The city of Ottawa amalgamated in 2001 and, following an appeal from rural municipalities in 2002, created 23 wards. The new city of Ottawa combined the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton with areas such as Kanata, Vanier, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Nepean. The joining of several independent cities blended different populations and economic groupings. It meant that many residents found themselves considering the political well-being of areas they had never thought about before. Notably, the reality is that a large portion of the workforce lives in the city’s outskirts but utilizes city services in coming to work downtown.
On June 14, 2019, the city reached a population of one million residents, representing a considerable growth from about 770 thousand in 2001 according to census data.
Together, the land size of Ottawa makes it one of the largest in the country. For example, it is the size of Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver with an added 100km2 combined. According to the City of Ottawa Masterplan, the Greenbelt divides the urban city core from the suburban and rural areas. It identifies the downtown core as the area just south of Parliament that has a high concentration of businesses and employers.
As it stands, the Greenbelt does not represent a clear division in our city. There are suburban areas within it such as Old Nepean, Cyrville, and Alta Vista Community to name a few, as well as outer suburban areas such as Kanata and Orleans, and numerous sprawls developing. As for the City’s core, it has and will continue to expand. The use of these various boundaries is worth reevaluating 20 or so years later.
The boundaries have not been reviewed since the city amalgamated, which makes your efforts of the Ward Boundaries report relevant and an interesting exercise.
While the city’s ward boundaries have not been updated since 2002, another group, which produces the The Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, regularly updates their boundaries. They divide the city in a different way, which takes into consideration its evolution over time. This study updates the neighbourhood boundaries every 10 years to reflect two full census cycles. It uses a mix of socio-economic and demographic information from Statistics Canada. With this information, they identify neighbourhoods by grouping together areas with similar information and landscapes. They also consult information gathered by local real estate professionals and hold public consultations. Finally, they apply environmental elements such as major roads to neatly divide neighbourhoods.
Their process is interesting to consider as it takes into account demographic trends and needs, easily recognizable area boundaries, as well as the fast-changing pace of our city. I believe we could learn from this process by reassessing ward boundaries to support fairer representation and advance various challenges that Ottawa faces.
We need to ensure that factors other than population are reviewed to include income levels, major employment nodes, home ownership versus rentals, schools and amenities, and commercial spaces and large organizations are all important considerations for your analysis. The Official Plan and the Transportation Masterplan might complement the mapping review that you are conducting. We should also take into account city services data such as calls to Service Ottawa (311), bylaw volumes, crime mapping, development applications, and building permits, which are all clues into ward needs and specifically work volume, regardless of population. By doing so, we would ensure that we do not disproportionately value characteristics such as land space and population alone.
Beyond this, we need to strive for more equal representation throughout the city. We should find a way to involve residents and give their voice fairer weight at City Hall. As a large city, we cannot simply use urban, suburban, and rural divides, and in order to get passed those voting blocks, we need to find fairness in ward breakdown. Collectively, we all want residents to support one another, and we want neighbourhoods to be welcoming and to share amenities so that as a city we can thrive.
We could also ensure that all boundaries are on major streets, which is not often the case. An example from our ward is Beechwood Avenue; one side of the street is Ward 12 and the other is Ward 13. This clean division helps residents easily identify the boundaries. This also benefits the development of main streets, the lifeblood for our local economy, as multiple elected officials are simultaneously working towards its improvement.
Our Unique Ward: Rideau-Vanier (Lowertown, including ByWard Market; Sandy Hill, including UOttawa; and Vanier, a former city)
The Rideau-Vanier ward combines three very different neighbourhoods: Sandy Hill, Vanier, and Lowertown. It is my belief that if our city were to be a human body, Ward 12 would be its heart. We are at the epicentre of activities in our city and, in this important and unique ward, there are many projects and public policies we want to advance. These benefit the area as well as the entire city. Any elected official would find this a difficult task due to the complex nature and wide-ranging volume of issues day-to-day that influence city operations in our area.
According to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, median household income after taxes in Lowertown and the ByWard Market is about $44,000, $45,000 in Sandy Hill, and $42,000 in Vanier. Comparatively, the 2016 Census found that the median household income after taxes of the city of Ottawa at large was about $74,000, and $61,000 in Canada, close to double that of our ward. According to the Neighbourhood Equality Index, our ward also has the most equity concerns. We are the only ward in the city that the index highlights as concerning overall.
Beyond this, we have the highest rate of core housing needs, meaning that we have more inadequate, unaffordable, and unsuitable housing than any other neighbourhood in the city. According to the Ottawa Citizen’s report on real estate published by James Bagnall on January 6, 2020, the average price of a home in Lowertown-Sandy Hill was $658,200, approximately $200,000 more and almost 1.5 times the city’s average property sale price. We are the third largest contributer out of 23 wards to property taxes in the city, having brought in roughly $91.4 million last year.
Our geographic location and individual neighbourhoods each contribute to diversity. For example, we have two provincial crossings to Quebec located in Lowertown and 30% of Vanier residents are French-speaking. We also have large numbers of tourists visiting regularly, several foreign affairs organizations and embassies throughout, as well as Canada’s fourth largest university located in Sandyhill. The ByWard Market, Ottawa’s oldest area, is also home to the highest concentration of small retail businesses in our city. The combination of these factors complicates data collection, services, transit, and planning, as there are unique needs that we face. We also have the only urban sugar shack in North America. The majority of people who live and use services in our ward hold primary residences elsewhere. For example, many residents from Gatineau and Ottawa consume in, work in, or commute through the downtown core. Particularly, they travel through areas such as the Rideau Centre, Rideau LRT, 417 Nicholas, and Vanier Parkway on- and off-ramps, using the Rideau Canal and Rideau River pathways etc.
In recent years, voter turnout for this ward has repeatedly been below the city-wide average. Our ward consistently showed the lowest voting numbers in our city as early as the 2006 and 2010 municipal elections. We ranked second lowest in the most recent 2018 elections. When comparing our numbers from this election, 37.54%, to that of another urban ward like Kitchissipi, who showed 48.88%, we see a large difference of over 11%. When compared to the top turnout in Ward 17, Capital, which had 52.13%, the difference of almost 15% is even more substantial. It is also important to note that these statistics do not take into account all residents residing in our ward. One example to consider is the high-number of embassies in our ward, home to many foreign delegates. Other residents like students of the University of Ottawa only occupy properties for the school year. These residents usually don’t participate in local elections or census counts, but still need increased engagement from the city’s services.
By the Numbers (Beyond Population)
This area has seen rapid growth. Over the last five years, there have been 1,685 construction permits granted in Ward 12. This is almost double that of neighbouring Ward 11, which had 914 permits granted in this same timeframe. Beyond this, there have also been 168 planning applications since March 2015, almost twice the city average over the same period.
According to the city of Ottawa’s Emergency and Protective Services report from August 2019, we had over 16,000 rental properties. When comparing that to neighbouring wards, this is significant. For example, it is about 7,000 more than Ward 13 and about 15,000 more (or over nine times the number of) rental units in Ward 11.
At the end of 2019, our occupied household/unit count was close to 29,000, which represented about 7% of the city’s overall growth in the last five years. Our population during this same period grew from about 47,000 to over 50,000 people, representing an increase of over 2,000 people, approximately 1.5 times the average ward growth throughout the city since 2014.
City bylaw services are very important in our ward. In 2019, Rideau-Vanier generated 2476 calls, representing almost 10% of our city’s total. By comparison, our neighbouring wards had less than half: Ward 11 had 795 and Ward 13 had 1205. About 36% of our calls were for parking, but this number also included 219 calls for grafitti, 464 for noise, and 487 for property standards. For comparison, calls for grafitti represented 20% of the city’s total, while our property standards calls represented about 25% compared to the city’s total. The closest area for property standards, Ward 14, had 255 calls and the furthest, Ward 5, had 12 calls. This means that we had almost twice the calls as the closest ward, and almost 100 times that of the lowest.
Ward 12 is a landing spot for tourists in the city, particularly during peak times such as Canada Day and Winterlude. We have the National Art Gallery, the Royal Canadian Mint, the Rideau Centre, the Shaw Centre, and the ByWard Market. Hotels include the historic Château Laurier, Canadian-owned LeGermain, the trendy Andaz Hotel, and a conveniently located Westin, among others. The ByWard Market is second only to Parliament Hill in attracting tourists. Put specifically, many of our city’s customer-facing businesses are in our area. This means that we are held to higher standards by industry lobbies. This means that our area has specific sensitivities to crime rate, cleanliness resulting in a constant push for policing, reduction in crime rate, and maintenance.
It has been a fun exercise for me to share with you my love for my community. I have been fortunate to grow up in this area of our city and now have the priveledge to represent it. Having already been on Council for 10 years, and being the youngest member, I often wonder how future community leaders will manage the extreme fast pace and long hours required to represent an area like mine. Is it a question of staff ressources, physical boundaries, or an inbalanced representation? I am not sure how this can be fixed. I provided you with a series of elements that I believe should be considered. You must go beyond land space and population to make the 20-year review bring lasting benefits to residents in Ottawa. We will never achieve complete fairness, but I believe considerations need to be made in order to give urban, rural, and suburban voters hope for democratic participation, aspiration for involvement, and in the end, continue to make Ottawa one of the best cities to live in.