As we are about to enter a deep freeze in Ottawa, I can’t help but think of where we all were at this time last year. Many of us felt trapped in our homes, surrounded by relentless honking and fearful of the harassment that our neighbours were dealing with on the streets of Centretown.
For the first time in my nearly 20 years in this city, swastikas, Confederate flags and other symbols of white supremacy were on full display on our streets, just steps from our homes.
It was a tough time for so many of us. My own daughter’s school was right in the midst of the Red Zone, and toward the end of those terrible three weeks, I had to pull her from school, because the anxiety and fear were too much for her to bear.
I was not yet an elected member of council, but as a community activist, I sought to elevate the voices of people in downtown Ottawa. I was determined to ensure that we would not be gaslighted into silence, and that the city would never fail us so profoundly ever again.
As I write this letter to you, I just returned from the launch of the first report of the People’s Commission into the Convoy Occupation. It was powerful and affirming to hear about the more than 200 testimonies that Ottawa residents gave about their experiences during the convoy. I look forward to reading the full report and working with my council colleagues and city staff to ensure that Somerset Ward residents never experience this level of abandonment ever again.
When I think about this time last year, I am heartened by the memories of community solidarity: the people who volunteered to walk their neighbours to appointments, those who delivered meals and supplies and of course the crowd that gathered to block trucks with our bodies at the “Battle of Billings Bridge.”
Just this weekend, convoy supporters attempted another occupation of our city, but I am pleased to say that our emergency services were well-prepared. Please do reach out if you have any security concerns related to events of this nature: we are here for you.
Reopening of Wellington Street
Last week, I wrote an opinion piece for the Ottawa Citizen about how we can make Wellington Street a place for people. The next day, we tackled the issue of what to do about the temporary closure of that road at Transportation Committee. What followed was a spirited conversation, including many public delegations (you are welcome to watch the whole thing if you have three hours on your hands).
We heard loud and clear from cycling and pedestrian advocates that the city needs to make Wellington safer, and most advocated to keep it closed to cars. I also heard from residents near Bay and Laurier who were frustrated by the traffic impacts of the Wellington closure on pedestrian and cycling safety in the north part of Centretown, as well as from businesses on Sparks Street who were having trouble receiving deliveries.
The committee ended up voting unanimously to re-open the street to traffic as of March 1, 2023. But I fought hard for a new temporary bike lane to be installed along the entire length of Wellington and for a pilot project for summer active/pedestrian use of the street, with some concrete resources attached.
As a committee, we made it clear to the federal government that if they want to expedite the permanent pedestrianization of Wellington, they need to work with the city as equal partners to make it happen. I am confident that a fully pedestrianized Wellington is in our city’s future. I will continue to update you as negotiations with the federal government continue.
Limiting surface parking in the downtown core
At the first meeting of the Planning and Housing Committee, I advocated to limit allowances for temporary surface parking lots, in situations where landowners had promised to develop housing. In this case, a property owner had applied for a permit to demolish two homes and a light industrial building in Little Italy in 2020. The permit was granted with the specific stipulation that the land be developed as housing and that the lot was not to be used in any other way.
The applicant, who also owns a business nearby, had been using the lot as staff parking, despite the fact that this was explicitly forbidden by the city. He then applied for a three-year permit, asking to extend the use of the land as staff parking for three years.
Given that we are in the midst of a housing and homelessness crisis, it is unacceptable for developers to demolish housing and replace it with surface parking. The lot in question is also near ample transit, a city parking lot, and the site of the future Corso Italia station.
Working with my fellow members of the Planning and Housing Committee, we decided to allow the lot’s use as staff parking for one year only, with the understanding that it would not be extended. I am hope that the owner will come forward with a site plan for a proposed multi-unit development soon. Downtown land is too valuable, and the climate crisis is too urgent to allow homes to be demolished in favour of car storage.
Motion against antisemitism
At the last city council meeting, I introduced a motion to condemn antisemitism, in honour of Holocaust Remembrance Day. As the only Jewish member of council, I also took some time to share some of my own family’s story. Thank you to Councillor Rawlson King for seconding the motion, to the Mayor’s office for support, and to all of the members of council for passing it unanimously.
Supporting women in Iran
I was honoured to second Councillor Theresa Kavanagh’s motion to re-name the section of Metcalfe Street in front of the former Iranian Embassy in honour of Mahsa Amini. It was a tremendous act of solidarity with women in Iran to have the motion pass by a large majority. Thank you to Women, Life, Freedom Ottawa and B’nai Brith for working with us to put this together.
The budget and you: a community conversation
On February 15, I am co-hosting a community information session on the 2023 city budget with Councillors Shawn Menard and Jeff Leiper. Learn more about what the city spends money on and how we can improve frontline services for everyone, particularly in the urban core. The conversation will also feature Vivic Research, on behalf of the Ottawa Coalition for a People's Budget.
Information session for 357 – 363 Preston Street
Come join us for a community information session on the proposed development at 357-363 Preston St. This is a virtual meeting and will take place via Zoom, you can register online.
Learn more about the proposed development.
We have been working hard to respond to all of the inquiries about snow removal in the ward, we understand and share your frustration.
This winter season, Ottawa has received a total 199.5 centimetres of snow. That amount exceeds last year’s total of 196.1 centimetres and the three-year average of 192.2 centimetres. That’s a lot of snow, and we recognize it has piled up right across our city, making for some very narrow roadways, sidewalks and cycling routes.
Winter Maintenance Quality Standards (WMQS) have not been updated since 2003. This year, staff are taking a comprehensive view of WMQS and we’re excited to work with city staff to update our standards and bring better service to our downtown neighbourhoods.
If you are having particular difficulty with accessibility or other concerns related to snow-clearing, feel free to email our office at [email protected].
Ottawa Public Health updates
Routine vaccination for children at Neighbourhood Health & Wellness Hubs
Routine vaccinations protect people and those around them against diseases like measles and polio and are required for school and daycare attendance. For children and youth who are facing barriers to accessing routine vaccinations in the community, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is helping them get caught up on their vaccines.
In addition to Ottawa Public Health’s Family Vaccination Clinics, four Neighbourhood Health and Wellness Hubs now offer routine vaccinations. All vaccines at these clinics are offered at no cost, and an Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) card is not required. A reminder to update immunization records by reporting them Ottawa Public Health.
Weekly snapshot and dashboard
Our weekly Respiratory Virus Snapshots are shared through OPH’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels and posted on our main COVID-19 website at OttawaPublicHealth.ca/coronavirus. Check out the dashboard displaying information about respiratory virus activity: www.OttawaPublicHealth.ca/FluReport
Fun Ideas to get families walking this winter
February is Winter Walk Month, the perfect time for families to enjoy walking outdoors together. One great way to stay active this winter is by walking to school the whole way or part of the way. Did you know that walking or rolling to school not only improves children’s health but can help improve academic performance? The increased physical activity improves alertness and attention span during the school day! An active school commute also reduces road congestion in school zones and greenhouse gas emissions – it’s a win-win for everyone!
Some families are not able to walk all the way to school, so for families who drive, we encourage you to avoid the congestion by parking five minutes away from the school and walking a block! Find your Walk-a-Block map HERE. Families who take the school bus can stay active this winter by walking in their community together.
Families and schools can check out the many resources available to celebrate Winter Walk Month HERE. Below are a few of the ways that families can join in the fun:
Join the Hop! Winter Walk Challenge. Use the Hop! app in February to log your walks to school or in the community. Everyone who participates will be entered in a random prize draw to win a $50 gift card from Indigo/Chapters! 123hop.ca.
Ottawa teachers are encouraged to join the Hop! Winter Walk Classroom Challenge. The classroom team that logs the most kilometres in the month of February will win a $100 gift card. Classroom teachers can create a team and join the challenge by emailing [email protected].
Whether you are a parent, guardian, teacher, or engaged community member, the children in your life will thank you for walking with them! Check out this blog post for more fun ideas for walking in the winter.