Last nights Ottawa Vanier Town Hall was a fantastic demonstration of grassroots democracy in its rawest form: concerned citizens meeting with their elected officials in order to work towards solutions.
Over the course of the evening, two things struck me as interesting: First, was the diverse age range in attendance. Whether they were fourteen, forty, or seventy-five, many shared the same concern - Fossil fuel production must be brought to an end by innovating Canada with green energy alternatives. The second surprise - not a single person out of the roughly 100 who attended, came to voice support for expanding fossil fuel production, or even to continue using fossil fuels in their current capacity. I don't think a single person in the room saw fossil fuels as part of Canada's sustainable future.
That being said, here are the five primary ideas and concerns Ottawa Vanier residents and their officials discussed most:
1) End Subsidies to Fossil Fuels
As recently as November 2015, the Toronto Star reported Canadian oil and gas producers receive $2.74 billion (U.S.) in subsidies from our government, and Ottawa Vanier residents were well-educated on this fact. Despite labelling it as 'the greenest budget ever', the Federal Budget passed by the Liberals committed to fossil fuel subsidies to 2025, stating now is 'not the moment' to begin phasing out these subsidies.
Ottawa Vanier residents disagreed.
Many who attended the townhall stated they would like to see these billions of dollars in tax deductions and hand-outs going to renewable energy and green tech alternatives, stating it made far more sense to be supporting our clean energy of the future, rather than tying an anchor to the status quo.
2) Smarter Urban Planning
Sprawling cities, specifically Ottawa, was regularly brought up by the different working groups. Many expressed concern about the long-term implications which are tied to urban developments on the edge of cities. Not only do these sprawling suburban neighbourhoods require brand new water mains, plumbing, roads, and other infrastructure, but they also result in the city committing those residents to driving cars for several decades as they reside too far away from efficient public transport.
The residents of Vanier, along with the city councillors in attendance, expressed their desire for the city of Ottawa to focus on urban intensification. This intensification would mean denser neighbourhoods, greater public transport access, while allocating appropriate green space throughout the city.
3) Tax Drivers, Lower Public Transit Costs
For the residents of Vanier, a greener Ottawa and Canada is one with less cars on the road. This would be done through two primary actions: First, introducing a tax on drivers in urban centres. Similar to London's congestion tax, the fee would be applied to those who drive in city centres, incentivizing people to find alternatives to drive individual vehicles. Second, would be pricing public transit appropriately in order to make it a far more cost-effective alternative to driving a vehicle.
4) Building Retrofits & New Building Codes
Having a more direct hand in Canada's green shift, many proposed governments across Canada create incentive programs or improve their current ones. At present, Ontario has committed to $100 million in home incentives to aid roughly 37, 000 households in becoming more energy efficient and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Many at the Townhall expressed their desire for programs like Ontario's to be implemented across Canada, and improved over time.
Beyond upgrading presently existing buildings and homes, there was much discussion over the building code developers ought to adhere to when constructing buildings going forward. Earlier this year Ontario's provincial Liberals unveiled their climate action plan and included in it was sweeping new building codes to make all new developments more efficient and green going forward. Fossil-fuel free heating, electric charging stations, and energy-efficiency audits are all part of Ontario's plan for low-carbon future, and many wanted the federal government to know these are good starts for where Canada as a nation ought to go.
5) Carbon Pricing
While an exact pricing scheme wasn't hammered out in the discussions, nearly everyone agreed it is time to put a price on carbon. Lets face it, if there's one thing businesses understand better than anything else, it's their profit margins, and many acknowledged that businesses would be more inclined to 'green' their actions if they saw the toll their carbon footprint was putting on their bottom line.
Beyond putting a price on carbon, it was routinely expressed that funds stemming from carbon taxes, driving taxes, and other fossil fuel taxes must be used to fund Canada's shift to a low-carbon economy.
While these five issues were most consistently brought-up in the working groups, far more was discussed as well. For a full break-down of all the ideas discussed at the Vanier Climate Consultation, feel free to contact Ecology Ottawa at [email protected].
If you would like to get involved in the final climate consultation for the Ottawa area, it will happen in Orléans and all are welcome to attend! Full event info can be found here.
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