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.

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.

Nature-Inspired October Events in Ottawa

Tree Fest Ottawa’s PhotoSynthesis III poster: Pollinators and the Urban Forest photography exhibit

Immerse yourself in these tree- and greening-inspired events coming up this weekend and this month:

Depaving Event: The Champlain Park Community Association, Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper, the City of Ottawa, EnviroCentre and other partners are hosting a depaving event on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 from 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Volunteers are invited to help remove one block of pavement from Pontiac Street, between Carleton and Cowley Avenues. Replacing the asphalt with grass will expand Champlain Park and connect it with NCC parkway greenspace. Details are available on Councillor Jeff Leiper’s website and the Facebook event page. Find out more about the importance of depaving for the environment on Depave Paradise’s website.

Speaking for the Trees Book Talk: The Ottawa International Writers Festival hosts renowned botanist, biochemist and author Diana Beresford-Kroeger for a discussion of her book, To Speak for the Trees, on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 from 2-4 p.m. at Library and Archives Canada. Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s writings have changed the way we think about trees, their value and our relationship to them. Her book shares her journey and explains how trees are part of the solution to the climate emergency in ways we might not be aware of. Find out more and register through the OIWF website.

PhotoSynthesis Festival: Tree Fest Ottawa’s PhotoSynthesis III festival is on now until Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 at Lansdowne Park. This year’s photography exhibit focuses on Pollinators and the Urban Forest. In addition, programming on Sunday Oct. 6, 2019 from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. includes a talk on native pollinator health in Ottawa, a guided walk on pollinator gardens, a nature scavenger hunt, a bee box making workshop, stories and mural painting.

Fall Rhapsody: The NCC’s Fall Rhapsody takes place from Saturday, Oct. 5-Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019 in Ottawa’s core, the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park. The website has tips on where to find beautiful fall colours and activities taking place across the national capital region. A sample of activities includes brunch and family yoga in Gatineau Park, guided nature hikes at Lac Philippe, a picnic and kite flying in Meech Creek Valley, Anishinabe Nibin (Algonquin summer) cultural activities, and more. On weekends, there are free shuttles from downtown Ottawa to Gatineau Park and Camp Fortune.

Forest Bathing: The Garden Promenade and Forest Therapy Ottawa are offering an opportunity to experience forest bathing in the fall colours of the Dominion Arboretum, on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Find out more and register on Eventbrite. Check out Forest Therapy Ottawa’s website for more information on the benefits of quality time spent in forests, and on other upcoming forest wellness events.

CommuniTree Conference: Blackburn Community Association, in partnership with Just Food and Ecology Ottawa, is holding a CommuniTree Conference on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019 from 9 a.m.-1:15 p.m. at the Just Food Farm. Sessions cover the City’s Urban Forest Management Plan and Tree Bylaw, urban forest sustainability, the Healing Forests project, citizen science and community tree mapping, and a walking tour of a community food forest. Register in advance through the Blackburn Community Association website.

Global Climate Strike Ottawa-Gatineau

Global Climate Strike Ottawa-Gatineau September 27 2019 poster courtesy @GregEqEd

It’s time.

In fact, it’s past time. The last four years have been the hottest ever recorded on Earth, and the human-caused climate crisis is affecting all aspects of our daily lives, from extreme weather to ecosystem destruction to adverse effects on human health. We can change this path, but we need to act quickly.

Around the world, people are demanding immediate action to address the climate emergency. Young people in particular, through #FridaysforFuture and #GlobalClimateStrike, and inspired by Greta Thunberg, have been speaking out about the need for those in power to do things differently.

In Ottawa-Gatineau, on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, young people, environmental groups, workplaces, and anyone who has a stake in our shared climate future are taking time out to gather on Parliament Hill to support the call for action.

People will be meeting at 11:30 a.m. at Confederation Park (corner Elgin and Laurier) in Ottawa, and the corner of Portage and Laval in Gatineau, then heading to Parliament Hill. Join if you can. Check for details and updates on the event page.

The Global Climate Strike is taking place Sept. 20-27, 2019, to coincide with the UN Climate Change Summit on Sept. 23, 2019 and Youth Climate Summit on Sept. 21, 2019. It’s anticipated that millions of people in 150 countries will be walking out of school, work or home to draw attention to the need for action and justice to address the climate emergency we collectively face.

Find out more at Fridays for Future Canada and Climate Strike Canada. Locally, check out Fridays for Future Ottawa and other local groups.

Grève mondiale pour le climat Gatineau-Ottawa 27 septembre 2019 affiche grâce à @GregEqEd