City passes budget with 2.5 percent tax increase

The city budget was passed by a large margin, plus the provincial AG digs into issues with ER closures.

Good morning!

You know what they say, there’s nothing more exciting than reading about a city budget… Well, maybe no one actually says that, but for those of you who care a whole lot about what goes on at city hall, today’s top story will pique your interest. There weren’t many surprises, but there were some last-minute changes at the council table

We’ve also got a breakdown of why hospital emergency rooms are struggling, plus some events you should check out this weekend.

As always, thanks for being part of the Lookout community.

Let’s get to it.

— Robert Hiltz, managing editor

Consider forwarding this to your friends so they can discover the Lookout. New to the Lookout? Sign-up for free.


Friday: -2 🌡️ -5 | ☁️

Saturday: +3 🌡️ +2 | 🌧

Sunday: +6 🌡️ -1 | 🌧

Monday: -2 🌡️ -10 | ❄️


Budget passes with few changes

What happened: City council passed the 2024 budget, which includes a 2.5 percent property tax increase, by a margin of 20-5. An attempt to freeze transit fares failed, but a vote to expand the city’s affordable housing budget passed, CBC reported. The budget has $4.6 billion in operational spending, and another $1.2 billion in capital expenditures.

  • Couns. Jessica Bradley, Sean Devine, Jeff Leiper, Matt Luloff, and Shawn Menard voted against the final budget. All other councillors, and the mayor voted for it.

City of Ottawa/Handout

More housing money: Council unanimously passed a motion put forward by the chair of the housing board Coun. Theresa Kavanagh to increase the affordable housing budget to an even $30 million, from the $24 million proposed by the committee. The additional money will come out of reserves. 

  • There are about 1,800 affordable housing units stuck in the planning phase, that hopefully this money will help unlock.

Fare freeze fails: After another difficult year for transit, a proposed fare freeze was shot down 10-15, CTV reported. Fares will rise 2.5 percent. A single fare will cost $3.80, while a monthly pass will rise to $128.75. The freeze would have required an increase of the transit levy by an additional one percent, which would add $8 to the average yearly tax bill.

  • The overall $768-million transit budget passed 17-8.

With that, the bulk of council business is done for the year. The full city council won’t meet again until the new year. Several council committees will still meet before the holiday break.

Geopolitics in Under 5 Minutes?

International Intrigue makes staying updated on international news easier than ever. Crafted by former diplomats, their daily briefing covers all things global politics and lands directly in your inbox. It's free, a quick read, and razor-sharp! 


❄️ 59: The number of consecutive hours it snowed in the city this week, an all-time record that ended at 9 am Wednesday. This year’s record beat out the record set in 1959 by one hour. [Ottawa Weather Records]

🍎 $701.79: The amount a family of four can expect their annual food bill to rise to in 2024, to a total of $16,297.20. Food prices are expected to rise 2.5 to 4.5 percent over the year. [Dalhousie University]

💰 40 kg: The amount of cocaine seized by Ottawa police. Cops also seized four kilos of crack cocaine, and $100,000 in cash. Two men were arrested in connection with the investigation. [CTV]

☃️ 3,739: The number of fines the city issued for violating the first winter parking ban of the season. The fine is $125, or $105 if someone opts for early payment. [CTV]


Province’s wage decisions leading to ER closures

Robert Hiltz/Ottawa Lookout

What happened: The provincial government’s inability to staff its hospitals is behind the exploding number of emergency room closures across the province, forcing hospitals to spend extra money hiring private agency nurses to temporarily fill gaps, Global reported.

  • The provincial health ministry has “never collected and tracked information on staffing shortages and vacancies across emergency departments,” the auditor general wrote. Instead, the AG had to reach out independently to hospitals to track closures and their cost.

Closures: Rural hospitals around the Ottawa area, and throughout the province, have had to close their ERs for nights, days, and weeks because of a lack of nurses. From July 2022 to June 20232 there were 203 ER closures at 23 different hospitals.

  • “Our audit concluded that the Ministry of Health and Ontario Health, in conjunction with hospitals, do not have fully effective systems and processes to oversee the delivery of care at emergency departments, or to manage resources efficiently, to help ensure emergency care that is timely and meets all patient needs,” the auditor general wrote.

Root causes: A major factor driving nurses from hospitals was the provincial government’s 2019 Bill 124, which capped public sector pay increases to one percent per year. While the law has since been overturned in the courts (which the province is appealing), and nurses have been awarded bigger increases, the damage to the system has been severe. Where some hospitals would see nursing job vacancies in single-digit percentages, many now have more than a quarter of their nursing positions open.

Agency nurses: Increasingly, hospitals are forced to use nursing agencies to fill vacancies at a much higher cost than just paying a staff nurse, CBC reported. Some hospitals are tripling the amount they are paying for agency nurses, while the number of hours worked by them have doubled from 2021-22 to 2022-23.

  • Typically a staff nurse in an emergency room will be paid $35 to $50 an hour. Agencies pay their nurses $75 per hour and charge as much as $106, the auditor general said citing one unnamed hospital.

Province wide, hospitals have spent at least $170 million on agency nurses. But the provincial health ministry doesn’t track the amount hospitals are spending on private agency nurses, and instead relies on individual hospitals to manage their budgets, Global reported.

No doctor: About one in five patients going to the ER are only there because they don’t have a family doctor, or access to a clinic. “We found that there have been insufficient efforts to try to divert or transfer patients to more appropriate care facilities,” the AG wrote. This puts further pressure on struggling emergency rooms.


An update on our fundraising drive

A quick update on our year-end fundraising campaign!

🎉 We've already welcomed 42 new supporting members aboard!

But we're not done yet. To reach our goal, we need 208 more supporters.

With only three weeks remaining, we're counting on your support to help us get there. Plus, when you become a member, you'll unlock exclusive perks, including our Insider City Hall and Insider Food newsletters.

Legacy local media is struggling, leaving a void we aim to fill. In 2024, we're focused on delivering the best local news. But we need your support to make it happen. 


🤝 The Ottawa Police Board settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed amount in the case of a family who was contacted by a rogue officer, who asked for the vaccination status of their recently deceased infant. Const. Helen Grus, a sexual assault and child abuse detective, still faces disciplinary charges in the new year for allegedly accessing records on the deaths of infants and children for “no investigative purpose.” The police board admitted no guilt in the settlement. [CBC]

📉 Home sales in the city were well below the five- and 10-year averages in November, dropping to 724 sales last month. It’s only a 1.6 percent drop from November 2022, but it’s 32 percent below the five-year average and 27 percent below the 10-year average. [CTV]

⚖️ A local lawyer accused of sexual misconduct toward a client has yet to file a defence in the $325,000 lawsuit, and may have the case decided without his participation if he doesn’t participate. [CBC]

🚔 A 23-year-old man was arrested in Vanier for breaching house arrest conditions and carrying a loaded firearm. The man faces a dozen charges in relation to the arrest. [CTV]

🪵 The group Save the Hunt Club Forest is turning its focus to having the recently clear-cut forest turned into a community greenspace. [Ottawa Citizen]

🚨 Three people were arrested and another was on the run for an alleged kidnapping near Trenton. Police responded to a car crash to find someone forcibly confined in the vehicle, and the other occupants gone. Three people were found by search teams, but a fourth is still missing. [CTV]


What to do this weekend


🎨 Christmas Paint Night at Driphouse, Friday 5 pm and 7:30 pm: Two different projects for multiple skill levels. First, for any skill level, do a step-by-step canvas painting, or if your skills are a little more refined, later on paint a custom wooden ornament. Take home what you paint in these guided sessions. At Driphouse, 340b Parkdale Ave. Tickets $40-$45.


🎄 The Last Blue Christmas, Friday 7 pm: The North Grenville Concert Choir presents an evening of classic and modern Christmas music, including arrangements by conductor Philip Konopka.At St John's United Church, 400 Prescott St., Kemptville. Tickets $23.

🎅🏻 Christmas at Parkdale, Saturday 7:30 pm: The Parkdale Orchestra and the Parkdale United Church Choir are putting on a wide-ranging holiday concert with everything from Leroy Anderson to Mozart. At the Parkdale United Church, 429 Parkdale Ave. Tickets $20.


🫖 Christmas Tea at Billings Estate, Sunday: Until Christmas, enjoy a three-tier tea service at the city’s oldest wood-frame house. At the Billings Estate, 2100 Cabot St. Tickets $24, advance registration required


🇦🇫 Resistance And Resilience, Saturday 2:30 pm: Afghan women speak about their experience living under the Taliban, and gather to commemorate Human Rights Day. At Carleton University, Richcraft Hall, Room 4400. Free event.


🎩 Scrooge's Christmas, Saturday 7 pm: A comic opera rendition of the Christmas classic. At Rideau Park United Church, 2203 Alta Vista Dr. Tickets $44 for adults, free for kids under 12.


This week in food

🇯🇵 Recently, the Japanese embassy hosted an evening extolling the virtues of sake to local restaurants and enthusiasts. 

🫖 Looking for gift ideas this holiday season, why not try some of these brews? Our editor has some beer and tea ideas that will delight. 

🍷 (Insiders) Get the taste of Bordeaux without the price point with this white wine from Australia.

🍝 (Insiders) In Barrhaven, a legendary Italian favourite has returned. But hurry, reservations are filling up quick. 

  • Kichesippi Beer are opened up a pop-up shop on Sparks Street that will be open until Dec. 23. They plan to reopen in the spring as a bar and bottle shop. [Kichesippi Beer]

  • Ottawa is a provincial outlier, the only city in Ontario where tequila isn’t the alcohol whose sales aren't going up the most. [CTV]

  • The city is looking to recruit volunteers for its Transit Advisory Working Group, to help set transit policy in Ottawa. [City of Ottawa]

  • The local firefighters union dropped off a (literal) truckload of toys for Toy Mountain as the annual toy fundraiser continues. [CTV]

  • Former head coach Jacques Martin has returned to the Ottawa Senators as a senior advisor to the coaching staff. Martin is the team’s longest-serving coach and holds the record for most wins and more. [CTV]

  • Want to have your announcement featured? Learn how here.


Congrats to Penny, Perry, Jacob, Gaston, and Walter who all knew this week’s Ottawa Guesser was of Innes Road in Blackburn Hamlet.

Think you can solve this week’s Ottawa Wordle? Play now.

What did you think of today's newsletter?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.