Connect with us


Douglas Todd: Should Ottawa pay for newcomers’ impact on transit?




Ridership on Metro Vancouver buses and Skytrain has mushroomed by 17 per cent since the beginning of 2016, which Translink CEO Kevin Desmond calls a North American record growth rate.

Census figures show much of that jump comes from a rise in Metro Vancouver’s net population, which is almost entirely based on the arrival each year of 35,000 new immigrants and about 90,000 international students and guest workers.

Since immigration policy is controlled by Ottawa, and neither civic nor provincial politicians have any influence over the fact that most migrants choose to live in Canada’s urban centres, should the federal government be paying more for transit infrastructure in Metro Vancouver and other big cities?

Some migration specialists say yes, some are not so sure, and Translink won’t really answer.

That’s despite census figures showing that immigrants, international students and guest workers use transit at a much greater rate than the domestic population.

While it’s environmentally beneficial that immigrants and non-permanent residents are more likely to rely on buses and subways than automobiles, such demand places more pressure on transit infrastructure, which is heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

In Metro Vancouver, census figures show that about 17 per cent of non-immigrant commuters rely on transit, compared to about 36 per cent of recent immigrant commuters and 45 per cent of non-permanent residents, most of whom are guest workers and international students.

Chris Friesen, who chairs the umbrella body overseeing all migrant settlement services in Canada, says Ottawa should “absolutely” be paying more to support transit infrastructure in the major cities that are favoured by immigrants, temporary residents and refugees.

Vancouver-based Friesen also believes the federal government should direct more funds into transit passes for all people on low incomes, regardless of their immigration status. Almost half the 2.6 million population of Metro Vancouver is foreign-born.

Margret Kopala, an author and policy analyst specializing in migration, said there is no doubt the almost one million new immigrants and non-permanent residents who arrive in Canada every year place additional stress on various forms of costly infrastructure, particularly transit.

But Kopala doesn’t want to see provinces and municipalities “going cap in hand to the feds every time a new federally imposed burden lands on their shoulders.”

Instead, she believes municipal and provincial governments need “a full say” with Ottawa in setting immigration levels and agreeing on how to share infrastructure costs, based on the proportion of new arrivals who choose to live in a particular province or city.

Translink, for it’s part, however, says it has no information on how much the Crown corporation’s annual budget of almost $2 billion is affected by the impact of new arrivals – even while the number moving into Metro on temporary visas has jumped by 40,000 a year since 2015.

“Ridership growth can be attributed to several factors, including high gas prices, high employment, economic opportunities and increases to transit service. … We do not track the citizenship or nationality of our customers,” Translink spokeswoman Jill Drews said by email.

Since only about one third of Translink’s costs are covered by riders’ fees and most of the rest comes from gasoline and property taxes, Translink officials were asked if Ottawa should provide more money to cover the impact that immigrants and temporary residents place on public transportation.

“We continue to work with all levels of government to expand the system to meet the growing demand,” Drew said.

CEO Desmond was not available to respond to questions. Neither was Jonathan Cote, chair of the mayor’s council on regional transportation, who has written in The Vancouver Sun that Translink ridership was growing faster than the forecasted three per cent a year.

Cote, who is mayor of New Westminster, regretted there are many crammed busses and Skytrains across Metro’s system. And he recently wrote that decision-makers in Ottawa have to keep investing in Metro Vancouver transit or it will face “chronic overcrowding.”

The number of foreign students and guest workers coming into Metro Vancouver each year has tripled in the past two decades. Source: Superdiversity

The Metro Vancouver economy grows because of spending by new immigrants, foreign students and offshore guest workers. By contrast, net inter-provincial migration into Metro is flat. And it is positive that a higher than average proportion of such newcomers commute by transit instead of by automobiles, which pollute more and increase congestion.

But every North American public transit systems is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. And there is little doubt that, despite the reluctance of public officials to openly discuss it, a large portion of the rapid growth in ridership in Metro Vancouver is made up of recent migrants, who can choose to live wherever they want once they come to Canada.

The pressures that migration place on urban infrastructure is not something most public officials want to talk about. When an Ontario politician recently asked the federal Liberal government to help the province pay the housing costs of asylum seekers, Kopala said, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen accused her of being “un-Canadian.”

With the national discussion at such a low and testy level, it’s not likely there is soon going to be much cooperation among municipal, provincial and federal politicians to resolve the link between Ottawa’s migration policies and Metro Vancouver’s transit challenges.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa





Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

Continue Reading


Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa





In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

Continue Reading


City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan





As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

Continue Reading