By Sarah Watson
Toronto city council unanimously voted in favour of TransformTO, a climate change action plan, Tuesday evening, but not without amendments.
The most controversial change requires a submission analyzing the business case for proposed strategies to be put through the 2018 budget process. Moved by Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, chair of the parks and environment committee, it means cases must be prioritized based on greenhouse gas reductions per dollars spent. The amendment passed by 27 votes to 16.
TransformTO aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 by 80 per cent from the 1990 level through strategies such as retrofitting buildings and adopting electric cars, addressing the main sources of emissions in Toronto.
Prior to the council meeting, environmental advocates were concerned about council picking and choosing only parts of the plan to make it less costly, after Mayor Tory spoke of the need to “prioritize” actions that will provide the greatest immediate reduction of greenhouse gases at a press conference on June 29. Tory addressed that during the debate.
“We’ve all gotten bogged down on the use of the word ‘prioritize’,” Tory said at city council. “I mean, frankly, I could have used 10 other words there.
“But I just believe so strongly about everything that you do around here,” he said. is you do the right thing, and you do the right thing in the right way.”
Tory said he wants to be the mayor to enact action on climate change, but that the business cases presented did not give enough detail.
Dusha Sritharan, a climate change campaigner for the Toronto Environmental Alliance, is hopeful but cautious.
“We really see this as a huge victory for the city,” she said, but added her surprise at council’s decision to go through the business cases again, as they were already prioritized when the reports were first made.
Sritharan also said a lot of the strategies in the plan can’t be implemented on their own.
“It is an integrated package,” she said, “A number of the actions rely on another to work effectively.”
Most greenhouse gas emission in Toronto come from buildings and transportation. (Source: City of Toronto)Despite the eventual unanimous vote in support of TransformTO, the debate at city council lasted more than three hours.
There were concerns about the current estimated cost of the roll-out in 2018 of $6.7 million.
Deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong and Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti took specific issue with the cost of hiring 44 city employees, with Minnan-Wong referring to other costs as ‘aspirational,’ and therefore not as concerning.
Councillor Shelley Carroll, representing Don Valley East, said the cost in 2018 only equates to $2.70 per person.
The report already has prioritized what actions are ready. Either you're ready to proceed at $2.70per Torontonian per year or you're not. https://t.co/R2VXev79Ye
— Shelley Carroll (@shelleycarroll) July 4, 2017
“When we go on the cheap, sometimes it costs us much more down the road. That is much more than just the financial impact, but there is actually a human impact,” Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam of Toronto Centre-Rosedale said.
Mammoliti said although he thinks all of council is “concerned” about the climate, he does not think city council is the right tier of government to deal with “the big issues.”
“This is a provincial or federal matter that should be dealt with at a federal level, and the funds associated with this report or any other report should come from that level and that level only,” he said, adding the city should be focusing more on smaller issues such as safe parks and community centres.
She said since cities are one of the major contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, it makes sense for them to contribute to reducing them.
“Cities logically make a lot of sense to get started because we have an immediate impact in terms of controlling transportation, waste, and the buildings, in these areas,”Sritharan said.