A Focus on Emergency Preparedness
I have some positive news to report on advancing our city’s Emergency Preparedness programs, but even the good news comes with the very sobering realization that the road ahead is likely filled with challenges that will be hard to prepare for.
First off, at last week’s Emergency Preparedness & Protective Services committee meeting, I was proud to pass a motion brought by Councillor Theresa Kavanagh, and with the collaboration of Ottawa Fire Chief Paul Hutt. Briefly, our successful motion starts the process of creating an inventory of hi-rise buildings in Ottawa that do not have emergency backup power. The goal for such a list is to provide our emergency first responders with a tool to help them prioritize their response during an extensive power outage, since residents in hi-rises that lack backup power are often among the most vulnerable.
During a recent briefing for a small group of Councillors and the Mayor, Hydro Ottawa CEO Bryce Conrad re-affirmed his position that Ottawa needs to prepare for the fact that more frequent and more powerful weather events are to be expected, and that they will inevitably lead to more extended power outages. And while all levels of government need to put more mitigation and response measures in place, residents must also take an increased responsibility. One of the best things that residents and households can do is to prepare an Emergency Kit to help them get through the initial 72 hours of a power outage.
Finally, I was also glad to take part in another small group of Councillors (myself, along with Councillors Laine Johnson and Riley Brockington) as we met with the Director of Public Safety Service to start a process of how the City of Ottawa can support the organization and mobilization of residents and community groups when it comes to on-the-ground recovery efforts for natural disasters and other emergencies. From my experience organizing local recovery efforts after the 2018 tornado and 2022 derecho, I know that our city has thousands of skilled and capable residents who are ready to help when needed, but we just need effective systems to coordinate them.
“We’re pumping the brakes.”
There was a contentious vote at our May 10 City Council meeting, where Council was set to vote on whether to approve the proposed High Performance Development Standard (HPDS), which is a set of voluntary and required standards that raise the performance of new building projects to attain a level of sustainable and resilient design. These “green development standards” have been successfully used by many municipalities across Ontario, including Toronto having adopted HPDS as far back as 2008.
Rather than approve the HPDS, Council passed a walk-on motion (the motion passed 14 to 10) from Councillor David Hill to delay the implementation to align with updated provincial standards that are scheduled to be produced in the coming months.
It was a frustrating day at Council. We had an opportunity to take decisive action for building energy efficient homes. As I said in my remarks: “We're falling far beyond other cities. Here we are, with a vital opportunity, and we're pumping the brakes."
This was a risky decision, as there is no guarantee when the province will produce their updates, and all building projects that commence between now and then won’t be subject to HPDS. And it’s important to note that while the implementation of HPDS to new building projects may slightly impact the purchase price of new housing, these new standards in building design will also save homeowners and renters far more in utility and retrofit costs over the long-term. And so, the delayed implementation of HPDS has an adverse impact on climate resiliency and affordability.
But this deferral also has an impact on our city’s ability to act independent of pressure from the provincial government. The City of Ottawa did extensive consultation on the HPDS, with experts in the field, industry, and the public. Staff also included a provision that they would adjust to any provincial changes. The successful deferral motion opens the door to weakening the HPDS and delays implementation until potentially the winter of 2024. As this was one of the more contentious debates at City Council so far this term, you can watch the lively debate on the City’s YouTube channel, starting at 13:20. My remarks start at 51:30.
Waste Diversion Strategy
By now most Ottawa residents have heard that the City of Ottawa is considering changing the process for curbside garbage collection, moving toward a Partial-Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) program. While this proposed new policy has generated much concern over the past few weeks, what many residents don’t realize is that for the majority of Ottawa households this new program will have very little impact, other than having to attach tags to your garbage cans.
Under the proposed bag tag policy, each household would be allocated 55 tags, which would allow them to put out an average of 2.1 garbage cans for every two-week collection cycle. That’s the equivalent of 240 litres of solid waste every two weeks! This doesn’t include what residents can put out in their blue, black and green bins. But based on the exhaustive study that preceded these proposals, nearly 75% of Ottawa households are already meeting this standard!
And there’d be no additional cost for residents to use these 55 tags, beyond what you already pay as the solid waste fee on your property tax bill. Residents who require more than 55 tags would purchase them at a cost of $3 per tag.
I want to assure residents that I have been working with staff to address the potential gaps and inequities in the proposed PAYT program, like how it would impact large households, or families disposing infant diapers, or persons with incontinence of other bio-medical waste, or multi-generational families, or even its impact on thrift stores.
And just as importantly, I’ve been seeking assurance that our city staff are also looking at long-term solutions as we develop our Solid Waste Master Plan. These potential solutions include options other the use of landfills, such as incineration or waste-to-energy models. There also needs to be decisive and effective action taken on producers and manufacturers.
This policy will be considered at the June 5th meeting of the Environment & Climate Change committee, before rising to Council on June 14th for final approval. I anticipate that there will be several modifications proposed, and a lot of debate. As our city continues to lag behind other municipalities across Ontario in terms of our waste management, I hope that we take a bold step forward for the sake of our city’s future.