Community Newspaper Columns

Passing our mid-terms at City Hall

December 2016

Excuse me, will there be a mid-term exam? How many of us remember asking or hearing that question in school? I know I did, and though my school days may be over, mid-terms remain part of my life.
We're halfway through the current term of City Council, and with that milestone comes a standard "Mid-term Governance Review." It's a way to take stock of how we do things at City Hall, and a chance for us to consider how our processes or approaches might be improved.

Among the dozens of elements reviewed recently, I proposed changes in a couple of areas related to the mandates of the City's standing committees. First, I was able to add to the Environment Committee's mandate responsibility for "preserving/promoting biodiversity and protecting/coexisting with urban wildlife, particularly with respect to matters that are not specifically within the mandates of other Standing Committees."

What this comes down to is that preserving and promoting biodiversity as a policy goal is not specifically named as part of any committee's mandate. Some committees, such as Planning or Transportation, deal with some specific, related issues, but not as an overarching objective. That loophole has now been closed.

Somewhat related — not a loophole, but an oddity — is the transfer of "urban wildlife" issues from the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee (ARAC) to the Environment Committee. It's not rocket science, and the chair of ARAC had no desire to fight me over Glebe skunk issues or troubles with raccoons and squirrels in Centretown. So — lucky me!! — as Environment chair, I have now laid claim to urban wildlife issues, including the ongoing need to see bird-friendly policies adopted and promoted so as to reduce the very frequent bird injuries and deaths in the city.

Which brings me to the name of the committee. In February 2016, as part of a far-ranging motion to minimize Ottawa's contribution to climate change, I suggested adding the words Climate Protection to the name of the committee. I believe this term is a better fit than the similar but more nebulous Climate Change, as argued in my motion:

"... governments ... are making important commitments to reduce emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases, thereby protecting the climate from human behaviour and economic activity; and

"... governments ... are already experiencing, and are anticipating considerably more impacts upon built infrastructure and ecological and human health as a result of climate change, and are devoting additional resources towards protecting humans from the negative effects of a changing climate; and

"... adopting the term Climate Protection would serve not only to underline the importance of tackling climate-related issues for the City of Ottawa, but also better describe the dual nature of the challenge before the city, as described in this motion;
On Nov. 9, Council made a symbolic but absolutely important change by approving the committee's new name: Environment and Climate Protection."

Budget Overview

Also on Nov. 9, the Mayor tabled Ottawa's 2017 Draft Budget. I am particularly pleased with what I see in several areas that are my declared priorities, and which I know are important to residents based on your input. I collaborated with a number of councillors and community groups in pushing for:

  • 1. A more affordable transit pass for those on low incomes. Check!
  • 2. Increased funding for social service providers. Check!
  • 3. More funding for measures and infrastructure leading to safer and more accessible walking and cycling. Check!

Some citywide initiatives that I have championed received some modest initial funding. There is a financial infusion to kick-start some projects as part of the Renewable Energy Strategy coming forward in 2017 — now called Energy Evolution. There is money for work recommended in the draft Urban Forest Management Plan (to be debated and finalized in the spring). There is also money for enhanced road safety measures and technology.

There are some specific initiatives and capital projects that benefit Capital Ward residents in particular, which I have listed in my more extensive online commentary at capitalward.ca.

Did we get everything that you (and I) asked for? No. But no budget is perfect, and there are other things I would like to have seen, for the city and for the ward. But in a world of competing priorities and limited means — and little desire for increased taxation — I am pleased to have worked with City staff and the mayor to get these important priorities addressed in the budget. All this was accomplished within the targeted 2% cap on residential property tax increases.

By the time of publication, the budget will have been finalized. You can find a copy of the budget at ottawa.ca/budget2017.