Katasa Group Donation Dominates City Council Debate 

Ottawa City Council held its first meeting of 2024. Mayor Mark Sutcliffe briefly addressed the chamber and stated that a great deal was accomplished in 2023, including the passing of two city budgets, the hiring of a new city manager, setting the council priorities for the 2022-2026 term, creating the Lansdowne 2.0 plan and finding savings and efficiencies at City Hall.

Looking forward, the mayor commented that the city will hold its first rural areas summit since 2008, begin a mental health response pilot project, and launch consultation and planning for the 2025 budget, which he said will be difficult.

Mayor Suttcliffe also announced that the city had come to an agreement with the federal government on the housing accelerator fund and that details would be forthcoming in the following days.

Council then began a lengthy debate over a donation being made by Katasa Group. The developer is donating $100,000 for the Ward 17 traffic calming and an additional $200,000 for affordable housing in the ward to be used at the discretion of the General Manager of the Community and Social Services in consultation with the councillor for Ward 17, Shawn Menard.

Councillor Matthew Luloff called for a deferral vote on the project because he had been advised that Katasa Groups was pressured into making the donation, and he compared the money being offered to a slush fund for Councillor Shawn Menard.

Luloff provoked the ire of Councillor Menard, who called a point of order and requested documentation from Councillor Luloff to prove that he pressured Katasa Group. Menard said that Luloff’s comments were libellous and asked for a retraction.

Luloff did not retract his statement. He argued that the developer would be reimbursed for his donation by increasing the future sale price of condos and homes. Instead of subsidizing housing, the developer is contributing to driving up unit costs. Councillors Catherine Kitts and Laura Dudas backed this sentiment and said they would support a deferral.

Councillor David Hill also echoed Luloff’s sentiment and stated that some of the funds need to be deferred until a city policy is in place to deal with such donations.

Councillor Therese Kavanaugh said she found the debate an insult to the city’s integrity commissioner, who had already cleared the deal. Kavanaugh stated that she would not be voting for the deferral motion. Councillor Ariel Troster cited that the funds would go to reducing everyday life disruptions and that her ward, which is a high-construction area, would benefit from such donations by developers.

Councillor Troster noted that her predecessor, Catherine McKenney, had come to similar arrangements with developers for a project on Nepean Street. Troster also stated that Councillor Menard is making “significant gains” for his community. She was offended by the idea that “this doesn’t pass the sniff test or that there’s something shady going on.”

Despite the opposition, the vote to postpone failed 11-14, with the mayor voting against it.

Councillors Brockington and Bradley proposed 10,000 trees to replace those removed to create a larger parking lot for a local car sales lot on Ottawa Airport land in the Hunt Club Road pine tree forest. The motion was passed.

Ottawa City Council is scheduled to meet again on February 7, 2024.