City budget drops ball on climate change, advocates say

Environmental advocates say a "business as usual" draft city budget doesn't go far enough to tackle climate change, and they want the mayor declare a climate emergency as other cities have.

Dissection of city's spending plan begins ahead of a busy month of budget sessions

The draft 2019 budget includes $150,000 for Energy Evolution, the city's strategy to reduce energy use and shift to renewable sources, which remains at the planning stage. Gone from the budget are $500,000 in grants the city gave community groups last year for energy initiatives. (CBC News)

Environmental advocates say a "business as usual" draft city budget doesn't go far enough to tackle climate change, and they want the mayor declare a climate emergency as other cities have.

Ecology Ottawa is one of many organizations now parsing the budget tabled earlier this week to figure out if it thinks city spending has changed for the better — or worse — in areas it deems a priority.

Housing advocates were pleasantly surprised when Ottawa's mayor announced $15 million in city funds for new affordable units. The budget also puts more money into resurfacing roads to begin to close a $70-million backlog in infrastructure repairs.

"On a lot of these other items, the city is just playing it by the book and saying 'steady as she goes, business as usual,'" said Robb Barnes, Ecology Ottawa's executive director.

"We don't think that's sufficient. We think we're in an emergency period, the United Nations tells us this," he said, referring to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last fall that said the world has until 2030 to dramatically reduce emissions or risk severe droughts, floods and poverty.

Robb Barnes, the executive director of Ecology Ottawa, frequently raises issues with councillors on city standing committees. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Budget includes $3M to retrofit city buildings

Councillors will get into the details of the budget in the weeks to come during a series of meetings at City Hall. The newly renamed standing committee on environmental protection, water and waste management meets to discuss the draft budget and hear from the public on Feb. 19.

The draft budget for 2019 does include $3 million to retrofit city buildings to make them more energy efficient. The $2-million increase was one of Mayor Jim Watson's promises in the fall election campaign.

It also includes $150,000 for Energy Evolution, the city's strategy to reduce energy use and shift to renewable sources, which remains at the planning stage.

Gone from the 2019 budget are $500,000 in grants the city gave community groups last year for energy initiatives.

Barnes said he would have liked to see the city install more electric vehicle charging stations and find ways to encourage homeowners to retrofit, especially after the Ontario government cancelled rebates.

Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt said he's not into making dramatic proclamations. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

New chair to focus on energy shift

But the bigger change Ecology Ottawa is looking for is a shift in mentality, and seeing Ottawa declare a "climate emergency" as Halifax and Vancouver did recently.

Coun. Scott Moffatt, the new chair of that committee, can't promise that dramatic shift.

"I'm not a very dramatic person, so you're not really going to get those proclamations from me," he said. "My focus is do the work that we have in front of us, and do my best to leave the situation better in four years than how I found it today."

Moffatt said he sees Energy Evolution and its efforts to curb energy use as an important way for the city to make a difference.

It's much easier to move ahead with such a plan now than even a decade ago, he said, because technology has evolved and the city can make a good case that renewable energy makes environmental and financial sense.

Watson was unavailable to comment.

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