Time for a Sustainable and Equitable Budget for Ottawa

Close-up of brown cardboard placard with red lettering that reads "People Power," in front of blue sky.
People Power by Quinn Dombrowski on flickr – Creative Commons – Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic – https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/15229787189 Image modified (cropped)

Ottawa City Council has officially recognized that Ottawa is in a climate emergency. The City has a climate change plan, active transportation plans, a housing and homelessness plan, and other commitments to sustainability and equity. Beyond such public statements and plans, though, the City’s progress toward these goals depends on how the City allocates public resources—which largely happens at municipal budget time.

Ottawa City Council will vote on the 2023 City Budget, which various City committees have already reviewed, on Wednesday, March 1, 2023 at 10 a.m.

Many community groups have spoken out about problems with the draft budget. It prioritizes unsustainable and inequitable expenditures such as road widening (at the expense of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure) and overpolicing, while it underfunds essential services including public transit (to be cut by $47 million), housing, community services, and greenhouse gas emission reductions. Dubbed an “austerity budget” by some groups, the draft budget sets property tax increases at 2.5 per cent—an arbitrary cap that Mayor Mark Sutcliffe campaigned on—which is well below inflation and will undoubtedly result in real service cuts and increased user fees, and pave the way for ineffective and costly private provision of public services.

Ottawa’s municipal budget process is largely opaque for many residents—and the draft budget tends to be presented more or less as a done deal. Fortunately, the good people of the Ottawa Coalition for a People’s Budget have created a guide to engaging with Budget 2023. Several other groups have offered excellent resources for understanding the draft budget and its implications, and for advocating for a better budget:

[Added:] The People’s Official Plan Coalition is hosting a virtual press conference on the draft budget on Monday, February 27 at 10 a.m. The Coalition’s Priorities for Budget 2023 include climate action; forest, greenspace and wetlands management; food security; affordable housing; and social services.

Horizon Ottawa held a City Budget 101 Training Session with useful analysis of the draft budget and alternatives for the City to raise revenues and reallocate expenditures in more sustainable and socially just ways. The recording is available online, as is an online letter to Council that people can sign calling to stop the cuts to public transit.

Ecology Ottawa is asking people to call on their city councillors to support a motion to defer funding to widen the Airport Parkway—which the new Trillium Line would run parallel to—and allocate the funds to active transportation elements of the project instead.

Acorn Canada is asking people to support a call for a “People’s Budget” in Ottawa that supports all residents, including low-income residents, by adequately funding needed services.

Starts With Home is a coalition of organizations and businesses that has set out a platform and actions, including budget measures, that Ottawa needs to take to ensure everyone has a safe, affordable home.

The Ottawa Mission has posted a budget consultation toolkit as well as an online form to ask City Council to provide much-needed funding for affordable housing.

You can also share your views on the draft budget with your city councillor and on the City’s Engage Ottawa website.

Several organizations are holding a rally against the draft budget on Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at 5:30 p.m. Details will be posted here.

As well, the Ottawa Police Services Board will consider the 2023 police services budget on Monday, February 27, 2023 at 4 p.m. (At the same meeting, they’ll be deciding on proposed changes to limit public input at Board meetings.) According to Defund the Police, what the city spends on policing is roughly the same as it spends on public health, paramedics, public libraries, social housing, parks and recreation and employment services combined, and the police’s share of the municipal budget is increasing. The Coalition Against More Surveillance has compiled resources to help people who want to submit comments to the meeting, and the Ottawa Coalition for a People’s Budget has plenty of ideas for shifting resources from policing to essential services.

The time is now for a municipal budget that shifts us towards a more sustainable, climate change-resistant and equitable city.

Vote for a Sustainable and Just Ottawa

Colourful placards that read "Vote Climate October 24 Municipal Elections," "Don't Choose Extinction," etc.
“Vote climate” signs on Parliament Hill – D. Deby photo

One of the most important things you can do for a sustainable and just Ottawa is vote in the municipal election on Monday, October 24, 2022.

One mayoral candidate offers a clear, achievable path towards this future: Catherine McKenney has a compelling vision of what Ottawa could be, and has offered feasible, community-based and costed ways of providing sustainable, accessible and equitable services while addressing the climate emergency. They have the commitment, experience, integrity and ability to bring people together to make positive change happen.

Green Living Ottawa was created in the belief that imagining desired futures—creating new stories, or “restorying”—can help people live sustainably. We need municipal leaders with alternative visions to the unsustainable and inequitable status quo, and with the ideas, energy, listening skills and engagement capacities to achieve them.

Your vote for mayor, city councillor, and school board trustee are vitally important.

To find out how to vote, check the City’s information for voters page.

To review candidates’ positions on environmental and social issues, check out:

A Call for a Green and Just Recovery in Ottawa

The intersections of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency and heightened attention to pervasive anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and other forms of racism provide a context for urgently rethinking and reshaping our society.

With COVID-19, the City of Ottawa has shown it can react quickly in an emergency–but has not yet been able to reimagine and redirect investments towards a more environmentally and socially just city.

In contrast to other cities around the world, Ottawa has been reluctant to reallocate public space to walking, biking and other sustainable uses; and is not treating the climate emergency and other important public investments with the urgency they require. On the contrary, at a City Council meeting on June 24, 2020, city staff presented budget scenarios that include a $2-million reduction in the budget to address the climate emergency, and cuts to social services. These are likely on the agenda for the City’s Finance and Economic Development Committee meeting on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

Individuals and groups from Black, Indigenous, environmental and community organizations in Ottawa are speaking out against these cuts, including at a press release in front of City Hall on Monday, July 6, 2020 at 11 a.m., to be streamed live on Facebook.

Please join the live event and demand more of our elected officials and City administration.

Urban Growth in Ottawa

Ottawa has big decisions coming up that will affect our future as a sustainable and livable city.

On Monday, May 11, Ottawa city councillors on the City’s planning committee and agricultural and rural affairs committee will vote on how to accommodate the city’s projected growth (around 400,000 new residents by 2046).

The key decision is being expressed as what proportion of growth should happen within the existing urban boundary (through intensification), how much through development on vacant land within the boundary, and how much through growth outside the boundary (in rural areas of Ottawa), by expanding the urban boundary.

It’s not really the first question that should be considered. A first step is to look at what kind of growth we are undertaking. Intensification can create livable and sustainable cities, but not the way Ottawa has been doing it. Planning and intensification within the current urban boundary have been driven by the interests of developers, often ignoring city and community plans, the value of existing built and natural environments, and the kind of city that residents want. It’s been led by financial considerations rather than people- and environment-focused ones.

The boundary debate also hasn’t taken into sufficient account who we’re planning and building for. Who will Ottawa’s residents be, what kind of housing and services will be appropriate and affordable for them? How can we increase walkability, social connectedness, and other important features?

Many residents, and groups including Ecology Ottawa, Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital and Healthy Transportation Coalition, are calling on Ottawa City Council not to expand the urban boundary, but rather to Hold the Line. They’re saying that in a climate emergency, Ottawa’s official plan needs to be a climate emergency plan. Expanding the urban boundary will only increase the economic, environmental and social costs that residents will have to bear, including the costs of building and maintaining car-centric roads, expanding connections to water, sewer and other infrastructure, and potential destruction of agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands.

Some thoughtful people have pointed out that the vote doesn’t need to take place right now, on such an important issue. Some aspects are not yet thoroughly reviewed, and we’re in a municipal state of emergency due to COVID-19, which has short-term as well as longer-term implications. As expressed by the Healthy Transportation Coalition, “the sprawl debate is sucking up time and resources that could be put into adapting our existing transportation networks to life with COVID-19, as is happening in many other cities.”

It’s time for the City to have a different debate.

Connecting in a Time of Coronavirus

“Be kind, stay calm, stay safe:” Message written in multicoloured chalk on the Byron Path – D. Deby photo

I hope you’re staying safe and healthy in these strange and stressful times.

Thoughts to everyone who is going through illness, isolation, fear, loss of income, difficulty obtaining services, or other challenges. Thanks to all who are working to keep everyone healthy.

One thing that’s struck me is how under a pandemic that affects us all, each of us may be having a different experience. Some people are dealing with isolation or boredom; some are supporting kids, elders, other loved ones; some are struggling to maintain mental wellness; for some, challenges include accessing food, shelter, income, outdoor spaces, or health services, and/or dealing with inequities that are exacerbated by the COVID-19 situation; many are putting themselves at risk to provide essential services.

All the more reason to “practice physical distancing but maintain social connection.” We need each other in a time of coronavirus, whether that happens online or by phone, greeting others from a safe distance on outdoor walks, volunteering or donating if circumstances permit, or sharing in other ways.

It’s impressive how many individuals, groups, businesses, institutions and leaders in our city (and elsewhere) have stepped up to the challenge of supporting others through the pandemic. Of course, we’re learning as we go, and there’s much more to do.

I share the hope and intention of others to build from this crisis a different, new, supportive and sustainable way of living together as a community and society. More on that later. For now, here are some links that might be helpful if you haven’t seen them:

Updates on the pandemic, public health measures being taken and supports available:

Ways to get help or support others:

Ways to shop and support local businesses:

Ways to support access to local outdoor and green spaces:

  • Ecology Ottawa’s petition asking Ottawa’s Mayor and City Council to adapt selected Ottawa streets for pedestrians and cyclists, so residents can safely maintain physical distancing
  • Policing the Pandemic project that is mapping patterns of enforcement related to COVID-19 measures (e.g. bylaws regarding use of public spaces, and their enforcement) and effects on marginalized people
  • Community campaigns to address discrimination and bias in the implementation and enforcement of public health measures (e.g. a school trustee’s harassment of a Black student in a local park)

Please share other useful links in the comments if you have them.

Take care and be well.