File photo of downtown Ottawa. (Photo by Robbie Palmer of Unsplash)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he and his fellow big city mayors will be lobbying for another round of pandemic funding to help municipalities avoid deficits in 2021.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors’ Caucus will meet virtually with the federal government and opposition leaders this week to discuss the upcoming federal budget.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's "CFRA Live" on Sunday morning, Watson said cities across Canada have been struggling to balance the books in the wake of the pandemic.

"Municipalities across the country have faced this perfect storm of incredible losses of revenue," he said, describing losses from transit fares—as more people work from home or lose their jobs—and from city-run activities like swimming lessons and ice rentals.

"Last year, we worked really closely with the federal and provincial governments and struck a deal where municipalities could put in applications for funding to offset these massive losses and massive increases in costs," Watson said. "Now, because the pandemic is still with us—our transit numbers are still down—we're going to work with the feds and the province to come up with a second round of funding so that we're able to provide services like public health, testing centres, inoculation centres, and extra costs incurred by police, paramedics and the fire department."

In 2020, Ottawa faced a $192 million budgetary shortfall due to COVID-19.

Municipal governments are not permitted to run deficits. In 2020, the City of Ottawa balanced its books with the help of funding from the provincial and federal government. The 2021 budget, which was passed in December, includes a $153 million deficit, assuming the pandemic continues to impact the city for the entire year. 

City Manager Steve Kanellakos said during budget discussions in late 2020 that staff would look at ways to avoid service cuts as much as possible, but admitted that they may be necessary if funding from other levels of government isn't available. 

Watson also said Sunday that the mayors would ask for more supports for local businesses.

"The sooner we can get these small businesses open, the better it is not only for the economy and for jobs but also for the mental health of the employees and the owners," he said. "Some of them have relied on programs by the federal and provincial governments, and we appreciate those programs, but they don't make up for all of the losses so we'll continue, at the mayors' level, to push the province and the federal government to ensure that there are the necessary resources to make sure these businesses can open safely when they're given the green light."