Healthy food and healthy forests

July 2017

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) wants to know what you think about the practice of marketing unhealthy food and drinks to children and youth. By participating in a 15-minute online survey, you can help OPH develop public policy options and guide future education activities aimed at encouraging healthy eating habits at a young age.

Where companies place products and displays; prizes and deals; team sponsorships; commercials and online ads; the use of mascots, fictional characters or celebrities to promote products — all these things have been shown to influence young people’s food choices and, ultimately, their health.

To complete the survey, visit capitalward.ca/ophsurvey. For more information on the effects of marketing unhealthy foods to children and youth, visit capitalward.ca/marketing.


Protecting our urban forest

I am pleased to report that City Council recently adopted a 20-year Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP). I wrote about this important project during the draft stage last year, and am doing so again because residents of Capital Ward have told us they believe protecting and expanding our urban forest is very important, and because I consider this an example of excellent public consultation and collaboration with stakeholders. That’s not always the case at City Hall.

The UFMP is made up of five four-year management periods, which will each be followed by formal reviews. It provides 26 recommendations for making Ottawa’s urban forest healthier, more diverse, resilient and, ultimately, sustainable. These recommendations cover program structure and administration, planning (including a review of existing tree by-laws), maintenance and growth, and outreach. And they respond to the six challenges faced by Ottawa’s urban forest: invasive species, pests and pathogens; land development; difficult growing conditions; tree loss on private property; limited community awareness and engagement; and non-City ownership of urban trees.

These are important priorities because of the valuable benefits provided by urban forests, including mitigating and adapting to climate change, supporting physical and mental health, increasing property values, reducing energy use, reducing health care and infrastructure maintenance costs, and improving air and water quality.

The City now has a great opportunity to encourage extensive public engagement and to foster environmental stewardship in every neighbourhood. With 40% of Ottawa’s urban area made up of privately owned land, residents can play an active role in the UFMP and increase its potential impact.

Some residents are concerned about by-law enforcement and whether the plan will actually change anything. Like many communities, Old Ottawa South has seen a significant loss of trees on individual lots as a result of infill projects. Currently, the city’s planning rules and building permit application process favours the right of a property owner to build or expand at the expense of existing trees. In too many cases, even protected trees are cut without a permit, as the fine for doing so appears to be insufficient to discourage such behaviour.

Our existing tree-related bylaws and planning processes need to be updated and strengthened if we wish to stop the steady loss of significant trees in our neighbourhoods. Accordingly, a review of the tree bylaw will occur in the first management period of this plan, with public consultation expected to be a very important component. As timelines become known, I will report on all opportunities for residents to participate.

Protecting and expanding the urban forest is especially necessary in Ottawa since the Emerald Ash Borer destroyed 20-25% of our canopy. This plan represents a timely response to the loss caused by this invasive beetle, whose larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients.

It’s also worth mentioning that investing in trees is good for our economy: A 2014 TD Economics special report about Toronto’s urban forest found that every dollar put into tree maintenance returns more than $3 worth of environmental benefits, and those benefits increase as trees age and grow in size.

As we head into the summer vacation period, I want to take the opportunity to wish everyone some important downtime. Whether it’s with family, or with the children off at camp somewhere, I hope you have a great summer and take some time to play!