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.