Letters and Editorials 1237 Views Peter Tremblay

City of Ottawa technocrats squander millions on Rideau Street beautification during pandemic

Have you noticed Rideau Street around Rideau Centre all-of-a-sudden being dug-up during this pandemic, resulting in the re-routing of buses?

Do you have any idea how much this is costing Ottawa residents? Try $13.5 million.

So, while the City of Ottawa has no money to support cultural events that it shut down as a result of the pandemic, no money to provide a lifeline to small business activities also adversely affected by the pandemic, and no money to relieve strains on social services, the City of Ottawa still pursued the digging up of Rideau Street. According to City of Ottawa technocrats, they are seeking to "take advantage of less traffic" during the pandemic to expedite construction projects.

Small businesses and arts and cultural festivals are two major employers which outstrip jobs provided by developers and the construction industry.

However, developers and construction industry interests donate far more to political campaigns than those interests associated with both arts and culture and most small business enterprises.

So, it is not hard to grasp why city technocrats like to keep developers and the construction industry well-fed at the expense of communities suffering from the demise of their cultural institutions, small businesses, and social services. And it seems that even the life-and-death circumstances of a pandemic cannot interrupt the installing of new flower pots and attractive street lights for millions of dollars.

Facets of the Rideau and William Street Renewal beautification plan include the following:

  • Renew the street surface infrastructure
  • Increase pedestrian space to serve the needs of the LRT Confederation Line Rideau Station
  • Create a memorable experience for visitors
  • Add street greening
  • Be flexible and maintainable
  • Pursue a balance of functionality and aesthetics
  • Create an inviting and accessible place for everyone
  • Create a bike friendly infrastructure

Which do you think is a more important priority during a pandemic?

1 - To save jobs and livelihoods adversely affected by the pandemic, OR;

2 - "Creating a memorable experience for visitors" and pursuing a "balance of functionality and aesthetics"?

The technocrats who are pushing our municipal politicians to support these schemes are often making well over $100,000 in annual income, while many of us have to deal with cancelled contracts by the city, unemployment, worries over rent, and sometimes concerns over loved ones in poorly maintained social housing facing coronavirus outbreaks.

These technocrats are running the city like it’s an extension of their living room.

Let’s put a flower pot there and an outdoor speaker along Rideau Street to play to some music, and what about some new benches?

The only difference is that when we erect a flower pot where we live and decide to buy a lamp shade, the cost may be $30, but when the technocrats decide to buy a flower pot with a light over it the cost could be as high as $300,000. And that money comes from taxpayer funds — in short, from you and me. These “beautification” details have all been calculated into that $13.5 million price tag.

These technocrats with political rubber stamps are giving our money away like Santa Claus to grossly inflated municipal beautification schemes like the Rideau and William Street Renewal alongside mounting job losses and the destruction of lives during the coronavirus.

Social programs and cultural institutions tend to be the first targeted cuts any time governments like the City of Ottawa say there's a shortfall in revenue.

But have you noticed that basically unnecessary construction never gets targeted for such cuts, even during a pandemic?

And this kind of situation is not just happening here in Ottawa. It is also happening in Toronto and other cities in Canada where city construction projects have been expedited during the pandemic alongside the destruction of lives and communities.

The problem is that when people walk around in cities like Ottawa, they often have no idea of how putting up just one attractive street light alongside new flower pots could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be better spent protecting jobs and saving lives.

Back in the 20th century, Tommy Douglas showed us as premier of Saskatchewan that it’s possible to balance the budget while maintaining a strong universal public healthcare system alongside other social services.

In 1944, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), under Douglas, won the provincial election to become the first democratic socialist government in North America.

The CCF’s election slogan was “Humanity First” and Douglas’s government’s budget was to direct70 per cent of expenditure to social services.

The key to our future quality-of-living in Ottawa and the rest of Canada while balancing government budgets is to emulate Tommy Douglas and to focus on the expenditure of resources on the vital needs of humans and the job-creating activities of communities, and not on marked-up costs for fancy cement, flower pots, and street lights designed to support a slush fund for political campaign donors.

The digging up of Rideau Street during the pandemic takes away $13.5 million which would have been better spent elsewhere, including improving the conditions for seniors, the homeless, and others residents in public housing, who have all suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

City of Ottawa technocrats presiding over human suffering caused in part by their draconian closures while expediting cheques to interests among developers and the construction industry during the pandemic is nothing short of outrageous, and whoever is responsible for giving the go-ahead to the digging up of Rideau Street during the pandemic ought to be ashamed of themselves.


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