Community Newspaper Columns

New year, new roles, new challenges

January 2015

Entering my second term in office, I felt it was time to step up in a leadership role, as chair of one of the City of Ottawa's standing committees or boards. With my background, ongoing interests and passion for a healthier society on a healthier planet, it seemed natural to chair the Environment Committee — and evidently the mayor and my colleagues agreed.

Known to be "green," and proudly so — even if I dropped any political party affiliation in 2008 — I took office in 2010 with the desire to demonstrate what I knew to be true: I do not hold any fixed ideology, I make decisions based on evidence, and I have found that the best solutions to most challenges do not pit what is ecologically necessary against what is good for people and good for a healthy economy. Rather, I believe — because I have seen it — that the city of the future is one where renewal and respect for all people, species and natural systems gradually supplant their exploitation and degradation.

As chair of the Environment Committee, I have the opportunity to put this philosophy into practice. Can I remake the city, stop global climate change or get everyone onto a bicycle? No, and nor should I try. But I can do more than just provide competent management of the big files coming to the committee this term, including:

  • Approval and implementation of a long-term waste management plan (better diversion of waste materials towards their safe and productive handling and re-use)
  • Roll-out of the Ottawa River Action Plan and the Water Environment Strategy
  • Continued provision of drinking water that is second to none in quality and reliability
  • Steady movement toward "green building" — constructing and operating buildings more sustainably as a city, and making it easier and more cost-effective for individuals and developers to do so
  • Protection and management of Ottawa's urban forests and street trees, and replacement of trees damaged by the Emerald Ash Borer.

As necessary and challenging as these files will be, I want to go one better. As first proposed in my campaign platform, I want to put forward a big and exciting idea that promises to involve and benefit everyone: Uniting Ottawa in pursuit of a 100% renewable energy economy by 2050.

100% Renewable is a term that describes a geographical region producing all of its own energy needs or, more typically, producing all of its net energy needs, selling a surplus of renewable electricity, biomass or biofuels to offset whatever energy must be imported.

We have heard a lot in recent years about the need to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and to develop renewable sources. We don't often hear about the broader benefits this would bring to Ottawa's citizens and businesses:

  • Economic renewal and employment opportunities in research, manufacturing, design, installation, home and institutional building retrofits, architecture, heating and cooling engineering, biofuels, rail and cycling infrastructure construction.
  • Resilience to a changing climate and extreme weather events through better management of storm water, urban forests, river and stream catchment areas and shorelines.
  • Energy supply resilience to cushion against unpredictable energy prices and supply interruptions, through significant demand reduction and diversification of supply, much of it sourced locally.
  • Community revival around local projects, including local food production, removal of unnecessary hard-landscaped spaces, street calming initiatives and co-operatively owned renewable energy projects.
  • Poverty reduction through decreased home energy demands and greater mobility choices involving lower fuel costs.
  • 100% Renewable is an extremely ambitious yet achievable goal. How do we get there? A comprehensive strategy would include but not be limited to:
  • Conservation and efficiency: Increases by 50% in all sectors.
  • Transportation: Shift modal preference from primarily private automobile use to primarily public transit and active transportation.
  • Energy from waste: Maximize the amount of energy derived from waste and minimize greenhouse gas emissions and air, water and soil pollution.
  • Public building renewal: Retrofit existing City of Ottawa buildings and apply very high standards to new ones.
  • Private building renewal: Adopt mandatory energy standards and labelling for new construction. Remove obstacles to cutting-edge energy efficiency and generation in private construction.
  • Renewable energy generation (solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind, biomass, biogas, microhydro and more): Remove non-essential hurdles to citizens and institutions/businesses purchasing their electricity and fuel from renewable sources, or developing locally owned projects.

As always, I welcome your input on these topics.
I continue to serve on the Transportation Committee, where I will help steer the renewal of Main Street, plan the renewal of Bronson (Queensway to Rideau Canal) and implement Ottawa's pedestrian and cycling plans. I remain a member of the Board of Health, also intricately tied to environmental health and to the promotion of Complete Streets where we move more, socialize more and drive less. I now also serve on the Finance and Economic Development Committee.

Working collaboratively with my colleagues on Council, I hope to steer Ottawa towards the more active pursuit of renewal, restoration and mutual respect.