Jim Watson's responses to City for All Women's Initiative's Ottawa Municipal Elections Candidate Survey.
First and last name:
Which ward are you running in?
City Wide (Mayoral)
Position that you are running for:
1. Safe and Affordable Transit
- In the last five years, transit prices have increased a lot more than the rate of inflation.
- Since 2008, transit fares have increased by 40%.
- Since 2011, OC Transpo ridership has fallen by 6.7%.
- With higher transit fares, some women end up walking in unsafe situations or remain isolated at home.
- EquiPass is a monthly adult pass for people living on low income, but it is still unaffordable for many.
Will you reduce EquiPass fare from $58/month to $43/month no later than 2019?
In my opinion, this question is not well served by a “yes or no” answer.
The City of Ottawa introduced the first ever monthly pass for residents who live on a low income in 2018 – at a 50% discount off the monthly pass. For an eligible individual, that is a monthly savings of about $58/month or a savings of $696 each year. For a family of two, the savings is $116 each month or $1,392 each year.
I am proud that we were able to introduce the EquiFare in the last term of Council – the first monthly fare for residents on low income in the City’s history. In the City of Toronto, their low income monthly pass costs $116, even though minimum wage is the same across Ontario and the cost of living is much higher in the GTA.
In 2017, City Council also introduced the 1st ever single fare EquiFare, reducing the cost of single rides by 50%. The introduction of the EquiFare monthly pass was the single largest one-time transfer of municipal tax dollars in support of Equitable transit – a $3.7 million investment. The City strives to maintain fairness between municipal taxpayers and transit riders, and municipal taxpayers already pay over 50% of the cost of each transit ride. Since its launch, we have seen a significant and steady increase in the number of low-income residents benefitting from the deeply discounted EquiPass and EquiFare products. In June, we had more than 7,000 residents that were actively using this program
As Mayor of Ottawa, I believe that our approach to introducing the deepest transit discount in the City’s history at 50% balances the needs of transit riders with the ability of municipal taxpayers
I do not believe that municipal taxpayers should bear the entire cost of providing low income transit to Ottawa residents – the best place to subsidize transit fares is through a robust and sustainable funding of social service transfers to individuals in need.
Will you freeze transit fares to make them more affordable for everyone?
In my opinion, this question is not well served by a “yes or no” answer.
I am very proud of the work we have done to achieve a City-wide consensus on the need to build modern, world-class and affordable transit for the City of Ottawa.
We have introduced a deeply discounted EquiFare for Ottawa residents who live on low income, and it makes more sense to provide deep discounts to those residents rather than subsidizing all residents by freezing transit fares across the board.
At this point in our history, municipal taxpayers – with the help of the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada, are making the largest capital contribution to expand reliable and affordable transit to all parts of the City.
Now is NOT the time to reduce operating support to our transit system as the demand for transit is growing across our city as it becomes easier to access and is increasingly efficient. Freezing transit fares in 2019 would cost the City about $5 million dollars, funding that would need to be taken away from other important city services.
There are only two ways to pay for a transit freeze – reduced service (fewer routes and buses), or asking municipal taxpayers to subsidize such a freeze from the tax base – which is not fair, realistic or sustainable over time.
My position is that transit fares should rise at the rate of transit inflation – which means that transit fares should rise at the same rate as our transit costs are increasing. In the last few years, that has represented a 2.5% increase each year for residents who pay full fare. It is important to remember that in addition to the deeply discounted EquiFare, OC Transpo also offers a number of other reduced fare options for students, residents on Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program, CNIB clients, reduced fares for youth, children and free for young children under five. There is also reduced monthly pass and e-purse for seniors 65+ and free service all day Wednesdays to help all seniors stay active in their communities. As a comparison, prior to my election as Mayor, transit fares increased three years in at row at 7.5 per cent.
I also believe that transit fares in our City are a good deal – given the high cost of car ownership, auto insurance, gas, maintenance and parking in the downtown core – which can often be in excess of $250 per month. By and large, residents who compare the cost of car ownership to that of OC Transpo often choose transit over driving or over owning a second car.
I am also proud of the fact that our commitment to building the Light Rail Transit project (Confederation Line) has brought over 10,000 years of employment to the City of Ottawa, providing employment opportunities and economic stability to thousands of Ottawa residents and boosting confidence in our local economy.
2. Affordable Housing
- Overall shelter use increased by 16% and length of stay increased by 12% from 2014 -2017. This is primarily influenced by the increase in family and newcomer shelter use.
- Up to 21% of single shelter use in Ottawa are single women. This data doesn’t include the number of women staying at Ottawa’s Violence Against Women shelters.
- There is not enough affordable housing in Ottawa to meet demand, with over 10,000 people on the Centralized Waiting List for social housing in 2017.
- National trends indicate that housing costs significantly increase near rapid transit systems.
- High rent costs place many individuals at risk of homelessness or living in sub-standard conditions. 42% of Ottawa households spend over 30% of their income on rent and utilities.
Will you ensure that the City’s plan to reduce homelessness has specific actions, targets and money attached?
I believe that providing a range of housing options that supports the current and future needs of residents is critical in creating economically vibrant communities. My track record as Mayor includes setting and meeting actions, targets and delivering funding to build more affordable housing in the City of Ottawa and to continuously strive to meet our city’s housing and homelessness goals. For example, since 2014, the City has:
- Built 354 new affordable and supporting housing units
- Provided 386 rent supplements and housing allowances
- Invested $41.1 million to repair 12,253 social housing units
- Provided funding for 251 seniors and people with disabilities for home repairs or accessibility modifications
- Moved 519 households with long shelter stays into permanent housing
- Supported 38 households of survivors of domestic violence
- Secured two new floors of transitional housing for families at the YMCA and moved in 30 families
- Diverted 1,280 people from emergency shelters.
I will continue to fight for Ottawa’s share of predictable and sustained funding from upper levels of government to address these ongoing emergency shelter costs. As Minister of Housing for the Province of Ontario, I negotiated and introduced the largest federal/ provincial housing agreement.
I am also very proud that I was able to help secure funding for a new building for Cornerstone Housing for Women.
Will you advocate for at least $12 million/year of City funding, over and above federal and provincial grants, to build new affordable housing?
The City of Ottawa invested a record $16 million dollars in my first mandate in support of our housing and homelessness strategy – including the provision of new affordable housing.
As Mayor, I will work with the new Council to protect the City’s investment in affordable housing. Even more importantly, I will work collaboratively with the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada to secure the City’s fair share of affordable housing investments.
Will you ensure that 25% of new development is dedicated to affordable housing with a special emphasis on deeply affordable housing within 1 km of rapid transit stations?
I will be making an announcement on this issue in the course of the 2018 election campaign.
I remain commited to increase the amount of City land available for affordable housing in the transit corridor and leverage new federal and provincial partnerships to increase the number of new affordable housing units close to transit.
3. Access to Services
Ottawa has a growing, aging, increasingly diverse population.
- Social services play a key role to decrease crimes and enhance wellbeing and belonging.
- In the 2017 City Budget, the City-funded social service providers requested $2.8 million to address growing demands and emerging needs. This shows the size of the problem and the need to increase community funding.
- In a 2018 survey to City-funded social service providers conducted by Social Planning Council, 87% of respondents reported an increase in demand for services, 44% reduced services, 18% turned clients away.
Will you advocate for community and City social services to have sufficient funding to keep pace with the growing demand?
The City of Ottawa has provided strong support to our community and City social services through $23.2 in Community Funding to 89 non-profit community agencies to ensure a sustained, coordinated system of community services so that residents have access to the basics.
In the last budget, we provided an increase to all our social service partner agencies of 4.4 per cent – to help them deal with growth, to help them cope with the cost of meeting the minimum wage increase, and to help meet demand for services.
I also supported additional funding equivalent to 3 per cent to housing and homelessness agencies, to help them cope with the increased cost of meeting the minimum wage increase in 2018. They also received over $81 million and an increase of over $3 million in 2018 to deal with increased operating costs and lapsed federal operating funding. This helped our local social service, housing, and homelessness agencies to maintain – and not cut – their staffing levels as they work to meet increased demand for their services.
Will you raise taxes as needed in order to meet the unmet and emerging needs of our increasingly complex city (i.e. housing, transit, social services)?
Raising taxes by a large amount ends up hurting residents who are on fixed income, such as seniors, and it also takes money away from residents who are on low income and who own their own homes. It also makes it much more difficult for residents who are thinking of buying their first house to do so, which includes residents who are on a fixed or limited income.
My position on keeping Ottawa affordable for municipal taxpayers has always been clear and transparent. I have always said that as a City, we need to be watching the bottom line and only taxing for what we need.
I am proud that we have brought fiscal discipline starting in 2010 – with municipal tax increases capped at 2.5% in the 2010 to 2014 term and at under 2% in the 2014 to 2018 term.
In the four previous years, municipal taxes increased by almost 15% while transit fares increased 7.5% in each of three consecutive years! These high tax and transit increases hurt the affordability of our city for all residents, including those who have to manage with low incomes.
Further, we have been able to increase funding to social services, provide our agencies with more funding to manage the minimum wage increase, introduced the 50% discounted EquiPass and 50% discounted EquiFare – all within the context of affordable tax increases.
This has been made possible by our focus on living within our means AND controlling City expenses wherever possible.
4. Inclusive City
People who are Indigenous, immigrants, racialized, living with disabilities and trans are more likely to be unemployed, with lower salaries and less opportunities for advancement.
In comparison to men, women are more likely to have higher rates of unemployment, over-representation in part-time jobs and higher rates of poverty. On average, women earn 87 cents to the dollar earned by men.
In order to have City staff and managers that are representative of Ottawa’s population, will you increase hiring and advancement of people from equity seeking groups including Indigenous people, women, racialized people, LGBTQ, people with disabilities and newcomers?
I will work with City Council to continue to ensure the City’s workforce is qualified and reflective of the community’s diverse populations that is serves and to attract a diverse, high performing workforce and create an inclusive workplace.
City Council has voted to study the creation of a Women’s Bureau in the City. Will you support the creation of a Women’s Bureau to ensure gender differences are taken into account in City decision making?
I supported the motion that called for a review of this issue as it provides an opportunity to continue the important dialogue on inclusivity at the City of Ottawa.
I am looking forward to staff presents the findings of their research, and the outcomes of their consultation in the 2018-2022 Governance Report, which will be considered at the first meeting of the new Term of Council.
I think that much can be gained by having these discussions. Towards that end, I tabled a friendly amendment asking to expand the staff review to include the City’s recruitment, selection and appointment practices for Advisory Committees with the goal of appointing 50 percent representation of women in the next Term of Council.
The City of Ottawa remains committed to promoting equity and diversity through the ongoing use of the Diversity and Inclusion Lens, which is used when making all policy and operational decisions at the City. That being said, there are always new and innovative ways to improve and strengthen our commitment to inclusivity and I am looking forward to that discussion.