On March 1, Ottawa’s City Council votes on the draft 2023 operating and capital budgets. As your councillor, these are some of the most important decisions that I must make. Our city is in a challenging financial situation. Inflation is high, which puts pressures on your household budget, but also on the city’s expenses. The province’s enactment of Bill 23 will see municipal revenues diminished. Our public transit continues to struggle in its return to fiscal and operational solvency. And in a world of “haves” and “have nots”, when times get tough, it’s the “have nots” that experience the greatest hardship.
My responsibility is to take all of this into consideration and make the best decision possible for the residents of Ward 9, and for the City of Ottawa as a whole. I need to consider the challenges of the present day, and the challenges we’ll face tomorrow.
On February 16th I was proud to co-host my first Budget Consultation Public Meeting, where Councillors Kavanagh, Johnson and I engaged with residents to present an overview of the draft 2023 budget, but also to hear questions and concerns from residents.
From the questions that we received, to the results of the survey we conducted at the end of the meeting, certain things became evident:
- The most common concerns from residents continue to revolve around housing and transit.
- Investing in public safety means different things to different people, and the question of increasing the budget for Ottawa Police Service remains as controversial as ever.
- Most residents stated that they were not confident that the draft budget would adequately support our city’s current needs.
Back in December, I was one of 8 councillors who did not support the Mayor’s budget direction. And so, I did not expect to be enthusiastic about the draft budget.
There are certainly elements of the draft budget that I’m supportive of, including a freeze on OC Transpo fares, a $5 million annual commitment to implement the Climate Change Master Plan, and $52 million in new climate investments. I’m also happy to see a budget increase for Ottawa Paramedic Services which will allow them to hire 14 additional staff, as a means of addressing our ongoing “Level Zero” ambulance crisis. And of course, there are specific investments for Ward 9, which I’ll list below.
But there are elements of the draft budget that cause me concern. Despite how the number of Ottawa residents on the waiting list for affordable housing is skyrocketing – it's currently at 12,000 – the $16 million proposed for new affordable housing is only marginally more than the $15 million spent annually since 2019, and barely covers the cost of inflation. Despite the unreliability of bus service, which is a top concern among residents, this budget contains $47 million in cuts and spending alignments to OC Transpo. Despite a critical need to repair and better maintain our streets, sewers and sidewalks, this budget contains $100 million in less-than-critical road widening projects. And despite the recent failures in leadership of our city’s police and increasing evidence of the benefits for policing alternatives, this budget provides a substantial increase to the Ottawa Police Service and delaying proven and effective alternatives.
Simply put, I do not feel that the proposed budget meets our current needs, nor does it help build a better future. It offers modest improvements but maintains the status quo in areas where there should be bold change.
If you want to get significantly more people off the waiting list for affordable housing, or see better maintenance for our roads, or increased emergency preparedness investments to protect against future natural disasters, this budget doesn’t go far enough. If you want to see better snow removal service, or a quicker restoration of our tree canopy, or more lifeguards for our city pools, or more By-Law officers to ticket illegally parked vehicles, this budget doesn’t go far enough. If you want to increase the chance that your bus will show up on time, or show up at all, this budget doesn’t go far enough.
Our budget should reflect our values. As a caring city, as a conscientious and responsible city, how far are we willing to go to get to where we need to be?