MPP Ottawa Centre
Poverty, homelessness and addiction are community issues
Frustration with poverty, homelessness and addictions came to a head in our city a few weeks ago as Councillor Ariel Troster and I hosted a tense meeting on community safety at City Hall.
For some time, Ariel and I have been hearing increased concern with homelessness, drug use, overdoses and erratic behaviour in our downtown core.
Readers of this paper will know these are not new concerns. Ottawa was the first city in Canada to declare a housing and homelessness emergency in January 2020. We were also among the first to see a local movement emerge in 2017 – Overdose Prevention Ottawa (OPO) – that offered a safe space for neighbours who use drugs.
OPO’s work galvanized the public’s concern around the often toxic, poisoned drug supply that is still killing people. That led to more government investment in community harm reduction and the expansion of services. But for two years, I heard far more needed to be done.
Then COVID-19 happened. Progress stalled as people were told, for good reason, to isolate from each other. Overdose rates increased, a trend that continues.
In May, Ottawa Public Health reported 117 emergency room visits for drug overdoses, the highest rate since July 2020. Ottawa Police responded to 966 overdose calls in 2023, a 163-per-cent increase from 2022 (and these calls, to be clear, come from all over the city).
Things are tough out there right now.
Many homeless neighbours don’t feel safe. Some are sleeping on our streets in broad daylight often after staying up all night, because they encounter violence from others if they fall asleep or if they access our shelter system. They feel like their lives don’t matter as they await the moment when a poisoned drug supply kills them. This is their reality.
Many downtown residents and small business owners also don’t feel safe. They’ve had smashed windows or petty thefts. Some report fraught encounters with people who lash out when asked to leave a store or to move on from a doorstep. This is their reality.
So where do we go from here?
Here’s where I’m at based on what we’ve heard:
- Poverty, homelessness and addiction are community issues. This is a critical first principle that can harness the empathy we need to encourage action from all levels of government and all residents of our city.
- We must keep talking, even when we disagree. The extent of suffering on our streets is so acute that we can’t assume the worst in each other or how genuine our commitment is to community safety. Let’s not do that. Everyone cares about safety.
- Let’s be led by evidence and well-funded public/community services. Our city is fortunate to have resources many other communities go without. We have trained mental health nurses, social workers, first responders, street health experts (including many with lived experience of homelessness and addictions) and community groups doing incredible work but on strained budgets with limited staff.
At our meeting, Ariel talked about the city’s decision to create a new mental health crisis team, staffed with non-armed responders, and also new supportive housing options. The Ford Government has funded an additional year for an after-hours, peer-support, harm-reduction program based at the Somerset West Community Health Centre. This is good news.
Stay tuned for local updates on community work, because we can’t just wait for new public investments to keep us safe. We can keep talking, keep organizing and foster community safety at a local level. Every action matters.
August 18, 2023
Doug Ford and Ottawa’s LRT have a lot in common
Guess who found his way to Ottawa last month? Premier Doug Ford!
He was in town for a health-care announcement at CHEO, just a week away from a provincial by-election in Kanata-Carleton. I’m sure that was just a coincidence.
(In fairness, Marit Stiles, leader of Ontario’s Official Opposition, was also in town for her own health-care announcement at the Queensway Carleton Hospital. Health care is top of mind for everyone in Ontario, that’s for sure).
At his CHEO presser, Ford was asked about Ottawa’s struggling LRT system. Local news articles suggested that large Bluesfest crowds last month or humid weather may have damaged the trains.
LRT trains were regularly used by big crowds to get to Bluesfest concerts, which, come to think of it, is kinda the goal for transit systems. But the outcome of heavy usage, officials suggest, may have compromised train axles and bearings, damaging the trains. On a similar note, the Ottawa Police closed the LRT’s Pimisi Station on Canada Day this year, citing the “station’s design and its inability to handle crowds.” Yikes.
Reacting to this news, Ford said the province may withhold funding for Stage 3 of Ottawa’s LRT (which extends service to Barrhaven and Kanata) until serious problems are rectified. He even suggested that Metrolinx, the entity created in 2006 to coordinate and integrate transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, assume control of Ottawa’s LRT to improve outcomes.
Hearing this caused a mess in my own lap as I spat out a mouthful of coffee. Why? Because handing Ottawa’s LRT system to Metrolinx is like handing one’s house keys to a burglar. That’s my takeaway as Ontario’s Transit Critic.
Metrolinx has become a cabal of consultants who design secretive Public-Private Partnership (P3) transit deals that make insiders rich. The Eglinton Crosstown project stands as a case in point. The project is two years delayed (with no timeline to completion) and a billion dollars over budget. This has all happened on Metrolinx’s watch.
And let’s not forget that Brian Guest, a former Metrolinx VP (and key architect in Stage 1 of Ottawa’s LRT) earned millions in LRT contracts for his own firm. He was fired, and the Ford government promised an investigation (which hasn’t happened).
That’s why I think Premier Ford and Ottawa’s LRT have a lot in common. Both are secretive, dysfunctional and havens for insiders making tidy profits. We don’t need Metrolinx making our current LRT problems any worse.
We have serious issues with public transit in Ottawa. Thanks to provincial cutbacks, OC Transpo is facing a $39-million budget shortfall and is poised to lay off cleaners who keep vehicles sanitized for passengers. We have regular service issues with OC Transpo and ParaTranspo buses. We need provincial investments now.
So enough with the knee-jerk announcements. Enough with the flimsy talk about “accountability.” If you can, write Premier Ford and tell him to stop the cuts, fund public transit and end the profiteering of P3 consultants.
June 9, 2023
Community safety requires public investments
A few weeks ago I asked for some insight from neighbours about how we keep each other safe.
They wrote back and shared deep concerns.
Many acknowledged the extent of suffering in our city. A brief walk anywhere in the downtown core demonstrates this. We are facing a housing and homelessness crisis, an opioid crisis and a mental health crisis.
This is leading to behaviours and interactions that make people feel unsafe. One person wrote to tell me of a friend who was assaulted outside a coffee shop and suffered several injuries, including a major facial fracture.
That made me think about the tragic loss in 2021 of Carl Reinboth, a street outreach worker at the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC), who was stabbed by a man in psychosis. Even today, Carl’s colleagues still feel his absence.
But what do we do about this? That’s the debate I wanted to have in the legislature and there was a moment when we found common ground.
MPP Stephen Crawford proposed a motion calling for the “certification of addiction peer support specialists.” In debate, he insisted his intent was to encourage people with lived experience of addictions to devote themselves to peer support work but in a regulated framework that drew on best practices and high standards.
In debate, I recommended the government not require academic credentials for addiction peer support specialists. I noted the SWCHC’s Drug Overdose Prevention Program (DOPE), staffed by peer support workers, that is available to help from 5-11 p.m., Monday to Friday and over the weekends.
I also recalled the insights of Bobby Jamison, one of Ottawa’s foremost voices for harm reduction. He asked me to tell his story and this is what I said:
“What Bobby tells me is that when he had his own journey. . .it wasn’t from addiction to sobriety. He often says that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it’s connection to yourself and connection to your community and discovering what makes you get up in the morning and want to put one foot in front of the other and do something with your life. That’s what Bobby said.
“His first overture into wellness was $20 and pizza at the Somerset West Community Health Centre, where he was brought into a room with harm reduction workers to talk about why he was living with the trauma of the St. Joseph’s Residential School in the Thunder Bay area, and how that school had hurt him at such a deep and visceral level that he was self-medicating through drug use.
“When he found his way out through spirituality, through connection with neighbours, through connection with other folks who were struggling with addiction, it wasn’t just an investment in saving one person’s life, Bobby has gone on to save dozens, I think probably hundreds of lives in our community.”
Since its inception in 2019, the DOPE program has hired Bobby and other addiction peer support workers and earned impressive results. They have had over 31,000 engagements with neighbours, 84 per cent of whom said they gained knowledge and skills to help with substance use.
This is what community safety looks like, but it requires public investments. Ottawa’s Community Health Centres have written a comprehensive report that charts a way forward on this front, and I urge you to read it. When you do, email me and tell me what you think. I will read every word you send.
My very best,
P.S. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Glebe’s Report first edition, a milestone well worth celebrating. A huge congratulations to everyone who was ever or is currently involved in helping put together this wonderful community project – the work you all do to keep neighbours connected and informed is commendable and it deserves immense appreciation and gratitude.
May 12, 2023
April 22 was Earth Day, one of my favourite days of the year.
Earth Day is a time when we reflect on environmental advocacy and commit to protecting the planet we love, of which human beings are only one part.
Indigenous leaders urge us to build a viable future for seven generations in front of us and be inspired by the seven generations behind us.
However, that can’t happen if we allow the fossil fuel industry to steer our politics. It can’t happen if we delay the ambitious change needed to embrace a truly sustainable future. We must do better and celebrate those who’ve pushed us to be better.
I think of leaders like Rachel Carlson, whose book Silent Spring (1962) inspired environmental movements that came later. “We stand now where two roads diverge,” Carson wrote. “But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less traveled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
I see this other road through leaders in Ottawa Centre. Groups like Ecology Ottawa, which advocates for environmental change all across our city. I think of Enviro Centre, Bike Ottawa, Ottawa Renewable Energy Cooperative and Fridays for Future Ottawa, which do the same.
I joined many of these groups in Dundonald Park on Earth Day for a celebration of local change-makers leading the way on sustainability and environmental education in our community. The energy at this event was electric and showed the passion for environmental change in Ottawa.
Our task now is to support and coalesce environmental leadership at a local level and bring this energy into official realms. The week before Earth Day, I rose in the legislature to commit to doing my part for the planet and to note that the prime reason I ran for office was to take action on our climate emergency.
These are important words, but words are not enough. Earth Day should be a time to commit to action, and I’m proud to commit to an exciting event taking place this fall that you can support.
From September 14-17, I will be riding my bicycle from Ottawa to Toronto to raise awareness about the need for road safety and the value of active transportation as a climate solution. We are calling this trip the #SafetyRide for people and planet.
The #SafetyRide is also an effort to consult communities between Ottawa and Toronto about Bill 40 – the Moving Ontarians Safely Act – which aims to protect vulnerable road users like pedestrians, cyclists and powerchair users. Bill 40 will be up for second reading on September 19.
Now is the time for change. Let’s keep up the work for environmental justice.
As your representative in Toronto, I want to hear from you. If you have opinions to share with me on environmental justice or any other matters, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MPP Update: Ontario’s 2023 Budget misses the moment – April 14, 2023
Thursday, March 23rd was budget day at the Ontario Legislature, with all the fanfare it brings.
As I sat in Ottawa Centre’s chair, leafing quickly through briefings and the budget documents themselves, I drew one major conclusion: this government missed the moment.
Sitting on swelling tax revenues (linked to the rising costs of living), they could have made massive investments in the things that matter most.
Schools in the Glebe needed funding. To cite one reason: thousands of autistic kids across Ontario will be leaving the legacy Ontario Autism Program on April 1 and entering public schools. These kids need help to make this adjustment, but schools are facing cuts. This is no recipe for success.
Our health care system faces massive strain. Ontario’s nurses earn the lowest wages in Canada. The backlog for surgical procedures continues to grow. The Ford government’s response is to ensure for-profit clinics operate inside our public hospital system.
(We’ve been supporting Ottawa Hospital (TOH) staff speaking up about these clinics, noting the threat to patients given the poaching of staff. TOH Management and the Ford government have denied these concerns, but we will keep pushing for answers).
On April 22, the world will celebrate Earth Day. Nothing in Budget 2023 helps Ontario mark that occasion with any sense of pride, and delay is inexcusable.
Residents in the Glebe know the serious effects climate change will have, and already is having, on our community.
Our beloved Rideau Canal Skateway, which could not open this year for the first time in its history, may never find the optimal conditions to open again. Just last May Ottawa was rocked by a windstorm that downed over 400 hydro poles, levying damage in excess of $875 million provincewide (and $19.5 million in Ottawa).
In March the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change insisted we continue progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the global rise of temperatures to 1.5 degrees by the end of the present century. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “…our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”
This sense of climate urgency is nowhere in Budget 2023.
It offers a whopping $70 billion to privately built transit systems (all of which are over-budget and past deadline), but nothing to support the public transit we have. For many of our neighbours who rely heavily on the bus, especially key routes like the 6 and 7, the impacts to service that come from underfunding will be detrimental. Transit riders in the Glebe will wait longer for the bus, while the death spiral of less service and high fares continues.
Budget 2023 commits Ontario to new gas-fired electrical plants to offset the refurbishing of Ontario’s nuclear reactors. We could renew our energy partnership with Quebec using hydroelectricity, it would be more affordable and better for the planet.
There is no serious action in Budget 2023 for affordable housing, nothing meaningful for Indigenous reconciliation, and nothing of substance for post-secondary education. We could add more items to the list, but the theme is clear. Budget 2023 is a disappointment. Glebe residents deserved better.
I will continue to raise these and other concerns in the Legislature, but as your representative in Toronto I want to hear from you. If you have opinions to share with me on Budget 2023, or any other matters, please send a message to email@example.com.
Violence against women is an epidemic that requires government action – March 8, 2023
I’m proud to serve Ottawa Centre, but I wasn’t raised here.
I spent my youth in Vankleek Hill. I worked on family farms, played outside constantly and benefitted from fresh air and hard work. It shaped who I am today.
Growing up rural made me appreciate last June’s Renfrew County Coroner’s Inquest report. Before this inquest, I was less aware of challenges facing women at risk of violence, notably, but not exclusively, in rural settings. The inquest made 86 recommendations to address the rise of intimate partner violence (IPV) and gender-based violence (GBV) in Ontario.
The first recommendation was to declare IPV as an epidemic in Ontario. Why?
Because every six days, a woman dies at the hands of a partner, family member or someone else they know. Research suggests the isolation and mental health crisis brought on by COVID-19 has made this worse.
The catalyst for the inquest was the murder of three women — Carol Cullerton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam — by a man known to them and known by justice officials to be highly dangerous. Our system failed these women.
But since the inquest, we have failed others. Sommer Boudreau and Lisa Sharpe, two other women from Renfrew Country, died at the hands of men they knew. Anne-Marie and Jasmine Ready from Ottawa were killed in July 2022 by a neighbour who had recently been charged with harassment and assault.
Advocates against IPV and GBV insist that Ontario should react to the inquest with urgency. Unfortunately, that has not happened. The province released a 55-page response, with limited commitments to action.
Advocates had hoped Ontario would follow the lead of Lanark County which declared IPV an epidemic on December 17, 2023. As it did so, it was noted that 52 women lost their lives in acts of femicide in Ontario over the past 52 weeks.
“We have to see it, name it, change it,” said Peter McLaren, the warden for Lanark County. “This is the naming part, that’s the easy part. The hard part is changing it.”
There are several Ottawa-based organizations which help women leave abusive homes. They all operate on minimal budgets while serving women with significant needs. Recommendation number five of the inquest requires Ontario to adopt an implementation plan to address IPV and GBV. We need this now.
I’ve been to many vigils about IPV and GBV and heard thoughts and prayers from local officials. I’ve met family members who have lost loved ones. Each one of them tells me that thoughts and prayers are not enough.
Given all this, and the recent marking of International Women’s Day on March 8, now would be a fitting time for politicians of all stripes to coalesce around a serious plan to support women at risk of violence and to reach those liable to commit acts of violence.
The 2022 Renfrew County Inquest is a call to action. Let’s embrace it.
My very best,