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Ottawa City Council will be determining the budget for 2024 this fall, as they do every fall. A city’s budget is crucial to its operations and the lives of its constituents: the budget represents in very real terms a city’s priorities. In a time of concurrent crises, it is important that real investments are made to protect our environment and our community.
It is crucial that Ottawa City Council gets Budget 2024 right. Community members are key in making this happen.
We’ve prepared below a number of points that we’d like to see in Budget 2024. We encourage you to contact your councillor about these points, whether by email or by speaking with them. In addition to contacting your city councillor, many councillors will be hosting budget consultation sessions leading up to the debate and adoption of Budget 2024, starting on October 18th. Public feedback can be given from September 13 to October 27, a great way to make sure your voice is heard before Council tables the draft Budget on November 8 and approves it on December 6.
Fully fund the implementation of the Climate Change Master Plan (CCMP).
At last check (April 2023), only two of the CCMP’s eight priorities were on track. The 2023 Update cites lack of resources for not achieving these goals. Given the climate emergency we’re in—which City Council declared in 2019—we should be accelerating the CCMP’s implementation. In Budget 2023, we saw implementation of this plan only given $5 million. Budget 2024 needs to see prioritization for the CCMP through increased, permanent funding to allow for the full implementation of this Plan.
Accelerate implementation of the Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP).
Trees are critical to our city, whether for sequestering carbon, filtering the air, providing habitat, mitigating the heat island effect, soaking up water, providing shade, or improving people’s mental health. The UFMP update earlier this year repeatedly mentioned lack of resources as an obstacle to the Plan’s rollout. Given the urgency of the climate and biodiversity crises, we should implement the UFMP expediently. This is also simple good economic sense: investments in trees yield substantial returns
Reverse cuts to public transit, and instead invest.
Public transit is a critical part of meeting our climate and emissions goals and offers mobility to a wide variety of people. Budget 2023 saw cuts of $47 million plus a deficit of $39 million that was left unfilled. Transit needs to be incentivized for riders and routes need to be expanded and reliable to make transit in Ottawa accessible. Transit service is declining, which means forced car dependency for some and canceled activities for others. Underfunding transit risks a “death spiral” of this essential service.
Accelerate implementation of active transportation infrastructure in the Transportation Master Plan.
Active transportation (walking, rolling, and biking) is a critical part of meeting our climate and emissions goals and offers mobility to a wide variety of people. Among transportation modes, active transportation has the highest return on investment for municipalities and costs the least to users, but also produces the lowest emissions.
Implement a bikeshare system, and create subsidies for electric-assist bicycles.
Bikeshare and electric-assist bicycles have the potential to revolutionize transportation in car-centric cities like Ottawa. Bikeshare allows people to bike to their destinations without worrying about maintenance or security. Electric-assist bikes help people negotiate the prohibitive distance between destinations without requiring anywhere near the resources or space that cars consume. Subsidies along these lines should include incentives for businesses to adopt electric cargo bikes for deliveries.
Properly Resource Roll-Out of Green Bins in Multi-Residential Properties.
When the City's green bin program was first launched, it only served residential properties with curbside collection; apartments and townhouses were not included. In 2022, the City committed to making green bins available in multi-residential buildings and making organics collection a requirement for all properties whose garbage the City collects. Staff and material resources are needed to ensure that green bin service is implemented as soon as possible, as diverting organic waste to compost will extend the life of the Trail Road Landfill and help meet our climate change goals.
A transparent budget-design process that permits meaningful public engagement.
We've been working with the Peoples Official Plan coalition to ask the City to improve the budget design process so that Ottawans better understand the budget and may meaningfully participate in its creation. While the process for 2024 is already determined, we're looking ahead to 2025.
This is just a start. Do you have any other ideas you want to share on Budget 2024? If so, please contact your city councillor, and contact us at Ecology Ottawa while you’re at it! Do also attend one of the many councillor-led public consultations on the budget. Community action is essential in shaping our city, and your voice has an important impact.
William van Geest is Program Coordinator at Ecology Ottawa.
Gemma Patey works as a community organizer on Ecology Ottawa's Breathe Easy campaign.