April 16 was a historic day for climate action in Ottawa. The Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management voted 6-2 to declare Climate Emergency.
The day started early for Ecology Ottawa supporters! At 8:30 AM, an hour before the committee meeting started, over 200 Ottawans rallied outside City Hall to demand stronger, bolder climate action. Creative signs in hand, people of all ages arrived on foot, by bicycle, and public transit, embodying the the greener, healthier future we all fight for.
Coming together with chants of “defend our community, defend our climate!” we first heard from Ecology Ottawa Executive Director Robb Barnes about the choice between climate disasters and bold solutions that defend our climate and build a better city. Councillor Shawn Menard, the mover of the climate emergency motion, spoke not only of the details of the motion, but also the time to demand solutions from our politicians.
“For too long politicians have dithered on this issue. We’re not asking for change, we’re demanding it!” said Councillor Menard, drawing cheers and applause from the crowd.
Ainsley Skelly, a grade 12 student from Nepean High School, also spoke at the rally, addressing the audience and speaking to her experience as a young person growing up in an era of climate catastrophe, the mental and physical health affects that climate change will have on our community, and the need for rapid action from government representatives.
Following rousing speeches from Angela Keller-Herzog and Emelie Taman, the Raging Grannies lead us all in two songs, about turning down the heat, and turning up ambition in the city of Ottawa.
Those gathered outside were optimistic – it’s hard not to be when surrounded by so many people, from all walks of life, all uniting behind a single cause – however, that doesn’t mean the crowd wasn’t a ferocious one! Twice during the rally the crowd joined together in boisterous chants asking “Where’s our Mayor!?” Palpable in the air was the strong desire for Council to take a stand, declare a state of climate emergency, and finally take climate change seriously as a crisis.
Following the rally, masses of motion supporters flooded into city hall hoping to witness the Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management vote to pass the motion, but we were all disappointed to find that the room designated for the Committee meeting was too small to accommodate all of the nearly 200 motion supporters. After being told the meeting could be viewed in an overflow room, many of us filtered into the much larger, unoccupied space, somewhat confused as to why the meeting couldn’t be moved, and aggrieved upon realizing that the livestream wouldn’t include a visual feed.
Throughout the day, nearly 100 supporters stuck it out, waiting, listening, and watching through nearly 6 hours of Committee processes before the Climate Emergency Resolution was discussed.
The list of delegates speaking to the importance and necessity of the motion was long and impressive. Noteable among those addressing the Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management were Diane Beckett of Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability (CAFES), local lawyer and politician Emelie Taman, delegates from the Ottawa Transit Riders Assocation, Dr. Curtis Lavoie a physian at CHEO, and Ecology Ottawa’s Robb Barnes.
Jerry Fiori of the Ottawa Disability Coalition spoke to the issue of climate change, and the risks it poses especially to disabled Ottawans, quoting Karen Scott of the MS Society when he said “People with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) are the canaries in the climate change coal mine.” Mr Fiori went on to elaborate that rising temperatures, erratic seasons, and more extreme rain and snowfall put disabled communities at great risk of physical harm, and that a climate emergency motion is a step towards better providing for disabled Ottawans.
Also among the speakers was Chloe Rourke who took the day off work to sit through the entirety of the 8 hour meeting, and address the committee. Tearful at times, Ms Rourke spoke to the committee about disastrous consequences climate change will bear for people, citing crop failure, extreme heat, major flooding, and potential economic collapse among the reasons why the Climate Emergency Resolution is necessary for the city of Ottawa. Closing her remarks, and speaking to those Councillors skeptical of the climate crisis: Chloe Rourke somberly stated “reality is coming whether you like it or not”.
One of the last delegates to speak before Council voted on the resolution was Mia Beijer of Future Rising (the local youth organization behind Ottawa’s Friday Climate Strikes on Parliament Hill.) The sixteen year old pulled no punches, telling councilors that “debating about whether or not to declare climate emergency is ridiculous when we’re living in a climate crisis.” reminding them that “it is up to you to decide what this council’s legacy will be” finally beseeching the committee by saying “please don’t kill us, save us” in one of many moving moments in the Champlain Committee Room that afternoon.
Finally the time came for councilors to state their opinions, and cast their votes.
Throughout the committee’s discussion period was plenty of praise for the resolution itself, with comments from several of the councilors touching on the fact that the resolution is not without teeth. With it’s 8 action items it provides the city with multiple avenues through which to pursue more rigorous, ambitious, and equitable climate action.
Councillor McKenney spoke specifically to the need to ensure the city’s actions on climate need to centre vulnerable communities “when disaster happens, it’s not to us, it is to people who live in poverty […] is it the people who can least afford it.” McKenny went on to comment that the equity and inclusion pieces of the motion were the most important, that it is through these lenses that our actions must be conducted.
It should be noted that there was some pushback registered by councilors Darouze and Hubley, with Hubley stating that he believed Ottawa was already doing quite a bit more than other cities, and that the inclusion of the term “emergency” was ultimately most offputting about the motion.
When time came for the resolution to be voted on at approximately 4:30pm, it passed successfully, with votes registering 6 – 2 in favour, and a burst of (prohibited) applause from the gallery. Among those who supported the motion were Councilors Menard, McKenney, Elgli, Cloutier, Brockington, and Moffatt, with Councilors Hubley and Darouze being the only two to reject the resolution.
The next step in the resolution’s path to adoption is the full City Council vote, taking place next Wednesday, April 24th at 10:00am in City Hall. It is incredibly important that over the next week we demonstrate to our representatives the neccessity of this resolution, and our desire for meaningful climate action from city hall. Before next Wednesday we need you to call, email, or tweet at your councilor, asking them to support the resolution. It’s only by hearing from you, the constituents, that council will know that they have our support in declaring Climate Emergency. Finally, join us once again on Wednesday, April 24th in the morning to stand together in support of our city, our community, and our climate.
To read the Climate Emergency Resolution, motioned by Councillor Shawn Menard, and passed on April 16th by the Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management click here (the resolution beings on page 5)