'Greenest' council yet tangled in city's red tape
Toronto's mayor and city councillors are getting an A for their commitment to the environment but according to an ecological group's annual report card, their initiatives are failing to get past the city's bureaucratic red tape.
The report card, released Monday by the non-profit group Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), found that Toronto politicians made a significant effort in 2008 to make the city as eco-friendly as possible.
The report acknowledged Mayor David Miller's goal of making Toronto a leading example of green municipalities, lauding his efforts for moving "the environmental agenda to centre stage."
However, the group said months of research and tracking showed that the city's environmental plans, programs and policies often lose speed and become entangled in Toronto's bureaucratic system.
"We fear there is a growing gap between Council's environmental commitment and the Civil Service's ability to get it done," says the report.
A green council
First the good news.
Statistics show that council debated more environmental initiatives in the last two years that it did during the entire previous term, the report notes, calling the group the greenest council since amalgamation.
Several key votes were noted in the report as proof of council's efforts, including a vote to study the impact of taking down the Gardiner Expressway and a vote to reduce in-store packaging by targeting plastic bag use and plastic water bottle sales.
The most controversial plans have received a higher level of support from council than it would have in the past.
"Mayor Mel Lastman's city council unanimously adopted the recommendations presented in the city's "Clean, Green and Healthy" environmental plan in 2000 but went on to have heated debate and limited success when adopting actual programs," says the report. "We see a real difference in this council with votes on weightier or controversial initiatives, like the fees for plastic bags and green bin pick up for apartment buildings, all of which would have faced much closer votes in past councils."
Coun. Shelley Carroll -- who got an A+, along with Coun. Janet Davis -- said some believe this isn't the time to deal with the environment, given the economic downturn. But not dealing with the environment is an a "very, very expensive proposition," she said.
"Our communities right across this city want us to be active on environmental issues," Davis added.
The report gave some councillors on the conservative side failing grades. Couns. Rob Ford, Doug Holyday and Case Ootes got Fs, while Coun. Karen Stinz got a D.
Ootes shrugged off his grade. "Unless you agree with them a hundred per cent, you get an F," he said.
Ootes added he voted against a tax hike and dismantling the Gardiner Expressway. "If they want to give me an F for that, fine," he said.
Stintz said the alliance is using very narrow measures "that actually have no relation to our commitment to the environment."
Delays endanger plans
Despite council's overall success, the plans they have passed are in danger of going nowhere because of a "lack of coordinated planning and movement to achieve Toronto's renewable and sustainable energy goals," the report says.
Some of the initiatives that are being held up include:
- Reaching a 25 per cent renewable power target: In 2000, the city said 25 per cent of its electricity would come from green sources. A staff report detailing an action plan for 2008 was requested. The report has yet to be presented.
- Reaching greenhouse gas reduction targets: A report on an implementation strategy was supposed to be tabled in November 2008 but council has not yet received the report.
- Community Right to Know bylaw: The 2000 bylaw, which informs communities about toxins being released in their neighbourhood, has been bounced from department to department. Reports have called for more reports until 2008 when council finally received a program on the bylaw. The public won't see the results until 2011.
The report notes several recommendations have been delayed in their implementation and that council is often receiving status reports late.
"Too often Toronto's progress on environmental initiatives is slowed due to delays in policy development and program implementation," the report says. "These delays threaten Toronto's reputation as a world leader on climate change, as well as the tangible benefits that come from action, such as cleaner air and greener jobs for our local communities."
The organization said that the Toronto Environmental Office, a board set up by the city to co-ordinate each initiative's development and implementation, faces many challenges in doing their work because they often have to work with agencies and departments that are far removed from them.
TEA recommends Toronto learn from other green cities like Vancouver, Seattle and Chicago who have taken steps to ensure efficiency through expanded hiring, annual reports and web portals.
Other recommendations from TEA include:
- An annual State of Toronto's Air report that would list a summary of actions taken by the city to reduce smog over the past 12 months
- The city manager present the city's executive committee with options for auditing Toronto's progress on environmental initiatives by the end of 2009
"To remain leaders, (Toronto's) politicians and bureaucrats must constantly look for ways to improve what they do and how they do it," the report concludes. "Toronto's new City Manager has a great opportunity to put things right. A few simple improvements could make a big difference."
With a report from CTV's John Musselman