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.

Towards Effective Light Rail Transit in Ottawa

Ottawa’s LRT – D. Deby photo

I admit to being excited when Ottawa’s LRT launched. By its second day of operation, I found an excuse opportunity to try it out, and marveled at the efficient ride, gleaming new stations and impressive scenery en route.

There were a few gaps—not least accessibility challenges, minimal space for bikes, and the problem that the switch to LRT didn’t benefit everyone (for many residents, including me, it means longer commuting times and fewer bus options). Still, the LRT marks an important shift to more environmentally sustainable transit in Ottawa. We were offered a big-city, world class system that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions, fossil fuel consumption and road salt use, and increase connections to healthy transportation options (biking, walking).

Now, like many other residents, I’m frustrated.

Daily delays and breakdowns, in conjunction with the elimination or adjustment of many bus routes, have eroded confidence in the transit system. Residents are calling for solutions, improved accountability and transparency, and better public communication.

Obviously, Ottawa needs a public transit system that works and is equitable and accessible to everyone—which means not putting all our eggs in one (LRT) basket.

We could draw on (eco-)systems thinking here. Systems thinking is about seeing all the parts of the system and the relationships among them as an integrated, dynamic whole, rather than just the individual parts. Integrating (eco-)systems thinking into design can improve a system’s capacity to handle pressures and disruptions. Fundamental to complex systems is the existence of alternatives, so the system is maintained even when something goes wrong somewhere. Redundancy, diversity and resilience are features of systems approaches.

That means a problem with one train car door doesn’t shut down the entire train/transit system. It means that bus options remain, so people have alternatives to get to where they need to go, at least through a period of transition from buses/transitway to LRT if not beyond. It means investing in improving ParaTranspo, and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, as seamless parts of an integrated system.

It’s good that the City has announced some attention to and investment in solutions. Let’s make sure they’re comprehensive ones.

All Roads Lead to Tunney’s Pasture – D. Deby photo

Making Cycling Safe in Ottawa

Chalk tributes and calls for action for safe cycling, Ottawa City Hall, May 22 2019 – D. Deby photo

Update:Rolling for Justice Bike Ride and Gathering will take place on Wednesday, May 22 at 7:45 a.m. to show respect for the person who lost their life and to press for safe cycling in Ottawa. Everyone is welcome to cycle, roll or walk together, starting at the southwest corner of Nicholas and Laurier at 7:45 a.m. and ending at City Hall. Organizers encourage people to wear black and to ride silently. Further details on the Facebook event page, and/or follow #ottbike and #ottbikeaction on Twitter.

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Sorrow, anger, fear.

These are some of the feelings prompted by yet another death of an Ottawa resident, while he was cycling on one of Ottawa’s designated bike routes.

Sorrow—for the person who was killed, his family and friends and their loss.

Anger—that infrastructure- and driver-caused injuries and deaths are normalized in our city and that prevention of those injuries and deaths is not treated as a priority.

Fear—that while I’m cycling to and from work or errands my life is at risk. My own routes often take me on the Laurier Bike Lane, or through the Parkdale-Ruskin intersection. While the city has made some welcome improvements in cycling infrastructure, cycling in Ottawa is still unacceptably dangerous.

Improving it requires collective action and investments in better infrastructure, including changes in the way we think about and value those who use non-vehicle modes of transportation. As a cyclist, I try to bike safely and defensively, but all the helmets, lights, reflectors and bright orange vests I personally invest in are not going to keep me safe.

What was heartening yesterday was the groundswell of people, including city councillors, who spoke up, gathered outside City Hall, and left tributes to the cyclist. Hopefully this will be a turning point in our tolerance for cyclist and pedestrian injuries and deaths.


Vote for a Sustainable Ottawa on October 22 2018

What’s the most important thing you can do for the environment on Monday, October 22? Vote.

Our municipal government is responsible for many of the systems that affect our ecological footprint as citizens and determine the city’s environmental health.

The people we elect need to lead the creation of sustainable, equitable and safe systems in many areas: planning and management of our built urban and rural environment (including development, infill, and affordable housing); action on climate change (including renewable energy); protection of our environment (including greenspace, trees, flora and fauna, water sources and quality); transportation (prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users); a strong local food system; and waste and recycling. They need to prioritize these in funding decisions. They need to value and support community engagement, local action, and accountability to residents as essential dimensions of our city’s governance. They need to work toward a different and better relationship with the Indigenous peoples on whose land we have built this city.

Some of the candidates for mayor and councillor have clear platforms on these issues (some may have even written the book on them). Others have positions or track records that indicate that these are not among their priorities.

If you need more information on the candidates for mayor, city councillors and school trustees before you vote:

  • Ecology Ottawa has done a survey of all candidates about their positions on local environmental issues.
  • The Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital has posted the results of a survey of municipal candidates on environmental issues.
  • The Ottawa Food Policy Council’s survey of candidates covers food issues.
  • OttawaStart has published a list of links to municipal candidate Q&As and debates.
  • The City of Ottawa website has lists of all candidates, including their websites, as well as information for voters about how and where to vote.

See you at the polls on Monday, October 22.


Ottawa Election 2018

The municipal election is still a couple of months away (Oct. 22), but it’s time to be hearing from candidates about their plans for a greener Ottawa.

Ecology Ottawa has a useful tool to help understand candidates’ positions on environmental issues. They’re doing a survey of mayoral and councillor candidates about their plans for climate change action and an active and green city, and are posting the answers.

So far more than 50 candidates have answered the questionnaire, but more than 60 have yet to reply. You can help by contacting the candidates to ask them to make their views known by Friday Aug. 10.

There are additional questions that candidates need to be asked—about plans for cleaner rivers, and for restoring Chaudiere Falls and the islands, for example—but the survey covers a wide range of important issues.

“For example, in the last budget round, the city committed only $500,000 in new money for Energy Evolution while committing over 80 times that amount – $43 million – on new road building and expansion. …Environmental leadership is needed at City Hall. Ottawa needs a greener city council and the 2018 election on Oct. 22 is an important opportunity to make it happen.” – Robb Barnes, Executive Director, Ecology Ottawa in the Ottawa Citizen

See more about Ecology Ottawa’s municipal election campaign on their website.