Official Plan Debate at City Hall, Steve Desroches, former City of Ottawa Councillor and Deputy Mayor
I served on City Council with Clive Doucet for four years. During that time we agreed on defending and salvaging the north-south electric LRT. Most of the time, however, we were not aligned on his many left-leaning positions. Agree or not, I always admired his passion and love of Ottawa. Clive was entertaining with his rhetoric and prose. He would have been a great university professor. The “Ivory Tower” of academia can be a wondrous place to ponder and pontificate free of the realities of governing, taxes and democratic contests. A man of conviction and determination, Clive took his vision and perspectives to the people as a mayoral candidate in the 2010 and 2018 municipal elections. He garnered 14.8 percent of the vote in the 2010 election and 22.4 percent in 2018. With all due respect, it is fair to say that his platform, record and vision were soundly defeated. Echoes of Clive can be heard once again today around the virtual corridors of City Hall. The current rhetoric surrounds the draft Official Plan prepared by city officials. The report will be debated later this month by City Councillors. The new Official Plan is designed to guide development and growth of the city to the year 2046. City officials anticipate that the city population will increase by over 400,000 people for a total of 1.4 million. As a result, these new residents will require 195,000 new homes somewhere within the city limits. City planning officials are recommending that the city adopt ambitious urban densification targets and a limited expansion of the urban boundary. In short, densification means higher buildings, smaller lots and widespread infill development across the city while the urban boundary is the invisible line where new housing subdivisions can grow. The Official Plan report has rekindled the “Clive-esque” rhetoric starting with the demonization of developers and builders. Putting aside the fact that the report was developed by professional non-partisan public servants who have nothing to gain in their recommendations, a number of mechanisms are in place to strengthen transparency at City Hall. These measures include a ban on corporate and union election contributions as well as a lobbyist registry, gifts registry and integrity commissioner. These checks and balances have not stopped some from leveling accusations and conspiracies that developers and builders are driving the planning agenda. There are two valid sides of the planning issues and the debate should not involve maligning, impugning and smearing the motives of politicians who are on the opposite side of the argument. Much will also be said about the staff recommendation to expand the urban boundary. The policy will be labeled and lambasted as unbridled urban sprawl that will saddle taxpayers. Again there is a valid counter argument that the densification targets are too ambitious given that high rise developments and infill projects will eventually be blocked by opposing neighbours and condemned by the same leaders who preached densification. Low supply and high demand for new housing leads to higher home prices which is very bad news for first time home buyers. There are also negative consequences if the city does not extend the urban boundary. The undesired result is housing growth that spills over into bordering towns like Rockland, Carleton Place and Kempville. This external housing growth puts pressure on Ottawa’s roads and transit system without any tax contribution to the infrastructure costs. I hope that there will be a civilized debate.
Steve Desroches is a former City of Ottawa Councillor and Deputy Mayor. This article was published in Ottawa’s Community Voice Newspaper.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @SteveDesroches