Overall, it has been a very busy week at City Hall with the first City council meeting of 2023 in addition to committee meetings including a special meeting of the Transit Commission today to discuss the electric bus purchase. Originally the electric bus issue was to be voted on at council, but a motion was moved to make sure that this important decision was brought to the Transit Commission first, hence the need for a special meeting. Other issues at city council were the approval of applications to alter three heritage properties, and a lengthy in-camera meeting to discuss a proposed settlement with Rideau Transit Group on the LRT project plus a couple of motions including my own on solidarity with women of Iran.
Here is the story on the electric bus fleet purchase. City of Ottawa expects to get 350 e-buses with the support of Federal funding. Back in 2021 City council resolved to buy only zero-emission buses — a move that would also tackle one of the municipality’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. City of Ottawa received approval back in December from Infrastructure Canada to receive the maximum $350 million grant under its Zero-Emission Transit Fund. Last summer, city council also approved taking out a loan of up to $380 million with the Canada Infrastructure Bank that can be repaid with the savings it expects from fuel and maintenance. Between those two sources, plus the $348 million the city intended to spend on diesel bus replacements, city staff say the e-buses will be cost neutral.
Before making any decisions on the e-bus report councillors voted 20-5 to send the file back to transit commission for more review. Sending the electric bus spending report to Transit Commission allowed councillors to have more discussions with city experts, and members of the public could also share their thoughts. We needed to learn before making this big decision and review this much further. After a three-hour meeting the Transit Commission passed the motion to go ahead with this federal purchase arrangement of e-buses and the final vote will go to the next council meeting on February 1st.
The bulk of this week’s council meeting on Wednesday was an in-camera session where we approved a proposed settlement with Rideau Transit Group (RTG). The reason this discussion was behind closed doors was because the briefing was confidential, as it related to litigation and was covered by solicitor-client and settlement privilege. I am pleased to see that we are finally moving forward. We need to provide riders with better service and not talk to lawyers. More information will be provided publicly when the agreement becomes effective.
I had the privilege to present a motion, seconded by my colleague Councillor Ariel Troster, in support of standing in solidarity with Iranian people as they struggle and protest to bring about democracy and freedom. Terrible atrocities have taken place and after conversations with many Iranian Canadians who fled this brutal regime, it is important to recognize this. Mahsa Amini was a 22 student who died in Iranian police custody last September after being arrested by the morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code by wearing her hijab improperly. The motion asked that the City of Ottawa support the symbolic installation of “Mahsa Amini” street plaques at the intersections in proximity to the section of Metcalfe Street between Somerset Street east and McLaren Street, the location of the former Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, for a period of one year that will be reviewed.
I want to thank organizations and individuals in our community like the Ottawa Woman-Life-Freedom community and B’nai Brith who have gathered hundreds of names on petitions calling for us to take this stand. I want to thank my council colleagues for supporting this motion and Ariel Troster for seconding the motion and working with me to initiate this response in her ward.
On Thursday at the City’s first Transportation Committee of 2023, an update was provided on the temporary closure of Wellington Street between Bank and Elgin streets, and a motion was approved to reopen the street to all traffic on a trial basis. The street would reopen as soon as operationally possible, but no sooner than March 1, to allow time to install traffic infrastructure in the area, including a temporary protected bike lane. This motion will now go onto City Council for further discussions. Wellington Street was closed to traffic in late January 2022 due to the illegal occupation of the street in January and February. It has remained closed ever since, at Council’s direction.
The City plans to work to get Wellington Street ready for use in consultation with emergency services and explore options to temporarily close the road in the summer for special events and community activities, or for the safety and well-being of residents. The City would also look to increase programming on Wellington Street and seek out partners to help beautify and animate the street. The City will continue ongoing discussions with the federal government about the future of the Parliamentary Precinct who have been silent on their role in keeping Wellington closed, if that is their wish. Staff will also begin a transportation study on the future of Wellington Street in partnership with Public Services and Procurement Canada and the National Capital Commission. If Wellington is going to re-open to traffic, we can’t go back to the status quo. I have asked that bike infrastructure be made a priority which was added to the motion. We need to look ahead to the future and make this a better public space. Staff expect to report back with a recommendation by the first quarter of 2024.