By Charlie Senack
At city hall, 2020 started off as a challenging year with a number of problems with the new light rail system (LRT). But everything changed in a few months when Ottawa came to grips with a global health pandemic.
As we head into 2021, the year is expected to be another busy one for the mayor and team of 23 councillors. Kitchissippi Times caught up with Coun. Jeff Leiper to discuss some issues that will be impacting the ward this year.
Unsurprisingly, Leiper says COVID-19 will continue to dominate the headlines. The City of Ottawa is facing a $135 million deficit if the pandemic lasts another year, a likely scenario with the vaccine rollout in the early stages.
Kitchissippi has felt the impacts of the pandemic hard. To date, 15 small, family-owned businesses have been forced to close their doors in the community due to a loss of revenue caused by countless closures and restrictions.
Leiper said it’s unfortunate to see any businesses close their doors, but admits he imagined worse scenarios.
“I think we are going to pull through this in OK shape,” he said. “At the start of the pandemic, I had horrible visions of walking down Wellington Street and Richmond Road and seeing blocks of empty storefronts. Businesses in the area have certainly been hit hard since COVID[-19] started in March, but they are getting by. We are seeing signs of hope right now that one day all of this will be behind us, and it seems the stay-at-home orders are working.”
Dennis Van Staalduinen, executive director of the Wellington West BIA, said many communities around Ottawa have seen a larger number of businesses close due to a lack of revenue, adding the loss of any business in the tight-knit community is a devastating one.
But while many are finding it hard to stay afloat, others are just opening their doors for the first time.
“We have had a number of new businesses open up during the past 10 months since COVID[-19] hit, which almost makes up for the number we lost,” Van Staalduinen said. “But at the same time, the businesses that are holding on are basically going through waves of hope, followed by despair…There are a lot of mixed emotions and it has been a real roller coaster ride.”
Both Leiper and Van Staalduinen said the best way to support one another during the pandemic is to shop local.
On the community’s rate of COVID-19 infections, according to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, neighbourhoods in the Kitchissippi ward are remaining stable. From March to December 2020, Westboro saw 70 COVID-19 cases, while Hintonburg/Mechanicsville saw 69. The neighbourhood of Island Park/Wellington Village has seen 21 cases and Laurentian had 47 cases. The numbers exclude cases reported in long-term care and retirement homes.
Tom Brown Respite Centre
During the pandemic, the Tom Brown Arena was turned into the Tom Brown Respite Centre to help those living on the streets. The centre opened on Nov. 2 and has been accessed by those looking for a place to warm up, use the facilities or have a hot shower.
“The Tom Brown Respite Centre has been well used since it first opened and it’s a key investment I’m really pleased to see in our neighbourhood,” said Leiper. Not only that, it’s been a place where people are able to go for resources, which is really good. I hope to see it stay open until this pandemic is over. I also hope that the work we are doing now to help the vulnerable in our communities continues, and we are able to still provide this same level of service in a better capacity after COVID[-19].”
Another municipal development that came out in 2020 was the Ward Boundary Review, which will add another ward and change the boundaries of others. As a result, McKellar Park is slated to move out of Kitchissippi ward and join the neighbouring Bay ward in the 2022 municipal election.
The issue was controversial in McKellar Park, with many residents saying they felt a close identity with the community, while others say the two wards are very similar in nature and it won’t mean much change at all.
Leiper said he would have preferred to see the eight blocks of McKellar Park remain in Kitchissippi, but understands the need for the change. The population of the ward is rapidly growing and the work needs to be spread out to help better serve all residents. This ward boundary change will take about 7,000 constituents out of Kitchissippi ward.
“Kitchissippi is a rapidly growing community and I’m constantly feeling the pressures of the job,” he said. “From the time [I] started as councillor to now, the workload has certainly increased. We have many development proposals and a lot of big city issues which are currently going on.”
Leiper said Bay ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh has already reached out to the McKellar Park Community Association to prepare them for the transition.
LRT Confederation Line
The issues with the 12.5 km Confederation Line of Ottawa’s LRT system also seem to be ironed out. When the first stay-at-home orders were implemented, and the city ground to a halt in mid-March, OC Transpo’s ridership numbers fell to new lows. By the fall, revenue was down by roughly 75 per cent, leaving almost $4 million in lost revenue.
But thanks to the decrease in use, the entire system was able to shut down for a number of days to work out issues. Whenever ridership levels get back to the level they were at — something the city predicts will take years — Leiper is hopeful the system will be in good shape.