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COMMON GROUND: Ottawa’s new mayor must tackle issues at the intersection of social justice, business, and labour

By Michael Allen, Sueling Ching, Sean McKenny

Ottawa is in a time of significant upheaval: we are all seeking to rebuild from the struggles of the pandemic, and residents are still recovering from the lasting impacts of the convoy occupation’s hate, division, and disruption. We are also seeing the compounded issues of inflation and the rising cost of living; labour shortages; wealth disparities; supply chain issues; increased demand for under-resourced social services; distrust in public institutions, and more.

At the same time, we have an extraordinary opportunity to build forward better, together, as we race into a time of great economic investment.

The next stages of light rail transit are on the horizon, the Ottawa Hospital campus and the LeBreton Flats redevelopments are in their early stages, and other landmark infrastructure projects are forthcoming – all requiring choices by our future leader that will influence the trajectory of our city’s wellbeing.

During what continue to be unprecedented times, next week’s election represents the first change in leadership for the city in more than a decade. It also represents a new opportunity for collaboration, consensus building, and bold vision.

United Way East Ontario, the Ottawa Board of Trade, and the Ottawa and District Labour Council collectively recognize that any major issue facing Ottawa’s new mayor will require balancing the impacts on the social wellbeing of the city’s most vulnerable people; the effects on economic development and our opportunity to grow as a global city; and the requirements of labour to fulfil those plans.

Social justice, labour rights, and economic prosperity are often positioned as distinct goals. However, one cannot be traded off in favour of any other – they can, and must, be pursued at the same time.

Our three organizations recognize that this moment requires a united front. We must find the things that connect us and align on shared goals—despite our differences—in order to build a stronger, healthier community for everyone. We must persistently seek out and struggle for the common ground.

Complex, multi-faceted issues like affordable housing, community trust and resilience, landmark infrastructure, and safety and wellbeing all require collaboration, and at times, compromise. They also have unique implications for labour, economic development, and social justice.

How will Ottawa’s new mayor ensure residents see equitable benefits from the impacts of major infrastructure projects, without defaulting to systems that have traditionally marginalized certain communities? How will the new mayor ensure housing in Ottawa is affordable and accessible for residents with different needs, and for those looking to move here? How will leadership rebuild the reputation of Ottawa, and trust with the communities, residents, workers, and businesses who felt abandoned by leadership for nearly a month during the Freedom Convoy occupation?

We are seeking commitment from Ottawa’s newest mayor to join us in recognizing that economic development, social justice, and labour rights are intertwined, complementary, and cannot be tackled in isolation.

Politics is a hard job, the pressure on elected officials continues to grow, and this campaign has been hostile at times. But just as we three seemingly different organizations have found common ground to advocate for the toughest issues our community faces, so too must our new city government.

We are here with our sleeves rolled up and the power of our networks behind us, in the spirit of doing this hard work together. We invite Ottawa’s new mayor to join us in service of the people who depend on us, with a collaborative spirit, and ambition to forge a brighter path.


Michael Allen is the President and CEO of United Way East Ontario. Sueling Ching is the President and CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade. Sean McKenny is the President of the Ottawa and District Labour Council. The three organizations are hosting a joint mayoral debate on Thursday, October 20 at Carleton University’s Dominion-Chalmers Centre at 7pm. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER