By David Brown, Rideau-Jock Councillor
Over the past few months, I’ve been holding meetings, door knocking, and attending events to hear about residents’ concerns. Talk about how much better life was under the old townships has come up remarkably often. Much of what is said is anecdotal, but taken together, what is being shared by residents is important.
Last year during the campaign I ran on a “One Size Does Not Fit All” agenda. The essential premise of my campaign was that the systems that might work for downtown Ottawa often do not work for the rural communities that were amalgamated under the City.
When the old region of Ottawa Carleton was amalgamating, its eleven different municipalities, administrators had to take eleven different rule books and turn them into one. Depending on which former municipality you lived in, you may have seen a service increase in one area or a decrease in another. And nearly a quarter of a century later, services levels across the City of Ottawa remain deeply unequal.
I’ve said it many times; rural Ottawa is four times larger than urban Ottawa. Our ward is larger than the whole of urban Ottawa from Orleans to Stittsville, from the Parliament Buildings to the south side of Barrhaven, and we are only one of four rural wards.
It is nearly impossible to provide the same service in Blackburn Hamlet, Westboro and Kanata and these are highly urbanized areas. If this is the case, how can the City provide equal services to places like Ashton, Manotick, Richmond, North Gower and Burritts Rapids? I will say it can’t.
Policing is one of the top issues that is raised by taxpayers. Most want me to slow the traffic down on their local street, or ask why we don’t see proactive police enforcement in our communities. I can promise you that it is just as frustrating for me to tell you to file a report directly with the Ottawa Police, as it is for you to tell me you have already done that multiple times!
Now filing reports with law enforcement is what you must do if you want to see enforcement, this is no different in Ottawa than it is anywhere else. The problem is that we rarely see the follow-up from the Ottawa police.
Calls for defunding the police aside, rural Ottawa will never see its fair share.
Ottawa’s new Chief of Police has been meeting with members of Council, coming out to each ward to see first hand the issues we face. I’ll be meeting with Chief Stubbs in September, however, I’ve started to do my research so I can demonstrate to the Chief what our residents expect to see.
To be blunt, taxpayers in our ward paid $9.8 million in 2023 for policing service. Rural Ottawa as a whole paid around $35 million. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that we don’t get anywhere near that service level for what we pay. In other municipalities with populations smaller than our ward, they can have full detachments of officers at a lower cost to taxpayers. The inescapable reality is that taxes collected in Ward 21 are subsidizing essential services elsewhere in the City while our own services remain inadequate.
Although the Chief has some positive new ideas on increasing the number of officers in rural Ottawa, I believe Council will have to propose bold changes to address the inequalities that rural Ottawa experiences. From policing, to roads, to transit, to snow plowing and much more, Council needs to shake off its “one size fits all” mentality.
As Council heads into the Fall session, every idea should be on the table. If how we are doing things today isn’t working, we should not be afraid to change.
After all, amalgamation didn’t happen because our townships were struggling, it happened because the “old” City of Ottawa was failing. It’s time for that favour to be returned.