One day after Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder resigned as chair of Ottawa's planning committee following an integrity investigation, Stittsville's councillor took her seat and asked members to thank Harder for her service.
Glen Gower, who has served as vice-chair for more than a year, said it had been a difficult few days for council following the release of a 101-page report from Integrity Commissioner Robert Marleau into Harder.
Gower told his fellow committee members he has learned a lot from Harder.
"Jan knows everybody who has anything to do with planning in the city. She knows builders, she knows community associations, she knows advocates, she knows businesses," said Gower.
"I don't think there's anyone on our council who knows planning files inside out the way Jan Harder does."
Gower's words echoed those of Mayor Jim Watson at council one day earlier. Watson praised Harder's public service and passion for city-building and said losing the planning seat was the greatest punishment she could face.
Council had approved a motion by Watson in a 14-9 vote that reprimanded Harder but dropped other sanctions recommended by the integrity commissioner, such as repaying the city more than $7,000 in legal fees and being docked 15 days pay.
'Momentum' at committee
In his report, Marleau found Harder violated parts of the code of conduct related to avoiding real and perceived conflicts of interest and accepting gifts or benefits.
The issues noted in the report related to Harder's relationship with friend Jack Stirling, a development consultant and registered lobbyist who sometimes had clients' files before planning committee. Harder hired his firm to give her advice on planning issues and Stirling's daughter wrote briefing notes.
Marleau did not find Harder benefited financially, nor was there proof the relationship influenced her decisions at committee or council, but said Wednesday avoiding the perception of conflict was a matter of public confidence and trust.
When tendering her resignation, a vexed Harder again called the complaint that led to the investigation politically motivated. She said she had faced online harassment after the report was made public.
Harder resigned without acknowledging a conflict of interest, but added she wouldn't let "endless noise and innuendo, amplified online, to railroad the important work the committee must accomplish."
New files ahead for committee
Gower said committee must "keep the momentum going" on major upcoming files Harder has led — most important of which is the new official plan due to be released in August.
First up on Thursday, however, was a long list of files including three new towers with a thousand apartments in Vanier and an eight-storey expansion for the Shepherds of Good Hope in Lowertown to create supportive housing beds and a new drop-in kitchen.
As for who might replace Harder permanently, councillors typically express interest in a vacancy. Recommendations are then made by a nominating committee chaired by the mayor and then debated, which is likely to happen at the July 7 council meeting.
Watson declined to suggest a replacement for Harder on Wednesday, but said whomever takes over planning committee will have to "hit the ground running."