Ottawa’s new mayor discussed some hot-button files with senior provincial cabinet ministers on Tuesday, but Mark Sutcliffe’s first face-to-face meeting with Ontario Premier Doug Ford didn’t unfold as planned.
Sutcliffe’s agenda for a trip to Toronto, shared with city councilors last week, was headlined by a planned discussion with Ford about a range of high-priority issues for the city.
In a news release Tuesday night, Sutcliffe’s office said he met with cabinet ministers Steve Clark, the minister of municipal affairs and housing, Health Minister Sylvia Jones and and Community and Social Services Minister Merrilee Fullerton. But there was no mention of a tête-à-tête with the premier.
“Unfortunately, we had to unexpectedly cancel yesterday’s meeting with the Mayor Sutcliffe, but look forward to sitting down with the mayor in the near future,” the premier’s office said Wednesday, in a statement provided to this newspaper.
Sutcliffe’s Tuesday night news release said he met with the ministers to discuss, among other matters, Bill 23 — the province’s highly contentious housing-supply legislation, which moved from committee to third-reading debate at Queen’s Park this week.
It’s attracted widespread concern and criticism, including by municipalities around the province, who stated last week through the association that represents them that the province has provided “no evidence that the radical elements of the bill will improve housing affordability” and that “it is more likely that the bill will enhance the profitability of the development industry at the expense of taxpayers and the natural environment.”
Also discussed at Sutcliffe’s ministerial meetings on Tuesday were “ongoing pandemic-related pressures.” These include transit ridership challenges — OC Transpo projected in September a year-end deficit of $85 million they hoped upper levels of government would fill — as well as the Social Services Relief Fund, launched during the pandemic and used by the city to address pressing needs like homelessness, to build supportive housing and provide temporary funding to local service providers.
Sutcliffe also raised the need for money to help cover recovery costs following last spring’s derecho storm. According to former mayor Jim Watson, the provincial government promised to foot the city’s entire bill. Staff pegged its cost in a fall budget update at roughly $9 million with no confirmed funding support, and it’s one of the pressures that led to their projection, after the first half of the year, for a year-end deficit of $12.2 million.
Also on the subject of municipal-provincial derecho tension, there’s been local frustration that the province hasn’t deemed Ottawa eligible for a disaster recovery program that offers financial assistance to impacted residents, while deciding that Uxbridge, north of Toronto, qualifies for it.
The final item on Sutcliffe’s agenda for the provincial talks was the need to deal with what are called “level zero” events for the city’s paramedic service, which occur when no ambulances are available to respond to calls. Earlier this month, the Ottawa Paramedic Service had counted more than 1,500 “level zero” events so far this year, covering more than 64,000 minutes or about 1,066 hours without availability.
Sutcliffe’s mayoral campaign platform promised more ambulances to reduce or eliminate “level zero” incidents.
Unmentioned in his press release was the piece of legislation the province unveiled last week that would give the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto the power to amend and pass bylaws with only one-third of councilors voting in favor of them, if they align with designated ” provincial priorities.” Toronto Mayor John Toronto has since revealed this was something he requested, and both Tory and the province are facing vocal opposition to the measure that some are describing as undemocratic. Sutcliffe quickly pledged not to use it, aligning with a previous promise to govern the city without strong-mayor powers bestowed by the province in the name of getting more housing approved, more quickly.
The new mayor described his provincial conversations Tuesday as “open and productive,” adding: “As I said during the electiontion, it is important for all leaders to work together to deliver on the priorities of the residents of Ottawa. This approach not only includes city council, but the provincial and federal governments as well.”
with files from Postmedia and The Canadian Press