Lots of lather over city logo, Steve Desroche,former City Councillor and Deputy Mayor
Did you know that homeowners are responsible for the water, sewer and stormwater pipes on their property? Not surprisingly, most people are unaware that this infrastructure is the property owner’s responsibility to repair when there is a break, blockage or problem. The city’s underground infrastructure is generally not a hot topic except recently when an insurance company sent unsolicited marketing mail to many Ottawa residents. This mail-out transpired after the city partnered with an insurance company to promote voluntary insurance for private property lines. The introductory letter featured an official City of Ottawa logo which some people may have initially assumed was from the municipality. Despite first appearances, the second line of the letter clearly stated that the offer was not a city program and that participation was voluntary and optional. The initiative was in response to many years of the city awkwardly delivering bad news to unhappy and surprised homeowners that they were on the hook for costly pipe repairs on their property. Instead of an expensive taxpayer funded promotional campaign to inform residents of their responsibilities, the city leaned on a reputable insurance company to raise awareness and identify voluntary solutions to help residents protect their most important asset – their home. In addition to avoiding promotional costs, the city received a small percentage of revenue based on insurance uptake. The letter made clear that the city did not provide access to any personal information or tax lists. Other than the logo, the letter was plain and drab with less flash than a low sodium oatmeal advertisement. By comparison, the package was easier to read than most city planning notices. The material was educational with a simplified engineering schema explaining how public works lines connect to a home. A long and detailed list of answers explained that a homeowner could check with their current insurance provider regarding existing insurance coverage and that the offer was – again – voluntary. (As an aside, the only forced insurance schemes that I can think of was when university student unions imposed insurance payments on student fees for all students whether they needed it or not). The criticism of the letter seemed odd given that the partnership aligned with City Council’s climate change emergency declaration. Part of an effective climate change response is ensuring that public and private infrastructure is ready for the negative impacts of variable and harmful weather. Ironically, the city is currently consulting on mitigation measures on how residents can best prepare for events such as damage to personal property including frozen pipes and varying stormwater conditions. The city put the question to residents: “What are you doing to adapt to future and current climate change?” Given Council’s emergency declaration, greater public awareness for voluntary home insurance options is a practical and prudent adaptation strategy. It probably wasn’t much of a surprise that insurance company competitors complained about the deal given the potential loss of business and premiums. The involvement of a private sector insurer with a government partner also rekindled the longstanding political rally cry against private insurers which was one of the haymaker punches of the Bob Rae NDP government. Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished at City Hall. In the vast universe of misinformation on social media, residents were provided with a package of reliable information to help make an optional decision. Helping residents protect their homes with viable and affordable options should not be shocking. The true shock is a surprise bill for fixing a pipe on your property in the face of climate change. That unwelcome scenario is much worse than a letter with a city logo.
Steve Desroches is former City Councillor and Deputy Mayor. Follow him on Twitter @SteveDesroches