Guy Laflamme signs off on Ottawa 2017, his swan song

In one of his last appearances in Ottawa before he retires, the creative nerve centre behind Ottawa 2017 heaped praise on the event that he says helped Ottawa shake off its quiet reputation.
GuyLaflamme
Ottawa 2017 executive director Guy Laflamme. Photo by Mark Holleron.

For Guy Laflamme, executive director of Ottawa 2017, something is different now: It’s hard to see Ottawa as the sleepy town where fun goes to die any more.

The man in charge of planning the capital’s Canada 150 celebrations told a local business crowd Tuesday that he and his team approached the project with one important goal in mind: “How can we break the stereotype of a beige, grey town, traditionally conservative, to show a more hip, progressive, modern image for a city — and to not just surprise but shock people by going all the way to the other end of the spectrum?”

Despite the cold weather outside, it was a warm send-off for Laflamme, who spoke at the monthly Mayor’s Breakfast Series event — one of his last appearances in Ottawa before his planned retirement.

Much of Laflamme’s speech, predictably, fêted the success of Ottawa 2017, and the many signature events — Crashed Ice, the Picnic on the Bridge and La Machine — that took place in the city to mark Canada’s sesquicentennial year (Mayor Jim Watson called the event “a bit like a family-reunion, getting back together”).

“What we accomplished was close to a miracle,” said Laflamme. “Had you asked me two years ago if this crazy, 300-page business plan that I wrote would become a reality — if we would succeed in achieving all those crazy, audacious concepts — I would have said no way. Maybe a five, ten per cent chance.”

Though both Laflamme and fellow speaker Victor Dodig, the CEO of lead Ottawa 2017 sponsor CIBC, pointed out that last year’s slate of events provided a substantial boost to the Ottawa economy, they both acknowledged that dollars and cents were far from the most important part of the celebrations.

“It was never about how we can get people to sign up for credit cards, or new accounts,” said Laflamme, adding the goal was instead “to grow our community.”

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Laflamme was able to look back on the three-year project that brought Ottawa 2017 to life.

“I finally had the guts to pushback in some cases, to be more determined. In hindsight, I should have had those guts for my entire career.”

The whole thing, he said, taught him some important lessons.

“I had nothing to lose with 2017,” he told OBJ. “I could have retired before I took on that role — I had nothing to prove, I didn’t have any political or career aspirations, and as a result I finally had the guts to pushback in some cases, to be more determined.

“In hindsight, I should have had those guts for my entire career.”

Whether the city can carry the 2017 momentum into this year and beyond is still a major question. Both Watson and Laflamme have flirted publicly with the idea of carrying some events over into 2018 and beyond, but nothing has been set in stone.

With a year of mechanical monsters, underground light shows and thousand-person dinners behind him, Laflamme is looking forward to a change of pace.

“I want to go from an intense pace and crazy life, to a simple peaceful life and just enjoying simple things in life,” he said, adding he plans to retire to a remote house he owns on the Magdalen Islands in eastern Quebec.

But for anyone who has seen Laflamme’s energy and enthusiasm first-hand, it’s hard to imagine him sitting still for long.

“I’m a thrill seeker. Obviously I thrive with adrenaline rush, and I’ll be experiencing the world,” he said. “I’ll be busy planning my exotic adventures.”

The Mayor’s Breakfast is a presentation of OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.