You remember the title of this movie, Everything you ever wanted to know about Sex but were afraid to ask. Well today it was about the City of Ottawa budget. Oh my, I sat on the last public meeting with all the various groups who wished to make a presentation to the City Committee overseeing the final draft of the Budget 2016 before it goes for final vote at the City Council presided by our Jim, Mayor Watson.
I was there as Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Arts, Culture, Recreation and Sports. In the last mandate arts and culture was lumped with sports and recreation. Not a good idea in my humble opinion but there you have it. This year’s budget will see an increase in fees of all kinds for services by the city but only a 1.75% tax increase. The gamble of the Mayor is to say that on the one hand he is keeping his promise not to raise taxes above 2% and letting those who use services pay for them with a fee hike. However this has a huge impact on the poor and the middle-class. Inflation and aging infrastructure demands a minimum tax increase of 2.5% simply to avoid the looming deficit of $41 million dollars. There will be a lot of cuts to services to create efficiencies of $17 million dollars, but has Councillor Catherine McKenney said this is not possible and difficult to imagine. I agree with her, I have seen just lingo before and all that happens is creating a lot of misery all around for all concerned.
I arrived early this morning for the powerful and influential Committee meeting overseeing the budget, a good thing I did, it was standing room only. More than 35 groups made presentations, all of 5 minutes only to the Committee. I was there to ensure that the motion we had voted on was tabled and presented by the City Councillor who works with us. It was about extra funding for the Arts groups, a measly sum of $1.2 million dollars on top of what they get now and part of a renewed City wide art policy.
In Ottawa, sports dominate, football, hockey, soccer and baseball. The Sport fans are very vocal and politicians like them because it’s easy populist politics. The arts is a more difficult topic, certainly not populist and seen by the masses as elitist, a waste in other words. Sadly in Ottawa Education, the Arts, Culture is all seen as a waste of time and money. The City has real problems understanding how Arts and Culture promote tourism and benefits immensely the tax revenues of the City, creating jobs and entrepreneurship. Luckily because it is the Federal National Capital, the central government invests somewhat modestly and promotes those topics and fills the void.
What was interesting about the meeting this morning was the number of groups presents who represent the poor and the homeless, marginal groups, poor children, women shelters and Food banks, etc… Ottawa like many other Capitals has a huge poor and disenfranchised population, Washington DC has a similar problem. It seems that Capitals attract poverty. All of these groups were asking for more money to provide the essential services required by their clients. There have been lots of budget cuts in the last 5 years and we are now in a critical situation. Ottawa has a enormous poverty problem, mental health and food security issues, none of it addressed adequately.
Working from time to time at the Soup Kitchen serving lunch time meals to the hundred of homeless men and women is an eye opener.
The current budget may not be able to provide for all the demands made, but all presenters supported tax increases instead of Fee increases, simply a fee increase like those on bus fare is unsustainable for them. Ottawa will have the highest bus fare in all of Canada in 2016. Will the City Council rebel against the idea of the Mayor, will taxes be increased to meet inflation needs? We shall find out on 9 December.