Today was the big day – the City of Ottawa’s final 2018 budget was presented to council. It’s the last one before the election next fall, and a lot was riding on it. We were watching closely for commitments on climate change, sustainable transportation, and protection of the trees, water and greenspace that make up our urban fabric.
Right at the start, the Mayor surprised us all with the announcement of an additional $10 million found by the City Treasurer. We hoped this meant the City could deliver on key environmental commitments in a meaningful way. More specifically, after months of wrangling and debate, we hoped the City would finally breathe some life into its underfunded clean energy strategy.
But our hopes were quickly dashed. Despite some councillors voicing concerns about the lack of dedicated funding for the city’s clean energy plan, the Mayor forged ahead with a motion to direct all new funds to general infrastructure. Later, Council even refused to put an estimated additional $100,000 towards the renewable energy plan. That leaves us with only $500,000 in guaranteed new funding and no permanent staff towards the necessary energy transition to fight climate change.
So where does this leave us? It’s a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the City is forging ahead with substantial investments in light rail, and is working hard to ensure that more and better cycling and pedestrian connections are built. We are hitting our annual target in terms of tree planting, we’re protecting patches of sensitive land, and we’re using the principle of complete streets to change how we design our communities now and in the future. The City deserves to be commended for its efforts in these areas.
On the other hand, the City is falling dangerously behind on the defining environmental crisis of our time: climate change. Even as severe weather punches a hole in our annual budgets, we’re under-investing in the solutions needed to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Thousands of residents from across the city have signed petitions, written letters to their representatives, voiced their concerns at town halls and even knocked on the door of the Mayor’s office to demand action on climate change. Today, despite the valiant efforts of several councillors, these appeals have been ignored by the Mayor and a majority on council.
What’s next? When the going gets tough, the tough get organized. The 2018 election is just over 10 months away. We’ll be knocking on doors and talking to all municipal candidates about the urgency of climate action and the steps they can take in the next term of council to move forward at the pace that’s required. We hope you’ll join us. Our efforts also depend on contributions from supporters like you. Please consider making a donation to support our work today.