By Jonathan Ward
With the provincial election over, Ottawa Centre’s new MPP, Yasir Naqvi, is preparing to start his term under close scrutiny.
“I’ll be watching what he does very closely – particularly with transit,” says Gerry LePage, executive director of the Bank Street Business Improvement Area.
Naqvi says he will focus on three major issues: increasing funding to public transit, uploading more affordable housing costs to the province, and reducing drugs and crime through a private member’s bill.
LePage says he hopes for more dialogue with the province, as Naqvi-supported programs such as light-rail transit (LRT) expansion would have disruptive impacts on Bank Street businesses.
“I’m opposed to the LRT system as presented right now because the costs greatly outweigh the benefits,” LePage says. “Ottawa already has a very good public transit system – dubbed as one of the best in the world.”
Naqvi strongly supports an expanded LRT system, but wants to minimize the disruption to area businesses, he says.
“Ottawa Centre is the hub of the city’s economy, and I think it’s important to have an effective public transit system that lets people leave their cars at home. I’m strongly in favour of the LRT.”
LePage says a large-scale re-paving has already hurt sales at businesses along the Bank Street Promenade, which runs from Wellington Street to Gladstone Avenue.
“If expanding LRT would hurt the businesses I represent, I can’t support it.”
Somerset Ward Coun. Diane Holmes says she will also watch Naqvi’s actions, but expects to co-operate on a range of issues.
“I’ll be working very closely with him,” Holmes says. “We agree that affordable housing costs need to be uploaded to the province, since affordable housing is definitely a provincial responsibility.”
Holmes says Naqvi’s pillars – transit, housing and crime – are equally important, but that housing is an especially pressing issue for Centretown.
“When two elevators go out at the same time in a 20-storey building and you can’t afford to fix them, you know you’re in trouble,” Holmes says.
According to Holmes, Ottawa needs more affordable housing and more money to maintain what it already has.
Naqvi agrees, and says his years of volunteer experience have given him valuable insight into subsidized housing and other social programs.
“I want my volunteering history to be a conduit for implementing social programs,” Naqvi says. “Councillor Holmes and I have discussed affordable housing issues, and we see eye to eye.”
The third pillar of Naqvi’s plan is to introduce a private member’s bill, the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act. The bill would aim to reduce illegal activities in rental properties by shifting some onus of the crime to the landlord.
“The landlord becomes responsible for ensuring his or her property isn’t being used for something illegal like a marijuana grow-operation,” Naqvi says.
“The landlord risks losing his or her property, so that’s a pretty strong incentive.”
Naqvi says similar legislation has proved effective in other provinces such as Manitoba and Nova Scotia.
“If you look at the numbers in other jurisdictions, legislation like this has been shown to reduce crime and drugs,” he says. “It has widespread endorsement from police.”
But Carol Ryan, spokesperson for the Ottawa Police, says she has not heard of Naqvi’s bill.
“I’m not sure where he got this endorsement,” Ryan says. “Police departments don’t usually offer opinions on this sort of subject.”