2017 is now behind us, and what a year it was. In many ways, the local climate file was dominated by two stories: the death of the Energy East pipeline and the failure of Ottawa City Hall to pass a strong clean energy strategy.
First, the good news. On October 5, we woke up to word that Energy East – a massive proposed pipeline designed to ship 1.1 million barrels of diluted tar sands oil across Ottawa – had been cancelled. Ecology Ottawa volunteers had been working for years to raise awareness and mobilize opposition to the proposed pipeline project. Since 2013, over 8,000 residents of the city signed a petition opposing Energy East. Volunteers had been knocking on thousands of doors in their communities, holding information sessions, engaging with their elected officials and staging rallies to demonstrate their opposition to the project.
The end of Energy East is a victory for Ottawa’s land and water. It also means that Canada will not be taking a massive step backward on climate change at a time when the science tells us we should be moving aggressively to cut greenhouse gas pollution. And the end of the pipeline is a clear sign that organizing matters. While TransCanada, the pipeline’s parent company, claims it abandoned Energy East because of technical reasons such as regulatory requirements, the pipeline ultimately lost on political grounds. Like other communities along the pipeline route, Ottawans rejected this project because it threatened the health of our city and was a potential disaster for the climate. Together, we proved that people power can take on multi-billion dollar corporations and come out on top.
Now, the bad news. Years after promising a plan to cut emissions and ramp up the local production of renewable energy, Ottawa City Council ended their four-year term with an underfunded plan. 2017 made one trend disturbingly clear: despite climate leadership from several councillors, the Mayor and a majority on council aren’t willing to take the action necessary to make a real dent in Ottawa’s climate emissions. Ottawa may talk a good game on climate change, but council is consistently failing to put their money where their mouth is.
City council’s lacklustre performance came despite a massive effort from volunteers all across the city. During the spring, Ecology Ottawa volunteers met with 17 out of 23 councillors to demand a well-funded renewable energy plan. During the summer and fall, volunteers knocked on doors throughout the city and collected thousands of petition signatures calling for action. Then, during budget consultations and presentations, volunteers appeared in droves. Hundreds more sent in letters of concern to their elected representatives. There was no doubt that council and the Mayor’s office heard our message loud and clear – we needed a strong and well-funded plan, with at least $1.5 million behind it in the 2018 budget.
Unfortunately, we only got a fraction of that amount – $500,000 out of a multi-billion dollar budget. This came even after the city found an additional $10 million in their coffers at the eleventh hour of budget negotiations. Despite some councillors voicing concerns about the lack of dedicated funding for the city’s clean energy plan, the Mayor forged ahead with a motion to direct all new funds to general infrastructure. Later, Council even refused to put an estimated additional $100,000 towards the renewable energy plan.
While the 2018 budget marks a sad closing chapter to this term of council, it also signals the beginning of election season. As in past years, Ecology Ottawa will be working to engage candidates running for local office on climate issues, and to secure commitments for much more substantial action during the next term of council.
Thanks to the legions of volunteers and supporters who made this year possible. We’re looking forward to working alongside you for real climate action in 2018 and beyond.