By: Heather Jackson
Toronto has many environmental concerns and issues, but the two that are top of mind heading into this municipal election are: 1) air quality, and 2) storm infrastructure.
Way back in 1991, the City of Toronto established the Toronto Atmospheric Fund to focus on reducing local greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions. TAF currently operates as an arms-length agency at no cost to the City. It helps Toronto achieve the targets set in the Climate Change Action Plan that city council unanimously approved in 2007, and later The Power to Live Green, Toronto’s Sustainable Energy Strategy that was drafted in 2009.
As of 2013, Toronto surpassed its goal of reducing greenhouse gases to 6% below 1990 levels by reducing them to 15% below 1990 levels! Waste, electricity and natural gas emissions are all down (largely thanks to Toronto’s recycling and organic waste programs and Ontario’s closure of coal plants), but transportation emissions are up. Transportation now accounts for a whopping 36% of Toronto’s emissions! However, electricity and natural gas used to power and heat our buildings accounts for a combined 53% of Toronto’s emissions.
With these numbers in mind, here are some questions to ask your candidate:
1. Do you support investment in public transit and active transportation infrastructure (walking, cycling) as a way to get commuters out of cars whenever possible and lessen transportation emissions?
2. Do you support incentives to help homeowners and businesses retrofit their buildings to be more energy efficient?
3. Do you think the city should require better energy efficiency for new construction projects?
After last summer’s floods, this winter’s ice storm, and the floods and tornados we’ve already experienced this spring in southern Ontario, citizens are concerned about Toronto’s ability to cope with severe weather.
In 2008, City Council unanimously endorsed a climate adaptation strategy, Ahead of the Storm, that outlines actions that will improve the City’s resilience to climate change and extreme weather events. Actions include increasing the size of storm sewers and culverts to handle more runoff, pruning trees to reduce damage to property and electrical lines during the storm, and installation of basement backflow preventers and window well guards to reduce flooding risk.
But is the plan being put into action quickly enough? Is Toronto ready for the storms? According to the this article in The Star the answer seems to be no. Franz Hartmann of the Toronto Environmental Alliance criticized the City for focusing on emergency response after storms instead of upgrading infrastructure before storms hit. And Toronto City Manager Joe Pennachetti agrees that extreme weather needs to be more of a priority at City Hall. As of this winter, it was ranked around number 10, but Pennachetti feels it should probably move up to number 3 after transit and social housing.
But, of course, there is a lack of money, as this article in the NOW points out. Part of the problem is that declining water use by both residents and industry has cut Toronto Water’s revenues by 10% in the last decade, leaving a $350 million shortfall in infrastructure upgrades.
So with that all in mind, here are questions to ask your candidate about Toronto’s storm preparedness:
1. Are you in favour of keeping annual water increases at 9%? Or do you think it should be lowered to 3%? If lowered, how do you propose the City pay for water infrastructure upgrades?
2. Do you think extreme weather needs to be more of a priority at City Hall? If so, how do you propose making that happen?