Ecology Ottawa's take on the City of Ottawa's 2017 Budget

Ecology Ottawa met with representatives of the City of Ottawa in late November to discuss the 2017 draft Budget, which was tabled for approval at City Council on Wednesday, December 14. Below is the statement made by Ecology Ottawa at that meeting, updated with more recent budget information where applicable.

Mayor Jim Watson 110 Laurier Ave. West Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1

Dear Mayor Watson,

On the whole, we welcome a lot of what is in the draft 2017 budget and want to acknowledge that your speech mentioned almost all of Ecology Ottawa's priority issues. We have not done a detailed budget analysis, nor have we examined whether financial support for key areas is rising or falling over time, so please consider this letter an initial reaction.

It is too early for us to tell how the reorganization will impact the City's capacity to work on environmental issues. We are not, in principle, opposed to reorganization, but we are concerned that staff are already over-stretched and there are developments in a number of areas (such as the renewable energy strategy, green infrastructure - or low-impact development - and the urban forest plan) that will inevitably require more full-time equivalents if the City is serious about capitalizing on the emerging opportunities.

Active Transportation:

We appreciate the references to, and investments in, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, including the emphasis you placed on the Sustainable City and "active mobility".

We are encouraged by the fact that the City is on course to invest $73 million during this term of council in cycling infrastructure - significantly more than the last term of council - and we hope that provincial and federal funding can be used to further accelerate this trend. We also appreciate the ongoing investments in pedestrian infrastructure outlined in the budget.

We are interested in learning more about the following:

  • What is the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund and how does the City intend to invest the $52 million that is allocated in this area?
  • The projected investment in the Clegg Street Bridge is very welcome, but what is the future of the Prince of Wales Bridge?
  • Is the City in the process of accelerating projected investments in both the cycling and pedestrian infrastructure plans? As you may know, we support these plans but feel that they are far too protracted (in the sense that projected investments could easily be accelerated) and we would appreciate your reassurance that the envisioned investments are being implemented ahead of schedule. Given the availability of federal infrastructure funding, it would be a missed opportunity if this were not the case.

We continue to be impressed by the fact that the City's largest investment priority is public transit in general, and light rail in particular. We strongly support this as an ongoing priority, including City efforts to plan for extending rail into Kanata and expanded bus service through the purchase of new buses.

We support the EquiPass, which will help low-income residents save money and encourage transit ridership.

We also support the elimination of the ExpressPass, which as far as we can tell will make it more affordable for residents in Ottawa's suburbs to use public transit. We want residents from Orleans, Barrhaven AND Kanata to be integrated into light rail, though we are also conscious of the fact that the most strategic investments (in terms of meeting needs per dollar invested) are often those investments in the most densely populated areas of the city where cycling, pedestrian and public transit infrastructure can meet most peoples' needs if designed properly.

Road Expansion:

There are a number of planned road expansion projects, such as the expansion of the Airport Parkway (which we understand has been pushed back) and the ill-conceived provincial plan to widen highway 417, that would sabotage our collective efforts to increase public transit ridership. It makes no sense to be expanding these corridors while at the same time trying to promote public transit in theses areas and we hope you will use your influence to stop these developments. We are still looking into the scope of new roads and road widening in the budget.

Climate Change and the Energy Evolution:

Thank you for explicitly mentioning the Energy Evolution in your speech. In 2014, when the Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan was approved, the City committed to adopting additional measures designed to promote clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are disappointed that more than two years later these additional measures have not been identified and fully funded.

That said, we are confident that the Chair of the Environment Committee is prioritizing the issue, and we have been impressed by the efforts of City staff to convene a broad-based community effort around the Energy Evolution/Renewable Energy Strategy.

We feel there is an obvious need to increase staffing in this area (the excellent work of existing staff notwithstanding) and we are disappointed that this is not explicitly envisioned in the budget.

We very much appreciate the $300,000 that has been earmarked to continue the important work on the renewable energy strategy in 2017. This investment should help the City bring forward a dynamic plan in 2017 and we will be doing everything we can to ensure that the plan eventually includes the following three things:

  • A broad and diverse coalition with concrete and coordinated actions working together to make the Energy Evolution a success;
  • A commitment from the City to adopt specific policy change commitments that will help transition Ottawa away from its dependence on fossil fuels, and;
  • A short-list of major investments that, with the financial support of the provincial and federal governments, will help Ottawa residents save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
These are important times in terms of climate change-related investments federally and provincially, and the City of Ottawa can either position itself to leverage available funding or miss an excellent opportunity to be a leader on this essential issue.

Given that the plan will be taking shape over the next year, we look forward to working with you to ensure that sufficient resources are available in the coming years, starting in the 2018 budget.

Trees and the Urban Forest:

Your commitment to planting trees in Ottawa to combat the devastating impact of the Emerald Ash Borer has been exemplary and we thank you very much for the City's work in this regard even as we remain troubled by the scale of the challenge and the degree to which the necessary resources are in place.

The City of Ottawa's commitment to plant over 120,000 trees in 2017 is truly impressive, matched only by the quality and dedication of your staff. We are very grateful for this commitment.

We are also very excited about the draft Urban Forest Management Plan and want to commend you on the consultations that have occurred around this plan, as well as the money that has been put aside to conduct an Urban Forest Canopy Cover study in 2017.

That said, the draft 20 year Urban Forest Management Plan, while thoughtful in design and comprehensive in scope, pushes far too many important investments into the distant future. The draft Plan identifies many ways in which we can act today, yet it defers too many of these initiatives into the distant future. When the plan comes to committee it is essential that the City is able to answer the question: "How will this make my community a better place in four years time?"

Apart from accelerating some of the investments envisioned in the draft Urban Forest Management Plan and including them in the 2018 budget, we hope you will also consider two things as you move forward:

  • current staffing levels will be inadequate if the City hopes to make the most of this excellent plan, and;
  • the provincial and federal governments must become real partners in this endeavour if it is to succeed.
Ecology Ottawa has been consistently impressed by your commitment to, and support for, Tree Ottawa's million tree objective, but the provincial  and federal governments have thus far failed to support this important work. We are now asking you to use your important voice on this issue in the same way that you used it to secure funding for light rail and the Ottawa River Action Plan. If the province and federal government are truly supportive of healthy neighbourhoods and urban trees, it is time for them to commit resources to this valuable objective. We have been very disappointed by the provincial and federal response to Tree Ottawa's million tree challenge and we hope that by working with you we can address this in 2017.

Green infrastructure:

You have been a consistent champion in our collective efforts to stop the dumping of untreated sewage into the Ottawa River and, to your credit, the City has recently adopted a new Water Environment Strategy, but your budget presentation is remarkably silent on the question of Green Infrastructure (otherwise known as Low-Impact Development).

Investments in "grey infrastructure", such as your administration's commitment to separating sewage pipes and building the underground catchments to avoid dumping in the Ottawa River, is important, but we need you to join the green infrastructure revolution (using the natural environment to slow down, soak up, and keep stormwater clean). There are a number of positive pilot projects underway (such as Sunnyside Avenue) and these now need to become a core investment priority of the City of Ottawa.

Land Acquisition Fund:

We applaud the draft 2017 budget's allocation of $800,000 to purchase and protect Ottawa's greenspace, but this is below the funding levels that we should be aiming for. Every day we are losing valuable greenspace in this city and we need your leadership to establish funding that is commensurate to our needs. This fund should be in the millions of dollars, not the hundreds of thousands, and it should be matched by a City effort to rally the business sector in Ottawa to support efforts to defend our quickly disappearing and most prized greenspace.

Ecology Ottawa would be very interested in working with your administration to conceptualize and realize a land acquisition fund that would make a meaningful contribution to defending our increasingly rare greenspace.

Great Public Spaces:

Finally, while we acknowledge and appreciate the investment that the City has already made towards the revitalization of the ByWard Market, we can't help but feel that budget 2017 is a missed opportunity. Your administration has worked hard to celebrate Ottawa's great public spaces and it is time to truly invest in the oldest continuously operated farmers market in Canada and the premier tourist attraction in Ottawa, the ByWard Market. The City has a plan that would make the Market a world class public space, and we need your leadership to make it happen. We hope that this will be a priority as we move towards the 2018 budget.

In closing, there is a lot to be admired about the direction that you have taken the City over the past six years, and we look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead. But there are also great opportunities that are being unrealized due to lack of staff capacity and investments. We look forward to working with you on all of these important issues.


Graham Saul Executive Director Ecology Ottawa

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