Ottawa Council just failed its most important environmental test. What happens now?

Just now, the mayor and a majority on Ottawa City Council voted to dramatically worsen urban sprawl. This was the most important environmental vote this term of council, and will define the environmental legacy of most councillors’ entire careers. Council’s vote marks a major setback for every one of Ecology Ottawa’s priority areas – from climate action, to biodiversity and greenspace protection, to the viability of transit and active transportation in our city. 

We are profoundly disappointed. As I write, I think of the volunteers and supporters who devoted hundreds of hours to meeting and phoning their councillors, signing petitions, attending online rallies, calling their neighbours and making delegations to council. The groundswell of concern we saw around this issue, from all corners of our city, was broad and deep. The community worked hard for months to raise awareness of this issue, and we succeeded in winning majority public support for reining in sprawl.

Yet council disregarded the voice of the public, even with huge gaps in their understanding of the costs of more sprawl. At moments like these, it can feel like this time has been wasted – that community voices have been disregarded by a council that listens more closely to vested interests. Despite efforts to remove big money from municipal politics, there are worrying signs of developer money being directed towards the highest levels of council. Clearly, sprawl is highly profitable for a select few, and those who stand to make those profits have invested mightily in this decision. I would invite you to read this report and judge for yourself.

Today’s vote makes it clear – it will be a monumental challenge to make Ottawa the green capital of Canada with council in its current form. But the next election is closer than many councillors think. We must work to remind constituents how their councillors voted and what this decision costs Ottawa’s environment. Today marks the beginning of community organizing around the next electionContact us to get involved.

It’s also abundantly clear that we’ve built something remarkable together. Over the course of only a few months, the Hold the Line campaign has seen thousands of people raise their voices and demand an end to Ottawa’s addiction to sprawl. We have seen new volunteers mobilized, and new coalitions forged with a dynamic and diverse array of groups – from homelessness advocates to land use planners, from gender equity groups to municipal finance reform advocates. 

We’ll need all of us working together to tackle what’s next. Council has drawn a broad outline of a vastly expanded city, but it matters how quickly – and in what way – that outline is filled in. In other words, there are still many opportunities ahead to build a better city – one that is walkable, bustling, green, connected by great public transit and committed to responding to the climate crisis.

The next chapter in this story will be written by communities organizing to demand better from council – to push for meaningful input into the new Official Plan and related master plans over the next two years, and to organize around strategic opportunities. If we succeed, we will delay sprawl by years, or even eliminate it altogether. Stay tuned for exciting details on the next chapter of our work on climate action and building a greener city. We hope you’ll join us. 

Sincerely,

Robb, Léa, Isaac, Ray, Natasha, Erik, Jackie, Velta and the entire Ecology Ottawa team

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