“Good morning.

I want to thank everyone for joining us today for City Council’s first virtual meeting.

I want to recognize residents, members of the media and City staff who are watching online or on Rogers Television – thank you for your support and for staying connected.

These are unprecedented times in our city, our country – and all over the world.

Today, I am announcing that we are declaring a State of Emergency for the City of Ottawa, in response to the increasing spread of COVID-19 in our community.

Declaring a state of emergency will help our City Manager Steve Kanellakos and his team deploy our emergency operations in a quicker and more nimble fashion.

Amongst other things, it will enable a more flexible procurement process, which will help us to rapidly purchase the equipment that our frontline workers and first responders need, as it becomes available in the coming weeks.

We have been preparing for all scenarios – and we are moving to this State of Emergency to ensure we have all the tools available to protect our healthcare workers and our residents.

We need these tools to support our social services agencies helping those living on the streets – and the thousands of nurses, doctors and first responders fighting this fight…

The City’s Emergency Management staff, who are working behind the scenes to coordinate the City’s response.

Our staff in the Community and Social Services Department, who are on the front lines helping our most vulnerable residents.

They are caring for our elderly in our Long-Term Care homes – and caring for those who are homeless and in shelters.

They are supporting the efforts of hundreds of community agencies, who are able to continue to serve their clientele thanks to the support of our staff.

The Employment and Social Services staff who continue to deal with thousands of residents who need their social assistance payments and other personal supports to put food on the table.

And our Child Care staff who will be reopening their centres shortly to look after the children of frontline workers.

These women and men are working under extremely difficult circumstances – and with rules and processes that are changing daily.

And last but not least, we need these tools to support the extraordinary efforts being deployed by our courageous public health team, led by Dr. Vera Etches – as they continue to work around the clock to protect residents and provide us with the best advice and support as we get through this pandemic.

Their efforts are limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Ottawa and flattening the curve in order to reduce the strain on our healthcare system and the dedicated doctors and nurses, who are literally on the battle ground in this fight.

As reported yesterday by Dr. Etches, we currently have 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa.

And it is crucial that we – as a community – follow the direction from our federal, provincial and municipal health officials if we want to be successful in this fight.

And we are all asking residents to do the same thing: Stay home.

Don’t meet up with friends or family.

Don’t go out unless it’s an essential errand – like groceries or medication.

And if you do go out for those essential errands or to get fresh air – please keep your distance and wash your hands when you get back home.

Social distancing is essential to help flatten the curve and to save lives in our community.

And we must remember: No one is immune from catching this virus.

I want to take a moment to thank our provincial and federal partners, who are stepping up in a very big way to help our city and our residents get through these challenging times.

They have been very accessible, and I have had almost daily calls with local Ministers Catherine McKenna and Lisa MacLeod – and I’m grateful for their help and support.

I’m encouraged by their commitments to get funds moving quickly to help the tens of thousands of workers in our community – who work in hospitality, services and retail – who’ve lost their entire income in the last few weeks.

As the pandemic continues to evolve around the world, I want to take a moment to recognize some of the unsung heroes in our community – those who are working around the clock every single day to provide essential services and keep Ottawa’s residents safe.

The police officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency personnel that continue to protect our community.

And our staff who remain out in the field: they are running our water treatment plants and our landfill…

They’re making repairs to our infrastructure, inspecting buildings and construction sites, as well as maintaining our fleets.

And for those of us who still need to get to work or to essential appointments, we know the women and men at OC Transpo will get us there safely.

We hope you are following proper social distancing guidelines when you’re out there – because we all need you to stay safe and in good health.

And although not as visible as our frontline personnel, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the City staff from all departments who have mobilized to support these efforts and deliver services to our residents from home.

I realize it’s not easy to work from home, and especially with kids running around – but thank you for your resourcefulness in these challenging times.

I know we’re all thankful for the hard work of our IT team, which is making all of these remote operations possible – including today’s meeting.

To those of you delivering the essential services that keep our city running: I thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting the lives of your fellow residents ahead of your own.

That is the true embodiment of public service.

And to those keeping essential businesses running – employees working in grocery stores and pharmacies, or in maintenance and cleaning services – you are showing up every day to provide our residents with the food and medication they need.

Thank you all for what you’re doing to help our community through these difficult times.

I recognize the sacrifice that you are making – being away from your family at this difficult time, in order to continue to serve the public.

And thank you to all my Council colleagues, who are working very hard to keep things running in their communities – as well as staying connected with residents, answering questions, and offering support.

It’s inspiring to see so many people working together to ensure that everyone remains safe and healthy.

I hear of so many people offering to do a grocery run for those who are in quarantine or cannot get out.

I see stories on social media about neighbourhoods organizing events – like a shamrock treasure hunt – that children can enjoy from a safe distance.

I see local businesses stepping up and offering to help residents in need and supporting our healthcare workers with prepared meals and food boxes.

Neighbours sending birthday cards to kids who can’t have a birthday party to brighten their day and make their celebration a little more special.

And I must tell you, I’m proud to be the Mayor of such a caring and compassionate city.

Working with our many partners, the City of Ottawa has taken several measures to both protect and assist our residents during this period.

At today’s Council meeting, Councillor Dudas and I are bringing forward a number of measures that would provide small businesses and residents with an opportunity to defer their property tax.

Thanks to the good work of Chief Financial Officer Wendy Stephanson and her team, the new 2020 Property Tax Hardship Deferral Program would extend the tax deadlines to October 30.

The program would also assist affected small businesses with an assessed property value of up to $7.5 million – which captures 91% of commercial properties in Ottawa.

And I urge all commercial property owners who will benefit from this deferral to pass it down to their tenants – the restaurants and shops that are the backbone of our economy – they are the ones who desperately need this flexibility in the coming months just to stay afloat.

I also urge residential investment property owners to provide this same flexibility to their renters – many of whom were in precarious employment situations before this crisis.

One idea for them might be to use their tenants’ last month’s rent deposit to cover the rent in April, providing relief for both landlords and tenants while we get through these difficult times.

The Chief Financial Officer’s proposal includes a number of other measures to alleviate the financial burden of small businesses and residents through these challenging times – and I hope I can count on your support to adopt this relief package today.

Last week, we established a Human Services Task Force to ensure we are responsive to the emerging needs of our community.

 In addition to representatives from City departments and Ottawa Public Health, the task force includes partners from all sectors, including:

  • Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition
  • United Way East Ontario
  • Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres of Ottawa
  • Ottawa Community Housing
  • Ottawa Food Bank
  • Canadian Red Cross
  • The Salvation Army; and
  • Ottawa Inner City Health.

The task force is planning how to provide food, shelter and psychosocial supports, as well as address emerging issues, service gaps and community concerns throughout the pandemic.

In addition, we have opened the Routhier Community Centre in Lowertown as an isolation centre to help protect Ottawa’s homeless population – and I want to thank everyone involved in getting the centre up and running this past week.

But as this pandemic brings everything to a stop, we realize the profound impact it is having on our local business community.

Through these challenging times, we must come together to find ways to support our small businesses, restaurants, tourism operators and special events – as well as the tens of thousands of workers who rely on these jobs to feed their families.

And that’s why I have struck the Economic Partners Task Force – which includes representatives from our local BIAs, the Ottawa Board of Trade, le Regroupement des gens d’affaires, Ottawa Tourism, Invest Ottawa and the Ottawa Festival Network.

I will co-chair this task force, along with Councillor Eli El-Chantiry – a former small business owner and my representative with the BIAs.

The task force will advise City staff in many departments on how we can help the business community get through the pandemic – and especially how we can kickstart the recovery once it’s over.

Tomorrow, working with the Task Force, the City will be launching Buy Local – an online promotional campaign to help local businesses get through these challenging times.

We will be encouraging residents to support their favourite small businesses by shopping local online, buying gift cards for later use, or ordering delivery or takeout from locally-owned restaurants – actions that will help small businesses with cash flow now.

Stay tuned for more details tomorrow.

We recognize that this is not an easy time for anyone.

But even though we are all social distancing, it doesn’t mean we can’t check in on each other.

So call your family members, and reach out to your friends on FaceTime.

Arrange a video dinner date with your neighbours.

We are fortunate to have the technology to be able to keep this communication going – and that is very important to combat the social isolation many of us are feeling right now.

And for those of you who are having a tough time dealing with the unpredictability of this situation – know that this is okay, and that you are not alone.

This is a stressful time.

Some will have access to the support of their Employee Assistance Program.

There are also many public supports available to help our residents – such as the Ottawa Distress Centre, and the Kids Help Phone for our younger residents.

Please: don’t be afraid to reach out and to seek the psychological support you need.

Again, I cannot stress enough how important it is to listen to our public health officials, who have been providing us with exemplary professional advice and guidance.

And I remind everyone that OPH – ottawa-public-health-dot-c-a – is the best source of local information related to COVID-19.

I’m confident that by working together, we will come out of this stronger than ever as a community.

I’ll now ask Councillor Egli, Chair of the Ottawa Board of Health, to say a few words and introduce Dr. Etches.

Thank you. Merci beaucoup.”