Ottawa

Focused budget consultation on cycling, transit, social agency funding gets big audience

New format eschewed general discussion on budget for more curated conversation on 3 topics

Budget consultation meeting focused Oct. 13 2016 City of Ottawa

An unusually high number of people showed up to a budget consultation meeting on Thursday night. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

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More than 130 people poured into City Hall Thursday night for a budget consultation on social issues, boasting a larger attendance than the combined audiences of all the other public meetings held so far this budget season.

Indeed, it was the best-attended budget consultation in recent memory, likely because of a new format that eschewed the usual general discussion about the budget for a more curated conversation on three specific topics: affordable transit, increased funding for social agencies and improving safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

The meeting was hosted by five inner-city councillors: Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum; Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury; Capital Coun. David Chernushenko; Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney; and Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper.

'I've never been to a budget meeting with so many people present.' - Annette Hegel, resident

They took turns introducing a specialist who spoke briefly on each topic, after which participants discussed the issues in small break-out groups at round tables set up in Jean Pigott Hall.

Although it will take days for councillors' staff to organize the ideas generated during the meeting, some high-level requests included the introduction of a low-income transit pass that costs — at a maximum — the same as a community pass (about $42 a month), an additional $500,000 added to the base budget for social agencies and speed-reducing measures such as photo radar, physically raised intersections and roundabouts.

'An incredible representation of the city's communities'

Annette Hegel has attended budget consultations before, but preferred Thursday night's format because "it was a great way to mobilize people around specific issues."

"I've never been to a budget meeting with so many people present. And I look around and it was an incredible representation of the city's communities," she said.

A long-time avid cyclist, Hegel was particularly interested in the issue of safer roads for cyclists. She said that while Ottawa has "come a long way since the '80s when the only cycling path was beside the canal," she believes the capital still lags behind other large cities when it comes to safe cycling infrastructure.

She appreciated Thursday night's meeting for bringing focus to an issue that is dear to her.

"And the sense I got around my table was that people had the feeling they are finally being heard," said Hegel.

However, Nussbaum warned that not everything discussed at the meeting would find its way into the 2017 budget, "but informs us as councillors going forward."

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