Ottawa gets another $34M in pandemic help

·2 min read

The City of Ottawa has learned it will receive another $34 million from the federal and provincial governments to offset the mounting cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ontario government announced $4 billion in July for municipalities struggling with steep drops in transit ridership and recreation fees, while they pay more for public health and cleaning. Of the first $1.6 billion disbursed in August, Ottawa received a $124-million share, covering about two-thirds of its projected deficit for 2020.

Long-awaited second allocations totalling $695 million were announced Wednesday, at a time when many of Ontario's 444 municipalities, which aren't legally allowed to run deficits, are finalizing their 2021 budgets.

The City of Ottawa learned it would receive $13.4 million to help cover its deficit for 2020, plus another $20.9 million for 2021.

The Ontario government also said it would provide more details in January about another $1.3 billion for transit systems. Transit losses account for the greatest source of financial pressure on the city, with ridership sitting at just 28 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Ottawa's chief financial officer Wendy Stephanson indicated the city would receive $150 million more toward transit costs, part of which would cover expenses from 2020.

City 'made whole'

With this latest news, Stephanson and Mayor Jim Watson say the city's $57.6-million gap in 2020 has been bridged. Watson thanked the federal and provincial governments for their help.

"Mayor Watson is very pleased that the City of Ottawa has been made whole for 2020 in relation to COVID-19 financial pressures, both on the transit and municipal streams of the Safe Restart funding," wrote his press secretary Patrick Champagne.

Watson had said he expected the upper levels of government to come through with a bailout. Looking ahead, he and city staff also expect the federal and provincial governments to cover the $153-million shortfall projected for 2021, and this announcement does include a "down payment" toward that, Stephanson noted.

Money to cover public health costs is being allocated separately, and Watson hopes for good news on that front early in the new year.

Ottawa city council will hold a special meeting Friday to talk about applying for money under yet another COVID-19 program, this one aimed at quick infrastructure projects such as building trails and retrofitting buildings.