Bank Street BIA’s Christine Leadman Says ByWard Market Tax Won’t Fix Anything

ABOVE: A man lays on the busy Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa. (PHOTO: OLM STAFF)

For years the ByWard Market has been battling its dual personality. The troubled area in downtown Ottawa is a historical gem less than a kilometre from Parliament Hill, which is a central tourist attraction and cultural hub that also struggles with addiction, mental health, and homelessness issues made worse by the proximity of three shelters in the relatively small Lowertown neighbourhood—not to mention the safe injection sites there and in nearby of Sandy Hill.

City of Ottawa staff are proposing implementing a financial levy to raise funds to deal with the problems. Two approaches are said to be under consideration: a supplementary tax on all households in the city or a levy that will apply only to ByWard Market businesses and possibly residents too. The plan is to direct money collected to fix Market infrastructure to bring back tourists and locals alike.

At their June 6th meeting, the Finance and Corporate Services Committee will vote on replacing the ByWard Market Business Improvement Area with a city-run ByWard Market District Authority, which will have regulatory control over the neighbourhood.

The proposed authority will coordinate events and municipal affairs in the ByWard Market in an attempt to revitalize it as a core area of the city, but city hall already has the power to do this through existing city departments, and the ward has a councillor representing the interests of businesses and residents at city hall.

Ottawa Life spoke to Bank Street Business Improvement Area Chair and Former Councillor for Kitchissippi Ward Christine Leadman about the possible changes coming to the ByWard Market area.

As a civically engaged Ottawa resident with experience in the business community and governance, Leadman understands the issues from both sides. She thinks it is a mistake to shut down the ByWard Market Business Improvement Area and tax businesses to fund rejuvenation in the neighbourhood.

Leadman says, “The ByWard Market is the city’s responsibility,” including the infrastructure. She believes taxing a specific city area rather than having a standard rate for all residents and businesses is a mistake, especially because the City of Ottawa owns the Market area and the centrally located ByWard Market Square building. She calls the move a “downloading onto residents and businesses in the neighbourhood.”

Leadman believes that the city’s plan has been a long time coming. She explains that the City of Ottawa sees the revenues generated by the local BIAs and wonders how they can redirect those generated funds to city facilities.

If the city proceeds, it will take away the funds that local BIAs use to promote their area members through marketing, beautification, and event organization.

While the proposal will likely gain the support of the Finance and Corporate Services Committee, Leadman’s argument that the city should fix its own ship before levying more expense on an already struggling area will hold water for market business owners.

In 2021, the merchants of Murray Street wrote an open letter to former Councillor Matthew Fleury and then Mayor Jim Watson about the state of the Market and its continuing issues with homelessness, addiction, and crime. While Leadman points out that homelessness, drug addiction, and the associated crime are common in large Ontario cities, “nobody is looking at addressing these issues.”

Leadman says that community groups and BIAs, even the proposed Market District Authority, cannot fix the deep-rooted problems that are the responsibility of the municipality as a whole.

She notes that addiction is a health issue, and all health funding in the country “trickles down from a federal level,” so all levels of government must be involved in any solution to cleaning up the ByWard Market area.

A master plan is required to curb the open defecation, brazen drug usage, aggressive panhandling, and general feeling of unease that residents and tourists have when patronizing the ByWard Market.

Without one, Leadman believes nothing will ever change. “At the root of everything, if you want to revitalize the core, it has to be safe, it has to be clean, and it has to be green. If you don’t have those things in place, you could spend all the money in the world.”