In January 2017, Vancouver Councillor Christine Boyle asked city council to declare a climate emergency. The first of its kind motion passed unanimously.
According to Lana Goldberg, Ontario Climate Program Manager at Environmental Defence, a municipal Climate Emergency Declaration should come with greenhouse gas targets, strategies to reach those targets and allocation of resources needed to deliver on them.
That means commitments and funding for the municipality to take action on climate change through measures like requiring new homes be equipped with electric heating and stoves instead of fossil fuels, or allocating funds for retrofitting households to switch to heat pumps, as well as investing in energy efficiency programs and local renewable energy projects.
It also means transforming car-dependent subdivisions into complete communities with mixed housing and amenities constructed to be net zero. It also means building affordable, accessible, and frequent electrified public transportation for those who have to travel farther afield.
Goldberg also told rabble.ca via email that municipalities need to put pressure on the province to provide them with renewable energy ensuring gas plants are phased out by 2030; oppose new fossil gas lines for home heating; and oppose new mega highways like Highway 413 that would increase the number of cars on the road as well as pollution across the region.
Fighting climate change will take support from all levels
“All levels of government have a critical role to play in fighting climate change so it’s imperative to elect councillors and mayors who are climate leaders, people who are prepared to do what they can locally to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and to push for broader climate action,” said Goldberg.
The broader measures, which are beyond the scope of individual municipalities, require pressure from municipalities and commitment from council members to push for climate action across Ontario according to Goldberg.
With a population of 196,914 (2022), Burlington was rated Canada’s best community for families by Maclean’s Magazine in 2019 — the same year it declared its own climate emergency.
“With the escalating implications of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, we can’t afford delays in immediate and effective action by the municipal government,” said Amy Schnurr, Co-founder and Executive Director of Burlington Green. “More than ever before, it’s essential we have leadership in place that prioritizes these urgent issues, applying a climate and environmental lens to all decision-making, championing the actions and investments that are required to ensure a just, sustainable future for all.”
Marianne Meed Ward is the incumbent mayoral candidate for Burlington with eight years as Ward 2 councillor and four years as mayor.
Burlington taking meaningful climate action
In 2020, she approved a community-based Climate Action Plan identifying seven key program areas to help Burlington transition away from fossil fuels.
In April 2022, Meed Ward participated in the creation of Climate Resilient Burlington: A Plan for Adapting to Our Warmer, Wetter and Wilder Weather which implements two plans to mitigate greenhouse gases. The Corporate Energy and Emissions Plan set a carbon neutrality goal of 2040, while the Climate Action Plan will see the community reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
Both plans take into account existing greenhouse gases that will remain in the atmosphere for the foreseeable future and continue impacting climate.
“This is a council that cares very deeply about climate change,” maintained Meed Ward when she sat down with rabble.ca to discuss plans to mitigate the climate emergency.
Meed Ward believes the climate emergency declaration highlighted the seriousness and urgency of dealing with climate in every decision that Burlington council makes whether it’s road repairs, procurement or infrastructure.
“We’ve always had a sustainable development plan and guidelines. We have a citizens committee that is helping us with that. Our Sustainable Development Committee did the annual State of the Environment Report for us for many years,” said Meed Ward.
“We’ve been on this journey for a long time but this was just a way to highlight and speed up our initiatives because we’re running out of time to take action before catastrophic changes can happen,” she added.
Meed Ward says a perfect example of green initiatives is the Skyway Arena. The original building used chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) for cooling. The new National Hockey League (NHL) sized arena and community centre will be geothermal and have solar panels on the roof.
“It will be net carbon neutral. That’s the way of the future. We will be doing that on all of our buildings. Every decision that we make, we make with climate impacts in mind,” says Meed Ward.
Meed Ward co-sponsored a motion at Halton Regional Council to stop expansion and building onto 5,000 acres of farmland in Halton. Staff was instructed to find ways to accommodate growth within existing boundaries as part of the new Regional Official Plan.
“In Burlington, we’re really leading the way on that and we are looking at three GO stations primarily, but also aging retail plazas in other smaller growth nodes throughout the city to accommodate our share of growth,” said Meed Ward.
Burlington will grow with about 70,000 new residents by 2051. Meed Ward believes council can welcome those residents that without compromising established neighbourhoods by building complete communities around transportation hubs.
The new 15-minute communities will have shops, services, jobs, residential and parks within a kilometre distance of each GO station.
Managing resources sustainably
Burlington is also home to two quarries that have filed applications to expand. Reform Gravel Mining Coalition launched a campaign earlier this year demanding a moratorium on new gravel mining permits. Meed Ward said the moratorium was discussed at a meeting of the Top Aggregate Producing Municipalities of Ontario (TAPMO).
“Burlington, by virtue of our two active quarries, Aldershot and Nelson, has a seat around the table. I’ve been sitting around that table for the last four years,” said Meed Ward.
She went on to say, “I am supportive of the intent of the resolution. It won’t apply to existing applications in play and that’s really important to folks that this is not a way to stop the Nelson Aggregate proposal for expansion. That has its own process that is well under way.”
A Joint Agency Review Team (JART) was in the process of reviewing Nelson Aggregate’s application and the potential environmental impacts to Burlington, Halton Region, and the Niagara Escarpment. But Nelson Aggregate by-passed that process by appealing directly to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT). The decision will now be made by a single appointed tribunal member.
“It’s very disappointing that they didn’t let the process continue to reach an evidence-based, science-based decision. And, this takes it out of the hands of local council,” observed Meed Ward.
Pursuing equity, diversity, and inclusion
The mayor emphasized that Burlington has been increasing equity, diversity, and inclusion in its green decision-making process over the past term.
She points to the murder of George Floyd which led to the largest Black Lives Matter march in the region taking place in Burlington. Meed Ward maintains it showed the community was ready to take meaningful accelerated steps forward.
Meed Ward also pointed to the discovery of graves of Indigenous children at former residential schools.
“We held a ceremony and that introduced me to a number of Indigenous residents here in Burlington and we’ve been starting that journey,” said Meed Ward.
Burlington also installed four pride cross walks to let young people and others in the community know that 2SLGBTQIA+ identifying folk are welcome.
The Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Inclusivity Advisory Committee advise council regarding additional steps that council can take.
Burlington also has a home energy retrofit program kicking off in 2023 to help individuals make greener choices like geothermal. The city will get its first electric buses in 2024 and is expecting electric mobility chargers for residents who have made the switch to hybrid or fully electric vehicles.
Meed Ward believes, “This is a very progressive council. Some of the initiatives like the climate change initiative was brought forward by one of the councillors, Ward 3 Rory Nisan, and the first pride cross walks were brought forward by Ward 2 councillor Lisa Kearns and Ward 1 councillor Kelvin Galbraith.”
She pointed to the fact that 91 per cent of council votes last term were unanimous showing alignment on progressive issues like council’s climate action plan.
Schnurr wants voters to remember, “We must vote for leaders at city hall that will truly champion a healthier, more sustainable, equitable, livable today and tomorrow.”
Burlington Green is sharing responses from candidates to help inform Burlington voters before they head to the polls.
Editor’s Note October 12: This article has been corrected to fix a typo in Marianne Meed Ward’s name.