The week started off with a technical briefing on OC Transpo and its financial situation. We are all aware that OC Transpo is $40 million in debt so this was not a surprise. This debt was caused by a combination of factors starting with the pandemic and stay at home orders, then exacerbated by the continuing breakdowns of the Stage 1 LRT. These breakdowns have left many not wanting to return to use the transit system. The biggest criticism I hear from residents is the lack of reliability of the service- late or no show buses. Some of this is due taking buses offline from regular routes to be used in the R1 replacement buses. But there has also been a chronic shortage of bus drivers and issues with absenteeism.
The Mayor has stated that he is planning to reach out to the federal government for assistance in operational funding. This is not a new idea. I wrote about the need for consistent federal funding in an Ottawa Citizen Op-Ed three years ago. I hope he is successful in his request. Transit should be treated as an essential service and part of the overall public good. Transit is a key part of helping us decrease greenhouse gases, decrease congestion on our streets, and reduce our dependence on private vehicles.
Transit fare revenue is not going to rebound even with a fare hike, it will only make the situation worse and pass this cost on to many of our most vulnerable residents. The other source of funds is raising the transit levy, that is, raising taxes to pay for this public service. The most concerning option is reducing costs by cutting services. We cannot cut services. Further cuts will erode the system as a whole.
I will be continuing to advocate for reliable transit not just for those who go downtown but throughout the city. We need to maintain routes for those who work in other locations and for seniors who need to get to appointments and do their shopping. Transit needs to be the backbone of the city. I share the concern residents have for our current system and the ongoing problems with reliability. We need to improve our transit – not dismantle it.
Ottawa Public Health
As a City Councillor I have the privilege of sitting on Ottawa Public Health (OPH) board which continues to take a lead role in keeping our Ottawa population as healthy as possible. Currently, OPH is preparing for flu season as well as all respiratory diseases that we are all more vulnerable to as the days get cooler. Covid 19 continues to be present and we must be equally vigilant to vaccinate against influenza which can be very harmful not only to ourselves but those around us, particularly older adults and young children. Here is a link to the OPHwebsite including how to assess your symptoms of respiratory diseases and reduce your risks.
OPH is also on the front lines working with those who suffer from addictions and experience overdoses. A motion was put forward by my colleague Councillor Marty Carr asking Ottawa Public Health to:
• Increase public awareness and understanding of the work that is underway, through public awareness and understanding of the work that is underway, through multiple coordinated and interconnected strategies and action plans;
• Further develop a comprehensive, multi-sector overdose response strategy to address and respond to the drug overdose crisis, its contributing factors, and its unintended consequences on people and communities; and
• Increase the type of data available as well as the timeliness of the data published on OPH’s Mental Health, Addictions and Substance Use Health Dashboard to better inform policy decisions and the planning, development and coordination of services and interventions.
I appreciate the work that is being done by Dr Vera Etches and the OPH team to combat the growth in incidents of overdose and bring more knowledge and understanding of the situation.
Environment and Climate Change Committee
As a member of this committee I appreciated the updates from city staff on work they are doing on environmental issues including managing our drinking water. I appreciated the response I receive from staff in how they are working with Ottawa Riverkeeper in monitoring any changes that would effect our drinking water supply including the proposed plans to bury nuclear waste near the river at Chalk River.
Here is a summary from Chair Menard on this week’s committee.
- In terms of drinking water quality the report provided the results of the annual review of the quality management system for the City’s drinking water and the current operational plan for Council’s endorsement, as required under Ontario’s Safe Drinking Water Act. There was no formal presentation for this item but staff did provide a brief overview of the findings. The system received a score of 100 per cent for the eleventh straight year in the annual external audit, as well as a score of 100 percent from provincial inspections. The review also noted that staff consistently responded effectively to all incidents impacting the drinking water systems, ensuring the continuous safety of Ottawa’s drinking water. Kudos to the team for providing consistently high water quality. Having access to drinkable water affects our lives in profound ways that it is easy to take for granted.
- The second item concerns the Solid Waste Residential Curbside Collection Contract for 2026, which will operate for a term of 7 years plus 2 optional 1 year extensions. Changes that are proposed that will effect residents directly include requiring them to separate the green bin material and leaf and yard waste so the latter can get sent directly to the Barnsdale processing facility at Trail Road. In terms of collections schedules, staff are proposing shifting from a 5-day to a 4-day cycle, which means on a statutory holiday, residents would place their bins out on a Friday rather than the weekend. Staff recommend that the current five collection zones to be re-balanced and consolidated into three larger collection zones, and that the house collections group for the newly expanded zone 3, including converting 85 contract positions to permanent positions. Lastly, the report proposing using private landfills (West Carleton Environmental Center and GFL Transfer station going to Moose Creek Landfill) to divert up to 60,000 tonnes of curbside garbage from the Trail Waste Landfill facility annually, which is expected to extend the life of Trail road by up to two years. There were some questions from Councillors on discrete elements of the this plan, and the report recommendations were carried.
- Also on the topic of solid waste, staff debuted a new green bin video which has been developed by solid waste services to explain the composting process. It’s a great educational tool that should be shared widely with residents, along with the recycling and garbage videos. Diverting organic waste helps extend the life of the landfill and lowers the amount of methane released into the atmosphere. It is very pertinent as we’re heading into October which is circular economy month and a prime time to raise awareness of opportunities to generate less waste.