By Alison Sidney and Leah Shields
The Environment Committee finally met May 21, following the cancellation of two scheduled meetings in March and April. Despite there being a substantial break prior to this meeting, it was notably brief and lacking in substance. The May 21 meeting saw the Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee (ESAC)’s Workplan approved by Councillors, a report with updates on Solid Waste Services in City Facilities received, and an inquiry regarding Orgaworld’s audit submitted by an angry Environment Committee Chair Maria McRae.
But totally absent from the agenda was any mention of the Mayor’s recent commitment to update the City’s climate change action plan before end of June 2014. The Environment Committee’s specific responsibilities include “review and make recommendations to Council on policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality,” but rather than holding public consultations or inviting expert witnesses to testify about the specific policies and recommendations that will reduce carbon pollution, the Environment Committee seems unengaged on the file. Indeed, the elected officials with specific greenhouse gas reduction responsibilities seem to be handing the file to volunteers.
The second item of business on the agenda was the ESAC Workplan for 2013-2014. The purpose of the ESAC is to advise City Council on matters pertaining to environmental services, forests, greenspaces, parks, cycling and pedestrian issues. Ecology Ottawa is happy to note that within the approved Workplan (Item 2) is an objective to review the Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan (AQCCMP), which includes evaluating the outcomes of the Greenhouse Gas Roundtable held on March 23, 2013. . Ecology Ottawa steering committee member Charles Hodgson spoke in support of the AQCCMP update, stating that Ecology Ottawa is willing to offer support and guidance to the ESAC, City staff, and Councillors as they undertake their review. Hodgson also asked Councillors and City staff to ensure that those tasked with the various reviews to the Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Infrastructure Master Plan, Cycling Plan and the Pedestrian Plan, to be completed this year, familiarize themselves with the current AQCCMP. He deemed it essential that Staff coordinate with those likely to be updating the AQCCMP, so meaningful initiatives likely to emerge are anticipated and accommodated in the Official Plan, ensuring all the Plans are in sync. His final point was that although the Greenhouse Gas Roundtable was a success, it was mentioned by many attendees that the related public engagement and consultation was weak, and if Ottawa is to be successful at reducing greenhouse gas emissions the City must be successful at public engagement.
Whilst this is all good news, the ESAC is only required to meet three more times this year, which leaves us wondering exactly how long it will be before the issue of climate change is deemed important or relevant enough to make it on an Environment Committee meeting agenda. Considering that Councillor McRae herself stated in her opening remarks at the Greenhouse Gas Roundtable that she shared the community’s priorities and was eager to work with her city council colleagues to renew both corporate and community emissions targets, we hope and assume that this and related public consultations will take place soon.
For the most part, the brief meeting focused on a report on Solid Waste Services in City Facilities (agenda item 5). The report highlighted the positive results that have ensued from switching 150 sites from commercial containers to curbside waste and recycling services. This switch ensured that large commercial waste trucks are not unnecessarily emptying containers that are below capacity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving on cost. Also, these City facilities now participate in streamlined and consistent recycling practices, as they have access to blue and black box and green bin programs. Councillor Steve Desroches deserves a special mention for his comments on the report, as he highlighted the importance of expanding this model of waste collection so that it is as far reaching as possible. The Committee did in fact carry a motion to expand this current model of waste collection to include waste generated within large City facilities, City parks, and right-of-ways. It should be noted that the City is currently developing a 30-Year Waste Plan to guide the management of recyclables, organics with Phase 2 staff recommendations for achieving the goals and targets of the Plan expected to go to Environment Committee in the fall of 2013. Ecology Ottawa gives the Environment Committee a Thumbs Up for the decision to expand this positive waste collection model and encourages Councillors to continue to work towards diverting waste from landfills across Ottawa.
At the end of the meeting Councillor Maria McRae announced that she had an inquiry directed to the City’s solicitor, Rick O’Connor, regarding the previously requested (February of 2011) audit of Orgaworld. The City of Ottawa pays Orgaworld $8 million annually to process 80,000 tonnes of organic waste, yet Orgaworld is refusing some leaf and yard waste despite the City not reaching the set limit. In 2012, the City sent just over 55,000 tonnes. Councillor McRae heatedly demanded that O’Connor produce a written response by May 24 to explain why the audit has not yet been released, and to state when it will be released. McRae requested that the report be sent to Councillors and simultaneously to the media. O’Connor agreed to release a memo to staff.
While McRae’s demand is a positive development for the City of Ottawa’s resolution to this ongoing issue, Ecology Ottawa would like to point out that the agenda for this meeting seemed to be lacking in substance and this Orgaworld development seemed to be directed to reporters to divert the rising negative attention in the media. Environment Committee meetings have been cancelled for the past two months and yet this meeting lasted for less than an hour. It was anticipated that following this extensive break from meetings there would be more substance to the agenda. There was no mention of the Greenhouse Gas Roundtable that took place March 23rd, nor a discussion of the LEED accreditation process that was sent back to the Committee in January following a Council suggestion that the Environment Committee reconsider their rash decision to abandon the green building standards. Rather than use the meeting to discuss these issues, McRae seemed to focus her energy on grandstanding. As the Chair of the Committee, McRae receives a ‘Thumbs Down’ from Ecology Ottawa for the agenda lacking in substance following a two month break. Furthermore, McRae’s rant about the Orgaworld debacle bringing a lack of credibility to Council rings true with regard to the Environment Committee... if this was all they had for the first meeting in three months, then what exactly has the Environment Committee and staff working in the Environmental Services branch been working on?
Ecology Ottawa is hopeful the upcoming Environment Committee meeting that is scheduled to be held on June 18th contains discussions, reports and decisions that will be more positively impactful on the environment. We hope that there will be a lengthy meeting to discuss and move forward with pressing issues that have so far been ignored. We urge Councillors to demonstrate environmental leadership and bring credibility back to this Committee.