Ottawa’s Air Quality Warnings
As I write this message today, Tuesday June 6th, Ottawa’s air quality is at dangerous levels. You only have to step outside for a moment to sense it immediately. As my six year-old daughter said this morning, “The clouds smell like a campfire.”
Ottawa Public Health has posted warnings and recommendations on their website, as has the Government of Canada. A quick scan of the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System website at Natural Resources Canada will show you the wide range of forest fires happening across Canada that are leading to these current air quality conditions.
Whereas some councillors may see their ultimate responsibility as making life more affordable for residents, I see it differently. As an elected representative, my ultimate responsibility is to support and protect you, and your community, and this city. My ultimate responsibility is to protect the long-term viability and survivability of this city, and of the many systems that support this city.
Here’s a list that I want us all to consider:
- Historic flooding in 2017
- Tornado in 2018
- Historic flooding in 2019
- Derecho in 2022
- Ice storm in 2023
- Historic air quality risk in 2023
More and more frequently, our city and its residents are in harm's way. The reason that I’m on the Environment & Climate Change Committee is because I see it as a platform to take action that will protect our city and its residents over the long term. Based on the outcomes of several important votes that have taken place at this Committee over the past few months, including yesterday’s votes on the proposed waste diversion policy, I wish that I felt confident that all of my colleagues on the Committee had the same goals as I do.
"Only a foolish society leaves its own people behind.”
On May 30th I attended the official opening of the Ottawa Food Bank’s new facility. It was a sobering event, since the much-larger warehouse was needed to meet the frightening growth in demand for the food bank’s services over the past year.
“The reality is that we are only here because the need continues to grow. You may have noticed we aren’t referring to this evening as our “grand” opening. Nothing about a food bank having to grow is actually grand,” said Ottawa Food Bank CEO Rachael Wilson.
Among the guests who spoke at the event, I was particularly moved by the comments of Ottawa South MP David McGuinty, who recounted a medical study that linked 75% of mental health conditions among adults to deficiencies in early childhood development, including malnutrition.
What struck me about his remarks was the connection between food insecurity and society’s economic well-being. By allowing people to go hungry, we deprive ourselves of the potential contributions they could make in reaching their full potential. “Only a foolish society leaves its own people behind,” he said.
Whether it’s through the donations of residents to food banks, or through systemic support of governments in food security, these are not acts of charity. They are investments in our future economic prosperity.
The Future of Ottawa’s Waste Management
At the time that I wrote this heading, I had fully anticipated that by today we would’ve decided on “the future of Ottawa’s waste management”. But following yesterday’s June 5th meeting of the Environment & Climate Change Committee, we have made no decision at all. Frankly, yesterday’s debate over waste management was embarrassing.
Ultimately, there were three options on the table: a) the original Pay as you Throw proposal of 55 tags per household; b) the alternate Pay as you Throw proposal that came from the Mayor’s Office and Councillor Marty Carr, in which households would be allowed 2 garbage items per collection without tags, would receive a one-time allotment of 15 tags for use at any time, and could then purchase more tags as needed; and c) the “firm limits” proposal from Councillor David Brown allowing each household to put out 4 garbage items per cycle. And bear in mind, Councillor Brown’s proposal would not achieve our goal of extending the life of the Trail landfill or meeting our provincially-mandated waste diversion rates.
But in the end, nothing happened as all three proposed options ended in a split 5 – 5 vote, since one Committee member had to leave before we got to vote on the motions.
My votes at that Committee meeting – and my vote at the June 14th City Council meeting where this matter will be debated once more – are to support a Pay as you Throw policy allowing for each household to put out two items without tags, with the option to purchase additional tags. Any Pay as you Throw model that goes forward will come with a rigorous plan for Education, Engagement and Enforcement. As Pay as you Throw becomes no longer “best practice” but “standard practice” across Ontario, Ottawa simply cannot continue to be a city that acts as a bystander while municipalities lead on this front.
Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference
From May 25 – 28, I was grateful to attend the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). This year’s event was held in Toronto, with almost 2,900 civic leaders, councillors and mayors joining from across Canada. These are high-profile events in Canadian politics, and the keynote speakers included PM Justin Trudeau, Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, NDP Party Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
But it wasn’t these big-name federal politicians that generated the most enthusiasm. Rather, it was the conversation about the need for our federal partners and provincial partners to revisit the deal they have with municipalities. More specifically, what echoed across the convention was the need for “a new fiscal framework” to address the fact that far too many costs are being downloaded to municipalities that don’t have the same diversity of revenues available to provincial and federal governments. Beyond our fiscal challenges, the two most talked-about issues were the urgent need to build enough housing to meet population growth, and the escalating risk of climate-related natural disasters.
One exciting outcome that came out of building relationships at FCM is a connection I made with the Mayor of Charlottetown. That City has found a great deal of success with their waste-to-energy facility, and I'll be planning a trip out to PEI (and to another site in Nova Scotia) to meet with local authorities to better understand their success in the hopes of finding better solutions for Ottawa's future waste needs.