‘Cloutier facing strong opponent in Lang-Dion’

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The following was published by the Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 10.

The backstory Dobson’s heard is that Cloutier, a first-term councillor facing a strong opponent in Raylene Lang-Dion, was told to either tow the mayor’s line or face a strong opponent without Watson’s support.

‘It’s not NIMBY, it’s nowhere’: Opposition to Salvation Army shelter complex remains strong in Vanier


A 1992 Chevrolet van rumbles up to a home on Richelieu Avenue.

Out springs Bruce McConville, his shirt already a darker shade of blue thanks to the sweat seeping through it on this muggy, grey morning. He’s here to collect some furniture for an upcoming garage sale intended to raise money for SOS Vanier’s legal fight.

The community group needs $200,000 to cover the cost of appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board to prevent a 350-bed Salvation Army homeless shelter complex from opening on Montreal Road. It may be Vanier’s only hope to halt the controversial project.

“I don’t need the money for this, so why not donate it for that cause?” says Diane Irwin, as her husband Brian helps McConville carefully load the family’s dining room table and chairs into the van.

Irwin grew up in Vanier and raised her children here. She never feared walking down the Montreal Road of her youth at night, but she wouldn’t dare these days. Like many, she worries the situation will only get worse if the shelter opens.

For three long days last fall, Irwin watched as a steady stream of residents appealed, cajoled and downright begged members of the city’s planning committee not to approve the project, which had already won a thumbs-up from bureaucrats.

It didn’t feel like the community’s concerns were actually heard, she recalls, and the final vote confirmed as much. Six votes for, three votes against the shelter. Council endorsed the plan five days later by a vote of 16-7.

“We feel betrayed by the city because they didn’t listen,” Irwin says.

That feeling runs deep in Vanier, yet the enduring opposition to the Salvation Army’s plan may run ever deeper. The shelter proposal isn’t just wrong for this neighbourhood, opponents say. It’s wrong, period.

Wrong location, wrong size, wrong model.

“It’s not NIMBY, it’s nowhere,” says McConville, who decided at the last minute to enter the mayor’s electoral race (he’s run and lost twice previously in Rideau-Vanier ward). “There is no doubt such a huge concentration of homeless people will turn any area into a ghetto.”

Now that council’s decision has sunk in and both sides gird for battle at the OMB, a hearing that could be at least another year away, Vanier finds itself in a purgatory of sorts.

While signs of investment and renewal along Montreal Road are elusive, a strong housing market continues to bring new people to the area who are attracted by urban living at a reasonable price.


Drew Dobson takes a seat on the new patio outside Finnigan’s Pub, which is less than a 100-metre dash east of where the Salvation Army wants to put its $50-million shelter complex.

The man who launched the SOS Vanier movement has put his money where his mouth is by investing in his business in hopes of improving the look and feel of Montreal Road.

Dobson spent about $30,000 to build the 80-seat patio and hopes it may prompt other landowners and businesses to do the same. “I still have faith in this neighbourhood,” he says.

Montreal Road is a long way from reaching its full potential as a thriving, attractive traditional mainstreet.

Boarded-up buildings, overgrown lots, crumbling sidewalks and a virtual lack of shops and cafés that serve as both a destination and gathering place for residents make it hard to think of the road as anything but a thoroughfare.

Sure, you can mail a letter or buy diapers at Jean Coutu or eat a flaky almond croissant at Quelque Chose Pâtisserie, but then what? Pot shops, payday lenders and pawn shops.

The city’s ultimate vision, according to its website, is to “construct a vibrant and welcoming main street with a well-balanced transportation network that will allow residents and businesses to thrive.”

But many fear the arrival of the shelter will extinguish any spark created by the road revitalization project set to begin next spring. “It will choke economic development,” Dobson says.

Since council approved the shelter plan, landlords have had a hard time filling vacant commercial and office space, says Mark Kaluski, chair of the Quartier Vanier Business Improvement Area.

On the housing front, Vanier remains attractive to buyers, says real estate agent Natalie Belovic.

Housing sales in the second half of 2017, which was after the Salvation Army’s plan was revealed, were actually stronger than in the first half. The market remains strong this year, but Belovic says it’s not as much of a slam-dunk as it was several years ago.

If you exclude higher-end infill from the equation, the average selling price in 2018 is $377,000 and properties are spending a month on the market.

Closer to the proposed site on Montreal Road is a tougher sell, Belovic says. Houses are still turning over, but not as quickly as they were and perhaps for not as much money as they might have just two years ago.

Like Dobson and McConville, Belovic says opposition to the proposal is not about residents being against services for vulnerable populations. It’s about the proposed size and location on a community’s main street. That construction of another large emergency shelter contradicts the city’s espoused commitment to housing-first is icing on the cake.

“No community nowhere would like to have a 350-bed shelter in their neighbourhood,” Belovic says. “There’s not a single place where people would lie down and let that happen.”


Some think the SOS Vanier campaign is a waste of time and money because a deal was struck behind closed doors between politicians and the Salvation Army long before council’s vote last November.

Dobson and McConville both say they hear this from people all the time. “You’re up against too much,” McConville recalls one person saying.

Dobson doesn’t disagree council acted partially when it ruled in the Salvation Army’s favour. But he’s got confidence in the strength of the OMB appeal and the impartiality of the board, a quasi-judicial body with the power to quash council’s wishes.

He’s also bolstered by the support of MP Mona Fortier, MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury and the BIA. “This is not a community divided,” he says.

SOS Vanier has raised more than $150,000, much of it from residents. “We’re getting it from people who need the money and that saddens me,” Dobson says.

The funds will be used to pay the group’s lawyer Michael Polowin and hire expert witnesses to pick apart the case made by city planners.

Part of what could be fuelling SOS Vanier’s fundraising efforts is anger with Mayor Jim Watson and some city councillors.

The mayor caught many by surprise when he publicly announced his support for the Salvation Army’s plan, even going so far as to challenge opponents to suggest another location if not Montreal Road.

After the council vote, he told reporters: “I wish we didn’t need shelters. I wish there were no shelters in any community, but the reality is there is going to be a need for shelters and they have to go somewhere.”

Why Watson feels so strongly Vanier is that “somewhere” remains unclear.

Because he’s dug in his heels, it seems the Salvation Army has followed suit, refusing to budge an inch on its proposal and shrugging off the community’s concerns, Dobson says. “They wouldn’t do that unless they knew there was political cover.”

Making matters even murkier is speculation Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier may have switched his vote in the final minutes of the planning-committee meeting to side with the majority.

Cloutier, Dobson says, appeared sympathetic to the SOS Vanier cause when the two met previously.

“Vendu Cloutier!” shouted a man from the public gallery that night (“vendu” can be a slang word in French for a sell-out).

The backstory Dobson’s heard is that Cloutier, a first-term councillor facing a strong opponent in Raylene Lang-Dion, was told to either tow the mayor’s line or face a strong opponent without Watson’s support.

In a written statement, Cloutier says such suggestions were “absolutely wrong and 100% not true.”

Cloutier claims to be one of few councillors who met with SOS Vanier members and Fleury in advance of the planning committee and council meetings to hear all sides before making a decision.

“Ultimately, I supported the proposal because I believe that it was the right decision for the City. I understand and I am empathic to the concerns of the local community — I conveyed as much during the meetings I took with them but on balance the decision of the Planning Committee and City Council was the right one for the City,” his statement says.


Neither Dobson nor McConville seem to let the spectre of backroom politics dissuade them from their mission, even though both lead the charge while simultaneously running small businesses.

McConville owns an eponymous garage a stone’s throw from where the proposed shelter would be built. He’s grown his business over nearly four decades from a wooden shack on Gardner to a busy hub.

Driving back to the garage after collecting the furniture on Richelieu Avenue, McConville — “a Vanier boy, for better or worse” — quiets for a moment as he considers the chance of things not going their way. Then he rejects the possibility.

“I believe we are going to win. I don’t believe anything differently,” he says. “Maybe that’s what keeps me going.”

The SOS Vanier garage sale is Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Centre Pauline Charron (164 Jeanne-Mance St.).