The City of Ottawa should recognize the world is in the throes of a “climate emergency” requiring a renewed focus on city hall’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to most councillors on the environment committee.
The committee voted 6-2 on Tuesday to recommend council declare a climate emergency as proposed by Coun. Shawn Menard, who is the vice-chair of the committee. Voting with Menard were committee chair Scott Moffatt and members Keith Egli, Catherine McKenney, Riley Brockington and Jean Cloutier. George Darouze and Allan Hubley voted against the motion.
If ratified by council later this month, a council sponsors group will be assembled to provide guidance on climate-change issues, staff will review air quality and greenhouse-gas reduction targets and council will recognize climate change as a strategic priority for the term.
Measures would cost $250,000, covered by surplus revenue from the Hydro Ottawa dividend.
A large group of people demonstrated outside city hall before the committee meeting in support of Menard’s climate-emergency push. Many of them filed into the committee meeting.
An emotional Chloe Rourke said she took a vacation day to address the committee because the issue is important to her. She said climate change isn’t a partisan issue, calling on all politicians to make it a top priority.
“It is the only priority that will matter 20 years from now,” Rourke said. “Nothing else will matter if we don’t fix this problem.”
Mia Beijer, 16, of social justice group Future Rising Ottawa warned councillors of a “climate apocalypse” on the horizon, telling them the declaration of a climate emergency is only a start.
“Please,” Beijer told councillors, “don’t kill us. Save us.”
Hubley said he doesn’t have a problem with Menard’s proposal, except for his use of “emergency.” Hubley also doesn’t like relying on a hydro dividend surplus for programs, since a dividend surplus could vary or not exist in future years.
Darouze said he agrees climate change is a global issue, but he doesn’t agree with putting “fear in the residents of the City of Ottawa.” He also questioned if a council sponsors group is necessary when there’s already an environment committee.
Mayor Jim Watson said he supports the motion because “substance” was added to the motion, which received input from Moffatt.
“What he’s listed now is great,” Watson said in his office when asked about Menard’s motion. “Most of that is already in the works and being done, but at least it adds to the substance of the motion, so I’m happy to support it.”
Menard tried for an enviro double-play at the meeting, but ended up with a half-victory.
While Menard received backing from environmental advocates to pause a city plan to allow plastic bags in the green bin this summer, he didn’t get enough support from the committee. Council already voted last year to allow plastic bags in the green bin in a rejigged contract with the parent company of Orgaworld. The city believes more people will use their green bins if they can use plastic bags for kitchen slop.
The committee also made decisions on garbage contracts and becoming a “bee city.”
The committee endorsed new three-year contracts for garbage collection starting in 2020, agreeing with public works staff that the short-term agreements will give the city enough flexibility to make changes if the province makes significant changes to waste-management regulations. The city is also renewing its own municipal waste strategy, which, along with provincial regulations, would impact garbage collection.
When it comes to the plight of bees, the committee agreed with staff that the city doesn’t need to be an official Bee City program participant since the city is already doing things to help bees thrive and being a Bee City partner would create an administrative burden.
Moffatt warned the committee about forcing staff into “clerical work” rather than delivering results on environmental initiatives.
Still, the city wants to install a pollinator garden and a bee hotel (like a bird house, but for bees) at city hall.
Council will vote on all of the committee recommendations on April 24.
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