OC Transpo’s Budget Is A Mirage: BENN

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It is easier to get forgiveness than permission. The first time I heard that line it was from a tax lawyer.

Getting forgiveness is the basis on which OC Transpo built its budget, along with a healthy dose of AI. Not AI as in Artificial Intelligence. No. AI as in As Instructed. There is every appearance that much of Ottawa’s budget is based on As Instructed.

Every year council sets a maximum property tax mil rate increase. For 2024 it was 2.5 per cent. Senior administrators tasked with preparing the budget instruct department managers to live within that increase. For the most part, the department managers, including OC Transpo, prepare their budgets, with appropriate supporting details, with the aforementioned tax rate increase in mind. As Instructed. From time to time the Ottawa Police Service flouts this demand from council, and presents its budget based on its needs. And then council stamps its feet in a public hissy fit and the police budget gets adjusted. As Instructed.

So what happens when a department overruns its budget? Are there meaningful consequences? Well no. Because that isn’t how things operate down at city hall. Take OC Transpo. Their ridership figures, the ones that support their operating budget, are highly optimistic. Sounds like what Ernst & Young called the Lansdowne 2 financial projections? It should because OC Transpo’s operating budget is as fanciful as the one that staff produced for Lansdowne 2. Only achievable if every domino, most of which are not under the control of staff, falls exactly in place, perfectly.


So, what happens when OC Transpo’s actual ridership is only 89 per cent of budget? The city has to cover the operating shortfall. Period. Full stop. As for the consequences for OC Transpo’s senior management, it could affect their bonuses, but only the portion of their bonuses that are tied to meeting the operating budget. And that part is likely somewhere between zero and nil.

After all, it is easier to get forgiveness for failing to meet their operating budget than permission to present a budget that reflects reality.

Back in the real world, I recall hearing that that tax lawyer is now divorced. A consequence of seeking forgiveness one too many times?

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.

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1 Response

  1. John Langstone says:

    And think for a moment about the contribution the debt repayments for Lansdowne could make to the transit deficit. “Tax uplift” indeed.

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