City: Forget Frills, Do The Basics


Architect Toon Dreessen is briming with interesting ideas for improving the capital.

In his article in the Citizen, among his thoughts is a effort to revitalize the ByWard Market, build more public washrooms and create an improved OC Transpo. Difficult to argue with those things. But there’s just one problem.


Each year we’re cutting into reserve funds because our tax increases are not substantial enough. This can’t continue or the City of Ottawa will have a fiscal crisis.

Ottawans and Canadians want things … right now. Not yesterday, not tomorrow but right now. That’s how we accumulate enormous balances on credit cards, borrowing for luxury cars and spending on lavish vacations when we can’t afford them. Instant gratification. But payments on the card balance are astronomical … in Canada interest rates between 19 to 26 per cent. So that instant gratification is reckless financially and hampers your ability to buy things … especially necessary things.

We’re treating the public purse like a spoiled teenager with their first Visa card.

Same with the city. We have blown our fiscal brains out try to build a world-class shiny new LRT. Instant gratification. That it doesn’t is another matter. But in the process of spending for the train (and the city is responsible for overruns) for instant gratification (except its late), necessities are cut. Our roads are in terrible shape. Politicians look enviously at the snowplowing budget (a necessity) to find cash. We pay for huge dragons and spiders to walk our streets in celebration of Ottawa 150 while a few blocks away, homeless people flop on the sidewalks of Murray Street. The city spends on frills (big frills) such as $419 million on the fiscal sinkhole that is Lansdowne Park from which the city will derive almost nothing in revenue in a period of high interest rates. Our priorities are skewed.

The city needs to take care of its necessities and forget the frills until it gets its fiscal house in order. No doubt Mayor Mark Sutcliffe is a fiscal conservative. Start showing it. No more massively over-priced luxury libraries, no money for stadiums and privates arenas, no more money for light rail until the city covers its overruns on the project and gets the lines working properly.

People such as the Citizen’s Andrew Cohen want to turn capital Ottawa into Paris-On-The-Rideau as though the stream of money from taxpayers is endless. It’s not. There’s always a bill to pay.

The mayor, city council and municipal staff need to treat taxpayer money as they would their own (or at least as we would hope they treat their own).

Getting the city’s financial house in order is not vote-getting, nor glamourous, nor luxurious, nor fun but necessary if we are to maintain a prosperous, well-managed community.

So let’s put off buying things for awhile and do the basics well. At present, we’re not doing the frills well nor the basics well. That can’t continue.

Ken Gray


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1 Response

  1. sisco farraro says:

    I agree, Ken. It would be interesting to see a list of the city’s top 10 priorities for the following periods, present, 5 years into the future, and 10 years down the road, with future considerations falling off the list as time passes and near-term goals aren’t achieved. Currently, the city seems to be running on a rolling wish list.

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