• By: Aaron Nava

Ottawa’s Community Organizations Present an Alternative Budget

As Canadians deal with the financial crunch of COVID-19, and reliance on government services is increasing, several of Ottawa’s prominent community organizations have come together to present their ideas for how our City should spend on its services.

Describing itself as “a broad coalition of organizations from across the City that advocate for social, environmental and economic justice for all residents”, the recently-created Ottawa Coalition for a People’s Budget published “the City’s first-ever Alternative Municipal Budget”. In the 48-page report, the coalition of community organizations outlines a plan for the City to address public health, economic, social, and environmental issues at a greater scale.

“After decades of social infrastructure like housing and transit being drastically underfunded, the Alternative Municipal Budget calls for a bold, transformative investment in social services, and in safe, affordable housing in Ottawa,” said Valerie Stam, Executive Director of the City for All Women Initiative, one of the coalition’s member organizations. “The coalition created this budget in order to outline how our city could meet the dire need to fund services that keep our communities healthy, such as childcare, food security initiatives, [in addition to] mental health services.”

Members of the Coalition include Horizon Ottawa, members of the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) board, Ottawa Transit Riders, Courage Ottawa, Free Transit Ottawa, Child Care Now Ottawa, Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, Healthy Transportation Coalition Ottawa, Climate Justice Ottawa, ACORN Ottawa, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP), Carleton Graduate Student's Association, Coalition Against More Surveillance (CAMS), Harmony House Ottawa, The Energy Mix, Coalition for a Green New Deal Ottawa, For Our Kids Ottawa/Gatineau, and the Ottawa South Eco-Action Network (OSEAN).

To fund these services, the Alternative Municipal Budget proposes new taxes, including a vacancy tax and progressive property taxes, in addition to halting new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and reducing the Ottawa Police Services Budget by 63%. Under the Alternative Municipal Budget plan, Ottawa Police Services would retain control of investigative services, but all frontline and community relation work, and its respective funding, would be moved to appropriate community programs and services.

"We are paying to send police officers to do work that should be done by caring people trained in the needs of our communities," said Ifrah Yusuf from the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, one of the signatory organizations. "The bloated police budget, combined with the lack of oversight of the Ottawa Police Services, is leading to pain, deaths in our communities, and gut-wrenching violence, which is disproportionately wielded against Indigenous, Black, and other racialized people."

The Alternative Municipal Budget also proposes that the City halt all new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure. “The climate crisis is an existential threat to our city, and to young people in particular, the City of Ottawa must prioritize green transportation, free transit in Ottawa, and accessible transit for seniors and people with disabilities,” the organization writes. “With the proposed $235M in reallocated funds from the Ottawa Police Services Budget, and the $390M that would be cut via the divestment from fossil fuel infrastructure, this sets the stage for the City to make transformative investments in housing, transit and key social services, like childcare.”

"When we have young children in childcare, parents suddenly have to become experts and magicians," said Amanda Quance, a parent and early childhood educator from Child Care Now Ottawa. "We have to navigate a complicated system to find a space, apply, and wait for subsidies. We have to magically come up with over $1,000 a month in fees, and conjure up extra hours in the day to get it all done: parent, commute, work, and study. The city says childcare is a priority, and supporting families is important, but their creativity is really blinkered by the untouchable police budget, and the fear of raising taxes."

Although the claim that defunding the police will improve outcomes and reduce crime is controversial, it is certainly a popular notion following the George Floyd protests this Spring. So, too, for the popular political goal of divesting from fossil fuels in the service of an economic plan, in line with similar strategies outlined in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything or the Green New Deal put forward by several prominent left-wing American politicians. This proposal represents a detailed distillation of priorities and shared goals for some of Ottawa’s most prominent community organizations.