“It’s like a think tank on steroids!”
One thing I’ve noticed in my four months as councillor, based on the emails I receive and the comments I get on social media, is that a lot of people have a very specific understanding of what my job is and how I’m supposed to do it. And they like to me tell their thoughts on this.
These comments typically sound like “Who asked you to...?!” or “No one elected you to...!” or “Just stick to what you’re supposed to do!”
Even though we’ve only been at it for a short time, my team and I think our job description is quite simple really: to try to make our ward and our city a better place to live. For all of us. And there are so many ways that we do that, on a daily basis. Whether it’s trying to get the snow cleared off your street or getting By-Law to respond to an illegally parked vehicle, or negotiating with a developer about their building plans, or making difficult decisions about our city’s budget, or meeting with food bank directors to find out how to get them more resources, there’s many ways that we do our job.
And sometimes what we do is start conversations that no one else is having.
A few weeks ago, we all heard the announcement that Nordstrom was closing their retail stores across Canada. It was a huge piece of news.
Later that evening, I put out a thread on Twitter that went mini-viral. In it, I simply put out the question of whether or not to consider using the space in the Rideau Centre soon-to-be vacated by Nordstrom for housing, instead of replacing it with a new anchor retailer. I argued that big-box retail is on the decline with the change of consumer habits, and that cities across North America are experimenting with transforming malls into housing.
Basically, I ignited an interesting discussion. Soon enough, over 44,000 people had seen the thread, and I’d done two radio interviews about it. Why? Probably because it was a conversation worth having. Was my idea perfect? Of course not! I’m not an architect.
But my idea did address real and tangible concerns. Our city needs innovative solutions to our housing crisis, as well as the need for the economic revitalization of our downtown core.
Like any good conversation starter, it’s the ideas that flowed from the initial spark that get truly interesting. And there were many ideas that were put forward that emanated from what I originally proposed. At one point, some commenter posted: “There are so many radical ideas here. It’s like a think tank on steroids!”
And can’t that be seen as part of my job as City Councillor? I have a platform, plus a tendency to think outside the box (based on three decades working in the arts). I can use that platform to help support creative discussions that summon the ideas of many of our city’s brightest minds. What a great thing to do. Ottawa has an abundance of innovative, passionate, thoughtful, highly educated and extremely experienced people. Why not engage them in our goal of finding the best solutions to our common problems?
Later in this newsletter you’ll read about how I’m using this collaborative approach in hosting group conversations about our Merivale Renewal Project, as well as a new format for one of our community engagement processes, based on a “think tank” model.
I hope you will allow me to include this as part of my job as your City Councillor. And I hope that, when the opportunity presents itself, you will join us.
At the March 1 council meeting, City Council unanimously passed Ottawa’s 2023 operating and capital budget. Although the budget passed unanimously, there were some difficult conversations and decisions that took place, and the residents of Ottawa shouldn’t see the final vote tally as a ringing endorsement of that budget.
As some of you may recall, I was one of 8 councillors who did not support Mayor Sutcliffe’s budget direction, which set the property tax increase at 2.5%. I believed then, as I still believe, that such a low rate of tax increase simply cannot generate the revenues we need to address our city’s many critical needs.
At one point, I had considered not supporting the budget, but as there were several elements of it that I endorse, I joined my colleague in voting for it, on the whole.
However, I did vote against and/or dissent on three elements.
I was one of 8 councillors who voted against the Ottawa Police Services budget. This vote was based on the clear indications I’ve received from Ottawa Police that crime in Ward 9 is decreasing, along with the fact that we receive very few reports from residents related to crime and policing. The greatest public safety concern in Ward 9 is related to speeding and road safety, and the Ottawa Police themselves have told me that policing is not the best solution to that concern. And so, in the face of our city’s far more pressing concerns, I did not feel that the police’s $15 million increase was justified.
At the same time, I also voted to support a motion from Councillor Menard to essentially transfer $500,000 from the Ottawa Police Services budget over to the Community Services budget, in the hopes of using those funds to advance an alternative call response and mental health outreach team. Unfortunately, this motion was defeated by a vote of 15 to 10.
When that motion failed to pass, one woman in the gallery stormed out of the chamber shouting: “This vote will lead to someone dying!” It was a stark reminder of the urgent need felt by many in our city for alternative modes of responding to public safety concerns.
In addition to voting against the police budget, I also dissented on elements of the transit budget, as I simply could not endorse a budget that was predicated on so many cuts and potential deficits, knowing that this was not the solution to our city’s transit woes. Finally, although I was grateful to see our city’s budget for new affordable housing increase from $15 million to $16 million, I dissented on that element of the budget as it’s still a woefully inadequate amount to meet out city’s needs.
Now, with our 2023 budget approved, my goal is to focus on our upcoming Term of Council Priorities discussion, as well as the 2024 budget preparations, in the hopes of getting an even better budget for next year to address our city’s growing needs.
City Hall Update
March 16th is the deadline for property owners to submit their Vacant Unit Tax declaration. As of today, declarations for over 300,000 properties have been submitted, representing approximately 93% of eligible properties. All residential property owners must submit an occupancy declaration, or risk being charged the vacant unit tax.
To assist Ottawa residents who may be having trouble with the online or telephone submission formats, city staff are hosting in-person clinics across the city for one-on-one support in filing your declaration. Residents of Ward 9 who have not submitted their declarations may consider attending either of the remaining clinics:
Wednesday, March 15
Hintonburg Community Centre, 1064 Wellington St. West
11 am to 5 pm
Thursday, March 16
St. Laurent Recreation Complex, 525 Coté Street
11 am to 5 pm
Another big concern coming out of City Hall this week has been the city’s response to news that came out in February that there had been a significant amount of clear-cutting of trees on land owned by the Tewin development partners – jointly the Algonquins of Ontario and Taggart Group. Quite understandably, the news of this clear-cutting, and the manner in which the actions were discovered have caused considerable anger and concern from many, including myself and my team.
For an overview of what’s happened and the city’s response so far, I recommend residents read up on the issue through the excellent reporting done by CBC Ottawa’s Kate Porter.
The question of what happened at Tewin and the city’s response will hopefully be addressed at the March 21 meeting of the Environment and Climate Change Committee. As a member of that committee, and as I’m concerned about protecting our urban tree canopy against encroachment, I’ll be looking to use this upcoming meeting to probe into the appropriateness of the city’s response, the terms of our current Tree Protection By-Law, and whether the city had other options for addressing the surprise clear-cutting.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT UPDATE
Community Engagement Series
As mentioned in our last newsletter, we’re tweaking our format for our Community Engagement Series. We were pleased with the results we had over the past several months, but it was clear that the schedules and formats didn’t encourage as wide a range of participation as we would like to see. And so, starting this month, we’ve got a new series of events:
- Ward 9 Office Hours: Once a month we’ll host short, in-person, one-on-one meetings with residents at our ward office at Ben Franklin Place.
- Sunday Soirees: These will be a continuation of former Public Zoom Meetings, where we’ll host online group conversations in response to whatever questions or concerns residents bring to the meeting.
- Thursday Night Think Tanks: In these online sessions, we’ll have a more focused discussion on a particular topic (e.g. housing, urban planning) but the objective of these sessions is to spur some innovative outside-the-box thought power!
Public Consultation: Zoning By-Law Review Discussion Papers
The City of Ottawa has started consultation on the development of a new Zoning By-law with the release of seven discussion papers, available on the City’s Engage Ottawa page. These papers address key issues relating to the implementation of the new Official Plan, including:
- Climate change, resiliency, public health
- Neighbourhood character
- Neighbourhood zones
- New approaches to regulating land use
- Trees intensification and the urban tree canopy
- Equity, diversity and inclusion, and
- Rural zoning issues.
This release marks the first chance for the public to consult on the implementation of the recently approved new Official plan through the development of a new Ottawa Zoning By-law. The City welcomes feedback and input from members of the public and will summarize their responses in an "As We Heard It" report in Summer 2023. Consultations on the discussion papers will inform development of the first draft of the new Zoning By-law. We encourage members of the public to review the discussion papers and share their thoughts and ideas, as their input will play a critical role in shaping the future of our city.
Mois de la Francophonie
March is Mois de la Francophonie and an opportunity to celebrate the rich Francophone heritage of the National Capital Region. March 20 also marks International Francophonie Day; a day to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of Francophones to our culture and communities around the world.
There are over 300 million French speakers across the globe. In Canada, the French language is part of our identity and our cultural fabric. We have over seven million French speakers, including newcomers who are becoming an important part of our growing francophone population.
In Ottawa, the Francophone community has made many significant contributions to the city’s creation. For example, The Ottawa Hospital was founded in 1845 by the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa under Élisabeth Bruyère’s direction and the University of Ottawa was founded by the Oblate Fathers.
The month-long celebration is happening across Canada, so be sure to check out Les Rendez-vous de la Francophonie for a wide range of French programming. The National Film Board of Canada is joining in the festivities by offering a series of film screenings on French music. Locally, the Ottawa Public Library is also celebrating Mois de la Francophonie with French programs and events throughout March, including:
- The Croisée des mots where fans of Franco-Ontarian literature will get the chance to enjoy lively, friendly discussions with a roundup of local authors
- A discussion with author Michèle Vinet, whose book Le Malaimant won the 2022 Ottawa Book Award for the French-language fiction
- A panel discussion with author Sylvain Lemay and artist André St-Georges, who co-created the graphic novel Rouge Avril
Happy Francophonie Month to all!
Merivale Transformer Station Modernization Project
Hydro One’s Merivale Transformer Station Modernization Project continues to advance through various planning and consultation phases, before construction begins this Spring. This is a critical project for one of our city’s most important public utilities, which will not only significantly increase our city’s future electric power capacity, but also increase the facility’s resiliency against potential damage from extreme weather events., which have resulted in lengthy power outages in the recent past.
But this project also will pose a disruptive impact on the local community of Tanglewood, where the project is located. And since this project will span several years of construction, that community impact will be significant. For those reasons, and to ensure that the project delivers the best results possible, Councillor Devine has been very closely involved with Hydro One for the past several months.
To find out more about the project, please read the Councillor’s statement.
Over the last few weeks, the Councillor has taken a tour of the facility to get a close-up view of the work that will take place. More recently, the Councillor participated in a well-attended Community Open House hosted by Hydro One, held at the Tanglewood Community Centre. At this meeting, local residents were able to hear and see the latest project plans and raise concerns to Hydro One staff. The Councillor is now working closely with Hydro One staff in order to ensure that the project’s final planning respond to as many of the community’s concerns as possible.
As part of this Hydro One facility project, Hydro Ottawa will also be doing work on their own infrastructure, as Hydro Ottawa’s lines draw power from this station.
While the majority of this work will take place within Hydro One’s corridor, some work will take place on Nestow Drive. Hydro Ottawa estimates that this portion of the project will commence March 27 and be completed on June 16.
There are no scheduled power outages associated with this work. Customers will receive a written notice delivered to their door advising them of this project. Residents may notice increased construction presence throughout the day, including construction vehicles. Traffic control will be implemented throughout the project to ensure that roads and sidewalks remain safe for residents.
PUBLIC HEALTH & SAFETY UPDATE
Covid-19 & Health Update
Levels of respiratory viruses in Ottawa remain stable, with influenza, COVID-19, and RSV activity similar to the week prior.
- Influenza: low levels and similar to last week
- COVID-19: high levels and decreasing since last week
- RSV: low levels and similar to last week
- Influenza: 0.6 percent. Low levels and similar to last week.
- COVID-19: 12.1 percent. Moderate levels and similar to last week.
- RSV: 5.1 percent. Moderate levels and increasing since last week.
This information and much more can always be consulted on Ottawa Public Health’s website under the Respiratory and Enteric Surveillance Report.
Council approves COVID commemoration
On March 8, City Council passed a motion to recognize March 11, 2023, as a Day of Observance to commemorate the people who have lost their lives to COVID, and to recognize the significant impacts we have all endured as a result of COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, three years ago, more than 51,000 people have lost their lives to the disease. Many thousands more have had their long-term health affected and continue to struggle with its effects. It’s important, as we move forward and find ways to live with the virus, that we not lose sight of its significant impact on our lives and the need to continue to support those who have been most affected.
The re-emergence of certain vaccine preventable diseases is being seen in parts of the world and is cause for concern. OPH is monitoring the potential emergence of measles, and we are making continued efforts to increase uptake and coverage of routine childhood vaccinations. Thousands of children and youth in Ottawa are missing routine vaccinations that would protect them from measles and other vaccine preventable diseases. Vaccinations required for attending childcare and school should be kept up to date. Parents and guardians can find out if their child is due for vaccination, and which vaccinations have already been reported to OPH, by visiting our website at ParentingInOttawa/RoutineVaccination. You are encouraged to share our Facebook and Instagram posts.
If you are travelling outside of Canada, ensure you are up to date on your vaccinations at least six weeks before your trip. Visit our Measles webpage for more information.
Parenting in Ottawa Drop-Ins
If you have questions about your baby’s growth and development or want to know if your child is on track, Ottawa Public Health has drop-in locations across the City. You can speak to a Public Health Nurse about infant feeding, social and emotional development, healthy eating, and more. This program is available to expectant parents and parents or guardians of children up to 6 years of age. Check out our new video on Twitter and Facebook. No need for an appointment, but you can find the drop-in calendar here: ParentingInOttawa.ca/dropins
March is Nutrition Month
Ottawa Public Health has a team of Public Health Dietitians, who play a unique role in supporting our communities to thrive. Dietitians use the science of nutrition to help people and communities meet their healthy eating goals. We work with partners to address issues like food insecurity and to create healthier places, where people live, work and play. Registered Dietitians are regulated health professionals who apply their expertise in food and nutrition to support individuals and communities to improve their health. The work of Registered Dietitians in public health is to make the healthy choice the easier choice for everyone. Find a dietitian near you!
PLANNING & DEVELOPMENT UPDATE
Merivale Renewal Project: Roundtable Discussion
The future transformation and revitalization of Merivale Road continues to be one of our office’s "big dream" projects. Last week, we were proud to host an amazing group of innovators and influencers at City Hall in a hybrid in-person / virtual Roundtable Discussion. Along with Councillor Devine’s team, we had staff from Councillor Laine Johnson’s team. Our guests included subject matter experts like cycling advocate Hans Moor (aka Hans on the Bike), local architect Toon Dreessen, urban design activist Duncan Rae, and transportation engineer Matt Pinder. We also invited leaders from the business and development community like Michelle Groulx, Executive Director of the Ottawa Coalition of BIAs, and Joey Theberge, developer at Theberge Homes. And of course we invited residents and community leaders from the immediately adjacent communities of Fisher Heights and Cityview, including Sabrina Hossain and Maher Chaar, and Jill Prot and Nancy Wilson.
Everyone agreed: there is so much potential to transform Merivale into "the heart of Nepean". A place to live, to work, to shop, to do business, to play, to visit, to enjoy a truly walkable neighbourhood experience. But change does not come easy. Over the coming months and years, I'll be looking to leverage support, insight, investment, and collaboration from across the city, across all sectors: stakeholders, builders, and decision-makers. Wishing us all success in realizing our goal of a new Mainstreet Nepean!
COMMUNITY NEWS & EVENTS
International Women’s Day
Last week in celebration of International Women’s Day, the Mayor and Councillor Ariel Troster hosted a breakfast reception and armchair discussion which included guest speakers Louisa Taylor, Director of Refugee 613, Sharon Nyangweso, Founder and CEO of QUAKELAB, and Karla Briones, Entrepreneur and Consultant, Karla Briones Consulting. The ensuing discussion was powerful and educational, with the guest speakers taking centre stage to share their experience and knowledge, explaining how it translates to where we are with gender equity today. While we have made leaps and bounds for the advancement of women over the decades, we simply have much further to go and much more work to do. One thing we can ask ourselves is: How can we make this work for all of us, rather than most of us? This means fighting for the inclusion and representation of racialized people, newcomers and refugees, etcetera. We are simply taking our gender lens and tweaking it so that its focus gets better.
Councillor Devine was pleased to attend this meaningful event along with his invited guests which included his eldest daughter Maggie Devine, Anita James (Executive Director of the Nepean Rideau Osgoode Community Resource Centre), Erin Coffin (public servant, and Board of Directors, Income Generation and Community Liaison at FAMSAC), and Alexandra Seymour (Councillor’s Assistant to Sean Devine).
Seeking nominations for Spirit of the Capital Youth Awards
Councillor Devine is asking Ward 9 residents to submit possible candidates for nomination for a Spirit of the Capital Youth Award, which celebrates the achievements of young people in our community who demonstrate exceptional leadership, compassion, and dedication to making a positive impact on the world around them.
We’re asking residents to take a few moments to consider the outstanding youth in your lives who are making a difference in our community. They could be involved in anything from volunteering at a local charity to advocating for important causes such as the environment or social justice. Benefits to the Spirit Award recipient include:
- $1,000 Bursary
- An invitation to the Spirit Awards gala on June 29th,2023
- Opportunity to be featured in news through partners such as CTV Ottawa
- Networking opportunities
- & more!
To recommend a Ward 9 candidate for nomination by the Councillor, please send an email to [email protected] by 2pm on Monday March 20th. In your email, please provide your name and contact info, as well as your relationship to the youth candidate. Please provide the name and age of the candidate, as well as a short (250 word) explanation for why they are deserving of this award.
Paint it Up! Funding Applications Available
Funding is available for Crime Prevention Ottawa’s Paint it Up! Program, for outdoor mural art projects that support vandalism prevention, youth empowerment, community safety and the beautification of Ottawa neighbourhoods. Projects must contribute to a clean, safe and beautiful city by engaging neighbourhoods and youth in a constructive learning process to create murals to prevent or deter tagging and vandalism.
Applications are due on April 14th, 2023. Crime Prevention Ottawa is releasing the call for proposals with a timeline to ensure the completion of projects over the summer period. For more information about funding, please visit crimepreventionottawa.ca for the program guidelines and application form.