On Wednesday, November 4, 2020, Mayor Jim Watson presented the City of Ottawa’s draft 2021 budget. As the mayor noted, 2020 has been a year unlike any other in Ottawa’s history, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the daily life of all Ottawans, as well as on city finances.

Even in the midst of this crisis, the draft budget stays the course on a number of items affecting Ottawa’s environment. It is equally notable how the budget fails to follow through on major climate commitments while continuing to spend tens of millions of dollars in roads and road-related projects.

When it comes to the environment, draft budget 2021 has somehow managed to be three things at once: a “mushy middle” budget, a sprawl budget, and a climate inaction budget.

Let’s unpack each of these aspects below.

  1. A “mushy middle” budget

The 2021 Draft Budget pledges funding for a number of items that are similar or identical to items from 2020 and previous budgets:

  • $1.5 million for 125,000 trees, which matches previous annual commitments;
  • $1.15 million for traffic calming, which is under the 2020 amount but matches previous commitments of $50,000 per ward;
  • $512,000 for the Pedestrian Crossover Program, which approximates the $500,000 spent in 2020;
  • $3 million for City of Ottawa energy efficiency projects, which matches the amount from Budget 2020.

In summary, Budget 2021 is not designed to rock the boat. For many standard city expenditures on environmental initiatives, we are seeing a business-as-usual approach.

2. A sprawl budget

Unfortunately, just as Budget 2021 stays the course on environmental initiatives, it doubles down on the city’s standard approach to roads. This year’s draft budget sees the city spend on a number of road growth and growth-related initiatives, totaling $139.9 million:

  • $57 million to fund road growth;
  • $9.9 million to repair asphalt;
  • $45 million to resurface roads, up from a yearly average of $35.5 million in the last Term of Council; and
  • $28 million to renew road infrastructure.

Even after having declared a climate emergency in 2019, the City of Ottawa shows no signs that it wants to save money by curbing the tens of millions it commits annually to embedding costly and climate-polluting car-dependency.

This spending pattern comes on the heels of council’s most important climate decision this term, which was to increase urban sprawl by expanding Ottawa’s urban boundary in May. This does not bode well for the prospect of seeing future budgets shift expenditures away from roads and towards climate action.

3. A climate inaction budget

The City of Ottawa just unanimously passed its renewable energy strategy, Energy Evolution. The annual price tag for this plan is $621 million. This year’s budget saw only a fraction of this amount committed by the City of Ottawa: $2.6 million, or less than 1% of the annual investment required. Further, even the limited funding behind Energy Evolution comes from a relatively unstable source: dividends from Hydro Ottawa.

The City of Ottawa must put its money where its mouth is on climate action. We encourage the city to integrate regular and stable funding for climate action as part of its regular budget, and to spend on Energy Evolution in line with its annual commitment.

What’s next?

Stay tuned for more detailed budget analysis as more City of Ottawa documentation becomes available in the coming days.

In the meantime, it’s important to keep in mind that Budget 2021 is not yet finalized – Ottawans have until December 9 to contact their councillors to advocate for more ambitious environmental commitments. Join the 2021 budget campaign here!

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