Enjoying high-quality services in our communities is something many of us take for granted. When we vote for the Mayor and Councillors for the new City of Ottawa on November 13th, we will be choosing a future direction for our communities along with a set of values and trade-offs to be made when developing our City.
As we decide who should get our vote, it is important to think about a just and caring community for all members. Collectively we have increased choices as our new city enjoys growth, new wealth, and diversity. Yet some community members with lower incomes and poor health continue to face challenges. When we meet the candidates or read about their views, here are some issues and questions to keep in mind:
Access to services and user fees: City services are meant to improve quality of life for all citizens. Lower and middle income individuals and families depend on affordable and accessible services such as arenas, libraries, parks, and recreation facilities. But the Transition Board's recommendation that user fees for a variety of such services be increased by 5% will mean that many families will not be able to afford these services. A 5% increase might not seem like much, but there are already families with lower and middle incomes who cannot afford the current fees. An increase would put healthy and enjoyable leisure activities out of the reach of these families. So one set of questions to ask is, “Are you willing to reverse the Transition Board's decision to increase recreation and other user fees? What concrete measures will you take to ensure that everyone in Ottawa has access to community services?”
Housing: Housing is a concern for many Ottawa residents. Prices for rental housing are going up, putting a tight squeeze on many families' budgets. For people with lower incomes, the obstacles are even greater. At the moment there is a SEVEN-YEAR waiting list for social housing. Even for those in extreme risk, such as the homeless or those fleeing extreme violence, the wait is almost one and one-half years! Clearly this situation is unacceptable to a compassionate community that cares about the welfare of all of its citizens. Thus other questions to ask are, “What will you do to address the need for affordable rental housing? and What concrete measures will you take to address the growing number of homeless persons (including children and families) on the streets of our city?”
Public transportation for all: Improving public transit will help alleviate growing traffic problems. Buses are the only means of transportation available to many lower-income residents, whether for running everyday errands or for travel to jobs, job interviews, or school. But bus travel is very expensive in Ottawa. In many other cities, bus trips taken outside of rush hour are lower in cost. If Ottawa had such a fare structure, many more lower-income residents could afford to travel to these necessary appointments and meetings. Many seniors face an additional challenge: they prefer to use buses during off-peak hours, when they are less crowded. However, during these times, bus service on many lines is cut back, leaving seniors stranded. Increasing pressures on ParaTranspo have also negatively affected the mobility of many seniors, as well as many disabled residents. Decreased access to convenient and affordable public transportation has left many of these community members isolated in their homes. These issues lead to another question to ask candidates, which is, “How do you propose to increase access to appropriate and affordable public transportation for all area residents?”
There are many ways to find out how candidates will respond to these and other issues. Plan to meet the candidates at town hall meetings or call their offices and ask about their voting records. These phone numbers can be found elsewhere in this newspaper. Read about their views in the newspaper or listen to them speak on radio and television. The answers candidates give to these questions will determine what kind of city we will have in the future. Let's insist that the quality services Ottawa residents have long enjoyed remain accessible to everyone.