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  • Candice Vetter

Local First -- Expanding urban development

Hello, bonjour, and welcome to Local First, your public affairs show. I’m Candice Vetter, coming into your home from my home office, in North Russell.

Over the last month or so I’ve been paying attention to an item of particular importance and concern to communities on the City of Ottawa’s rural outskirts. That is the prospect of increased suburban development in rural wards.

On the CJRO News I had earlier announced a place to register comments, both for and against, with the city, and an upcoming rally against the proposal. At that time the city’s planning department had not released the proposed changes.

Late last week the planning department staff presented their report. In it they recommended that half of new households be built on undeveloped lands. That includes greenspace, forests, wetlands, and farmland, most of which are in wards which were, until 2001, municipalities of their own.

The report says 1,650 hectares should be added to the suburbs, because it is planning for 400,000 new residents over the next 25 years. Ottawa’s current population, including rural areas, just reached 1,000,000 last June. This means the city is planning to allow almost half of Ottawa’s current population to be added, over a period of just six City Council terms.

Several organizations, including Ecology Ottawa and the Federation of Citizens Associations of Ottawa, are opposing the plan. They point out environmental damage that would result from the loss of fields, woods and wetlands. They also note that the city is not in a financial position to build extended infrastructure. Considering the still extant problems with transit in Ottawa and the costs associated with them, infrastructure budgets are already tenuous. To this add the personal and financial crisis of COVID-19, with its unknown and currently impossible to estimate effects, and one wonders why the city would go ahead with such a vote, at such a time.

Meanwhile homebuilders are saying the intensification expected is too much, and they would like more rural lands changed to allow suburban development. They argue that there is little infill space left in the city, and that would put a burden on them.

Community associations in parts of the city that have experienced intensification are also opposed to increased density in their neighbourhoods. When looking at some of these areas you can see why. Once charming communities within the greater city become more homogeneous and less green each year. And this year, the need for cohesive communities and green recreational space is more obvious than it has been for decades.

The city's planning committee and rural affairs committee will discuss the proposed boundary expansion by videoconference on May 11. Ecology Ottawa’s rally will be held electronically, I believe on May 25, but we will confirm that beforehand. The city will vote on May 27, and the decision will be final.

In addition, opponents point out that the report is based on a future that is not going to be as predicted, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is reshaping societies worldwide minute-by-minute. Would it not be more prudent to postpone a decision that is both final and will influence irreversible policies for 25 years? Doesn’t it sort of make sense to wait until we see how this pandemic, a health crisis none of us have seen on this scale before, plays out?

The projected numbers are largely based on the assumption that immigration will continue at the high levels recent federal governments have encouraged. The numbers are also based on last year’s statistics regarding factors like income. Both have obviously changed. A rebound is expected, and some work will change permanently, making that rebound easier, but many areas are hard hit, and consumer confidence is shaken.

Already, due to the COVID crisis, millions of Canadians are out of work, businesses are failing or being put into receivership by their lenders, and the supply chains are breaking.

Which brings up another point. Chains are only as strong as their weakest links. The weak links in the food supply chain are also the largest. Huge processing plants spread far across the country. Imports from around the globe. Dependence on foreign labour. Not enough arable land. And now a dangerous and sneaky virus quickly reducing the numbers of agriculture workers.

Already pork, beef, grain, fish, seafood, potatoes, asparagus, other vegetables, and fruit production have been negatively affected. And, oh yes, over three million acres of wheat are still unharvested in the western provinces. Think it’s hard to buy flour now? And that’s only in Canada. The rest of the world has its own, sometimes much bigger, problems.

So does it make sense to let local farmland be covered by housing at a time when food may become scarcer? As a farm girl myself, I have to say, uh, no.

If not farmland, then what? Green spaces are essential to the health and wellbeing of not only the wildlife that has some habitat remaining, but also to human residents. The need for places for people to get outside, to live healthy and fit lives, where there is enough space to socialize at a distance, has never been more obvious.

And the particular worry for East Ottawa residents is the lack of representation. City Council has decided that the council seat in Cumberland ward will remain empty until after pandemic restrictions are lifted. In that case shouldn’t decisions affecting that ward in a substantial way also be postponed?

Council voted unanimously to defer a decision on filling the seat left vacant by Stephen Blais resignation until Ontario’s state of emergency is lifted.

A byelection had been proposed for June 8. It was widely supported by councillors and by staff, since there is still over half the term left. Failing that, a replacement could have been appointed. Now the byelection has been deferred until more certainty is established on the state of emergency. So it may be effectively cancelled.

It is unlikely the city will have the ability to hold elections safely until much farther into the term. Unless they go to an all-electronic and phone-in format, like Russell and some other municipalities have done. But that process had extensive problems. And is that even possible when the company which managed the voting previously is based in Spain?

Either way, the byelection still would have been too late for this decision, potentially one of the area’s most profound.

Do you have news that matters to our area? If yes, contact me by emailing newsCJRO@gmail.com. We want to know what you care about!

CJRO – Last on the dial, first for local news.

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