By David Brown, Rideau-Jock Councillor
One of the main reasons I ran for office was that I do not believe that a “One Size Fits All” policy works for Ottawa. Indeed, our “size” as a City is perhaps its greatest issue.
We have residents that live closer to Brockville and Carleton Place than they do City Hall. Furthermore, the majority of rural residents do not have access to the majority of municipal services. Many are not connected to the Hydro Ottawa power grid and who are on well and septic systems and not municipal water and sewer. Living in rural Ottawa is much different than urban living; the decisions we make and how we go about making them should reflect our unique ways of life.
To that end, I wanted to outline what I am working on as your Councillor to promote rural interests at City Hall.
Over the past year, I have been looking at options for bringing in private transit to rural Ottawa, similar to what we had prior to amalgamation. Many rural residents are looking to leave their vehicles at home and are looking for a reliable, consistent service that will get them to where they need to go and back again. That level of service does not currently exist for many; permitting more private options is a simple way to give our communities more options.
Another issue that I hear about often is policing. The Ottawa Police Service has admitted that, far too often, resources that are deployed to rural Ottawa are often called into the downtown core, leaving a service gap that needs to be filled. The Ottawa Police Board has approved a new way to deliver policing service through a “district policing” model. This will change where officers are deployed and will ensure that each area of the City has a clear chain of command and dedicated officers that will serve only the district that they are in, except in the event of an exceptional emergency. I am advocating for this solution as rural Ottawa will see a return to proactive policing and ensure will receive more of the services that we pay for.
More recently the five rural Councillors experienced a major win for rural Ottawa when it came to environmental and energy policy. Four highly contentious battery storage facility applications and a proposed change to the site alteration by-law came to committee. Three of the four battery storage applications were denied due to a lack of community support and poor consultation practices by the companies wishing to build these facilities. The last one was approved in our ward after a highly successful consultation period, excellent planning, and appropriate site selection, with a site identified just south of the Trail Road Landfill.
This matters because a clear message was sent to future project proponents that community support is vital for these kinds of projects to proceed.
Additionally, City staff had proposed changes to the site alteration by-law which would have restricted farmers and landowners the ability to manage their properties or to return their lands to agricultural production was sent back to the drawing board after committee voted unanimously to reject the changes.
I was proud to pass a motion at Committee with support from my rural colleagues to prevent this bureaucratic overreach, asking staff to go back and consult with the community and come up with a better plan. I have been working with rural landowners, agricultural stakeholders and rural environmental organizations such as Rural Woodlands Ottawa to bring commonsense solutions to the table.
Even so, during the following week at Council, several urban councillors attempted to override the rural Councillors decision. They wanted to force through proposed changes to the Site Alteration By-Law. Mayor Sutcliffe made it very clear that he believes decisions made in rural Ottawa should be supported by Council, and urban Councillors withdrew their attempt at overriding rural Ottawa.
Having the Mayor stand up for the rights of rural residents is a major victory for us. You can listen to his comments on the City Council YouTube channel.
Finally, we have exciting news for rural Ottawa. For the first time since 2008, Ottawa will host a Rural Summit for rural residents. The intent is to offer multiple opportunities for rural residents to offer their suggestions on what the City could do better when delivering programs and services to rural Ottawa. The summit will be taking place in 2024.
This is a major win for rural communities and something that I am excited to work on. This is our opportunity to make real change and I am looking forward to hearing from you on what you want to see through this process.
I am proud to be your voice at City Hall. If there is something that my team or I can do to support you, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and best wishes for a prosperous 2024.