On January 30th, City Council met for the first time in 2019. Climate change was a key issue of discussion in two debates, setting the tone for the potential of ambitious climate action.
In what is normally a rubber-stamp procedure to approve citizen’s appointments to the various advisory boards, there was disagreement about one particular nominee for the Transit Commissioner. The City Hall Hiring Panel picked through 92 applicants for the Transit Commission for the upcoming four years, leading them to four successful citizen transit commissioners to be appointed at the January 30th council. Councillor Shawn Menard showed particular concern about one of the transit commissioners, Michael Olsen. Olsen has been said to be an anti-abortion supporter as well as a potential climate change denier. This is problematic to his position as a transit commissioner as one of the main concerns surrounding transportation is its effect on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions.
Councillor Diane Deans raised an important question to the clerk about whether the city is allowed to ask nominees about their opinions on climate change. The clerk replied by stating that though it hasn’t been asked in the past, he does not believe it is an issue under the Charter to be asked in the future. Despite Councillor Menard’s concerns, only seven councillors voted in favour of re-evaluating Olsen’s position on the transit commission; these councilors were Cloutier, Leiper, Kavanagh, Menard, Fleury, Deans, and McKenney.
Another motion that sparked some discussion, was brought to the table by Councillor Scott Moffatt who proposed to change the Environment and Climate Protection Committee’s name to the Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management, as well as to include a Climate Impact lens in reviewing all major projects, and to be included in the Mid-Term Governance Review. Councillors Deans, Brockington, Menard, Egli and McKenney discussed the importance of changing the committee name and how it affects (or does not affect) the role the committee will play throughout the term. It may seem that renaming a committee is of little importance, but some argue that it was a way to signal to the public on Council’s interest with moving forward and taking important environmental action. Councillor Moffatt explained that with this change to the committee name, they can address the specific environmental issues the Environment Committee will be deciding on this term (stormwater and waste management), while making climate action a major issue affecting all committees and departments across City Hall.
Councillors also discussed the second half of the motion on the need for a climate impact lens and other stronger climate actions in this term of council. Councillors believed that implementing a Climate Impact Lens among all standing committees was a positive approach and a step in the right direction. Many, including councillors Fleury and McKenney, would like to see adoption of the lens earlier than the Mid-term Governance report, although staff cautioned that they would need more time.
Councillor Deans also raised the question of whether more needs to be done to tackle climate change, citing a recent unanimous vote from Vancouver and Halifax City Councils to declare climate emergency. The topic received support from Councillors Menard and McKenney, who would both like to see a similar motion coming to council in the next few months. Councillor Menard finished with his support of Councillor Moffatt saying that “climate change is the biggest threat to our city, this is a climate emergency now”.
Council decided to vote separately on the name change and the climate lens motions. The name change motion passed with 19 yays and 3 nays. The three nay votes were Deans, Brockington, and McKenney.