Disappointing Discussion At Environmental Election Forum

by: Brayden McNeill October 15th 2014

It’s surprising how little can be said during 90 minutes of environmentally related election campaigning. On October 14th a coalition of seven local environmental organizations hosted the Environmental Election Forum, ostensibly to environmental issues affecting the Region. Almost 40 candidates from across the Region were in attendance, including candidates for Regional Chair, Regional Council, Mayors and City Councilors. Each candidate was given a strict two minute time limit to outline their position on the environment.

The series of short briefings were filled with self-praise and tired platitudes on environmental awareness. Most candidates praised existing environmental initiatives, calling for better transit, trails and parks. Many boasted of their green life styles. Unfortunately few of the candidates have any new initiatives to seriously curb energy consumption and fossil fuel use in the Region.

Understandably, two minutes isn’t much time to address our most urgent social issue, and municipal politics perhaps isn’t the best springboard for this global issue, but the lack of discussion on climate change at this forum was seriously disappointing. Admittedly, several of the candidates for the Chair of Regional Council did mention climate change, including Robert Milligan, Oz Cole-Arnal and John Wolf. The problem is that the issue is somewhat larger than the proposed solutions (when they were offered). Increasing bus ridership simply isn’t going to cut it.

Of course it’s impossible for the Region to address climate change without restructuring the rest of society too, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pursue serious climate action in the Region. Where is the discussion for boosting our renewable energy use? What can we do to prevent tar sands shipment and hydraulic fracturing in the area? How can we curb consumption, as opposed to “greening” consumption? Why do we expect industry to improve their environmental performance independently, and how can we force them to be more efficient locally? These are the questions which we need to be asking at every level of politics, right down to the municipal level.

A few candidates did bring a larger vision to their presentations. Regional Councilor Jane Mitchell warned of the increase in extreme weather we can expect due to climate change. She expects flooding will become a recurring problem in the Region. Her opponent Sean Strickland also gets a mention for being one of two candidates to explicitly mention the Line 9 reversal project, Enbridge’s contentious plan to pump diluted bitumen through Southern Ontario. Strickland noted that the Region’s concerns over the project were allayed last year in the form of a letter from the Region of Waterloo to the National Energy Board asking them to make sure the project is safe.  The NEB recently rejected Enbridge’s request to operate the pipeline noting incomplete repair and installation work.

Oz Cole-Arnal, candidate for Regional Chair, made perhaps the most impactful comments, stating that our Region’s energy mixture is “shameful”. He pointed out that Waterloo North Hydro has only 3.4% alternative energy use in the Region and the need to stop using fossil fuels. He also hinted at the roots of climate problem, stressing the need to push back against corporate polluters. Oz scolded the current council for ignoring delegations to council in protest of line 9 and insisted that council needs to form coalitions with first nations and anti-enbridge activists in order to “fight back against a province that won’t even examine line 9.”

 

Despite the disappointment I felt at the content of most candidates’ presentations, it was very encouraging to see such a large pool of candidates attend the environmental forum. While many of the candidates can’t be classified as environmentalists it’s clear they sense the importance of the environment and climate change. 

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