What do Ottawa City’s Term of Council Priorities Contain on Climate Change?

City Council recently approved its four pillars that will comprise the strategic priorities for this term, which lasts until 2026: affordable housing, safe, accessible transportation and mobility options, a prosperous and diversified economy, and creating a “green and resilient” city. While these priorities and their implications represent some worthwhile goals from the City, the presence of meaningful and proactive climate action is lacking. 

Although the vaguely defined goal for a green and resilient city contains some steps in the right direction, it ultimately falls short of the kind of sweeping action that the present moment calls for. The mention of building resilience to extreme weather, for example, is a sensible inclusion – particularly coming fresh off of Ottawa’s third tornado incident since 2017. Placing such a focus on resilience, however, belies an overly reactive approach to climate change. With the destructive effects of the climate crisis already upon us, building resilience cannot be considered environmental action. The consequences of climate change are largely inevitable – what’s necessary is true, proactive innovation that tackles the issue at its roots. The climate priorities that do make attempts to do this are, unfortunately, somewhat lacking in detail – the goal to reduce emissions specifies targeted departments but suggests no methods, no numbers or benchmarks are provided on the provision to grow the urban tree canopy, and a provision to improve infrastructure makes no mention of how climate change is being tackled with this action. 

While the three non-environment pillars are each important and admirable goals – in particular, the City’s efforts to tackle the crisis in housing affordability – the climate crisis cannot be treated in a vacuum. There are numerous ways in which each of these three priorities could be bolstered with proactive and meaningful climate action. The goal for a prosperous economy, for instance, specifies several manners of stimulating the growth of local businesses and driving the success of key shopping areas. These aims could easily be furthered by offering an incentive to local businesses meeting certain standards of sustainability, for example, or by increasing the presence of pedestrianized roads in shopping districts – two methods that would provide a boost to local business while simultaneously encouraging sustainability and lowering car traffic in pedestrian areas.

The priorities on housing and transportation could be similarly enhanced by folding in climate goals. Any effort to tackle the housing crisis should involve ensuring that new developments and existing low-cost units can meet up-to-date standards of sustainability at no burdensome cost to low-income renters. The City recently had the opportunity to approve such a policy for new developments, but unfortunately chose to delay this implementation. The City’s housing priority includes important provisions for equity and accessibility, but makes no mention of emissions produced by home heating – although it does consider both intensification and transit-oriented development, if again absent any benchmarks. The transportation and mobility priorities, too, suggest important increases in transit reliability and accessible transportation options as well as connecting “missing links” in the biking network, but make no mention of reducing Ottawa’s car dependency – a critical part of reducing our emissions.

The City’s term of council priorities as a whole are missing significant potential for proactive climate action across the board. Despite the City having declared a climate emergency nearly 5 years ago, these new priorities reflect a concerning lack of urgency in tackling it – on top of the lacklustre climate provisions, no effort has been made to fold simple climate priorities into the goals for affordable housing, accessible mobility and a prosperous economy, each of which are rife with potential to do so. To make your voice heard on the seriousness of the climate crisis and the imperative of prompt and proactive solutions, call or email your councillor. Stay tuned, as well, for an upcoming petition to show City Council that Ottawa needs urgent climate action now. (Update: the climate campaign is live! Please sign the form email and petition to ask Mayor Sutcliffe to take immediate climate action.)

Matthew Slevin is a third-year journalism student at Carleton University.

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