Municipal Election 2006

Planning for a Sustainable Future, Kind of

Raise the Hammer asked the candidates how they would address five issues of sustainability: climate change, peak oil, sprawl, transportation, and aerotropolis.

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 08, 2006

In our last issue, we invited candidates for the upcoming municipal election to share five specific actions that would improve the city. The response was underwhelming, characterized mainly by a dearth of big ideas and a lot of hollow rhetoric in its place.

However, in a council of fifteen members, any individual councillor will spend more time working with other people's ideas than with his or her own. In the interests of fairness, therefore, Raise the Hammer asked the candidates how they would address five issues important to RTH:

  1. Climate Change - What, if anything, should City Council be doing to reduce Hamilton's greenhouse gas emissions?
  2. Peak Oil - What, if anything, should City Council be doing to prepare for declining energy availability?
  3. Sprawl - What, if anything, should City Council be doing about suburban sprawl?
  4. Transportation - what, if anything, should City Council be doing to promote transportation choice?
  5. Aerotropolis - do you support the city's Aerotropolis economic development plan? Why or why not?

The responses were, if possible, even more discouraging than the responses to our previous, open-ended survey. For one thing, only fifteen candidates responded. Granted, the run-up to the election is a busy time, but we're talking maybe fifteen minutes to sketch out the candidate's understanding of the issue and ideas on whether and how to respond.

It's probably safe to assume that the candidates most likely to respond are those who are already thinking of these matters, so it's disappointing to see that most candidates are stuck at tinkering around the margins - an anti-idling by-law, promoting alternate fuels, encouraging more transit ridership, and so on.

Well, yes; these are all worthy actions, and should really have been no-brainers for the outgoing council, but the candidates are treating these issues as if a very slight adjustment here and a minor concession there are enough to respond to what the evidence suggests will be major global crises with the potential to cause massive economic and social upheavals.

One candidate for mayor, Steve Leach, suggested that city council shouldn't be directly addressing these issues at all, although he does offer some promising ideas, including district heating and mass transit development.

Another candidate for mayor, incumbent Larry Di Ianni, is on record saying he does not believe peak oil is a serious risk, and in today's Hamilton Spectator says the city should focus on the Mid-Peninsula Highway for "improved transportation", although he did not cite this in his response to RTH.

Only a couple of ward candidates demonstrated a real depth of knowledge around the issues and a willingness to explore more substantial actions.

Brian McHattie, a candidate for Ward 1 (and the incumbent), has been deeply involved in encouraging the city to develop comprehensive plans to respond to climate change and peak oil, and he cites these frameworks as potential ways to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas production - if the city follows through.

Julia Kollek, a candidate for Ward 13 (Dundas) demonstrates a detailed understanding of the aerotropolis economic development plan and advocates a comprehensive approach to transforming Hamilton's transportation system to become cleaner and more sustainable. Defying the "anti-business" label often ascribed to environmentally-conscious politicians, Kollek makes several suggestions on how to spur economic development in ways that benefit the community and provide more opportunities within the city.

Moving Hamilton toward a truly sustainable future is going to be a major uphill battle no matter who wins the upcoming election.

Read all the candidates' responses on the Raise the Hammer website: www.raisethehamer.org.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2006 at 03:48:11

When you say "Steve Leach, suggested that city council shouldn't be directly addressing these issues at all, although he does offer some promising ideas, including district heating and mass transit development." I think it's a bit misleading.

I didn't interpret his response at all like that. Rather, I get the impression that he understands that we can't tackle climate change as it's own single problem. It is too huge. Let the UN focus on the global view, and let us locally do everything we can that benefits us AND the planet. If we make the right choices locally, however small, we will be doing out part to invoke change on a global level.

I think pulling this quote would have been a better representation of his thoughts: "City Council should be trying to reduce energy costs for itself and for its citizens wherever possible, as a matter of course. "

In other words, we can't spend an entire mayoral term having meetings about the "Big picture" of climate change. Screw the big picture and let's find local reasons to (for example) get a light rail line in. Lets focus on how it will help us at a local level right now. The benefits to climate change will follow naturally.

I think it's a much smarter way of going about it than setting up a steering committee to discuss the details of an anti idling law. We need fewer cars NOW, not less idling 2 years from now.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2006 at 10:30:21

Dear Sean,

Thank you for sharing your analysis. From my reading of Steve Leach's response, it seems pretty clear that he doesn't think City Council should be addressing climate change or peak oil as such, but that good corporate management in itself will tend to produce improvements "as a matter of course".

He writes, "City Council shouldn't be trying to do anything to reduce emissions per se. This is a matter for the United Nations." Instead, he argues that the city should be trying to reduce its corporate energy use for general economic reasons, and that it should develop a mass transit system or area heating on the principle that market forces by themselves will not produce such services.

Simlarly, on the subject of peak oil, Leach writes that city council should do "nothing special" but that city council should be trying to reduce energy costs "as a matter of course" based on cost-benefit analysis of projected energy prices.

As for sprawl, Leach suggests city council does not have "the moral authority to dictate the way in which people live" - although he does go on to argue that people who choose to live in sprawl should pay the full market price for servicing their homes. That would be an improvement on today's situation, where every new suburban house actually increases the tax burden for the rest of the city.

Sean wrote, "I get the impression that he understands that we can't tackle climate change as it's own single problem. It is too huge."

We absolutely can tackle climate change. Climate change is ultimately nothing more than people producing greenhouse gases, and city council can do plenty to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas produced by people in Hamilton.

Raise the Hammer believes reducing greenhouse gas should be an explicit policy goal, whereas Mr. Leach takes the position that greenhouse gas reduction could be a by-product of sound fiscal management.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2006 at 12:32:04

The problem is, knowledge of "climate change" is widespread, but the opinion that it is a real problem is not. People in this country are not being directly affected by climate change yet, so the typical human knee jerk reaction has not kicked in. Looking at our options for this election, we are going to have to accept whatever small changes we can, and ultimately, I think that the only way to look at these problems is at a personal level for now. It is too overwhelming and depressing if you spend all of your time looking at the big picture. Many governments and companies have learned that doing things efficiently saves energy, emissions, and ultimately, money (Interface for example http://www.interfacesustainability.com/)... Like it or not, money drives this society. Money is something that everyone uderstands. And arguing on a fiscal basis is probably the best way to reach everyone, including the ones who don't see (or don't want to see) the bigger picture.

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By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2006 at 14:31:13

For shame Ryan, I was one of only two ward seven candidates who bothered to respond with workable ideas and a good grasp of the ideal you espouse. Saying you play fair, but not actually doing it only proves your bias. At least you admitted Brian McHattie is who you personally support, but Raise the Hammer doesn't. Can you hear one hand clapping Ryan? I sure don't blame you after you took exception to the Androids "sanctioned hit" on your ‘buddy’ McHattie. He used a dull sword, just to be kind. Now that’s respect considering the Droids past accomplishments for the Captains of Industry who run the joint. Seems Councillor McHattie has become like a pesky horse fly, just swat it off with one swish of the tail. What, not enough room to post the pitiful amount of responses to your second volley of left-leaning questions to the candidates.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2006 at 15:07:34

Mark-Alan, always a pleasure. Perhaps you missed the related article with all the responses RTH received, including yours:

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/41...

You can jump directly to your response here:

http://www.raisethehammer.org/index.asp?...

To summarize, you advocated:

  1. Anti-idling by-law,
  2. Smart cars for city staff,
  3. Higher sprawl development charges and incentives for brownfield development,
  4. Free, consolidated transit service, and
  5. Take over airport management.

As I wrote above about the responses we received: "these are all worthy actions, and should really have been no-brainers for the outgoing council, but the candidates are treating these issues as if a very slight adjustment here and a minor concession there are enough to respond to what the evidence suggests will be major global crises with the potential to cause massive economic and social upheavals."

I'd be interested to know why you think that's not a fair assessment.

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By GOB (anonymous) | Posted November 10, 2006 at 15:57:46

Don't waste your time debating MAW, the chip on his shoulder is so big he can't see over it.

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By steve leach (registered) | Posted November 11, 2006 at 17:13:48

The question of the appropriate role of the City of Hamilton in combating climate change is an interesting one.

Raise The Hammer believes reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be an explicit policy goal of the City of Hamilton.

I disagree and believe that this is a matter for superior levels of government and the United Nations.

My reasoning is simple: government responsibility for problems should be assumed by the government body best able to deal with them.

Focused action by the City of Hamilton to blindly pursue a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions per se may well result in a decreased standard of living for its citizens. For example, if the City banned oil furnaces in the City limits (which I assume would be within its jurisdiction) and demanded that higher-cost electricity be used for heating, it could add a cost to local businesses that might not be borne by Burlington businesses with which they compete, leading to Hamilton business closures.

In contrast, if the Federal government were to implement the same law nationwide, Hamilton and Burlington businesses would compete on an equal footing, and the Federal government (ignoring possible impacts on NAFTA and WTO involvement) could ensure that local businesses were not subject to unfair foreign competition, at least domestically, by banning imports of products from environmental “rogue” nations.

Yes, the City of Hamilton could act on its own, damn the consequences, and do its part for the world. However, if climate change is happening (as I believe), it likely still will, irrespective of any action on the part of the City of Hamilton, and if increased poverty to Hamiltonians has resulted, the City’s actions in this event will not only have proven futile but will also have prejudiced the ability of its citizens to adapt to the new challenges associated with climate change.

I am not at all certain that the majority of Hamiltonians wish to risk this outcome. Indeed, many Hamiltonians who care for their families and friends would likely prefer that we increase emissions, damn the world, if it provides more present wealth, so as to enable them to better adapt their families to the problems that will flow from climate change that is beyond their control. I do not agree with this particular kind of thinking, but I am not prepared to hold my morals superior on this particular issue.

A sensible compromise between the “save the world, damn my family” and “save my family, damn the world” camps is for the City of Hamilton to simply do its best to promote and increase energy efficiency when and wherever it can. With better planning, we can facilitate better public transit, more pedestrian and bicycle routes and the potential for district heating, community geothermal projects and lake water cooling, all of which could vastly decrease our greenhouse gas emissions.

By doing this, we can both make the world a better place and better prepare ourselves and our families for what lies ahead, since energy efficiency means savings.

If it turned out that, in the process of turning Hamilton into a pedestrian-friendly, transit-friendly, energy-efficient community, we were so successful that we doubled the population of Hamilton and quadrupled its economic output but increased greenhouse gas emissions by 10%, I for one would be thrilled, not disappointed, notwithstanding that our emissions have increased, because I would know that, but for our actions as a community, that growth would likely have occurred elsewhere, in a much less responsible manner.

In short, I maintain my position that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a goal for Canada and the world, not a goal for Hamilton, and I would encourage Hamiltonians to push for this goal in the appropriate forum: in the next Federal election, let’s elect a government that cares about greenhouse gas emissions, that is prepared to lay out a sensible national plan for reductions and that will lobby for international trade sanctions against rogue greenhouse-gas emitting nations.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 12, 2006 at 20:39:37

Dear Steve,

Thank you for sharing your analysis. I would like to respond to the following:

"Focused action by the City of Hamilton to blindly pursue a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions per se may well result in a decreased standard of living for its citizens. ... it could add a cost to local businesses that might not be borne by Burlington businesses with which they compete, leading to Hamilton business closures."

As a contrast to your scenario, look at the city of Portland OR, which decided in 1990 to make greenhouse gas reduction a major priority. They ripped up expressways, constructed light rail lines, established a firm urban boundary, planted 750,000 trees, installed bike lanes, and supported local food production and renewable energy production.

As a direct result, the city has enjoyed billions of dollars in new private investment, is on track to meeting its Kyoto obligations (6 percent below 1990 levels by 2010), and is widely regarded by its residents and outside observers alike as one of the most vibrant, livable cities in North America.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 12, 2006 at 22:42:41

my gosh....they ripped up expressways and did all that stuff and yet their economy continues to flourish! I thought the only way to build a successful city was to pave over ever piece of green with cardboard box homes and ugly warehouses trying to pass off as stores. Tsst, Portland. They need to come to Hamilton to see a real prosperous city. Long live the single occupancy vehicle SUV roaring past my front porch and pedestrian-free sidewalk.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 10:16:40

I think Portland has the right idea. A balanced approach to climate change. One where light rail systems actually exist and work well. As a side note, I'd love to be able to bike to work, but has anyone discovered why the bike lanes on Barton disappear?

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