By Bob Chiarelli
The past several years have been difficult ones for Ottawa residents and businesses. You know all too well the litany of global crises that have brought us here.
It’s no wonder that wherever I go around the city, I hear that everyone is working hard to make every dollar count and it’s not always easy to achieve the results they would hope for. Not surprisingly, they ask me what I think the City should be doing to help them. What they all want is for the City to be part of the solution, rather than adding to their difficulties.
To address this community demand, I’m committing to a tax freeze in 2023 by way of a spending cap on the budget at 2022 levels. If residents and businesses have to dig deep to survive this transitional period, then so too should the City. We should be shoulder to shoulder with residents and businesses at this difficult time.
How do I know that I can achieve a tax freeze for next year? Well, I’ve done it before — six times. None of those freezes was easy. I know how hard it is to keep spending at previous years’ levels without cutting priority programs. Knowing the process and the short timeframe, I can’t imagine a neophyte being able to do this or a politician whose inclination is to spend.
Compounding our problems is that the City is broke. Debt is at unsustainable levels and
spending is not under control. I will start over the first 100 days of the term with a line-by-line review of the City’s budget. This review is not to find the platitude of “efficiencies” mouthed by some candidates, which are an attempt at wishful thinking so that they won’t need to make difficult decisions, much as a good business has to do.
The underlying objective is to identify the top priorities of the City and fund them properly, while eliminating or postponing lower priorities. Divide the “must haves” from the “nice to haves.” It’s not easy for a politician to say no to community groups, interest groups, developers, etc. Much easier and more satisfying (and electorally beneficial) to keep saying yes. But that’s how we got to where we are.
Professor Ian Lee, an economist at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, has called me a “financial realist.” I like that categorization. I’ve already announced I will ask council for a modest deferral of Lansdowne 2.0 and will be announcing a series of no’s or deferrals during the course of the campaign (and some yesses).
The denial of their pet projects will displease a number of people and may even cost me the election, but it’s the right thing to do if the city I love is to grow and prosper socially, environmentally and financially.
Despite the challenges confronting our municipal government, a positive sign is the recent Welch LLP Ottawa Business Growth Survey, which shows significant confidence on the part of businesses for the future of Ottawa’s economy. I know our community has the strength and leadership to pull together for a great recovery and much future success.
Stay tuned for the next column, written by mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney.
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