Trick or Treat with the Mayor!
Mayor Watson announces transit pass for low income residents
Ottawa — Today, Mayor Jim Watson, along with the Chair of the Transit Commission Councillor Stephen Blais, announced that a low income transit pass will be included in the City of Ottawa’s 2017 budget.
The low income transit pass will be available at a significant discount on the adult general monthly fare for those residents who are at or below the income cut-off (LICO) as defined by Stats Canada. It will be available to residents with an annual individual income of approximately $20,000 or less, or a family income of approximately $38,000, for a family of four. The specific discount of the pass will be revealed when the budget is tabled at Council on November 9.
This announcement comes after a year during which options to provide a low income transit pass were thoroughly debated in our community. Time and again, Ottawa residents have indicated that they support the City’s efforts towards providing lower income residents with affordable access to transit.
“The low income transit pass will provide a more viable transit option for our working individuals who live on low wages,” said Mayor Jim Watson. “Significant progress needs to be made wherever and whenever we can to make Ottawa a better place to live for all our residents. By offering a low income transit pass, the City is helping those who would otherwise not be able to afford to get around the City, either to maintain or find meaningful employment, or access healthcare.”
The low income transit pass will be offered as a new type of monthly transit pass and will not be subsidised by the cost of other transit passes. City Council’s policy on the amount that OC Transpo collects from its riders versus the amount it collects from taxpayer contributions to transit will remain the same.
“Introducing a new transit pass for low income residents will reinforce OC Transpo’s commitment to providing world-class, affordable transit for all Ottawa residents,” said the Chair of the Transit Commission, Councillor Stephen Blais. “This new transit option will help us create an even more affordable City for unemployed residents seeking employment, single parents, recent immigrants settling in Ottawa, or those temporarily out of work due to injury.”
This affordable transit pass could benefit as many as 8,800 eligible low income transit users.
Red-light cameras being installed at locations across the city
October 3, 2016 – Today, Mayor Jim Watson, Councillor Keith Egli, Chair of the City’s Transportation Committee, and Orléans Councillor Bob Monette unveiled a new red-light camera at the intersection of St. Joseph Boulevard and Old Tenth Line Road, making it the first of five new red-light cameras that will be installed throughout the city in 2016 with 15 more to be installed in 2017.
These 20 new red-light cameras will be in addition to the existing 34 red-light cameras currently in operation at locations across Ottawa. The City installs cameras at intersections based on collision rates.
“Road safety is a top concern in neighbourhoods across Ottawa and as a Council we are committed to making sure that all of our road, path and sidewalk users feel safe,” said Mayor Watson. “In the 2016 budget, Council approved the expansion of the red-light camera program as another tool we can use to ensure our streets are safe for everyone.”
The program’s objective is to improve intersection safety by decreasing the number of red-light running occurrences. Collisions resulting from red-light running tend to be more severe than other intersection collisions because they usually involve at least one vehicle travelling very quickly. In 2014, there were 655 reportable angle collisions at signalized intersections in the city.
“Keeping residents safe as they travel through the city is of vital importance,” said Councillor Egli. “By implementing tools such as red-light cameras, with enforcement and education, we can improve the level of safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists on our roads. These cameras also allow police to focus on other enforcement needs.”
Red-light cameras take two photographs: the first is taken when a vehicle is about to enter an intersection with a red light, the second photograph shows the offending vehicle in the intersection. The fine for running a red light is $260, plus a $5 service fee and $60 victim surcharge.
More than 250 people housed as part of City’s Housing First initiative
Mayor Jim Watson and Councillor Diane Deans, Chair of the Community and Protective Services Committee, held a community celebration at City Hall today marking the first 250 participants to secure permanent housing as part of the Housing First initiative, a priority of the City’s Ten-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan.
“The Housing First initiative launched in June 2015 with an initial goal of housing 250 long-stay emergency shelter clients by December 2016. I am excited to announce that we have achieved this goal earlier than expected,” said Mayor Watson. “As of today, more than 297 individuals have been permanently housed with the supports they need to keep their housing and remain stable.”
Housing First finds permanent, affordable housing for individuals experiencing homelessness and provides the support services and connections to community-based help that people need to stay housed.
“This a significant milestone for the city, for our residents, and for our community partners who are working with us to provide those in need with a safe and affordable place to call home,” said Chair Deans. “Housing First is a key initiative that helps people experiencing homelessness find housing and access the resources they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives.”
As part of the event, a painting entitled ‘Transitions’ was unveiled representing the journey from homelessness to being housed. Local artist Chi Wei Lee developed the artwork drawing from his own personal experience with homelessness. It was framed by Mark Andrew Buttigieg and will be hung in Jean Pigott Place in City Hall.
Council approved A Home For Everyone: Our Ten Year Plan 2014-2024 in 2013. The plan focuses on three priorities: everyone has a home, people get the support they need, and working together. The overall objective of the plan is to eliminate chronic homelessness by 2024.
City Council approves new vehicle-for-hire regulations
With the approval of new vehicle-for-hire regulations by City Council today, Ottawa has become one of the first Canadian jurisdictions to adopt regulations for Private Transportation Companies. The City has also adopted a lighter regulatory framework for the traditional taxi industry in order to allow it to compete and innovate with new service offerings.
“Today’s decision moves our transportation system in the right direction by challenging the status quo and opening up the market to competition,” said Mayor Jim Watson. “Ottawa should be a place where people have access to safe, competitive, affordable, and effective transportation options.”
“I want to thank the more than 6,000 people who participated in consultations and helped us come up with a smart set of 21st century regulations,” said Councillor Diane Deans, Chair of the Community and Protective Services Committee. “Under the new rules, I have every confidence that the traditional taxi industry will change and succeed in this competitive environment.”
Effective September 30, 2016, a Private Transportation Company (PTC) that wishes to operate in the City of Ottawa would obtain an operating license similar to that of a taxi broker. Prior to commencing operations and on a regular basis thereafter, each PTC must supply to the City information about its drivers and their vehicles. This will include proof of police background checks, vehicle inspections, and proper insurance. PTCs will pay the same broker fee as traditional taxi companies, while also paying a comparable licensing fee on a per-ride basis.
The Community and Protective Services Committee met for 18 hours over two days last week to listen to public delegations and discuss the proposed changes. The Committee adopted several motions to amend the staff report, many of which were based on feedback received from the taxi industry. These changes addressed issues such as stronger oversight of PTCs, compliance, enforcement, accessibility, HST, and delaying the by-law implementation date by three months.
Through its new vehicle-for-hire regulations, the City of Ottawa has modernized regulations for the traditional taxi industry to allow it to compete more freely, while protecting key features on which residents have come to rely. The new features of the taxi regulations include:
- Allowing taxi companies to offer reduced fares when rides are booked through an app
- Eliminating the $1.50 credit and debit card fee
- Reducing the taxi driver license fee by 40% (from $170 to $96)
- Waiving the taxi driver license fee for accessible taxis (from $170 to $0)
- Eliminating interior and trunk size requirements for vehicles
- Increasing maximum vehicle age from 8 to 10 years
- Allowing taxi companies to determine their own industry-specific customer service training, instead of the $820 standard taxicab driver course at Algonquin College
- Retaining taxis’ exclusive ability to accept street-hails, together with exclusive use of taxi stands and lanes
- Retaining exclusive Para Transpo contract, worth about $9-million annually
- Allowing for nominal cancellation fees and surcharges for premium vehicle options when rides are booked through an app
The City of Ottawa will enforce the existing by-law until the new regulations come into effect on September 30, 2016.
Celebrating its heritage and a new, green future, Lansdowne Park officially opens
Ottawa – After an intensive construction period, Lansdowne has its park. Mayor Jim Watson and Capital Ward Councillor David Chernushenko today officially opened the new Lansdowne Park, and were joined for the opening event by City Councillors, partners from the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), and many of the professionals, stakeholders and organizations who helped design and build the newest attraction in Ottawa’s parks system.
“Exactly 13 months ago today we were breaking up the last of the pavement at the old Lansdowne,” said Mayor Watson. “What has emerged is extraordinary. This new park is rooted in the heritage of Lansdowne and our community. At the same time it has been transformed into a modern, urban destination that will resonate in the hearts and minds of visitors as much as the former fair grounds did for past generations.”
The 18-acre, intricately designed urban park includes expanses of lawn, courtyards, a heritage orchard, a farmers’ market square, an outdoor skating rink, a water feature and a children’s play area. Overall, the new Lansdowne will feature about three times more green space and four times more trees than the old site, as well as 20 event spaces available for community use.
“Our community is happy to see this additional green space at Lansdowne,” said Councillor Chernushenko. “It will be a great space for both recreation and relaxation. And with connections between Bank Street, the Rideau Canal and many cycling and walking pathways, the park will help unite residents of nearby neighbourhoods.”
City Council gave initial approval to the Lansdowne Partnership Plan in 2009. The overarching vision was to develop the 40-acre site into an urban destination that increases recreation and green space in the urban core, is accessible by many modes of transportation, preserves and enhances visitors’ understanding of local heritage and culture and exemplifies the City’s commitment to environmental sustainability. The final partnership agreements with OSEG were approved in 2012 initiating two years of construction activities across the site.
“The development and planning for the new Lansdowne showed us that good design matters,” said Peter Hume, Chair of the Planning Committee. “The beautiful park that we have today is the result of a commitment by City Council to seek the assistance of Canada’s best urban designers and architects and to entice the world’s best designers with an open competition that produced a first-class design worthy of this historic site.”
In recognition of the importance of heritage to the new Lansdowne, a representative of Ontario Heritage Trust presented Mayor Watson with a special heritage plaque during the event. Another plaque, commemorating the official opening of Lansdowne Park, was also unveiled during the event. Both will be prominently displayed in the park.
“Lansdowne Park completes the vision of transforming this historic site into a destination for all,” said City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick. “Lansdowne Park is an example of how Ottawa is applying smart growth by incorporating active recreation, new green space and innovative design to create places that benefit residents from across the City.”
The City’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department will be responsible for the ongoing programming and management of the urban park area. A range of programs with local community partners will be offered at Lansdowne Park beginning this fall and will include a Christmas farmers’ market, 2015 Winterlude events and programming at the outdoor refrigerated skating rink. Lansdowne Park and TD Place will also be among the six venues across Canada hosting the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Ottawa residents are invited to help celebrate the opening of Lansdowne Park with an old-fashioned carnival and picnic in the park on Saturday, August 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit ottawa.ca for details, or follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for updates.
The Family DayPass from OC Transpo is the perfect way for families to travel to Lansdowne on Saturday. DayPasses can be purchased from the driver for $8.10 and can be used for up to six people, with a maximum of two aged 13 or older. Event-goers should also consider riding bikes to the celebration and locking up at the free bike corral. More information on how to get to Lansdowne Park is available at ottawa.ca.
Draft Budget 2015 maintains momentum on key city-building projects
“This budget strikes the right balance by keeping life affordable, while continuing to make smart investments in Ottawa’s economy and quality of life,” said Mayor Jim Watson. “Signs of momentum are all around us – it’s an exciting time to be in the nation’s capital.”
“This budget will keep daily business on track and help the City meet its financial obligations to the major projects already underway,” said City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick. “I commend City staff for putting forward a responsible financial plan that will also allow investment in a number of the new initiatives identified in consultation with the Mayor and Councillors.”
– Fund a strategy for crime prevention and gang activity.
– Increase funding for maintenance of Ottawa Community Housing Corporation assets.
– Enhance and increase funding for the School Crossing Guard Program.
– Deliver funding for commemoration of the victims of the tragic September 2013 bus-train collision.
– Involve the City in the renewal of the Ottawa Pride Festival.
– Support the 2013 Ottawa Cycling Plan, which will see the expansion and improvement of cycling networks and multi-use pathways across the city to make cycling a safe and convenient option for residents
– Move the Ottawa River Action Plan forward with the construction of the central storage tunnel, putting in place the last elements of funding from federal partners to match investments from the City and Province.
– Increase funding for tree planting by $125,000 to $1.3M.
– Modernize Ottawa’s transit system through Light Rail Transit (Stage 1 and Stage 2).
– Continue the construction of the Confederation Line, the light-rail transit line from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture, which is the backbone of the City’s planned light rail network.
– Prepare for the transition from construction of the Confederation Line to full operations in 2018.
– Launch the Western Transitway expansion as the City continues to seek funding for Stage 2 of the Light Rail Transit system that will extend to neighbourhoods in the east, west, and south
– Limit the Rate-Supported Water and Sewer Charge increase to 6 per cent, as approved in the latest Long Range Financial Plan.
– Freeze the garbage fees for the third consecutive year.
– Limit the average OC Transpo fare increase to 2.5 per cent, while also providing a $4.2-million investment in new and improved service – including increasing bus routes and approximately 5,700 more Para Transpo trips.
– Reduce 20 full-time equivalent (FTE) City positions, excluding Ottawa Police Services.
Mayor’s Remarks: Federation of Citizens Associations of Ottawa 25th Anniversary AGM
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
It’s my pleasure to be here today at the Federation of Citizens Associations of Ottawa annual general meeting to talk directly with individuals who are actively taking an interest in civic affairs.
I would like to thank Graeme Roderick, President of the FCA, for having me.
And I want to take a moment to offer you all a very special congratulations on this your 25th Anniversary AGM.
Twenty-five years of collective service to our community is an achievement that you should all be very proud to attain.
Just think of all the thousands upon thousands of hours that you and all your predecessors have contributed to our community.
Civic engagement is a noble venture….But I am not talking about the elected side of the equation.
I am talking about you…each and every one of you in this room today…and all the many more that you represent in our community’s across the city.
As I begin my remarks, thinking of your 25th anniversary, I am reminded just how much citizen engagement has changed in the last quarter century.
Or, for that matter, how much it has changed in just the last dozen or so years.
It’s hard to believe, but, our own Canadian-made Black Berry first appeared in rudimentary form in 1999…it looked like a pager in those days…but it did signal that email was coming on strong in our business life.
It was not until 2003…less than a decade ago that Black Berry launched its first smart phone.
And Facebook was founded only in 2004 and Twitter came along two years later…
We have had widespread email for how long?…I guess since 2000…the turn of the millennium.
But, stop and think how, in such a short time all this technology…much of it driven by Canada’s Research In Motion…a company that has a big and important presence right here in Ottawa…
Think how all this technology has changed…and how it’s rapidly changing civic engagement.
Last time I was Mayor of Ottawa, everything was manual.
We had meetings…we used fax machines…we had more meetings…we used the telephone and then more faxes.
But, as I talked with citizens and as our Council in those days reached out to engage organisations like yours it was much more difficult.
We had to rely on meetings…like this one…for one-on-one discussion.
That is challenging for volunteers who all have regular jobs and families who need their spare time.
Now…every day…I am in constant contact with residents of our community.
I receive and answer emails…Tweets and Facebook messages.
In essence I am always “on call”…in addition to all the time I spend out at events across the City.
Technology…which can be a cruel master…is also a remarkable weapon to build the engagement amongst us that we all want to see happen.
That is why we have asked City Staff to double up their efforts to put technology to use.
Service Ottawa is one manifestation of this effort…where we are trying to make the daily interface that our citizens have with city government easier…more efficient and more effective.
It is also why our Council has asked staff to review our advisory Committee structures and processes.
I have heard from people from across the City and from those who are involved in the Advisory Committees themselves that the system just isn’t working.
I expect part of that is the psyche of the times we live in.
People have technology at their disposal to reach me and other Councillors and City Staff…they like the personal connection and response.
So it is time to update how we do our regular and formalised citizen engagement.
I am looking forward to a Report coming to Council soon on how we might make our committee structure more meaningful and effective.
Meaningful and effective in both directions…for those like you volunteering and for the elected officials who need and value input and advice on the projects we are undertaking.
Citizen engagement is one element of our shared interest.
Community Associations will always play a vital role in the bigger picture of that outreach and engagement.
They provide a two-way avenue for elected officials…together we can listen and we can talk to each other.
There is never unanimity of thought, of course.
But, civil discourse does open doors to accommodation of spirit.
And, after all, we all have the same objective to make ours an even better city tomorrow than it is today.
One of the ways that I see consultation being enhanced is through the use of what I like to call the “ground –up” model.
We have tried to give this effort life by using the concept of the summit.
During the last municipal election, I made a commitment to hold a seniors summit to discuss how the City can best address senior’s issues in both the short- and long-term.
And we fulfilled this commitment by hosting the Seniors Summit last October here at City Hall.
I was very pleased by the turn-out and the ideas and discussion that took place during the Summit.
We had the opportunity to hear from Ottawa’s senior population on what City Hall does well, what it can improve upon, and where we should start focussing our energies first.
The valuable input the City received during the Summit will be used to create an Older Adult Action Plan in Ottawa.
In addition to the Summit, the City extended the conversation to those who were unable to attend by seeking feedback on seniors’ issues via phone and e-mail.
The same concept was used in the more recent Planning Summit.
We gathered together a cross-section of Ottawa – organisations and individuals – to talk about where we are going from a Planning perspective.
It was a great opportunity to kick off the very important review of the Official Plan and the Transportation Master Plan that will be happening over the next year.
Apart from the wealth of input and suggestions that came in that day – and which the Planning department has already published – one of the most important things I heard came afterwards.
A number of people – individuals like those of you in this room tonight – commented on the makeup of the working groups.
They were impressed with the cross-pollination that occurred.
We had developers sitting beside community activists beside elected officials beside local business owners
That is the kind of consultation approach that we should be building.
Bringing people together – not pushing each other away.
I am going to be looking for more ways to do this.
And, in case you had not heard, we will be holding a Youth Summit this Fall to engage another sector of our community in the never-ending effort to build our city.
I want to take a few minutes to provide a bit of an update on some other activities and projects that are underway.
For instance, we have been taking action at City hall that will make us greener City immediately and will also position us for the future.
As we all know, transportation emissions are the fastest growing portion of our green house gas problem.
We are determined to fight that with better planning that integrates cycling and walking into communities from the start.
We fight emissions by saying no to uncontrolled urban sprawl.
We fight them by providing public transit.
Public transit is a key to the environmental health of any major municipality.
That is why we worked hard to ensure we didn’t have to deal with another painful transit strike and we signed a fair collective agreement with our union.
Our public transit dollars have to go far.
Good public transit is structured to strive for more and more efficiency.
It must, because we need our ridership on public transit to grow.
And it is growing.
Ridership in Ottawa was up 6% last year.
That is good news and we want to keep it up.
Budget 2012 boosted funding for OC Transpo by $5.5 million.
There is a $3.2 million increase in service to deal with growth in ridership and a targeted $2.3 million to expand capacity on routes like the 87, 94, 95 and 96.
More trips and more high-capacity buses will be added to these busy routes.
Throughout this year we will be adding some 66,000 service hours to address growing demands on our system.
And, our new double-decker bus fleet will begin to arrive later in 2012, adding further high-capacity service.
Work will also begin so that frequency and capacity of the O-Train can double almost 10 years ahead of schedule in 2014 as the new trains we purchased to serve the north-south route take their place on the line.
Light Rail is also vital to our plans to step up public transit in Ottawa.
It will eliminate the bottleneck in transit we now face in the downtown core.
So we’re investing some $2.1 billion in fixing that with a new modern, high capacity rail system that will be completely separated from traffic tie ups.
Another key part of Budget 2012 was and is Ottawa on the Move.
We’re repairing and improving.
And as we fix up roads it gives us a big opportunity to improve cycling and walking in our city.
Ottawa on the Move will see the construction of more than 70 km of new bike lanes and paved shoulders.
It will also fund 20 km in existing sidewalk improvements and repairs.
We will be working hard to fill the gaps in our cycling network to improve interconnections and safety so you can get where you are going by bike.
Off-road pathways near the Aviation Museum, through Hampton Park, along the O-Train corridor from Carling to the Ottawa River, and extending the Sawmill Creek path from Walkley to Brookfield, will all be completed this term of Council.
We will put in place a 12 kilometre East-West Bikeway over the next three years to provide safer and more comfortable commutes.
Work on the design to implement a pedestrian bridge over the Rideau from Donald to Somerset will also get underway this year.
In total, the last Budget provides an additional $12.1 million over three years for cycling infrastructure.
And, in just this term of Council, we will provide the largest financial commitment ever put towards cycling in Ottawa – over $26 million, a new record.
A green community isn’t just about transportation infrastructure though.
That is why, again this year, the City is doing its part by moving ahead with green technology in both our buildings and our fleet of vehicles.
For example we are investing in our ice rinks to replace aging cooling systems with more energy-efficient refrigeration technology.
Through our green fleet program we’re buying electric ice-resurfacing machines to get rid of the engine exhaust and improve the air quality for the parents and children who play in our rinks.
So far our Smart Energy initiatives like lighting upgrades and heating retrofits have achieved annual savings of $800,000 each year.
We are also following through with the next phase of the Ottawa River Action Plan.
Some of that work will be done in conjunction with Ottawa on the Move.
We are now seeking funding from our federal and provincial partners so we can complete work the work of fixing the problem of combined sewer overflows.
Any push you can give our federal and provincial partners would be appreciated.
Our Council has also taken on the fiscal challenges of being Canada’s fourth largest city.
I believe that the two Budgets that have been tabled – both 2011 and 2012 – have delivered.
Budget 2012 restricted the annual property tax increase to 2.39 per cent – the lowest rate in five years, and it followed 2011’s increase of 2.45 per cent.
And we have done this while continuing to place caring for our city’s more vulnerable members, as well as its families, as a priority.
In 2011, we took action on housing with an unprecedented commitment to affordable housing in our community.
We made $14 million in new annual funding available.
And we’re starting to see the results as long-needed renovation to existing social housing is underway and new affordable housing for large families, including units which are fully accessible, are being built.
Families have been moved off of waiting lists and into homes and families have been moved out of motels and shelters and into homes.
We have more work to do in this area, but, with the support of our community partners, we have what it takes to ensure continued progress in the years to come.
Some other investments in our community from the last budget included $2 million to undertake accessibility retrofit work to existing city building and park facilities.
We also continued the freeze for City recreation fees and invested $520,000 to renew infrastructure in City parks.
We are busy at the City of Ottawa…I have not even touched on what we are doing in terms of economic development.
Invest Ottawa is up and running and its business incubator is starting to pay dividends, as well as its work with Tourism Ottawa as we strive to boost that important sector.
The Arts Court redevelopment plan is taking shape as we build a stronger arts and culture community across the city.
I could go on …but, I would like to know what your questions are…and do my best to answer some of them.
I would like to thank you again for providing me with this opportunity to talk to you.
I am very grateful for your organization’s continued involvement in a number of different City issues, projects and initiatives.
It is the efforts of individuals like those of you here today that help us make our city a better place in which to live, work and play.
I look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.
City of Ottawa salutes service personnel during National Veterans’ Week
Ottawa – National Veterans’ Week, November 5 to 11, affords Ottawa residents the opportunity to recognize the contributions made by local war veterans, while at the same time honouring the sacrifice of those who went to war and did not return.
“Ottawa is home to many veterans who have served their country with valour and distinction around the world,” said Mayor Jim Watson. “Our men and women in uniform have accomplished impossible feats of courage and sacrifice and have earned our undying respect and appreciation for their efforts.”
The City will pay homage to local veterans throughout the week leading up to Remembrance Day by flying the Poppy Flag at all City Hall and Client Service Centres starting Saturday, November 5 until Friday, November 11.
Throughout Veterans’ Week, OC Transpo and STO (Société de transport de l’Outaouais) will offer free rides to veterans who wear their medals and/or uniforms. Companions accompanying veterans will also be able to ride at no charge.
On Remembrance Day, November 11, flags at all City of Ottawa sites will be lowered to half-mast from sunrise until sunset to recognize the accomplishments of Canadian soldiers and to honour those who gave their lives while serving their country.
City Hall offices and Client Service Centres will also be closed November 11, and the City’s Remembrance Day By-law will be in full effect, requiring retailers to remain closed until 12:30 p.m., with a few exceptions. For more information on Remembrance Day regulations, visit ottawa.ca or call 3-1-1.
The City also pays tribute to its local veterans annually through its street-naming initiative. This year, a permanent street sign featuring the poppy – a symbol of remembrance – and bearing the name “rue des Soldats-Riendeau St” will be installed in Mattamy Homes’ Half Moon Bay development.
The name commemorates the late Ferdinand Riendeau, a First World War combat veteran, and his son, Ferdinand Paul-Emile Riendeau, who followed in his father’s footsteps by serving in the Second World War. This is the first time the City has honoured a family of veterans during a commemorative street-naming ceremony, which was presented to the family on November 3 by Mayor Jim Watson during the Candlelight Tribute for Veterans.
The street-naming initiative is a partnership between the City of Ottawa, Veterans Affairs Canada, the Royal Canadian Legion and local private developers
3rd Annual Meeting of the Alliance to End Homelessness: Address by Mayor Jim Watson
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
It’s a pleasure to be here with you this morning I see a lot of familiar faces and good friends, many of whom I have had the chance to work with over the years. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today about one of the challenges our City faces that is closest to my heart. I’ve been involved in tackling the complex and difficult problem of homelessness throughout my entire career in public service.
First in 1991 as a board member of City Living then as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. As Minister, I was honoured to sign the largest Federal-Provincial Housing agreement in Ontario’s history. In total, $1.2 billion flowed into Ontario communities to help build and repair thousands of affordable housing units. Doing something about homelessness is not just a file for me. It is not just another check box in my platform. Doing something about our homelessness problem is something that moves me – something that drew me to public service in the first place.
So as I look out around this room I see friends in a common cause. There is simply nothing more difficult for me than to think of a child going to bed unsure of where they will sleep the next night – without a roof and room and place to call home. There is nothing more heart breaking to me than to think of the struggle of a mother or father unable to provide that protection and stability. I am moved to do something to fight for those trying to set their lives right, deal with addiction or mental health issues or financial distress, to get the dignity of home back in their lives.
The face of homelessness is unique in every city in Canada. Ottawa is no different, in that it is different here. We have our own network of social housing providers, shelters, organizations building new affordable housing and people providing support for the homeless. And that network faces challenges and opportunities unique to Ottawa. To face those challenges we need to work together with energy, passion and knowledge. We need to apply resources and do so strategically in a constantly changing environment. We need to be smart about making the biggest difference in Ottawa for those who need our help urgently.
Now as many of you will know our City Budget was tabled on Wednesday. I was honoured by my colleagues with the responsibility of starting our budget deliberations with an intelligent and balanced plan. A plan that respected the effect higher taxes can have on keeping a home while doing more to help people who are without a home.
A caring community – that was a major theme of the Budget I tabled.
Now I know that some have written since that the budget poured more money “into the bottomless pit of social spending.” But let me just say plainly – I disagree. Building out city means balance and it means turning our back on that kind of cynicism. I was proud that the Budget set a strong financial foundation and looked to eliminate waste. But I am equally proud that the Budget brought new resources and focus to protecting our children.
We set aside $300,000 in base funding to help with children and youth facing mental health crisis and at risk for suicide. We’ll be doing that by funding the Youth Services Bureau’s new mental health drop in clinic, allowing it to open three days a week instead of just one. We’ll also be coming to the table on the already united efforts of the YSB, CHEO, the Royal Ottawa and direct community service providers helping children, families and youth in crisis.
I am also especially proud to have put in place significant new resources for us to work with in addressing homelessness and poverty. In the Budget we provided two key envelopes that I promised during the campaign. First, we have set out a $10 million annual allocation in the operating budget to be dedicated to fighting homelessness and poverty. This is not one-time money, but funds built into our city’s base budget.
Second, we have set aside each of the next four years new capital funding for building new housing and renovating existing units; totalling $4 million a year from the capital budget. Those funds will give us the foundation to work together to make a difference. I will be actively working with Councillor Peter Hume, Chair of Planning – who now has responsibility for housing policy; Mark Taylor, our new Chair of Community and Protective Services who has lead on social services and Deputy Mayor Steve Desroches our new Ottawa Community Housing Chair.
We will engage with you and our city staff to put forward to Council a strong plan for this money- focused on making the biggest difference we can.We have pressing needs.
A few realities we face in Ottawa bring this home:
– The length of stays in shelters is increasing overall
– The number of homeless youth is increasing
– Larger families that lose their homes have been facing very long stays because there are not enough large social housing units
– Our wait list is now over 10,000 men and women waiting for affordable housing
We have real challenges. But we are also coming together with new and renewed collaboration. We have begun to work around a common table to produce a more integrated approach. I look forward to results from the strong new working group that is aimed at integrating common effort to achieve common goals.
I want to thank:
– Sue Garvey from Cornerstone
– Dan Sabourin from YSB
– Jim Devoe from Caldwell
– Marion Wright of CMHA
– Ray Sullivan from CCOC
– Our own Jo-Anne Poirier of Ottawa Community Housing
– Val Hinsperger of Nepean Housing
– John Dickie from the Ontario Landlords Association
– Ishbel Solvason from Ottawa social housing network
– Karen Sexsmith of Cooperative Housing Association
– Lorraine Bentley of Options By Town for coming together with Janice and Stephen at the City for this important collaborative work
Instead of working in silos we are coming together around more systems thinking so we not only get people out of the cold and into a home, but we keep them moving forward to a better life. That can mean counselling, mental health support, help with addictions, being there for women fleeing abuse. It also means moving people from shelters at times of crisis, to stable bases, to homes to call their own – and doing so as a team – with a loving and principled community network.
The Provincial government, of which I was a part, is giving us new flexibility. We recognized that undue focus on rules and programs was costing us. We faced up to the fact that years of bureaucratic strings were tying people’s hands. Instead of losing $43 of provincial support for someone in a shelter when we succeed in moving them out of crisis, we’ll be able to keep the support in an overall envelope. This will allow us to keep individuals moving forward from crisis to stability.
I am proud to have been part of showing that new flexibility. And I am excited about making the most of it now that I am back to help lead our City as Mayor. I look forward to working with you to strengthen and build on a team approach. Together with you, over the next year we will build an integrated Housing System Plan. It will, for the first time, set out our common objectives and our united route to achieving those results.
You in this room, will be central to fashioning that plan. You in this room – the work you do – will animate that plan and give it life. Together we will take advantage of the local control we’re being given to get better results.
Now city government cannot do it all. We have limited resources and we face many demands. We rely almost exclusively on property taxes and fees. So we will need to continue to push the Provincial and Federal government to make investments in housing and renewal. With more than 22,000 housing units already in place, many of which need upgrades, there is going to be more need than we can meet by ourselves.
I will work with you as a champion on this and I will fight by your side to get more investment in housing. We clearly need a National Housing Strategy in Canada, because we are the only country in the G-8 without one. But there are some areas that municipal government actually has some leavers – and ones that can make a real difference.
Affordable rental housing is in short supply in Ottawa. Our rental vacancy rate is very low, about 1.5%, and we are not seeing new affordable rental housing developments coming forward very often. I want to work with you to address that – to do what we can to encourage the development of rental housing throughout the city. The fact is that many people are not at a phase in their lives where they can realistically take on ownership of a house or a condo.
Rental accommodation is an essential part of the housing mix for a healthy city. I believe that by speeding approvals and supporting rental developments, strategically applying capital grants and rent supplements, we can make significant headway here. I look forward to working with you on that and bringing energy along with Peter Hume the Chair of Planning Committee to getting more rental housing built in our community.
So those are some initial thoughts in what I hope will be a four year conversation – a four year collaboration.
I thank you again for inviting me here today to start that conversation. To each of you, in closing, I want to say thank you for what you do. Each of you is involved in helping your fellow human being. On behalf of a grateful city, I thank you for what you do and what you give of yourself to make our City a better place.