Budget time is a time to re-evaluate our priorities

A few years ago, renowned Canadian urban planner Brent Toderian noted that “the truth about a city’s aspirations isn’t found in its vision. It’s found in its budget.” As the city is in the midst of budget discussions this month, it’s time to take a closer look at some issues to see if they really reflect our values and priorities.

What I want, more than anything in Ottawa, is a new, sustainable, community-oriented vision for the city that is reflected in our budget. Much of the budget discussion focuses on big-ticket items, and understandably so, but those discussions can overshadow a plethora of smaller issues that can greatly impact the quality of our daily lives. If we’re aspiring to be a city for all residents – a city that prioritizes equity and quality of life – then we must also look at these smaller issues.

Let’s take housing. The city only allocates $15 million annually to building new affordable housing. To put that in perspective, we recently spent $113 million on one road widening and track separation on a three-km stretch of road in Barrhaven. If you asked Ottawa residents, I don’t think this spending would line up with their priorities.

Small, relatively inexpensive, quality-of-life changes can make a big difference for residents. I’ll use parks as an example. We need to improve our parks so that they are available and usable for everyone. We need to ensure that people using wheelchairs, people with mobility challenges, parents with strollers and everyone else get into the park and fully enjoy it.

Our outdoor pools close too early in the summer, often just as parents get home from work and are able to take the kids for a dip. We should expand the daily hours and the length of the pool season to give more people somewhere to cool off during our hot summers.

Our parks should have more public washrooms, and existing ones should be open, not locked as they so often are. Our city, in general, needs more public washrooms. We can’t simply rely on coffee shops or restaurants to meet this need; we should help supply this essential service and make sure there is proper signage, so people know it is available.

This would not be a large strain on our budget, but it would open the city for more and more residents who require these facilities as they move about our community.

Another example is our public libraries. Libraries are far more than just book depositories. They are a community gathering place, offering various programs, providing computer and internet access to those who need it and simply offering a place to visit for individuals and families. Providing a space and activities for free is an important part of creating a community for all. Their hours can be extended, on Sundays for example, using a surplus in the library budget that was realized last fiscal year.

Many transportation projects can be expensive, but there’s much we can do on limited budgets. We saw this during the pandemic on the Bank Street Bridge. For the costs of some traffic barrels (and the labour to set them up), we were able to create more space for people and better connect them to different services and neighbourhoods; the bridge changes later became permanent.

These are the types of small changes that can make a big impact on our quality of life.

If you want to learn more about the 2023 budget and the budget process, we’re co-hosting an online public information session on the evening of Wednesday, February 15. Details and registration can be found at our website, shawnmenard.ca.

Shawn Menard is City Councillor for Capital Ward. He can be reached directly at Shawn.Menard@ottawa.ca.

Our parks should have more public washrooms and existing ones should be open, not locked as they so often are.

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