Residents remain divided on urban expansion as council votes

The president of an Ottawa polling firm feels he has to explain that the findings of surveys it did for opposing sides in the heated urban boundary debate are really not that different.

Pollster explains findings of 2 surveys for opposing sides

The north side of Barnsdale Road near Barrhaven could be a likely candidate for being included if Ottawa expands its urban boundary. To the south is an agricultural resource area. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The president of an Ottawa polling firm feels he has to explain that the findings of surveys it did for opposing sides in the heated urban boundary debate are really not that different.

"I don't see the studies producing contradictory conclusions," said EKOS Research Associates president Frank Graves. One was commissioned by the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association, and the other by a trio of city councillors who oppose moving the line that divides urban from rural.

Today city council votes on whether to add up to 1,650 hectares of rural property for new suburbs and industrial parks, after months of advocacy from all sides and a 28-hour committee meeting. Last week, ten councillors voted in favour of moving the line further out.

After its 770-person survey for the home builders, EKOS reported that residents are worried homes are becoming unaffordable and would support the expanding the suburbs, along with intensifying existing neighbourhoods.

Then, earlier this week, councillors Catherine McKenney, Shawn Menard and Jeff Leiper released the results of the 525-person poll they commissioned from EKOS, which suggests residents are concerned a boundary expansion would affect how the city delivers services, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

"[The] majority of Ottawa residents [are] opposed to urban boundary expansion," they declared in online posts.

Graves says given 52 per cent of people in that survey opposed boundary expansion, he would have communicated the conclusion in a "more nuanced" way than the councillors did.

'No consensual path'

Graves stands by the data in both surveys, and agrees they show respondents lean toward intensification, but said this complicated issue should not be one with a binary, yes/no answer. In a statement online, the firm stood by its original conclusion for the home builders.

A large contingent of respondents were open to a blend of expansion and intensification, he said. 

Ottawa's urban boundary (CBC)

Residents also see the situation differently, Graves continued, with downtown residents more open to intensification and those in the suburbs okay with some added subdivisions. There are high economic and emotional stakes for those involved, said Graves.

"There's large division. This is not an area where there is some consensual path forward," said Graves.

Councillor says polls speak for themselves

Graves said he has done polls for years for the City of Ottawa, National Capital Commission, developers, and interest groups, but never in 40 years, for a specific small group of politicians.

And in this case, he says it was a "mistake" for his firm to take on McKenney, Leiper and Menard as clients, and did so under the misunderstanding it was a poll for the City of Ottawa and not councillors with a position on the issue. Graves explained it poses an optics problem, having already done the home builders' poll.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and colleagues Jeff Leiper and Shawn Menard commissioned EKOS Research to do a poll about whether residents want an expansion of urban lands. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Coun. Catherine McKenney was surprised EKOS felt the need to explain its position on its website. 

"I really do believe the question we asked was clear," said McKenney, who wanted to know if Ottawa residents favoured a boundary expansion or not.

"I think citizens in this city are sophisticated enough to take results and understand them themselves."


Kate Porter


Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.

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