Ottawa to Shrink

After a long period of expansion Ottawa is about to enter a period of rapidly declining employment. Both of the city's primary employment sectors (government and high-tech) are declining concurrently. These provide the core jobs that create employment in secondary job sectors such as service industries so those secondary sectors will also decline, but with a lag of two or three years, resulting in a continuing decline in overall employment even when the core sectors stabilize. The situation is illustrated in the following graph (from the Ottawa Citizen, F5, March 3/05).

Starting in 1991 there was a substantial downward trend in government employment until 1998, when it began to increase dramatically. However, the Martin government has resumed the previous fiscal conservatism and the trend reversed even more dramatically. The recent federal budget calls for a reduction of $11 billion in government spending, to be achieved in large part by making its own operations more efficient, i.e. by cutting jobs. At the same time there is talk of decentralizing government operations, which further aggravates the employment situation from the city of Ottawa's point of view. A change in government would not alter the trend because the Conservative Party is committed to a similar fiscal policy. It appears that government employment may decline to the long term trend line of roughly 60,000 jobs by 2007.

After a spectacular period of growth in the period 1995 to 2000 the high tech sector employment trend also reversed, and continues in a strong and steady downward plunge. Although everyone was aware of this decline it coincided with a growth of federal jobs that almost compensated for it, so overall the employment was reasonably stable. Overall the high tech sector has not recovered, and there are structural changes occurring, such as the move of manufacturing to Asia and the move of R&D and sales activities to be closer to the markets (Canada has never been a major market for high tech products). The prospects for an upturn in the next several years are poor, especially as our governments are preoccupied by social issues rather than things that relate to productivity. As an example, the governments should be installing a high speed (500km/h) train in the Quebec City to Windsor corridor, which would benefit Ottawa in particular because we are in the middle of that corridor.

The combined employment has been reasonably stable at about 165,000 throughout much of this period, but now we face an abrupt decline to about 90,000 in a period of only two or three years. As noted the secondary sectors will defer the severity of the trend for a while but eventually they will suffer from the same decline. We are going from a period of growth and stability into a period in which the number of jobs will probably drop by nearly a factor of two.

This trend does not show up in official population projections, which are based on older data, so Ottawa city planning is based on figures that are accurate but that create an illusion. Virtually all decisions are based on the assumption that the city will continue to grow. The Ward Boundary Review, for example, starts from that assumption. Having inappropriate ward boundaries is not a serious issue. Making future commitments that are grossly inappropriate could cripple the city, however. For example, the City is about to commit to spending a billion dollars for a rail line that runs out to empty fields in South Ottawa on the assumption that those fields will soon be filled with houses. When the employment disappears the need for those houses also disappears, but we are still stuck with the expense of the rail line, and the City will be severely strapped for cash to deal with the many problems that will be created by the coming depression. Some of the consequences are non-monetary, at least in the immediate sense. The City is aggressively supporting the destruction of the forests in Kanata, again under the questionable assumption that we need more houses.

Nearly every decision that the City (and the senior levels of government) make is directly dependent on the underlying question of whether the city is growing or shrinking. Both we as residents and the City staff and Council need to get it right.



Response from Janet Stavinga

Hi Ron,

Thank you for your e-mail message.

There are plenty of examples of cities around the world that have failed to
implement an effective plan for accommodating their future growth. The
residents of such cities suffer through hours in traffic gridlock beneath
smog filled skies. Without a plan for making their city run well, protect
its environment and minimize costs, their local governments cling to a
steadily declining status quo.

Over the next 20 years, our City's population will exceed one million
people, and may reach 1.2 million. Ottawa does not want to join the list of
cities that have been sabotaged by their own growth. So we have plans for
the future. Among these is a plan that lays out an effective strategy for
meeting our transportation needs.

Through its Transportation Master Plan, the City has established ambitious
goals. To increase transit use - and maximize the associated social,
environmental and economic benefits - the City wants over the next twenty
years to double the percentage of Ottawa's residents who regularly rely on
public transportation. 

Ottawa has been well served by its bus routes and its Transitway, and buses
will remain an important feature of our transportation system. But to
substantially increase transit use will require substantial innovation. That
innovation will include light-rail.

So far I think the City has set responsible priorities for bringing
light-rail to Ottawa. First, we have established and maintained the O-Train,
an investment that provides 1.8 million rider trips per year and the daily
service equivalent of 16 OC Transpo buses. Our investment in the O-Train
includes infrastructure and support systems that the City will need to make
light-rail a reality in Ottawa. These include a comprehensive safety
management system, a training curriculum for single operator passenger train
(the first in North America) and the development of a complete and
independent signalling system.

The next sensible step is to expand the O-Train corridor to connect
residents in the growing south end of the city to the downtown core. A more
flexible, lowfloor, electric light-rail vehicle should replace the current
O-Train for operation in the downtown setting. Then, to make light-rail
central to the City's transportation system we need an east/west expansion
that connects residential and employment areas from one end of Ottawa to the

Both the evaluation of potential rapid transit corridors, and the priorities
for the expansion of the city's transit network, were examined and
established through the Rapid Transit Expansion Study (RTES), which was
approved by City Council on 26 February 2003.

When the RTES was undertaken, a whole host of corridor choices - including
every existing and abandoned railway corridor within the geographic boundary
of Ottawa - were examined in detail for potential inclusion in the rapid
transit network. In the final recommended network most of the East-West
corridor is comprised of existing railway corridors. You can see a map of
the recommended network at:

Please note that upon delivery this link may break - in that event, simply
cut and paste the entire address to your Internet Explorer.

You may not be aware, that the abandoned rail line that runs out to
Stittsville - known as the former "Carleton Spur" - is not included in the
final recommended network. The rail line in question was examined, but its
ridership potential - for the planning horizon of the new Official Plan -
was relatively low compared to other corridors.

The Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan policies designate rapid
transit corridors as 'spines' around which high-density mixed-use
development is to occur. The City concluded that this sort of development
was unlikely to occur along the Stittsville rail line during the course of
the planning period. However, the City has maintained its ownership of this
corridor with a long range view of using it for transportation. This is
consistent with the City's Official Plan policy to purchase all abandoned
railway corridors within its boundaries for transportation purposes.

Establishing Light Rail Priorities

To develop priorities for implementation, the recommended network was
divided into major segments which were then subjected to a comparative
assessment. The factors used in the assessment were grouped into three major
categories - "Keeping the Economy Going", "Getting it Done", and "Shaping
the City".

Each of these major categories were subdivided into various criteria as

"Keeping the Economy Going"

Serving Existing Travelers - described as 'Enhancing the level of service
for those already having access to rapid transit'
Avoiding Road Construction - described as 'Providing rapid transit service
to delay or avoid the need for road construction' 
Early Growth - described as 'Population and/or employment growth is expected
to be significant in the short term'

"Getting it Done" 

Planning Advanced - described as 'The extent to which previous planning has
been undertaken (i.e. Official Plans, secondary plans, environmental
assessment approvals, property protection)' 
Ease of Implementation - described as 'The ease with which engineering and
construction can proceed from a purely technical point of view'.

"Shaping the City"

Smart Growth - described as 'The extent to which the corridor implementation
supports Smart Growth objectives of intensification and redevelopment';
Better Transit Access to Existing Communities - described as 'Enhancing
access to rapid transit service for existing communities';
Shape the New Form of Development - described as 'Introducing rapid transit
early as new communities develop in order to shape travel habits to use
Network Staging Flexibility - described as 'Ability of the corridor to be
implemented in stages or within a variable timeframe'; and,
Downtown - described as 'The extent to which congestion of the downtown is
eased or transit trips are able to bypass the downtown area or new downtown
capacity is provided'.

In undertaking the comparative analysis, the criteria were weighted in four
different ways. Initially, all criteria were given equal weighting; then the
criteria were combined into three thematic groups; then the group ratings
were adjusted to reflect varied emphasis on 'Keeping the Economy Going' or
'Shaping the City'. Regardless of the weighting scenarios, the relative
priorities remained constant.

In the end, the analysis pointed to the expansion of the existing O-Train
service into the downtown, and south to the Riverside South Community as the
top priority. (Council subsequently added the Airport connection to this
project). This emerged as the top priority because: (1) it built upon the
success of the existing O-Train Pilot Project, (2) the extension into the
downtown would relieve some of the pressure on the existing Albert/Slater
transitway, thus extending its life and growth potential; and (3) it would
deliver on a key 'Smart Growth' objective by providing high quality rapid
transit service at an early stage in the development of a rapidly growing
community (Riverside South).

For further explanations and/or information on the development of the
transit network please visit: 

Information on current Light Rail planning activities can be found at, where there are links to both the North-South and
East-West projects.

Should you require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact
Peter Steacey, Program Manager for the North-South LRT EA at 580-2424 ext
21827 or by e-mail at

In addition, the Environmental Assessment study for the East-West Corridor
LRT has been underway since October 2004. The first set of consultation
meetings were held in November and December 2004. The purpose of these
sessions was to present and obtain feedback on the Draft Study Terms of
Reference for the EA. Should you have any questions on this project please
contact Mona Abouhenidy, Project Manager for the East-West LRT EA Study at
580-2424 ext 26936 or by e-mail at

Thanks again for your interest in our city, Ron.


Janet Stavinga

Councillor Janet Stavinga - Goulbourn Ward
City of Ottawa
110 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1
Tel: 613-580-2476; Fax: 613-580-2516