Column: Outdoor rink proposal undermines City Hall security plan

By Brian Blom

If the mayor has his way, outdoor skating in Ottawa won’t be at the mercy of the weather, which delayed the opening of Canada’s longest skating surface this winter.

Mayor Bob Chiarelli has gone public with tentative plans to put an outdoor skating rink in front of the Laurier Street entrance of City Hall.

The ice surface would be much similar to outdoor rinks that complement Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square and the famous Rockefeller Centre in New York.

The proposed rink, equipped with an artificial ice surface that keeps itself frozen, would open as early as mid-November and would remain open until as late as March, regardless of the temperature.

The estimated cost of the project sits at about $1 million and that doesn’t include the $100,000 ice-resurfacing machine needed to keep up the rink. The good news: Chiarelli plans to seek a corporate sponsor to pick up the entire tab for the project, leaving tax dollars untouched.

Kanata Coun. Alex Munter says the reason behind the project is to attract people to City Hall.

“We want to make City Hall a people place,” said Munter earlier this month.

Therein lies the irony of Chiarelli’s latest venture.

Only a few months ago, council voted in favour of a new security camera system for City Hall. The $150,000 project included the 15 new security cameras panning the outskirts of the building in an effort to keep closer tabs on the coming and goings around the sprawling building.

Unlike Munter’s cheerful response to the idea of attracting the public to City Hall grounds via a new skating rink, council stood firm about making the building a safer place after hours.

“There are very few municipalities where you can walk in

to city hall after hours and expect privacy,” Coun. Rick Chiarelli scorned, pointing out that the city librarian has better security than city councillors do.

“We no longer live in pre-Sept. 11 Ottawa. We live in the capital city of one of the most important countries in the world, and we have to take appropriate security measures,” added Chiarelli.

Now the tides have turned, and council is singing a different tune.

It appears the Mayor and most of his comrades are ready to put these new cameras to work, inviting people to skate on City Hall grounds, an activity with the potential to draw large crowds after hours.

The only member who openly denied support for the proposed rink was Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Gord Hunter, who helped defeat a similar proposal a decade ago.

He merely stood behind his

argument from 1991: “I have heard ideas that are rinky dink, but this is dinky rink.”

The addition of an artificial skating surface to City Hall grounds would certainly be a great addition for the people of Ottawa. It would help entice people to visit city headquarters and, perhaps, persuade them to become more involved with

local politics by giving them a reason to come to City Hall.

Nonetheless, it would draw

attention to the building, which is the very idea council was fighting against back in October when the new security system was announced.

Council needs to decide, one way or the other, the image it wants for City Hall: either a place for the people, or a place strictly for the politicians.

Cameras serve the purpose of keeping people away. They

deter people from hanging around City Hall, simply

by making them feel like they are being watched all time.

If the mayor wants to make City Hall more of a “people place,” then the idea of a public skating rink seems most fitting. However, if the idea of protecting councillors from unknown trouble that may lurk on City Hall grounds after hours, then a rink may bring further concerns down the road.

Perhaps even more cameras.