton undergrads? How about a full length movie? Why not? Its time for The Great Global Warming Swindle, wherein a smarmy producer fakes data, truncates graphs and misrepresents climate science and scientists for 90 minutes. That’s another lecture out of the way.

Then there’s local “friend of science” Tad Murty, who, in a courageous and bold attempt to ignore overwhelming evidence, tells us that the oceans… are cooling. All the fish currently expanding their range into previously uninhabitable areas of the sea would be deeply surprised to learn that fact.

But for most of the lectures, Harris has to bumble along by himself. He has the students play “Blooper of the Week”, a version of “Guessing the Teacher’s Password” wherein they have to find innocuous statements by public figures that would cause Harris to shake his fist angrily at clouds. “The climate is always changing, so this cannot be stopped as we do not have such control over the sun and other cosmic forces that greatly correlate to the warming and cooling of Earth. We cannot change climate just as we cannot change the seasons from winter to summer,” one possibly baked student explains. It’s cosmic, man, truly cosmic. Down the rabbit hole we go: “the climate problem is so difficult that we may never solve it,” Harris says, accidentally acknowledging there is a climate problem, before twisting hurriedly away from the implications; “the idea that CO2 rise is mainly caused by humans, the idea that temperature rise is definite, it’s occurring; – many of these things are either not true or are simply unknown, or highly debatable.” So many contradictory beliefs, all simultaneously true, except for the things that scientists actually agree on? Now this is how you do science! Why bother to test a hypothesis, when you can simply believe in as many as you wish? Cosmic rays, the sun, the urban heat island effect, all the one true cause of the global warming that isn’t happening and doesn’t matter anyhow because there’s an ice age just around the corner. Confused? You should be.

Alright, so it would be neither fair nor accurate to say Harris didn’t expose his students to proper science. He does mention the IPCC report, although it’s the second edition, the one from 1995, that grabs his attention. That there had been two more since that time, each one becoming firmer and more confident about the causes and extent of anthropogenic climate change, is a fact of which he appears to be blissfully unaware. The students are left similarly unenlightened. Not that he has good things to say about the IPCC, standing as it does for all that is false and loathsome in the world of science. Only 2.5% of the scientists involved in the IPCC agree with the conclusions of the IPCC, we are told, something that would be a matter of great surprise to a great many climate scientists: two surveys have found 97% agreement among climate scientists with the IPCC’s main conclusions. A recent report in PNAS went on to point out that the few percent that do disagree “have climate expertise and scientific prominence substantially below that of the convinced researchers”, a polite way of saying that they are cranks.

So what have we learned? Carleton University, the educational establishment that Ottawans once liked to joke “puts the K in Quality” (I don’t know why – this sort of erudite humour escapes me, but then I never did study the classics in school), but turned its reputation around in recent years, and has been rated 7th or 10th in Canadian university rankings, nevertheless has managed to put a man in charge of a science course who teaches students that there’s an ice age coming. I always considered The Day After Tomorrow to be a fun, yet silly, doomsday movie. For Harris and his friends, well, it’s more of a prediction. “Expect global cooling”, he says. Brilliant!

One wonders why the university would give this guy a job. And how on earth did he get it? Did they advertise the position or was he just one day handed the keys to crashing Carleton’s reputation?

It’s probably the latter. His aforementioned good buddy, the cosmic-ray-fearing Professor Tim Patterson, used to teach the course. Patterson went on sabbatical a few years ago and Tom took over. Harris himself said that “95% of the course materials” came from Patterson. What with Harris being a mechanical engineer with no relevant scientific publications, his pointing out that a tenured professor provided the course materials was probably an attempt to provide some cover and credibility. What it did was just land Patterson right in it, as well as raising further questions.

Because what this implies is that Carleton (did I spell that right, or should it be Karleton? Let me know when it’s funny. I really don’t understand this university humour) has been running ERTH2402, a mangled pile of spat up and reheated climate change denial, for about ten damn years, with nobody at that august institution making a peep of complaint. One can easily imagine a kwality student emerging from this course, all bundled up in sweaters and scarves (Canadians do so understand the importance of layering) against the coming reign of the ice giants, planning some cod fishing off the Bahamas, and proudly informing their more fact-prone lecturers in other classes that everything they are teaching about global warming is wrong. Yet nobody said anything.

I do still have faith in Carleton. I want to believe that it’s only the Earth Sciences Department that’s taking a post-modernist approach to the pursuit of truth. Carleton is a university with a lot of young and creative researchers and there’s a vibe there that good things are happening. I want to believe that the only way is up for CU, but right now the Earth Sciences Department is the anchor dragging them down. If CU wants to be able to hold its head high, then how about some much needed scrutiny? They know where the problem lies, and they know with whom it lies. They have to stop hiding behind the excuse of academic freedom and start taking responsibility for educating, rather than misinforming, their undergraduate students. They deserve a whole lot better. It’s long past time.


Further reading:

PDF: Climate Change Denial in the Classroom

Fake Heartland “Scientist” Infiltrates Canadian University 

Climate Science Denial at Carleton University: A Detailed Take-Down

Climate denial at a Canadian university

Climate Change Denial being taught at Carleton University

Tom Harris Teaches Heartland Institute Fake Science to Students

Professor criticized for course denying climate change

CASS: Skepticism FTW

Climate Change and Education: Are Schools the Next Battlefield?

Heartland Institute Climate Change Denial 101

Climate misinformation coming to a school near you?

Carleton course denying man-made climate change

Denialists In The Canadian Classroom

Heartland Institute Associate Got Inside Carleton University

Denial in the Classroom

Heartland agent at Carleton University

It comes in threes

Heartland ‘expert’ taught climate denialism at a Canadian university

Climate scientist ‘troubled’ by skeptic’s teachings at Carleton University

The Green Party has a problem

The Green Party has a problem

Specifically, the Green Party of England and Wales has a credibility problem.

The European elections are underway in the UK. Seats for the European Parliament are awarded using a system of proportional representation, rather than the first past the post system that elects members to the House of Commons. As a result, small parties, like the Greens, have a better than usual chance of getting elected.

George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian that voting Green is the only choice if one would like to send a message to the three main parties on climate change.  I suppose there’s a certain amount of merit to that suggestion, although the message sent will be subject to interpretation. Certainly it will be this year, where, in the wake of the expenses scandal, votes will be cast all over the place in protest at the incumbent parties. The ballot box is a poor, blunt instrument for sending political messages. After all, one doesn’t have to complete a questionaire explaining one’s voting intention in order to be able to vote.

Back to the question of credibility. Martin at the Lay Scientist has some useful information. He sent requests to the main parties for their positions on a number of different scientific issues, and the results were, for me – in the case of the Greens – surprising.

Here they are on alternative medicine:

Do you believe that complementary and alternative medicine has a role in public health care, and do you believe it should be subjected to the same regulations as conventional medicine?

Green: Yes, we believe that complementary and alternative medicine has a role in public health care. The Green Party, for example, is in favour of increased funding for research on methods of integrated conventional and holistic treatments for cancer. We want the gradual inclusion of complementary therapies within NHS provision so that patients have access to all available and appropriate treatments. Complementary therapies can often prevent the situation worsening and thus save resources. We would oppose attempts to regulate complementary medicine, except by licensing and review boards made up of representatives of their respective alternative health care fields.

The NHS provides free health care for UK residents, and, more and more, takes an evidence-based approach to its provision; for example, NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, look at various treatments and consider their costs and benefits. The Green Party want more complementary therapies on the NHS,  but framing it as a matter of patient choice rather misses the point. If something doesn’t work, if there is bugger all evidence for a treatment, the NHS shouldn’t be providing it and NICE shouldn’t be approving it. It’s hard to see how the provision of more alternative medicine is anything other than a step back from the laudable progress being made toward evidence based medicine by the NHS. As for holistic cancer treatments, they ask for more research funding. But again, this misses the point. A lot of holistic / alternative / complementary treatments have been shown over and over again to just be bogus, and don’t need more research. The request for more research monies is yet another attempt to have scientists do the same old studies, over and over again, until they get their sums ‘right’. The NHS doesn’t need to integrate homeopathy, chiropractic, aromatherapy, traditional Chinese medicine, flower remedies or whatever into its conventional treatment algorithms. These treatments have not been shown to work. It isn’t worth it.

They also oppose regulation of complementary medicine, except when said regulation is done by proponents of complementary medicine. But why? Is there any good reason that complementary treatments should be exempted from the same kinds of controls to which conventional  treatments are subject? The only reason that comes to mind is simply that in many cases, complementary treatments don’t need regulating because they don’t do any harm, and they don’t do any harm because they don’t do anything at all. Take homeopathy. A sugar pill that claims to be Oscillococcinum will be chemically indistinguishable from any other homeopathic sugar pill, even one that claims to be something else. All are equally worthless as they do not contain any active ingredient. In fact, in terms of regulation of homeopathy, this is all that is needed: a manufacturer can make no claims for treatment, efficacy or application if their product has not gone through the same regulatory process as any other medication. That would be fair, evidence based and scientifically reasonable. Sadly, this is not currently the case, as homeopathic treatments can make such claims, based on ‘traditional useage’.

In other cases, complementary medicine does cause direct harm. Chiropractic, the invented pseudo-medicine of stressing the spine in the hope of treating back problems or illnesses, can lead to stroke and death, but the profession is not interested in monitoring itself. If there is another treatment modality more in need of regulation, I don’t know it.

The idea, then, that the only regulation complementary medicine should undergo is by members of the self-same health care field is nonsensical. These fields have a vested interest in preserving and expanding their scope of practice, and a demonstrable unwillingness to engage with the evidence, or lack thereof, for what they do. Complementary medicine should be subject to the same scrutiny and regulation as is conventional medicine. To want otherwise, as the Green Party of England and Wales do, is not scientifically credible.

On Genetic modification:

The field of genetics has the potential to improve human health and nutrition, but many people are concerned about the effects of genetic modification both in humans and in agriculture. What is the right policy balance between the benefits of genetic advances and their potential risks?

Green: Genetically modified food presents significant and un-quantified risks to human health and the environment. These outweigh any benefits. We would ban the production or import of any genetically modified food. GM is any food that is genetically modified or includes genetically modified ingredients; from genetically modified animals; or from animals that have been given genetically modified feed. People in Britain need to know what they are eating. As such, any GM food available in this country needs to be clearly labelled as containing genetically modified ingredients or coming from genetically modified sources.

It is politically safe to oppose genetically modified foods in Europe, as public opinion is on side. But opposition – from a political party – should at least make some kind of sense. My question to the Green Party of England and Wales on this is simply: if the risk is significant and unquantified, how the heck do you know it outweighs the benefits? As the amount of land growing GM crops has increased every year, and after more than a decade of growing these things, I think the risk would be at least a little quantified by now.

An explanation:

In comments on Gimpy’s blog,  Aram tells us that “any member [of the Green Party] can propose policy, get a number of seconders and get policy passed democratically at conference. It’s not a party that makes policy top-down, with only a few people having “authority” over potential changes.” That could go a long way to explaining why the Green Party of England and Wales comes across as so flaky on these issues. Sure, its democratic, but as in many things, the mob don’t know jack. Ignoring expertise in favour of popular opinion may not be the best way to formulate policy.

What the Green Party of England and Wales get right:

I have to say, I’m impressed with the willingness of their members to engage with their critics, and they are open to reexamining their policies. See Gimpy’s blog for examples. And it is plausible that if enough critical thinkers joined them, the Green Party’s policies could take a decidedly more rational turn.  Whether it is worthwhile to try and improve a brand that is so much associated with sandal eating, Guardian-wearing, granola haired hippies, rather than joining, say, the Liberal Democrats and improving that, is for the individual to decide.

The final thing I will highlight is their stance on climate change, which is on solid scientific grounds.

On climate change:

How will you use a seat in the European Parliament to tackle climate change and its impact on the UK?

Green: The top priority, and the cheapest, is to reduce demand though cutting waste and improving efficiency, The Green New Deal includes massive investment in insulation. Renewables then have maximum value against a backdrop of reduced demand, rather than as currently only filling the gap in increased demand, which allows fossil fuel use to remain high. Carbon trading can work, but needs to be better co-ordinated with meaningful systems and actions. Exempting major polluters is clearly a nonsense. EU and UK carbon reduction targets need to be deeper and managed more actively.

I agree with all their points here. This proposal should get results fast, and I wish there were another party in the UK with a similar level of committment to combating climate change. Then again, I wish that the Green Party had the level of credibility of one of the other major parties; then policies like this could have a chance of implementation.


As with most parties, their platform represents the particular ideology or world view of their participating members. Many of the issues that the environmental movement has taken on are well supported by good scientific evidence: acid rain, ozone depletion, climate change, ocean acidification, to name a few. The problem is that the philosophy of the Green movement is only sometimes coincident with the scientific evidence. It is a worldview that looks on conventional farming as bad, disregarding centuries of research and innovation, but sees organic farming, the principles of which were spun from whole cloth by a German mystic, as good. It is a short intellectual step to believing in homeopathy or chiropractic and their principles of sympathetic magic and vitalism. There is a willingness to disregard or ignore the entire discipline of risk assessment in favour of the precautionary principle. It is best to do nothing at all, in case the very worst scenario that they can possibly imagine comes true.

The sad part is that scientists could find a home in a party like the Green Party of England and Wales, as so many ‘Green’ issues first came to public awareness because of the gathered scientific evidence. Indeed, in other countries, Green parties are more reasonable.

George Monbiot suggested that a vote for the Greens would send a message on climate change to the main parties. I would suggest that a vote for the other parties just as clearly sends a message to the Green Party of England and Wales. That message? You are not credible. Getting it right on climate is not good enough.

Chipped cycles and parking attendants

Chipped cycles and parking attendants

Copenhagen: bicycle city

Copenhagen: bicycle city

The city of Copenhagen has an innovative approach to cutting down on cycle theft. Copenhagen is one of the best cities in the world for cycling, a place where the advantages of cycling are taken as a given by all politicians.

Every year, 16,000 bicycles go missing in the city, never to be found again. But there is hope, with the city’s ‘Vi vil ha’ en lille chip på‘ campaign. Here is how it works.

Turn up with your bicycle at one of the events being held this summer, and  have your name, address and email registered with the city. They will put a chip on the bicycle. When the bike gets stolen, call the city and they will register it as missing. Mobile scanners, carried by parking attendants, will be alerted by the chip if the bike is in the vicinity and automatically send an email to the owner with the location of the bike.

No word if the parking attendants themselves will be alerted to the stolen bike. I would assume that they have enough to do without having to contend with potential bike thieves. However, just knowing that your bike has been located in the city could be good enough for a lot of cases. You can go check out the location and hopefully recover the bike.

Have you seen this bike?

One problem that Copenhagen has with its bicycle culture is resale of stolen bikes. Bikes can be registered with the police and given a stamp, and bike stores are supposed to check to see if the bike has been reported stolen or not. As I understand it, if someone purchases a stolen bike, they do not have the right to keep it if it has been reported as stolen, and the owner wants it back. Chipping bikes will add an extra level of deterence, and hopefully cut down on bike theft in the city.

Write your MP about the BCA libel chill

Write your MP about the BCA libel chill

Are you concerned about the recent libel case in Britain, brought by the British Chiropractic Association against the author Simon Singh?

If you want to do something about it, I strongly recommend writing to your MP.  This is why you should.

Letters (actual, snail mail letters) get noticed. They also get answered, or they should be. Whereas an email may be deleted or overlooked, a letter is not so easily ignored. It has a physical presence in the bureaucracy.

Politicians consider a single letter to be representative of a larger body of opinion. And they are right. When an issue becomes of such concern that it prompts an individual to put pen to paper, it is worth their while to pay attention to the subject.

Letters get noticed in the system. Sustained letter writing campaigns can have a definite impact, in that enough letters can choke the civil service that has to deal with them. But even a smaller number of letters on an issue can demonstrate to an MP or minister that there is a real base of concern.

Communications in order of effectiveness from least to most effective, and with thanks to Elizabeth May for the advice:

  • Form emails (least effective)
  • Individually written emails
  • Form snail mail letters
  • Individually written snail mail letters, typed
  • Individually written snail mail letters, written by hand (most effective)

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been considering press standards, privacy and libel. A letter to your own MP and to the committee members would be a great idea. Let them know your concerns. It doesn’t take much to demonstrate that the citizens are growing restless. It just takes a letter or two.

You can find a list of the committe members here.

Does money get votes? A city of Ottawa example, part I

Does money get votes? A city of Ottawa example, part I

The city of Ottawa, Canada,  has an official boundary and a greenbelt. They exist to purposefully constrain growth outside the city and encourage intensification within. In the long term, it is a more sustainable approach to city development than continuous urban sprawl. It is also more efficient. Each expansion of the urban boundary means increasing the distance that sewage and water services have to be extended, it means more road building and more demand for transit. On the other hand, there will always be a demand for low density, single family homes and there will always be people willing to commute from these homes. Developers stand ready to build what people want.

At the planning and rural affairs committee meetings, councillors were presented with three options. First, freeze all expansion and maintain the city’s current urban boundary. Second, limit expansion to just 300 hectares . Third, allow an expansion of 842 hectares (recommended by city hall staff).

Ecology Ottawa took a look at the amount of campaign cash taken from developers by Ottawa city council members in 2006. As they put it, “Ecology Ottawa hopes the acceptance of these donations does not influence how our councillors end up voting.”

Lets take a look at that. I’ve taken their figures and matched them with the votes cast by the members of the planning and rural affairs committees.


Freeze boundary 300 hectares 842 hectares Contributions from developers (% of total)


Gord Hunter n n y 49.15


Jan Harder n n y 39.92


Doug Thompson n n y 39.09


Rob Jellett y y n 39.05


Bob Monette n n y 31.79


Eli el-Chantiry n n y 11.15


Steve Desroches n n y 8.29


Diane Holmes y y n 0


Peggy Feltmate n y n 0


Peter Hume n y n 0


Glenn Brooks n n n 0

Some councillors took very large percentages of contributions from developers, while four of the councillors on the committees took no money at all. So does money line up with votes? The four that took no developer money voted no for the largest expansion. One of the four voted no for everything – no for freezing the boundary, no for the 300 hectare expansion and no for the 842 hectare expansion, for reasons unknown. Of the councillors that did recieve campaign contributions from developers, one is outstanding in his field. Rural councillor Rob Jellet voted to freeze the boundary, or to permit a small expansion to 300 hectares, but no to the largest expansion, 842 hectares.  For the six remaining councillors on committee that receieved developer money, freezing the boundary wasn’t an option and 300 hectares was not enough, but 842 hectares expansion met with their approval.

There are other factors to consider. A single analysis like this doesn’t in any way prove that money equals votes. Councillors that represent wards outside the city proper may want to see expansion and development in their communities in response to their perceived community needs, and arguments can be made for expansion that are not necessarily for the express advantage of developers. Considering that developers were pushing for a 2,000 hectare increase, and city council staff recommended an 842 hectare expansion, these votes are not all that unreasonable. But remember also, companies do what they do because they have certain expectations of success; why would developers give money to Ottawa city councillors at all?

From the Center for Responsive Politics in the US, on the recent TARP payouts:

“The companies that have been awarded taxpayers’ money from Congress’s bailout bill spent $77 million on lobbying and $37 million on federal campaign contributions, Center finds. The return on investment: 258,449 percent.”

That’s just one example of the success of lobbying and donations.

In part II, when the full council votes on the expansion, we can see if donations from developers again line up with votes.