A little over a week ago, the citizens of Ottawa elected a new city council.
What does this mean for local environmental issues? Before the new council casts any votes on environmental issues, we can get a basic idea by looking at the results of our all-candidates’ survey. Starting in June, this survey was sent to all candidates running for council and the mayoralty. The questions, which can be found here, cover a range of issues such as climate change action, sustainable transportation, green space protection and waste management. In every case, we were asking for clear commitments on areas in which Ottawa City Council hadn’t made sufficient progress in the last term of council.
On the positive side, most members of council who responded to our survey demonstrated overwhelming support on our issues. Depending on the subject in question, it is clearly possible that a majority on council will pass ambitious environmental policy. We are encouraged by this response, and look forward to making headway on many important files over the next four years.
On the negative side, 11 of 24 council members couldn’t find the time to tell voters where they stood. This means we have much more work to do over the next term. We must make environmental issues more relevant to councillors city-wide. This means much more resident engagement and face-to-face interactions with council leadership.
Mayoral leadership is critical to so many of these files. More than anyone else, the mayor directs council’s focus and shapes the tenor of its discussions. The signs from the survey and the election campaign are worrying. While the mayor responded to our survey, he didn't commit to any of the 15 issues put to him. He then skipped our all-candidates’ mayoral debate on the environment, effectively avoiding vigorous public discussion of his record or his future plans.
We urgently need stronger environmental leadership from the mayor’s office, especially on the climate file. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes this abundantly clear. Climate change is escalating out of control worldwide. The window for action is extremely short – 12 years – and requires unprecedented ambition. It’s up to all of us to ensure that the City of Ottawa does not stand idly by.
Evidently, there’s no shortage of work to be done in the months and years ahead. If you'd like to help us hold this council accountable to their environmental commitment, sign up to volunteer with us, donate to support our work and stay tuned for many opportunities to plug in in the coming weeks.