Committee OKs night commissioner for Ottawa to tackle sleepy reputation

A new nightlife commissioner would seek to grow Ottawa's night economy by bolstering entertainment and leisure options in the city between the hours of 6 p.m and 6 a.m. (CBC - image credit)
A new nightlife commissioner would seek to grow Ottawa's night economy by bolstering entertainment and leisure options in the city between the hours of 6 p.m and 6 a.m. (CBC - image credit)

A city committee has given the thumbs up to a plan that would aim to shed Ottawa's reputation as the city that fun forgot, by promoting nightlife in the capital and attracting more touring acts to the city.

The finance and corporate services committee approved Ottawa's first nightlife economy action plan on Tuesday. As part of the plan, city staff want to create a new leader — dubbed a nightlife commissioner — in charge of improving experiences between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

"I think there's so much more we can do to promote nightlife and music and entertainment," said Mayor Mark Sutcliffe after the staff's presentation.

"So I'm excited to have someone in a role that can devote their full-time attention to that."


In 2019, $1.5 billion was spent by patrons between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in Ottawa, or 20 per cent of overall spending at local establishments, staff told the finance committee. Most of that money was spent by locals rather than tourists and staff believe there is an opportunity to grow that amount.

Other cities have had success prioritizing their night economies — London has a night czar and New York has an office of nightlife, for example.

"These measures are having significant social, economic, and cultural impacts, from increasing social cohesion and inclusion and nurturing artistic and creative industries to creating jobs, generating wealth and attracting investment and talent to a broad range of sectors," a city report said.

Once the new nightlife commissioner is hired, they would be tasked with a long to-do list that includes: creating a new nightlife ambassador council composed of industry and community stakeholders, producing annual reports about Ottawa's nightlife economy and developing a nightlife safety and security plan for nightlife workers and participants.

Also on the list: eyeing various ways of creating mid-size venues, including public-private partnerships, said Jamie Hurst, acting program manager for media relations and legislative support. Mid-sized venues are those with capacities of between 1,500 and 2,000 people.

Touring bands often skip Ottawa because the city has a dearth of appropriate music halls, the finance committee was told.

Councillor wants promotion organized, centralized

River ward Coun. Riley Brockington challenged staff to ensure the new nightlife commissioner also oversees the creation of an online portal where residents could see all the evening events happening in the city in one place.

"That came out loud and clear in our consultation. Ottawa lacks centralized promotion when it comes to our nightlife activities," said Hurst. "We believe that that nightlife commissioner will be able to fill that gap for us."

Alta Vista Coun. Marty Carr asked Hurst about how the city plans to increase the nightlife options for people living outside of areas like the ByWard Market. Hust said the city can achieve that goal through the zoning process, and with so many people working remotely in Ottawa, he added this issue is a growing priority.

If approved by council, staff would spend 2023 creating a framework for a new nightlife commissioner office that includes calculating the cost of the new full-time commissioner position to be paid for in the 2024 budget process.

The new commissioner would be an internal staff position, reporting within the department of Economic Development Services.