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Meehan: Let’s pump Ottawa’s gas-tax money into road repair

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Ottawa is a car city.

For all the talk of getting more people onto the bus and soon the train, the fact is the majority of us, for a number of reasons, use our own vehicles to get around the city. That is unlikely to change, at least in the near future.

Having all those vehicles on our roads is not ideal, but it isn’t all bad, either. Here’s why: Cars and trucks need gas. When we fill up, we’re not only buying gas, we’re paying a hefty chunk in gas tax to the federal and provincial governments.

Municipalities, such as Ottawa, where the gas is purchased, get a cut, too. This year, Ottawa expects to receive $93 million in gas-tax revenue, $36 million from Ontario, $57 million from the feds. That was before the federal budget, when we learned Ottawa will receive an additional $57 million through the Federal Gas Tax Fund.

Potholes! Jean Levac / Ottawa Citizen

The question now is, what do we do with the extra cash? Mayor Jim Watson has already mused about using the $57 million to pay down the debt we will incur with Phase 2 LRT. A debt, which, senior city staff have assured us, we can afford.

Under provincial legislation gas-tax money must be spent on transit. Mayor Watson will probably point that out to back up his position. However, the federal government lists 18 acceptable uses for the federal funds; No. 1 on the list is local roads.

So this is what I propose: That $57-million dollar windfall should be used to repair our city’s infrastructure, specifically our roads. I don’t have to tell you they have never been in worse shape. It’s so bad I actually notice when I am on a road that is well paved. I am thinking specifically about a one-kilometre section of Riverside Drive that underwent work last year.

I am hard pressed to think of a road that isn’t full of potholes. It’s damaging vehicles, causing crashes and, according to recent studies, actually causing harmful emissions from cars and trucks that bounce through the craters. Our pothole crews are working round the clock filling holes with temporary fixes. Pothole hell is costing all of us, and hurting our economy.

Pothole hell is costing all of us, and hurting our economy.

Ottawa’s roads need serious attention. The fact that council voted to increase property taxes by three per cent to raise revenue to fund infrastructure renewal is not lost on taxpayers. Ottawa’s infrastructure renewal budget, including road repairs, is underfunded by roughly $60 million this year alone and will require higher taxes every year to close the gap. And it’s not fair to expect property taxes to pick up the tab.

I can hear the anti-car movement shouting at me. But listen, it’s not just commuters who use our roads. Ambulances, police and fire vehicles and, yes, transit buses need decent roads, too.

Transit has received a record level of investment. Each year the city spends hundreds of millions of dollars subsidizing public transit to ensure that this essential service remains affordable. This says nothing about the $6.7 billion council has voted to spend on Stage 1 & 2 of LRT combined.

With this knowledge, why couldn’t the city use the $57 million in extra gas-tax money repairing Ottawa’s crumbling roads?

Surely the need to find other revenue sources, even temporary ones, should be a priority for council. Using the additional $57 million for roads repair would increase the 2019 roads upgrade and repair budget by more than 115 per cent. That benefits both transit riders and drivers alike.

City council has committed Ottawa to a massive decades-long, multibillion-dollar LRT system.

I say we take this one opportunity to fund critical road repairs. Ottawa’s drivers deserve it.

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Ottawa announces new funding to combat online child abuse

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Ottawa has announced $22 million in funding to fight online child abuse.

Noting that police-reported incidents of child pornography in Canada increased by 288 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the announcement Tuesday.

It follows a London meeting last week that focused on the exploitation of children between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the members of the group proposed to remove child pornography from the internet quicker.

On Tuesday, Goodale warned internet companies they had to be better, faster and more open when in comes to fighting child abuse on line.

In this Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 photo, detectives use the Cellebrite system to extract information from cellphones at the State Police facility in Hamilton Township, N.J. “Operation Safety Net,” the results of which were announced in December, netted 79 people suspected of exploiting children. (Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press/Canadian Press)

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said.

The government plan includes $2.1 million to intensify engagement with digital industry to develop new tools online and support effective operating principles, $4.9 million for research, public engagement, awareness and collaboration with non-governmental organizations and $15.25 million to internet child exploitation units in provincial and municipal police forces across the country.

Goodale said the strategy recognizes that technology is “increasingly facilitating the easy borderless access to vast volumes of abhorrent images.”

That, he said, makes investigations increasingly complex,

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

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Gas prices expected to dip in Ottawa

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If you can wait an extra day to fill up the gas tank, your bank account might thank you.

Roger McKnight of Enpro is predicting a five cent dip in gas prices Wednesday night at midnight.

This comes after a four cent drop this past Friday, just ahead of the August long weekend.

McKnight said the reason for the drop, both last week and this week, is due to comments made by US President Donald Trump. 

He says after the drop, the price will be, on average, 118.9 cents/litre in the Ottawa region.

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Oka asks Ottawa to freeze Mohawk land deal, send RCMP to Kanesatake

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The town of Oka is asking the federal and provincial governments to slap a moratorium on a proposed land grant to the local Mohawk community in Kanesatake and to establish an RCMP detachment on the First Nations territory to deal with illegal cannabis sales outlets.

The requests were contained in two resolutions adopted Tuesday night by the Oka town council.

The administration of Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon held its first public meeting since the start of the controversy that pitted the town council against the Kanesatake band council over a decision by a local promoter to give local lands to the Mohawk community.

The three resolutions are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Quebec Premier François Legault’s government and the Kanesatake band council led by Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon.

As each resolution was read into the record, Quevillon stressed that the town of Oka was only looking to live in peaceful cohabitation with the Mohawk community.

The town also called upon Ottawa to establish a consultation process that would take into account the concerns of residents in Oka and  Kanesatake.

Quevillon’s administration also wants access to the plans detailing what lands are at the centre of negotiations between the federal government and the Mohawk community for purchase, suggesting the talks are simply a disguised form of expropriation.

“They’re giving money to (the Mohawks) to buy our land and annex it to their territory,” Quevillon said.

Despite its demands, the Oka council adopted an official statement addressed to the Kanesatake band council saying the town’s population wanted dialogue and peaceful cohabitation, with Quevillon citing the 300 years of close links between the two communities.

During the council meeting’s question period, some residents suggested that the council deal with other groups that say they are speaking for Kanesatake, including Mohawk traditionalists. Mayor Quevillon replied that the town would only deal with the band council and did so out of respect for Grand Chief Simon.

The mayor also argued that the RCMP, a federal police force, was best suited to be deployed in Kanesatake, where it would ensure the law would be respected, particularly on the issue of illegal cannabis shops.

Quevillon contended such a deployment was the only way for both communities to work together toward their mutual economic development.

Meanwhile, the apology Grand Chief Simon has said he is expecting from Quevillon for remarks he made earlier this summer about the Mohawk community in Kanesatake does not appear to be coming any time soon.

Asked by a resident if he would apologize, Quevillon left the answer to those citizens who attended the meeting, the vast majority of whom replied, “no.”

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