On Tuesday, October 20, the Community Foundation of Ottawa held Checkup 2009, a public event open to anyone wanting to participate in a community conversation based on the 2009 Ottawa’s Vital Signs report. Taking place in the auditorium of the Ottawa Public Library’s main branch, the two-hour event was moderated by Kathleen Petty (host of CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning), and led by a panel that consisted of Caroline Andrew (University of Ottawa professor and Director of the Centre on Governance), Ken Gray (Ottawa Citizen columnist and Editorial Board member), and Carl Nicholson (Executive Director of the Catholic Immigration Centre of Ottawa).
Attracting a capacity audience of close to 200 people, Checkup 2009 was indeed a lively discussion of Ottawa’s hot topics, as well as a number of issues that were true eye-openers for many people in the room, including the panelists and moderator. In one instance, a woman whose son was incarcerated for a year in the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre awaiting trial tearfully described her own treatment as a visitor to the facility and her struggles to help her mentally ill son receive the medical attention he needed. Other passionately-articulated stories included those describing the ongoing difficulties faced by Ottawa’s physically disabled citizens in accessing public buildings, as well as those grappling with a lack of affordable housing and the growing gap between rich and poor in the city.
“This is what the Ottawa’s Vital Signs program is really all about,” says Barbara McInnes, President & CEO of the Community Foundation of Ottawa. “While the report is full of fascinating stats and data on everything from health and wellness to how people make their way around the city each day, it’s really only the beginning of an important discussion that needs to take place amongst the citizens of Ottawa. Checkup 2009 was a great opening to that conversation – the one about what kind of city we want to live in and how we’re going to make that vision a reality.”
Ken Gray – a highly knowledgeable and prolific writer on municipal affairs – was particularly taken with his experience as a Checkup panelist, later writing in his Ottawa Citizen blog: “Because journalists are, of necessity, a mile wide and an inch deep, I felt rather like a tricycle between two Ferraris trying to keep up with the two other panelists who actually know of what they speak. Nicholson discussed Ottawa sleeping through a revolution what with 22 per cent of the population in the city born in other lands. With the best voice since James Earl Jones and quoting Martin Luther King, Nicholson is very learned and impressive. Andrew has a depth of knowledge of political affairs that a city hall plodder like myself can only envy. She is so nice she can say you are full of beans and you thank her for it.”
“Kathleen and all three panelists deserve a world of thanks for their contributions to this event,” responded Barbara, “and we think Ken’s pretty impressive, himself!”
Checkup 2009 was the first in a series of community conversations planned as part of the Ottawa’s Vital Signs program. Planning for the 2010 report will revolve significantly around ideas and feedback received at Checkup events in the early part of the year, to be followed by a similar reflection on the findings in the resulting report.
“From the beginning, Ottawa’s Vital Signs was designed as a vehicle to engage the entire community on issues of importance, and to stimulate public dialogue on how we can work together to improve the quality of life in our city,” says Barbara. “We expect the Checkup series to bring us even further along the way towards realizing that goal.”
Ken Gray’s Checkup speech was published as his column the day after the event, and can be read here
Read Ken’s blog about his experience as a panelist