David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen
Every year, Mayor Jim Watson dares city councillors to find a way to mess with his budget. This year, a record eight councillors are taking him up on it, proposing a small one-time infrastructure levy to fix crumbling roads and maybe replace a pipe or two.
Unless something truly extraordinary happens in Wednesday’s city council meeting, they will fail. Ten councillors are firmly against them, two are openly very skeptical, and 12 votes is the ballgame.
But that eight councillors signed up for a rebellion is something.
Council’s downtown lefties, whose idea of what the city government should do differs from the mayor’s, took a while but eventually realized they had that in common. Gloucester-Southgate’s Diane Deans has been at the pointy end of Watson’s barbs a lot and has had it. College’s Rick Chiarelli and Kanata North’s Marianne Wilkinson are suburban infrastructure fiends, so they’re in, too.
Other suburban and rural councillors have weighed their interest in infrastructure against their interest in keeping taxes down, plunked Watson’s disapproval on the scale as well, and made their decisions.
Ottawa has a long history of underspending on infrastructure. A year ago, the city bureaucracy told councillors we need to spend about $195 million a year just to maintain the roads and pipes and buildings and bridges we already have, but we actually spend about $125 million.
You can see it in the potholed roads, the cracked water mains, the concrete sidewalks patched and re-patched with asphalt (“Watson warts,” maybe?), the pools that close for annual scrubbing but then stay closed for months because the walls are full of mould. We do not spend enough on this stuff and the results are obvious. Watson acknowledged this in his budget speech and said there’d be more pothole-filling and sidewalk-fixing in 2018.