Workshop: Green Infrastructure and Climate Resiliency

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Join us at 6:30 pm on February 27th at the Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre for the second workshop in our Green Infrastructure series! At this event we’ll dig in deep to look at the ways green infrastructure better equips our cities to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We’ll do this through a series of case studies looking at a variety of different large scale green infrastructure projects which have been implemented across North America.

Refreshments will be served, and home-level adaptive tools like splash guards and downspout redirects will be available!

To register for this free event, follow this link.

Let’s make Ottawa a climate leader

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Climate change is the challenge of our lifetimes. Jurisdictions around the world are being urged to respond to the scope and scale of this threat with bold, ambitious action. The United Nations tells us that time is short – we now have 11 years to avoid catastrophic impacts to the world’s species and ecosystems.

While climate change is a global problem, many of the solutions are local. In Canada, up to half of the country’s emissions are under the direct or indirect control of municipal governments. As Canada’s fourth largest city and national capital, Ottawa has a critically important role to play in the fight against climate change.

Ottawa City Hall has yet to wake up to the urgency of the climate crisis. We must change this. Ecology Ottawa is launching a campaign to raise the level of climate ambition at Ottawa City Hall.

There are two important opportunities over the next few months to overhaul the city’s middling approach. We need to firmly embed climate action in council’s list of overall priorities, and secure an unprecedented level of climate funding in the 2019 budget, and we need your help.

  1. Write your councillor to urge them to prioritize climate action in the upcoming 2019 budget and Term of Council Priorities process.
  2. Organize a meeting with your councillor along with others in your ward to demand climate leadership.

First, we’re asking supporters to write their councillors, asking them to take concrete action to prioritize climate change in the upcoming budget process, and the Term of Council Priorities process.

Click here to send our form letter. 

Second, we’re asking supporters to meet with their council representatives and ask for their leadership directly. We’ve prepared a Climate Welcome Package to help councillors better understand the scope of the challenge and the climate solutions at their disposal.

Click here to email us about meeting with your councillor. We’ll work to pair you with others in your ward who want to send a strong climate message to city hall.

For background on this campaign, including details on our policy asks and information on the city’s climate performance to date, click here.

What are we asking for?

In the coming weeks, we are calling on councillors and the mayor to commit to climate action in two ways: firmly embed climate action in council’s list of overall priorities, and secure an unprecedented level of climate funding in the 2019 budget.


1. Ottawa City Council can make climate action a major focus of the Term of Council Priorities process by ensuring commitments to climate-relevant challenges such as:

a. Reducing Ottawa’s community greenhouse gas emissions by aggressively implementing Energy Evolution and the Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan;
b. Promoting sustainable modes of transportation by increasing transit access and affordability, growing pedestrian and cycling networks and adopting Vision Zero (a plan to eliminate death and serious injuries on Ottawa’s streets); and
c. Building a climate-resilient Ottawa by implementing the Urban Forest Management Plan, aggressively implementing green infrastructure and developing a climate resilience plan.

2. Ottawa City Council can ensure that the 2019 budget prioritizes climate change action through the following actions:

a. Funding staff and programs to accelerate initiatives to reduce Ottawa’s community greenhouse gas emissions, including Energy Evolution;
b. Accelerating Ottawa’s transition to more sustainable modes of transportation by significantly increasing funding for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, as well as public transit;
c. Dramatically reducing wasteful, environmentally damaging and costly road expansions, especially in sensitive areas such as the Greenbelt; and
d. Implementing smarter urban planning and curbing sprawl.
e. Enhancing Ottawa’s resilience to a changing climate by funding the Urban Forest Management Plan, continuing land acquisition efforts, and dramatically ramping up implementation of green infrastructure.

A climate primer for Ottawa

Below, we lay out the case for strong climate leadership from the City of Ottawa, and survey some of the opportunities for action over the next few months.

This information has been packaged into a document to hand to city councillors. You can access that document by clicking here

The context: 

There’s no sugar-coating it – we’re in the midst of a climate emergency. According to the United Nations, the world now has 11 years to limit climate change catastrophe by keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5 °C. Beyond this level of warming, we will “significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.”[1]

Ottawa is not immune or isolated from the impacts of a warming world. Even with ambitious action, we can expect to see more severe weather events like April 2017’s record flooding and September 2018’s tornado, more heat waves like the type that killed 53 people in Montreal this summer, more invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer, more threats to local food security and more costly damage to our built infrastructure. We can also expect to receive increasing numbers of climate refugees, as countries around the world deal with flooding, drought and climate-induced conflict.

What role should the City of Ottawa play?

While climate change is a global problem, many of the solutions are local. In Canada, up to half of the country’s emissions are under the direct or indirect control of municipal governments.[2] As Canada’s fourth largest city and national capital, Ottawa has a critically important role to play in the fight against climate change.

Unfortunately, Ottawa’s climate performance to date has been deeply inadequate to scope and scale of the climate challenge. We have a well thought-out energy plan called Energy Evolution, but this plan has been delayed over the last term of council and will only be released late next year. We have reasonable climate targets, but emission reductions to date are primarily a result of the provincial coal phase-out – not municipal policy.

Worryingly, the city still has no clear plan to meet our climate targets. According to the city’s own documentation, even an aggressive uptake of the policy scenarios outlined in the first phase of Energy Evolution does not get us to our target. Many more measures urgently need to be taken. With 11 years to go, Ottawa still has yet to define many of them, let alone adopt them.

How can the City of Ottawa reach its 2050 goal?

At the simplest level, we need to do three things to reach our climate goal:

  • Dramatically reduce emissions from stationery energy, or how we heat cool and electrify our homes, offices and other buildings. (This accounts for 47% of Ottawa’s emissions.)
  • Dramatically reduce emissions from transportation, or how we move around our city. (This accounts for 44% of Ottawa’s emissions.)
  • We must plan the future development of our city in a way that makes the first and second goals easier to accomplish.

While the second phase of Energy Evolution (due in late 2019) will provide additional details for possible actions in these areas, we cannot afford to wait any longer to show municipal leadership on climate change. The levers of ambitious municipal climate action have been known for decades. Other jurisdictions such as Vancouver and Montreal have long ago implemented many of the policy solutions that Ottawa is still failing to advance.

What can city council do now?

There are two immediate steps city council can take to start the next term off on the right foot:

  1. Make climate action a major focus of the Term of Council Priorities process.
  2. Allocate an unprecedented level of funding and staffing towards climate action in the 2019 budget.

Step 1: Make climate change a major focus of the Term of Council Priorities process 

Over the next several months, council will define its priorities for the 2019-2022 council session. The Term of Council priorities process will determine the scope and scale of the city’s work on the climate file over the coming years, including key deliverables.

In July 2015, city council released a Strategic Plan that defined seven Strategic Priorities, under which 21 Strategic Objectives and 63 Strategic Initiatives were identified. In 2015, climate action was relegated to a small sub-category of action, with two Strategic Initiatives focused on a climate plan and a renewable energy strategy. In both cases, the city failed to make the progress required; there were no updates on the climate plan during the last term of council, and the renewable energy strategy was piecemealed and delayed into 2019. While “climate change” and “renewable energy” were mentioned as “Long-Term Sustainability Goals,” this categorization came with no funding or hard policy commitments.

2015-2018 Term of Council Priorities:


We cannot afford to shy away from much greater climate ambition in 2019. While the Term of Council Priorities have taken various forms over the years, it is critical that climate action take precedence. Below, we have identified one scenario through which climate action can be secured as part of the Term of Council Priorities process.

While “climate action” might take a variety of different forms in the Term of Council priorities process, two things are essential for council to demonstrate sufficient commitment. First, council must have a plan to tackle Ottawa’s two largest sources of emissions – buildings and transportation. Second, council must systematically incorporate climate considerations into a wide range of areas (e.g., planning, climate adaptation planning, urban forestry).

2019 Term of Council Priorities – example scenario:


Step 2: Allocate an unprecedented level of funding and staffing towards climate action in the 2019 budget

In the 2019 budget, the City of Ottawa can become a climate leader. We need the city to:

  1. Fund and allocate staff and programs to accelerate implementation of Energy Evolution, as well as other environmental initiatives to reduce Ottawa’s community greenhouse gas emissions.  This will include initiatives across a broad number of city departments, such as planning, transportation, transit, environment and economic development.

Explanation: The City of Ottawa has reduced staff working on Energy Evolution and other key environmental initiatives over the years. In the last budget, two employees were responsible for managing the city’s response to the most urgent issue facing the planet. The city desperately needs to ramp up ambition on staffing and programs if it hopes to meet its climate targets.

2. Accelerate Ottawa’s transition to more sustainable modes of transportation by significantly increasing funding for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, as well as public transit.

Explanation: Ottawa has one of the highest single-use transit fares in Canada, and rates have been rising much faster than the rate of inflation for the past several years. Meanwhile, transit ridership has been declining even as Ottawa’s population has been rising.[3] More ambitious transit investments are critical if Ottawa wants to shift its transportation away from car-dependency.

While the city has been making ambitious pedestrian and cycling infrastructure investments over the past few years, there is a risk that these investments will now dry up because the provincial government has dramatically reduced funding. Ottawa must not let provincial inaction stand in the way of making our city more walkable and bike-friendly.  

3. Dramatically reduce wasteful, environmentally damaging and costly road expansions, especially in sensitive areas such as the Greenbelt.

Explanation: For all of the progress the City of Ottawa has made on sustainable transportation, it continues to take wasteful, environmentally damaging and costly steps backwards. Money spent on roads is wasteful when it fails to achieve its goal. Often, the city’s stated goal is to reduce congestion, and yet evidence indicates that new or widened roads actually maintain or worsen congestion levels and further entrenches car usage. New roads are also environmentally damaging, especially when they’re built or widened in areas of the city such as the Greenbelt. Finally, road investments cost tens of millions of dollars, and crowd out investments in other areas (e.g., climate change program staffing, investments in sustainable infrastructure, etc.). 

4. Implement smarter urban planning and curb urban sprawl.

Explanation: The evidence is clear: walkable, bike-able communities connected by world-class public transit go a long way towards lowering a city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Yet Ottawa is still planning entire new communities around the car, with minimal transit access and poor pedestrian and cycling connections. Pushing for smarter community design means we can preserve more green space and farmland, and save money that would otherwise have been spent on new road networks (see above).

5. Enhance Ottawa’s resilience to a changing climate by funding implementation of the Urban Forest Management Plan, continuing land acquisition efforts, and dramatically ramping up implementation of green infrastructure.

Explanation: The Urban Forest Management Plan is an ambitious plan to strengthen and safeguard Ottawa’s tree canopy over the next 20 years. However, the plan is at risk of falling by the wayside without sustained funding. Meanwhile, while green infrastructure is widely acknowledged as a partial solution to wet weather impacts from climate change, the City of Ottawa is still rolling out projects selectively and experimentally, rather than at scale. While the City of Ottawa should be commended for its continued efforts to purchase and protect land, more spending here helps further combat sprawl and keep Ottawa-area ecosystems intact. 

6. Understand and communicate back to the public that these undertakings have paybacks and support the local economy.

Explanation: Energy efficiency and local clean energy projects reduce our future energy costs, while low-carbon transportation and a vibrant tree canopy develops a healthier Ottawa. The clean economy is a growing sector that Ottawa cannot afford to ignore when it considers diversification and growth of its employment base.

[1] The Guardian. “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN.” Retrieved November 28, 2018 from:

[2] Federation of Canadian Municipalities. “About climate change.” Retrieved November 28, 2018 from:

[3] Reevely, D. “Transit fares must keep rising to pay for LRT, even as ridership slips.” Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved January 3, 2019 from:

It’s all because of you!

What a year it’s been! Looking back at 2018, our local movement to make Ottawa the green capital of Canada has never been stronger or more energized.

This is due to you. Our movement is people-powered, driven in huge part by hundreds of volunteers and thousands of donors.

So thank you for making 2018 a smashing success. Below, we provide a quick re-cap on the year that was and point to new directions for 2019. We hope you’ll help power this important work into 2019 by making a donation. The King Foundation has generously pledged $15,000 if we can secure 30 new monthly donors, and we hope you’ll help us reach this goal.
What happened in 2018? There’s a long answer and a short one. For the long answer, please click here. For the short answer, check out our Top 3 Accomplishments list below.

#1: Organizing to elect a greener city council 

Every election presents a strategic opportunity to push environmental issues onto the agenda, engage candidates and mobilize the environmental vote. The 2018 municipal election featured our largest candidate engagement effort to date (30 candidates), massive candidate engagement in our all-candidates’ survey (over 80 responses), four environmental debates in all corners of the city (with 500 participants), and mobilization of thousands of environmentally-minded voters on election day.

The result? This council is much greener than the last one. Most elected councillors are committed to advancing on key environmental issues. While there will surely be challenges, the stage is set for meaningful improvements across a range of environmental issues in 2019.

#2: Making huge headway on green infrastructure and trees

As cities wrestle with climate impacts like heat waves and flooding, more and more are turning to a powerful solution: green infrastructure, the living and built systems that slow down, soak up and filter water where it falls. In 2018, Ecology Ottawa issued a report on the state of green infrastructure in Ottawa, attracted media attention with our push for a green roofs bylaw and launched a door-to-door outreach program. Meanwhile, we continued our efforts to revitalize Ottawa with trees – a vital ingredient in green infrastructure solutions. With the help of dozens of volunteers, 9,000 trees entered the hands of Ottawa residents city-wide.

Stay tuned for more exciting work on green infrastructure next year, as well as our largest-ever tree campaign effort to date.    


#3: Keeping climate change accountability on the agenda 

In June, the provincial election produced a new government promising to change course on climate action. The province’s new approach to climate change has been alarming. The dismantling of cap-and-trade threatens to derail the city’s climate progress by cutting projects like housing retrofits and new infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

In November, the city released new emissions data. While the city is making some progress, its slow pace and lack of policy ambition point to a need for ongoing vigilance and public engagement in the years ahead.

In 2019, we will continue to put climate change front and centre in the public conversation, and to get results for our city. We can only do this with people power. Stay tuned for steps on how you can drive climate results in Ottawa starting in January.

Obviously, there’s a lot more work to do. We will succeed by mobilizing thousands of Ottawans from all corners of our great city.Your donations power change at city hall and build a greener city and planet. Thank you for your ongoing support, and your ongoing commitment to making Ottawa an incredible place to call home.

Our New Year’s resolutions, and how you can help

Already thinking of your New Year’s resolutions? So are we!

Guided by over 300 responses to our election campaign and priority survey, our team has laid out five key priorities for 2019, along with an action plan. From ramping up green infrastructure to holding city hall accountable, this plan is certainly ambitious. Yet while our staff team is small, our network of volunteers and supporters is mighty and eager to build a greener city, and we are so excited to get started.

Help us fight for a greener Ottawa. Join our Protector’s Circle today by providing a monthly gift. The Protector’s Circle is critical to Ecology Ottawa’s work, allowing us to engage in high-impact advocacy that makes a real difference on many of the environmental issues facing our city. The King Foundation has generously offered us $15,000 if we can secure 30 new monthly donors by the end of the year. Whether it’s $5, $50 or $100 a month, your donation will go a long way to supporting our work.

Based on your feedback, here’s our list of priorities for 2019:

1. Pushing for climate change action from the city. With the province cutting funding for city-level climate initiatives like active transportation and energy efficiency, the City of Ottawa needs to step up like never before. We need to see unprecedented action on climate change in this term of council – with policies, funding and resources at a level that matches the urgency of the climate crisis. We will push for an inspiring vision of a city that can become more vibrant, just and livable through leadership on climate change.

2. Ramping up green infrastructure and restoring Ottawa’s tree canopy. From downspout re-directs to rain gardens, we’re getting Ottawans excited about all the ways they can deal with rainwater at the household and neighbourhood level – all while building a more climate-resilient city. In 2019, we will also continue to reforest our urban tree canopy by giving away thousands of trees to Ottawa residents. With trees and green infrastructure, we will engage in a vital conversation about how Ottawa can better prepare for severe weather impacts, flooding, invasive species and heat waves.

3. Securing safe and easy access to light rail for pedestrians and cyclists. The soon-to-launch light rail project could mark a giant leap forward for sustainable transportation in Ottawa – but only if tens of thousands of residents can leave their cars at home and connect to rail by bus, bike or foot. Ecology Ottawa will be engaging the public on sustainability solutions at and around light rail stations with street audits, public forums and new reports.

4. Using the federal election to demand more climate leadership from all parties. Canadians will head to the polls in October 2019, and Ottawans will cast their ballots for eight area MPs. Each of these races provides an opportunity to demand more climate leadership from our federal representatives. We’ll be knocking on thousands of doors across the city, hosting federal debates on environmental issues and holding parties to account on their records and promises.

5. Holding the newly-elected city council accountable. We are bringing back Council Watch, our annual report card that documents councillors’ votes on key environmental issues. The next term of council will wrestle with some major issues, including whether to extend the urban boundary for more development, how to increase transit access, and how to sustain momentum on restoring Ottawa’s tree canopy. We’ll be keeping tabs on who is helping and who is hindering efforts to make Ottawa the green capital of Canada.

We need your help to make these priorities happen. Become a member of the Protector’s Circle today!

Your amazing achievements in 2018


Climate change:

The year started off with a focus on the most pressing environmental issue of our time: climate change.

In January, we convened some of Ottawa’s leading political figures driving the climate change conversation at a community town hall. Catherine McKenna, David Chernushenko and Tobi Nussbaum were asked about the links between cities and climate change, and about where we as a city needed to go next. While the panelists had a range of ideas and suggestions on next steps, the consensus was clear: we need to do more, and we need to act quickly.

Meanwhile, we continued to push city hall for more funding for its climate plan, to ramp up the frequency of emissions reporting, and to move into high gear by responding to the scope and scale required by the climate emergency.

Of course, there were headwinds. The provincial government’s gutting of key programs like GreenON and cap-and-trade not only hurt provincial progress on climate change, but did profound damage to the City of Ottawa’s efforts.

At the same time as it allowed home-owners to save money on energy, GreenON was powering green local businesses like companies that specialize in windows, insulation and home retrofits. Without GreenON, Ottawans have one less tool to tackle the largest source of local climate emissions – the ones that come from how we heat, cool and electrify our homes, offices and other buildings.

The death of cap-and-trade is an even more serious blow to provincial and municipal climate action. Cap-and-trade revenues being directed to tangible projects that served to improve Ottawans’ daily lives just as much as they helped fight climate change. The loss of this program means millions fewer dollars invested in social housing retrofits, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure projects like the Flora Footbridge, complete streets around light rail stations, and more energy efficient schools and hospitals.

Worse still, the City of Ottawa relies on carbon pricing to accomplish its climate targets. By eliminating cap-and-trade, the province has once again made it free for Ontarians to pollute. This means Ottawans are now getting exactly the wrong price signals. The province is essentially encouraging a reversion back to less efficient houses, less efficient cars and poorer transit.

In late November, the province’s climate plan cemented its position as a true laggard on climate change, even as the United Nations tells us we’re in the midst of a climate emergency and have only 11 years to avoid catastrophic impacts by accelerating our ambition.

Municipal election and watching city council:

Even with the province sitting on the sidelines, there is much that the city can do to lead on the climate file and other vital issues. Throughout the municipal election, we worked hard to engage residents of the city in our campaign to elect a greener city council. With the help of a dedicated group of volunteers, we reached 6,000 doors in the communities of Blackburn Hamlet and Orléans. We got direct input into the environmental matters most relevant to voters and encouraged them to vote for environmental leadership in the municipal election. On election day, our team made 2,100 phone calls to get environmentally-minded voters to the polls city-wide.

We also engaged candidates for mayor and council directly. Along with an environment survey sent to all candidates running for office, we met and discussed environmental issues with 30 candidates across all areas of the city, and worked with enthusiastic volunteers to organize debates city-wide and in four wards. With huge help from volunteers working to encourage candidates to respond, over 70 candidates answered our environment survey.

When the election results rolled in, it became clear that council had likely changed for the better. There is now a majority on council who are committed to unprecedented action on a number of environmental initiatives over the next four years.

Again, there are headwinds. The mayor was non-committal in his survey responses and completely skipped our all-candidates’ debate on the environment, co-organized with seven incredible environmental organizations from across the city. Progress on these issues would be much easier with leadership from the top, but there are still many opportunities for progress with the mayor sitting on the sidelines.

The mayor’s recent committee selection process is also alarming. At city council on December 12, Jim Watson largely shut urban councillors out of key committees and committee leadership positions. Urban councillors across five wards – Rideau-Vanier, Rideau-Rockcliffe, Somerset, Kitchissippi and Capital – represent over one fifth of Ottawa’s roughly 1 million residents. These five councillors were prevented from joining committees that play a huge role on environmental files.

We responded by launching “Don’t Cut out the Core,” a campaign urging Watson to fix Ottawa’s committee structure by including voices from every area of the city. Already, over 325 people have written the mayor to express their concerns. Critical articles have been released and the mayor is now facing tough questions in the media.

We can secure a better council if Ottawans keep up the pressure. You can email Jim Watson today by clicking here.

Trees, parks and green infrastructure:

Tree giveaways have become a vital part of Ecology Ottawa’s annual work plan. In 2018, Ecology Ottawa volunteers and staff gave away 9,000 trees at the door and at events all across the city. The point wasn’t simply to get trees in the hands of Ottawans – although this is critical if we want to fully restore our urban tree canopy after the devastation of the Emerald Ash Borer.

More broadly, the aim was to reach out and connect with new people. Trees spark important conversations – on the look and feel of our city, on environmental protection, and on adapting to invasive species and other impacts stemming from climate change.

Speaking of important conversations, in April Ecology Ottawa held a second annual Ottawa Park Summit, along with groups like Park People and the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital. Visitors met with local groups active on the parks file and discovered more opportunities to take part in park-related activities. As part of our ongoing partnership with Park People, we also rolled out a program called Les amis des parcs. This program, which seeks to engage the local franco-Ontarian population in celebrating and activating area parks and green space, has been a huge success so far.

2018 was also marked by a dynamic conversation about green infrastructure – the living and built systems that slow down, soak up and filter water where it falls. In the spring, we released a report on the state of green infrastructure in Ottawa. We then engaged Ottawa residents in town hall discussions about how Ottawa could do more. We attracted media buzz with our call for a green roofs bylaw, and secured thousands of petition signatures on our call for more green infrastructure ambition from the city. In the fall, we embarked on a new campaign to engage residents at the door about the potential for green infrastructure solutions at the household and neighbourhood level.

Complete streets and active transportation:

In May, we came out with a report on the state of the City of Ottawa’s progress on the active transportation file. The report was released with a panel discussion featuring current and former councillors and other community leaders, attended by over 100 people passionate about walking and biking in Ottawa.

Our report found that the City was making headway with meaningful investments in our urban fabric. It is critical that we sustain this momentum, especially if we want to secure more access to light rail through low- or zero-emissions modes of transportation.

Once again, the province’s actions are threatening Ottawa’s progress here; cuts to cap-and-trade mean less provincial revenues for important projects that connect pedestrians and cyclists with the places they need to go. But there are other opportunities for Ottawa to fill the gap. One potential source is federal money. A second is the city’s own coffers. Our report pointed to a structural problem in the city’s infrastructure management. Even while it makes important investments in pedestrian and cycling projects, city spending remains overwhelmingly focused on the car. New roads and road widenings gobble up massive portions of the city’s budget, and all on the basis of no evidence that they actually do anything to reduce congestion.

Getting transportation right will make Ottawa smarter in a number of ways. As we look ahead to 2019, we are eager to dive deeper on the future of Ottawa’s active transportation system, especially with the advent of light rail transit. Get ready for volunteer-led streets audits around LRT stations and citizen-led monitoring of LRT’s environmental footprint.

Where we need to go next:

We urgently need to make progress across a wide range of issues in 2019 and over the next four years. We see two key opportunities to get started on the right foot: the budget process and the Term of Council Priorities process.

The budget, which will be presented in February and finalized in March, is critical to sustaining and accelerating ambition across all of our files. For example, the City adopted a best-in-class forest management plan in 2017, but this will only proceed with sustained funding commitments. Meanwhile, investments in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, which were higher than expected in the last term of council, run the risk of petering out in the absence of provincial investment. And on the climate file, we must continue to fund the important work of Energy Evolution as well as ramp up investment on key initiatives that will drive down Ottawa’s emissions.

The Term of Council Priorities process, which will roll out over the next five to six months, sets the agenda for the entire term of council, with spending and policy initiatives dedicated accordingly. Again, so much comes down to the climate crisis and the level of the city’s response. In the last prioritization process, climate change and climate initiatives were included, but only as small items, whose implementation was delayed and piecemealed.

The next Term of Council must reflect the climate emergency we are now in. The United Nations tells us we have 11 years to act, and the next term of council occupies the first four years of this emergency period. We want to see climate action given much more attention in the next term, with a whole-of-government approach to doing our fair share with unprecedented and ambitious action.

Other cities understand that climate change means an end to business as usual. London, UK, for instance, has just declared a bold new direction in line with the latest science, putting forward targets to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. And while climate change is a daunting challenge, we know that investments in this area are exactly the ones we need to make Ottawa more liveable, resilient and vibrant as a city. We need record ambition in shifting our transportation system away from car-dependency, new dollars in transit and active transportation, ambitious plans for low-carbon community design, and ambitious targets for energy efficiency that will make our built environment more livable while powering good, local green jobs.

We will also be pushing for ambitious implementation of green infrastructure – the living and built systems designed to slow down, soak up and filter rain water where it falls. While cities around the world are experimenting with green roofs, green streets and ambitious plans for climate resilience, the City – notwithstanding the amazing work of talented and dedicated staff – is mired in what seems to be a perpetual trial phase.

Last summer, we pushed the idea of a green roofs bylaw, and were thanked by councillors who felt its time has come. Imagine this and so much more – an ambitious plan to systematically integrate green infrastructure into new streets when they are built or re-built. It’s this kind of thinking that will simultaneously make Ottawa a city that is quite literally “greener,” while also helping to buttress climate impacts like heat waves and flooding.

When it comes to active transportation, we have a number of issues we will be pushing. These include Vision Zero, a policy ask to eliminate death and serious injury on Ottawa’s streets, and better connectivity links for cyclists and pedestrians to access light rail.

On this front, we need to look at both sides of the transportation equation. We must put a stop to the “all-of-the-above” transportation policy Ottawa is currently pushing, where wider sidewalks and bike lanes are built in one end of the city while wider highways and car-centric communities are built in another. City policy says pedestrians and cyclists come first, but the evidence – both in terms of built infrastructure and funding commitments – does not bear this out. Ottawa continues to build entire communities that are under-serviced by transit and that have baked-in reliance on the car.

Meanwhile, against all evidence of the futility of widening roads to relieve congestion, we continue regardless. Our costly new roads put a giant dent in the city’s budget, threatening much-needed investments while plaguing future budgets with ongoing maintenance costs. In 2019, we need to have an adult conversation on bold ideas like congestion charges (quashed by the last council) and car-free zones in certain areas of the city.

Related to all of our issues is the key question of how the city will develop its new Official Plan. The Official Plan is the city’s flagship policy document when it comes to land use planning – in essence, it dictates the future shape and development of Ottawa, and it has profound implications on everything from community design plans to the transportation network.

The Official Plan will be revised and renewed over the course of the next council, laying out a long-term vision to 2036. It is critical that this revised plan embed low-carbon development principles into Ottawa’s DNA. We need new communities to embed the principles of density, good design, walkability, bike-friendliness and transit-connectedness right from the start – not as an afterthought.

On a related note, the next year will see an important debate over whether or not to expand Ottawa’s urban boundary, the amount of developable land within the city. We think it is critical that Ottawa reject any urban boundary expansion. The reasons for this are multiple, from preserving the character and integrity of the many rural villages within the borders of our city, to preserving the green space and farmland that sustains us all, to ensuring that sprawl is rejected in favour of denser, more walkable communities.

Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do, and it’s an impossible task without your support. Big challenges like protecting urban green space, fighting car-dependency and taking unprecedented climate action need the support of tens of thousands of people in order to succeed. Luckily, we have that on our side. This year, our supporter list grew close to 90,000 people, each of which shares our values on the question of the environment.

What we really need to do next is to organize, and that takes talented and dedicated staff who are willing to engage our large base of support. That is why, as we approach the end of 2018, we’re asking for a year-end gift to power this important work.

We can only make Ottawa the green capital of Canada with your help. Please consider becoming a sustaining, monthly donor today or making a year-end gift.

Jim Watson’s letter response to “Don’t cut out the core” campaign

The following is the text of a form letter received by many Ecology Ottawa supporters during the week of December 17, 2018. The letter is from the office of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Good Afternoon,

Thank you for taking the time to write about Committee Assignments. 

While I can appreciate your concerns, I respectfully disagree with the assertion that Ottawa’s urban residents are not represented on the City’s various committees, boards, and agencies.  Recently, some have even suggested that there are no ‘inside the greenbelt’ members on Committees – this is simply not correct.  In fact, there are three (3) members from inside the greenbelt on the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO), as well as three (3) on Planning Committee.

When considering Committee appointments, we tried to bring a balance of new and experienced members to each committee.  Not every Councillor could be chosen to Chair a Committee, as there are only seven (7) Standing Committees (not including FEDCO), and 23 members of Council to choose from.

During this process, we also took into account gender, language, experience, geography, and those Committee preferences identified by individual Councillor.  In most cases, we were able to accommodate members’ first and second choices.  Overall, this process was a balancing act – with the various considerations often coming into conflict.  For example, only one (1) urban Councillor requested to be a member of FEDCO. 

As you may know, I also live inside the greenbelt, and represented an urban area (Capital Ward) as a City Councillor.  In addition to chairing FEDCO, I am an ex-officio voting member of all committees.  This means that in addition to the other Committee members, I too have an opportunity to participate and bring an urban perspective to the table.

It is also important to remember that Members of Council who are not on a specific Committee will often attend meetings in order to participate and voice their point of view.  Each Member of Council is entitled and encouraged to attend and participate in all Committee meetings. Once Committees have voted, these items rise to City Council; at this stage, each Member of Council has the opportunity to speak to any specific issue and vote on it at City Council. 

Once again, I would like to thank you for your email. I hope that the above information has proved useful in demonstrating that residents of Ottawa’s core are, in fact, represented on all Committees.


Jim Watson


City of Ottawa


For Immediate Release: Ecology Ottawa calls on Mayor Jim Watson: Don’t cut out the core!

Ecology Ottawa calls on Mayor Jim Watson: Don’t cut out the core!

December 14, 2018

(OTTAWA) – Ecology Ottawa has launched a campaign to urge Jim Watson to fix Ottawa’s committee structure by adding more urban councillors to key committees such as the Transit Commission, Planning Committee and the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO). The letter-writing and social media campaign, called “Don’t Cut Out the Core,” seeks to make Ottawa a greener city through city-wide representation on key committees impacting the environment.

“At council last Wednesday, the mayor stacked committees with his friends on council, while pushing other voices to the sidelines,” said Robb Barnes, executive director of Ecology Ottawa. “Those voices are disproportionately urban. This means one fifth of the city’s population is cut out of major decisions impacting Ottawa’s environment.”

Three committees in particular – Transit, Planning and FEDCO – now have little or no urban representation. These committees will make critical decisions over the next four years in areas such as Ottawa’s urban boundary expansion, progress on light rail, and efforts to increase transit ridership and connectivity. Ecology Ottawa is calling on the mayor to add additional urban representatives in each case, without removing the inner-Greenbelt, suburban and rural councillors already in place.

“If we truly want a greener city, we need to hear from the diverse voices of every area of the city,” said Mr. Barnes. “Jim Watson is playing political games instead, with deep implications for the strength of local democracy.”

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For more information, contact :

Robb Barnes
Executive Director / Directeur exécutif
EcologyOttawa (
613-860-5353 (office/(bureau)
613-276-5753 (cell/cellulaire)

Don’t cut out the core!

Button_French version

At city council on December 12, Jim Watson largely shut urban councillors out of key committees and committee leadership positions. Urban councillors across five wards – Rideau-Vanier, Rideau-Rockcliffe, Somerset, Kitchissippi and Capital – represent over one fifth of Ottawa’s roughly 1 million residents. These five councillors were prevented from joining committees that play a huge role on environmental files.

The next four years are critical to progress across a range of environmental issues, from light rail, to holding the line on sprawl, to taking action on climate change through transit and sustainable transportation options. City council cannot make decisions for the benefit of the city if it cuts out urban voices from key committees such as Planning, Finance and Transit. 

Governance matters. We are urging the mayor: don’t cut out the core! We are calling on Jim Watson to change course and add more urban representation to committees with decision-making power over Ottawa’s environment.

Email Jim Watson to urge him to fix Ottawa’s committee structure today.

What happened on December 12?

On Wednesday, December 12, the mayor presented council with a hand-picked list of committee representatives, including proposed chairs and vice-chairs for a number of committees.

As Joanne Chianello writes, this process is “straightforward but secretive.” Councillors select the committees they are interested in, and then city staff work to match them while taking into account factors such as geographic and gender representation.

The final step is the most important, and the most political: the mayor receives the list and makes a decision on the composition and leadership of committees. The mayor’s final picks then go before council for a full vote.

Normally, this is a rubber-stamp process. But on December 12, the mayor’s picks rankled a number of councillors. The number of dissenting votes wasn’t sufficient to mayor’s slate, but the concerns of councillors were valid. They expressed alarm that the mayor was favouring political allies over effective governance, and stacking the deck on council in a way that does a profound disservice to local representative democracy.

Email Jim Watson to urge him to fix Ottawa’s committee structure today.

Why do committees matter?

At city hall, committees play a large role in setting the agenda on the issues under their areas of responsibility. Committees handle many of the substantive debates and discussions around key files before they go to council. Committee chairs and vice-chairs can choose which issues get included for discussion, or how much attention gets focused on those issues as part of the deliberation process.

At city council, the environment is not covered solely by the Environment and Climate Protection Committee. While this committee manages critically important files such as climate change, waste, water and urban forestry, other committees also have substantive effects on Ottawa’s environment. Transit Commission manages buses, Planning Committee covers walkable and transit-friendly communities, and the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO) is responsible for managing large projects (e.g., light rail, LeBreton Flats) and overseeing Ottawa’s economic development, which has huge environmental implications. 

Without urban representation at the committee table, the voices of a huge portion of our city are effectively ignored. If we want to succeed in making Ottawa a greener city over the next four years, it is critical that all committees impacting the environment incorporate more diverse voices.

Email Jim Watson to urge him to fix Ottawa’s committee structure today.

How did the committee selection break down?

Not only were urban councillors shut out of a number of key committees, but some were prevented from joining even after they identified those committees as their first or second preference. The result is a number of committees where urban voices have been mostly or entirely cut out. 

  • Transit Commission (8 members): 1 urban councillor, no urban councillors in leadership positions;
  • Planning Committee (11 members): 1 urban councillor, no urban councillors in leadership positions;
  • FEDCO: 0 urban councillors.  

This is unacceptable. We cannot make progress as a city if the voices of one fifth of the population are sidelined.

Fortunately, it is easy to fix this mistake. All of the committees above can include additional urban voices without compromising representation from inner-Greenbelt, suburban or rural areas. Adding urban councillors to these committees would be especially logical in cases where those councillors have already identified the committees as priorities. 

Email Jim Watson to urge him to fix Ottawa’s committee structure today.

Volunteers needed – Bilingualism

We at Ecology Ottawa strongly believe that what we do shall be accessible for every Ottawa resident, including francophone people. We have been working hard so far to make that possible, but we could still need your help to translate our everyday work into French!


Are you interested or do you know someone who could be? Contact us at!