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City Council voted on December 6 to approve their draft budget for 2024. The budget contains some positive action towards addressing some of the crises Ottawa is facing: there is increased investment into housing, for example, and the City is reaching into its reserves to boost spending on affordable housing thanks to a motion from Councillor Kavanagh. The spending on climate, however, is somewhat underwhelming and contradictory.
The budget does include several items relating to the climate emergency. This is mostly spending towards resiliency measures, with around $100 million in total going into various projects including the protection of vital city facilities (including energy conservation and water and waste management), building up the tree canopy, and supplying lodging sites across the city with backup generators. The scale of the city’s spending in this area, however, does not seem proportional to the seriousness of the climate emergency, which the city itself declared in 2019. With Council recently voting to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into projects like Lansdowne 2.0 and new policing infrastructure both downtown and in the city’s south end, the investment of a mere fraction of the $5.6B budget into climate resiliency does not constitute the prioritization of climate solutions that has previously been promised by Mayor Sutcliffe.
This prioritization of “resiliency,” too, is problematic. The year 2024 will mark five years since the city’s declaration of a climate emergency, and rather than spending to address the root causes, time and time again they seem to favour investing in defending against the consequences of neglect. Although some thought to protecting ourselves from the results of years of inaction (increased instances of extreme storms, higher precipitation, uncharacteristically mild winters, etc.) is necessary, what we need are radical investments towards eliminating carbon emissions rather than simply playing catch-up over previous mistakes.
One proactive method of eliminating emissions is transitioning the bus fleet entirely to Zero-Emission Buses, a commitment the city made back in 2021 and towards which they will invest nearly $200 million in 2024 – this is the single largest climate-related investment in the budget this year. Unfortunately, the city also voted for a fare hike of 2.5% for transit services and against a motion to freeze fares for the year – a move that would only have amounted to about an $8 tax increase per homeowner. If the city is serious about meeting its own climate goals and making transit a core component of a carbon-neutral city, it should be focusing on inviting ridership by reducing the necessity of personal vehicle use – something that will not be accomplished by increasing what is already one of the highest transit fares in the country for a service that struggles with reliability.
With the effects of the climate crisis having been made readily apparent on our doorstep in the last several years in the form of major storms like the 2022 derecho as well as record-breaking levels of flooding and tornadoes in the Ottawa area, there is no time for only reactive spending on resiliency, as is planned in the 2024 budget. Now is the time for substantial investment into serious, proactive climate solutions. If you want to see the urgency of the climate emergency better reflected in the city’s spending plan, contact your councillor to demand more decisive action on climate – and sign Ecology Ottawa’s climate action petition!
Matthew Slevin is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton and a volunteer with Council Watch.